Some days I step outside my front door and feel the warm sunshine on my face and the gentle breeze brush across my skin, and I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Just the ability to experience a particularly beautiful day is an amazing gift, and it makes me grateful to exist in this world. This past weekend I spent a couple hours floating down a peaceful river, surrounded by majestic scenery, under a sunny sky, in the company of kind friends and two of my children. It was wonderful!
At night, I lay my head down on a soft pillow, in a comfortable bed, where I feel safe. Again, I count these things as remarkable gifts.
But I have to ask myself, "Would I be so grateful if my circumstances were much different? Would I still be in awe of the handiwork of the Creator if the view outside my front door was different?" I can't answer those questions with certainty, but I'd like to think that I would. Sure, I have fears and worries and doubts, and there are days where I allow my perspective to be skewed. There are days when I find myself grumbling and complaining about things that have no real consequence. But, even on those days, I have an abiding joy.
Joy is a hallmark, but not the source of, an abundant life. So, what does it mean to live abundantly and how do we do it? One of the definitions for the word 'abundant' is, "Richly supplied, as with resources". When I think about that definition, it occurs to me that abundant living is not measured by tangible resources. Living abundantly means having a completeness and fullness in life that does not depend on circumstances. Abundant living is being richly supplied in resources that transcend our natural understanding. The key to abundant living is recognizing the source.
In John 10:10, Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” Jesus does not merely supply us with abundance. He IS our abundance. Jesus doesn’t simply give us joy. He IS our joy. As children of God, we must recognize that even the ability to feel the emotions we associate with the idea of abundance comes from Him.
Abundant living comes from fellowship with the God of the universe, through Christ. Ephesians 3:19 says, "And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God." I can experience joy and have gratitude for of all the blessings of life around me- the natural world, the love of my family, my earthly pleasures- but the true source of abundance is the fullness of God.
Did my experience on the river this weekend qualify as living abundantly? Sure- but only by extension. It is the relationship I have with God, which reveals the truth of His goodness, that allows me to truly enjoy this life and appreciate the beauty He has provided. Having a relationship with God, in itself, is living abundantly.
Sometimes I get a thought about which I want to write, and I search the scriptures for help with that topic. Sometimes I search out the scriptures for help finding something to write about. This devotion was born of the latter method.
In my searching of the scriptures today, I “found” 1 Thessalonians, Chapters 4 and 5, and in these chapters, practical instruction for sanctified Christian living. I was struck by how plainly many of the exhortations are outlined.
While we are only saved through faith in Christ, and not by our works, we are compelled by the Holy Spirit to strive to be more like Christ in our actions. The word “sanctified” means “set apart”, which is to say, markedly different from the non-believer in thought and practice.
Please note, the title of this devotion is not "21 Steps to Sanctified Christian Living". I am not trying to present a comprehensive list here. I'm sure there are additional ways in which we should conduct ourselves to demonstrate sanctification. Please also note, this list is not my own invention! The ideas are taken directly from scripture, but I have paraphrased them in a list format.
So, let's look at 1 Thessalonians. In Chapter 4, verse 3, it says: "For this is the will of God, your sanctification:" Well, that seems pretty clear! It could be interpreted that the idea of sanctification here pertains mainly to the exhortation immediately following (which is number one on the list below). But, I read that statement as an introduction to all the contents of Chapters 4 and 5, as the end of Chapter 5 seems to be a summary of the instructions in Paul's letter.
21 Steps Toward Sanctified Christian Living
Yes, this a list of "Dos" and "Dont's". But as with all biblical instruction, the purpose is not to restrict or burden, but is to improve the spiritual health of the believer. This list contains actions and practices that set us apart from those outside of the faith.
At the end of Chapter 5 we are left with some great encouragement! "Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it." (5:23-24) Commit to serving Him and He will take care of the sanctification process.
