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ssociation Award of Merit










Advanced Writers & Speakers Association


linda evans shepherd

arise, esther!

IS GOD CALLING YOU TO AN EVEN GREATER PURPOSE? Yes. Well, except for one thing. You’re doing all you have the time, knowhow and energy to do. In fact, you’re busy working to simplify your life because you’ve already maxed out your purpose-limit. I get it, but I’m wondering how fast your limit would lift if you suddenly discovered a sniper’s gun aimed at your neighbors. What if you alone could sound the alarm to warn your friends before a volley of bullets destroyed their lives? Let’s raise the stakes. What if your own children stood in the line of fire? Would you raise your voice, even if your warning caused the sniper to take aim at you? I already know the answer. Because you’re reading this, you are the kind of woman who would rise to her feet and not only call to warn her children, you’d shield them with your own body. That’s exactly the story of Queen Esther. She was a young woman whom God called to rise from orphan to queen. She was meant to live a royal life in a splendid palace, right? So why jeopardize a good thing? Everything changed the day Esther learned that Haman, an adviser to her husband, the king, had devised a plot to murder her people. And there she was, the only one in position to turn the king’s head from such an evil. The problem was that sounding this alarm could not only strip Esther of

her position; it was possible she would have to pay with her very life. The parallel of Queen Esther’s dilemma is not lost on you. Perhaps if you answered the call on your life, you’d not only have to step out of your comfort zone, you’d have to step into the line of fire. So what did Esther do? She listened to her uncle. He explained that her rise to royalty may have been God’s way to put her in position to save her people. Esther counted the cost, then stepped into her mission, saying, “If I perish I perish.” Perhaps you’ve been secretly hoping that someone else would step up and sound the alarm. As you’ve waited, hoped and prayed, you’ve watched the enemy take aim at your own loved ones and wondered, won’t somebody do something? What if God has placed you in position to answer your own prayer, for such a time as this? I believe He has. Read through the pages of this issue to get equipped, inspired and encouraged to step into your greater purpose, for such a time as this. As you do, you will, like Esther, step into God’s favor. You will be the difference maker. Arise, Esther! It’s time to arise!








Editorial Staff

PUBLISHER........................ Linda Evans Shepherd EDITOR/ART DIRECTOR......... Amber Weigand-Buckley LAYOUT EDITOR.................. Tom Young COPY EDITORS................... Julie Gillies & Tom Young ADVERTISING..................... Linda Evans Shepherd EDITORIAL SECRETARY.......... Aisha Cox CONTRIBUTORS.................. Penelope Carlevato, Michelle S. Cox, Sharon Norris Elliott, Pam Farrel, Edie Melson, Kathy Collard Miller, Karen Porter, Rhonda Rhea, Monica Schmelter, Ashley Schroeder, Cynthia L. Simmons, Saundra Dalton Smith, Heather Van Allen and Karen H. Whiting.

Right to the Heart Board Members Linda Evans Shepherd (President), Dianne Butts, Sharon Norris Elliott, Karen Porter, Rhonda Rhea, Carole Whang Schutter and Joy A. Schneider


Leading Hearts magazine for Christian Women is published bimonthly by Right to the Heart Ministries 2017. ISSN 2380-5455

ADVERTISING | Display rates are available at leadinghearts. com. By accepting an advertisement, Leading Hearts does not endorse any advertiser or product. We reserve the right to reject advertisements not consistent with the magazines objectives. MANUSCRIPTS | Writers guidelines are available at Leading Hearts | PO Box 6421, Longmont, CO 80501 email: fax inquiries: (303) 678-0260 MEMBER | 2015-2016-2017 Evangelical Press Association Award of Merit Winner — Christian Ministry Digital Publication Photos courtesy of:, Jamie Wright Images (@jamiewrightimages), The Media Collective, Kerry Kara Photography /KLS Photos & Imaging (, Ashley Schroeder (Holt International). Copyright ©2018 Right to the Heart Ministries. All rights reserved. Copyrighted material reprinted with permission. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™



8 monica schmelter MINISTRY UNBOXED

20 three essentials TO LIVE OUT LOVE 24 sara groves LESSONS IN ABIDING 44 oh, magnify & LIQUEFY 48 the shepherd’s EVALUATION 50 sacred rest RECOVER RESTORE RENEW

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14 finding freedom FROM GREAT EXPECTATIONS








amber weigand-buckley one sole purpose

EVEN THOUGH I’M 5’11”, OVER THE YEARS, I’ve shared a great affinity for

platform shoes. You, know, the higher the wedge, the closer to God.

Yes, I’ve even donned the extra 8 inches of sole at the office as proof that “Yes, I can walk in them and incorporate them into my business casual.” But goodness knows they weren’t made for traversing steep rocky slopes, and for me, that specifically pertains to my mid-forties. The bottom line: walking around in my platforms may get me the attention of the people I tower a foot above, but walking on them is simply not sustainable for the long haul. This flimsy footwear is like the foundation many build when doing “the business” of ministry. This is especially true when you add in having to “get your name out there” as a writer or speaker. Do you know why doing life on the platform is tiring? It forces you to maintain a level of notoriety. This maintenance requires the stress and striving to get “to the next level” — in the world’s eyes. Have you become platform-focused instead of purpose-focused? Here are checkpoints to see if you might be tripping up: • Do you view brothers or sisters in ministry more as competitors than coworkers for the Kingdom? • Do you feel that if anyone has an idea or message similar to yours that somehow what you are doing is less important? • Do you fail to acknowledge those who help you

excel in ministry? Are you tempted to take credit for great ideas or hoard the glory for yourself (even if you recognize God as the secret to success)? • Do you find yourself making alignments with people for the opportunity of becoming friends with people who might better your career? • Do you get jealous of others walking beside you in ministry when they find success apart from you? • Do you make friends based on “what they can do for you” versus building relationships just for the sake of genuine friendship? This list could go on. There is a tricky balance between purpose and platforms. The highest “kingdom value” is being obedient to the message God has divinely created you to pass on for HIs glory. Isaiah 64:6 compares our righteous “platform building” acts to filthy rags. Paycheck or not; notoriety or not; ten Facebook followers or 10,000 Facebook followers — living for an audience of ONE is front and center. When your purpose is to be true to His message, nothing will change your need to communicate that, even if someone else is saying the same thing. In fact, that is the beauty of the Bible — there is an element of repetitive lessons that keep knocking on your soul. I hope this issue of Leading Hearts helps you kick off your heels and sink into sole-soothing purpose — not looking to the right or left. All eyes are on You, Lord, in this journey together to the finish..



LH 7.

by monica schmelter — 8.



Thankfully, I never did. I do remember the joy of birthday parties and the scramble to find a book of matches to light the candles. Why did my parents look in the junk drawer last? Little did I know as a child about the kind of fire that could be lit in your heart when you make Jesus your Savior.

My parents thought a Christian school would be a good idea for a troubled teen like me. When I was fourteen years old I started the ninth grade in a private Christian school. I wasn’t a Christian, and I had zero interest in believing the Bible. My parents thought a Christian school would be a good idea for a troubled teen like me. They hoped it would help me meet a different crowd of people and make better decisions.

me of that. I thought my teachers, counselors and parents were on a mission to cramp my style and ruin my life. The days seemed long at my small Christian school. I deemed chapel as boring and the dress code a fashion disaster. The students were friendly enough, but I had nothing in common with them.

Unfazed by My Tough Exterior One student, Leslie, went out of her way to connect with me. She seemed unfazed by my tough exterior. One day, she handed me a cute card in which she had written, “I am praying for you.” I appreciated the card, but I turned around and complained to fellow classmates that I didn’t want to be bothered by that Jesus stuff.

