Archives For Faith

Love. Lately I haven’t been able to get this subject off of my mind. I have been overwhelmed with the realization of how great God’s love is for us, his children. And likewise, I have been filled with a desire to truly love like He does.

I’ve always thought that I’ve been pretty good at loving others, even people who I don’t know. If there is one thing that I feel like I am gifted at, it is loving people. I don’t say this in a prideful way, I have never been perfect at it by any means, but I recognize it as one of my strengths. I know the 5 Love Languages like the back of my hand, and I am almost fluent in all of them (I blame my parents for this). I find great joy in making other people feel loved.

But there is still SO much I have to learn about loving others well. And lately, God has been challenging me in this even more.

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It is pretty easy to love most people. But throughout my life, there have been a few who I must say, have been more difficult. I’m sure you can relate. That person who rejects you, who says mean things about you, who hurts you and those close to you, who doesn’t love you in return, and who may straight up bully or persecute you. Those people…are a little harder to love. Sometimes it feels near impossible.

But we still need to love them. Here’s why…

“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” – 1 John 4:20-21

If we truly love God, we must love other people…all people. When this passage says “brother,” it’s not just talking about the brother in our immediate family…it’s talking about all people. Even the mean ones.

When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, here’s what he said:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” – Matthew 22:37-39

As followers of Christ, loving other people is not optional. We cannot be true followers of Jesus if we do not love other people, and we cannot pick and choose which people we are going to love. We are called to love ALL people, as Christ loves us.

Now, it can be rather easy to just say that we love someone (we sometimes use that as a quick fix, “I forgive them! I love them!”), but it’s quite a different story to show it and truly love them in our hearts. In the end, it doesn’t really matter if we say we love someone…what matters is our actions and the content of our hearts.

“We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.”      - 1 John 3:16-18

Let’s make it a priority to show the truth of our love by our actions. This is the only way the world will know that we are true disciples of Jesus.

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One thing that I struggle with is that I can easily over-commit myself and that often leads to a life that is busy and at times overwhelming. I have good intentions…I want to be there for everyone, do everything for everyone, and never let anyone down (But let’s be honest, that’s impossible.) I want to do all of this because I truly love people and want to help however I can. I just don’t always have a realistic perspective on how much is too much.

Yesterday, my husband Jonathan tweeted, “It’s easier to fill your schedule than fulfill it. Busyness does not equal significance.”

Whoa, that really resonated with me. It’s so true! I can easily fill my up schedule with lots of good things (and write it all out in my awesome planner), but if I fill it up too much with no time for rest, when it comes time to fulfill that schedule…it is near impossible and I am left feeling beat tired.

Even when I do allow time to rest, I rarely can. Many nights when I’m trying to sleep, my mind will race with all the things that I need to do. If I have given myself some downtime and attempting to do something fun or relaxing, I am often flooded with feelings of guilt regarding the “more important” things I’m not doing with that time.

This is a problem. And I know it’s something that many people struggle with. Busyness almost seems like a core value in our society. But In order to truly live a life of peace, we need to work on the art of being still.

“Be still and know that I am God.” – Psalm 46:10

When I think of this issue, I am reminded of the story of Mary and Martha in the New Testament (Luke 10:38-42.) Jesus and his disciples visited the home of two sisters, Mary and Martha. During their visit, Martha was busy making preparations and being the hostess with the mostest, while Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to him. Martha got irritated with her sister, and said to Jesus, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

What a wonderful example this story is. Martha was keeping herself busy, and felt like she had to earn the approval of Jesus by striving and doing all of these things. But her sister, Mary, discovered the best thing…the art of being still at Jesus’ feet and listening to his voice.

In a world filled with Marthas (and many of us striving to be like the other Martha), I want to remember to be like Mary and learn to be still at Jesus’ feet…surrendering to Him…listening…and truly resting.

Is this something you need to work on as well? What are some practical things you can do to practice rest in your own life?

Hello, my name is Tiffany, and I’m a recovering perfectionist.

Perfectionism is something that I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember. I have always had very high expectations of myself and everything that I have done. And if I wasn’t able to meet my very high standards of excellence, I would be left feeling defeated and like a failure, even if the end product was good.

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This is an exhausting way to live. Why? Because it is impossible for everything in our lives, for everything that we do, and for our surroundings to be perfect. It is just not possible. We live in an imperfect world, and we ourselves are imperfect. So why do we put that kind of pressure on ourselves?

I used to think that being a perfectionist was a good thing. That it was almost something to be proud of. And in some ways, I suppose it does produce good results at times. If we aim for perfection, even if it isn’t attainable, at least we land somewhere in the realm of excellence (goes with the whole “Shoot for the moon, and if you miss you’ll land among the stars.” idea).

