My Dad…

My dad was a hard-working farmer who loved to talk to people. I can’t remember him ever telling me in words that he loved me. Hugging was also not really done in my family. My old-fashioned Dutch dad was very stoic. He would say “Life is for the living,” “If you don’t work you don’t eat,” “All I want is cooperation!” and similar sayings. The Webster’s dictionary defines the word stoic as, “a person who can endure hardship or pain without showing emotion or complaining” I think the word stoic fits him pretty well.

 

My dad, Gordon B. Kleinheksel, could be the most frustrating, stubborn man on earth at times. It was his way or the highway. He made us work on the farm, and you never skipped church unless you were in the hospital. But I respect the qualities which made him so much more than that.

The tree branch is still there, where my swing was.

The tree branch is still there, where my swing was.

Love was shown in many ways other than words. One of the earliest remembrances I have of my dad, was of him pushing me in the swing. The tree which held the swing was on his way from the house to the barn. No matter how busy he was-if I was sitting in that swing it would happen the same way. I would just have to look at him. Being the youngest of six, and a girl too…he would walk my way and take the time to push me a few times. I would giggle and say, “Push me higher!” and he would.

 

A very early memory is a time when I was really naughty…I played with a neighbor boy when I was only about four years old. I can’t even remember the boy’s name-I think they were renters. We were playing near an old chicken coop. He handed me the other stick and it seemed so fun to hear the crash of around one hundred square panes of glass. The deed was told, as everything was on that country street. I was standing in the back porch of that old farmhouse with my head down. I don’t remember my punishment. I remember my dad looking at me and saying not to play with that boy again. I then understood it was wrong, and obeyed him.

 

When riding with a girlfriend in high school, we got in a bad car accident. A farm implement scraped the entire side of the car and cut out all the windows on my side, and most of us were completely covered in glass. We went to the hospital and my dad was there before we were. He didn’t hug me or anything, but he was there with a very concerned look on his face.

 

My girlfriends and I just “had” to go to the Sunrise service way out in Bentheim, after a huge ice storm. My dad drove us on the thick ice instead of letting any of us drive at six o’clock in the morning. There was a hill in front of Randy Klingenberg’s dad Willis’ farm and the wheels just spun. He instructed us all to push the car, even in our new Easter dresses, nylons and heels.

 

A couple times, when I would back out of the parking spot at home, I ran over one of my beloved farm cats. I would run inside crying to my dad about it. He would calmly tell me he would bury the cat. I know what he did when he thought I wasn’t looking….he would put the cat in an old feed sack and bring it way out in the field beyond where I ever walked.

 

I never had an official curfew time in high school. But one time it was extremely late as I tip-toed past his bedroom door. After that same irritating creak in the floor that you could not avoid to get to my bedroom, my dad said, “it’s awfully late.” I felt guilty and always tried to get in a lot earlier after that.

 

One of the few times I saw him show emotion was when my sister Audrey died. At one point during that first awful day he took off in that old jalopy pickup that we called the “Sanford and Sons” truck. Gravel flew as he drove very fast down the road. No one ever knew where he went to grieve the sudden unexplained loss of one of his daughters. It scared me. I never saw him drive fast or behave in that way. When we were gathered in the living room a few weeks later, he was the one who announced what would be written on her gravestone. “In youth and love she sweetly rests.” Dad said so, and that was it.

 

In college, I dated a guy that I thought I could change and we would have a dreamy life together. One time, when I was home for a weekend doing a load of wash, dad came in and sat in the kitchen near me. He nonchalantly said that the boy was not a good influence on me and was a little “different.” At the time of course I knew everything, but it sure made me think.

 

When his dear third wife Pauline was under for a very serious cancer surgery and we didn’t think she would live, he sat with me in the waiting room. We were the only ones there at the time. He expressed to me along the lines of “you never know when someone will be taken from you, it’s hard.” I didn’t know what to say but just looked at him. He’d been through so much in his life.

 

Certain sayings of my dad are forever family keepsakes. Like, “Ya got that too yet then!” “If there’s food ya eat it, and if there’s not food ya don’t complain either!” We still say them to each other and laugh.

