Baby, It’s Hot Outside!

For the majority of our time in Israel we stayed at this hotel – Prima Kings.  It’s a very nice hotel within walking distance of the Old City.


Andy and I liked sitting on this terrace and people watching.  It was such a busy intersection right underneath us.  People are aggressive drivers and like to honk a lot.  Made for interesting entertainment.


So, our last touring day.  We headed to the desert.  And, Baby, it was hot!  Notice the changing geography as we headed out of Jerusalem into the Dead Sea area.


Date palms.  They use cherry pickers to get the dates at the top.  Donkeys mow the grass below.


Camels by a gas station.


Bedouin camps


The terrain gets rocky and barren very fast.

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Kidron Valley below.

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We arrived at Masada.  I didn’t know anything about this towering mountain until I toured it.  Such an interesting and unexpected place.  If you look closely at the photo below, you can see where the gondola reaches a station at the top.  You can take the gondola ORrrrrr you can climb that path.  What would you do in 100 degree heat?


At the bottom of Masada at the visitor center.


Getting ready to get on the gondola.  There were about 50 of us in it, all standing close to one another.  No air conditioning, so it’s good it went fairly quickly.  You can see some of the stairways leading up to the top.


Whew, we made it!  What a view!  You can see the Dead Sea in the background.


We learned about how this place was built as a palace and fortress for Herod and was later used as a fortress for fleeing rebel Zealot Jews after the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D.  Around 74 A.D. Roman soldiers were able to finally breach the walls of Masada only to find that all 960 inhabitants, except for a couple of women and children who escaped to tell about it, had committed mass suicide and burned all their buildings and supplies except for the food storehouse.  They wanted to show that their death was not caused by starvation.  It was so heart-wrenching to think that fathers killed their wives and children, and the men killed each other, ending in a suicide, so that their families would not end up as slaves, mistreated terribly.

I encourage you to read the signs I’m posting.  It is so interesting.

The Snake Path is the winding one up the side of the mountain.

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Here is a google photo of the top of Masada.


Look at the model below that Sheila is taking in.  Can you imagine this palace being built on the side and top of that rocky hill?  Many slaves died building it.


What an incredible view from the top.  The rectangular areas are where the Romans camped outside of Masada to get ready to storm it in pursuit of the Zealots living there.



The tiered palace on the side of the mountain.


The birds are used to friendly visitors.



Entrance to Bath House.


They had different rooms for cold, tepid and steam baths.



Huge cistern for water.


Model showing how the water came down the valleys into cisterns and was gathered.


More Roman encampment areas.


The Synagogue.


A boy’s bar mitzvah with family.



Animals for eating and for sacrificing were kept here.


Headed back down.


We drove along the Dead Sea again.


Because the water level is so low, sink holes are popping up all over near the coastline.  It’s a big dilemma because water from the Jordan is pumped to so many other areas.  It can be very dangerous to walk in these areas because you can fall in a hole 10 to 15 feet deep!


This road and tourist area were destroyed.


It’s taking down trees.


A family of Ibex!


Coastline of the Dead Sea.  You can see the salt around the edges.


More sink holes.


Another tourist area destroyed.  Sue on our team said that she had swam there about 8 years ago.


Baby palm trees planted.


Next, we traveled to Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.  Three Bedouin shepherds were tending their sheep in these mountains, tossed a rock into a cave and heard it hit something.  They went in to investigate and found some scrolls in jars, took them into town, tried to sell them to a dealer in Bethlehem who said they were worthless.  Later they were sold to a Syrian Christian man.


Next we got to go swim in the Dead Sea!  What a trippy dip!  You get in and it feels like regular water but then you try to sit on the bottom and you only bob like a bobber.  You can’t sink.  If you get onto your stomach, you feel as if your face is going to go under, so you have to turn on your side to get upright.  In the deeper parts I tried to push my arms up in order to touch the bottom.  Couldn’t happen.  In the Dead Sea there is 10 times the amount of salt as in the ocean, so you are 10 times more buoyant.  You have to wear shoes here because the sand is SO hot in the summer and you can hurt your feet because of salt formations.  The dark clay at the bottom felt amazing and soft.  It’s no wonder they sell so many beautifying treatments from the Dead Sea.


