Thy Salvation

Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. ~ Psalm 51:12

One of my earliest memories is my “labor to enter into rest”. (Heb. 4:11)

I had heard our pastor, Bro. Glenn Riggs, preach about “calling out to God” and “praying and asking Jesus into your heart”, so I did those things. I was only five years old. I phrased my prayer the best I could, but nothing happened. The preacher said “You’ll know when Jesus saves you!” I didn’t “know”. The preacher said, “It’s not a feeling, it’s faith.” But what exactly was faith? My parents and brother and sister were all “saved”. I wanted to be, too. At age six, I went to my teacher in my Christian school, after two of my friends did, on a Wednesday and said I didn’t know if I would go to Heaven when I died. (Perhaps you had to talk to someone to make salvation official?) And if my friends could do it, why not I? It was October 10, 1984 – my mother’s birthday. I was wearing a Hawaiian style button-up shirt. The short sleeves were gathered in one place on the outside of the sleeve. I sat with Mrs. Parson in what had been my Kindergarten classroom. I was now a mature first grader. I squinted my eyes at her big, burgundy Bible, which was underlined and well-worn, straining to understand, seeking for that which I had been missing. I prayed the words. I left the room, hoping that this time, it had worked. I got baptized (despite my immense fear of water and crowds) soon thereafter. Life went on. I did not feel any different, but I recalled “it’s not a feeling, it’s faith.” Okay. *deep breath* Faith.

I made a second profession of salvation about two years later. The date is fuzzy on that one, but I do recall that it was the summertime. I went forward with a massive influx of other kids from our children’s church. Children’s church was a large production of songs, puppets, preaching and games. We met in the gym. There was no air conditioning in the gym. I had been doubting my salvation, so I went forward seeking answers. But I must admit that finding answers was secondary. I mainly went forward because I knew if I did, I’d get to go into the auditorium – or “big church” as I called it – where there was air conditioning. So around age eight, I filed in with several other boys and girls who had “professed Christ as their Savior” and stood at the front of big church. I smiled at my parents, who were probably very surprised to see me in the line, and I soaked up the blessed air conditioning. I felt my wet bangs turn cold against my forehead, and my Sunday dress gradually loosen from where the sweat had glued it to my skin. I felt the frigid air go up my sleeves, down my back and up the folds of my dress. I didn’t know if I was going to Heaven – despite a worker showing me the plan of salvation and praying with me – but I felt the air conditioning, which had to be the next best thing. I went to big church on a Sunday morning a few weeks later and got baptized. Again.

I continued to privately grapple with salvation for years. I went soul-winning with my church. I wore the right clothes. I sang in children’s choir. I went to every youth activity. I tried to quit talking so much. I read my Bible sporadically and prayed even more sporadically. I looked good on the outside, but I was a disaster on the inside. I was doing all I could do. I had prayed the words, I had tried to understand. Every time doubt sprang up in my mind, I pushed it down by trying to behave better. “You’re doubting this because you haven’t been reading your Bible every day. Just do better,” I would tell myself. I would start a read-through-your-Bible-in-a-year schedule. I would make a prayer list. I would just work harder. Surely, if I did all of that, I would know I was saved.

On the morning of June 12, 1993, as I was reading Ezra chapter one, the Lord quickened me. He said, almost audibly, “You don’t understand any of this because you are not born-again.” WHAT? What was this? I felt a huge sin burden upon my back, a feeling I had never had before. It was as if every sin I had ever committed was flashing before my eyes. I was not a Christian, and no amount of work or prayers would make me one. What a startling revelation. I sought out my friend’s mother, with whom I was staying, and told her I needed to be saved. But this time, I didn’t need anyone to show me verses, or to tell me what to say or do – I knew! As soon as my sinful condition was revealed, I cried out to God for mercy and He gloriously saved me.

SAVED, by His pow’r devine,

SAVED, to new life sublime,

Life now is sweet and my joy is complete


This song describes that moment in my life, the moment in which I was a lost sinner one second, and a born-again child of God the next. You see, you DO know if you’re saved. There is a “feeling”. It’s a feeling of sin, of despair, of hopelessness, of embarrassment before a Holy God, followed by a feeling of relief, overwhelming joy and indescribable happiness.