 

When I began dating my husband, he greatly approved of him. He said he was a reliable, hard worker. Dad was surely was a good judge of character. When he stuck out his elbow to walk me down the aisle, it wasn’t a “tearful give away my daughter time.” He said something like, “ok, is this how I do it, let’s go.” So funny, I loved him for that.

 

 

My dad walking me down the aisle at my wedding.

My dad walking me down the aisle at my wedding.

Grandpa K. always loved to sit and hold my babies. He didn’t talk to them, but just wanted to hold them. Later he took my boys to the John Deere Days, or had them up on the roof shingling with him. He was so proud of those two little white-haired boys. I’m glad he lived long enough that they know who their grandpa was.

 

It was “my” Saturday to have dad after his stroke. He was sitting in his wheelchair near me while I was doing household chores. We began discussing my younger years. Usually his speech was hard to understand, but he told me plainly, “Yes, those years weren’t good for you were they, I’m sorry they were really hard,” with tears in his eyes. Sometimes I could finally see what was behind those olive-colored eyes. The last five years of his life were very difficult for him but I never heard any complaining. My dad had been a very active person who drove all over the nation, worked hard on the farm, and got together with people constantly. Activities like driving, walking, dressing, bathing, his dignity, and finally talking, were all stripped away from him in painful shreds.

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One of the first buds...

One of the first buds…

When my husband and I built our house in the country, my dad and stepmother Pauline gave us money to buy a special tree. We chose a Red Bud tree and I watched that tree grow along with my boys, for 15 years. Every spring we’d have a few weeks of enjoying the little purple buds right outside our living room window. First the boys played under it with the dog, then mowed the lawn around it, and later had their prom pictures taken in front of it. It was a symbol of my dad. It bothered me that we couldn’t take that tree along with us when we moved into town last year. One day this Spring, my dear husband drove in with a Red Bud tree to plant. I watch it change through the seasons, and think of my dad. It’s outside the living room window behind my mom’s piano.

Do you have a story about your dad or a special male mentor in your life? Pass it on.

Posted in Childhood, Dad, Family, Father's day, Grief and loss, trees | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

My Uncle–A Memorial Day Story

 

Out of respect, I gained permission to post this story…

Many people have a story of a relative who served in a war or in the service. My hero is my Uncle Art. He is a very humble man.

But I want to honor him on this Memorial Day.

My Uncle Arthur Volkema is a veteran of WWII. There aren’t too many of them left anymore as he served very young. He’s 89 years old, his health isn’t where he would like it to be, but he still gets around. He is like a lot of veterans…they don’t want to be the center of attention and they don’t think they did anything special. They were just doing their job.

An amazing story of his Navy days in WWII, is about when he was serving on the aircraft carrier “U.S.S. Bunker Hill” when it was hit by the Japanese out in the Pacific Ocean. Over three hundred sailors died, some missing, and hundreds more injured, but thankfully not my Uncle Art. He has a picture of that ship hanging in his garage with huge billows of smoke rising above it. It’s a miracle that any of them survived.

The U.S.S. Bunker Hill after it was attacked.

The U.S.S. Bunker Hill after it was attacked.

 

We have a recording of my Uncle Art when he was interviewed long ago, about that awful day in WWII. It came without warning and was gruesome. Two Japanese kamikaze planes evaded the radar and crashed into the ship.

Webster’s dictionary describes them this way: “Kamikazi–(in World War II) a Japanese aircraft loaded with explosives and making a deliberate suicidal crash on an enemy target.”

The fact was, those who were left alive had to carry on immediately. They had to do what soldiers do. They put out the fires and burial at sea had to take place for hundreds of men. They had to take the dog tags or the marked belt off each one, if it was possible, so family could be notified. The clergy-person said a few words, and by tens they were put to sea. All this while wondering if they would be attacked again.

The first and only time my Uncle was willing to be in a Memorial Day parade to be honored was in Holland, Michigan a few years ago. His entire family came along to watch and we were all so proud of him. He rode by in a car wearing his “Bunker Hill” cap and waved and smiled. Then we walked to the grave-sites of my grandparents and lots of other relatives to reminisce.