Back to Jerusalem where we met King George!  He is a shop owner who is an Arab Christian.  These Christians are persecuted by their muslim neighbors.  We were glad to give him some business.  He sold beautiful works of art made out of olive wood.


Notice how Andy isn’t enjoying the shopping?  I think he’s worried.  The big nativity set in front of him is probably a few thousand dollars.


My favorite piece.


So, that was the end of our journey.  The next morning we got up at 2:45 am and had good, uneventful flights back home.

We now have Israel in our hearts, like never before.

I’m so thankful for this amazing team and for our fearless leaders, all a testament to the Holy Spirit’s power and grace.  I can’t wait to get back to Israel.

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Thanks for coming on this journey with me!


The Lord gives strength to His people;
    the Lord blesses His people with peace.

– Psalm 29:11 (NIV)


The LORD bless you, O abode of righteousness, O holy hill!

– Jeremiah 31:23 (NIV)


Their descendants will be known among the nations
    and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
    that they are a people the Lord has blessed.

– Isaiah 61:9 (NIV)


Photos by Susie Stewart






Our next day was a day of contrasts.  We started out at the Wailing Wall.  It is a relatively small segment of a much longer ancient retaining wall, known also as the “Western Wall”, as a whole.  It is considered holy because of its connection to the Temple Mount.  Jews and Gentiles alike bring prayers written on paper to slip into the cracks of the wall.


Men and women are split into two different sections.  Women actually stand on the plastic chairs sometimes to peer over the little fence that separates.  I did this to get the photo of the men.  It gave me a taste of what it would have been like in Jesus’ day when women worshiped in a separate area from the men.


Many people held their Torahs and rocked back and forth as they prayed and chanted.



This woman caught my attention.  She was crying into her Torah, literally “wailing” quietly, staining the pages with her tears.


The Orthodox, or Hasidic Jews wear mostly all black, and the males have the curled side burns coming down from their temples.


Looking at the photos below, notice the wall that fits adjacent to the wailing wall.  This is part of the Muslim Quarter.  There is conflict because the wall cuts into the Western Wall as a whole and the Jews want access to it.


In contrast, we then went nearby to the security area leading to the Temple Mount, currently controlled by Muslims.  We were told to cover up to the neck and below the knees, men and women.  People who try to come in with tank tops and shorter shorts or dresses are sent to a certain area where they need to buy something to cover up.

We came into this courtyard, mostly barren, with just dirt.  No beautiful trees or flowers.  There were crows cawing and cats walking around.  It was quiet and felt lifeless to me.


A very large mosque that can hold 3 to 4 thousand.


While Daniel was teaching to us quietly, Israeli guards walked in with a Jewish family.  We were told that most Jewish families do not come in here, but certain people insist on it.  They are told by the muslims that they are not allowed to pray.  They are escorted by the Israeli police for their protection and followed by muslim men to make sure they don’t worship or pray.  It was a sobering sight to see.


We were told not to touch each other in pictures and forgot.  We were reminded after this photo.


Chris and Kelly forgot too.  It just comes so naturally.



We headed up the stairs to the Dome of the Rock, a muslim mosque.  It is also the site believed to be where Abraham was about to sacrifice his son Isaac.


The smaller dome structure is called Dome of the Chain and has been used as a place of prayer.



We stopped to watch Israeli helicopters in the distance.


We were walking behind the structures and stopped for Daniel to read a few verses of Scripture.  A man came over to put pressure on us to stop and so we moved on.

Next was the Beautiful Gate.  It was sealed by those who would try to keep Jesus from coming back at that spot.  I think it would take a lot more than stone blocks and metal bars to stop the Lord Almighty.


Women in their head coverings watched as we exited the Temple Mount area.  One stopped Andy to ask where we were from.  When he said America, she said, “May God take care of you.”  We weren’t sure if it was meant in a kind way or not.  It saddens my heart that we don’t speak of the same God.


