Easy to Believe

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It’s easy to believe in Heaven on mornings like this one……

when the air is sweet and the stars are still winking but

just about to depart from sight.

I walk on tasting the day, knowing how sweet and precious it is.

How fleeting each moment and how important it is to think of time how God does.

Like each day is as a thousand years and how a thousand years a day.

Weightless and free and yet bound to this earth.

I walk on and I flush out a dove, startled from her place.

In wonder, I pray in my place of silence

I wonder at how I can cry the tears of the bitter waters of Marah

and in the next breath have streams of living waters to

flush out my sorrow and replace it with joy.

I marvel at my God.

Whatever happens here:

I have at the very most 35 years this side of Heaven

and then a permanent vacation where peaceful waters flow

and there is no crying only endless joy

a ribbon of eternity stretching out further than my eye can see.

Yes, I grab my cup of coffee and settle in my chair.

I can see it from here.

Miracle at the DMV

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Yesterday we went on a little “adventure” at the Arizona Department of Motor Vehicles. I volunteered to go along with Elaine as she attempted to straighten out her CDL license paperwork which was mysteriously “not in the system” even though it was mailed on time. I don’t think anyone should have to go to the DMV alone, so I went along for the ride. Well, actually I went along for the “wait.” As it turns out, the computer system goes down quite regularly there, especially on Mondays and Fridays, which would explain why her paperwork was somewhere floating around in cyber-space.

We walked down a little hallway into the “CDL” section which was a little room filled with plastic chairs which had seen better days. They needed a good scrubbing with bleach which they had never seen, and there were odd marks on the walls. The line was already forming but there were a few chairs left so we took the two available and settled in for the wait. About 20 minutes in, they announced that the “system was down” and it could be anywhere from 20 minutes to 6 hours.

They offered to hand out some slips whereby we could go to breakfast and come back, assuring our place in line but we opted to stay for the long haul and I began praying that the system would come up sooner rather than later. Well, I should say most of the time I was praying, some of the time I was commiserating along with everyone else. We got a little ticket that said we were number 25. The little display screen that showed the number being served was miserably dead. We waited for a flicker of life.

Meanwhile the poor lady that was behind the counter (I wouldn’t have wanted that job for all the tea in China) was displaying an enormous amount of fortitude and goodwill. Not to mention patience. We sat and played Trivia and Words with Friends back and forth and I in turn observed, as I always do, the people around me. It never fails. There’s always one in the room who isn’t clear and doesn’t listen to the announcements. And there is always at least one who constantly questions the whole entire system.

As I looked around, I thought, these are working people who just want to do their jobs. None of them were being paid to be there and probably most of them couldn’t afford to be off work for the day. But there we all were in earthly purgatory, helpless and at the mercy of the SYSTEM. The guy sitting in front of us was alternately looking at scantily clad women on his phone. The other guy, mister “stand up and sit back down” was reading a book called, “I hope they have beer in Hell.” I wanted to tell him I was almost positive they didn’t and that he most assuredly didn’t want to go there even if they did.

As I looked around, I found myself thinking, each life here is precious to God. None of us looked like anything close to miraculous but as we live and breathe we are. I wanted to stand up and tell them all that Jesus loved them. From the one speaking in broken English, to the one who looked like he just crawled out of bed, and the one wearing the T-shirt that said, “Beer is proof that God loves us.” And everyone in between, even me.

Then, to make things even more bizarre, they made another announcement that it had started to rain and that, “Due to the rain, there will be no road driving tests.” What?? Don’t people drive in the rain? We all looked at each other with a sense of bewilderment. If that were the case in other states, such as Oregon or Washington, then nobody would ever be granted a driving license.

I leaned toward Elaine and whispered, “At least this time there is no pesticide guy.” No joke, last time we went to the Apache Junction DMV a guy came in with one of those pesticide tanks on his back and proceeded to spray the entire room, including and around people’s feet where they were standing at booths taking the written driving tests! The bizarre thing was, no one paid much attention as the smell wafted around us.”

After about an hour, a miracle occurred and the system blinked to life. They made the announcement and the display screen flickered to life. It said now serving “1.” Number one went back into another room and we didn’t hear anything else for an hour. Then they started calling more numbers. They skipped a bunch, and finally they called Elaine up, gave her a gold stamp of approval and said three magic words, “You’re all set.” Apparently, once the system came back up it found her in it. And no payment was needed to have it reinstated. (Miracle number two.)

