“Shanna, Shanna”

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Our days are filled with urgent and important things vying for our attention. Within the day’s whirlwind of busyness, it’s easy to focus on the urgent and lose sight of the important. It can be a struggle to favor crossing items off our to-do lists to spending unscheduled amounts of quality time with people. It can be difficult, feel uncomfortable, and might seem plain impossible to stop and rest. We have become tightly scheduled and overbooked. White spaces on our calendars are a rare find.
 
And I can be the worst culprit. If I am not intentional, my pace of life can be all consuming and exhausting. I can easily fall into the race of rushing from task to task, place to place, activity to activity. Instead, I want my life to be one of making time for others, resting in my surroundings, finding beauty in the quietest places, and tuning out the voices of the world to focus on hearing His voice. I want my legacy to include, “She made time for others and she loved well.”
 
It’s true, tasks, meetings, errands and chores need to get done but not at the expense of the quiet, more meaningful, and important things in life. There needs to be a balance.
 
This is a real, age-old struggle. In Luke 10:38-42, Jesus enters the home of a woman named Martha. “Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.
 
But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”
 
But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
 
Just replace, “Martha, Martha” with your name and read it again- “Shanna, Shanna, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.”
 
It grabs your attention, doesn’t it? If that one thing Mary was doing was stopping, listening, and resting at the feet of Jesus, I think following her example would be the best thing we can do today. I want to challenge you to take a few minutes to reevaluate today’s activities and give more attention and focus to the quiet, important things in your life. Relationships, people, listening, cheerfully helping, joyfully serving, answering with kindness- those types of things. I think we will find the urgent things are not as urgent as we thought they would be and the important things are more important and needed than what we thought. Have a great day! ❤

Walking the Way of the Cross

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Good Friday was a good Friday indeed! For the last couple of years our family has joined with members of other churches in our community for a walk down Main Street. We take turns carrying a big wooden cross, singing hymns, stopping along the way to pray for businesses and places of importance in our community.

It’s a time when denominational lines are crossed. Methodists, Catholics, Baptists, Congregationalists, non-denominationalists come together to remember and thank Jesus for His great sacrifice. The focus is on Jesus and our community.

As I followed the cross, watched people take turns carrying it, listened to the happy chatting and the singing around me, and joined in prayer for our town and our neighbors, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed with love and peace. When Jesus walked the earth, He lived in community. He created community. He loves community.

Through His suffering and great sacrifice on the cross He became The Way for us to have community and relationship with Him and The Father. When He went to Heaven, He gave us the Holy Spirit as a guide, a helper, to have community with Him. And He left us with a whole community of other believers and followers of Jesus to work together in Kingdom work and provide encouragement for each other.

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This is the community I witnessed yesterday and one I have experienced in my own life. When my burdens have been too much to bear, my sisters and brothers have held me up in prayer and have come alongside me with truth and encouragement. When prayers have been answered, they have celebrated and thanked God with me. When others have crosses of pain, regret, loneliness, suffering and grief, the community of Christ should come alongside to help each bear their crosses. Galatians 6:2 says “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” And when prayers have been answered and hope and love reigns in a situation, we need to be celebrating and praising God together.

Together, in our town, the community and body of Christ are praying and celebrating. We are praying for the peace, love, and the hope that comes from Jesus to shine through us so brightly that others will want to join in community with Him. We are celebrating hope, the blessings, and answers of prayers that chains have been broken and the lost that have been found.

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I am eternally grateful to Jesus for what He has done for me. And I am incredibly thankful I live in a place where churches can come together and we can express our views openly.  I know that others around the world do not have this “luxury” and for them and other communities of believers I am praying for safety and strength. Happy Easter weekend! Peace and grace be with you!

The Joy Bombs

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History has proved New Englanders to be revolutionaries, passionate and determined people, overcomers of all types of difficulties, including wild weather. If there’s one prerequisite to being labeled a “New Englander,” it is the skill of talking about and complaining about the weather. You really can’t blame us. If you have spent any amount of time in New England, you know our weather is unpredictable and always changing. It could be sunny and fifty degrees one day, only to wake up to an outrageous, snowy nor’easter the next. Mark Twain accurately summed up our weather, “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.”

