A Tribute

There are a variety of circumstances that make it difficult to write. Other times, the most difficult circumstances inspire a writer to process life’s twists and turns by writing.  My best friend passed away this week and my world is literally, spinning. The only thing I have written this week is the obituary and part of the eulogy. Thankfully, my daughter and my “daughter-ish”  friend have both written tributes to my dear friend, Eileen. Today, I am posting the one written by my daughter, Jenna…

“As a girl I was always so excited for a night that began with the attire of white collared shirt, a black skirt, and the garnish of a blue rosette. That was a night I would do my best to make my music teacher proud! All our hard work was to be shown that night, and the power of testimony we spoke because of her vision was incredible! Mrs. Baerg introduced me to music and more importantly, worship, the thing that years later would get me through my darkest days.

I have yet to meet anyone who has more joy and enthusiasm for life! I always admired your sense of adventure and genuine appreciation for life. Everything was elevated; the thrills were more thrilling and the laughter… well, there was just more of it! And the best part, you still knew how to tell it like it was. When I picture you now, I can only see it one way, with a smile on your face basking in the glorious rays of light GLOWING brighter than was ever fathomable on our Earth. You were ALWAYS  a supporter of ALL people. Anyone you came in contact with, you would lift them up!

The most prominent memory I have of you is “Come!”

“Oh, COME, Jenna COME!” You would motion your hand and raise your eyebrows with excitement. Inviting me to come with you, taking my hand – from the time I was a little girl to the present, a young woman of 24.

The taking of the hand, that’s so important, so Christ-like.

Not only are you willing to help people get where they need to go, you literally will lead them by the hand. They can be blind, broken, limping or lost, but you see it as no hindrance. Your enthusiasm promises light to their destination, walking with them, step by step.

I can only imagine the day we reunite…

“COME!” and behold the beauty of Heaven!

“COME!” and smell the flowers!

“COME!” and run with me through the greenest grass!

“COME!” and slide down the streets of gold!

“COME!” and sing with me!

“COME!” and dance with me!

“COME!” and sit at the throne of God!

“COME!” and praise Him all the days of our eternity!

AND THERE WILL BE NO DARKNESS, ONLY LIGHT!

And I know I will get to see the greatest parts of Heaven FIRST because you have found them already.

So, to you, Mrs. Baerg, to say RIP would not be in the least bit fitting, so I will say RIL, for I know that you are Rejoicing in the Light!”

I love you more than you could ever know… Jenna

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Moments We Merge

She came to me, took a letter from an envelope and asked if I would read it to her. It was a page full of detailed instructions of how to prepare for a colonoscopy. As I continued to read, I felt myself filled with compassion for this woman who in past months, often challenged me to practice my patience. She asked questions throughout. I began to worry about how in the world she could remember all of this information, who could read it to her again, and how she would read the instructions on the actual “potion” she would have to drink the day before her procedure.

I met her and her husband when she was pregnant. Now, her adorable, easy going, big brown eyed boy, is 6 months old. She asks me if I can watch him while she goes through a couple tubs of clothing to see if there’s anything she can use. (Ok, twisted my arm.) I just love this boy who is alert and happy and who smiles when you say his name. We have all delighted in watching him grow.

The first time I met him, he could hardly stay in the room. Too many people. Too crowded. Too much noise. He speaks softly but if you move forward to listen closer or to understand what he said, he moves back. He has a complicated story but it is best explained in part by telling you he has PTSD. Tonight, however, he’s back. He’s inside the room more than he’s outside and even he cannot resist the temptation to talk to and smile at the sweet baby I am holding. He teases that the baby has a mohawk and walks away smiling. In that moment, I just want to cry. If only for a moment, the lives of this wounded man and this little one so fresh from God merge.

I hadn’t seen her in a while. I remembered her face but not her name. She told me she’s been gone because she had a stroke. At home, alone, her dog’s continual barking alerted a neighbor who finally called for help. After five weeks of physical therapy, she has just been out of the hospital for three weeks but is walking and talking and grateful. One arm and hand is weak so I helped her throughout the evening and learned even more of her story.

