Brokenness to Beauty

Transforming Your Brokenness into a Beautiful Life


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Encounters Along the Path

I met Ethel[1] on the bike path again today. We walk early in the morning to avoid the southern California heat, and sometimes encounter one another. Ethel is a woman of God. I’m always happy to see her.

This morning we talked about our mutual concern for the homeless men and women we see on the streets around our homes. We’ve both said, “Lord, what can I do? What would You have me do?” Ethel is a woman of prayer, and a woman of action in obedience to the Lord. I’m convicted and encouraged by her.

Colton Avenue biking-walking path

 

As we walked and talked, Ethel and I were surprised to discover we both have concern for the same homeless man. At different times, independent of one another, we have seen him sitting outside a small church building along our walking route. His name is Tommy[2]. I know this because every Thursday morning Tommy attends the same Bible study at church that I attend.

One day, not long after I started attending the Bible study, Tommy walked into the building, backpack in hand, and asked if he could join us. Our group, used to homeless men and women around our church, welcomed him into the Bible study.

Every week Tommy gets his cup of coffee, opens his Bible and appears to follow along. He contributes to the discussion at times. But Tommy’s mind lives in a parallel universe; his comments make no sense to the rest of us. We listen politely and try to respond as best we can.

I began praying that God heal Tommy’s mind. I pray for him the same as I pray that God heal the bodies of those who are sick or injured. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. Those works are at the root of all that has gone wrong with us spiritually and physically; mind and body and soul.

The New Testament gospels overflow with demonstrations of the destruction of the works of the devil by Jesus and his apostles as they taught the gospel of the Kingdom of God, healed and cast out demons. The final blow to the devil was Jesus’ death and resurrection. The major battle has been won.

Now we are in the mopping up period after that decisive battle; we live in the age of the Acts of the Holy Spirit. Since God the Father gave Jesus all power and authority, Jesus has commanded us, his followers, to continue his works in his world. He gave us his Spirit to do these works.

Ethel and I know God is at work, and we get to be part of it. When two people independently have burdens for the same person, are praying for him, and reaching out to him, you know God is up to something.

God wants to reach, redeem and restore Tommy.

Will you join us in seeing the Kingdom of God come to life within Tommy?

[1] Her real name, with her permission to use it.

[2] Not his real name.


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High Expectations: Met

Home again. I feel relief flood through me as I pull into my driveway. Home safe, after driving for an hour in high-speed traffic, negotiating southern California freeways.

Last week I attended the first ever SoCal Christian Writer’s Conference held on the beautiful campus of Biola University in LaMirada, CA. I’d never been to LaMirada, never been to Biola,  and of course, since this was the very first annual SoCalCWC, I’d never been to it either. A big bundle of firsts!

Meeting in Calvary Chapel at Biola U.

There is always  trepidation as I anticipate travel to a new location, meeting new people, and the need for pushing myself out of my introvert’s alone-place of comfort and security.

Thank goodness for a user-friendly GPS to find my way to Biola in LaMirada. Thank the Lord for his presence with me (even introverts don’t like being absolutely alone), and his grace to help me move out of my shy self to meet new people and even make new friends.

But why would I put myself through these challenges, three times now, to attend Christian writer’s conferences? Because I have learned that I need these events. Each time I’ve attended a Christian writer’s conference my expectations have been met on two levels:

The anticipated—the things I figured I’d take away—learning  new information, gaining tools of the craft, and receiving encouragement. Experts in the fields of writing, publishing and marketing spoke in general sessions, classes, workshops, and one-on-one appointment times.

The unanticipated—the surprises—one time a challenge to create a different book title (that’s why I have the hope-filled Brokenness to Beauty book title, the biggest take-away from my second conference), and most special of all, making new friends.

One of the most important aspects of a writer’s conference is simply being around other writers who are passionate about their writing and getting it out there for others to read. Their enthusiasm is almost infectious. It gave me a boost I sorely needed. Writers need other writers and where best to find them than at a writer’s conference.