Of course my Uncle Art has always meant a lot to me personally, because he is my mom’s brother. He is also the only surviving sibling of five children. After the war, he went on to marry my Aunt who has a gentle, loving and encouraging spirit towards me and everyone who has ever met her. Uncle Art and his wife Pauline are about the sweetest, kindest couple you could ever meet. They have been like second parents to me. Being the extremely welcoming and caring people that they are, they have been so encouraging to me over the years.  My Aunt Pauline still writes hand-written letters to the “elderly” people in the nursing facility nearby their simple suburb of Chicago area. They go to church, read their bibles and pray. They brought up their three children to be wonderful Christian people and now have several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They live a quiet God-honoring life.

I’m so thankful that I got to enjoy my Uncle Art all these years.  I wouldn’t have had the cousins that I do. I wouldn’t have known him and experienced the stories he tells of the history of our family and the town he grew up in. He was the youngest brother my mom watched over. They lost their mother at a very young age too, so the family struggled.

 

My mom the oldest, holding her youngest sibling, Arthur.

My mom the oldest, holding her youngest sibling, Arthur.

Today, on Memorial Day, I think about my Uncle Art and the sacrifices he made for our country. If men and women wouldn’t serve our country in the military, we would not be free. I enjoy freedoms of The United States of America because of brave soldiers who have died, or served in the past or present.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I love you Uncle Arthur Volkema.

 

I have another Uncle, Fred, and my Grandfather, who also have stories I’d like to tell…to be continued another day.

Posted in Ancestry, Family, God's faithfulness, Memorial Day, Memories | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

The Pretty Place

 The overgrown trail was dotted with purple, white and yellow in the spring. The whole area was called the “gullies.” Grabbing unto tree branches along the way, my senses filled  deeply with the grassy muddy smell.

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In the famous movie “Chronicles of Narnia,” when the character Lucy, finds her way through the coats in the wardrobe the world transforms before her eyes. When I slid the last tree branch aside on the way to my childhood sanctuary, my other world stood before me.

It was a sacred spot to sit, cry or pray. For me, it was my escape from all those hurts and pains which kept plaguing me during my child and teenage years. It was lovingly dubbed the “Pretty Place” by our family.

I felt like it was mine.

I knew others went there at times, but hoped no hunter or far-away neighbor would show up when I was out there. It was about a half mile walk behind our old farmhouse. It included woods, trails, and gully-like twists and turns, some of which were vertical and very deep. This un-tillable area sat almost right in the middle of the four roads that make up a country mile.

Long ago in my dad’s younger days, it had clearly defined two-track paths for tractors and wagons to go through to the field on the other side. The path was useful then, to get from one field to the other through the valleys and trees. When I was young I could still use the path although it was quite a challenge. The trees would sway in the wind and the sun would kiss my face as I basked in the innocence of childhood. After I crossed a large creek I’d walk walk off the path to the left, through the umbrella plants, up a knoll to the right, push a few tree branches to the side and there it would be. It was like opening the door to a church.

Arriving at the Pretty Place, sometimes I would stand at the top of the hill which seemed like a mountain when I was small. Looking down, there was a stream that ran from my far left side, wound around in front of me and then over to the right side. The stream about 30 feet below, had cut away at the earth and ran in a beautiful S shape.

There was a tree root to sit on at the top perfectly formed like a chair. Sometimes I sang my heart out and I dreamed I was a famous gospel singer.  I might arrive in anger or quiet shock. At times, I sat on that root and cried until there weren’t any more tears left.

The Pretty Place didn’t demand anything of me. It just listened. I could scream or be silent, and it would return the same calm trickling sound. It would never tell me how to feel, or blow up at me. Even if my grief of losing my mom and sister overtook me, the stream of grace remained the same.

Unchanging.

Just like God is.

I met God somewhere out in those fields and Pretty Place. I cannot tell you the moment or the day, or even the year. I just know He was always with me since I was a very young child. He was the only steady rock in my life. He didn’t die on me. He didn’t shout or fight, disappoint, or sneer sarcastically at me. He just listened. He accepted me the way I was. I didn’t have to put on airs of having it all together or stuff my grief down. I didn’t have to try to control anyone else or perform in a church service for Him. He loved me before I was even formed.