I see her most every month. She lives in a hotel and has no car. She relies on the kindness of friends and allies to give her rides where she needs to go. I had a box of saltines left over from dinner and offered it to her. She was more excited than I would have ever expected. She had been to the Food Bank today and told me she got everything she needs to make chili… and now she has the crackers to go with it!

He is a cute young man who loves being around people and delights in communicating. Unfortunately, he is non-verbal. He signs and gives us clues and when we’re all at a total loss of what he’s trying to tell us, he’ll write down a word to give us a hint. He “tells” us that a girl broke his heart three times. He wanted us to know he wants to run in an upcoming 5K but only has boots. He needs tennis shoes. He holds up one finger from each hand. Size 11? Yes, he nods,  size 11. I am quietly excited because I am almost positive I have a brand new pair of size 11 tennis shoes for him at home.

They live together but she tells me they are really more just friends than anything else. Young and struggling and trying to figure it all out, they tell me about how they missed the last Laundry Love by just a few minutes and have been doing laundry in their bathtub for the last 3 weeks.

These are a few of the neighbors we spent time with during just three hours of Laundry Love last night. When most of us think of Laundry Love we picture washers and dryers, laundry supplies, and quarters. I have learned these are just a small part of the picture of what really happens at Laundry Love. Washing clothes brings us together at laundromats. The time that it takes for clothes to wash, dry and be folded gives us time to talk, listen, empathize, laugh, read, play with babies, and tonight, even share a meal together. All of us are in the same place for the same reason. That’s how it happens…

Eyes opening. Hearts listening. Lives merging.

Touched by those Moments we Merge,

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Changing the Criteria

We’re conditioned to think in absolutes… rich or poor, empty or full, light or dark, black or white, success or failure. The truth is, most of life happens in all the in-between areas.

Here’s the dictionary definition of “Success”:  favorable result or conclusion; attainment of a desired end. Attainment or acquisition of wealth, status, or other desirable condition.

If I’m honest, I would tell you that I tend to measure goals, check things off the list, align myself with the highest standard in view, and compare myself to others and their collective efforts to determine whether or not I “feel” successful. For me, that’s just a dark rabbit hole to topple through.  It’s why I have a large sign in my home to remind me that “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

So, I’m coming up with other criteria.

Am I able to breathe life into a situation? If only for a moment, am I able to change the complexion of someone’s day, or bring a bit of light or life to an otherwise discouraging situation? Did the experience touch my heart, or the heart of another? Is it something I want or need to do again? If I can answer yes to any or all of those questions, then I can personally deem it a success.

In a stairwell, after a high school Christmas concert, a group of young people decide to sing ‘Hallelujah’ once more because the acoustics are so good right in that spot. What you will hear is incredible. No stage. Away from the audience, (with the exception of a few parents and friends).No applause. No need. Their vocals and harmonies resound in power and all of us who have watched the viral version are in awe.

Our two year-old granddaughter always wants to make pancakes. Morning. Afternoon. Evening.  Here’s the problem… she rarely eats them. Even after adorning them with butter and syrup, generally, she only eats a few bites.

Oh, but wait. Here’s what I’ve learned.  She loves to make pancakes. She likes me to sit her on the counter, perched by the bowl. She loves to tell me all the ingredients we need and watch as I get each one out. She digs the proper measuring cup into the mix, and I let her poor the milk and the vanilla and any ‘extras’ in.  Everything except the egg. She even takes the whisk and stirs.

It’s the process she loves. The time with me, the control, feeling like a ‘big girl,’ the delight in knowing she helped make something. No matter how the pancakes turn out,  success or failure are not even words that come into play. The experience is the valuable part.

That’s how I feel about my writing. Most of the time I just love the process. I love choosing the proper words, evoking certain feelings, communicating and encouraging others through words. This is fun for me.

So I will move forward, mindful of  being more like Kinsley… enjoying the moments… oblivious to outcomes… glad I got to do my part… happy with what is… happier that tomorrow I can do it all over again.

What is it that brings you joy; that helps you breathe? What speaks quietly to your soul, reminding you that it is part of the very core of who you are? I encourage you to pursue and embrace it. Make no apologies if it doesn’t align with what everybody else is doing. I am learning that our biggest success is staying true to who we are and how we’re created.

Abundance is…enjoying the moments.

