Having the courage to conquer your life

  • Written by Claudia Parker

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                                    Christy Rutherford

The silver screen has projected a plethora of movies based on the lives of women who’ve given up “society’s ideal version of life” to discover a more meaningful existence.

In “Eat, Pray, Love,” Julia Roberts portrays Elizabeth Gilbert, a woman who relinquishes a husband, house and successful career for a quest of self-discovery eating in Italy, praying in India and finding her true love in Bali.

In “Wild,” Reese Witherspoon depicts the life of Cheryl Strayed, a woman who hiked over 1,000 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail to find strength and healing from an addiction, dissolution of her marriage and the death of her mother.

While Christy Rutherford, of Washington D.C., may not have a screenplay in the works, she too has chosen a road few would have the courage to travel, to find her true purpose.

After 16 ½ years of service in the United States military, in which her last ranking position was Coast Guard commander, she resigned.

“I quit,” stated Rutherford. “I didn’t like the person I had to be in that role. I needed to leave so that I could rediscover who life had buried.”

Rutherford’s rebirth wasn’t easy.

“I was woven into the fabric of that organization. Everyone knew me, I was one of only 13 African American women to have a commander position within the Coast Guard, which consists of nearly 50,000 people.”

The six-figure salary, status and meaningful work she was doing kept her comfortable for a spell.

“I’ve shaken hands with the United States President (George W. Bush, the 43rd president) for the work I’ve done,” explained Rutherford. “I spent 14 days in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. We were emergency responders, often first responders to catastrophic situations. We did everything from chase drug runners to organization regulation.”

While Rutherford didn’t handle the 2010 BP oil spill, she said this is the type of incident she could have overseen in her department.

With so much success, why change?

“I didn’t like myself,” said Rutherford. “I had become this overly aggressive maniac to get people to take me seriously.”

Who isn’t taking a commander within the U.S. Coast Guard with four degrees spanning from Business Agriculture, MBA, pastry chef and Leadership Development (from Harvard Business School) seriously?

According to Rutherford, there were more than a few to express their lack of approval of her despite her credentials and competence.

“I was told, ‘You just don’t belong here’ by more than one person,” she said.

Those not bold enough to speak it delivered the message subtly.

“No one would listen to me. For me to get attention I had to start kicking doors open or calling people out using unladylike language.”

Enough is enough!

“That wasn’t who I was, but I wasn’t given permission to be myself. I’m a happy free-spirit who believes in unicorns, rainbows and butterflies,” laughed Rutherford. “I started reading self-help magazines at 12; I was always the person who helped nurture others. I can spot their potential; I see them for what they can become.”

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Rutherford said she began to re-evaluate her own potential through visualization and meditation. “I began to see myself helping people globally.”

She said to fully cooperate with her healing after suffering from workplace stress, she needed to fully disengage.

“I began to hear the voice of God speaking to me,” said Rutherford with a giggle. “I didn’t know it was God, I was an atheist. I’d had my fair share of southern religious people turn me completely off Christianity.”

Despite the negative, self-righteous Christians that Rutherford had encountered, through a series of resources and television programs, she began to read the Bible and accepted Christ.

“I began to gain strength. I started to believe I had the ability to control my mind, that I could break generational curses and that I could have financial freedom. And, not only could I obtain it, but that I could be a vessel to help others to do the same. Visualization equates to nothing without action.”

Rutherford had a Matthew 19:21 experience, where Jesus said "go sell your possessions and follow me."

“It was as if I heard God tell me to sell my car. I was like, ‘And how am I supposed to work without a car, Lord?’ she laughed. “People thought I was crazy and talked about me like a dog.”

It wasn’t just Rutherford’s car she let go; she gave up her house, too. She moved in with her brother, for what she thought would be a few months, for three years.

I’m sure “people” thought Liz Gilbert and Cheryl Strayed had lost their marbles as well.

Rutherford’s wilderness experience left her living off her savings down to the last dime so she could emerge a rejuvenated, unstoppable women’s leadership and success coach.

“I share my story unapologetically,” said Rutherford. “God led me through the lowest places in my life so that I could have a clear vision of who I am.”              

