Awestruck, Wonderstruck, Lovestruck

Niagara falls

I was utterly overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by my smallness and God’s greatness. Deluge of water above and below, deafening roar in my ears, pummeled by pellets of moisture, and blinded by the glory of it all. Awestruck. Wonderstruck. Lovestruck.

As a couple hundred poncho-clad spectators huddled under hoods to experience Niagara Falls up close and personal, I was curious as to their reactions. In the moment, floating precariously beneath the avalanche of water, all were amazed. All screams and laughs and merriment. But was anyone else awestruck, wonderstruck, lovestruck? On dry land, on reflection, did anyone else consider the Creator and how He loves each tiny person in that tiny boat under His extravagant show of majesty?

I’m sure some did consider. How could they not? And yet…

What does it take for God to catch our attention? 2,600 feet of cascading water falling before our eyes? He caught my attention. It caused me to humble myself under His mighty hand, relishing the truth that He is God and I am not. He is Father, I am child. And oh, the comfort that brings. The warm blanket of peace that truth pulls over us, His children. The relationship between Creator and created, Potter and clay, King of Kings and his princesses—this is ours to treasure. How can we not be awestruck?

Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power

   and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,

   for everything in heaven and earth is yours.

   Yours, Lord, is the kingdom;

   you are exalted as head over all.” 1 Chronicles 29:11 (NIV)

This surreal experience beneath the falls reminded me that His mercies are never-ending—just as the overabundance of water at Niagara showers over the edge in torrents, so He showers us with His grace daily, never running dry. Looking up and knowing that powerful stream of water is endless, ceaseless, is a given. Such is the grace of God. He was, is, and ever will be. He is extravagant with His gifts and how can we not be wonderstruck?

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;

  his mercies never come to an end;

  they are new every morning;

  great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV)

Sometimes, God calls to us in the roar of the waterfalls. Sometimes He whispers in a still, small voice. Regardless, HE SPEAKS. But are we too busy to incline an ear? Too self-absorbed to even notice? Too fearful to hear the answer to our prayers? Think ourselves unworthy, unlovable, untrusting…? Friend, HE SPEAKS. Because He loves us. Not because of anything we have or have not done, but because He IS love. He loves us at our darkest when the waves are washing over us, and He loves us in our finest hour when all is rosy and right. His love is limitless. Our lifeline. How can we not be lovestruck?

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls;

   all your waves and breakers have swept over me.

  By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me—

  a prayer to the God of my life.” Psalm 42:7-8 (NIV)

What does it take for God to catch our attention? May our ears be inclined to hear His voice amidst the deluge of whatever is falling around and about us in our lives today. We can rest in the promise of His peace, and lift our eyes to see that everlasting waterfall of grace. It will leave us utterly awestruck, wonderstruck, lovestruck.

Laura Thomas is a published Christian author with a heart for inspiring and encouraging readers of all ages. She is a multi-genre writer with a published Christian teen fiction trilogy, marriage book, mmiddlegradenovel, children’s stories, devotionals for Union Gospel Press, articles in magazines and online, musings on her blog, and currently has a three-book deal for her Christian romantic suspense novels. Living in Kelowna, B.C. as an empty-nester, Laura is a mom of three, married to her high school sweetheart, and is passionate about faith and family—and chocolate.
iola magazine even in the deep

Explore, Dream, Discover – Charleston, West Virginia

Charleston West Virginia

How long have you lived here and where are you from? 

My entire life I’ve lived in Charleston, West Virginia. Not technically Charleston, but in a suburb of the city: Dunbar. We are only a fifteen minute drive from downtown. Recently a friend asked if I like living here. We were discussing different cities she had lived in. I told her that I loved it because no matter where I go, it is home. I’ve lived here my entire life, for 35 years. It is coal country here in West Virginia, even in the big city. You can see the coal trains run through on the outskirts of town; reminding you of the mines just a few hours away in the hills of the Appalachian mountains. 

What is it like in Winter?

Charleston Street. Erica Johnson Photography

My city is beautiful in the winter. The trees are bare of leaves, the windows and shops are all decorated for Christmas, and if we’re lucky, we get some snow. Because we live in what is called the Kanawha Valley (pronounced Ku-naw) the snow is sporadic at best. The city sparkles in the winter at night, but during the day it is cold and bare. The people hurry along the streets dressed in boots and coats and hats. The best time is when it snows. The sidewalks and streets are usually cleared with the snowplows, but the white lingers on window sills. Sometimes the streets are black with the touch of red and orange leaves left over from fall. 

