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Lina AbuJamra

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Twila Belk

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Harriet Bouchillon

Mary Carver

Jeanne Cesena

Pamela Christian

Lisa Copen

Erin Davis

Diane Dean

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Debbi Eggleston

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Mary James

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Lane P. Jordan

Rebecca Jordan

Ellie Kay

Maria Keckler

Sylvia Lange

Debby Lennick

Peggy Leslie

Kathi Lipp

Kolleen Lucariello

Kathi Macias

Paula Marsteller

Melissa Mashburn

Dianne Matthews

Cindi McMenamin

Elaine W. Miller

Kathy Collard Miller

Lynn Mosher

Karen O'Connor

Yvonne Ortega

Arlene Pellicane

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Gail Purath

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Kaley Rhea

Rhonda Rhea

Vonda Rhodes

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Julie Sanders

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Deedra Scherm

Laurel Shaler

Joanie Shawhan

Stephanie Shott

Poppy Smith

Susan K. Stewart

Stacie Stoelting

Jill Swanson

Janet Thompson

Janice Thompson

Teri Thompson

Brittany Van Ryn

Elizabeth Van Tassel

Leslie Vernick

Laurie Wallin

Julie Watson

Joan C. Webb

Shonda Savage Whitworth

Cherri Williamson

Kathy C. Willis

Debbie W. Wilson

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Jamie Wood

And UPGRADE'S Founder

   Dawn Wilson

 

Thursday
Apr052018

Cherish Each Day

In this Life UPGRADE, Dawn invites us to look at all the areas of our life to consider what we cherish, and how we can treasure these people and things more every day.

As I write this, I'm listening to a broadcast about a bridge collapse in Miami near Florida International University (on March 15). I wept to think about families whose loved ones died under the bridge, and the thought came to mind:

We never know our last day. We need to cherish our loved ones before it's too late.

It's not a new thought. Many have expressed the same sentiments, especially after a great tragedy like America's 9-11 or the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas Hish School in Parkland, Florida.

As our minds and hearts try to wrap around these horrible circumstances, thoughts of REGRET may arise.

"I wish I had ...."

"I wish I hadn't ...."

"Why didn't I ....?"

"If only I had another opportunity to ...."

I've learned to deal with regrets.

  • I look for the LESSONS God might want to teach me.
  • I seek and receive God's FORGIVENESS for my failings, if that is a factor.
  • I try to think of positive, biblical ACTION steps to move forward.

One of the steps to my moving forward is this:  

I'm learning to cherish what I once took for granted.

To "cherish" is to hold dear, prize, value highly and treasure something or someone. When we cherish someone we protect and lovingly care for them.

I have a little plaque on the back of my bathroom toilet that I see every day. It simply says, "Cherish EACH DAY."

We often hear "seize the day," and that's good counsel too. But to cherish each day is to see value in each day.

It starts in the heart and then flows out through wise responses and actions.

Still, "cherish each day" seems generic.

To know how to cherish each day, we need to think about what we love and treasure within those days.

As I think about what I often take for granted, I've identified some things and people I need to learn to cherish more.

1. I Need to Cherish My LORD.

The scriptures admonish us: "... seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (Matthew 6:33).  

When we cherish the Lord, we will seek Him and we will seek to please him with right choices.

We will have no other gods before Him—no idols that displace our love for Him. 

"... love the Lord your God will all your heat and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind..." (Luke 10:27.

And if we cherish the Lord, we will love and obey Him and His Word.

"Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?" (Luke 6:46)

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15).

 2. I Need to Cherish My LIFE.

This one is a little complicated. On the one hand, we are to cherish our life because we are made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27). On the other hand, our life is a "vapor," a whisp of wind. We are creatures made by a mighty creator, and He knows we are but dust (Psalm 103:14).

The Lord may call on us to make the ultimate sacrifice of our life because we cherish some things even more—our decision to follow and obey Jesus, His calling on our life and our desire to please the Father.

Certainly, taking all of this into account, I need to cherish my life because Jesus died to rescue and redeem me! (Titus 2:14) He is the one who has established my worth.

3. I Need to Cherish My SPOUSE.

In the great scripture passage about husbands and wives, Paul says,

"no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it...." (Ephesians 5:29).

This is often seen as a man's sacrificial love and care for his wife, but it also could be an outflowing of verse 21: "submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ."

Certainly, a wife's submission to her husband's leadership (v. 24) and respect for her husband (v. 33) are manifestations of her desire to cherish her husband as God's provision.

