The Great Mechanic

Written by Lindsay Vance
Photography by Sydnee Mela

Next up in our Cultivate series, we have a piece from Volume II : The Clarity Winter Brings written by Cageless Birds staff member, Lindsay Vance.  The Great Mechanic is an invitation to slow down, get still before the Lord and let Him hear the honest process of your heart.  It is a call to vulnerability and trust.  As you read this piece, may you open your heart to vulnerability and trust.  We invite you to let Him come close and speak candidly to you.  He is trustworthy.  

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My car has needed much mechanical work over the past year.  I have listened to slight hiccups under the hood intensify into great gulps of air and sputter their last breaths.  I have crossed my fingers, hoping problems would resolve themselves.  I have asked for good mechanic recommendations and then finally swallowed the pricey pill of fixing my car.  I have learned a great deal about car maintenance over these last months, namely the importance and great need we have for it.  And inside a series of trips to the mechanic shop, I found the Lord.

You see, I had not just been visiting nearly every car mechanic shop in Sophia, I had been visiting The Great Mechanic, the one who offers the most important tune-up, the tuning of the heart.  Reflecting on my tendencies in car maintenance inspired a revolutionary view into the way I tended my own heart.  I am a frequent visitor of God’s “car shop” and most days I casually drop by to tell Him what problems I am experiencing.  Some internal clicking, an increasing grating sound, fingers crossed that each problem isn’t too severe. 

“Let me listen to it,” He confidently woos me.  I play Him the rhythms of my heart, sure to point out where it feels off, but He wants to see and hear for Himself.

“Lindsay, would you give me control of your heart?”  He opens the driver’s side door where I’m sitting and motions for the keys.  So often I approach the Lord like He is an untrustworthy car mechanic, willing to take advantage of a girl who doesn’t know enough about her car, doesn’t know enough about her heart.  I slow down, but I’m not ready to stop.  I ask Him to listen but I don’t trust what He hears.  I may believe His diagnosis, but He is charging way too much.

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In the middle of my mess, the Lord reminded me of a car mechanic I once met named Tony, who had the dirtiest face and hands I had ever seen.  Tony’s skin was so covered with grease and dust that I couldn’t pick out any white spots except for the skin around his eyes.  I asked Tony how long it takes him to wash up every evening.  Tony just laughed.  He wasn’t committed to a clean face and hands.  He was committed to clean cars. 

 

Underneath all the greasy grime and faded tattoos,
I saw the face of another man in Tony.  There was Jesus. 

 

The man who didn’t care how much of a mess would be made when I requested a heart tune up.  The man who bore the scars of my mess.  The man committed to my whole, healthy heart.  

I look up into the eyes of the man who knows my heart better than I do.  He is not in a  hurry.  I  hand over the keys and listen as He pops the hood.  A steady, low hum surges from the depths of my soul and Jesus smiles.  It is a good engine.  It is a good heart.  

Prompt:  Slow down.  Invite the Lord to listen to the rhythms of your heart.  Imagine Him lifting the hood and smiling at the drumming of a healthy heartbeat.  Ask the Lord where He sees a need for a tune-up and entrust Him with the keys of your heart.  Journal His voice.

The Freedom of Dreaming

Written by Allie Sampson
Photography by Sydnee Mela and Morgan Campbell

In our modern culture, it can be very simple to skip over the dreaming phase.  We can become so absorbed in our to-do lists and the pressing things that need to get done now, that dreaming can begin to feel irrelevant, unimportant, or simply a luxury for those who have lots of extra time on their hands.  However, Scripture reminds us the importance of dreaming: Proverbs 29:18 says, "Where there is no vision, the people perish..."   This week, Cageless Birds staff member Allie Sampson shares a little bit on her journey with dreaming and how the Lord has taught her the importance of tending to your heart through stewarding dreams.  As you read her perspective, may you be inspired to open up your heart and approach dreaming with the Father again. 