Well, we’ve been waiting more than a few minutes and the weather seems to be stuck on the winter channel. Even though the calendar says it is spring, snow is in the forecast AGAIN. It appears the snow in unaware of proper seasonal boundaries.

My daughter tells me the recent snowstorms are a test of our patience and joy. That’s a great way to look at it. We will persevere and when spring weather FINALLY comes it will be even sweeter. BUT until then, it seems (from Facebook feeds and the word on the street) not everyone feels the same. Most people are pretty bummed about this winter weather and I get it. So, the kids and I thought we should do something about the low morale and cheer people up.  We came up with an idea to go out into our community to help people find some joy and give a few people something else to talk about instead of the weather.

We grabbed some balloons at the dollar store, purchased some cookies and hot chocolate at Walmart, and made bundles of joy (or as my youngest daughter called them, “joy bombs.”) We tied a poem to the package, prayed, and followed wherever the Holy Spirit led us. Our goal was to make people smile and brighten their day.  The following is our “adventure log.”

 

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JOY ADVENTURE LOG:

1.) Left one “joy bomb” by a car in a parking lot.

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2-3.) Brought two “Joy Bombs” to a local breakfast cafe. Asked the waitresses if they would pass them on to two customers. They seemed happy to do so.

4.) Stopped an older couple pumping gas at the gas station.  I am not quite sure if they heard or understood what we were doing (or if they thought that I was slightly off my rocker.) Regardless, they took the cookies, hot chocolate, and the balloon. As I was driving away, I saw a huge smile on the woman’s face as she pointed to the bag and explained something to her husband

5.) Pulled into the parking lot of my hair salon. Saw one woman getting into the car next to us. (Let her get in the car first so the snow did not wreck her freshly styled hair.) Asked her how she felt about the weather. She looked a little suspicious and a bit confused. We explained what we were doing. She said something like, “No, that’s not me. I am fine with the snow.” Well, that’s great! Save “joy bomb” for someone else.

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5.) Left one for Lala, my fabulous hair stylist. I figured Lala would be hearing all about the weather and people’s problems while styling clients’ hair. Asked the receptionist to tell Lala to pass the “joy bomb” on to someone who really needed it.  Will follow-up.

6.) Stopped a dad and his toddler who were walking through a parking lot.Told them the balloon and cookies were just for them. My daughters thought I knew them because of the way I spoke to them. It touched my heart that my daughters observed and commented on this. This project isn’t just about blessing community members but also about meeting the people we share our town with and modeling interactions for my children.

5.) Coffee house. (Seriously, how have I not been to this place before?) Very friendly service and the two young men working the counter happily took the “job bomb” and will be passing it on to someone.  Side note: How cute is this little journal area? I have lots of thoughts and dreams I could add to one of those journals. I will be back soon.

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7.) Brought one to a church family. My girls asked if they could bring it up to the door by themselves. And they did! 🙂

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8., 9., 10. ) Left three at neighbors’ doorsteps. The only other time we come to these doors are to receive something- candy at Halloween. It’s feels good to give and not just receive.

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11. 12. 13.) Town Hall- I gave each kid a “joy bomb” and we walked into town hall. There were three beautiful, friendly, women to receive joy from each child. They were so touched, they gave us balloons leftover from someone’s retirement party. One balloon for each kid and then four more to pass on to others. We happily took them and promised to pass them on. One of the ladies asked if I was the one that did the kindness rocks. I love that connections are being made.

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14. 15. 16) Retirement Home- My girls decided they wanted to give their balloons away to the residents. At first my three-year old was adamant about keeping his balloon and that was completely fine with me. My oldest bent down next to him and quietly explained who and why they were giving their balloons away and before I knew it my son wanted to give his away too! Kindness was multiplying before my eyes and my daughter reminded me of the power and influence of using soft, gentle words. What a blessing this stop was! We walked in and residents’ faces lit up. We stayed for a few minutes and talked with some of them. Then they surprised us with a cookie and told us we were welcome anytime.