We thanked the lady profusely for how she handled the customers, and the situation at hand and she beamed in gratitude.

Everyone waiting seemed to be happy for us, all those nylon short clad, dirty Levi, greasy haired clan of men collectively clapped and cheered when Elaine announced, “Since we are all friends now I guess I can leave.” I gave the victory sign, smiled and said, “Good luck.”

And peace be with you……….

Meet me at the Cross

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One of the most unifying factors of our Christian faith is the simple knowledge that we’re all failures at it. And directly on the heels of that thought comes another, that God loves me anyway. That failure, that weakness, after all is what drives us again and again to the cross. He has promised that He will never leave us. He’s there in the morning and He’s there at night when I whisper my thoughts before welcoming the great eraser that is sleep.

I am reading Madeline L’ Engle’s book, “The Irrational Season.” In it, she describes how against the backdrop of her faith there is doubt and anger at times at why God would seemingly direct and allow evil things to happen, and yet in the midst of that doubt and anger is the bright ring of hope and assurance that yes, God does know exactly what He is doing, even if she doesn’t always understand His ways.

God is not surprised or threatened by our doubt or our anger because it’s also that same doubt and anger that is also an expression of our faith, for you can’t doubt someone you don’t believe in in the first place. You can’t be mad at someone who is not there.

The fact that we are driven again and again to the cross allows no room in our faith for pride. You can know the Bible backwards and forwards, but until you find yourself driven to your knees in humility at the misery of our human weakness, you will be separated from the world, the people whom Jesus most wants us to help.

One of the most confounding and misunderstood paradoxes of our faith is that even though we fail, even though we are weak, God still considers us Holy. When He looks at us, He sees us washed in the robe of righteousness because of Christ’s redemptive work on the cross. That should not make us proud, it should make us more humble. That God would grant us with the stamp of His approval by indwelling us with His Holy Spirit is a staggering thought that must never get old. Our faith and the miracle of it, should never be old hat.

We should wake up each day in astonishment that He has forgiven us yet again. And yet, time after time, I have taken that fact for granted……stepped over it on my way to something I feel is more important. That is why I feel so strongly about giving God the first few moments of our day. It’s a way to say and acknowledge all over again that yes, I am grateful beyond measure for the grace I never deserved.

The Apostle Paul perfectly describes our imperfect weakness here: “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.” Romans 7:24,25

Are you going through something today that is an extreme test of your faith? Right now, stop what you’re doing and hear God say: “What part of always do you not understand?” Remember when your parents used to say, “What part of no do you not understand?” God has promised never to leave or forsake us and He never will.

Love is in His limits, for He gives us exactly what we need to know in the Scriptures, the rest we must take on faith.

I get like the Israelites wandering in the desert, complaining and grousing despite the pillar of smoke by day and the pillar of fire by night. Instead, all I can see are the hordes of people contentedly settled in the land He has already promised me. I used to blame them, I used to say, “I would have believed God if I had seen those signs.” God smiles and says, “No you wouldn’t.”

Because if I really and truly had a perfect faith, I would look back at all the times in my 56 years that He has provided for me and never failed to be there for me, and that fact would erase every last fear. And yet, I can truly say that I am getting closer to the goal than I was before.

“but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:57

Pressing Pause

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I’m here marveling that yet another work week has come and gone, here standing on the shore of another 4 days off and the first prayer out of my lips when I awoke in the early dawn was, “Where are you Jesus?” And this is the miracle of it all. He spent the next hour announcing His presence in a myriad of little ways.

My God is an action word. I guess you could say if God were a state He would be Missouri. God is a “show me” God. I puzzle at people who ask for proof. The proof was in the sky last night and the moon this morning. It was peeking out at me from between the palms, all yellow and present.

The God of the old Testament was bigger than life, I don’t think anyone could deny that. And Jesus……I don’t think you can get bigger than coming out of the grave and revealing yourself for 40 days. And the Holy Spirit transformed a handful of cowering men and women into a church that changed the world.

And God hasn’t changed. He took my question seriously this morning and proceeded to take pleasure in cracking little doors of joy open everywhere I turned. He is the God of undoing just as much as He is the God of doing.

You can get up slogging in your slippers toward the coffee pot, with only the whisper of hope on your lips but God can do something with that. He rewards an attitude of expectation however small, and hopelessness can turn into hope when it runs in tandem with gratitude.