In 2013, I found myself back at A Place for the Heart for an 8 month internship.  This was an exciting time for me.  From childhood, I had dreamt into what I wanted my life to look like—all the things I wanted to do and have and accomplish—and doing this internship was the last tangible thing on the list.  It was as far as I had gotten in the Career Column of my ideal life.  A few weeks into the internship, after the newness had worn off, I found anxiety frequently creeping into my heart:  This internship only lasts for eight months… and two of those are already gone!  What happens when it’s over?  What will I do next?  

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The questions would hit me out of nowhere and work their way into my stomach—twisting knots and working up coils of confusion.  In those first two months, when I would take these worries to the Father, I heard Him say, “Relax.  Rest.  Enjoy.  This is all I need from you right now.”  It was the same thing He spoke to me countless times during my 18 Inch Journey.  He was defending my season, ensuring that I didn’t get robbed by obsessing over the future.

About three months in, however, there was a shift.  On a quiet afternoon in the Farmhouse, I felt the familiar tension in my stomach:  Time is going too fast.  This will all be over so soon—too soon.  I looked to the Father and prepared for the resounding echo of Relax, Rest, Enjoy in my soul, but it did not come.  Instead, I heard a new invitation: 

“Allie, you’re worried.  You’ve forgotten how to dream.  Let’s practice!”
“What, Lord?” came from the quiet and caught-off-guard place in my heart.
“Let’s practice.”
“I don’t know what you mean.  How do I do that?”

He answered kindly, “Allie, you have forgotten how to dream into your life.  You’ve confused planning for dreaming, and you’re trying to skip steps.  You’re trying to dream, but you’re holding back, immediately feeling responsible for making those dreams come to life.  You’re afraid of big ideas, big dreams, because ultimately, you think that I’ll hold you accountable to them before you’re actually ready to commit.  That’s not who I am.  I want to teach you how to enjoy the freedom of dreaming, without the pressure of obligation.”
 

I want to teach you how to enjoy the freedom of dreaming, without the pressure of obligation.
 

I was dumbfounded.  Totally convicted, and honestly, a little offended.  I knew He was right, but I didn’t like being told I’d been dreaming wrong.  My perspective of dreaming had been reduced to a simple formula:

  1. Come up with an impressive idea.
  2. Make a fail-proof plan.
  3. Execute.

When I achieved a dream, it satisfied my ego, but my not my heart.  I felt like I had impressed God with my ability to do something amazing, but did not experience the joy of feeling known and answered.  This backwards way of thinking only served my pride, building up the scaffolding of my spiritual résumé, and in the end all it was producing was anxiety and suspicion.  It was in His kindness that He tore the whole system down—and He did it with joy.

In response to His invitation, I grabbed my journal and a pen.  I took a deep breath and said, “Okay, Holy Spirit.  I’m ready.  Teach me how to dream.”  The response that followed was simple:  “Allie, I just want you to think of all the fun and amazing things you could do with your life.”  Easy enough—or so I thought.  I unleashed my imagination to roam as it wanted.  Familiar dreams came up first:  Visit New Zealand, which were quickly followed by: That’s going to be expensive. I’ll have to wait a while to make that one happen. Do I know anybody in New Zealand I could stay with? I probably won’t want to go alone, so I should figure out who else may want to go.  I should get on that now so they have enough time to prepare… Holy Spirit interrupted, “You’re planning, not dreaming.  Where’s your joy?”

Taking a deep breath, I started again.  This time, writing down every idea I had—big, small, silly, practical—before I had a chance to analyze and criticize it.  I made a list of all the things I could think of, and when I finally slowed down, I felt a rush of exhilaration and freedom.  My heart was coming alive.  I felt the Holy Spirit smile, then gently nudge, “Pick one!  Let’s unpack it without the pressure.”  This next step was another challenge.  I picked one from the list that I’d never given any thought before:  “Open a tucked-away, independent book store.”  At first, I felt the temptation to consider only the logistics:  I don’t know the first thing about running a business.  I don’t have a business degree… or really want one.  I waited and let the Holy Spirit gently guide my mind back to the dream.  Suddenly I was overcome with images of rich mahogany shelves full of antique books covered in jewel-tone linen.  Old leather chairs and couches tucked into hidden corners where patrons could take a new book for a spin.  Large windows where natural light could kiss old and new pages alike during the day and warm lamps to keep the books known and seen in evening hours.  Lots and lots of plants to make sure no one was lost to a cave-like environment while being sucked into their fascinating story.  An underground publishing company—literally—in the basement of the building where we printed work we believed in, not just work that satisfied a book contract. 