God walked beside me all the way to the gullies, and all the way back.

The Holy Spirit of God never condemned me if I was angry at Him. Lightning didn’t come down to strike me. Sometimes conviction would happen softly in my heart as a loving mother corrects her children in a whisper. If there was corn in the field that year, God’s words were like a soft clack of corn stalks swaying back and forth. If wheat was planted that year, the amber waves would create a gentle shhhhh sound like a loving gesture of a father putting his finger on his lips. It’s as if He said, “Just rest in Me, I will lead you.”

Photo credit: Jane Klingenberg

Photo credit: Jane Klingenberg

Ahhh….the sounds of His voice were there in the breeze through my hair. I have always been in His warm embrace.

 

Did you have a safe or comforting place to go when you were a child?

Posted in Childhood, Farming, God our Father, God's faithfulness, God's protection, Grief and loss, Memories, mother loss, prayer, sister loss, Springtime | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Her Hands On Those Keys

It’s a symbol of a life well lived. As I sit down I can imagine my mom sitting on the exact same bench. I lay my hands on the keys and close my eyes. It’s soothing to touch the same ebony and ivory that she could make sing. My ability is very limited. She could enable them to praise the LORD with all her heart. She could press those keys in perfect rhythm and harmony to forget the world and think on greater things.

My mom is linked to me by blood, sweat and tears. She is forever connected to me because I was brought forth from her loins. Her blood streams through my veins. Although I knew her for only seven years, I am so thankful that she was around long enough to make me who I am. She laid her soul and faith before me by the way she lived. She laid out the keys to life.

I’m sure she bent her knees as she cried over me and all her beloved offspring of six. She combed my hair, cooked my meals, and worked hard gathering and cleaning eggs. As I was in the tub, she lifted the washcloth to warm me with water from the stove that trickled down. Mom is the one who wiped my tears when I fell onto the gravel driveway. She raised a hand from those keys to pull me close when I came to sit on that bench beside her.

Springtime tulips in the breeze.

Springtime tulips in the breeze.

She would come into my room in that huge white farmhouse at bedtime. My mom listened to my prayer in the springtime dusk as she pulled the shade down, and the covers up around my shoulders. She read me a story and ran her hand over my forehead as she kissed me goodnight. I remember her very last night. The two hairpins she left on the corner of my bookcase that I didn’t dare touch for weeks hoping she might come back to get them.

Her hands worked intensely hard, and could also rest softly on those keys and fill every corner of that farmhouse with music for our souls. Every piece of woodwork absorbed the melody of praise.

My mom's piano in my home.

My mom’s piano in my home.

Now the piano sits in my living room and I can imagine her hands on those keys. Two of her diaries are always on the piano so I can turn to a page to listen to her voice. My mom knew the key to true contentment even when life handed her unpleasant keys.

Your hands are now on those keys of life. Thank you for showing me what they are. I choose life.

Happy Mother’s Day mom. I love you and will see you later.

Posted in Death, Family, Farming, Grief and loss, Hope, Mom, mother loss, Mother's Day, Motherless Daughters | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Mother’s Day Isn’t Always Simple

Mother’s Day.

A day when all the ladies are honored and everything is flowers and sunshine all around.

Hold on.

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Let’s not forget the ones who have lost their moms. Motherless daughters. It could be that a woman has lost her mother to death a short time or a long time ago…the pain of being without a mom never completely goes away. Or the Motherless mother who has just been trying so hard to figure out how to be a mother when she had no model of what that looks like.

A woman could be the product of a deep dark family secret. Or she could be adopted into a wonderful family but the curiosity of knowing her biological mother is there. What about the woman who deeply misses her mom because she was too young to remember her. Maybe she died when she was a young child or during childbirth. And what of the woman who longs for the mom she can remember as a child, but the monster of Alzheimers took her to another place and she was left with the shell of the mom she once knew.