Today, Rutherford is a globally recognized leader. She’s a Harvard Business School alumna who received certification from Georgetown University as an executive leadership coach. She's the president of LIVE-UP Leadership, a leadership development and training company. She assists various organizations to create a culture of high performance. She’s also a speaker, radio show host and author, who published five books within eight months.

“They were ranked as number one best sellers on Amazon,” she exclaimed.

The five books are “Shackled To Success: Redefine Success and Break Free from a Toxic Career;” “Heal Your Brokenness: 10 Powerful Days That Will Change Your Life;" “Philosophies of Iconic Leaders: 100 Foundational Truths to Center, Uplift and Inspire conscious Leaders;” “Philosophies of Spiritual Leaders: Inspiration and Guidance to Strengthen Your Relationship with God;” and “Manifest Your Dreams: Find The Light In Your Storm and Ignite Your Purpose.”

“Success isn’t success unless it’s balanced with happiness and internal peace,” expressed Rutherford. “It’s never too late to live the life you desire. You can have a life of total fulfillment, but it will require a decision to take action.”

To learn more about Christy Rutherford, visit or email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Claudia Parker is an author, journalist, photographer and videographer. Her column has returned and will be featured the fourth (or fifth) week of each month. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Falling forward with a grateful heart

  • Written by Claudia Parker

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Submitted photo

Christian Perry celebrates with his son, Mykael Perry, after he graduated from Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights.

When a single father and Trinity Christian College graduate was struggling to find a job, he created a company to employ himself.

Christian D. Perry, of Palos Heights, is the founder of a youth empowerment organization called “Grind Grately.”

“We give youth the tools they need to improve their attitudinal fitness, so they can live their most emotionally prosperous lives,” explained Perry. “We conduct workshops for students in high school and college. We also offer mentorship programs with small groups.”

Perry said it’s not his success that qualifies him to speak before large audiences, it’s his failures.

“I own my story,” Perry stated with confidence. “I’m not what has happened to me. There aren’t many people who have been through what I’ve been through and kept an optimistic disposition.”

Perry’s troubles began over a decade ago while in his sophomore year of high school. “I’d just come from a weekend fishing trip with several men from my family,” he recalled. “There was about 10 of us total.”

Perry said upon returning to school the following week, he put on some pants that he worn on that fishing trip. Unbeknownst to him, he had left a small fishing knife in his pocket.

“It must have fallen from my clothing when I changed into my gym shorts,” said Perry.

His teacher, completely unconvinced there wasn’t malicious intent for the “weapon,” led him through the disciplinary process of expulsion. That incident precipitated his Ping-Pong high school experience. He bounced in and out of four different schools over the following four years, narrowly graduating with a 1.8 grade-point average.

Frustrated by his injustice, Perry said he began to make poor choices leading to lots of quarrels within the family home. First, at his mom and stepdad’s house, then, within his biological father’s house. As stated by many parents, “My house. My rules!” Those words offer an option; either shape up or ship out.

Perry decided on the latter and joined the Navy.

Boot camp was a better alternative to literally living on the street.

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“My family infighting had gotten so bad, I actually spent a couple of weeks sleeping in my car,” recalled Perry. “That was a very difficult time.”

Perry said an uncle he holds in high regard persuaded him to join the military.

The Naval Station Great Lakes boasts of turning “Civilians into Seamen and Seamen into Sailors.” That proved a difficult task for Perry, as he had failed to share his phobia of water with his recruiting officer. A near drowning incident from childhood would psychologically resurface and paralyzed him whenever he was near deep water. He was the last of 62 men to graduate. The normal boot camp duration is eight weeks. It took Perry 12. A couple of those weeks were spent recovering from a hospital stay.

“One day after doing repeated drills in the pool during inclement weather, I felt like I couldn’t get warm,” said Perry. “I remember someone saying, ‘Hey Perry, man, you alright?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’m good.’ The next thing I remember is passing out. I had a fever so high I suffered a seizure, urinated on myself and woke up in the hospital with pneumonia.”