In contrast, as soon as we left that area (and were able to expose our shoulders and knees) we came upon a beautiful garden.  It was like an oasis after being in the desert.


It was right next to the Pools of Bethesda!  Daniel pronounced it Bet-hes-dah.  The area was so large.  The place where Jennifer is standing next to these stairs all the way to where the people stand in the background had not yet been excavated.


Can you find the weed eater in this photo? 🙂


From the pool area we walked next door to a beautiful stone church.  There we sang praises as a group to our great God of freedom and grace.  The acoustics were the most beautiful I had ever heard.


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From there we traveled outside the Old City walls to the place believed to be where Jesus had communion with his disciples in the Upper Room.  The Last Supper.


Lions’ Gate


Another beautiful view.


The upper room where the last supper took place was at the site of this building.  It made me wonder if the picture in my mind of a quaint home may have been wrong all along.  No one knows for sure.  This church is said to be built over David’s tomb.



Daniel told us that peacocks symbolize eternal life and pelicans symbolize Eucharist (remembering Christ’s sacrifice through communion).  They are both carved into this pillar.


Back through the Zion Gate this time, we traveled through the Jewish Quarter to areas excavated and exposing Roman roads and columns.




This man is a Messianic Jew who has had biblical store for 30 years.


Everywhere we went, we saw adorable children.

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We spent time shopping and eating lunch at a restaurant called The Quarter Cafe which had a spectacular view and delicious food!


We met two men who were biblical scribes.  It takes them about a year and half to print one copy of the Torah with feather quills.


Traveling on from there we went to The Israel Museum where they had a huge replica of ancient Jerusalem.  It was so neat to hear Daniel point out the different areas where we had walked.

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And then the Holocaust Museum.  I had never been to one, and it affected me deeply.  This statue really got me.  It is a representation of Dr. Janusz Korczak who was offered a position as a doctor with the Nazis and he chose to stay with the orphaned children he took care of, all the way to the gas chambers.  After spending many years working as director of an orphanage in Warsaw, he refused sanctuary repeatedly and stayed with his orphans when the entire population of the institution was sent from the ghetto to the Treblinka Extermination camp.  No photos were allowed inside the museum.


A tree planted for each family or individual who helped protect and hide Jews.


Driving back to the hotel I was reminded about how Daniel told us that Jewish families have white water barrels on their homes.  Muslims have black barrels.  Everyone knows where you fit into society by how you dress and the appearance of your home.


A day of contrasts.  A day to ponder.  We know our spiritual struggle is real.  Here in Israel, it is glaringly apparent.

I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.

– Genesis 12:23 (NIV)


Photos by Susie Stewart and Lorie DiSaia







Jericho Has a Gondola?

Hey Everyone!  I intended to blog everyday, and tried, but I just didn’t have the time, energy, or bandwidth to be able to.  So I will do my best to recapture each day, if not only for myself, to keep the memories alive.  This was the most special trip I’ve ever been on. Profound is an understatement.

Our hotel, the Ma’agan Eden Kibbutz Village on the Sea of Galilee was very beautiful, as you can see by these photos.  This is a Kibbutz, which is a communal living cluster of homes and occupations.  The hotel is part of it.


What these photos don’t really show you is the sweeping view of the Sea of Galilee.  Taking that in was so beautiful.  Tiberius was right across the lake through the haze.  This time of year typically has a lot of haze.

It was interesting to observe Jews as families living and vacationing together.  A wonderful sense of community and togetherness.


From this resort we headed out for a day of touring.


As we were driving around in our bus we would often see huge groves of banana palms covered in a massive box of netting to speed up growth and preserve as much water as possible inside.

We headed to Capernaum (or as our tour guide Daniel referred to it, Ca-per-na-HOOM), first thing this day because it can be one of the hotter places.  Jesus spent two years here.


We walked around and in the area of where the synagogue was.  You can see the difference in the color of stone from ancient times to more recent.  In Jesus’ day the stone was at the bottom, darker, volcanic.