On a Mission To Ruin My Life

I’m not sure why, but when Leslie invited me to a movie night at her church I said yes. I remember the movie touched my heart. When it was over, the pastor asked us to bow our heads and raise our hands if we wanted prayer. I lifted my hand. When the pastor asked all who raised their hands to come forward, I did not budge.

By the time I was 13, I had already run away from home. I skipped school frequently and experimented with drugs occasionally. Clearly, I wasn’t on a good path, but you couldn’t convince

Weeks later. my family was invited to church by a friend of my mom’s. This time my whole family, including my Muslim grandfather, his second wife and their four children, attended as well.

-continued on p. 109.

“I started my prayer box when I was 14. My dad was an atheist and my grandfather, a Muslim, I prayed and shared Christ every opportunity I had.”

— Monica to Leading Hearts

-continued from p. 9Much to my surprise and chagrin, I felt a nudge, the same nudge I experienced at Leslie’s church. I fought it for a bit and then stood up and walked down the aisle. With tears streaming down my face I knelt at the altar and gave my heart to Christ.

On Fire After the healing service my brother was never hospitalized again. My family did not continue attending church, but my parents drove me to services every Sunday and Wednesday. I went from troubled teen to on fire with the love of Christ. There was no earthly explanation for the change. It was simply a miracle that everyone I knew noticed. @jamiewrightimages

The church was hosting a healing service. My younger brother has Down Syndrome and was hospitalized frequently for other health related ailments. Out of love for my brother, we all attended the service. I hadn’t been to church often, and this particular service seemed unusual. People were clapping, singing loudly and raising their hands in the air. I had never seen this before and feared they might be crazy. Later in the service they prayed for my brother. Shortly after the prayer for healing, they extended a call for all who wanted to accept Christ as Savior.


One Sunday, my pastor preached a sermon using Psalm 2:8:

Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession (KJV). Pastor Gardner explained that I could rewrite the history of my family through prayer. My heart was lit on fire with passion and excitement. I started believing that my family and friends would all eventually come to faith in Christ. After that sermon, I wrote that verse on the top of several pieces of

MONICA’S LESSONS FROM THE JUNK DRAWER: PART ONE loose leaf paper. Then I started writing the names of my family and friends under the Scripture verse. I prayed over the names daily. Then my list got so long I put it in a box for safekeeping. Over the years, I started calling the box my prayer box.

My Muslim Grandfather Accepted Christ It’s been more than 40 years since I heard that sermon and started my prayer box. I’ve seen most of my family, including my Muslim grandfather, come to Christ. I continue to pray for the others. When I reflect on God’s goodness to a rebellious and stubborn teenager, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Our Father’s love expressed through His only Son, Jesus Christ, is more than amazing.

I Found Her on Facebook A few years ago, I taped a television show about evangelism and persecution. When we filmed that show, I couldn’t stop thinking about Leslie. She was the first one to witness to me. Where would I be without Leslie’s boldness? More than 40 years had passed, but I wanted to find her and say thank you. I was ecstatic when I found her on Facebook. I messaged her and expressed my appreciation and apologized for my

poor behavior. She was very gracious in her response. She and I keep in touch now. We pray for one another and encourage each other to stay bold and share Christ every opportunity we get.

Rewrite Your Family History We can all rewrite the history of our families with the power of prayer. We can light our world with the power of Christ by daring to share His love without undue concern over the response. It’s never wise to play with matches. It’s very wise to allow the love of Christ to ignite a flame in your heart that burns so brightly it extinguishes the darkness.

Sorting It Out Are you allowing the love of Christ to ignite a fire in your life? If not, how could you change that? Do you have any family members or friends who don’t know Christ yet? If yes, are you praying for them regularly? If yes, are you looking for opportunities to share Christ with them? Do you fear, or have you experienced, persecution? What has that been like for you? Would having a prayer box or something similar help you remember to pray for your family/friends that aren’t saved yet?


1 1.

by karen porter


a different kind of dream for 2018 ONE DAY, MY CLOSEST FRIENDS AND I EACH ANSWERED THIS QUESTION: “IF MONEY, TIME OR CIRCUMSTANCES WERE NOT AN ISSUE, WHAT WOULD YOUR DREAM JOB BE?” The answers were fun and varied as we dreamed aloud. One wanted to travel the world, and one wanted to be a Food Network star. One wanted to hike a high mountain peak; another, write a book, and another, run in the Olympics. And then one of our friends surprised us. She said, “I would stay home and cook, sew, create beautiful décor in my home and take care of my family.” We were a little shocked at these words coming from an accomplished, successful businesswoman. But she was sincere and saw making a wonderful home by using her many skills and creativity and style as her ultimate dream. I’ve thought about that conversation and those various dreams many times and asked myself some questions. Why haven’t I pursued my dream? What is holding



me back? And am I dreaming a dream from my heart or because the dream is expected of me? Some of us chase dreams only to find emptiness. Author Crystal McDowell says, “Dream chasing is only relevant if it’s rooted in God’s calling on your life.” Jesus said:

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. — Matthew 6:33, ESV — Our problem may be that we are so busy chasing our dreams that we aren’t pursuing God. God says that if we will go after him, He will make our dreams come true.

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. — Psalm 37:4, ESV — So, I want to suggest to you in this year’s first column that we chase a different kind of dream for 2018. Let’s start with a list of absolutes.

1. Jesus loves you. When you and I were unlovable, He loved us. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved. — Ephesians 2:4-5, ESV —

2. God called you. He has a plan for your life that is good and wonderful. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. — Ephesians 2:10, ESV —

3. God gives you the tools and skills you need. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. —1 Peter 4:10-11, NIV — There are a few steps you and I can take to dream God’s dream for us in 2018. First: Begin to live your life in the moment because big events don’t make precious memories; moments do. The first time you hold a new baby. That conversation with your neighbor that leads to spiritual awareness. Those sweet words of affirmation from a friend. Life is about the moments, but how many times do we speed by with our agendas and plans? Slow down. Second. Determine and live your beliefs. What are your fall-on-your-sword values? Make a list of at least three principles or viewpoints you will not compromise. My list is (1) family before work, (2) faith in God Almighty, and (3) fun. Third. Determine that 2018 will be your year to evaluate yourself regularly. At the end of each month and as I look back on the month’s calendar of activities, I will make a spiritual assessment. I will ask myself several questions about how I behaved. Was I humble? Did I act with integrity? Did I tell the truth? Was I loyal? Did I have patience? Did I pursue God? If you’d like a copy of my spiritual assessment, email me at and I’ll send you the complete list. As you lead in 2018, don’t forget to dream God’s dream for you!



finding freedom

from great expectations

by kathy collard miller —



I CRINGED AND THOUGHT, “OH, NO,” WHEN I SAW MY FRIENDS WERE USING AN ONLINE SOURCE TO SIGN UP FOR THE LATEST MEAL TRAIN. I knew God didn’t want me to participate because of my care-giving responsibilities. Still I worried, “What will they think if they don’t see my name on the list?” I felt the conflict of wanting to obey God but risking being misunderstood if I didn’t sign up. It’s a tendency of mine, to put myself under pressure to do what other people might think I should do. But is that what should guide my decisions? Of course not! The world, especially the American culture, screams its messages: be productive, look good, keep it together. Yet God’s way is different, beckoning me to rest in Him and find my contentment and value in Him. One area in which we Christian women often strive to “look good” is hospitality. Sadly, we drive ourselves crazy — which doesn’t glorify God — when we think our show of being all together with the gourmet meal or perfect centerpiece exalts God. But in reality, who are we really glorifying? I’m learning to ask myself questions like:

•Am I joining this committee because I’ve seen how disorganized the leader is and they need me to straighten it out? •Do I feel compelled to “like” this post on Facebook or pass along the next online chain letter because otherwise my friend won’t think I’m supporting her? •Am I working hard on the church event so everyone will see how creative I am, rather than looking to God for his approval and applause? In each decision, I ask the Holy Spirit to evaluate my heart. He exposes my muddy motives so I am able to discern when it is truly God that is leading. Regardless of what anyone else thinks, whether I sign up for the meal or not, if He has not impressed on me to do a thing, I can know I’m obeying Him.