But recently God has been showing me that my impossible standards of perfection are causing unnecessary stress in my life, and ultimately it is an obstacle to me living in complete peace.

I recently heard that “perfectionism is the mother of procrastination.” This really made me stop and think. Yes, perfectionism causes me to strive for a ridiculous level of excellence in all that I do, but often times it would halt me in my tracks altogether. If I knew that I was unable to reach whatever level of perfection I expected of myself, I would often put it off or maybe not do it altogether, because I feared the sense of failure that I knew would inevitably come. Perfectionism can bind you and keep you from living fully and pursuing all that God has for you.

I don’t want to live that way. I don’t want to be bound by the unrealistic expectations that perfectionism places on me, or the people around me.

This process of realization for me really began when I became a mom. Suddenly, I had this little human who was relying on me in order to survive and thrive in this world…and just as suddenly, I was unable to do and be all that I used to for everyone else. And that was upsetting. I had expected myself to be Supermom and at the same time still be able to maintain the level of involvement and excellence in ministry, relationships, hobbies, work, house keeping, cooking, etc. that I always had. This was impossible. I wasn’t perfect..I’m not perfect, and I’m not able to be all things to all people (including myself.)

I love this passage in 2 Corinthians 2:8-10 where the Apostle Paul tells about how he was asking God to take away his weaknesses…

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.‘ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

It is okay for us to not be perfect. It is in our imperfection, in our weaknesses, that God is able to work in and through us and HIS strength is perfect to help us. What a blessing that is! That sure does take a lot of pressure off of me, knowing that He will make up for any area that I’m not strong in. His grace is more than enough.

Does this mean I will suddenly stop striving for excellence? No, not at all. I believe in doing things well. I believe that honors God greatly. But when things aren’t perfect, and my weaknesses are exposed loud and clear, I will breathe deeply and know that it’s okay. God’s grace is enough.

As Emily Ley says, I will hold myself to “a standard of grace not perfection.”

How about you? Are you a perfectionist? Are there areas in your life where you feel like you need to let go and embrace imperfection, and let God’s grace be enough?

One of my goals for this year is to be more intentional about cultivating community in my life. Honestly, it’s something I haven’t been so great at the past couple of years. Sure, I see many people I love at church throughout the week and at events, but I haven’t been consistent with making much of an effort outside of that. At least not as much as I would like.

I have this terrible tendency when I’m going through a hard time or when I’m hurting to want to draw back into my little shell. I have a feeling that I’m not alone in this (can I get an “Amen!”?). I think it’s something that a lot of us do. We think that drawing back and building up walls will protect and heal us, but in reality it does quite the opposite. Isolation is a silent killer.

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When we isolate ourselves from others, we quickly begin to feel lonely, and when we feel lonely we begin to think that no one cares, and then that can lead to depression and a myriad of other things that are really based on lies. Basically, we were not created to live life alone.

The Lord God himself said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18) I know this scripture is referring to a man/woman relationship, but I think it applies to so much more.

Jesus led the perfect example for us in how to live in community. He surrounded himself with the twelve disciples, and they did ministry together, but they also just lived life together. That is what we were created for, to live life together…not alone.

In our culture today and with the prominence of technology and social media, it is easy to feel a false sense of connection. We go onto Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest to fill this void and this need for connection with others. That is not true connection. I’m not against all of those tools…I think they are great, when used in moderation and in the right ways. But I long for the day where we spend more time interacting and connecting with people face-to-face than with a screen.

One thing that may hold you back from connecting with others is that you feel like you don’t have any good friends nearby. I completely understand. I have moved a lot in my life, especially during my high school years. In the course of four years, I went to four different high schools. It was hard. I was shy and I liked the friends that I grew up with, I didn’t want to move. But I also wanted to have friends where I was.

I’ll never forget the time I was talking with my mom after one of our moves about the fact that I felt like I didn’t have any friends. She told me, “Tiffany, if you want to have a friend, you’ve got to be a friend.” That simple conversation changed my mindset on friendships forever. (Thanks, Mom!)

Even when you are the new person somewhere, you cannot put all the pressure of connecting and initiating a friendship up to the other person. That’s a lot to expect of someone. But instead, we all need to take the initiative to be a friend to someone. BE the kind of friend you want to have, and I am sure that you will be blessed with that kind of friend in return. It goes back to the whole “you reap what you sow” concept. Pretty nifty, if you ask me. :)

Creating a sense of community in our lives with the people around us takes work. It doesn’t just happen. It’s something we have to tend to and cultivate, much like a garden. It takes effort on our part. But don’t give up…keep planting those seeds, continue tending to those friendships, and I promise you it will be worth it!