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17.) Brought a “joy bomb” to the pastor at the Episcopal Church. I drive and walk by this church often and I always think it would be nice to stop by and say “hi.”  Well, today seemed a good day to do it. 🙂 (Why did I wait so long?)

18.) We brought one to a church friend.

19.) My kids had it on their hearts to bring one to a fellow homeschooling family who lives down the street. We left the “joy bomb” on their step along with the rest of the balloons from town hall. My kids were thrilled that they had some say in this project and their voice mattered.

20.) The final balloon, we brought to a neighbor who we do not know well but know they could use some joy. We left the “joy bomb” at their door.

All twenty “joy bombs” prayed for and delivered. Throughout the morning, I kept thinking about what this adventure was teaching my children. We had inadvertently worked on project management skills, math skills, map skills, conversational skills, and teamwork. We had witnessed the power of prayer and kindness within our interactions with each other and with other people. As a bonus, we met new friends and found new places in our town to visit.

When we pulled into the driveway, one of my daughters said, “Mom, I feel like I have been hugged ten thousand times.”  That’s a pretty great and accurate description of how I felt too. The weather seemed so insignificant when we placed our sights higher and on other things. I don’t think winter weather is quite over yet and that’s okay. It’s a pain to deal with but we are New Englanders. We’ll get through it and how we wait “the few minutes” matters. Let’s try to be cheerful, spread some joy, and help where we can. If you are able, grab an extra shovel and help clean off cars and walkways, take cookies to a neighbor, smile to those you meet. You never know how the smallest interactions will influence someone’s whole day.  Stay warm and stay positive. Spring will be here “soon.” ❤

 

 

 

The Germiest and Messiest Places

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There we were in one of the germiest, grimiest places to be-a public restroom. The three of us, heads huddled together, looked down into the bowl of the toilet. I could see it. In my attempts to protect my children from the germy seat with layers of toilet paper, my favorite earring had slipped from my ear and splashed into the “pool of germs.”  Fortunately, it had not gone down into the abyss but instead lay sparkling, mocking me from the depths of the “clear” water.

Ummm…. now what? Should I stick my hand in the water and get it? NO!! No, I could not bring myself to do it. Maybe I could fish it out with something but then I realized my purse was outside with a friend. Deciding I really needed to have my purse, if not for some gadget at least for some comfort, I sent my oldest daughter to get it for me.

As I waited, I opened the door of the stall. I felt a little loss, needed some sympathy, and possibly some help from my fellow bathroom compadres. And on a more practical level, I wanted to make sure no one  flushed the toilet. Then all hope would be gone.

I tried to make eye contact with the women who came through the door. I stated my plight loudly enough for most to hear. Some women ignored me but many women curiously andwith empathetically peeked into the bowl, shaking their heads as they left, and agreeing it was a bad situation.

And then there was Linda. Oh, Linda!

Linda was different. She heard my appeal for help. She listened to my situation and decided to do something about it.  Without giving it much thought, Linda rolled up her sleeve and heroically reached deep into the toilet waters retrieving my earring. She carried it over to the sink and scrubbed her hands and scrubbed my earring. Then she carefully dried my earring and handed it to me with care and the instructions to CAREFULLY and THOROUGHLY sanitize my earring before I wore it again. (That will NOT be a problem, Linda! I promise!) I thanked her over and over again but she just smiled and said it was really no big deal. Maybe it wasn’t a big deal to Linda BUT it was big deal to me!

You know, I cannot help but think of what it would be like if we were all a little more like Linda. I am not saying we need to stick our bare hands into germy public toilet bowls. (Although, carrying plastic dish gloves in our purses may come in handy one day.)  What I am saying is this, what if we went along our schedules and agendas with the readiness to be interrupted? What if we tuned our hearing and focused our sight on the cries for help from people around us? What would it look like to join people in their messiness?

There are a lot of people who are stuck in messy and unhealthy situations. We often worry we don’t have what it takes to help and so we ignore or walk on by. While we cannot pull people out of their situations or fix things for them, we can come around them and let them know they are not alone.  We can care for them by providing a listening ear, a smiling face, a hand on the shoulder. We can join them in their messiness by not judging them and “wash” them over with prayer, friendship and love. And then we can “wrap” them in a big hug.