Being in Capernaum thrilled my heart.  I imagined Christ walking in this town, spending time with people, teaching, and healing.  He healed Peter’s mother most likely in this spot a modern-day church has been built over.  We spent some time praying in the church.


We looked out at the water from Capernaum and stood with a statue of Peter with the inscription, “Thou art Peter, and upon this Rock I will build my church.” ~ Matthew 16


We then drove through Tiberius.  What a cool town on the hills of the lake!  Andy was kind of obsessing over Tiberius.



On to the Mount of Beatitudes!  Catholics have made this site, thought to be the place where Jesus spoke the Beatitudes, into a very beautiful spot to visit and worship in.


By the way, we were very blessed to have Bob Siegel and his wife Dana along with us.  Bob is extremely knowledgeable in all things Bible and has his own radio program (  He spoke to us on descending stairs as Jesus would have spoken to the people on that hill, being at the bottom of the group. The Missions Pastor from our church, Crossroads Community Church, who did such a great job of leading our entire group to the Holy Land, is standing next to Bob teaching.  Bob is his brother-in-law.

As we drove away from the Galilee area and headed south to the desert, I though a lot about how it would be to travel in the hot sun through these parts.  Not an easy thing.  Below is when we passed over one part of the Jordan River.


As we followed along the Jordan River path, we were right next to the border with Syria and with Jordan.  You can see the security fences in the photos below.  It was sobering to see first hand what the Jews need to do in order to protect themselves from hostile neighbors.

Trees planted always made a stark contrast with the rocky desert.  Did you know that in the last 100 years, Jews have planted over 200 million trees in Israel?  It adds so much!


One of the most shocking things for me during this day, was seeing Jericho.  In all my imaginings growing up, I did not expect Jericho to look like this!  Aaannd, modern day Jericho has a gondola!  Who knew?!

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In Jericho we stopped for lunch at the Sultana Restaurant.  When we stepped off the bus it was 117 degrees and when we left it was 119.  What?!?!  The food was delicious and I especially loved this dessert.  The staff of the restaurant were entertaining and made even our meal a drama.  One of our team members, Carlie, was used as a model to demonstrate a dead sea mud mask that you take off with a magnet!

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This man asked us if we wanted to buy a flying carpet.  🙂

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One thing I didn’t realize before visiting Jericho is how close in proximity it is to the Dead Sea.  All such a barren desert area.

Our guide brought our attention to a monastery cut into the mountains where they have kept the skulls of priests for hundreds of years, and to a very old sycamore tree like the one Zachaeus climbed.

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As we headed to Jerusalem, large areas that have held refugees were also pointed out to us.


We saw surprising Jewish settlements in Arab areas, like this one on the hill.


Bedouin camps camps at the foot of mountains.

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and Palestinian neighborhoods

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I was struck by the differences in Arab and Jewish neighborhoods.

We drove steeply uphill through the desert until we got to


What a vast, interesting, beautiful place.


We overlooked the city from a place where many names were recorded of people who had given over a million dollars to help enhance and build Jerusalem.  One of the names you might recognize – Steven Spielberg.  Many Jews from all over the world contribute generously to furthering the building, education, agriculture, and more.


Not far from this site, was Bethlehem.  We overlooked the city and the hills where the shepherds saw the angels at night.  It looked nothing like I had imagined.  I felt thankful to see what it was really like.  Bethlehem is a town that is mostly muslim now, which also surprised me.


I took a small piece of this hyssop plant and brought it home.  It has a very strong scent.

“Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” ~ Psalm 51:7

“Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. None of you shall go out of the door of your house until morning.” ~ Exodus 12:22

“A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.  When He had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.”

– John 19:29-30 


This was a sharp, beautiful thistle, and a ginormous aloe vera plant.


As if all of this wasn’t enough to fill a day, we got to go to a portion of the Jordan River and get baptized!  How wonderful is that?


Thank you to Bob and Guy for baptizing us!  And thank You Jesus for giving us a reason to testify to new life in You!


We capped it all off with a night out near the Old City at a happenin’ mall.  We happened to be there for a light show and presentation.  The old is mixed with the new in so many amazing ways in this city.