I ask the Holy Spirit to evaluate my heart. He exposes my muddy motives so I am able to discern when it is truly God that is leading. That’s the freedom God offers us all. His eyes of love see us in Christ. We wear His righteousness and no longer need to worry about performance (Philippians 3:9). In Christ we have worth and value which is never based on how we look to others. As we are set free, we will see Paul’s challenge fulfilled in our lives: “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ — to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:11, ESV).




ashley schroeder

finding joseph


Suddenly, in the middle of singing, I heard in my spirit, “His name is Joseph.” I have many talents, but singing while driving and then suddenly hearing a boy’s name that I have never thought of before is not natural. I knew it was the Holy Spirit. I turned off my radio and asked, “Who is Joseph, God?” Then I heard in my spirit, “His name is Joseph, and you will be a catalyst for him as I have great plans for Joseph. He comes from an unfortunate situation, but I am going to use you to help him. Ashley Schroeder is an enthusiastic motivational speaker, author and advocate for abused and abandoned children for Holt International, a Christian organization dedicated to finding families for the world’s orphaned and abandoned children. She raises awareness to help children through sponsorships that provide a healthy and loving environment, proper nutrition, education and medical care.

Even though God gave him a nickname. “He was named Joseph at birth. I said to God, “OK, but how can I be a catalyst for someone I don’t even know? I am still a mom of two young daughters. How is this going to happen?”

-continued on p. 1817.

-continued from p. 17Then I heard in my spirit, “Stay close to Pastor Deborah Kaplan. She will help you on this path.” I immediately picked up my cell phone to call Pastor Deborah, and I told her what the Lord said to me. The next week we meet for coffee, and she started mentoring me. She gave me the opportunity to speak in front of the church. I started attending seminary classes. My confidence started to climb, and soon God opened doors to speak at conferences and concerts and on the radio.

I ran downstairs to the display tables and the search for Joseph was on. In 2014 I attended a Winter Jam concert in Tampa. New Song’s Russ Lee gave an appeal to sponsor a child with Holt International. My heart was pounding with enthusiasm. I knew in my heart this was a turning point and the start of finding Joseph. I asked God, “Do you want me to sponsor a child, Lord?” I felt that the answer was yes. I ran downstairs to the display tables and the search for Joseph was on. I had everyone looking


REALCHURCHLADIES through all the picture cards for a Joseph but none were found. So I inquired of the Lord again. “Do you still want me to sponsor a child?” The answer came, “Yes but for now I want you to sponsor a different child.” I picked a picture card with the sweetest little boy with the biggest eyes named Samuel from Ethiopia. A few months later, I was asked to speak at a conference; the discussion was to have a very large attendance. I asked my friend Debbie Yoerg, Founder of Crowns for Christ Ministries, about how to have Holt sponsor a table at the event. In Debbie’s encouraging fashion, she said, “Why don’t you do the appeal for Holt?” Of course, this scared my pants off. The plan was the have thousands of people, not just a few hundred like I had spoken in front of before. Plus, I didn’t even know who to talk to about what God had put on my heart, but I knew if God’s hand was in it, I had His favor and that I would be victorious. Later, I called Holt International and they referred me to Kris Thompson. When we spoke, we became instant friends. I told her everything the Lord had said to me about Joseph. I was already a little nervous, and then Kris asked a question that stopped me in my tracks, “What is the largest crowd of people you have spoken in front of?” With a big gulp, I said with confidence, “Oh, around 500 people.” She asked, “Well, do you have any videos of you speaking that I can see?” Quickly I recalled that a few months prior, Crowns for Christ had recorded me speaking at a conference. I sent Kris the video and I heard nothing back for months. I was at a women’s prayer meeting, and my friend Bonita said, “I have a word from the Lord for you. I see children all around you, and God’s going to use you for great things.” I said, “Well, I appreciate the word, but I have tried that path and nothing has happened.” Bonita looked at me sternly, “I don’t know about that, but this is what I hear for you.” Pastor Deborah chimed in, “Didn’t God say that you would work with children one day?” About an hour later, I got in my car to leave, but first I checked my email. To my surprise, Kris Thompson had reached out to me! “Ashley, we have watched the video of you speaking and we

love you! We have never done this before, but we would like to sign an artist agreement with you to represent Holt International at the conferences that you are asked to speak at.” My jaw probably hit the floor at that moment. God was fulfilling His promise to me in a big way. Since then, my speaking engagements increased, and I went to Haiti in June of 2017 to spend time with the children there. Today, I sponsoring a boy named Joseph from the Philippines. This may not be the exact Joseph that God spoke to me about, but the Holt kids are all my Josephs. Every time I speak on behalf of Holt, I think of Joseph.

My jaw probably hit the floor at that moment. God was fulfilling His promise to me in a big way. I am honored to have this opportunity to be used by God to represent Holt children in need. I know that I will find Joseph in God’s timing. It is interesting that God prearranged Joseph to have a nickname so I will know him when I meet him. So my search for finding Joseph is still on. Until then, I can’t wait to see what God has planned next; my heart is full of God’s love for these children. I encourage you to sponsor a child with Holt International. When looking through the profile pictures, ask God which one He wants to use you for as a catalyst for change in a child’s life. God has great plans for that child, but He needs you to accomplish the goal. “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40, NIV).

LH Find out more about Ashley’s book and her work with Holt International visit


by pam farrel — by Pam Farrel @Pamfarrel




3 essentials


other 24/7 living can seem intimidating or intense to some couples However, we have created some core habits and tools that weave our hearts and lives together and bring intimacy: PICK ONE WORD: We set goals together each New Year. I have selected a word and a verse for the year each January since I was 19. When Bill and I got married at age 20, we continued this tradition — this year is 39 years! Selecting a Word for the Year, a verse, a theme and a clarifying question helps us focus our energy. Here’s an example. During the fall of 2010, I began to experience some physical issues. In January 2011, at a Christian Wellness week sponsored by First Place 4 Health, I received some test results that slapped me in the face with the reality that my health was at risk unless something changed! I knew I wanted to live long and strong for God. I also knew one of my books was going to be rereleased under the new title 10 Secrets To Living Smart, Savvy and Strong. I felt like none of that was true of me at that moment. Knowing only God has the answers, I picked up my Bible and scanned for verses on being STRONG! When I read this familiar passage, it brought great comfort:

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9, NIV). Joshua, too, was discouraged, looking for help and hope. I felt I had found a comrade in arms!