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like living in isolation. It’s kinda stinky. So, let’s all make an effort to cultivate community in our lives.

What are some practical things that you have done (or would like to do) in order to build community and tend to the friendships in your life?

Before last year, I don’t think I fully understood what it was like to truly grieve a loss. And because of that, I never really knew how to comfort those who were dealing with loss and grief. I would do my best, but now that we have experienced our own losses, I am thankful that I have better insight in how to help others when they face grief of their own.

I wish I had known these things sooner, but I am thankful to understand them now. It is so valuable to be able to learn from each other’s experiences, so with that in mind, I feel like I should share some of what I’ve learned with you.

None of this is meant to be accusatory in any way. If you have or haven’t done these things when helping someone, please don’t beat yourself up. Life is filled with lessons that we all learn together, and I share this in love and hope that it will help you help someone in return. Also, I am not a grief counselor…I am only speaking from my personal experience and what did and didn’t help me when I was dealing with loss.

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8 ways to help someone who is grieving…

  1. Be there for them. When I was grieving, it was so helpful to know that I wasn’t alone. When you are dealing with deep sadness, it can be easy to feel isolated, so when I had friends and family who were constantly letting me know they were there for me, it helped so much. You don’t have to be invasive, just check in on your friend periodically…let them know you love them and are there for them. Ask if they want to get together and talk. If they don’t take you up on that, that’s perfectly fine…at least they know that you are there and they are not alone.
  2. Be proactive in helping in practical ways. When we see someone going through a hard time, I think it’s almost habit for us to say “Let me know if you need anything.” And while we often say it sincerely, the person going through a hard time will rarely take you up on that. I know for me, I didn’t want to burden anyone by asking for something specific. But I had a few friends who plainly stated they were going to help me and they did just that. For example, one friend said she was going to bring us dinner that week, and simply asked which night would be best for me. That was such a blessing! After our second miscarriage, I came down with a stomach virus just days after we got the bad news…it was terrible. One of my dear friends texted me that morning asking how I was doing, and as soon as I told her, she said she was coming over to pick up my son, Liam, for the day. And when she did, she brought crackers, soup, and ginger ale with her. When you help a friend in a practical way like that, you may never fully realize the great impact you have on them.
  3. Don’t use clichés. This is a tricky one. We as a culture (Christians especially) tend to have these clichés that we say when someone is going through a hard time. We seem to think that they work as a little bandaid and will suddenly make that person feel better. Usually, they don’t. For example… “Everything is going to be okay.” “God is in control.” “This is just a part of God’s plan.” “God will bring good from this.” “This is all for a reason.” “Just trust in God.” I could go on writing about how each of these phrases usually aren’t helpful for someone who is deeply hurting, but I won’t. Instead of using clichés to comfort someone, just let them know you care, pray with them, and love them. They don’t need you to fix their hurt, because you won’t be able to (only God can do that). But you can love them through it, and that will make all the difference in the world.
  4. Mourn with them. This is biblical. “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15) There were a few people who would come see me or call and talk with me, and would just be there as I cried, and would even cry with me. They were okay with my emotions and didn’t make me feel bad for being sad. Mourning isn’t a bad thing. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4) We are supposed to mourn when we have experienced loss, it’s how we were created. And it is so helpful when you have friends who will mourn with you, and let you know that it’s okay for you to experience those emotions.
  5. Don’t try to cheer them up. This sounds weird, I know. Haha. When I say this, I don’t mean to not try and bring joy into their life. What I mean is, don’t dismiss their sadness and try to make them suddenly be happy. Don’t say, “Chin up! Cheer up! Life’s not all that bad.” Like I mentioned before, it’s important that they go through mourning and experience those emotions. There’s nothing wrong with that. DO love them, make them smile, and bring joy into their lives, but don’t dismiss their sadness like it’s not important.
  6. Express your love for them through cards and gifts. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant, but can be so simple and thoughtful. I received some cards and letters that truly touched my heart. They were just expressing their love for me and their sympathy for our loss. I also had a friend come and bring me flowers, and a couple friends sent simple gifts. It may not seem like much, but it can truly brighten someone’s day and bring a little joy back into their life knowing that people care.
  7. Don’t compare or belittle their loss. Comparison is the thief of joy, and when you belittle someone’s loss it can be truly hurtful. Saying, “Well, at least you have a child already.” or “It’s good you lost your baby during early pregnancy, and not later.” doesn’t help. Realize that whatever it is this person lost and is grieving, even though it may not have been as big of a loss as someone else’s in your eyes, it is still important to them and no amount of belittling or comparing will take away the hurt (but can instead add to it).
  8. Pray for them. Really pray for them. We say “I’m praying for you!”, but how often do we actually do it? This is something God convicted me of a few years ago, and I now truly make an effort to always pray for someone when I say I’m going to. If you see this person face-to-face, pray with them right then and there. If you can call them, pray with them over the phone. Pray for them even when they don’t know you’re praying for them. All of these other things I’ve listed above are very helpful, yes, but the thing you can do that will truly make a lasting impact is prayer. Because we cannot heal someone’s hurt, but we can pray to the God who is able to, and that will make all the difference in the world.