Perry persisted and successfully overcame his fear of water. Today, he considers himself a very strong swimmer. After graduating, he packed up his confidence and relocated to Virginia Beach, Va., where he was assigned to Naval Air Station Oceana.

Many warn against young military marriages. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 48 percent of couples who marry before 18 are likely to divorce within 10 years. Well, the then 20-year-old Perry’s marriage to his high school sweetheart went the distance of 90 days!

“We were married just long enough to consummate and conceive a son,” said Perry. “She didn’t find out she was pregnant until after she moved back to Chicago.”

The marriage went bad, but military life had proven to be good for Perry. He was excelling in Virginia. However, as his four years on active duty came to a close, he decided not to re-enlist so that he could return to Chicago to raise his, then 2, now, 6-year-old son, Mykael Perry, of whom he shares nearly all of his time.

Perry remembers examining his life, “I was a 22-year-old single father, divorced, with a bankruptcy.” He shook his head. “I wanted my son to have a better example than that, so I enrolled at Trinity Christian College.”

While he was initially enrolled on academic probation, Perry went on to earn several slots on the dean’s list within his tenure on campus. He also took on leadership responsibilities such as assistant basketball coach and president of the Black Student Union. He graduated in December of 2016 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Over the last year, Perry has been unable to find work in his field. Undeterred by the setback, he’s been pouring himself into young people through his organization, Grind Grately.

“Since the age of 2, my son has been by my side. He’s such a gift, he has the best parts of me and his mother,” stated Perry. “My son has made me realize that being my best self is what’s best for him. I want my life to be of service to others. I’m not exactly sure how I will reach my full potential, but in whatever way I get there, I will choose to be grateful.”

For more about Christian Perry, visit

Claudia Parker is an author, journalist, photographer and videographer. Her column has returned and will be featured the fourth (or fifth) week of each month. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Time is right for opening door to new possibilities

  • Written by Claudia Parker

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Photo by Claudia Parker

Claudia Parker is retiring as a columnist so she can pursue other projects, like this recent assignment taking photos of a 2017 graduate.


“When one door closes, another one opens…”

--Alexander Graham Bell

Cheers to new beginnings!

Last Saturday, I shot senior portraits for a 2017 graduate who said, “Do whatever you want,” she shrugged. “You’re the photographer, I trust you.”

My mind looped with endless possibilities. “I’ve got this,” I told her. “Let’s try something fun!” I then proceeded to direct her to pose in four unique ways holding a picture frame. We were shooting in, The Park, in front of the barn in Evergreen Park at 91st and California.

She wasn’t sure why she was holding a blank frame or even why I kept yelling, “OK, now switch poses and move to your right,” after each shot. Gratification came once she saw the finished product. Using Photoshop I had taken four photos and merged them into one composite. The frame she had held with each pose was no longer blank, there was a different number on each that read 2-0-1-7, with her name horizontally spread across the entire photo, boasting of her class of 2017 accomplishment.

“This is so cool, I love it,” she gushed.

If there were four of me, I’d be able to continue this career as a correspondent, columnist, freelance photographer and director of communications/district photographer for Evergreen Park Elementary School District 124.

But, there’s only one me!

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I can no longer be all things to all people. Therefore, I’ve decided to remove a few items from the plate to make room for a fresh entrée. I’ve planted good seed, watched it grow and now it’s time to eat from the fruit of my labor.

Especially since I have a husband, two small children, and investment real estate properties to manage.

We can’t benefit from a garden we’ve planted if we never stop planting to pick the fruit. Being deliberate about when to plant and when to prune is what keeps a garden/life organized.

With that said, I’ve resigned from District 124 effective June 2 and I’ve also decided to turn my keys in on I, Claudia. This is my last submission.  

The Reporter opened its doors to me as a correspondent in August of 2013, becoming the automated opener to working in School District 124, two years later in August of 2015.

Both The Reporter and D124 have helped me grow tremendously as a journalist and photographer. Not to mention my savvy public relations abilities, which was acknowledged with an Award of Excellence presented by the Illinois Public Relations Association in 2016 with a Distinguish Service Award.