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I've always admired people who are "prayer warriors", but I have to admit, I've never felt like I fall into that category. Don't get me wrong- I enjoy talking to God, and prayer is certainly a daily practice for me, but I am so easily distracted that I often don't spend enough quality time in prayer. While my intention is not to absolve myself, I had a revelation recently that made me feel better about my prayer life, but most importantly, it filled me with awe about God's grace.
I often find myself whispering the words, "Your will be done, Lord"- when I'm driving, when I'm walking into my office, when I'm cleaning the house. My mind might be in a million different places, but those words will squeeze their way into my thoughts and I'll direct them to Him. It was while listening to a radio sermon about the Lord's Prayer a few days ago that God spoke to my spirit about this. I felt Him say that every time I had whispered those words, He had received them as a prayer and had acted on my behalf. He honored my five-word prayer. I suddenly felt like He has been ordering my steps, in part, because of my feeble little prayer for His will to be done. And then it made so much sense- little prayers are heard by a big God! I've known this for a long time, but it seemed God was making it a special point to remind me.
Let's take a look at three "little" prayers in the bible that had great impact.
In all three of these examples, the petitions were granted, even though the words spoken were few. It didn't take great orations or lengthy invocations to move the heart of God. It seems when it comes to prayer, quality is more important than quantity, and what qualifies a prayer as effective is the faith behind it.
To be sure, the more we can pray, with faith, the better! I know I should still strive daily to spend more time in prayer. There are so many things about which to pray- our families; our nation and leaders; our churches; our spiritual growth; non-believing loved ones. And those are just requests! We could spend 24/7 offering prayers of thanksgiving and praise! But, my point is that we shouldn't discount those quick prayers we utter throughout the day. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, "Pray without ceasing." I think that can look like this:
"Lord, help me on this test."
"Please bless my children."
"Make me more like You."
"Give us opportunities to show Your love."
I'm so glad God hears and responds to "little" prayers, as well as the "big" ones.
My head has been swirling with questions for the last two days, and the Lord has been helping me work through some faith issues. I have peace now, if not concrete answers, about all my recent questions, but not the liberty or leading to write about what I’ve learned except for my conclusions on one specific situation. I have five half-written articles to prove it! Now, on to our topic…
I’ve been very troubled lately by the dogmatic nature in which a preacher I know addresses a non-doctrinal issue. For the sake of being discreet, I’m not even going to name the issue. Let’s pretend the issue is "traditional versus casual dress" in worship services. That’s not what it is, but it’s a similar type of non-doctrinal debate. Let’s say that on social media this pastor is constantly commenting about how sinful it is for people to show up to worship service in casual attire, and he regularly decries any church that condones such. I feel this pastor’s arguments are “profane and vain babblings” (2 Timothy 2:16) and the manner in which his opinions are delivered, regardless of whether he’s right or wrong, is contrary to the command of 2 Timothy 2:24 (“And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient.”) However, that’s not even the point of this article. The point of this article is to answer the questions, “Can I trust a preacher with whom I strongly disagree about one topic?” and “Is the anointed of God perfect in his understanding?”
I feel like God answered these questions for me through a recent real-life incident. My husband and I have been trying to give our oldest child more responsibilities, little tests of maturity to gauge how she handles certain situations. Recently, he let her go into a gas station to make a purchase on her own (he was parked where he could watch her through the window). He told her to buy two Slushees- one for her and one for her sister. She came back with three Slushees and a pack of gummy bears. My husband wasn’t angry with her, especially since she had brought him a treat too, but he encouraged her to only buy what she was told the next time.
In this situation, my daughter was sent to do a job, which she did, but she overstepped the instructions she was given. In the same way, I think a minister can be truly called and anointed of God, yet at times be erroneous in their teaching or delivery. Sometimes God picks a messenger, God gives them clear instructions, the messenger delivers the message, but because the messenger is human, they add unnecessarily to the original communication. It doesn't mean that person wasn't sent of God. It doesn't mean they are a false teacher. It means they are human.