Also, keep in mind that people grieve for a variety of reasons, not just because of death. A feeling of great loss can occur because someone was fired, a failed relationship, infertility, sickness and health problems, moving to an unfamiliar place, or a myriad of other things. Understanding this will help us be sensitive and understanding when our friends go through these difficult transitions in life.

In addition to all of these things, I learned as the one who was grieving to be gracious and understanding when a person didn’t help me the way I needed. Most people mean well, but they don’t always know the right way to express it. And you never know what that person may be facing themselves. So many fight their battles in silence, and they don’t always have the capacity to minister to you in your own hurt.

If you have made it to the end of this post, I applaud you. :) I hope that this is helpful to you. I truly desire to help and encourage those who are hurting, and I hope this helps you do the same. We were not meant to go through life’s struggles alone, but with others by our side. Let’s work together to be like family to the community of people we are placed in.

Now, I would love to hear from your perspective…what are some things that helped you when you have faced loss or grief?

You are so loved!

We have this magnet on our refrigerator, and it is a constant reminder to me that the future I have always dreamed of starts with today.

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“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.” - Henry David Thoreau

What a challenging quote that is! I don’t want to get to the end of my life with regrets and questions of “what if?” But this is often easier said than done. We can get so caught up in the routine and busyness of the every day, that we forget to take steps toward the dreams we long for. We have difficulty seeing the forest through the trees, as they say.

Sometimes as Christians I think we tend to take a passive approach when it comes to our dreams. We sometimes say, “Well, if it is God’s will, then it will happen.” And while I do believe that God can just make things happen in our lives (He is God, after all), I also think that he wants us to actively pursue the dreams he has placed in our hearts. We were not created to just live our lives passively with a “whatever happens, happens” mentality.

In Matthew 7:7-8 Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

Do you notice all those verbs there? The ones that are prompting us to do something? Ask, seek, knock. Those are anything but passive.

Another excuse we may use is “Well, I only want to do what God wants me to do, I don’t want to pursue my own dreams, only his.” Now, don’t get me wrong here, there is nothing wrong with that last sentence! I think that same way. I don’t want to just pursue what I want just because I want to. Here is where we often make the mistake though…we often ignore our dreams because of this mindset. BUT I believe that when we are truly living for God, and putting him first in our lives, he is the one who gives us those dreams. He aligns our dreams with his. Those are dreams and desires that he placed within us. So why, then, would we ignore them?

As I am typing all of this out, it is also a little pep talk for myself. So I am right here with you needing to be reminded of these words as well.

Pursuing our dreams can be terrifying sometimes. But it is a fear that is definitely worth facing! I encourage you…write your dreams down, pray about them, ask God for help (and make sure they line up with his will for your life), and then take the first step toward living that dream. And don’t think small…think BIG! You are capable of way more than you think (especially when you’re relying on God, he can help you do anything).

So, what are the dreams you have that you want to start living toward today? Maybe you want to become debt-free, get healthy, enter a new career, write a book, start a family, go on a missions trip, get your degree, or change the world…the possibilities are endless. Whatever your dreams may be, big or small, I encourage you…don’t ignore them. Start living the life you’ve imagined.

[This is also why I think goal setting is so important. It will help you so much if you realize your dreams and then turn those dreams into goals and start working toward them. So, if you haven't set goals for yourself this year already, I encourage you to. If you need some help or inspiration for this, Lara Casey's blog series on goal setting is amazing!]

Pursuing Peace

  Tiffany  January 6, 2014   2 Comments

As I’ve been working through and refining my goals for 2014, I’ve chosen a word that I want to define this coming year for me: PEACE.

In general, last year was not very peaceful for our family. It was quite the opposite.

I used to think that I would only have true peace when difficult things stopped happening, when our circumstances turned around and all was good again. But during the hardest year of my life, I learned that I could have peace in the midst of the storm.