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Without a Stage

Sometimes I think that “gifts” or “giftings” are overrated. Whether on the big screen, a public stage or in a small country church, those who are on stage still tend to be the ones revered above others. Our culture esteems the public gifts – those of song or dance, athletics or acting or a  variety of other performances that require a stage.

In a world of social media and talent ‘going viral,’ posts on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram are often closely monitored to see how many likes, shares, comments or retweets they receive.

Well aware, I am here to contend for, esteem and brag on all those people whose gifts are quietly offered  behind the scenes, away from the lights and without an audience. For the record, it is not because there is not an audience. More often than not, it is because they would rather remain unseen and/or anonymous.

This summer, I learned of a paid position with the title “Center of Influence.” I asked about what that job entailed and have to say, I am incredibly blessed to be surrounded by numerous people who are the center of influence in their families, jobs, churches and communities who go above and beyond that job description. They have no title and receive no pay. This year, they surrounded me at every turn as I faced extremely full days that turned into weeks and months. As I write, the year is over and we are about to journey into 2017.

We just completed our third full year of Laundry Love in Salina. A growing number of people quietly show up to hang out in a laundromat for a few hours each month in order to meet and help their neighbors. Here, individuals become community. It can be downright inspirational.

It’s amazing what can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit.

This summer, Salina Shares hosted “Summer Fun”  in a small park in a neighborhood that we have grown to love. It was instigated by a young business owner, who, together with his wife, decided they wanted to give back to our community. He asked that I draft a letter that he could take to other businesses to try and get donations. I emailed him the letter and he called back with changes. First change: take his name and his company’s name out of the letter. This will be a Salina Shares event, he said. I was surprised and impressed.

The day of Summer Fun, nearly 40 people showed up to volunteer their time, doing whatever needed to be done. Volunteers consisted of business owners, social workers, teachers and many other capable, professional, and more importantly, kind people. They are all influential in their own corner of the world, yet I don’t know of many who have ever received applause from their customers or students. Another 10 people who were not able to be there, helped however they could ahead of time. One made homemade, natural bug spray and bought small spray bottles to give to others to keep mosquitoes at bay. This one kind act would never make it to a stage but is the epitome of generosity and empathy. All are worthy of the applause reserved for athletes and entertainers.

 

St. Augustine said, “Find out how much God has given you and from it take what you need; the remainder is needed by others.” Many of us are in the process of doing this. I have not yet found a way to thank those people who have surrounded me this year, willing to give up part of their portion, in order to meet the needs of others. I am, however, very grateful to each one who does their part, without a stage and with a smile.

Happily Grateful,

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Who Do We Turn Our Chairs For?

I have never binge watched a television show.

I have not watched most of the “popular” shows.

There is, however, one show that I will clear my schedule for. If you’ve read my blog for long you know and may be sighing, ‘She’s writing about this AGAIN?”

It is The Voice. There are a number of reasons I love that show…

  • It is fun and amazing entertainment, with meaningful and touching life stories.
  • Emphasis is on judging  inward  talent, not outward appearance.
  • Encouragement is common. Even when a contestant doesn’t make it through to the next round or is on another coach’s team, we often hear the coaches encourage and compliment the singers.
  • I Want You. That’s what lights up when a coach turns their chair for a contestant. The message is loud and clear. Some can not help but respond even while they are singing. Others make it through their song only to break out into laughter or tears when they are done. It is a powerful thing to be accepted, to be wanted and to be affirmed. Hardly a week goes by that I do not cry at some point during the show.

There is one thing that I will miss The Voice for and that is Laundry Love. One Tuesday night a month, Laundry Love takes priority and I don’t think twice about it.

During our Laundry Love gatherings, we have some of the same opportunities the coaches do, just in an under-the-radar way that will never make national television.

We have the opportunity to stop what we are doing and turn our chair for someone else.