In the scripture we find where Peter, upon whom the Lord declared He would build the church, was called out by Paul because he was wrong in separating himself from the Gentile believers (Galatians 2:11). Even the early church leaders made mistakes! I don’t believe the mistake of the Apostle Peter nullified his ministry. Believers need to be discerning enough themselves to not “throw the baby out with the bathwater”, as the idiom goes. In truth, there’s probably no preacher or teacher with whom I agree on every single point of scripture or practice.
I’m thankful God has allowed me to come to a personal resolution on this matter. Obviously, I will not sit under any teaching that is contrary to the primary tenets of my faith, but in this situation, I will try to maintain respect for this pastor with whom I disagree. I will on occasion listen to his messages. I will pray for God to deal with him about his handling of non-doctrinal issues. And, I will rest in the fact that God’s ministers are human, “nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure” (2 Timothy 2:19).
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My husband recently incorporated Star Wars into a sermon and was quite proud of himself for it. Today, I’m going to try to match him by using one of my favorite movies as the basis for this devotional.
I don’t have a great analogy to connect “The Princess Bride” (which is also a great book) to a spiritual concept. Rather, I want to borrow a key phrase from this beloved fairy tale film. Do you remember the farm boy, Wesley, at the beginning of the movie and his response to Buttercup’s every whim? Remember when he came back to her as the Dread Pirate Roberts and the moment she realized it was really Wesley as he went tumbling down the giant hill yelling those cherished words: “As you wish.” What an awesome scene! If somehow you’ve managed to not see the movie, don’t worry; this message is still for you.
Maybe you can already see where I’m going with this. Those three little words, “As you wish” should be the believer's response to every command of God. Let’s look at five people from the bible who essentially said “as you wish” to God.
In the movie I’ve referenced, the male leading character answers every request of his love interest with the phrase “as you wish.” His humble obedience was a direct response to his unfailing love for her. Likewise, we should consistently affirm our love for God by blindly, completely, enthusiastically, reverently, and selflessly obeying his direction. Our obedience to God must be driven by our love for Him, with no thought for what we will gain.
Sometimes I have a feeling of anticipation, as if I am waiting on God to give a command to which I can respond, “As you wish.” I’ve said to Him, “Show me what you want me to do, Lord! I’ll do it!” But, I need to stop and look at the instructions He has already given to all of us and evaluate how I am responding to those. I need to make sure I am saying “as you wish” in regards to what the Word says to do. Am I saying, "As you wish, Lord" to the commands to love God with all my heart, to love my neighbor, to forgive, and to not worry? I fall short often, but I pray that whether the task seems big or small, whether it comes directly from scripture or from the prompting of the Holy Spirit, that I will continually learn to obey.
I leave you with a challenge! Read Romans 12:9-18, and after every sentence that contains a command whisper, “As you wish, Lord. As you wish.” Then go live out that promise.
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The pictures flood my Pinterest and Facebook feeds. From simple doodles to elaborate works of art, women everywhere are coloring in their bibles and sharing the pictures on social media. "Bible journaling" is a trend I never could have imagined a few years ago. At first, I had the slightest feeling that bible journaling was just a trendy idea, and even a gimmick to sell different types of bibles. I even had the fleeting thought that it might be disrespectful to draw all over the words of scripture. I’m writing this article because I’m confident that those little thoughts were wrong, and I want to explore the idea of our creative nature.
While I still haven’t tried bible journaling for myself (I hope to soon!), it occurred to me that anything that encourages people to spend time in the Word is A GOOD THING! I also realize that we revere the words of scripture and the author, God, but we don’t worship the physical pages of the book. Taking the Word and incorporating it into a beautiful image only serves to exalt the truth of scripture. When someone takes time to think about how to translate an idea from scripture into a visual representation, they are really meditating on the Word and its meaning.
I also realized that bible journaling may accomplish the same thing for some people as writing does for me. Sometimes I’m drawn deeper into studying the Word because I want to write about a certain topic. My desire to write pushes me to study scripture. I imagine that the enjoyment one gets from creating an artistic journal entry in their bible is a catalyst for more frequent study.