Erica Johnson Photography

What are your favorite places?

Some of my favorite places are so familiar I forget they are so wonderful. One of my family’s favorite places is downtown on Capitol Street. There are lots of fun restaurants and shops. Most of the shops are locally owned and have an eclectic feel. We love Taylor Books, which is across the street from the best place to eat ice-cream. 

Taylor Books. Erica Johnson Photography

If you visit Charleston, you will find a lot of chain restaurants, bookstores, and shops. But the best part of living in a place for a long time is learning the local places. And Ellen’s is a favorite of everyone’s! It provides easy-going, counter-served, high-quality ice-cream, sandwiches, and wraps. There are seats and chairs for children with coloring supplies. Instead of lots of tables, they have couches and it feels like walking into a living room. With all-natural, high-quality ingredients and a welcoming and comfortable atmosphere for more than 15 years, Ellen’s ice-cream serves up the best treats! My favorite is the homemade waffle cone with peanut-butter, chocolate ice-cream. 

Another family tradition we have is to eat at First Watch twice a month for breakfast. Serving up homemade waffles, pancakes, and fresh fruit crepes, everyone in our family loves eating there. The waitresses and staff all know us and our crazy kids because we’ve been going there for over five years. We even order things that aren’t on the menu. Although Charleston is a large town, it has a small town feel. 

Charleston Library. Erica Johnson Photography

What are your favorite memories of the city?

One of my favorite memories as a child, was going to the big downtown library. We had a small library in our town, but my mom would bring myself and my three other siblings to go to the main library every once in awhile. It was such an adventure. We’d park on the street, feed the parking meter with the spare change, and walk down the sidewalk to the main entrance.

As an avid reader, I loved all of the books, but the best thing I remember is there was an entire floor of the building just for kids. A whole floor full of books just for kids! It was a magical place. The building is still there, old and majestic. There is talk about re-doing the old library, but I hope they keep the structure and the look the same. It holds such wonderful memories for me as a child.

Another great childhood memory was riding the Trolley. One day my mom and sisters and brother and I climbed up on the bus and rode the familiar streets of Charleston. Although we had driven these streets, it was like seeing a brand new city as I felt the wind in my hair and heard the man ring the trolley bell. 

Charleston Trolley. Erica Johnson Photography

What would you miss if you moved away?

Next year our family will be embarking on a wonderful adventure to move to Central America. For the first time in my entire life I won’t be living in Charleston and the thought almost makes me sick with homesickness even now. I’ll miss so much. I’ll miss the change in seasons, and how each season reveals a beautiful  aspect of life. I’ll miss the familiar faces of people we know. I’ll miss the streets and their names like Summers and Randoph. I’ll miss the joys of trying out a new restaturant or coffee shop when it opens.

What are the people like?

Many of the people of Charleston are just plain friendly. Everyone smiles or nods as we pass each other on the streets. Men hold the doors for women and children.  The people are good, good people. Ask anyone for directions, they will immediately stop in the street, or pause while walking their dog to tell you how to get there. You might get directions like, “Turn at the Go-Mart” but you will find your destination. 

Just a short distance away 

Just a short distance away are various state parks and lots of outdoor activities. Kanawha State Forest is right in the middle of Charleston and has acres of land for fishing and camping. We love to visit there and take hikes on the various paths winding in and out of the forest. Just an hour away you can find a variety of outdoor activities like White Water Rafting, Hiking, Camping, and Fishing. One of the highest bridges in the United States is located about an hour away from Charleston. The New River Bridge hosts the annual “Bridge Day” where the bridge closes and people bungee cord jump off of the bridge, which is a staggering 876 feet high and over 3,000 feet long. All year around you can walk underneath the bridge on the “catwalk” and see the gorgeous view of the New River below. 

What has been the best discovery about your city?

The best thing about my city, for me, is that it feels like home. I don’t think it is just because I’ve lived here for 35 years, I think it is the people and the familiar places. The library, Ellen’s, and even Taylor Books (a local book store) look exactly the same now that they did 25 years ago. The shops have changed, and the landscape of the city has changed, but the people and the atmosphere hasn’t changed. If you visit, I hope you will feel like it is coming home. 

Sarah E. Frazer writes and lives in a brick house at the end of Thomas Road with her husband, five kids, a cat, a dog, and five chickens. Motherhood is her calling but her passion is to inspire focus and encourage deep-rooted Bible study for the busy mom. Life is full of seasons, but every season can be made more peaceful when time is spent in God’s word. Join Sarah on her favorite social media space: Instagram. Or you can find her on her blog,

Explore, Dream, Discover: Kelowna, BC, Canada

Kelwona BC

As much as I adore traveling, the thought of coming home always sets my soul at ease, causes me to exhale, fills my heart. Comfortable yet captivating, the city of Kelowna in British Columbia has been our home for twenty-three years and its natural beauty still takes my breath away on a daily basis!

“The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”
Maya Angelou

In 1995, my husband and I packed up our two-year-old daughter and embarked on the audacious adventure of emigrating from the UK to Canada. After arriving in Vancouver on the west coast, my husband had a job interview in a picturesque city about four hours inland, nestled in the Okanagan Valley. We knew absolutely nothing about this Kelowna, but as the April sun glistened on a cobalt lake surrounded by welcoming snow-tipped mountains, it took us all of three seconds to decide this was where we wanted to settle and raise our family!

Kelowna, with its current population sitting at 127,500 has also become the vacation destination for our British family and friends time and again, and we have the privilege of proudly showing off the many attributes of our city. One of my most cherished aspects of living here is that we thoroughly enjoy all four seasons. And at the start of each one, I proclaim it my favorite—until the next season rolls around…

Kelwona BC

SUMMERTIME is pure perfection here unless you dislike copious amounts of warm sunshine and idyllic leisurely lake-living. The climate is actually semi-desert (who knew that was a thing in Canada?) and therefore much free time is spent boating, swimming, sailing, water-skiing, or windsurfing on the expansive 84-mile length of the Okanagan Lake. We are famous for our bounty of local fresh fruit, which can be found at markets and fruit stands, and there’s nothing quite like an evening stroll along the downtown boardwalk watching the sunset, followed by some delicious dining lakeside.

The crisp FALL air is a welcome break from the heat, and a perfect time to take in a winery tour at one of over forty local wineries. From the intimate family operated to larger facilities with first-class restaurants and stellar lake views, it’s worth taking time to peruse and sample some of our national and international award-winning wines. You won’t be disappointed!

If you’re looking for a WINTER wonderland experience, Kelowna has it all. A short winter season compared to much of Canada, we usually have ourselves a very merry white Christmas, which as a Brit, I thoroughly appreciate. If some serious snow sports or even après-ski activities are desired, the world-renowned Big White Resort is less than an hour out of town, where the ski-in-ski-out village also offers shopping and dining for those not downhill or cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing, snowmobiling, tubing, or doing any other snow-ish activity!

Kelowna BC

When SPRING is in the air in Kelowna, there is a definite spring in the step of the locals. With snow behind us and sunshine ahead, the air is fresh and the orchards heavy with glorious blossom. Perhaps the perfect opportunity for some hiking or biking at one of the numerous trails.

Parks, waterfalls, mountains, or railway trestles— every age and agility level is catered for.

Whether you take advantage of our numerous golf courses, enjoy wandering around our Cultural District downtown, checking out galleries, theatres, unique shops, and fine dining, or prefer an action-packed adventure on the lake or up the mountain— Kelowna truly has something for everyone. It’s been the perfect place to raise our three kids to adulthood, and we are in absolutely no hurry to ever move from this stunning little gem in the vast, spectacular country of Canada.

Here in Kelowna, I happen to believe there’s always more to explore, dream, and discover.

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain

Laura Thomas

Laura Thomas is a published Christian author with a heart for inspiring and encouraging readers of all ages. She is a multi-genre writer with a published Christian teen fiction trilogy, marriage book, middle grade novel, children’s stories, devotionals for Union Gospel Press, articles in magazines and online, musings on her blog, and currently has a three-book deal for her Christian romantic suspense novels. Living in Kelowna, B.C. as an empty-nester, Laura is a mom of three, married to her high school sweetheart, and is passionate about faith and family—and chocolate.