SoCalCWC 17 Faculty intros

A significant factor of a Christian writer’s conference is that the people involved are also passionate about Jesus Christ and his kingdom. This creates added impetus to get our words, the message God has laid on our hearts, into the hands of our readers.

The SoCalCWC met and exceeded all my expectations, both the anticipated and unanticipated! I’m glad I gathered up my courage, braving freeways and meeting new people, to attend. Kudos to director Kathy Ide and all who contributed to make a great conference.

 


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Finding Hope

“All of us need hope to move through life. We become especially aware of this when faced with circumstances beyond our control. When our lives are falling apart, where do we find hope to move ahead each day?” (Excerpted from Lesson 4 of the Bible Study Guide for Brokenness to Beauty: Transforming Your Brokenness into a Beautiful Life.[1])

Suffering and trials come in all forms, from serious health issues to extreme poverty due to war and political turmoil. I am familiar with life-threatening and life-altering health problems. Raella, however, has lived under the threat of war, poverty and starvation in her country of South Sudan. She is suffering things I know nothing about.[2]

But I do know the way to hope is the same for both of us.

How can I say this with certainty? I didn’t think it up myself. It comes from an authority much higher than me. In fact, it comes from God himself.

Listen to what Paul, under the inspiration of God, wrote in Romans 5:1-5 (HCSB):

“Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have also obtained access through Him by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

Photo by Gertop

Faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord brings us peace with God and ultimately hope, as the Scriptures here reveal.

But there’s more! God is the God of hope. I got that right out of the text too. Romans 15:13 (HCSB) says:

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in Him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Faith in Jesus Christ brings us into the place of peace with God, who fills us with joy and peace so that by the power of his Holy Spirit who comes to live in us, we overflow with hope!

Hope originates in God. It becomes our own through a restored relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ.

The Scriptures say in John 1:14 that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We have discovered that this Word is Jesus, God come in flesh to bring us redemption, forgiveness of sins and peace with God. We call his coming into the world as a human, the Incarnation.

Raella has discovered this truth too. In fact, she has seen “the Word (become) flesh” through a group of women. She has seen Christ Jesus in the women who lead the She Is Safe (SIS) Transformation Group she joined[3].

Through this Transformation Group Raella learned skills to start her own business so that she wasn’t dependent on a job that didn’t exist. She learned good business skills and saving and lending practices along with the other women in the group, so they can help one another. She also learned other vital life skills.

In her own words Raella says: “Today I have saved enough with my new business to rent a small house. My children are in school.” (This is significant where primary and secondary education is not free as it is in our country.)

Raella is lifting up her life, and the lives of her children, above their trying circumstances.

She and her children have a safe place to live. They have food to eat. The children are getting an education. All because Raella found the SIS Transformation Group and because she has worked hard to put into practice what they have taught her. Make no mistake, Raella has very little of this world’s wealth. She works hard at her business to bring home and save enough for a roof and food and education.

But business skills are not all Raella learned in the Transformation Group. She learned about the God who loved her enough to send his own Son to die to provide for her salvation.

She knows it is true because of the women giving of themselves to teach and train her in the Transformation Group. These SIS trained leaders are “incarnating” the Word of God, putting flesh on the timeless truths of God’s Word.

Because these followers of Jesus found a way to bring new skills and the Good News of Jesus Christ to Raella, and hundreds of women like her, she now has hope. These Transformation Groups are the “hands and feet” of Jesus to the Raella’s of the hard places in the world, places like South Sudan.

Raella’s testimony doesn’t stop with being filled with joy and gratitude for the good things in her life as a result of her training. Out of her poverty she also tangibly lives out her gratitude: “My first offering is always to God because he has given me hope.”