I wandered around this dream for an hour or so, exploring the nooks and crannies of the book shop that could be.  And when I finally closed the shop for the night, cut out the last lamp and locked the front door behind me, I drifted back to my seat in the Farmhouse.  There He was, Jesus, smiling at me with complete satisfaction.  We were both proud. 

This moment changed my perspective on dreaming, and also my perspective on engaging my heart.  My heart is not a burden to be micro-managed or a complicated puzzle to be solved.  She is someone to be known.  Viewing my dreams as obligations robbed me of getting to know myself, and ultimately, robbed me of intimacy with the Trinity.
 

 

Dreaming makes space for us to experience the Father’s favor and play an active part in His vision for us.
 

 

The reality is that dreaming is what prepares a way for us to feel answered and significant to the Lord.  When we dream, we are getting vulnerable and honest with our own hearts about what we want, where we see possibility and where there is room for an upgrade in our lives.  To dream with the Lord is to say, “I believe in this heart you have given me.  I am in unity with Your truth:  That I am good in your eyes, that I am valuable to You and that I am capable of amazing things.”  Dreaming makes space for us to experience the Father’s favor and play an active part in His vision for us.

Prompt:  Have you ever approached dreaming with this formula?

  1. Come up with an impressive idea.
  2. Make a fail-proof plan.
  3. Execute

How is this way of approaching your heart keeping you from enjoying the dreaming process?  Grab your journal and a pen, and pray this prayer:  “Holy Spirit, I invite you into my dreaming.  I recognize that every dream in my heart is beautiful because you put it there! Holy Spirit, help me explore the desires and ideas that you planted in my heart.”  Now is your time to practice!  List as many dreams as you can think of that are in your heart.  Remember, there is no pressure here.  Avoid planning and over-thinking.  When you’re done, invite the Holy Spirit to help you unpack one dream with Him, and enjoy the freedom of exploring your heart with the Lord. Write these ideas down in your journal and let the Father's smile wash over you as you let Him introduce you to parts of your heart you may have not known before!

Cutting Wood

Writing by Jake Stevens
Photography by Sydnee Mela and Morgan Campbell

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This week's Cultivate feature comes from Volume II : The Clarity Winter Brings.  This issue of Cultivate is specifically designed to help you process winter seasons of the heart.  Cutting Wood was written by Cageless Birds staff member, Jake Stevens.  As the manager of the grounds at A Place for the Heart, Jake has learned to find the Father speaking to him as he works and tends to the land.  Cutting Wood is an empowering piece meant to provoke you to engage the Lord in the tougher areas of your life and dream into the possibilities that He sees for you.  As you read this piece, may you feel inspired to engage the fullness of what God has for you and to make powerful moves in your life. 

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It felt like we were in another world, over there across the road.  It was a massive tract of land that had been clear cut to sell off as lots full of acres.  For weeks, JD Gravitt and I had the pleasure of gearing up most every morning to face the cold of winter to cut firewood for the farm.  I am pretty sure those days of cutting, splitting and stacking are a huge reason we are where we are today.  We might as well have been at war the way we talked.  It felt as if we were eight thousand miles away on some distant battlefield.  Talks of love and marriage, of growing old and of being real men filled our mouths and our ears as our warm breath filled the cool air.  Those are important days in my heart, and if you asked JD, I am sure he would say the same. 

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Even now, whenever there is an eternal moment that takes place, usually one of us will mention “those days when we cut wood” and say that it somehow made way for this present moment to happen, whatever the moment may be.  Recently for each of us it was a wedding, getting married to the women of our dreams.  Next it will be having kids, and then later being grandparents, I’m sure.  I know I make it sound glorious, like we were in a war and we won, but in a way we really were in a war, and we did win.  Those cold winter days couldn't contend with the fire that began to burn in our hearts as we dreamed about becoming the kind of men who would do anything for their wives someday. 

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Along with the conversations, the victory was the work of our hands, it was being given a job and seeing it through to the end.  It was having a good attitude and a good position of the heart. 
 