My favorite part of the evening was watching people dancing in the streets together.  It was joyful and just made me happy.


So!  Believe it or not, that was all in one day!  The whole week the Israel Tour Company did such a phenomenal job making sure we experienced everything we intended to experience with the longer stay.  I’m so grateful.  Onto the next day!


I rejoiced with those who said to me,
    “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
Our feet are standing
    in your gates, Jerusalem.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
    “May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls
    and security within your citadels.”

– Psalm 122:1,2,6,7 (NIV)


Photos by Susie Stewart

Caesarea, Nazareth, Armageddon, & Galilee

We drank from a Holy Land firehose today.  And it was amazing!  But we could hardly move by the end of the day.  The temps are near 100 with humidity and I don’t think I’ve ever felt heat like this, but it’s all worth it.  The Biblical history everywhere you turn is staggering.  I’m swallowing just as fast as I can with that firehose, trying to remember what I hear.

I will be taking notes today.  You just can’t remember it all.

It is Monday morning on the Sea of Galilee.  4:30 am.  I know I’m crazy, but you’ve got to take the time while you have it.  I just couldn’t wait to share with you what I experienced yesterday.

When we woke up on the Mediterranean Sea in Yetanya at The Seasons Hotel on the 11th floor, this was our view.

IMG_4442IMG_4542Andy and I were reacting like kids waking up at Disney World!  We were in Israel on the Mediterranean!  What?!?!

Andy immediately, before his shower, had to run out to the beach….oh wait, those are cliffs down there… and jump in the ocean.  If you look closely you can find him in these photos.  What you can’t make out is the 3 minor jellyfish stings he got when he was out there.


Because our schedule was shortened this week, we are going from one thing to the next fairly quickly.  We are taking advantage of as much as possible with the time we’ve got.  So we went on a walk there in Yetanya after breakfast, and enjoyed the view.


Then it was back on the bus!


There were a lot of cats walking around in Yetanya!

Our guide, Daniel, is very knowledgeable and interesting to listen to.  He and our driver Mordi (Mordechai) took us to Caesarea, to an outdoor theater around since Bible times.  It’s very likely that Paul was tried here.


There were actual remnants of the original theater, including a stone manger!


We continued on down to where horse and chariot races were held by the sea.  It must have been something to see.  The sand bags down by the ocean were preserving a beautiful mosaic.



You can see the large power plant in the background.

We then headed to the remains of a huge aqueduct.  Water traveled 9 miles through this system!  You can see where the end of it is buried in sand.


Driving on, our guide Daniel told us many things about the surrounding hills and countryside, naming so many stories in the Bible.  The Scriptures were coming alive to me like never before!

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It was surreal to see the modern mixed with the ancient.  The above couple of photos are of the Valley of Armageddon.


There was a big difference when we came upon the predominantly Arab areas.  The architecture was different, among other things.  Those who live in these areas are about 2/3 muslim and 1/3 Christians.  You can see the Arabic writing on the signs above.  All throughout Israel you see English, Hebrew and Arabic writing.

You might be surprised to know that Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth is predominantly Muslim now.  One of the highlights of the day for me was going to the top of Mt. Precipice overlooking Nazareth on the one side, and the Valley of Armageddon on the other.


I was profoundly affected by being in the place where Christ was raised.  And I was surprised to see how hilly it was.  The mount we stood upon is thought to be the one the villagers wanted to throw Jesus off of and he walked away from them.

The Valley of Armageddon was vast and it was sobering to think of it covered in blood, according to Revelation.  Our guide told us of many battles fought here in the Bible, even one fought at Mt Tabor by Napoleon and his troops.


We saw Cana where Jesus did His first miracle of turning water to wine, which was a thrill because I just taught on that at women’s Bible study at our church!


Then saw Magdala where one of the Mary’s was from — complete with a Pizza Hut.


Ate tilapia at Peter’s Fish Restaurant on the Sea of Galilee and then headed to a museum where a boat from Jesus’ day is preserved.  So cool!