From his book “About You”, author Dick Staub writes, “Every human has the capacity to make things, to create, because we are all made in the image of a creative God.” Genesis 1:26 says, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness:”. The desire to create has been made in us.
I found another beautiful quote from the book “Heart Steps” by Julia Cameron. She writes, “We are ourselves creations. We are meant to continue creativity by being creative ourselves. This is the God-force extending itself through us. Creativity is God's gift to us. Using creativity is our gift back to God.”
I have some friends who seem to have found great enjoyment from creating artwork in their bibles. And, I’m excited to share some of their creations here with you. I am so inspired by these ladies! Be sure to click through or play both slideshows.
Renee told me, "Bible journaling has been an amazing experience that allows me to completely concentrate and experience the Word of God in a way I never imagined." You can find the bible she uses here.
Do you enjoy bible journaling? What does it mean to you? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!
Bible journaling seems to be an activity mostly women enjoy. Are there any men out there that do it?
Please also share any advice you might have for someone, like me, who wants to start bible journaling. Thanks!
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I am very excited about this topic! This is a simple and to-the-point article, but I believe it will be meaningful for someone. There’s a lot of scripture contained here, so please stick with me. There’s an important message at the end!
Have you ever heard of a “life verse”? The term refers to a verse that holds special meaning for a person or a verse they rely on regularly to guide their life. While not directly a scriptural concept, it makes sense that believers claim specific verses in such a way, as scripture is the most direct method God uses to speak to His people. One danger of the “life verse” concept, is that it can become a cliché, almost akin to a person’s birthstone or astrological sign. But, for true believers, having a life verse, and especially being able to communicate “why” it is meaningful, is a good way to share their faith. (Read more ideas about how to use scripture in my article "Rightly Divided".)
In truth, the whole of scripture is “life” verses, in that it leads us on the path of eternal life. In John 6:68, Simon Peter said to Jesus, “to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.”
While there are many more that I love, I claim these four as “mine”:
In the book of Deuteronomy, God gave instruction for how the eventual kings of Israel should handle the Words of God. (Israel was not supposed to have a king other than God, but God knew the people would insist on having one “like as all the nations” that were around them- Deuteronomy 17:15.)
Deuteronomy 17:18-20 says, "And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites: And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them: That his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel.”
While we have certain verses to help carry us through this life, the Word itself is the very essence of life, and our reliance on it, and faith in it, can dictate the outcome of every situation.
Going beyond the idea of a “life verse”, I want to share with you the portion of scripture that is quite literally my “life chapter”. In my teenage years and early twenties, I suffered with severe depression and anxiety. (I’ve been free from it for so long it is almost hard to remember- praise God!). There were days when, overcome with a constant, unexplainable grief, thoughts of suicide invaded in my brain. While He didn’t heal me right away, one day the Lord practically handed me Psalm 116, to sustain me until the time He would heal me. I claim this as my life chapter, because I believe God used it to spare my life. If you find yourself in a dark place, please let the words of Psalm 116 help put you on a different course, so you too can “walk before the LORD in the land of the living” (Psalm 116:9).
I'd love to hear your life verse (or chapter)! Please leave a comment below, and if you enjoyed this article, please share it. Thanks!
It happens often. I will be driving, folding laundry, trying to sleep, or any other normal task, when I start “randomly” singing a song I haven’t heard in a relatively long time, without any conscious thought. I’m usually half-way through the chorus when I stop and think, “Now where did that come from?” The truth is, I know where it comes from. The question is really “Why?” instead of “Where?”
While the Holy Scriptures are the only sovereign texts we possess, I believe God has inspired people throughout the ages to write songs to be used for His glory, and I believe He uses these to speak to His people. Today He put a song in my heart from one of His greatest poets, Fanny Crosby. I was on my way to Starbucks for a mid-day treat when I recognized the words of “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior” on my lips (listen to the audio clip above). It has a beautiful melody (the music was composed by William Doane in 1870) and a pleading tone. For the first time I actually thought about the petition of this song. I started to examine if there might be some error in singing a refrain that expresses doubt that God will be available to us when we call.