When a spouse is difficult and stubborn, it is hard to find ways to cherish. Indeed, for all marriages there are difficult times when a spouse annoys and disappoints us. Cherishing in those cases comes from Christlike character and grace, living out the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:32; Galatians 5:22-23).

4. I Need to Cherish My CHILDREN... and GRANDCHILDREN!

5. I Need to Cherish My MINISTRY.

All Christians, in one sense, are called to ministry (Matthew 28:18-20).

But also, God calls us to specific tasks whether in the secular world or church-related; and we need to cherish that calling and not consider it a burden.

The Lord gives us gifts (Romans 12:4-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-5; 8-10; Ephesians 4:4-14) to enable our ministries and vocations, serve the Body of Christ and bring Him glory. We want to be the "fragrance of Christ" (2 Corinthians 2:15) no matter where He calls us to serve.

Where God calls, He establishes, equips and empowers (Psalm 37:23; Isaiah 30:21; Hebrews 13:20-21; Ephesians 3:20-21).

6. I Need to Cherish My BODY.

It's too easy to take our bodies for granted. When we lose our health, we suffer greatly. God wants us to cherish our body—not in a self-focused, obsessive way, but rather to bring Him glory and preserve our ability to serve Him and others.

The Bible gives us keys to good physical health (along with other kinds of health). It surprised me to see how obedience to God's Word can promote health (Proverbs 3:1-2, 8; 3 John 1:2).

There are many scriptures about health—too many to put here. The simple truth is, our Creator knows how our bodies work and what is best. We need to follow wisdom as we respect and honor Him (Ecclesiastes 12:13). He doesn't want us to suffer the diseases brought about through ignoring wisdom about health (Exodus 15:26).

One thing I know for sure . . .

The boundaries God gives us are for our good, to protect us!

7. I Need to Cherish My FRIENDSHIPS.

God gives us friends in the body of Christ to challenge, teach and encourage us.

I cherish friends who:

Maybe you have some friends like that. Cherish them!

Or maybe you will think of other RELATIONSHIPS you treasure—extended family, co-workers, etc.

You may think there's one thing I've left out—THINGS!

Many have "things" they cherish—things they have or collect.

In the world's eyes, these things might be worth lots of money. But let me ask  you: How TRULY valuable are your things? Yes, we can enjoy things now, but we need to keep them in proper perspective. And we must never let our "stuff" become idols, replacing God's place in our hearts.

The Lord has challenged me on that, and helped me focus on eternal values.

"for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world" (1 Timothy 6:7).

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal" (Matthew 6:19).

In recent years, I've observed the attitudes of a number of people and couples who either lost homes to fires or floods, or had to drastically downsize.

In all of these cases, the people testified that "things" were important, but not what they cherished most.

It's all a matter of perspective.

What or who do you value most? How can you express your appreciation today?

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 and Upgrade with Dawn. She is a contracted researcher/reviewer for Revive Our Heartsand 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

 

Tuesday
Apr032018

Why We Need Billy Graham's Perspective on Time

When I think about Debbie W. Wilson, I think of the word "refreshing." She encourages us to get a fresh perspective on things we take for grated. In this Biblical Thinking UPGRADE, she encourages a more biblical perspective on how we view and use our time.

"When a university student asked Billy Graham what had been the biggest surprise in his life," Debbie says, "he answered, 'My biggest surprise in life is its brevity.'”

I (Dawn) think that realization becomes more apparent the older we get. In day-to-day circumstances, we may forget to live in light of eternity. But life is short; what are we waiting for?

Debbie continues . . .

James agreed. He wrote to those bragging about their big plans for the future,  

“Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14 NIV).

Job put it this way,

“My days come and go swifter than the click of knitting needles, and then the yarn runs out—an unfinished life! (Job 7:6 The Message).

An adult mayfly has a lifespan of less than a day. In comparison with eternity, our lifespan is shorter than a mayfly’s.

Remembering this helps us live without regret.

Our family traveled I-40 from California to North Carolina. If you look at I-40 as representing eternity—which it feels like when you’re glued to the seat of a car with two small children wanting to escape the back seat—our lifespan covers less than 2 miles of I-40’s 2,555 miles.

Cultivating an Eternal Perspective

Remembering life’s brevity should shake us from our slumber. Are we living for the 20-mile stretch or for eternity?

Remembering the brevity of life changes us. It changes—

1. Our PURPOSE

Instead of bragging about my plans, I seek His plan for my life. He knows the future; I don’t.

I want to live for eternity.

2. Our DEFINITION of a Deal.

James rebuked the wealthy who got rich by not paying their workers on time.