I phoned Bill, and together we elected to use STRONG as our Word for the Year. We also chose Joshua 1:9 as our verse because Bill wanted to see strength increase in many areas of his life as well. We decided to ask a clarifying question before each decision: “Will this make me STRONGER? Us STRONGER? Our health STRONGER? Our finances STRONGER? Our ministry STRONGER? Our love and marriage STRONGER? Our family and friendships STRONGER? The results? I grew in strength! I shed over 50 pounds; I went from walking to running; I moved from health risk to health strength. Bill made new strides in his career and his health as well. In what area of life do you need God to make you strong? What is the One Word you can use to focus your life? What One Word can you hang your heart on to hang on to hope? In 7 Simple Skills for Every Woman, I walk women through how to choose and then walk out their Word for the Year. On our Love-Wise ministry website we have Word of the Year Worksheets. PRAY GOD’S POWER: A new habit I have integrated into my life the past few years is to pray Ephesians 3:20 over our life and our world each day at 3:20. I am fond of the Amplified translation as it expands to include hopes, prayers, dreams — those seedlings of a calling God is whispering to each of our souls:

“Now to Him who is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly more than all that we dare ask or think [infinitely beyond our greatest prayers, hopes, or dreams], according to His power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20, Amplified). -continued on p. 23-



-continued from p. 21I pray Ephesians 3:20 with Bill on days we are together. Some days I pray it with our grown sons, daughters-in-law and grandkids. Other days, I pray it with whomever I am with! I have prayed it with postal workers, ministry friends, grocery clerks, hotel desk agents, coffee baristas, flight attendants, sales representatives. If I am alone, I pray it for my own family and whoever sent me the last email or social media post before the phone alarm rang at 3:20. Some may see it as a rote prayer, but it isn’t at all that to me. It is a reminder that God is in charge, and He is my Abba Father who bestows good gifts. PLAN AS A TEAM: Each Monday, Bill and I have a Marriage Meeting where we pray over each other and plan for the week ahead. It has been the super glue to hold us together through some serious life storms. Two years ago, my Word for the Year was Adventure. As it turned out our “adventure” was selling our home and office and selling or giving away 90 percent of our belongings. Our move was motivated by our need to relocate to be caregivers to Bill’s 88-year-old parents while running our

Love-Wise ministry. The following year, my Word for the Year was BLESSING — with the goals of counting my blessings, being a blessing and praying God would restore and send His blessings! After we moved from our home, we lived on our extended family’s vineyard for six months while searching for the perfect (affordable) live-aboard boat. We eventually found it, bought it and moved aboard. Living on the ocean has been a renewing and rejuvenating blessing! With so many transitions these past two years, it has felt like one challenge after another. This kind of stress can easily pull couples apart, but because of our Monday morning Marriage Meeting, God intertwined our hearts and lives tighter and closer. Because so many couples have shown interest in how we navigate these meetings, we have created Your 3:20 Life: Breakthrough to Blessing. It includes Marriage Meeting worksheets for 52 weeks of the year and many other life-building, love-protecting tools.. If you want to live out God’s purpose, it is vital to discover it first. Then work together to live it out in unity, being careful to PULL TOGETHER so life doesn’t PULL you two APART.



by heather van allen


sara groves

lessons in abiding SONGWRITER AND ARTIST SARA GROVES KNOWS WELL THAT LIFE — EVEN THE LIFE OF A CHRISTIAN — IS NOT ALL EASY LIVING IN THE SUNSHINE, DEVOID OF ALL TRIAL AND DARKNESS. She has cycled through both dark and light seasons in her life, but has always returned to her awareness of God’s constant presence. Much of her music over her 20-year career reflects this integration of her faith with the other parts of her life, with its ebb and flow, questions and answers, ups and downs. “Part of my work and passion,” Sara says, “is to tear down the sacred-secular divide, where people look at their lives and say, ‘These are the spiritual things; these are the other things.’” As a positive celebration of God’s presence and provision during a difficult period in her life, Sara’s latest album, Abide With Me, is part of that faith-life connection in how it relates to her previous album Floodplain. Initially Sara resisted creating Floodplain, which documents her journey through anxiety and depression. “Probably four or five years ago, I was in one of the

darkest seasons I have ever been in,” she says. Feeling as though no one was praying as much as she was, but yet the depression was not being lifted from her, Sara began asking questions and processing what was going on with her during that season of her life. She felt like God was inviting her “to document life on the floodplain when the waters rise.” During that time, the hymns that found their way onto the current album, Abide With Me, were the songs that brought her comfort while she was “on the floodplain.” “I felt like God was extending friendship to me in that place,” Sara says, further commenting that many of the songs on Abide With Me declare friendship with God. “He sits with us, He dwells with us when we are struggling and hurting. [In His grace], God extends this radical friendship to us in any number of places that we find ourselves.” Further affirming the connection between the two albums, a friend of Sara’s, after listening to Floodplain, described it as emphasizing not depression, but provision. “I feel like that’s true,” Sara agrees. “That record is about provision. This album [Abide With Me] is giving language to that provision, to what that has looked like for hymn writers across the centuries. The best hymns we have were written in the middle of great lament and tremendous trial.” Sara decided the timing was right to put together a

-continued on p. 2725.


-continued from p. 25hymns album — something she and her husband had discussed several times over the years — partly because she felt like she “needed to go back in order to go forward.” She had been writing new songs as she processed her thoughts about her life and the world around her, and began thinking it was time to revisit the ideas about who God is as found in some of the classic hymns. “What do we mean by “amazing grace” or when we say, “O my Redeemer, what a friend thou art to me”? What does the friendship of God actually look like right now?” Sara speculates. Making Abide With Me was a joy for Sara because of how easily everything fell into place. “There were so many green-light moments with this album. I’ve never worked on an album that fell together so quickly and so easily. Every single door just flew open. It was really joyful in that regard. I had to look at that and say, ‘Well, I guess this is the record I was supposed to make.’” God, who was always with Sara, reminding her of His presence through the classic hymns that are so familiar to her, even in the middle of the rising waters, has now set her feet on higher, drier ground. “I have grown a lot. I have moved into a different place. God has sent ‘boats’ — an armarda of friends and help.” Abide With Me is a reflection of a truth Sara has held onto even in her darkest moments — that God’s presence with us is not dependent on circumstances. At all times, we can abide in Him and trust Him to pull us through.


Find out more about Sara’s Abide With Me album at 27.



the big question

Q: I recently heard about Gospel of Thomas. Why isn’t it included in the Bible?

Jesus. The Early Church chose certain tests to validate inspired writings. The word canon means “rule to judge.” Church fathers adopted three criteria a book must meet to be part of the New Testament.

with cynthia l. simmons WWW.CLSIMMONS.COM


Thomas, while the second deals with how the New Testament was formed. Let’s address the authenticity of the Gospel of Thomas. This book belongs to a group of writings called the Gnostic Gospels and contains no stories or record of the crucifixion. Instead, readers find a collection of confusing statements attributed to Christ. The Gnostic cult affected parts of the secondcentury church, and followers defined all material things as evil. For instance, as Christians, we believe Jesus inhabited a body and shed His blood for our sins. The Gnostics couldn’t accept the sacrificial death of Jesus since they believed both the body and blood would be sinful. Next, I’ll tackle the canon of Scripture. Luke said that “many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us” (Luke 1:1, ESV), so we know others wrote about

First, the writer had to be an apostle or associated with an apostle. For instance, in the first Gospel written, Mark recorded the eyewitness account of Peter. Luke traveled with Paul and served as his physician. He wrote Luke and Acts. Second, the book had to convey a sense of authority and claim to reveal God’s message. Consider the book of First Corinthians. Paul introduced himself as an apostle as he began writing and then addressed divisions in the Corinth church. Church members chose to identify with the minister who baptized them, so the church broke into segments. Paul said Jesus wasn’t divided and admonished believers to follow Christ rather than the preacher. Clearly, Paul knew he was conveying God’s revelation. Third, the book must be recognized by the Early Church. That may seem an unusual standard, but first-century Christians agreed on most of the books in the New Testament. Scholars debated several for a time, but resolved their differences. When the first church council met in 397, they all agreed on the 27 books in the New Testament. To summarize, the Gospel of Thomas taught Gnostic doctrine and it’s unlikely the Apostle Thomas penned it. Further the book did not convey authority and was not recognized by the Early Church. While many wrote about the life of Christ, the Early Church examined writings before recognizing them as part of Scripture. Based on the wisdom of the Early Church fathers, we can be certain we have all the revelation God gave mankind.