God holds all of time in His hand. I was thinking a lot about time this morning. How it seemed like just yesterday I was staring down the tunnel of a 48 hour work week and now I’m looking at 48 hours of me time. How will I use it?

I’m thinking of my Dad who is facing time in much more of a monumental sense in the beating of his own heart. Nothing makes you more aware of the ticking of time than a heart that is fluttering out of control. Right now he is aware of little else than slowing his wildly beating heart down. He has a procedure tomorrow to do just that. Because of him, we are all just a little more aware of time today than usual. His and ours.

The thing about time is that it has a beginning and an end. We are never not conscious of it. It never speeds up or slows down and yet it seems to. It rolls out wildly out of control like a spool of yarn rolling down a flight of stairs, and sometimes it sits like a car tire stuck in the mud, spinning madly but going nowhere.

There are wild exultant joys in life and there are times that are so low we don’t see how we will ever get out the other side. And there are stretches of time where there are no big joys just lots of little joys and that’s okay. Some might call that complacency or settling but I call it contentment of the kind the Apostle Paul was talking about when he said, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

The other thing about time is that we have a choice as to how to use it. We can squander it, waste it, use it wisely, cherish it, or use it up until we look around and it’s all gone. I believe the best way to honor the time God has given us is to be fully present in it. Sometimes I succeed at that but many more times I fail.

But when you realize just how precious of a commodity it is, it changes how you live. You learn to look for the little things.

This morning one of the little things was pausing to watch a hummingbird take a bath. It’s not everyday you see that. He was only there for about 30 seconds, but if I hadn’t been staring at the fountain right at that moment I would have missed it. But I think God wanted me to see it. He likes giving us little surprises that make us smile.

He is after all, a “show me” kind of God.

Wholly Holy

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This morning, I found it impossible to go to my usual place of prayer. I had to go out and greet the day, be there before the sun crested the Superstitions. I was on the search for a whisper of air and I needed to be physically present when the day began. I crumbled up some bread and left it in the usual spot. The grackles were the first to find it.

I wandered out front and swept the area in front of the doorways, part of my Holy ritual….I would have been a good little oriental shopkeeper, part of the morning should always be spent setting things aright…..making the bed, sweeping the porch. After I did that, I cleaned the cat box, not so Holy but just as necessary.

I went inside then, and grabbed my mug of coffee and three little books, journal, Jesus Calling, and Frederick Buechner’s Sacred Journey. When I went to go outside I noticed that around 20 assorted quail and dove had found the bread. Being me, I couldn’t disturb them so I quietly took the “prayer chair” from the shop and brought it around the other side so I could be outside and see them but they wouldn’t see me.

I finished Sacred Journey……I heartily recommend it. I highlighted many places in the book that I know I will go back to. As I sat there listening to quail and dove cry, I watched the clouds turn pink from the blush of the sunrise.

An hour of worship outside, though it’s not a substitute for church, I find it just as meaningful and just as necessary a part of our walk with Christ. And as I sat there, another Holy thing happened. A hummingbird came to the red yucca I was sitting right next to and took his time going from bloom to bloom, even stopping the beat of his wings to light on the branch as he drank. As I looked at his little curled feet as he hovered there, I thought what a little gem of a bird he was.

And I thought, if I had been in my usual spot, I would’ve missed him.

How incredible are God’s works; how wondrous His eye for detail in every little thing. It’s the day before my 56th Birthday and I can say that out loud. In reverence, praise and gratitude I thank Him for bringing me thus far on the journey.

Wholly Holy.

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Casting our care……..over and over again.

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On my recent vacation I took a walk one early morning in the mist by the sea and I found that all along the pathway someone had left stones. On each stone was scrawled a message, or a date.  Some had paw prints and a name, memorial to a beloved pet, and some had Scripture. Part of the wonder of that walk was that those little stones added something. Those stones served as a marker in my heart, so that I will always remember it.

Jesus mentioned stones too as He rode into Jerusalem. “Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” Those Pharisee’s were such killjoys.

On that walk, those little stones were crying out to me in their own way. Well, it was more like whispers of hope. But sometimes whispers cry out the loudest, don’t they? I wonder about who painted the words on those stones and the rest of them I saw that day. I wonder what cares they had that they wanted to leave there, along that path?