Pass me not, O gentle Savior,
I wondered if knowing the origin of the hymn might help resolve the thought, and I found some help for my questions on the Discipleship Ministries website of the United Methodist Church. There, I read an article titled “History of Hymns: “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior””, written by professor of sacred music at Southern Methodist University, C. Michael Hawn.
Mr. Hawn wrote, “The late hymnologist William J. Reynolds discovered that the inspiration for this hymn was the result of a visit to a prison by the poet during spring 1868. He notes: “After she had spoken and some of her hymns had been sung, she heard one of the prisoners cry out in a pleading voice, ‘Good Lord, do not pass me by’;””
The account described above sounds like the plea of a man who had enough faith to understand that he needed God, but was not yet acquainted with God enough to understand he could trust Him. This reminds of the father in Mark Chapter 9 who, wanting Jesus to heal his son, proclaimed, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief." That story has always given me hope. Although the man admitted to having a measure of unbelief, Jesus healed his son based on the measure of faith he did have. (The last line of the second verse of "Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior" is "Help my unbelief".)
The tone of the song also reminds me of King David and how he pleaded with God in despair, yet he ended his petition with a praise acknowledging God's faithfulness. In Psalm 13:1 he said, “How long wilt thou forget me, O LORD? for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me?” But, just five versus later he says, “I will sing unto the LORD, because he hath dealt bountifully with me.” Even a man well-acquainted with the provision of God, who is described as a man after God's own heart, struggled with whether or not God would be present in his situation, but because of His knowledge of the nature of God could ultimately be at peace.
After a bit of reflection, I am reassured that when I sing the great hymn that has been our topic, I am not alluding to any personal concern that Jesus could in some way pass me by. The words "do not pass me by" are an expression of every sincere heart that has longed to be close to the Almighty, yet in human frailty can hardly comprehend that the God of the universe lends His availability and concern to sinners such as us. The song has a tone of humility that serves to amplify the truth of God's holiness.
Why the Lord gave me this particular song today I may not know. Maybe I will need its message in the coming days. Maybe I should lead it as our "Invitation" song during Sunday morning worship. Maybe I was just supposed to think on it and write this blog post to share with you. Whatever the reason, I am thankful that He speaks to me through the classic hymns He inspired so long ago.
Read the full lyrics for "Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior".
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A couple years ago I discovered a radio program called “Stories of Great Christians”. It's an audio drama that airs (in my area) on the Bible Broadcasting Network every day from 5:15 pm to 5:30 pm. Each series tells the life-story of a well-known person in Christian history, over a period of weeks, usually based on a published biography. I try to listen every day to keep up with the episodes. I find the art form of radio drama very refreshing. I am forced to use my imagination to envision the story, I have to wait in anticipation for the next episode, and I love the melodramatic organ interludes between scenes. (The series was produced in the 1940s!)
Not only entertaining, “Stories of Great Christians” has been a great inspiration to me! I have learned so much from the lives of people such as the great preacher, Charles Spurgeon, missionary to India, Amy Carmichael, and founder of the Salvation Army, William Booth. It is simply amazing how God worked through these people to accomplish His purposes!
As I think about what I have learned from these faithful men and women of God, I am reminded of Hebrews 13:7. The English Standard Version renders it this way: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”
Secular culture has no shortage of individuals whom people idolize and seek to imitate. As a Christian parent, I hope to encourage my children to imitate people of integrity and faith. Of course, our ultimate example is Jesus. We must seek always to be like Him. But in 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul says, "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ." (NKJV) God has given us role models to help point us to Him.
I am thankful for examples of Christian faith we can imitate. Throughout my life I have had wonderful mentors in the faith- my parents, special friends, and so many in my church family. And, of course, we have the examples of the Apostle Paul and other leaders in church history.