by penelope carlevato


STARTING OFF THE NEW YEAR WITH A BAD ATTITUDE IS NOT WHAT I HAD PLANNED. This past year had been one of suffering, pain and dissapointment. After several months of intense rehab, I was at square one. The surgery to correct the pain and numbness in my leg had not reduced the effects. The concensus from several medical providers was that something else was wrong. So, what was I to do? I was mad about the results, especailly when I did due diligence before surgery and sought out several competent medical professionals. All gave me the same answer. Much prayer and consultation went into my decision. Now I felt betrayed and alone. Many had prayed for me, with me and over me. I cannot imagaine my emotional state if this had not happened. But now, what should I do? Several days of being alone with God, being in His Word and finding the words to a 17th-century hymn has given me a different perspective. Paul Fleming, a German poet, 1609-1640. penned these words that live with vibrancy and truth hundreds of years later:


“Naught can befall me that God did not choose And that would not serve to my ultimate good.” — Paul Fleming — This prose summed up hours of prayer and reading. My waiting now does not seem to be so bleak. God has a purpose for each of us. He is in control of everything, including the hard things, that come into our lives. There is a purpose to all suffering and hardship.

The suffferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” — Romans 8:18, ESV — One of my greatest joys is my gift of hospitality. I have learned to pace myself, ask for help and delight in being able to use my gift in serving others … just in a more simple way. For now, the recipes are not complex, nor are the decorations and the table settings. I still see the joy of joining hands around the table and breaking bread together. My daughter-in-love, Carmen, gave me this recipe. It’s easy and quick, but very delicious. Serve with a tossed salad and garlic bread for a fun, colorful and tasty dinner.

Tomato, Chicken and Feta Cheese Casserole 2 cups of grape tomatoes, cut in half 1 cup feta cheese ¼ to ½ cup olive oil 1 cup chopped fresh basil 2 cups chopped cooked chicken Rice or pasta (I like to use Black or Basmati Rice Medley from Trader Joe’s.) In a 9 x 13 glass dish, mix together all of the above, except the basil and rice. Bake in 375º oven for 25 minutes Take out of oven and stir in fresh basil. Serve over rice or pasta Enjoy!


Find great recipes like this in Penelope’s book: The Art of Afternoon Tea: From the Era of Downton Abbey and the Titanic. Available autographed from



by karen whiting


Understand your audience’s needs. Know

who needs your message, and seek to reach them. Understand their hearts and spiritual needs so you can connect those listeners with God.

Relate to audience to develop rapport

and trust. Connecting to listeners builds unity. That’s how you impact your audience so they will believe and do what you say. This builds relationships that naturally build a platform.

Present a gift with words. Consider your

What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:12, NIV). Before making the above statement, Paul shared that he thanked God for the reader and shared his faith in them. He encouraged them to desire unity. Then, Paul spoke these words about disunity among them. He pointed out a danger of people who build platforms where followers looked to the person with the platform instead of looking at Christ. Paul noted that Christ sent him to preach and not to baptize. He understood his mission. In a world where opportunities to speak and write are connected to being known, it’s easy to prioritize self-promotion. Focus on this acrostic of p-u-r-p-os-e to help maintain balance in your ministry.

Place Christ before self. Make sure you al-

talk a gift that meets needs. Your words and your smile are the wrapping; your message is the present. As you unwrap the gift, help them see how it can change their lives and draw them closer to God.

Opt in to opportunities. Paul used every

opportunity to reach people who needed God. Ask God to open doors and guide you where He wants you to speak or publish.

Serve rather than seek to be served.

Your attitude is the heart of what you do. Stay close to God. Keep your heart in tune with Him and focused on the people who need you. You are serving God; do not seek to have people serve you.

Equip audiences to action. Your purpose

and message flow from God’s calling and what He wants you to do and say. If you communicate that message well, your audience will be equipped to change and also impact others.


Karen Whiting ( is an international speaker, former television host, and author of 25 books. Her latest book, The Gift of Bread, showcases bread in the Bible to help people draw closer to Jesus, the Bread of Life.

ways point to Christ to help listeners focus on Him. Your message should glorify God and center on His power and not you. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 33. -{33.}

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by edie melson


in the past, but I still see a sizable number that miss this critical component. Every blog needs a Follow by Email and Follow by RSS option. 6. Blog posts that are too difficult to read. People read differently on a screen. Remember that when you’re formatting. Here are the basics: • Short paragraphs and sentences • Sans serif font type • Block formatting 5. Not staying on topic with your posts. Readers follow blogs for a reason, usually related to topic or focus. If you drift too often or too far from your blog’s focus, your readers can drift away.

WITH THE NEW YEAR COMES THE OPPORTUNITY TO UPDATE YOUR BLOG. If you’ve noticed a slowdown in growth, this list may help restart your momentum.

10. Not answering your reader’s comments. If someone is willing to take the time to leave a comment on our blogs, the least we can do is acknowledge them. 9. Poor title choices. This may sound basic, but it’s vital to remember that our blog will be judged on the title, just like a book is judged on its cover. Use a phrase in the title that someone would type into a search engine to find the topic of the post, and it will be a winner every time. 8. No social media interaction. Do your readers know how to follow you on Twitter and interact with you on Facebook? If not, you’ll have lost meeting new and potential readers. 7. Not giving your readers a way to stay updated. Most of the blogs I visit are much better at this than

4. No images or graphics. It’s vital to have images or graphics with blog posts. Our society is more driven by visual images rather than text. 3. Not keeping a regular schedule. This is one of the first stumbling blocks to blog growth. We want our followers to stop by on a regular basis to visit and leave comments, so they should be able to expect the same kind of regular commitment from us. 2. Posts that are way too long. The most popular and readable posts are almost always under 700 words. There are exceptions, but they’re rare. If your posts have gotten longer, your readership may have dwindled as a direct result. If a post is too long, cut it into parts and you’ll keep your readers coming back. 1. Not optimized for mobile viewing. Almost 70 percent of online viewing takes place on a mobile device. That could be a smart phone, tablet, or e-reader. Unless your blog is set up to be read on these devices, you’re missing out on the largest part of your audience. All these things work together to make reading your blog a pleasant experience. Keeping up to date with trends, like mobile web viewing, can help your blog continue to grow.




ain’t nobody got time for that . .

BREAKING THROUGH AN ATTITUDE OF INCOVENIENCE WE ALL HAVE A UNIQUE PROCESS GOD USES TO BRING EACH US INTO OUR PURPOSE. Some of our processes appear to travel a straight path, while others are more tumultuous. When your journey is filled with unexpected changes, it can affect your outlook on life. It can cause you to develop an attitude of inconvenience. Your attitude depends on if you see change as favorable or unfavorable. The changes when you marry the love of your life will be met with less resistance than those related to a job loss. Unfortunately, the life changes associated with our process are not clearly defined. We don’t know how God will use those situations. We can’t control the outcome, but we can change our attitude. When you feel like life is stretching you, take a step back, take a look around at the whole picture


and decide how you’d like to respond. Approach the journey to your purpose with patience, and embrace the process. Recognize there are lessons to learn along the way. Begin to see those inconveniences as faith adventures with God. You can access your attitude by answering a few questions. Are you finding moments of gratitude? Are you gleaning wisdom? Have you taken time to notice the blessings? Are you appreciative of the people in your life? Do you have joy and hopeful outlook? Are you learning life lessons? Do you see change as an opportunity for growth? Have you surrendered the outcome to God? Embracing your process means embracing personal and spiritual growth. Growth is evident when you relate to a situation in a healthier way the next time you encounter it. While your process and your journey may be different from that of others, all are being led toward God’s purpose and good plan (see Romans 8:28).