Years later, as a twenty-something married woman, I heard myself praying the words of Psalm 51:12, “Restore unto me the joy of my salvation”. I was going through a time of depression, which by nature I am prone to do. Shortly thereafter, I read the words of that Psalm and noticed that I had misquoted it – it’s not “the joy of MY salvation”, it says, “The joy of THY salvation.” This started an avalanche of thoughts tumbling through my brain. Was salvation not man’s choice? Was it of God and God alone? I’m sure that to those of you who caught on to this ages ago, this sounds silly. But I really thought that I had something to do with salvation! I thought I had to make a choice, to decide to be saved, but I had tried that. It didn’t work.  And while calling out to Christ certainly is part of salvation, it’s not all of it. Christ awakened me to my sin without my consent. My pastor, Bro. Ken Graham, would call this “the conviction of the Holy Spirit”, some call it “the quickening of the Spirit”. Whatever you call it, it was missing from my first two professions of faith. The first two times, I was essentially trying to save myself. I thought that my desire or decision to be saved would supply the final ingredient to salvation. Christ did His part, now I must do mine. I was believing that salvation was Christ plus my belief. In reality, it is Christ plus nothing.

Salvation is through Christ alone.

I went forward in the auditorium – not to please my flesh with air conditioning – but because I had been brought into the fold by the strong arms of the Good Shepherd. I was baptized for the third – and final – time on July 30, 1993. My parents were not surprised. They sat on their pew that Sunday morning silently rejoicing that their struggling little lamb had finally made it home.

With love,


My Favorite Place To Be

Hot Springs holds a special place in my heart. I was born in the lovely “Spa City” thirty--some years ago. Neither my mom nor my dad were born in Hot Springs. My dad grew up in Conway, and my mom was raised in Batesville. 
My parents’ moved out to Colorado Springs, Colorado, as soon as they said, “I do”. Dad was working for the Red Cross then, and that’s where they needed him. One year later, he was sent to Korea with them. My Mom and older brother, who was just a baby, could not go with him. Mom wanted to return to Arkansas to be near her family. But where? She wanted to get a job, so she decided to be a teacher. Her degree was in sociology with a minor in French. She would teach French! Teaching would give her decent working hours so she could be home a lot with my brother while earning a living. She sent out her application to the major cities in Arkansas, the only ones who would have a need for a French teacher: Fayetteville, Little Rock, El Dorado, Fort Smith, and Hot Springs. She was soon hired by the Hot Springs school district. And it would change our lives.
In Hot Springs, she taught French, but only for a short time. It was in Hot Springs that a kind lady named Jean Daves would one day invite us to Grand Avenue Baptist Church to hear her pastor, Bro. Glenn Riggs. It was one starlit evening when that pastor, along with his associate, Glen Lewis, would knock on our door on Sunset Bay Drive and ask to visit with them. It was there that my parents welcomed them in, Mom worrying a bit about how the house looked (it looked fine). The gentlemen opened a book, a Book that led the way to a new life in Christ! It was around that brown kitchen table, with crickets chirping outside, that mom would dab at the tears in her eyes as she learned that the sinless Son of God came down to Earth to bleed, die, and rise again, for her. What a thought! No one had ever loved her like that!  My father fiddled with his napkin – or so I imagine – as he took it all in, he, too, believing on this glorious Savior! They bowed in prayer as sinners destined for hell, but looked up as sinners saved by grace, going to Heaven! It was in this kitchen that mom baked a multitude of cupcakes for little bus kids, prepared Sunday school lessons, mopped floors, stirred tea and washed dishes. It was in the large master bedroom that I listened to stories, wrestled with my dad and watched Magnum, P.I. It was in the vast backyard that I played, pretended to be all sorts of things, where I saw a tarantula, threw a brick in the Putman’s frozen swimming pool, rode my bike, and “smoked” bubble gum cigarettes with my neighbor, Christy. It was at that kitchen table that dad informed me not to “smoke” those again. It was on the carport that I got to stay up way past my bedtime waiting for my brother to come home from college. I sat on the bumper of our Fiesta and held my cardboard “welcome home” sign, and dreamt of moving to a bigger, better town. 
Years have come and gone since I sat wishing to be elsewhere. And I’ve gone to quite a few places since then, too. But no matter where I go, no place has the power that  Hot Springs holds. As I drive down its familiar roads, inhaling the pine, listening to the cicadas’ song, soaking up the beauty of this valley, I can’t help but thank God that He brought us to Hot Springs. God moved us away when I was seven, and I grew to love our new home just as much as the old! But I can’t help but feel a surge of excitement when I see signs for “Higdon Ferry Road” or “Grand Avenue” and “Central Avenue”. I love the sight of the magnolias. I love the faux gaslights that line Bathhouse Row. I love seeing the mall, which we visited often! But I only love it because it takes me back in time. Back to the family of five that lived on Sunset Bay Drive, back to the stories, the books, the playtime. When I go back in my mind, my dad is alive and laughing, my sister is home, Mom is humming as she works, and everyone is smiling.
But best of all, we are all together. Together. That’s really my favorite place to be. 
The lovely valley that was home.