“You thought you were piling up wealth. What you’ve piled up is judgment” (from James 5:1-3 The Message).

If saving some cash cheats a sales person out of the fair compensation he needs to feed and shelter his family, it is not a good deal.

The wealth of those James rebuked became a source of shame when they faced death.

3. What we COLLECT

I love to decorate, but when our family moved to the Midwest for a two-year stint, we didn’t invest much time or money into our rental house. However, I willingly spent more on furnishings at a nearby antique auction for pieces I knew we’d move to our permanent home.

It would have been a waste to paint walls and plant shrubs in a place we were soon leaving.

When we set up our permanent home, we were thankful for the pieces we’d bought with our future in mind. 

It’s not wrong to store up treasure. We just need an eternal mindset to identify real treasure and to store it in the right place where it will not be corroded or have the power to corrupt us (Matthew 6:19-34).

4. The LEGACY We Leave

A cartoon showed a man standing before a storage unit with his son. The raised door revealed a space packed from floor to ceiling with stuff.

“This will all be yours one day,” the father beamed as his son grimaced.

What am I leaving behind? For what will I be remembered?

Billy Graham’s “brief” life on earth ended this year. His faithfulness to Christ during his 99 years blessed millions. I can only imagine the throngs of people who greeted him in heaven.

Our lives may not be as public as his, but our choice to live with an eternal perspective is just as valuable.

How does considering the brevity of life change how you live today?

Debbie W. Wilson—drawing from her personal walk with Christ, twenty-four years as a Christian counselor, and decades as a Bible teacher—speaks and writes to help others discover relevant faith. She is the author of Little Women, Big God and Give Yourself a Break. Share her journey to refreshing faith at her blog and website.

Graphic Adapted, courtesy of JaStra at Pixabay.

Thursday
Mar292018

My Eternal Hope

Jeanne Cesena is a woman who speaks authentically of the power of hope. In this UPLIFT story, she shares a testimony of her personal struggle, and how the Lord brought women into her life to encourage her as she trusted the eternal God of hope.

"Today is part of my eternity that began the day I was saved," Jeanne says.

I (Dawn) wish more people understood that concept, and chose to live each day in view of eternity.

What a difference it would make if we understood God's hope is for today and forever.

Jeanne continues . . .

What are your life goals? What are your eternal goals? What are you going to do today for God?

The great evangelist Billy Graham said:

"For the believer there is hope beyond the grave, because Jesus Christ has opened the door to heaven for us by His death and resurrection.”

The verse that came to my mind when I heard Billy Graham had passed away and entered heaven was: “The master said, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant'" (Matthew 25:23 NLT).

Walking a daily life that is glorifying to God is no easy task. As we walk through our daily lives, we each make choices about what we are going to think, say and do.

Our daily learning steps are for us to work out our sanctification to be more like Him so others can see more of God in us, and see more of God through us. 

In our trials we have a choice to turn toward God. When we see others going through trials, we have a choice to get involved and show God's love to others. Or not!

A life trial: My story of Hope in My Despair

ALONE.

Where does a woman turn when her husband abandons her the night she come home from the hospital with her newborn baby girl?

Not knowing what is going to happen next can be very scary.

My husband brought me home from the hospital and initiated a disagreement, an argument, to get out of coming into the house to help with the baby. Things were not going well with him that night; he was doing drugs and drinking.

My life was not turning out the way I had planned it.

I carried my newborn into our house as my husband drove away. It was a very cold house.  The heating radiators had blown and it was below zero outside.

All I could do was climb into my waterbed with my beautiful baby girl. The water was heated—the only heat in the house. I held her close as she lay in my arms, and I kept reciting Romans 15:13 in my heart until I fell sleep:

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope."

Community: Eternal Hope in Action

The next day, the women from my church and my mom came over to my house. They brought things for the nursery, for my kitchen and for my dining room, and they helped me with the radiators.

That was hope in action.

These women were listening to that still, small voice of God inspiring them to take action.

They had to listen, think about what God wanted to do, talk to each other, gather the resources, get organized and then actually DO SOMETHING!

As these women were listening to God, I was putting all my hope in Him. The women became the answer to my prayers and a great encouragement to me.

We need to be open and receptive to the conversation God wants to have with each of us—to listen, learn, change and take action!

When I meet with individuals and couples, I often discuss some common communication techniques that are helpful. Here are two:

1. 1-800-God

This concept seems to have the most impact. Just like when your phone rings, no matter what emotions you are experiencing, you can choose to say a happy "hello."