HEALTHTRACKS There are five different stages of the process you may find yourself in, but each can be embraced with a God-focused attitude. 1. Embrace the process when you feel a shift from the norm. One of my favorite places to hike is on a local mountain trail called Bald Rock. One day I had the rare opportunity of watching a mother eagle stirring up her nest. After a while, she picked up one of the unsuspecting babes and dropped it from the nest. I must admit it looked harsh. I’m sure the little eaglet had no idea why it was being kicked out of its place of comfort and contentment. I, too, have felt the unease of having my norm disturbed. It was painful, but like the eaglet, I found strength and discovered hidden capacity I watched its young wings move frantically. When the little one became tired, the mother eagle came to its rescue, her large, expansive wings providing the strength for a tandem flight, as its body reclined on hers. That’s how God does with you and me. He’s watchful over the process even during times of difficulty and ready to come to our aid. 2. Embrace the process when you don’t understand what God is doing. I can imagine the eaglet has many questions. Why me? What did I do wrong? If only she knew that this momentary discomfort is part of the process toward her greater purpose, she would be able to enjoy the adventure of trusting, releasing, experiencing and exploring. Living free in Christ includes being free to embrace the process. 3. Embrace the process when it doesn’t seem your prayers are being answered. Unanswered prayers can appear as if God has turned a deaf ear to your request. This is where a God-focused attitude can help shift your mindset. Focus on the nature of God. If you believe God is good, then also trust that His timing is for your benefit. Allow those moments to be opportunities to rest in God’s sovereignty. 4. Embrace the process when you’re at the end of an old season. It’s hard believe God has something better for you in times of disappointment. When we experience loss, it is natural to want to draw away. Embracing the process does not mean being thankful for

the loss. Rather, it’s allowing the loss to draw you closer to God. Redirect your focus to the abundance of God. When Moses asked God who he should say sent him to Pharaoh, God answered “I AM.” This name encompasses every need you could ever have. “I AM” your Helper, Comforter, Friend, Provider, Healer, Deliverer and Savior. The list is endless. 5. Embrace the process when you’re at the beginning of something new. With every end, God is always ready to bring a new beginning. When God begins something new in our life, it would be great if He gave us the flight plan for the journey, but this would require no faith. Instead, our part is to let Him work in us to produce what He desires. When we embrace the process, even when it’s difficult, we exercise our ability to trust God in all things. There will always be some level of challenge with change. We can choose to allow each challenge to move us toward God and purpose, or it can cause us to retreat in fear. If you allow it, the process will propel you into the next thing God has for you. Enjoying the process leading to your purpose is as important as achieving the call of God on your life. Allowing the process to unfold without judgment is the key to breaking through the attitude of inconvenience. Resist the temptation to compare your process with another. Conquer the “grass is greener” mentality and rest in the knowledge of God’s deep love for you. Timothy Gallwey beautifully stated “The rose is a rose from the time it is a seed to the time it dies. Within it, at all times, it contains its whole potential. It seems to be constantly in the process of change; yet at each state, at each moment, it is perfectly all right as it is.” And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you (see Matthew 6:30). Each process is taking you to the next phase of your journey. Every goal achieved is a stepping stone in the process. Celebrate each goal achieved. Rejoice in the progress made. These moments within your journey are just as important as getting to the next level. May you embrace the process and enjoy your adventures with God.




by michelle s. cox


dream big.. expect surprises ELIZABETH THATCHER BEAMED AS SHE WATCHED the passing beauty of the countryside out the window of her stage coach west. She had big dreams for her future. She couldn’t wait to get to her new classroom in Coal Valley and to meet her new students.

Lost in her thoughts, she visualized the Coal Valley townspeople welcoming her with excitement and the children waiting eagerly in their seats in the schoolhouse. But in that way that dreams sometimes unravel like yarn from a knitting needle, it didn’t happen like that. Elizabeth didn’t envision thieves waiting around the next bend for her. She didn’t realize they would rob her of everything she had brought west. And instead of her triumphant entry into Coal Valley, she arrived limping, dirty, and bedraggled, hitching a ride in the back of a wagon. The thieves had stolen her dignity as well as her belongings. Her welcome to Coal Valley wasn’t what she’d imagined either. Instead of open arms and excitement, she was greeted with looks of skepticism and comments of derision. Coal Valley was no place for a princess. And Elizabeth soon discovered that she wasn’t prepared for the primitive living conditions in Coal Valley. An outhouse and wood-burning stove in the little teacherage she was meant to live in would mean an uncomfortable new lifestyle. None of it


was what she’d expected when she set out to fulfill the big dreams God had put on her heart. It’s that way for all of us, isn’t it? Do you have a big dream for your life? A giant goal? A worthy aspiration? Perhaps even something you believe God is calling you to do? It’s all very exciting as you begin the journey, but it’s easy to forget that life can sometimes derail your dreams or delay your timelines. As Elizabeth learned, people can discourage us and circumstances can temporarily defeat us, but God never wants us to give up on the dreams He has for us. There is no such thing as being uncalled. We don’t get to unring that bell — even when the world puts thieves and outhouses in our path. Persistence always beats resistance. What’s on Your Heart Today? • Why do you have trouble trusting God with the big plans He gives you? • Why is it important to remain faithful, even when things become tough? • How can you recognize if your big dreams are from God or if they are just your own desires?


From When God Calls the Heart: Devotions From Hope Valley. Copyright © 2018 Brian Bird and Michelle Cox. BroadStreet Publishing® Group, LLC.


by linda evans shepherd WWW.GOTTOPRAY.COM

for such a time as this WOULD YOU SET OUT TO SAVE THE LIVES of your friends and family, even if your actions came at a personal price? Queen Esther faced this challenge the day she set out to expose a plot to murder her people. But to deliver this warning she had to enter the king’s court uninvited. If the king failed to extend his scepter to her, she would be executed. Perhaps you can relate to Esther’s plight. You too have heard God’s call to expose the enemy’s plot to destroy your loved ones and others. You want to sound the alarm, but you’re worried the cost to deliver this message is simply impossible. Answering God’s call can be a risk, but what if, as Esther’s uncle explained, God put you into position “for just such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14, NLT). Esther found her voice and completed her mission. She saved not only her people, but her own family. If you feel called to deliver a life-saving Kingdom message, how should you prepare? 1. Seek Counsel — Talk to supportive loved ones to see if your idea to answer God’s call finds encouragement. Then, find like-minded people who can link arms with you. If you’re an author and a speaker, consider joining the sisterhood of the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA.) If you feel called to write, speak or communicate, check out the AWSA Protége Program, which will train, equip and encourage you.