Last night it happened again. One particular couple showed up with their clothing in a worn out suitcase. They had never been to Laundry Love before but had heard about it through one of our local agencies. They are homeless. They are living week to week as they can afford it, in a run down hotel on the north end of Salina. They had no idea that we would be serving a meal as well. Last night happened to be pulled pork sandwiches. In a separate bag there was a bag of chips, fresh baked cookies, applesauce, some candy, a bottle of water, a spoon, a napkin and a wet wipe. As they opened their bags, the man was especially excited about all that was in it. Honestly, they ate as if they hadn’t eaten in a while. It is when they got ready to walk ‘home’ that I learned where they were living. That hotel is a little over two miles from the laundromat. We packed up extra of everything to send with them. Even as I did, I was mindful of the extra weight it would add to their load. I apologized. They assured me it was ok and they were entirely grateful. I pondered how they had been willing to walk two miles to get clean laundry. They  left smiling. Although their load was more cumbersome, we were happy we could provide another meal and they were delighted to have it!

A young woman came in by herself. She had recently moved to Salina from western Kansas. Just that night, she and her sister got in a fight and her sister told her to leave. She was staying in her car at least for the night and indefinitely, until she could figure something else out. It was her first time ever at a Laundry Love as well. I loaded her up with extra food and bottled water. We carried her laundry to her car. When she went to leave, her car wouldn’t start. One of our faithful Laundry Love volunteers got his jumper cables, and another Laundry Love guest pulled his car up next to hers. Her car started and she went on her way.

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I am nobody famous or talented like the coaches on The Voice. I can’t change your circumstances with a push of my button. But I still believe my presence at Laundry Love and other endeavors I choose to give my life’s energy to says this…

I Want You… to have clean clothes and bedding.

I Want You… to feel welcomed and accepted.

I Want You… to be fed.

I Want You… to know you are not alone.

God does the same for me. Every. Day. Regardless of  the circumstances I find myself  in, He  loves, accepts and forgives me.

We each have opportunities every day to “turn our chair” for others. What will we speak into their lives? What can we share with them? What can we do to make even this one day, a little better or a tiny bit easier?

Turning My Chair With You,

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It Really Is Simple

Over three years ago, we drove down the street, saw a man and his two daughters standing in front of a business and stopped to give each of the girls a doll. We found out later that this father had his girls for the weekend and they had asked him for toys that morning. He told them he didn’t have the money to buy them toys. He could never have guessed that they would each be given dolls later that morning.

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We stopped at a bus stop on a cold winter day to serve hot chocolate and offer hats and gloves. One young girl was eager to receive the hot chocolate. Her dad was not so sure. Oblivious to that fact, she asked for some for him too. Forty-five minutes later in a completely different part of town, we see this daddy-daughter duo again at a different bus stop. We were convinced it was meant to be. Conveniently located next to a McDonald’s we offered to buy them lunch. He opened his coat to show us a brown bag containing food that he said he had been given by a local charity when we saw him at the other bus stop. We casually suggested they save that for dinner and we drove through McDonald’s to get them lunch and a gift card for another time. I will never forget the girl’s excitement over her happy meal and the smile on her dad’s face.

These are just two of the stories from the early days of our acts of kindness adventures.  We had no way of knowing it would become “Salina Shares.”

Have you ever wished that you could do something to help someone, but just didn’t know where to start? Have you ever heard of needs but didn’t think your small contribution could make much difference? Have you realized that you have extra of some things and are ready to find a way to share them? Have you recognized real needs around you and are wondering how you make your extra someone else’s provision?

It really is simple.

I named these efforts of ours “Salina Shares” because it could include anybody in Salina. Individuals, families, churches, businesses, schools, organizations… anybody.  In the two years since we have taken that name, we have had the privilege to see more and more people sharing their time, their extra things and their money to help meet the needs of others.

It really is simple.

A couple years ago I was notified of an urgent need for $400. Generally speaking, Salina Shares does not have or give cash. I didn’t have $400 and I didn’t know anybody I could ask for that amount of money. I still don’t. The need was legitimate and I couldn’t get it off my mind. However, as I thought about it, I was pretty sure I could find 20 people that would be willing to contribute $20. It was one of the first times that we were able to meet a big need with everyone simply contributing what they could. In the process, I had a friend of mine give me a silver butter knife. She said she was keeping it for a rainy day in case she ever needed to pawn it for some extra money. She explained that she didn’t have $20 but still wanted to contribute. She gave me permission to pawn the knife. I did not. I will always keep that butter knife. It is a beautiful symbol of the generosity that is at the heart of Salina Shares.