My first editor here at The Reporter, Jeff Vorva, graciously trained me up to where I needed to be. When he transitioned into sports editor a couple of years ago, I was full of anxiety. “Oh my God, what if the ‘new guy’ doesn’t appreciate my work like you?”

“You’re going to be fine,” said Vorva reassuringly. “Joe’s a great guy.”

Vorva was right. Joe Boyle has been a wonderful editor to work with. I’ve enjoyed him, his feedback is balanced and always constructive. Most of the time he’s complimentary, which always leaves my heart full with gratitude. I’ve doubted myself many times. “Is this mic on? Am I even making a dent of difference with this platform?”

That’s the tricky part in life. Sometimes our work can produce an immediate positive result, but that’s not typical. Most of the time we have to dig. At times it can feel as though we’ve been digging with no end in sight for the well we’re seeking to sustain us. It doesn’t mean it isn’t there, or that it isn’t close, it just might mean we need to reposition ourselves.

That’s what I’m doing, repositioning!

In the film, “The Social Network,” there’s a scene where Larry Summers, the Harvard president, agrees to hear the complaints of the Winklevoss twin brothers, who want Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, punished by the university for allegedly stealing their idea for the social media network. Mr. Summers refuses to entertain their grievance. In fact, what he told them stained me like grape juice on a white shirt.

“Harvard undergraduates believe that inventing a job is better than finding a job,” rebuked Summers. “I suggest the two of you come up with a new project.”

That’s exactly what I intend to do.

It’s time I put that St. Xavier MBA degree to use and try my hand at entrepreneurship. You may not see me every second and fourth Thursday, or toting my camera bag about D124, but I’ll be around the community — lurking for a subject to shoot through the lens of my Nikon.

Thank you for being receptive to my work. If you weren’t I’m sure I would have received my walking papers by now. I’ve managed to keep a byline for four years and your loyalty means a lot to me. I value each one of you.

Each time you’ve reached out through email or recognized me within the community, I’m always thrilled to learn how something I’ve written has touched you in a positive way. I pray that this last entry will evoke you to make a change in your own life. Does it really require a school roster for us to be reminded we’re meant to be progressive people?

Let’s not let the Class of 2017 leave without us. Opportunities are plentiful, so let’s venture out to find them with Godspeed.

Claudia Parker is an author, photographer and a reporter. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Death came knocking, but ‘Chit Chat’ girls refused to answer

  • Written by Claudia Parker

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Nancy Knapp Horn and Penny Graham Weaver, of Middletown, Ohio, describe themselves as two crazy girls with lots of good, clean, fun ideas. They’re not just girlfriends, they’re sisters.

“I married her brother, Jerry, when I was 17 years old,” explained Nancy. “Eleven days before my 18th birthday.”

This year they are celebrating 53 years of marriage!

Nancy’s the sister-in-law that Penny refers to as her “sister-in-love.” The bond they have exceeds family ties. They are co-owners of a stationery business called Chit Chat Cards. They cut, punch, glue, stamp, glitter, glam, fold, stick, stuff, laugh, cry, and chit chat! They chuckled while reminiscing about their first time creating cards.

“I was in a bad mood that day,” giggled Nancy. “I didn’t even want to touch the cards.”

Fans of their friend Brenda’s handmade Christmas cards, they invited her over to Penny’s for a tutorial. However, Nancy’s mood was soured by a stressful encounter previous to her arrival to Penny’s house. With a little persuasion, she released the negative disposition and reached for the crafts covering Penny’s kitchen table.

Like a therapeutic medicine, Nancy and Penny discovered creating cards helped them decompress. That was the inception of their pursuit to indulge in a hobby that eventually developed into a business. But first, they would have to evade a dance with death.

  It was 2012 when Penny’s persistent cough and Nancy’s stubborn acid reflux led them both to see their primary care doctors.

“My doctor stuck a tube down my throat to see what was going on,” said Nancy. “I had to return to his office for a routine colonoscopy a week later and that’s when I got the results from my throat exam.”

Ray Phillips is the senior pastor of Stratford Heights Church of God (COG) in Middletown.