Lake Hamilton
Lake Hamilton was just a few blocks from where I lived.

“We were sailing along, on Moonlight Bay…” 

The house – that’s the carport and part of the backyard.

The front door! The house didn’t have all of that shrubbery or trees in the yard when we lived there. My room was the window on the left end. I got to share it with my sister.
The fountain in downtown. It was 112 degrees that day, but I didn’t even notice till I looked at the thermometer in our van! I guess I’ve adjusted (somewhat) to the heat. Or, I was just so excited to be home! 
I liked this view from Bathhouse Row.

Walking along Bathhouse Row. 

Another bathhouse…they are all very unique, but my photography doesn’t do it justice.

I just liked this photo. Dusk was coming on. Half the street lights were on, the other half weren’t. 

My hot date and walking companion. 

More Bathhouses! And I didn’t photograph all of them. 🙂

Terry washing his face in a hot spring. Every fountain is about 150 degrees.

Here I am with one of the springs. 

One bathhouse has been closed and turned into a museum. This sign has been there for a very long time! I love seeing God’s Word! 

Yes, please! (Wish I could have had one!) 

The Fordyce Bathhouse exists because of spring #46. (see next photo)

Which originates here. 🙂

We had never noticed this tall building before. We liked it.

My favorite photo of the day! Bathhouse Row at dusk. Lovely.


Not Even a Drop in the Bucket – My Testimony

Seventeen years ago today, I was born into God’s family. It seems like yesterday. I was fifteen years old, struggling ‘neath the load of hormones and teenage emotions. I was trying to “fit in” somewhere. The only place I really fit in was at home. I knew my parents loved me more than their own lives. I had a best friend, but her family was in evangelism. They traveled with Evangelist Jack Parchman, heading up his tent ministry. They set up the tent and other equipment, as well as provided some special music.The best part was that they got to meet and make friends all over the country. Because they traveled so much, she was only around in the winter for a few weeks. How desperate I was for friends! My Christian school and church were not very large, and I was the epitome of a “people person.” Well, during the summer of 1993, my best friend, and her parents, offered me an opportunity that I would have never dreamed of – they invited me to travel with them for three weeks and go to two different meetings with them! One was in Raymond, Illinois, the other was in East Prairie, Missouri. My parents agreed and we were off. The closest I had ever been to a motor home was when I was little. I looked inside one that was a prize for a drawing at the Hot Springs Mall. On this trip, I actually got to ride in one!

I enjoyed getting to sing at the meetings with my best friend. I enjoyed eating three meals a day with her and her friends for three whole weeks. I loved sleeping in her camper. I loved making grilled cheese sandwiches with her and buying chocolate Zingers at gas stations. (I still think of that summer when I see those in stores!) I loved every minute of those three weeks! In fact, at the first meeting we were at, my future husband was there. He wasn’t interested in me, of course, nor I, him, but it makes for a funny memory!

I had grown up in church – I couldn’t tell you how many times I had heard the gospel by the time I was fifteen. My brother and sister were both active in church during their teen years, and I witnessed their enthusiasm first hand each day. My parents lived as much like Christ as they could. They were faithful and consistent. My sister and brother both graduated from Hyles-Anderson College. I remember going there when I was nine years old to visit for the first time. I would go many more times after that. My sister was voted “Most Compassionate” her senior year there – and that title fits her to a “T”. My brother had graduated from there before her. He was a pastor when I was fifteen and she was serving with her husband at a church. I had made a profession of faith when I was five and again at six. I remember wanting to be saved so badly – I had read and understood the verses; I had prayed, but I didn’t really believe I was saved.

That was because, I wasn’t.

This day, seventeen years ago, the Holy Spirit turned the light on for me. I had just finished reading my Bible on my bed in the camper – I remember I had just started reading Ezra – and the Holy Spirit said in my heart, “You’re reading your Bible, and you’re trying so hard to live the Christian life, but you’re not even really saved. You’re just a sinner trying to do good.” I stopped and thought about my previous professions of faith – I was never convicted of my sin! I’d never seen myself as a wicked sinner in need of a Savior.

Until then.

I went to get my friend’s mother and told her I was lost. She got her Bible out, and read a verse or two, but then she turned to me and said, “Valerie, you already know what you need to do. Do you want to pray?” I said “Yes, I do!” There, in a camper trailer in East Prairie, Missouri, a place I’ve never been back to since, I trusted Christ as my Savior. I couldn’t wait to call my parents and tell them the good news! Back then, I had to use a calling card to call home, and go through an operator. The calls were expensive, so could only talk with them briefly. While I waited to be connected, I said, “Operator “I got saved!” I don’t know her name, but she was also a Christian, and she rejoiced with me!

It was the best day of my life. The Lord orchestrated the events so beautifully. He did the convicting, He did the saving, and He does the keeping. Seventeen years seems like a long time, but when I think about how long I will be saved – for eternity – it isn’t even a drop in the bucket! 

I’m so thankful to the Lord for saving me. I am also thankful that since then, I’ve gotten to witness to many people and see many saved. One man I invited to church ended up getting saved, surrendering to the ministry, and marrying one of my good friends! What a blessing to have a part in their joy and service to the Lord! I’ve gotten to work on bus routes, teach Sunday school and Junior church, clean church buildings, lead ladies meetings, sing songs, and even play the piano (such as it was) for my Lord. The most amazing thing, is that Christ not only gave me the precious gift of salvation, but He allowed me to be the wife of a Pastor – me! I am so unworthy and so incapable of the demands of this role that I must rely upon Him for it all. This has brought me much closer to my Savior than I ever dreamed I could be, and yet I still have so far to go. I hope and pray He gives me many more years of service, but if not, I am thankful for what He has let me do thus far. I owe Him everything!

Securely in His hands,

Thank You, Jean Daves

The sun was setting and the lights of Hot Springs, Arkansas, were starting to glimmer against the surrounding mountains. It was Friday night and people were hurrying from work to begin the wonderful weekend! Everywhere you looked you could practically read the minds of those you passed: “TGIF!” The restaurants were filling up and the Oaklawn horse racing parking lot was nearly full. (Oh! How my Dad hated the traffic caused by people out gambling!)
My family also enjoyed a Friday night tradition: eating fish at Kilby’s Restaurant! MMMM-Good! My Mom, Dad, brother and sister had enjoyed this tradition of good food and a relaxing evening out for some time.(I had not yet arrived on the scene) It was getting a little uncomfortable though, since the new waitress came. When my Dad worked for the Hot Springs School District as pupil personnel director, Jean Daves was a volunteer that worked with him for a while. She was a very nice lady, and my Dad was a people person, so she always greeted our family warmly when they showed up to eat some fish on Friday night!

The owners of the Restaurant were members of Grand Avenue Baptist Church and sweet Christians. It just so happens that Jean Daves was a member there, too.

She began inviting my Dad to church. “Ron, I want you to come to my church. We have a new pastor and you’d just love him!” She would say as she seated them. “His name is Glenn Riggs, and he’s so nice. I hope you’ll come visit soon.” She’d say again when she brought the food. My Dad would smile and say “Oh really?Well, yes, we’ll have to do that.” He would then proceed to dig in and forget all about it.

This continued for weeks. Every Friday, the Courtney family would eat fish; every Friday, Jean Daves was the waitress – or server! – and would invite them to church. “Ron, now I really want you to come visit. You said you would!”

Finally, my Mother became embarrassed to eat there and continue to put this zealous woman off for another week, because they really hadn’t seriously meant to visit her church or her pastor. “Ron,” Mom said one night as they headed out the door for fish, “You know Jean is going to invite us to church again tonight…we need to either stop eating there, or go visit her church!” Well, a decision was made. I don’t know whether my Dad had a strong desire for spiritual matters, if he simply loved food that much, or both. But whatever the reason, they decided to attend Jean Daves‘ church…and it changed our lives. I’m including myself there, because, while I was not yet born or even considered, it affected my life.

They went to church there that week. They’d never heard anything like it. In the other churches they attended, it seemed as though the preacher was talking over them, instead of to them, and they had never heard a clear presentation of the Gospel. My brother, Kevin, who was nine, leaned over to Mom and whispered “Mom! I understand what he’s saying!”

My parents left. They did not get saved that night, but they had kept their promise to Jean Daves!
Later that week, they received a visit from the Pastor, Glenn Riggs, and the associate Pastor, Glenn Lewis. Seated at the brown kitchen table at 110 Sunset Bay Drive in Hot Springs, Arkansas, my parents accepted the gift of Jesus into their lives, and we’ve never been the same. My parents could never seem to get over what Jesus had done for them. They weren’t part of the “party” lifestyle, they weren’t drunks or hooked on drugs, yet they knew they were unworthy of Jesus – as we all are. They have given their lives to knowing Him and serving Him. My parents have worked on buses, in Sunday School, and have gone soul winning, sharing the Good News with others that Jean Daves helped to share with them! In fact, my Dad was out knocking doors his last night on this Earth! What a faithful Father I had! My mother has not quit serving since Dad’s home-going – as many women would. She keeps going! What a faithful lady she is!

I’ve been given a wonderful life – a life in Christ – and I owe it to a lady that I’ve never even met. I owe it to a lady who loved the Lord enough to not only invite others to church, but to be persistent at it!

Thank you, Jean Daves, for being a living witness for the Lord. You made a difference in our family for eternity.


Lessons from Abram ~

Genesis 14:21 -23 And the king of Sodom said unto Abram, Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself. And Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lift up mine hand unto the LORD, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth, That I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich:
Genesis 15:1 After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.

When I read the above passage earlier this week, it surprised me. The Bible is full of surprises, by the way. No matter how often you read it, you can always find something new in its pages. I had never noticed that Abram turned down the gifts that the King of Sodom had offered him, after he rescued the king and Lot from the hands of Chedorlaomer (please don’t ask me how to pronounce that…I’m sure the way you say it is right).
Abram doesn’t take gifts from the King of Sodom because the King of Sodom was not living right – remember, he was the King of Sodom, not a good place – and Abram did not want that wicked King to receive any praise for what God had done in Abram’s life. Abram only saved the King because Lot was with him, and he loved Lot.
I saw several great things in this passage. First of all, I find it amazing that Abram would save Lot. Lot wasn’t doing right with his life or with his family. Abram certainly was doing right by his. Lot wouldn’t have been in that situation had he not been rubbing elbows with the people of Sodom. But, Abram didn’t get full of pride and say “Well, you created this problem, you deal with it.” No, he went to Lot’s aid, even to the point of risking his life for him. How many times have I wanted to just leave a person in the midst of their problems because I think to myself “Well, they created that mess, so let them deal with it.” Abram sets a different example here. We should love and help everyone, whether the problem is of their own making or not.
I also see that Abram was being careful to see that God received the praise for his life. He didn’t want a wicked king to steal God’s glory because he gave him some little reward for his trouble. I want to be sure that God receives the praise for everything good that happens in my life. It isn’t because I’m so smart, or because I have so much wisdom, or any other reason. It’s because of Jesus. He’s everything He says He is, and so much more. Try Him and see for yourself if you haven’t already.
Also, we see at the end of the story, that God is proud of Abram for his decision to turn down the riches of the world and take God’s riches instead. I make brownies often for my kids. They’re easy. They’re good. So, I make them. I also purchase Chips Ahoy! or Oreos sometimes. After supper, I sometimes offer them a choice: mom-made brownies, or store-made cookies? When they choose the brownies, I am most pleased. They picked what I had made! I feel so happy and useful when they do that. I think that’s how God viewed it too. He was so happy that Abram chose Him, over the world. He was most pleased. “After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.” Gen. 15:1
Wow! That’s pretty good, isn’t it? I hope that I can love others no matter how they live, or how they treat me. I hope that I will always choose to give God first place in all that I do. I want to always deflect any praise I receive back up to the One who deserves it all. Because without Him, I would be nothing.