Most of all, we can help people find resources, hope and the One who defeated death. After death has been defeated, is there anything Jesus can’t do? Remember, Jesus met people in the messiest places, surrounded by the germiest people and He was their hope and new life. When we come before Him with our messes or better yet, when we come before Him together with our messes, we can expect that Jesus has the power to save, to rescue, and make ways for people when there seems to be no other ways possible.

For those of us who are followers of Jesus, we are called to walk in His ways and with His Spirit upon us we are called to preach the good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recovery of the slight to the blind, and set those who are oppressed free. (Luke 4:18-19) Most of all we are called to have faith and LOVE! (1 John 3:23-24) I think love starts with listening and looking for those in need.

So Linda, wherever you are, THANK YOU AGAIN! Thank you so much for your kindness.

And thank you Jesus, for allowing me these unusual, uncomfortable, and hilarious situations I often find myself in. What I learn from these “opportunities,” I hope will always be for your glory and your Kingdom work. ❤

PS Please note that this picture is a reenactment in a thoroughly cleaned and sanitized toilet. I wish I had snapped a picture during the unfortuante event but it was the last thing on my mind. LOL

To the Tallest Peak and a Step Back in Time

“A mountain has no need for people, but people do need mountains. We go to them for their beauty, for the exhilaration of standing closer to mysterious skies, for the feeling of triumph that comes from having labored to reach a summit.” – Earl Hamner, Jr. (The Waltons)

It is a rare occurrence to find myself without children and without plans. About a month ago, it happened. I had a few hours in between appointments and I had time to kill. A million possibilities crossed my mind but many were not feasible or rooted in reality. (You can’t get to a warm, tropical island and back in a time span of 2 hours. Just saying…)
I was already overcaffeinated, so a coffee shop wasn’t the best choice. The weather was cold and I was not prepared to be outside, so no walk or a hike. I really did not want to spend a lot of money (or be tempted to spend a lot of money), so I needed to stay away from the mall. BUT I was in the mood for some sort of discovery. Then I remembered seeing an ad pop up in my Facebook feed. Something about one of the largest indoor antique stores in Lawrence, MA. It was only 10 minutes from my location.
Mind made up, I turned the car down the road and I pulled into a small parking lot nestled next to a large brick building. It was overshadowed by towering red-brick mills with tall, rounded, brick stacks touching the bright blue sky. I opened the old door of the mill and stepped into a wooden stairwell. It smelled damp and old.  This was a good idea!
There’s something special about entering a place of historical significance. Some people call it nostalgia, but to me it feels more like connectedness. Old places and the items they hold, are windows into time gone by.  They are doors that connect people from past to present. The shadows left behind by people who lived real lives with all the same, real and raw, emotions, struggles and celebrations that we live with now.
The Canal Street Antique Mall is huge. There are floors and floors of furniture and vintage goods tucked in every nook by various owners and dealers. I strolled through the rows of furniture, looked at the spines of aging books, touched woolen clothing and held glitzy, lacy hats over my head. I was looking for something smaller than any of these items. High up on a shelf, bundled in rectangular, plastic boxes, I found them. Hundreds of postcards waiting to be combed through and read.
The front of a postcard is beautiful, but the real treasure is the message on the back. I could spend hours reading each one and that is what I did. I made myself comfortable on the old wooden mill floor and surrounded myself with stacks of sorted cards. I read as many messages as I could. The messages included things about reminding the reader to pick up the sender at train stations, others were asking for visits, many declared their regrets for missing events due to their vacations, and many, MANY addressed the temperamental New England weather-the snow, heat, rain, and cold. (Not much has changed. New Englanders are still always talking about the weather.)
I became attached to two of the postcards (pictured below.) One of the cards shows the White Mountains and an another of an Appalachian Mountain Club hut. Maybe they stood out to me because I had been dreaming about an adventure, the mountains, and hiking. If you followed my hiking trip of 2016,you read about last year’s adventure at the huts. I have been looking forward to a return trip since then.
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The hut pictured is the AMC Madison Hut. The Madison Hut was built in 1888. An addition was built in 1907.  I believe the postcard to be dated between these two years. 