My heart was smitten when I read her words. Am I as grateful as Raella is for the grace of God in my life, for the hope he has given me? Is my first offering–skimmed off the top of my finances–to God because he alone has given me hope?

God has given me so much in every way. Am I living out his truth the way Raella and the Transformation Group leaders are, even in their unimaginable circumstances in South Sudan? Am I putting “flesh,” my own flesh, on the truths of God, living them out sacrificially for others every day?

Jesus’ words in Luke 12:48 remind me that, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.”

God help me—God help us—to whom much has been entrusted, to be faithful and follow in the footsteps of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

May we be found putting his Word into practice every day so that the Raella’s around us see Jesus in us, and find hope.

In upcoming posts I hope to share with you some ways God is leading me to live out his truths here in southern California, as well as give you updates on the progress of the writing and publishing saga of the Bible Study Guide for Brokenness to Beauty.

Stay tuned.

[1] Brokenness to Beauty is available here on Amazon as well as other online outlets. The Bible Study Guide for Brokenness to Beauty is in the final stages of writing, soon to be published.

[2] Not her real name.

[3] Transformation Groups are self-help groups led by She Is Safe-trained local women. Learn more about the ministries of She Is Safe at SheIsSafe.org.


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Surprise!

God is always surprising me.

When I was asked a few weeks ago to present a workshop on prayer at a women’s retreat, I silently gulped and said, “Yes, Lord.” Then I responded (audibly) in the affirmative to the lady asking me if I would do the workshop.

It is humbling to have someone ask me if I’d do a presentation on the subject of prayer. I’m still a learner in that field. I always will be, of course. And to consider speaking publicly, well, that is nothing short of miraculous.

That I can say “yes” to speaking in front of people, and on the subject of prayer, is a wonder to me on two fronts:

1) I can physically do it and

2) I have material already compiled from which to draw to put together such a presentation.

A few years ago I never could have agreed to talk in front of people for an hour. I have MG (myasthenia gravis, a severe muscle weakness) and have been extremely weak for most of my life. The miracle is that I have been stronger for the past eight-plus years than I have been since I was thirteen years old, and I now can do public speaking!

Even though I planned this workshop to be an interactive Bible study time, not an hour-long lecture, I still had to do a lot of talking. My ability to speak this much is the gracious and miraculous work of God. It is the answer to many prayers prayed over the span of more than forty years.

I also had what I needed to present in the prayer workshop. A few years ago I had finally said “yes” to God about writing the book Brokenness to Beauty (and I’m now writing the Bible study guide to go with it; a work in progress), and I had already thought through and written much of the material I used for this workshop on prayer.

Though I wasn’t at a loss for what to say, I did earnestly pray for direction from the Lord to narrow it down. Volumes could be said about prayer (and volumes have been written on prayer), but it certainly wouldn’t fit within that one hour time frame. I needed to speak to what these ladies needed to hear. Only God has that information. He again answered prayer.

Most important to me when I speak or teach is to direct women into the Word of God. If they forget what I say but hear what God says in his Word, I will have been successful.

I initially thought I was going to the women’s retreat (hosted by our former church) in order to take it all in for myself, enjoy the beautiful mountains around the retreat center, and especially to see many dear friends I hadn’t seen since moving from Bakersfield to Colton last fall.

As it turned out, not only did I get to do those things, I ended up with the privilege of serving God by serving the women who came to the prayer workshop. What a great weekend we had!

 

Did I mention God is always surprising me?

I was mighty tired after driving the three hours it took to get to the retreat center, the busy weekend and the three hour drive home, but I give thanks to our great God for giving me the strength to do it. He truly “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV).

Photos of women’s retreat by Alayna Condon and Lindsay Long.

Scripture taken from Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. https://www.biblegateway.com.