The only way we can truly experience peace in our lives is when we completely surrender our life and our circumstances to God, and trust Him.

It’s definitely not always easy. In fact, holding onto peace can be quite challenging, especially when you’re experiencing great heartache or trouble. But it is possible. Peace is not usually something that just happens. It is something we have to actively pursue on a daily basis.

Let me clarify, peace is easily attainable. God wants all of us to walk in peace, it is a gift that he freely gives and withholds from no one. But too often our thoughts, emotions, our need for answers, our struggle for control, etc. stand in the way of that.

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.” – Isaiah 26:3-4

Peace is a promise. And God always keeps his promises. All we need to do is trust him.

That is one of my major goals this year, to walk in complete PEACE. For me, this means saying NO to worry, fear, anxiety, stress, my need and desire to know what “the plan” is, expectations of perfection, and my need for the approval of others. And it means saying YES to trusting and being still and knowing that HE is God.

What word would you like to define 2014 for you? If you have no idea, I encourage you to take some time to think on this carefully. And feel free to come back and share in the comments below what your word is for the year.

I pray that this next year is peaceful for you as well. May God’s peace wrap around you like a fuzzy blanket on a cold winter’s day (such as today) and may it stay with you throughout the year.

[The same day that I decided that "Peace" was going to be my word for this year, Jonathan found one of my favorite mugs, pictured above, that I had misplaced. I loved that little confirmation, and I look forward to drinking my coffee or tea from this mug throughout the year as a reminder.]

Happy New Year! There is something almost magical that comes with the beginning of a new year. We get a fresh start, a clean slate, another chance to live our best year yet. It is full of mystery and unknown possibility. What will this year hold? What memories will be made? What goals will be accomplished?

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I realize that every day can be like this. Each day is new, and if we are completely honest, there isn’t really anything special about New Years Day. You don’t have to wait until this specific day to make goals or live your life differently, you can do that anytime, anywhere. But I still love this time of year and the fresh feeling of endless possibilities that come with it.

New Years also causes me to think and reflect on the past year and the ups and downs that came with it. What were the highlights? The lowlights? What have I learned from my experiences in order to grow and be better for this next year?

In all transparency, 2013 was rough for our family. It was the hardest year of my life. We dealt with many health issues, for both me and our son, Liam. Some complicated, some just annoying. We had close friends and family move farther away from us, which felt like a loss in and of itself. But the hardest part of this year was losing two precious babies through miscarriage within four months of each other. I felt as though my heart had been ripped out, thrown into a gorge, and trampled by Wildebeest a la The Lion King style. Ouch.

I share all of this with you, not to drag you down with all the depressing stuff we’ve dealt with, but to be honest with where we have been in order to show how God has been so faithful to us in the midst of it all.

I do not believe for one second that God willed for any of this to happen to us. I do not think that God causes bad things to happen to His children. He loves us deeply and doesn’t want us to hurt. We live in a broken world, and bad things are a result of that. I still don’t fully understand why these things happened, and I won’t pretend to understand or know it all. I asked “WHY?” many times this year, and I still do not have an answer, but I am okay with not knowing.

Because here is what I do know…

God is a good God, He is always with us, and He LOVES us. And this year, I have experienced that goodness, that closeness, and that love greater than I ever have before.

In the midst of my life’s greatest storm, God wrapped me in His arms and sheltered me from the wind. I still felt the rocking of the boat and the sting of rain on my face, but I knew I was safe because He was there and He would never leave me.

And then He said, “‘Peace, be still.’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” (Mark 4:39)

Now, as I stand on the edge of a New Year (with a healthy baby on the way) and the hope and promise that comes with it, I look back on 2013 with gratitude, for I know God’s faithfulness better than ever before. I now know what it is like to completely surrender my life and circumstances to Him and to find joy in trusting that God has very good things in store.

I am sure you have dealt with your own trials and difficulties this year, and I pray that you experience God’s love, joy, and peace like never before. There is something so redeeming about looking back on a difficult season and recognizing what ways you have grown or learned from that experience. Reflection can cause transformation, if we allow it.

So, I would love to hear, what have you learned from your experiences (the good and the bad) in 2013 that will help you grow and live more fully this next year?

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Happy New Year! 2014, you are looking mighty fine already.

[On a related note, my husband, Jonathan, spoke this past Sunday on "Hope for Every Season". He shared some from our personal experience this past year and how God gave us hope in the midst of a difficult season. If you are in need of hope, or just want to be encouraged, it would be worth watching.]

Hope for Every Season from Full Life Assembly of God on Vimeo.

[Photos by Kelsey Harrison Photography]