 

When I had killed enough time, I decided to purchase these two postcards and be on my way. About two weeks later, in most perfect timing, Fearless Leader, sent out the call for hikers with a proposed plan for a Summer Hike. The route would take us through the White Mountains (peakbagging Mount Washington- the tallest peak in the Northeast) and would involve spending the nights at two huts. The Madison Hut would be one of the huts we would stay at! The very same hut as pictured on the postcard.
Of course, I answered the call with a YES! I will be preparing for my grand summer adventure and looking forward to many smaller and equally exciting ones along the way.  I invite you to come along with me through my blog and follow my trip preparations. (More details of our trip below.) Mountains here I come. You are a place of adventure, beauty, discovery, and a door between past and present. Until then….
Summary of HIKE 2017 by our Fearless Leader:
Adventure waiting to happen!
Motivation to get in shape!
1 new lodge
2 new huts
5 new summits to bag
Consecutive days of fresh mountain air.
No doubt, some laughs!
Many muscles worked.
Amazing views of God’s glory.
Interesting new trail and hut friends
Incredible new memories 🙂

The Stranger Maiden- An Interview with B. Diaz, Author and Storyteller

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“It’s taking your time and really unfolding the beauty of the words as opposed to rushing through the action of the tale. Pausing for a moment and really creating a world for people to exist in for a little while.” – B. Diaz

It’s waiting for the right moment to tell a story and begin adventures in unexpected times and places. It’s taking the time to dream and imagine and embrace the characters who cross our paths. It’s the self-discovery through the pursuit of hopes and dreams and building character with courageous determination and quiet humility. These are the things reflected in author, B. Diaz (B, short for Brianna) and these are the things her storytelling inspires and points people towards.

Diaz’s first book, The Stranger Maiden, has been collecting rave reviews from readers of all ages. More than an exciting adventure story, the published book is one of Brianna’s dreams come true. A dream that began when she was thirteen years old, while wandering through the woods with her friend (and book’s illustrator, Kasey Walko,) the book’s heroine, Darcie, interrupted Brianna’s thoughts and asked her to tell her story.

For years, Darcie lived in Brianna’s imagination. In high school she would write pieces and short stories, “but I would always come back to this one. I didn’t feel like I was equipped to tell this story until I was eighteen—you know, going off to college and all. So I wrote it. And then I ignored it. I ignored it for two and half years until I graduated college in 2014. In early 2015, I decided to revise and publish the story. I was a more mature writer. I had read more books and developed my voice a little more. I was able to add meat and depth to the story whereas before it was just a framework.”

B. has been a reader and writer for as long as she can remember. She can describe in detail her first journal, right down to the material and color of the binding stitches. Her senior year of high school, she won an award for the most books checked out of the school library for that year. And she proudly states she owns more books than any other possession. When she speaks about her favorite books and authors, enthusiasm fills her sparkling green eyes and you can feel the depth of admiration she holds for them and the influence they have had on her life through their words and works. A book to Brianna is more than a good story.  It’s an escape and “a world for people to exist in for a little while.”

Rooted in a strong, faith-filled family and being raised by independent, “no-nonsense, no-drama parents” has also influenced her writing. She has a strong sense of self, independence, and individuality. These attributes and these qualities are woven into the characters she creates. Introducing a strong female character was of particular importance to her, she wanted her main character, Darcie, to be someone her readers could look up to and identify with.

“(Darcie) does not apologize for who she is. She doesn’t mess around. That was important for me in stories with young women. A male character would get the job done so why wouldn’t a woman also make the same choice? Portraying female characters as brave—there is a way to be strong without being macho. And I think that gets muddled a lot—the relationship between strength and femininity.” 