 

"CHOPPING WOOD WAS THE PERFECT PLACE TO PUT INTO PRACTICE WHAT OUR HEARTS WERE DREAMING ABOUT."

 

We learned a lot about how to take initiative and make decisions over there.  Most importantly, I believe a vision was cast in our hearts to become the men we heard about in stories and the heroes we saw in movies. Even more than that, we dreamed of becoming the kind of men who really made a difference, who were as bold as lions and confident and fierce in the face of our enemies.  We dreamed of becoming men who could lead, protect and provide for the loves of their lives.  We dreamed of becoming men of God.  I would say that JD and I have both become those things and will continue to become those things till the day we breathe our last.  

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Prompt:  Those years ago, my battlefield was choosing to work hard and diligently in the cold cutting wood, wood that I might never use myself.  Those hours of labor and choosing a good attitude set the scene for me to dream for my life.  What battlefield are you avoiding in your life where the Lord wants you to dream something great?  Sometimes the greatest victory is in your choosing to say yes to the Lord where you are at.  There He will meet you and forge character in your heart and inspire you to become something great.  Dare to say yes and become something and someone even greater than you already are!  Write down your battlefield, and then repent to the Father for avoiding His fullness for you on that battlefield.  Then say yes next time you’re out there and receive what the Father has!

Access to Water in Tanzania

Photography provided by Hydrating Humanity

It is easy to overlook the profound labor that's at the root of our simplest technologies and luxuries. Like water, for instance. We go about our day as usual, without giving much thought to the work that was invested -- the brilliance of the concept, the strategy of making it work, the trial and error, the implementation to make it accessible in our everyday lives. When we wake in the sleepy hours of the morning and fumble our way to the kitchen, turn on the sink and fill up our water kettles to begin preparations for our morning coffee, many of us don't think twice about the source. We don't consider where the water came from, or the miracle it is to have it accessible in our homes. We don't worry whether it is clean or drinkable. We don't journey long hours to collect it, or struggle under its weight as we carry it home. Most of us, in that early hour, miss the miracle, though perhaps a few of us catch it. 

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The simple truth is that having access to clean water takes tremendous work, and unfortunately, it isn't something that is accessible to everyone, at least not yet.  We believe in the work it takes to dig wells that will sustain life -- both in the natural and in the Spirit.  This month, we are teaming up with our friends at Hydrating Humanity to support their mission of providing clean drinking water to those who do not have access to it. 

 

We believe in the work it takes to dig wells that
will sustain life -- both in the natural and in the Spirit.

 

Join us on Saturday, January 27th as we worship the Lord and honor His vision to sustain life all over the world!  Last year we raised $40,00 in just one night, and this year our goal is to raise $50,000!  All ticket sales and donations from this Benefit Night will go specifically toward reaching people in Tanzania with clean water, hygiene education and the message of Jesus Christ.  To learn more about Hydrating Humanity and to purchase tickets for this event, click here

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Leading up to this event, we also want to inspire you and encourage you to begin digging wells in your heart with the Holy Spirit!  This week's Cultivate feature comes from Volume III: Fly High, Build Home -- our issue that focuses specifically on sustainability.  Access to Water, written by Cageless Birds staff JD Gravitt, is full of simple truth intended to open up a conversation between you and the Lord about where He wants to give you access to Himself.  He is the source, the living water, the well that will never run dry.  As you read this prompt, we invite you to get caught up in the privilege it is that our God makes Himself fully accessible to us. 

 

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ACCESS TO WATER
Writing by JD GRAVITT from Cultivate Vol. III

That day Isaac’s servants came and told him about the well they had dug.  They said, ‘We’ve found water! (Genesis 26:32, NLT).


We live in a culture with a “water-bottle” mentality.  Often, we expect water to be easily accessible.  We can get whatever kind of water we want almost as quickly as we think, “I’m thirsty.”  This is quite a different mentality than that of digging your own well.  Digging a well is a time-consuming process.  It is a work of perseverance.  Dirt and dust stand between you and the water.  However, the reward of this hard work is an everlasting, dependable water source that will never run dry.  The reward is sustainability for your life.
 

the Holy Spirit oftentimes shows up in our lives
in work clothes and with a shovel in hand.