You also have a change of focus. You are now listening to that voice coming from your phone. Then you have to listen, and think about what that person is saying before you speak or do something.

We can apply this concept to our everyday life.

Stop, connect with God, listen, then speak and do.

2. Represent Unconditional Love

When people look at us, they are looking at a representation of how we lived, what we have learned and our life experiences.

So we need to:

  • know how much God loves us,
  • be continuously filled with His love, and
  • seek to share this love by application of God's words through our thoughts, words and actions.

We can start by asking ourselves:

Today, what am I supposed to learn from God through this? And what should I do?

Jeanne Cesena is a strong woman, her strength built through many trials and a growing reliance on the Lord she loves. Enduring threats, abuse, abandonment and psychological struggles, she has come to see the Lord as her hope and healing. Jeanne ministers with her husband with Blended Step Families at Rock Church San Diego and is also a wedding planner and event/conference coordinator for churches and businesses. She is married, has three children—including a "bonus baby" at age 40—and has a powerful message to women about God's redeeming power.

 Graphic adapted, courtesy of Skimpton007 at Pixabay.

Tuesday
Mar272018

An Exercise in Empathizing

In describing Kaley Rhea's writing, I use words like quirky, insightful and real. Most of all real! She speaks with authenticity, but also authority. In this Relationship UPGRADE, she calls us to biblical empathy—the art of listening well and responding with compassion.

"You’ve probably been here." Kaley says. "You’re sharing a personal struggle, trauma, crisis, or even triumph with someone, and that person looks at you and responds in that moment by saying the Worst Possible Thing™."

The hard thing about this UPGRADE blog is I (Dawn) read each one first, and OUCH! The Lord got my number. I want to be a woman of wisdom, but that doesn't mean I have to jump in and give my two cents.

Kaley continues . . .

It’s so frustrating! Hurtful! It makes me mad!

Like, why would you even say that?

Can’t you step outside yourself for two seconds, understand my feelings, and treat me like I’m a valid human being? ::pant, pant::

You know what’s even more heartbreaking though?

The realization that I can be that person.

  • The insensitive one.
  • The clueless one.
  • The selfish one.
  • The one who doesn’t know what to say, and so—in her haste to say something—hears her own voice release the shameful and dreaded Worst Possible Thing™.

It’s so easy to point the finger at someone else’s lack of empathy and overlook my own.

Deceptively easy. Devastatingly easy.

But Jesus says in John 15:12, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

How does Jesus love us? He didn’t stay where He was. He came here. He lived a human life, went through human trials, felt pain and hunger and cold. Probably tasted bad food and got sore feet and annoying splinters and low blood sugar.

He put Himself in our place. Literally.

Yet I have occasions where I—in my ignorance and limited perspective—think myself justified in viewing someone else’s struggle/hurt/heartache/victory/passion within my own context and judging, dismissing or “solving” it.

Or sometimes I’m going about my day and I’m so focused on my circumstances, goals, to-do lists, whatevers that I forget that the people around me aren’t obstacles to get around. Or tools to be used to accomplish my stuff.

They’re whole people. Created by and loved of God.

If I brush off or shut down someone who’s come to share a trial or a triumph, I have at the very least missed out. More probably, I’ve sinned.

Galatians 6:2 reads, “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

How, though? How can I do this?

Consider the following:

  • LISTEN

That’s it. That’s my whole bulleted list.

That’s all I’ve got because, for me, that’s where I have to start. And it can be a difficult place to start.

Too many times, even when I’m listening to a friend or a co-worker or a family member or even a stranger, I listen wrong.

I’m less listening and more waiting for MY TURN to speak.

  • I listen less for understanding their experience and more for making my own experience understood.
  • I listen less to communicate love and more to “fix” them with my brilliant advice.
  • I listen less for their sake and more for my own.

That isn’t empathizing.

That isn’t putting myself in their place, bearing their burden, feeling what they feel.

But wait! I tell myself. What about when they’re wrong? I don’t have to listen when they’re wrong, right? Surely?

Except, oh wait.

If I haven’t listened, acknowledged this person is a person, loved of God, dear to my heart, then I’m wrong, too. And anyway, if I haven’t listened to them, what kind of joke would it be to expect them to listen to me?

Like . . . a really not-funny joke.

Good thing there’s Jesus.

I’m reading these verses right now, and you are so invited.

"Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:14-16).

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God" (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

This is my prayer—is it yours?

Jesus, my sweet Savior,

I need Your strength to help me to be tender. Soften my heart and open my ears. Help me to listen and to love unselfishly, by Your great grace.