 


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GOD IN THE SHADOWS

A few weeks ago I read a prayer letter from a friend who serves with a major mission agency and knew I wanted to share her thoughts with you. I asked and received her okay to do so, with slight changes to conceal my friends’ and their mission’s identity since they work in sensitive areas of the world. Her topic is of universal interest and application. I trust her words of wisdom and insight will encourage and challenge you as much as they did me. My thanks to my friend for allowing me to re-post her letter below.

I get anxious. When I anticipate giving a talk or carrying out a big responsibility, when I am in transition between job roles, when I am concerned for a friend in need … my mind wrestles with possibilities and ‘what if’s. I can easily tire my husband by emoting about these anxieties, even when he understands that I am an external processor. It doesn’t do any good to just suppress this, or pretend that I don’t feel these things—anxiety likes to make its home in my mind.

As I look at the Psalms, I notice that King David also got anxious. He had plenty of reasons to: with huge responsibilities, enemies chasing him down, trying to kill him, undermining him, taunting him—and with his own doubts and fears chiming in as well.

Re-examining the Psalms gives me hope, as I notice the recurrent theme of David turning his heart to God in the midst of his anxiety.

David asks God: “Where are You in these shadows around me? Show me the truth about these persuasive negative thoughts. Un-divide my heart (which is pulled in many directions by fear, discouragement, anxiety) so I may trust more fully in Your love and power.” David allows God to re-frame situations; to re-interpret what is going on when things look dire. David uses his anxiety as a signal that it is time to seek God and listen to His voice.

I’ve discovered freedom and transformation recently as I confront anxious feelings, and ask God to show me what they are made out of. He helps me name specific thoughts that are triggering the anxiety. Then I ask God to expose the lies and speak truth to my heart. No darkness stays dark when I give God permission to show where He is. Then I set my will to agree with Him about what is true in that situation.

For example, recently I was in a foreign country on a missionary coaching visit to our teams there, unexpectedly needing to carry out the coaching on my own. This is because my husband had not been allowed to board the plane due to his passport photo being damaged by an encounter with the washing machine.

My stress level was high due to this last-minute change in plans: Anticipating all the taxi journeys I’d need to negotiate with minimal knowledge of the local language and my unreliable internal compass, needing capacity to listen with discernment to each missionary family’s current situation … basically needing to function as my husband might have without his gifts! These thoughts hounded me: “I’m all alone in this, I can’t be him!” Emotions triggered by these thoughts wore me out before I could even begin the week.

In quiet moments, I journaled and asked God to name the thoughts, and then to speak His truth to them. Deep in my heart He spoke calmly and clearly (things any observer might think are obvious!). After naming the thoughts, He reminded me of His Presence being with me to give me rest, of all the friends who would help if I just asked (thus, “alone” was not a true description at all), and that of course He had brought me there to minister to people through who I am (so, I didn’t need to be my husband).

Although every taxi journey that week did involve being lost for half the time (inexperienced drivers, obscure addresses, as well as drivers taking advantage), I eventually reached my destinations and had rich times with each team member. I facilitated a large group meeting … in my style.

Although I found it necessary to confront anxieties frequently, joy and love met me each day.

In recent years several dreams have reinforced this lesson: how differently one situation can be interpreted depending on the emotions-and-thoughts lens through which it is viewed.

In one dream I was driving passengers down a country road, in a hurry to be somewhere. Anxiety was all around us; the heat and stillness was ominous.  It seemed that enemies were nearby or some natural disaster had just occurred. Up ahead a car had pulled off the road, with people bending over it. My anxiety increased – they, like us, seemed also to be fleeing, or they possibly might hurt us. In fear we took the next right turn, moving on.

But what was the threat? I awoke with intense anxiety, unable to pinpoint why.

So, I closed my eyes to revisit the dream, asking God to shine His light and show His truth. The sequence of events replayed with all the same details. Only this time I recognized that it was a summer afternoon, sunny with no wind. We were just driving through the countryside to take a walk somewhere beautiful.

The other car was just others also out to enjoy the countryside. Everything was surrounded by calmness and the freedom of a day off.