“My church secretary called my cellphone saying, ‘Nancy’s been diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus. She’s with her family, they need to see you, where are you?’” Pastor Ray said as he was driving. He responded by saying, ‘I’ll go to them, where are they?’”

“I couldn’t bring myself to go home so we went to a nearby restaurant,” explained Nancy.

“Bob Evans, if I remember correctly,” stated Pastor Ray. “On my drive over to them, I prayed for God to give me His words to encourage them. I’ve been on staff at Stratford Heights COG 28 years, 10 as senior pastor. It’s not my desire to give false hope. I marry people and I also bury them. As Christians, our ultimate goal is to enter heaven’s gates to be with God. I don’t wish to pray people out of where they’re meant to be.”

Stratford Heights isn’t a modest congregation. They have 1,300 members on their roster. If you're impressed by Pastor Ray’s reaction to zip over to Bob Evans, what happened next might really get you pumped.

“After praying, God gave me a peace that surpasses all understanding. That peace, which isn’t felt in all situations, was my confirmation that Nancy was going to live and not die,” expressed Pastor Ray. “I told Nancy that I had heard from the Lord and from that day forward we stood on His promise for her healing.”

Nancy said Stratford Heights COG is connected to a prayer chain that reaches churches all over the United States.

“Everyone was praying for me,” said Nancy. Three weeks later she saw a specialist in Beavercreek, Ohio.

“I received healing without ever being medically treated, a CAT scan confirmed me cancer-free,” Nancy said.

That's a healing miracle worthy of great celebration!

Penny’s situation was much different. She had to endure three years before receiving her healing. That persistent cough yielded a gamut of trial and error treatments for a respiratory disease that Penny said is considered incurable.

“It’s an auto-immune disorder that causes chronic hives. My prednisone treatments caused blurred vision, and sleep deprivation. I was on several inhalers and allergy medicines that left me unable to be in the sun. I used an umbrella every time I went outdoors. When I’d have a breakout, itchy whelps covered me from my neck to my ankles. I was hospitalized for hives twice - 11 days each.”

 Penny’s failing health left her unable to maintain responsibilities as president of the ladies group at Stratford Heights COG, and office manager of the medical office that employed her, a career she said she loved.

With mounting medical bills, she and husband of 36 years, Duane, decided to sell that little red Mercedes and their custom-built home with an in-ground pool they’d only lived in for three years. Penny said she was overwhelmed by her physical condition and uncontrollable life changes.

“I didn’t handle it well. I slipped into a deep depression and became suicidal,” she said calmly.

Her contemplations may have been many, but one night in particular, Nancy sensed real trouble and showed up on her doorstep.

“She crawled into bed with me and began to speak life over me,” explained Penny. “She spent the night that night.”

Nancy’s healing came through prayer, but Penny’s came through giving. From the depths of their anguish Penny and Nancy began to pour themselves out and into others with a little chit chat while creating cards.

“We’d make cards and give them away to people we knew and they started asking for more, in bulk,” exclaimed Nancy.

There’s even a high-end boutique called Kathryn’s Home Accents with locations in Cincinnati and Lebanon, Ohio that are beginning to carry Chit Chat Cards exclusively.


“When we sit down to create a card, it's all about envisioning someone with a beautiful, funny, sad, happy piece of our heart in a one of a kind card,” said Penny.


“We want our customers to know someone put their own love, laughter, and tears into making the card they’re sending,” elaborated Nancy. “Chit Chat Cards are crafted by two creative hearts.”

More information can be found at www.ChitChatCards.Net 

Sometimes God requires us to give what we need before it’s released into our own lives. Penny was depressed, yet she found joy by encouraging others. I hope this story will inspire you to explore ways to plant the harvest you wish to eat from.

Claudia Parker is an author, photographer and a reporter. Her columns appear every second and fourth Thursday of each month. She can be reached at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Family crisis allows my daughter to preach kindness and love for her sister

  • Written by Claudia Parker


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Photo by Claudia Parker

Donae Parker poses for a recent photo to be used in a program booklet at an upcoming conference where she is speaking.