We miss the value of hard work, patience and faith if we approach God as solely an immediate “water-bottle” God.  There is something special the Lord does in us when we take the time to “work until completion” like He does (Philippians 1:6).  When we are thirsty for Him, the Holy Spirit oftentimes shows up in our lives in work clothes and with a shovel in hand.  He is ready to dig a well in us that takes time, but that well will sustain our thirst forever.  He is ready and eager to get involved with the mundane areas of our lives that very few people will ever see, like parenting, grocery shopping, paying bills, mowing the lawn or simply resting at home.

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David was able to stand before the giant Goliath because he had already taken the time and energy to defeat the lion and the bear (I Samuel 17:36).  He dug a well of victory in sheep fields by doing the hard work of a shepherd.  He meditated in stillness on being the Beloved of God, and he actively defended his flocks.  When he stepped on the battlefield, he accessed this “water of victory” in the moment for himself and for Israel.

Prompt: We have the chance to be like David.  Pray, “God, please help me dig my own well with you.  I accept your invitation to live a life with constant access to you and victory.  Where do I start?”  Listen to His voice.  Write down God’s response, and begin to access the “living water” of Jesus that is inside of you (John 4:14).

They Pour Forth Speech

Written by Phyllis Unkefer
Photography by Sydnee Mela & Morgan Campbell

Over the next few weeks, we'll be sharing various excerpts from our Cultivate series on the blog.  These writings are a gift from our community to you, in hopes that they will bring refreshing and empowerment to your heart at the beginning of this new year. You can learn more about our Cultivate series here.

This week's piece comes from our latest edition of CultivateCreativity Unlocked, Volume IV. They Pour Forth Speech was written by Cageless Birds staff member Phyllis Unkefer and is full of moving imagery. This writing concludes with a prompt to help you unlock a secret from the Father's heart, just for you. As you read this piece, may you be caught up in the Father's love for you -- may you feel more known and understood by Him than you did when you woke up this morning. 

 

"THE HEAVENS DECLARE THE GLORY OF GOD, THE SKIES PROCLAIM THE WORK OF HIS HANDS.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.  They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them.  Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world" (Psalm 19:1-4, NIV).

 

It was January in Michigan.  Winter had swept over our lawns, encrusted our car windows and frozen our mailboxes shut.  Snow came like a slowly mounting siege on our driveways of which we had to shovel our way out.  It whitewashed the view in our windows, squintingly bright.  But as it fell, it brought a hushed invasion of quiet.  Snow has a way of softening edges.  It calms the outside air.  While it’s able to reach many places—the ridges of our roofs, the underbellies of our cars, the bare patch of skin between your jacket sleeve and glove—that morning’s snow and its quietude couldn’t seem to reach my mind.  I woke up with teeming thoughts.  Anxiety is a giant I’ve faced over the years, and we’d squared off that day.  I don’t remember why.  I do remember the heaviness—the tightening of stress around my collar bone and this wired restlessness in my chest.  I’d tried to push past the strain to rest with God.  I worshiped, I prayed, I meditated, I sang, but peace felt out of reach.  So I took a walk.

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Through the woods all I could see were my boots overtaking each other, one after another in some kind of self-appointed race.  My lungs pushed against a wall of frozen air.  I paced, digging up my honest thoughts and shoveling them to Jesus’ feet.  When I reached the end of the trail, I stopped and spun around to see the shoe prints that had chased me all the way there.  Under the empty trees with my veins rushing and my breath rising in a haze, I leaned into my need.  I needed the Father’s voice.  I needed His relieving words to cut through to my heart.  I told Him so, with the graceless tone of an overtired child, I’m sure.  But grace is His to give.  
 

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Just as I was blindly reaching toward Him like a kid with outstretched arms, I saw it happen. 