In January, 2014 we implemented the Laundry Love (TM) program, based on the national initiative (www.laundrylove.org). Now, we are in all 3 laundromats in Salina helping people with the costs of doing laundry. We offer it as an act of kindness to everybody who walks through the door during the times that we’re there. Those who need it are always grateful. Those who don’t, generally say, ‘Use it for someone that needs it more than I do.’  We have no big benefactors. We have  people who set aside quarters each month, or drop some change into one of our containers in businesses that have agreed to be collection sites. We had a leadership group donate $84, another workplace donate $100 by paying to wear jeans, a single mom who saves the quarters that she gets in tips as a server and donates them to us each month. We get quarters in jars, in ziplock bags, and in rolls. Last month a man at the laundromat was fascinated by what we were doing and asked me about it. When he left, he handed me $20 and said, “I love what you’re doing.” There are lots of people doing what they can when they can to make Laundry Love a success.

It really is simple.

Missy sat in my living room a year ago and said she loved what Salina Shares does but she didn’t have a dime to contribute. I told her that didn’t matter. In the year since, she has headed up The Valentine Project, The Scarf Project, acquired free industrial shelving for the Salina Shares building, and put me in contact with a woman who donated a household of furniture that we have passed on to those in need.

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I have known Debbie about  3 weeks. She saw scarves hanging from trees in downtown Salina and was intrigued. She looked at the tags and saw the Salina Shares logo. She looked us up online and emailed me. That night she went home, collected about 15 scarves, took them to one of our drop off points and they were put out around town the next day. A couple weeks later, she showed up at our afternoon Laundry Love with a baggie full of quarters and 3 hours of her time. Now she is baking and decorating  cookies for our Valentine Project.

I hear of needs daily through a variety of agencies. Many of the time, people have nothing. Sometimes they have moved here from out of town or out of state with just one suitcase of belongings. They have escaped domestic violence, are just getting housed after living on the streets or in their cars, have been living in hotel rooms or are at the point of starting over from scratch after the loss of a job, loss of their health, death of a marriage or death of a loved one. When I ask them for a wish list, three things commonly top the list: toilet paper, pots and pans and towels. It certainly puts things in perspective. Most of the time we are able to provide cleaning supplies, personal hygiene items, dishes, pots and pans, silverware, towels, sheets and blankets. Sometimes we have furniture. It is all people’s extra that they are willing to give away instead of sell. In some instances, we are even given new items.

It really is simple.

We each share what we can, when we can.

The other day my friends delivered this to my home…

Cleaning Supplies

It’s not often I get excited about cleaning supplies, but they had donated not only what we need to give to others, but went an extra step in organizing it for me, saving me precious time! The time and effort they went to made me happy for days, but as I look at these buckets of cleaning supplies, I think, it really is simple.

It is the beauty of Salina Shares that people can give what they can when they can and still be an integral part of helping others and meeting needs. Being a part of such a process is life-giving and the sense of community that results is amazing!

Wherever you happen to live geographically, I encourage you to find the joy of sharing what you have with another human being.

It really is simple.

Abundance is… Learning to Share Well With Others,

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Little Bursts of Delight

We see him drive up with a carload of clothes and then watch as he opens his trunk to reveal even more. He has braved the freezing rain and below freezing temperatures. We have never met him before but in the next two hours, he will trust us with part of his story, explain the circumstances surrounding the 16 loads he has carried in, and touch our hearts.

They walk in not knowing anything about Laundry Love. They had come to the laundromat the Thursday before this Saturday and found it closed. Oh, yes, it was Thanksgiving. When they returned on Saturday they were delighted to have the help paying for their laundry. She asked if she could hug us, explained that sometimes things just get hard, and expressed her appreciation for helping them during this hard time.

Their family is a regular. His wife has been very sick for two months now. He comes to Laundry Love, calls her hospital room in Wichita and hands me the phone. I talk to her, tell her how much we have missed her, that we are praying for her, encourage her and hand the phone back to him.

She doesn’t have a car or a job but she does have two little ones. She puts them in a grocery cart, along with their laundry, and walks to the laundromat for Laundry Love. Her daughter loves Sofia the Great. Her son loves Thomas the Train. The children lay on the folding table and she rubs their backs while the laundry whirls around them. Our little offering of 5 loads of clean laundry quite honestly seems like nothing amidst the mountain of need she is living in.