2. Give God Your Best — Esther gave, not only her best, she gave God her all, citing “If I perish, I perish.” She was “all in,” and at the risk of her own life, she delivered her message to the king. 3. Seek Prayer Support — Esther called upon her uncle, her people and her friends to pray for her. The prayer support of others can make a huge difference the reach of your effectiveness. 4. Fast — Fasting helps you humble yourself before God, allows the Holy Spirit to reveal your heart and helps reveal God’s purposes to you. Esther, Moses and even Jesus fasted before big decisions. Even John the Baptist went on a locust and honey diet before he started his ministry. I’m not suggesting that you dine on locusts, but you could at least restrict certain foods or even start a special diet to help you in your prayer quest. 5. Pray — Praying puts you in direct communication with God regarding your call. Here’s a prayer to get you started: Dear Lord, I want to answer Your call to deliver Your message that will save lives. It’s a risk, so I am asking that You be with me, supply me with your favor and blessing, and guide me every step of the way. I’m all in. In Jesus’ name. Amen




Contagious Courage brings Janet’s sweet, cheerful, truthful and encouraging voice into our hearts during our 30-day journey with her. Janet has a masterful way of using daily, identifiable personal experiences and turning them into a spiritual principle. The format of the 30-day devotional, with questions at the end of each day and the Declare Out Loud section, is excellent. The questions help us know how to apply that day’s reading and the Declare Out Loud section reminds us that we need to speak truth into our lives. Through reading her book, God enlightened my mind and lightened my heart. — Gail Porter, author of Life through Loss



by Kathy Collard Miller In Kathy Collard Miller’s book, Pure Hearted, she challenges readers to inventory the heart, with the goal of more closely reflecting God’s nature in our daily life. She does this while assuring us of His unwavering love and commitment to us. — Deb DeArmond, author of Related by Chance, Family by Choice

Author Kathy Collard Miller identifies nine blessings that start with a transformed heart and end with God getting BIG glory. I can’t wait to gather a book club to discuss Kathy’s book. — Kathy Carlton Willis, author, speaker and God’s Grin Gal

WHEN GOD CALLS THE HEART by Brian Bird & Michelle Cox

The great virtues and enduring promises in Scripture are what Hope Valley and When Calls the Heart are all about. Brian Bird and Michelle Cox are now sharing those God moments with all of us in When God Calls the Heart. I love this devotional! — Lee Strobel, best-selling author of The Case for Christ

I am a devoted fan of the television series When Calls the Heart, so I know for a fact that anyone who loves this series as much as I do will want this exceptional book for their personal collection. It offers not only daily inspiration but poignant moments to ponder as well as sweet reminders of favorite scenes from a beloved cast of characters. — Beverly Lewis, New York Times best-selling author


by heather van allen LH STAFF REVIEWER


FRANCESCA BATTISTELLI Greatest Hits: The First Ten Years Francesca Battistelli has released Greatest Hits: The First Ten Years (November 3, 2017). Spanning a decade, the album features the best of what’s fun, jubilant, heartfelt, honest and worshipful about Francesca’s music rolled into one package. Amongst the 15 tracks are popular hits “Beautiful, Beautiful,” “This Is the Stuff,” “Write Your Story,” “He Knows My Name,” “If We’re Honest” and more. The list also includes two new tracks.

Over these 10 years, Francesca has shown a knack for acknowledging God’s role in all aspects of life, big and small. From the everyday little irritations, to our dreams and goals, to figuring out our identities and where we fit in the world, Francesca’s pop-infused vocals bring God directly into every real-life moment. The faith-filled messages she communicates with her clear lyrics are straightforward and uncomplicated, so listeners can easily relate. Fans of Francesca will enjoy this look back on the best of her first 10 years.


MOUNTAINCITY Self-titled Denver-based married couple Dave and Tara Powers, who are also worship leaders, make up MountainCity, artists who are celebrating their love story through music and sharing it with listeners. Combining years of musical experience, the pair brings together a beautiful instrumental and vocal blend to put a fresh spin on the love song genre. Rather than releasing an album thus far, MountainCity has been rolling out their singles, some of which are covers of familiar songs such as “Can’t Help Falling in Love” (Elvis Presley) and “Somebody Like You” (Keith Urban), one at a time. Since 2016, Facebook Live has been their “venue” for sharing love songs, drawing from a mix of styles, including pop-folk, country, electronic and more, in weekly streaming sessions (Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. mountain time). Individual tracks are also available on the duo’s website. You can get lost in a love song — with MountainCity.

PLUMB God Help Me Titled for her recently released radio single, Plumb’s new EP, God Help Me, is a five-track preview of her next full-length album coming soon (title yet to be announced). The EP title track captures the overall theme of the record, that we all desperately need God in all facets of life, whether that be in our relationships, parenting trials or just persevering in the day-to-day. Plumb’s upbeat pop style and strong vocals suggest a certain confident resolve behind the message she is sharing, that even in acknowledging our weakness, we can always trust that God is stronger and will help us when we call on Him. Plumb fans can listen to the God Help Me EP in anticipation of her upcoming album, as well as a touring schedule starting in February and Fight for Her, her soon-to-be-released book about parenting daughters.


by rhonda rhea —



oh, magnify & liquefy People say that to survive a volatile stock market, you should have plenty of liquidity. That’s why I’m thinking about investing in water. When you’re investing in water stocks, I wonder if you get to decide whether to buy the hydrogen and oxygen together or separately. I don’t know; chemistry was never my thing. Knowing me, I’d mix up my formulas. A couple of extra dashes of oxygen and instead of H2O, I could end up with something like H2O2. That might be a better investment stock-wise, but it falls way short when you’re thirsty … what with it being hydrogen peroxide and all. Although, bonus. Instead of investing or drinking, I could just forget the whole thing and go color my hair. Sometimes I can almost convince myself this is my real hair color. Then again, it’s probably just a pigment of my imagination. I had to laugh one time when I was whining about having to get my hair colored so often and my husband suggested I take some time off from coloring. Husbands. They’re so cute. I told him I wasn’t ready for that kind of time off. A total graycation? No thanks. I’d dye first.

God freed us from the slavery of sin so we could worship Him. Hair color is one thing, but it’s a pretty sure bet nobody wants me messing with chemical elements or any of their atomic structures. There’s a rather frightening thought. I do, however, love thinking of Jesus as our “Living H2O.” Makes me thirsty just thinking about it.

An ardent thirst for the Lord leads us to a place of worship. Worship is our right response every time we contemplate our glorious God and every time we seek Him. When He instructed Moses to tell Pharaoh: “This is what the Lord says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me” (Exodus 8:1, NIV), God set in place the plan to free His people. But He didn’t simply free them from slavery; He freed them so they could worship Him. Our salvation came at great cost. God freed us from the slavery of sin so we could worship Him. It was more than freedom from something; it was freedom to do something — worship. He wants an intimate relationship with each of us — one in which we recognize Him as the great God of the universe. As we thirst for Him, He does satisfy. Jesus said to the woman at the well:

“If you knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would ask Him, and He would give you living water.’” — John 4:10, HCSB — The more we thirst for Him and seek Him in worship, the more we see the Lord tweak all the other thirsts. Frustrations and challenges, fears and angers, heartaches and failures — they fall into perspective at our altar of worship. It’s like we drink in His glory. And that will quench. So even if the stock market totally dries up, I think I’ll forget about all that and simply shoot for staying thirsty for everything Jesus. And I’m not even going to worry about the H’s or the O’s.





by Þharon elliott




the Þhepherd’ s evaluation EVERY YEAR IN MOST JOBS, EMPLOYEES MUST GO THROUGH AN ANNUAL EVALUATION. This is a time when the boss or super-

visor sits across the table from the employee and talks with him or her about the performance that has been exhibited throughout the year. Generally speaking, if the employee has done her job well, the performance evaluation will be favorable, often leading to a bonus or a raise in financial compensation. However, if the employee’s performance has been below par, a wide array of negative consequences could ensue, from a warning, to disciplinary action, to a demotion, or even to being fired. Well, God does performance evaluations too, and He likes to start at the top with management. All through Scripture, shepherds and sheep are spoken of symbolically representing the leader or pastor and God’s people. God holds the position of a shepherd to an extremely high standard. After all, the shepherd is directly responsible for the welfare of the sheep. When the shepherds of Israel messed up, God did not mince words. He told them exactly what they had done wrong, enumerated the results of their mismanagement, and pronounced His judgment. Listen in at Ezekiel 34:2-10 (NKJV):

Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? You eat the fat and clothe

yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock. The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost; but with force and cruelty you have ruled them. So they were scattered … they became food for all the beasts of the field … My sheep wandered … no one was seeking or searching for them …. Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require My flock at their hand. The checklist evaluation of what a shepherd of God’s people is supposed to be doing is right here in this passage. It’s not our job to judge God’s chosen leaders; God is perfectly capable of doing that himself. However, it is our responsibility to place ourselves under leadership that is reliably following God. Are our pastors concerned with: Strengthening the weak? Healing the sick? Binding up the broken? Bringing back those who have been driven away? Seeking the lost? Those called to be pastors and church leaders (shepherds): there’s the evaluation of your motives. Those called to be sheep: there’s your prayer list for your shepherd.