The only difference between the two dreams was the lens through which I viewed things: whether I was sensing threat and danger, or assuming that all was peaceful.  The truth is I can look for God and let Him reveal where He is, even in situations that are fraught with imminent danger (as the Psalmist could).  God’s Presence is ready to greet me (and you!) in every dark corner, transforming every shadow into a place of insight (“Here I am,” He says).  Every twinge of anxiety can lead to growth in trust.

King David said, ‘Teach me your way, LORD, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.” (Psalm 86:11)

John said, “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5)

Shadows will always be present in and around us. So let’s look for Him in the shadows. Allow Jesus to spread His light to people though you today.

 

 

 

 


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Cosmic Necessity–to write is to Move?

There must be a cosmic reaction to the act of writing which produces the necessity to move from one location to another. While writing Brokenness to Beauty we moved twice, once across the country, the next time across town. The distance of the move is almost irrelevant; you still have the same amount of work!

Now, while I write the Bible study guide for Brokenness to Beauty, we will be moving once again.[1] This time we are moving to southern California or “down south,” as they say here in the central valley. Having lived in the east most of my life, I have to do a quick mental switch from thinking of “the South” back east to the south part of California!

So now I am once again trying to downsize, going through the same stuff for the umpteenth time, trying to decide if I keep it or toss it. So hard! I am not a packrat but neither am I natural purge-r. I still have things my kids made while in school and now I am adding things my grandkids make! I think they call that sentimental.

I have several journals, all partially filled. I’m not a natural journal-er either (I’m making up these words as I go). I started reading the journals and decided I have to keep these little books. They are like records of the heart, keeping tabs on where I was and where I was going.

I also decided to begin sharing some of these journal notes, or “journey notes,” with you.

In May of 1995 Randy and I moved to West Virginia, establishing a home base for Mustard Seeds and Mountains, the community development organization we founded earlier that year. This would be our home for the next 17 ½ years. My friend Carolyn gave me a journal when we moved. Six months later I started writing in it:

November 13, 1995

I’ve decided to start writing down some of the thoughts which come to me from reading, studying and meditating on the Scriptures. I had started a systematic, meditative reading of the Word of God beginning with Genesis, earlier this year. In places God spoke to me powerfully. All throughout Exodus and Leviticus God gave little glimpses of insight. Unfortunately, I did not write these down, the same with Numbers and Deuteronomy.

As I read I was impressed with the knowledge and depth of meaning and spiritual richness in these books, especially Exodus and Leviticus. I felt as though I was in a canoe skimming over the surface, and down beneath me were the stores of riches to exceed all riches. I had a sense of the immensity of the person and wisdom and knowledge of God.

The physical symbols God gave—sacrifices, rituals, festivals—are “shadows” of the heavenly realities. What we live and experience are as vague and ungraspable as shadow, substance-less while infused with substance. The heavenly realities are Real. Though unseen, they are true, everlasting substance.

As I read I realized how little I truly understand and grasp of the spiritual realm. To “walk” through these pages of holy writ is an exercise in humility. It helps me put things into perspective.”

This is how I began, as I recorded my thoughts and impressions about the Word of God and what it was teaching me. Of course, it was the Spirit of God teaching me as I read and thought about the words of Scripture. And he continues to teach me as I go back to the Word regularly.

Next blog post, taking a break from packing and writing the Bible study for Brokenness to Beauty, I’ll share more from my journal notes, including favorite passages of scripture, like Exodus 34:5-8:

5 The Lord descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the Lord. 6 Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; 7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” 8 Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship.[2]

Deep, eh?

To be continued.

[1] More on that later

[2] New American Standard Bible (NASB)

Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation

https://www.biblegateway.com

 


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Why It’s Not About “Accepting Christ” (Repost)

Last week I clicked on the link to read Susanne Maynes’ latest blog posting (you can read it on her blog here). Susanne is one of my blogging friends whose articles are thoughtfully written and rich with truth. I respect Susanne’s writing so much I asked her a few months ago if she would read and write a review of my book, Brokenness to Beauty, which she kindly did. You can read it on Amazon reviews (click here to read her review).