As we learn from the faith of our spiritual heroes, we must grow into the position of being a similar example for others. These are three virtues I believe are the foundation to a life worth imitating:
That may sound like a simple list, but I think it's a good guide for the traits we should seek in a mentor and strive for in our own lives. My hope is that I will ever be more like Jesus, walking in the footsteps of those who have followed Him without wavering; but also, that someone will see in me a faith worth imitating.
"Stories of Great Christians" belongs to Moody Radio Archive. Some day, I think I will purchase MP3 files of all the available stories, found here: http://moodyaudio.com/store/archive/stories-great-christians.
To learn about other great programs on BBN, to find a station in your area, or to stream live broadcasts, visit http://www.bbnradio.org.
As I tried to go to sleep the other night, somewhere amid the rambling, disjointed thoughts flooding my sleepy brain, I recognized the words of one of my favorite verses of scripture. I didn't consciously think about Romans 8:28, but it was suddenly just there in my mind: "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose."
The familiar words had barely finished processing in my mind when they were followed with a simple question- "Do you know?"
I can't tell you if it was me asking the question or if it was the Holy Spirit, but I pray He will help me to seek out the answer and define it in the next few lines.
Let me start by working backwards through the verse. I know that I am "called according to His purpose" because I'm saved. If you are saved, you have been purposefully called by God. I know that I am of "them that love God". Although not always put into action the way it should be, I have no doubts about my love for Him. That brings me to the first part of the verse, and I have to ask myself again, "Do I really know that all things work together for good?"
I feel confident in saying the answer to my question is "yes". I do know that all things work together for good, meaning I believe it with certainty. The real question is, "Am I living like I know it?"
The phrase "all things" in this verse could mean literally everything- from my walk to the mailbox to a serious illness. While I believe the verse is true for "all" circumstances, Paul was writing specifically about persecution. With that context in mind, I felt the need to examine how I view difficulties in my life.
Knowing that all things work together for good doesn't mean we never hurt or have concern about the difficult times in life. Our state of salvation doesn't preclude us from the effects of living in a fallen world. Bad things will happen (although I believe we are guarded by His sovereign grace from many bad circumstances). The beauty of knowing "all things work together for good" is summed up in one word: hope. We have hope that beauty will be born of brokenness, that silver linings will surface through stress. And we can learn to even be excited when something bad happens, anticipating the good that will come from it. Sometimes, we may not see the good, but by faith we know it is there, because God's promises are true.
Thankfully, I haven't experienced very many situations in my life that have tested my faith or challenged my belief that something good would be the result. But I think the lesson for me in my reflections on Romans 8:28 is to be more mindful of opportunities to praise God in all situations. It's not about learning to see the glass as half full instead of half empty. I'm sure there are plenty of atheist optimists. It's about knowing that God is intentionally acting and working things out in all situations, and about being able to praise Him whether we see the good or not.
Let me leave you with a real-life example of Romans 8:28. A small, country church, where my husband has ministered several times, was recently vandalized. On Easter Sunday morning, our friends there, Terry and Ellen, found a swastika spray-painted on the front door. Now, of course, that was not a good thing. How could it be? However, the deputy that responded to the call did a wonderful thing- he painted over the vandalism for them. Our friends were deeply moved by the kind act of the deputy, and Ellen took to Facebook to publicly praise the officer. More than one news station saw the post, and subsequently did interviews with Ellen and the officer, which were aired on multiple stations. Because Ellen knew God was in control of the situation, she was able to focus on the deputy's good deed, instead of focusing on the wrong done to them. God even worked it out so the uplifting story would be shared on the news to be an encouragement to many, many people. The fun part is, God may not be finished working the events "together for good". Perhaps the best is yet to come from this story.
Have you been going through a trial? Are you facing adversity now? Perhaps the best is yet to come from your story, too.
Click the following link to see one of the news stories about the church vandalism and the officer's kind deed.
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Thank you for visiting my blog. I share devotional articles and musings about life, parenting, and the writing journey, as well as important news about my books. I hope you find something of interest here!