Thank You for being the ultimate example of empathy and the perfect, all-knowing Understander. Give me Your very un-me-like ability to delight in the people You’ve made, even when I don’t understand them the way You do. Convict me when I fail to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).

My heart is Yours. Make it more like Yours.

Amen!

Kaley Rhea is the St. Louis-area, author of the Christian romantic comedy Turtles in the Road (along with mom, bud, and writing partner Rhonda Rhea) and the soon-to-release non-fiction book Messy to Meaningful: Lessons From the Junk Drawer (co-written with Rhonda Rhea and Monica Schmelter)—coming this April.

Thursday
Mar222018

Hope for a Better Future

Shonda Savage Whitworth speaks words of hope from her own life experiences and the Word of God. In this UPLIFT post, she reminds us of a wonderful truth—God redeems tough situations for our growth, others’ good, and God’s glory.

“Before my son’s conviction, like many people, I thought of prison as being a dangerous place filled with angry men who fight with one another daily,” Shonda says.

“But now that I’ve that experienced the penal system through my son’s incarceration, my perception has changed.”

While I (Dawn) have always prayed for the persecuted church, in recent years because of various encounters, the Lord has moved me to pray for His children in prisons (Hebrews 13:3). I believe with all my heart the Lord redeems people and situations for His glory, and Shonda gives us two encouraging examples.

Shonda continues . . .

There are dangers in prison and there are angry people who live there. However, I’ve learned through my son and by meeting other families who have incarcerated loved ones, that most people in prison are a lot like us.

All throughout biblical history, the Lord demonstrated to us that He does not withhold a future for people who have a darkened past when they surrender their lives to Him, whether that was their own doing or brought on them by others.

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 NLT).

Let’s briefly look at two biblical heroes to see how God gave them better futures in spite of their past.

Let’s imagine their lives written as MODERN-DAY HEADLINES and stories.

1. Convicted Sex Offender Promoted to Second-in-Command

Joseph, a convicted sex offender, was released from prison and promoted to second-in-command after accurately interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams. The Pharaoh’s cupbearer, a former inmate with Joseph, remembered that Joseph had the God-given ability to interpret dreams.

Summoned to appear before Pharaoh, the Lord gave Joseph the meaning of the dreams and instructions on how to spare the land from famine. Therefore, Pharaoh appointed Joseph to be second-in-command of Egypt.

Joseph arrived in Egypt after his brothers kidnapped and sold him to slave traders. While serving as a slave to Potiphar, Joseph became a trusted manager. Joseph allegedly took advantage of his liberties and was accused by Mrs. Potiphar of inappropriate behavior.

Joseph testified that Mrs. Potiphar seduced him, and when he fled she kept his cloak. She testified thatWhen he heard me scream, he ran outside and got away, but he left his cloak behind with me” (Genesis 39:15 NLT).

The courts sided with Potiphar and sentenced Joseph to prison, though more testimony indicated this was a wrongful conviction.

Joseph was known for saving Egypt and the surrounding lands from seven years of famine, including the brothers who betrayed him.

Before his death, Joseph said to his brothers, You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people” (Genesis 50:20 NLT).

2. Murderer Turned Fugitive becomes Government and Religious Leader

Spared from death as an infant, Pharaoh sought the death penalty for adopted grandson, Moses, for his role in the murder of an Egyptian task master.

It was reported that “after looking in all directions to make sure no one was watching, Moses killed the Egyptian and hid the body in the sand” (Exodus 2:12 NLT).

Fearing for his own life, Moses fled to the wilderness where he lived for 40 years as a fugitive. After the reigning Pharaoh died, the Lord summoned Moses to return to the land where he was born to lead the Israelites out of slavery.

After a miraculous parting of the Red Sea and safely crossing into the wilderness away from the pursuing Egyptians, God instructed Moses on how to establish the Israelite government and establish a house of worship for the Hebrew people.

Moses became known for writing the first five books of the Old Testament and was called a friend of God as the LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (Exodus 33:11 NLT). 

Hope and a Future

When anyone—including inmates and their families—gives their heart to the Lord and repents of personal sins, that person become a new creation in Christ Jesus. With that surrender, there is the promise of a new life and the hope of a better future in Him on this side of eternity, just as demonstrated in the lives of Joseph and Moses.

Therefore, what if we, the people in our society, begin to look at the lives of those who are incarcerated as in training and in preparation for a better future?

What if we begin to partner with the Lord to help inmates and their families realize they have a hope for a better future?

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.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of TryJimmy at Pixabay.

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