After I read one of Susanne’s postings, I often leave a comment, letting her know how much I appreciated what she wrote, how it encouraged me in some way. It’s sort of like a verbal “high five,” digitally sent hundreds of miles from my computer to to hers.

This time I read Susanne’s blog post and not only thanked her for saying so well what I believe and have tried to live, but told her I wanted to repost her blog post. She enthusiastically gave her assent. Thanks, Susanne!

Below is what Susanne had to say about a very important issue for us today:

Why It’s Not About “Accepting Christ”

Have you ever read through the whole Bible chronologically just to get a feel for the over-arching story of God? If so, you may have noticed the same phrase which stood out to me this time around.

cross-from Susanne Maynes' blog 800x532

In my read-through for 2016, I was struck by the  New Testament theme of  “Obey the gospel.”

Nowhere did I read,  “Accept Jesus as your Savior.”  Nowhere did I see an invitation to “ask Jesus into your heart.” No, the call of the gospel is to die to the old, selfish way of life and rise to an entirely new life in Christ.

How do we do this? By means of obedience.

Please hear me out before your “legalism” trigger goes off.

It bothers me — nay, troubles me deeply — that the Church has reacted against rule-keeping to the point where we no longer talk about obeying the commands of Jesus.

Jesus said:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” — John 14:15

Real faith is more than just accepting an offer for forgiveness. That’s the starting point, but it’s our obedience to Christ that demonstrates a changed life.

However, we’ve allowed pop psychology to worm its way into our thinking. We’ve bought the notion that Christianity is a self-improvement plan, the ultimate 12-step program, a way to feel better about ourselves and to fulfill our potential.

So we advertise a gospel that is really only half the story.

We talk about a Savior who has mercy on us and died so our sins could be forgiven. This is wonderful news — but there’s another dimension to it!

Jesus doesn’t just forgive us. He empowers us to live a different life. A holy life. A life that spreads the fragrance of his beautiful name in the earth.

God’s goal for us is not to make us comfortable and happy, but rather to transform us into the image of Christ (see Romans 12:2 and Corinthians 3:18).

Going back to my New Testament reading, I’ve placed our theme in italics here:

  • Romans 10:16 refers to the importance of preaching the gospel, and says, “But they have not all obeyed the gospel…”
  • 2 Thes. 1:8 refers to the second coming of Christ and God’s judgment on “…those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”
  • I Peter 4:17  refers to God’s judgment beginning with believers, and “…if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

That’s just a smattering of references to this idea, but do you sense the seriousness of the apostles on this topic? They’re telling us that some people will not obey the gospel — and that’s bad.

Did you catch the wording? It’s not that some will not “accept” the gospel. It’s that they won’t obey it.

One comedian describes how, as a boy, he would whine endlessly about a toy he wanted until his mom relented — whereupon all his pleading and grousing quickly turned into a flippant, “Thanks, Babe!” as he ran out to play.

Too often, we demonstrate a “Thanks, Babe!” attitude towards the Lord Jesus. Problem is,  we can be guilty of inviting unbelievers into a flippant, shallow faith — a faith that fails to produce change.

Paul writes this to the believers in Corinth so they will follow up on their promise to send a generous gift to another church:

“…others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ… —2 Corinthians 9:13

Wow! I want obedience to accompany my confession of faith. I don’t want to be a “Thanks, Babe” kind of believer.

You?

Visit Susanne’s blog at Susanne Maynes: Unleashing Your Courageous Compassion. Check out her website. She has good things to say, and write.

Leave me a comment; go to Susanne’s website and leave her a constructive comment about this post. Share it with others. This is a message we need to hear.