As a woman and a mom of two girls, I love those words. It is so important that my girls experience positive female role models in their real life and in literary settings. I want them to meet women who are fearless and know they too can go after their hopes and dreams with confidence. God has created women to be both strong and brave, as well as feminine and graceful.  I am blessed that my girls have access to Brianna and now her book. I also want to note that Brianna wrote this book free of profanity and questionable content. Young girls can enjoy it without coming across comprising situations and questionable material.

I would be remiss not to mention one more important quality I see in Brianna – her humility. Her humility is both refreshing and beautiful especially in a platform-seeking world. Her talent is years above her age, yet she doesn’t desire a spotlight or fame. “I never told anyone that I wanted to be a writer. I never set out to be an author. That’s just not me. It was always a very quiet dream. I would spend hours writing, every spare moment. And nobody but those closest to me knew that. I believe the best tended dreams are ones that start quietly. You’re guarding it. It’s your secret place. And you go there and tend and maybe, eventually, if you tend it well and are confident in its beauty, you might want to share it with other people—because maybe what you created will help someone or make them smile.”

What does B. want for the readers of The Stranger Maiden? “I want them to smile. Enjoy the story and allow themselves to be taken outside of their everyday.” For those hoping and asking for a sequel, B. Diaz says that’s something she cannot promise. “This story has been told. I have done the story and the characters in it justice. And now I have to wait until another one needs to be told and if it happens to be in Terrlyn—and it just might be because recently I woke up and I said ‘I see it’—then I’ll go on that next adventure.”

We will just have to wait patiently until the right moment, when the next story needs to be told and the next adventure begins. One thing I think we can count on, B.’s next book will be just as adventurous, just as full of beautiful settings and imagery, and include just as courageous and complex characters as the first story. In the meantime, we can focus on our own hopes and dreams and work to bring imagination back into our lives by taking hold of a little bit of wonder. As Brianna says, “When we encourage imagination it benefits everyone.”  

The Stranger Maiden is available in hardcover, paperback and e-book. Purchase online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  Connect with author B. Diaz at  https://authorbdiaz.blog/ and on Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/authorbdiaz/

 Just for Fun…A Little Game of THIS or THAT with B.Diaz…

UNDERWATER or UP IN THE AIR- air

LOST or FOUND- lost

PRINCE or FROG –“Prince. I hate frogs.”

CHOCOLATE or VANILLA-  “Chocolate, obviously.”

SNEAKERS or FLIP FLOPS- “barefoot”

PLAID or POLKA DOT- “Polka….PLAID. I love polka dots but wear plaid more often. “

AQUARIUM or ZOO- “Bookstore? Museum?”

FERRIS WHEEL or ROLLER COASTER- roller coaster

GOLD or SILVER- gold

SWEET or SOUR- sweet

INVISIBLE or INVINCIBLE- invisible

BOOK GIVEAWAY on the Embrace Enthusiasm Facebook Page! I am giving away two books to one lucky winner! To win a copy of The Stranger Maiden AND a copy of Ella Enchanted, Brianna’s favorite childhood book, please like this post and comment with your favorite childhood book or most recent read. You can also enter in the comments on this interview page below. Happy Friday! ❤

(This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with Facebook. )

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Throw Kindness Around Like Confetti-The Podcast

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Photo Credit: MOPS International

I am so excited and honored to have one of my talks turned into a podcast! I gave this talk during MOPS International’s Coach training in Milwaukee last fall. The whole experience was humbling and surreal. I praise God for leading me out of my comfort zone and stepping into new things for His glory. I thank MOPS International for believing in me and allowing me to share my heart. I hope you will listen, be blessed and be encouraged. If you would like to know more about MOPS International and what they do, I would love to talk with you.

(Google Play link to the podcast below. It is about 12 minutes long.)

https://play.google.com/music/m/D4xz4cy52fqhn2d3gfdnv76c2im?t=Throw_Kindness_Around_Like_Confetti-Connections_Podcast 

“When Shanna woke up on her 38th birthday, she had a to-do list that didn’t excite her much. So she threw it out and made another list full of kind things she wanted to do that day. With her new list and a new attitude, she spread kindness around like confetti. All year long, we should strive to walk in grace and do good works and love each other in the name of Jesus.”

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