Then…  on a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee.  How did I come to be in this sacred place?  It’s more than my heart and head can comprehend.  How great is our God.


We then arrived at a hotel on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, had beautiful dinner, and searched for shells along the shore as the sun went down.

Exhausted from the oppressive heat.  Filled up to the brim in my heart.  So glad to experience this with my sweetheart.


I’ve got to get ready!  I’m getting baptized in the Jordan River today!!



The Day That Was Not To Be

Every day

the imperfections of life

show up


and those things,

those disappointments,

that hard stuff

threatens to hold us …


My husband and I, we have been anticipating the trip of a lifetime for many months.  A touring trip to the Holy Land, to Israel.  And this wasn’t supposed to be just any vacation, but a chance to walk where Jesus walked.   To be at the heart of His heart.  And to do this with 43 other people from our church.  We gave up our yearly trip to Uganda to go on this trip.

We counted down the days until our departure.

And the day finally arrived on Tuesday of this week.  Our group all smiles, met at the airport, luggage in tow.  We arrived extra early since our group was so big.  Everyone got there on time, and we talked and got to know one another at the gate.

Excitement was in the air.




People started to stand in boarding lines, while we stayed seated, preferring to sit in the terminal than in the still plane.  As we talked with our friends, we kept glancing up at the lines.  Why weren’t they moving?

“There has been a slight delay in boarding.  We appreciate your patience.”

Didn’t give it another thought.  Then the same announcement came again.

Then this.

“A ladder has hit the side of the plane and they are assessing the damage.”

Ok.  How much damage can a ladder do to the side of an airplane?

“I’m sorry to tell you, but a ladder has hit the engine, doing damage to it, and the pilot has made the decision to cancel this flight.  You can re-book a flight by going back to the ticketing counter.”

Wait a minute.  What?!

A LADDER canceled our flight???


This was inconvenient.  But we’ll be on another flight in no time.






But in the imperfect

we look to The Perfect


We handle our circumstances with a loose grip

and we hold tight to God


We know not the complexity

of Sovereignty over Billions


in the imperfect


And remind ourselves

it’s not all about me


Our Missions Pastor, our fearless leader, handled all with wisdom and grace, and we all prayed.  Back at our homes we waited for word.

Each hour and each day that passed by, I felt the loss of time in the place I dreamed to go.  Each site, recorded in the Bible, I wouldn’t see.

We were scheduled to leave on Tuesday, and with such a large group, we now are scheduled to leave on Friday.

Days lost…

And I felt peaceful and I felt ok with it all.  Until last night.  All I felt was sad and disappointed.


All our preparations

all our planning 


are really subject to the brokenness

of this world


and the guiding hand

of Almighty God


Those plans sit in our heads

and sometimes


that’s where they stay,

never to come to fruition


And we learn to say

“It is well with my soul.”


When I woke up this morning, sharing my heart with the One who knows me best, He reminded me about something I said to my husband at the airport on Tuesday.

“When you are in love, you are content to be anywhere as long as you can be with that person.”

I want to be in Israel today, but I’m at home.  The sadness is real and the disappointment is real.  But I know I don’t have to sit in that place.

God gives perspective.


My Love dwelled in the Holy Land

walking among us


And now He dwells here with me

in my heart


and I am blessed


He is teaching me


in Him


Lord-willing, I look forward to sharing with you about our experiences in Israel.  I bow my plans to my Sovereign’s nod.


– Susie Stewart




The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.

– John 1:14 (NIV)


A person may plan his own journey, but the Lord directs his steps.

– Proverbs 16:9 (GW)


For I know the plans and thoughts that I have for you,’ says the Lord, ‘plans for peace and well-being and not for disaster to give you a future and a hope.

– Jeremiah 29:11 (AMP)


Don’t be anxious about things; instead, pray. Pray about everything. He longs to hear your requests, so talk to God about your needs and be thankful for what has come.  And know that the peace of God (a peace that is beyond any and all of our human understanding) will stand watch over your hearts and minds in Jesus, the Anointed One.

– Philippians 4:6,7 (VOICE)


Photo by Susie Stewart