What if she’s an orphan because her mom abandoned her as a child or even disowned her as an adult because of a disagreement that spun out of control. Some people are totally estranged from their mother and there’s pain on both ends. Maybe the daughter knew the mom until she was a teen, and then divorce, abuse or incarceration took her away? What about the gal who would have really enjoyed marriage and children but it didn’t work out that way.

Infertility could have been a cross she had to bear. There’s a possibility of a father who abducted his own children and took them away from their mother. Those children miss their mothers greatly. And what family has not been affected in some way by the dreaded cancer. It could have taken the mom, grandma or precious daughter out of the family. Some women have lost children by crib death, sudden unexplained death, miscarriage, birth defects or accident.

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She cannot wipe that many tears away.

Some women had a mom, but she was emotionally absent. She had to become the responsible one, and be the caretaker for her own mom. The aunts and grandma did the best they could but it just wasn’t the same. And speaking of that, some ladies had to take care of their physically or mentally challenged mom. They can’t celebrate because it has always been painful. Maybe a woman is 70 years old, but her mom who was her best friend, just passed away. It doesn’t matter whether a woman is 5, 18, or 70, it still is your mom.

Moms are moms. No one can grasp that except a woman who has gone through the loss. Time helps, but never completely heals the scab of a mother loss. Mothers day can be the worst day of the year for some. There has never been anyone to go to those mother-daughter banquets with, because there’s no mother, daughter, or grandmother.

I’m sure there are many other scenarios which I have not mentioned. Everyone has their own story and I have only heard of some, by interviewing women,  or just listening to the news. These situations happen to moms, daughters, grandmothers, and granddaughters in a variety of mixed up ways, and role reversals.

Let’s keep them in our thoughts and prayers and try to be careful on Mother’s day because it is just not that simple for a lot of women. This is a messed up world. We’d like to think otherwise, but it’s just not.

Praise God for the mentors, the grandmas, the aunts, big sisters, the friends, the dads who tried to be both parents. Thank you to the adoptive mothers who took in the orphans. Glory be for the ones who have been prayer warriors to the lonely women and put their arms around them in many ways.

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She might need you to listen to her story because no one else ever has. 

Let’s look for a girl, teen or woman who needs a hug, an understanding conversation, a flower, a card, or simply a smile.

Give someone hope.

Do you know of a story, so we can be more sensitive this year?

Posted in Childhood, Death, Family, Grief and loss, Hope, Mom, mother loss, Motherless Daughters | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Friends Please Forgive Me

I happen to be blessed with three prayer warriors that are with me anytime I need them. I’m making a public apology to them for my behavior yesterday. I love these three women as if they are blood sisters. I had asked them to keep me in prayer because I would be going on a “fast” from texting, facebook and emailing for a couple days at least, and of course they sent me out with encouraging notes like “you go and be blessed,” and “write like crazy!” and “I’ll be praying for you,” etc. They always do that kind of thing. We can text prayer requests any day or time and usually at least a couple of us will be able to answer almost immediately. They are huge in my life.

Well, Monday night I said I would be off the grid for a little while. I am awfully distracted by Facebook and e-mails especially. So I know these three were in prayer for me because I have some writing projects to do and needed a writing blitz. I know that every time the Lord brought them to their minds, they were in warfare for me to overcome the distractions and write.

There were a couple reasons I had to keep my phone on during this “fast.” So late afternoon on Tuesday when the texts came in, one after another, it made me mad. I think I was tired because I had been writing almost all day. Plus I was jealous I couldn’t respond because I had told them I wasn’t going to text. I could see it on my screen, but had pledged not to answer. So the only way I could respond to them, would be if I wrote to them on my blog. Some of you might have seen the post. I deleted it everywhere I could, so I hope you can’t find it. If you do, please tell me so that I can try to delete it. It wasn’t kind or loving. It was about them being similar to the three friends of Job, who discouraged him. I had just wrote a story about them a few weeks ago about the way I could send out a distress call anytime. What is the matter with me???