Through teary eyes, I witnessed my 9-year-old daughter, Donae, deliver a 12-minute sermon on faith during a youth service held this Sunday at Roberts Temple Church of God, 4021 S. State, Chicago. Her message was personal, at times lighthearted, while other times heartfelt. She ended with a petition for the audience to have faith by inviting her baby sister, Rhonda-Rene, before them so the duet could recite the closing words of “Have faith. Have faith!”

I was overcome with emotion watching both of my daughters excitingly sharing a message of faith with a room full of people who rejoiced in the Lord for having witnessed a third-grader this bold and confident for Christ.

“How did you train her to do that?” That is the question my husband, Don, and I are bombarded with everywhere she speaks. I’d love to take the credit for having raised a preschool pastor, but it actually came about as a result of a family crisis.    

Donae had longed for a sibling. When I brought Rhonda-Rene home from the hospital I couldn’t peel her away from the kid. Donae smothered her like gravy over a biscuit. It was only a short time before I detected Rhonda-Rene wasn’t developing in a typical fashion. My intuition led to a plethora of specialists’ revealing a diagnosis of a lifelong disability. A mutation in her FOXP1 gene was discovered and it comes with a variety of characteristics that mimic autism. While Don and I tried desperately to figure out how to handle our “new normal” conversing with doctors, therapists and social workers, Donae was often asked to take a seat and keep quiet. None of us could comprehend how this could be meant for our good.

For Donae, especially!

Not only was Donae unable to interact with Rhonda-Rene in the manner she had hoped, she had also lost the attention she was used to receiving from me and Don. That’s about the time we met her imaginary friend in the mirror. That was pretty harmless, but the heart palpitations and other health-related complaints that kept us running back and forth to the pediatrician weren’t. In each instance, a placebo prescription seemed to solve the problem, until the next one.

After praying about how to handle both of my children’s needs appropriately, God gave me a dream that manifested the idea for my children’s book titled, “Children’s Church with a Preschool Pastor.” Seeing as how Donae was 3 and a preschooler herself, I ran the concept by her. “What do you think of a children’s book that portrays kids handling all the affairs of a ministry while educating them on the days of the week and numbers 1-10,” I asked her?

I suppose you can say she was my consultant. She felt the idea was superb, ‘if’ she could be the pastor. I acquiesced and made the preschool pastor character in my book after her. But, I later learned she meant she wanted me to help her become a real pastor.

Hmmm. That took a little more thought but after watching a few episodes of Joel Osteen, Bishop T.D. Jakes and Joyce Meyer deliver their sermons over the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), we were ready.

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At the age of 4, Donae was able to enthusiastically memorize several scriptures that were organized into a four-minute message. After gathering all of her baby dolls, Barbies and stuffed animals we had ourselves a congregation. Just in case someone wanted to give their life to Christ, Rhonda-Rene’s baby bathtub sufficed for a baptism. All of this was recorded and posted on YouTube. To date, Donae’s Children’s Church with a Preschool Pastor sermon has been viewed over 160,000 times. Here’s the link:

Since her first sermon five years ago, Donae has been invited to speak at various churches and organizations. Her mini-messages of faith have resonated with congregations so much that she’s often invited back several times to the same location.

However, Sunday was uniquely special because it’s the first time Donae has ever invited Rhonda-Rene to come up with her. It wasn’t even possible before now because Rhonda-Rene wasn’t able to speak at all. She would cause such a disruption babbling, we would usually schedule a respite worker to keep her during Donae’s speaking engagements.

Words cannot describe how far our family has come.

God found a way to give Donae the attention she was seeking in a way that glorifies Him and is encouraging to others. Because she’s such an articulate communicator, she's helped Rhonda-Rene to approximate words and produce language doctors were uncertain she’d ever be able to form. Bit by bit we have embraced the journey of having a special needs child, and we now see the gifts that we’ve all been given as a result.

All things are truly working together for our good. To view Donae’s most recent sermon on faith, visit

Claudia Parker is an author, photographer and a reporter. Her columns appear every second and fourth Thursday of each month. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.