Þacred rest


when life is just too difficult, days when everything within you wants a moment simply to be still. That thought flittered through my mind as I lay stretched out on the foyer floor. The weight of an unexamined life lies heavy against the heart of the weary. Pushing and pushing until it nudges you right past sanity into the pits. Thankfully, lying supine on a hardwood floor can be therapeutic for the soul. I never knew how hauntingly healing cold wooden planks could be for the body. I never realized the many facets of peace and rest available when you lay yourself down on purpose. Peace comes in many forms. On this day it came in a 10-minute reprieve in the middle of the chaos that had



become my life. There was no time to break away and do it right. No time for any long, drawn-out me-time ritualistic activities. No mani-pedi. No hot tea and biscuits. No caramel macchiato. No Dead Sea salt–infused bath.

The weight of an unexamined life lies heavy against the heart of the weary. No, on this day, time would not allow me to bury my exhaustion in any of my normal vices. So, I did what any sane burned-out human would do after picking up the kids from day care. I set them in front of the TV with a snack, and I lay on the floor. I stretched out my back against the boards, palms down, and closed my eyes. In that moment of focused ceasing, I felt the beginning of peace stir within my body. Peace came slowly. It was as if God himself breathed a divine exhalation, releasing new strength into me. I inhaled it. I clung to the moment, needing it to last just a little longer. I

"Peace came slowly. It was as if God himself breathed a divine exhalation, releasing new strength into me. I inhaled it. I clung to the moment, needing it to last just a little longer."

— Saundra to Leading Hearts needed even more to satisfy my longing for rest. Not a desire for more sleep, but a yearning to be soul-free. Come to think of it, maybe it wasn’t that I needed to be filled, but rather, I needed to pour out. Regardless of which direction the energy was flowing, something powerful was happening on that floor. The voices of my children rang out with laughter as they delighted over the antics of the cartoon they watched. Inwardly, I laughed along with them. The smile creeping on my lips was only mildly disturbed by the dog licking my face and the toddler crawling over my leg. It was sloppy peace, but it was mine. It was peace in the middle of a mental storm. I could complain, but it would be futile. If I’m completely honest, I’m to blame for this storm. I created it. I fueled it. I continually recruit and pull others into it with me. I didn’t mean to do it. It is just a reality of the life I created. You see, I’m a doer. If I’m not doing something, I’m wasting my time. At least that is what I thought, until a few years ago when I found myself looking up from a compromising position into the face of my smug husband asking, “What in the world are you doing on the floor?” Only one answer came to mind — burning. A single thought that, at the time, seemed so misplaced and irrelevant I almost didn’t say it out loud. At times I wish I hadn’t.

I was burned out, and the life I had created was consuming all I held valuable. His smirk faltered when the first tear fell. I came undone. He kneeled by my side when the floodgates broke. Me. The strong one. The one

with the to-do list for her to-do list. The organizer. The planner. When my husband asked what I was doing there on the floor, the image that came to mind was that of kindling being consumed by fire. I was the kindling. I was burned out, and the life I had created was consuming all I held valuable. But on this day, I was kindling being consumed by an eternal fire. A fire with the power to destroy the heaviness of busyness and ignite a hunger to tap into the source of this strange, sloppy rest I found. Hunger to draw nearer to the sacred sanctuary of rest. I desperately needed to find that place. Can you be 100 percent honest with me? With yourself? How is your maxed-out, stressed-out, multitasking life working for you? Is all your activity getting the results you desire? Rest, or the lack thereof, affects every area of your life. So I challenge you to enter into sacred rest and witness its life-giving effects. Discover the seven types of rest available to you and determine which type of rest you need most by taking the free assessment at


Adapted from Saundra’s new book Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity, Find it on


meet linda

LINDA EVANS SHEPHERD @LINDASHEPHERD is publisher of Leading Hearts magazine. She is also a best-selling author, an in-demand speaker, and president of Right to the Heart ministries. She is founder of the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA). She lives in Colorado with husband, Paul, and son, Jimmy.

meet amber

AMBER WEIGAND-BUCKLEY @BAREFACEDGIRL is managing editor and art director for Leading Hearts magazine. She is a writer, speaker, and multi-awardwinning editor, having spent 23 years in the magazine industry. In her full-time, Amber provides branding, graphic design and communications and support for authors, nonprofits and missionaries. She and her Britnative husband, Philip, live in Missouri with their three daughters: Saffron, Imogen and Penelope.





PAM FARREL and her husband, Bill, are speakers and authors of 40 books including their newest: 7 Simple Skills for Success for Men. For more information visit

EDIE MELSON—author, editor and blogger—is a leading professional within the writing industry, as well as a popular instructor and mentor. Her heart to help others define and reach their dreams has connected her with people across the country. KAREN PORTER is an international speaker, the author of six books, and a successful business woman. She is president of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, serves on several boards, and coaches aspiring writers and speakers. She and her husband, George, own Bold Vision Books, a Christian publishing company.

RHONDA RHEA is an author, humor columnist, and TV personality. She lives in the St. Louis area with her pastor-hubs and has five grown children.

MONICA SCHMELTER is probably best known as the host of the Christian Television Network’s daily television program “Bridges.” It showcases the hearts, struggles and triumphs of Christians living everyday life. ASHLEY SCHROEDER is a motivational speaker, author and advocate for abused and abandoned children for Holt International. Starting in sales in 1993, she now owns her own business, is married to the love of her life and has two daughters. For more information see and “Papa God and Ashley Devotionals” on Facebook.


PENELOPE CARLEVATO is the author of The Art of Afternoon Tea: from the Era of Downton Abbey and the Titanic as well as Tea on the Titanic and First Class Etiquette. She speaks on hospitality, historical entertaining, and etiquette and manners for all ages and all occasions. Penelope lives in the Denver area and is the grandmother of 11. MICHELLE S. COX is an author, speaker, and the creator of the Just 18 Summers parenting resources and products. Visit her parenting blog www.just18summers. com and on Facebook SHARON NORRIS ELLIOTT’s engaging, yet challenging, messages touch hearts and tickle the funny bones of her audiences, making her a popular, sought-after speaker. She and husband, James, enjoy their empty nest in Southern California. KATHY COLLARD MILLER is a popular conference and retreat speaker. She is a best-selling author of 50 books, including her latest, Never Ever Be the Same: A New You Starts Today, which she co-authored with her husband, Larry. Find her at CYNTHIA L. SIMMONS is an author and speaker as well as radio host and producer of Heart of the Matter Radio. During each broadcast, Cynthia takes an indepth look at issues women face in our complex culture. She and husband, Ray, have five grown children.

SAUNDRA DALTON SMITH is an internal medicine physician, author and speaker. She shares with audiences nationwide on the topics of eliminating limiting emotions, breaking free from mental bondage, and helps others see God’s plan for them to live free in Christ. She is the founder of I Choose My Best Life, a movement to renew hope in a generation where depression, stress, and fear are peaking. HEATHER VAN ALLEN is a music reviewer and profile contributor for Leading Hearts magazine. KAREN WHITING ( is an international speaker, former television host, and author of 25 books. Her latest book, The Gift of Bread, showcases bread in the Bible to help people draw closer to Jesus, the Bread of Life. www




Profile for Leading Hearts Magazine

Leading Hearts January/February 2018