I am so sorry that I wrote that story and I apologized to them, and now am apologizing publicly. It is something that I did spur of the moment and didn’t pray about it. Of course when I apologize today, they again respond in love, with things like, ” go forth in peace,” and “blessings on your day.” See how blessed I am??

I need to think about how my words affect so many people. My words that I write can build up, or tear down. I had just written a devotional in fact, earlier yesterday, about “Taming the Tongue.” If you read James 3:1-12, you will understand.

Satan really must not want my words to get out there for some reason. Else he wouldn’t try so hard to mess things up like this. He wouldn’t try so hard to make me unloving, and try to discourage my friends from praying for me.

Anyway, one more time, again, for the millionth time, I learned to shut my mouth! When words come out on the page or in person they need to be edifying or they should not be said at all. Only by the grace of God, and only with His strength can I keep it shut when it needs to be. I hope it lasts a while this time…

I love you my dear friends.

Posted in forgiveness, friends, writing | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

New Beginnings

In this season of Spring, those of us who live in Michigan enjoy a grand transition. It has been a long, cold winter, and we look forward to many warm and sunny days.

As I was taking a walk a couple weeks ago, I took notice of how everything in God’s creation was beginning to bud and bloom. It was one of the first warm days. I wore jeans and a light jacket. At the beginning of the long walk, I was a little bit chilled.
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I consciously took in very deep breaths through my nose. I wanted to smell that first hint of spring. The air held a bit of the musty brown grass and the cool leaves left over from last fall. I could smell the woody bark on the trees and the dirt in the field was still dormant. Small dirty piles of snow were trying to linger, but the drains along the sidewalk showed a small dark trickle of water as they diminished down into the earth.

Sunshine streamed between every branch and house without hindrance. The trees still seem to hold back. I get the feeling that the trees “know” when they should dare to allow their buds to fully open. It is such a slow process that most years I don’t realize what’s happening. But today, I stopped at a tree, held a baby bud between my fingers and turned it over carefully. It’s now a very tiny red raindrop shaped end which isn’t yet open.
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Many people were riding bikes, walking and some were even beginning to groom their yards. An occasional swish of a rake, the scrape of shovel on dirt, and a leaf blower’s long blaring drone met me a couple times. The people seemed to hold the mood of the day in their spirit, as they looked my way and greeted. My dog at my side, sparked the interest of another dog or two, and they either barked or had to be reprimanded by their owners.

There were a few wild flowers bursting forth green and proud out of the ground and a several even dared to show their colors. It is an exciting time of year for those of us who live in Michigan. It is a time of change. The wild flowers do not worry about a possible sleet or snow storm which might still appear. They don’t concern themselves with that. It’s as if they have faith to array their greens, yellows, whites and purples without worry.

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When we neared Lake Macatawa, a cool smell of water and ice filled my senses. There are huge ice chunks which break off from the icebergs and winds blow them in and out of the channel. Today a lot of them were resting between the docks with barely any movement to them. It was almost a completely calm day. The sun shone down on the ice, and the ice was fighting it’s final battle with the brightness. I imagined months of spending time at this Marina this summer on hot summer days. I stood there and closed my eyes and soaked it in.

The winds of change will come. Today was a calm bright day which coaxed nature to come out and play. It teased us all if we dared to get out in it. Around here, we know that we will have rainy, windy, cold or even snowy days yet to come before we settle into a routine of consistently warm days.

The sun seemed very hot on my back and my feet hurt on the way back, as Ebony and I finally neared home. We could sit on the deck in the sun and rest and drink water when we got home.

In Luke, the author says that even King Solomon didn’t dress as beautifully as a wild flower blooming in Spring. Wild flowers don’t worry and spin, they have a new beginning in this season.

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Each of us can have a new beginning in Christ, and not worry and “spin” as the scripture says in Luke 12:22-31. It says we are more valuable to God than birds, the flowers or the grass. Our Heavenly Father knows each of us, and our daily necessities. Praise God for new beginnings!

A small portion of the verses say this, “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you–you of little faith!”

Prayer: Creator of the earth, I praise you for new beginnings each day and each season.

Posted in God's faithfulness, new beginnings, old self/new self in Christ, seasons, Springtime | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments