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When we introduced the Abingdon Women "Your Life, Your Faith" Cruise giveaway in early March, we never expected to be overwhelmed with so many stories of such amazing women. Through your nominations, we met women who have inspired and encouraged others, and women who have remained strong in their faith despite overwhelming setbacks and challenges. We read stories of women who serve as caretakers, leaders and teachers--women you call mom, sister, and friend.

Among the many submissions we received was a touching tribute to Kelli Standish from her friend Amanda Dykes of Nevada. Amanda notes that another mutual friend, Rel Mollet, informed her of the cruise contest, wondering how she'd feel about writing the submission to nominate Kelli. She says, "Both Rel and I have been so been touched by her, and so I jumped at the chance. Although I was the writer, Rel was the tender-hearted instigator."

Here is Amanda's entry:

"It’s called Cornelian Cherry wood. It grows in a rugged land where rivers rage, gorges plummet, mountains soar steep along the Black Sea region of Turkey. The earth has made this land hard and hidden, but this is where the strong wood grows—and the master craftsmen would give anything for it.

My friend Kelli has a walking stick made from Cornelian Cherry wood, with one word carved in the handle. Wood with strength unparalleled, turned in skilled hands. Does she know this about Cornelian? That like her, it has stories to tell?

They are stories that wring my heart until it literally hurts when I think of them. In the past two years alone, Kelli has faced multiple hospitalizations for surgery and frighteningly serious complications. She has continued to battle a rare rheumatic disease and endured periods of blindness and great pain as a result. Kelli has moved four times in a period of ten months under stressful circumstances—including across the world to Bahrain and back. Her husband deployed to the Middle East, and during his absence they suffered the loss of a beloved pet that had seen them through so very much. And this is barely scratching the surface of the things the past years have brought Kelli. It’s been wave after wave of deep-cutting battles.

And yet… these stories, the ones I’ve mentioned, and the ones that run deeper still—they don’t shackle her. She places her heart in the Master’s hands, and He turns her wounds into wings. She has scars, but she’ll be the first to say they’ve equipped her for a life of outpouring.

And oh, does her life pour.

Kelli mounts up on those wings, battling to give hope. To summon joy and sow hope in barren lands. When good is elusive, she hunts it relentlessly, makes space for it to grow. She invites the multitude to come, see that the Author of Life and Good is alive and moving!

When she’s in the ongoing trenches, she wears her trademark Kelli-Courage. It manifests like this: She faces the odds. She is honest. She allows herself to be vulnerable and true. She grips strength from the Source, standing hard and fast on Truth, and she trains her eyes not on her circumstances, but on the people around her. What they’re facing. What they need. How she can come alongside them, buoy up their hope, defend their dreams. And there, right in the middle of the fierce obstacles she’s facing in her own life, she fights on the front lines of the battles those dear to her are facing.

"To Give Hope Wings," a post on Kelli's web site, is more than an isolated example of her strength and goodness; it's the way she lives her entire life. Though the world has done all it could to harden and hide her away, Kelli has battled to be a love-hewn tool of His refuge.

As you read this, would you join me in giving Kelli the gift of prayer? Thank our God for the way He’s cherished her strong life in His hands, shaping her as an instrument of healing. Thank God for the way she embodies that single word carved into her walking stick: IMUA. It means ONWARD. Weary and ill though she may be, she presses on, beautifully.

Learn more about Kelli in August when we share the cruise entry she submitted for a friend who proved to be "the living grace of God."