God Can Speak to a Teenager

Teenagers are kind of silly. It’s an awkward age. They are in between childhood, and adulthood. They’re dealing with raging hormones, insecurity, “finding themselves” – and oh, let’s have them make the most major decisions of their lives too! It’s a hard time.Bro. Graham used to say that teenagers “were dumber than a box of rocks.” They are. They think they know everything, and in reality, they know very little! Only two things helped me to survive my teen years unscathed: 1. The love, and patience, of my parents. 2. A relationship with the Lord. I knew my parents loved me, and would always be there to help me navigate my way through those major decisions. But as most teens are, I was a little, okay, a lot independant! I wanted to find the answer to life’s big questions myself . I wanted the Lord to show me the answer. What I found out impacted my life forever.
Most of my “boyfriends” were pen pals. They all lived in other states. Bro. Graham preached to us teens that you shouldn’t just date for the sake of dating. You should look for qualities in a date that would be suitable for a future mate. In other words, he was saying it was dangerous to date a guy you worked with that didn’t go to church, who drank and lived a lifestyle that was opposite your own – you may get attached to that person, marry him and then be forced to live a life that you know is not pleasing to God. Because of this, I took “dating,” which in reality was really just “writing,” very seriously.
When I was 17 I was “dating” a guy from a boys Ranch. [Attention: This means I was desperate!] He came highly recommended by my Pastor, and I don’t think my parents were too concerned since he lived 500 miles away! He had a rough way to go during his young life, but he seemed to be on fire for the Lord, and doing right.
Because I took dating (writing) so seriously, I prayed a lot about my future husband, and I talked to the Lord about this guy. One thing that bothered me, was his past. I felt guilty for judging a guy’s past, but remember, I was thinking “future husband!” I was bothered by the scar in his left ear where he had worn an earring at one time. I knew he had done other things in his past that leave scars on the heart as well. This bothered me, because I came from such a loving, and pure home.
I was pretty innocent back then, and I hope I still am! I prayed like I was talking to my parents. “Lord, whatdya think about him? I don’t like the scar from his earring. Am I being picky or what? Can ya please show me? I don’t wanna mess up my life.” Guess what. He showed me.
I’ll never forget that morning when I was reading my Bible, and God gave me an answer. Not my pastor, or my parents, or my big brother, but ME! He showed me that this was NOT the guy for me. I have the passage marked in my Bible, and it is very dear to me. I’d like to share it with you.
II Samuel 22:21-25
The LORD rewarded me according to my righteousness: according to the cleanness of my hands hath he recompensed me.
For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God.
For all his judgments were before me: and as for his statutes, I did not depart from them.
I was also upright before him, and have kept myself from mine iniquity.
Therefore the LORD hath recompensed me according to my righteousness; according to my cleanness in his eye sight.
With the pure thou wilt shew thyself pure; and with the froward thou wilt shew thyself unsavoury
These verses stood out to me like they had been highlighted in yellow! The Lord was using this passage to give me an answer from Heaven. He told me, that while I was far from perfect, I had chosen to keep myself from the wickedness of the world. I was a pure young lady. I had kept myself from alcohol, and wild living. I needed, and wanted, a man who had done the same with his life. And this passage was my promise from God to give me such a man.
Now, for the rest of the story. I’m far away from my teen years now. I can barely see them in the rear-view mirror of my life, but I can remember them. I remember that day when God spoke to a teenage girl about her future mate, and Lord willing, I’ll never forget it. I’ve been married almost a decade. I married a man who is like me: he’s not perfect but, he’s pure, he came from a good home, and he loves the Lord.
That guy that God steered me away from? Last I heard he was headed to prison.
Thank you, Lord, for speaking to a teenager. Thank you that you’re still there for me today.