 

Her face slipped through the bushes.  The leaves parted for her reverently, and she moved as quietly as fog lifts.  A deer.  Ten feet in front of me.  Directly in sight.  We both went completely still.  We stared at each other with held breath.  While she was uncertain of me, I was overwhelmed by her.  Slender face, pointed ears, dark eyes heavy with understanding.  Her shy loveliness drew all of my senses to one point of awestruck attention.  We stood there for a stunning amount of time in the kind of moment that makes the heart ache with gratefulness.  Then she made the first move.  She drew back through the bushes and slowly strode away.

I love miracles!  This was one.  Even more miraculous was the moment after, when I found myself at peace.  Everything had gone entirely still.  I leaned into the quiet.  It softened my edges.  I felt the Holy Spirit’s nearness as I stood in the snow, and I’m quite sure that I laughed out loud.

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On my way back up the path, the forest was all at once alive: cardinals swooping below branches, chipmunks dashing over drifts, a woodpecker drumming, a hawk hanging overhead, a thousand white leaves holding on by their stems and hovering through the forest like apparitions of spring.  Then around a corner, seven deer leapt!  Their white tails flashed into the trees, and I’m sure she was with them.  As soon as I whispered, "This is amazing," the Father answered me: "Yes.  And it’s for you."

Our Father created the earth.  Creativity is language for the heart.  Our human hearts speak through what we make, and this is no less true for the heart of God.  The Holy Spirit often asks me, "Do you hear the morse code?"  He’s pointing to the wordless messages the earth is constantly sending, the love notes the Trinity has folded up and slipped inside of everything—every maze of bark, every toucan’s beak, every manta ray’s gliding and weightless wings.  Psalm 19:4 in The Message says, "Unspoken truth is spoken everywhere."  That day in the woods, I needed to hear it—God’s heart beating through what He’d made.  I’d been clutched by the fear that I had been left alone, that Jesus was out of my reach, but He split through that fear in the calm face of a deer.  
 

There is a voice that has been
speaking for thousands of years
 

There is a voice that has been speaking for thousands of years, vividly shouting truth about the Trinity.  It’s creation itself!  It speaks, not only in unlikely, holy moments with deer, but in each ordinary day.  The Father’s orchestration of weather patterns declares His utter capability.  His ink strokes on a beetle’s shell announce that He’s full of detailed care.  The underground layers of earth proclaim from beneath our feet how wisely He can build the foundations of our lives.  And the wild beauty of it all rings with the fact that He loves our delight.  We ought to take it all personally.  It’s all from His heart.  It’s all for us.

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Prompt:  Think of something in nature that you’re drawn to—a landscape, an animal, an element—and write about it in free form.  After this, ask the Father to tell you a secret about this part of creation.  Journal His voice.  Take this secret personally.  It’s from His heart.  It’s for you.

Thank you! We Completed the Art Barn!

We did it!  With your help we raised all the funds needed to finish our stunning new building just in time for our 2017 school! This building has been one of the biggest gifts and upgrades our school has ever received, and we are astonished by how huge of a help it’s been to our students and staff.

This building has revolutionized our school. It has given us the space we need to facilitate our teaching sessions and worship nights.  It’s taken the strain off the Farmhouse and made space for it to exclusively serve as our dining hall.  It’s given us another meeting place for small groups and collectives, provided counseling rooms for one on ones, and perhaps the biggest area it’s served us is in giving our students the space they need to engage visual creativity in Art Class.

The Art Barn has become the hub of the land. It’s where we’ve gone to the depths of worship and come back up for air with swing dancing parties and movie nights.  This space has marked our students’ lives as they’ve learned to pursue sustainability and build friendship with Jesus.  When they think back to their 18 Inch Journey, they’ll remember the Art Barn and the endless ways they encountered the Father there. You have changed their stories by your generosity, and you continue to change ours. Thank you for partnering with us and sowing into the dream of the 18 Inch Journey!

As we close our discipleship season, we are looking ahead and are so excited about the ways the Art Barn will serve our staff in the creative season that’s coming.  This building will give our creative teams space to meet and dream into the books, videos and creative projects we’re releasing.  It will relieve our cramped studios and give our teams space to facilitate meetings.  It will make way for our design, photography and videography teams to work simultaneously while staying inspired.  Already, we can anticipate the gift that the Art Barn will be to our staff and we can’t wait to share the creative products and projects that overflow from it with you!