A young man walks in timidly to ask about Laundry Love. He speaks so softly I can hardly hear him.  He asks me how this thing works. I explain briefly, assure him he’s in the right place and welcome him in. He goes back out to the car and returns with his girlfriend and their laundry. Later he asks me if by any chance I have a trash bag or two that they could put their clean laundry in. It “just so happens” someone had just given me two brand new mesh laundry bags and a laundry basket just 2 days before. I offer him all three and he is clearly blown away. He looks at me like I’ve just handed him a hundred dollars. His eyes well up with tears and he thanks me.

Another unsuspecting couple walks in to do their laundry. We offer to pay for it. They are happily surprised and very grateful. Between the washing and the drying she walks over to me and hands me two coupons for a free dessert at a local restaurant. A friend had given them to her but it’s the only way she has to repay us, she tells us. I assure her there’s no need to repay us but she insists we take them.

My friend hurt her hand at work. They told her to leave early and get it checked out. On her way, she drives past the laundromat we’re in and decides to stop and say hi. She has a huge heart for our community and is part of our Tuesday night team for Speedy Wash. I’m surprised to see her but happy to have her there. Less than 10 minutes later, two young men walk in. I approach them to tell them that we’re there for Laundry Love and he tells me in Spanish that he does not speak English. I call my friend with the hurt hand over. She speaks fluent Spanish. She explains everything to them and we pay for their laundry. She returns to talk to them a bit more, noticing that they are not dressed for the day’s weather. As it turns out, they don’t have coats, hats or gloves. One of them walks to work at 11:00 p.m. and walks home at 7:00 a.m. That morning he would have walked home in ice and freezing rain. He does not have proper shoes. We are beside ourselves. While she goes to get her hand checked out, I  go to the Salina Shares building to see if we have their sizes of shoes and coats. While I am there I also pull hats, gloves and scarves. We deliver to their home that evening and the only coat I had,  that I thought may work for him, fits perfectly. He hugged me to thank me.

The owner of the laundromat texts me to see how things are going. I’m guessing he’s thinking we’re really slow because of the weather, but his laundromat was hopping! Every dryer was full.  A couple minutes later he texts me, saying he and his wife are interested in adopting a family for Christmas. I am amazed at this circle of giving that we are a part of.

A man walks in who I recognize from last month’s Laundry Love. Last month when I offered to pay for his laundry, he explained to me that his sister had just died two days before and that he was needing clean clothes for her funeral.  He needed to talk and all of us took turns listening. Saturday, after getting his washers going, I asked him how he was doing, how the funeral was, how their Thanksgiving was without her. He couldn’t believe I remembered. He must have thanked me 5 times in the course of our conversation for remembering and asking.

This is just one day of Laundry Love.  Some of these scenarios leave me nearly breathless as I see God revealing himself in slow, simple, random-seeming circumstances. They are just little glimpses here and there of his hand in our lives, but they are extremely powerful. For whatever reason when we’re at Laundry Love we pause, we look, and we notice. It is not unusual for people to get teary-eyed when we offer to pay for their laundry. It is also  not unusual for us as volunteers to get teary-eyed when we see these divine appointments and “coincidences.”

As we walk through this Christmas season, I am mindful that nobody ever expected a King to come as an infant  in a manger.  Who would expect such love, such power and such hope to come in a form like that?

When we started Laundry Love, we expected to pay for people’s laundry. We wanted to help meet the needs in our community. We could not have anticipated what has happened in our own hearts and lives, as well as in the lives of those we have met along the way. Who would expect such love and  hope to come through the doors with a bottle of detergent and a roll of quarters?

Personally, I love the opportunities that our time at Laundry Love affords us and the little bursts of delight it offers to all of us. As we take the time to visit together, laugh and cry together, we get to know each other.  It has been an awesome way to build community, and this is just the beginning!

Whatever circumstances you find yourself in this holiday season, I encourage you to pause and take note of those little bursts of delight. I assure you, if you look, you can even find it in the midst of mountains of dirty laundry!

Abundance is… finding hope in unlikely places.

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