Last night it was one of those tossing and turning nights. I was bogged down in my usual worries that played over and over like a needle stuck in the groove of an old 45. And this morning when I awoke, I decided that I needed to do what this little stone said to do……I needed to cast my care where it counted. To the One who could actually do something about it. And my prayer was simply for God to put the song back in my heart. Just that.

And as I thought back to when I first started my early morning prayer times, I realized that through these few years, my relationship to God the Father has changed. I always talked to Jesus, I always told Him I loved Him, but I never really told God the Father I loved him. Now I do. It’s because of the approachability of Jesus that we can take the blinding Holy brilliance of the Father, even though I know all the Holiness of the Father rests on Jesus as well.

What a perfect plan, what a perfect God.

Somewhere along the line the message has sunk in that God is not out to get me. He already has proven His great love for me even while I was sinning. Even as I disappoint Him again and again even now.

As I open the words to my devotional this morning I read these words:

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.

Psalm 139:7-12

He is faithful friends……..He is the redeemer of days, and comfort in the night. Every hidden thought, and action is exposed to His Holy light and even then, He draws close. He is not surprised by anything we do. And the great miracle and joy of this life is that He cares enough to make a garden out of the wilderness of my heart. Over and over again.

His words fall like rain on my parched and weary soul.

In the light of eternity, where all will be well forever, nothing is a problem down here.

Have a serving of Holy

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We don’t just find “Holy” in church, but in all those little everyday moments that fill our years. Sitting at a curbside café with people bustling all around we feel something midstream in the action, a thought or feeling in our heart that causes us to pause and thank God that we are part of it all.

Did you ever wonder why we remember slices of days forever? And no one ever tells us that “this is a day, a moment, you will always remember” because they have no way of knowing that you will and neither do you, but for some reason you do. Of course, we remember the Big days. Weddings, funerals…..certain vacations, graduations, the birth of a child.

But remembering the ordinary, that’s something else again. I like to think of these ordinary days as pearls. We get them out of the box from time to time and finger them like rosary beads, feeling the smoothness of the worn stones, going back over the memory. Holy slices in the midst of eternity.

I remember one particular day in Jamestown, California, stopping in at a coffee-house and buying a mug bearing the name of the town. I carried that mug and the memory with me when I moved to Payson, Arizona. One day at work I was sipping my coffee from it when it started to snow. I carried it with me to the window as I marveled at the spectacular beauty of the scene. I’ll never forget the bosses daughter running around the complex shrieking, “It’s snowing…..it’s snowing!”

One memory married to another, like stepping across stones in a garden pond.

Another day, long before I moved, my Mom and I went to visit the home of one of my friends. I don’t think she was home but her Mom was. We sat in her spotless and scrubbed kitchen visiting with the rain pouring down outside and the hum of the dryer coming from her laundry room. For some reason, the warmth of that kitchen remains with me all these years later. It was an “all is well” for right now moment.

Maybe what we should try to do is cultivate more of these “all is well” moments. It comes down to a choice of either being wrapped in worry or peace at any given time. Jesus spent a lot of time telling people not to worry and not to be afraid. Somehow that comforts me. His disciples must have been worry-worts and fearful sorts just like me.

Maybe the best way to practice our faith in a way that is most pleasing to God is by cultivating an “All is Well” mentality in an “All is Not Well” world. Because if we really believed the words of the Book, we would know that everything is really going to be alright in the end.

Moment by Holy moment.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;

If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;

Yet what can I give Him? I can give Him my heart.

Christina Rossetti

No Wiggle Room in the Beatitudes

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Yesterday I wrote a post. It was after I had read something that fired me up a little. But after I posted it, it didn’t feel quite right. I felt a bit unsettled the rest of the day. And a friend’s comment made me think, (Thank you Mark). Sometimes we get off track a little because we just want to say what we want to say. And sometimes all it takes is a thoughtful nudge to get us going in the right direction again.

I have since taken the post down, but the gist of it was that I didn’t think we had an obligation to pray for our leaders when they are corrupt. Rethinking that position, I think that maybe we need to pray for them even more. The reason why is because when we do that? We get fresh healing ourselves.

So today, I go back to those crowds and that dusty road where Jesus walked in the middle of the throng, and I imagine myself as the woman pressing against Him reaching for the hem of His garment. You see, she had no illusions. She knew she needed healing. Sometimes I forget I still need it to.

This morning as I leafed through the pages of my big old marked up red Bible, the one I reach for when I need to remember when it was all so exciting and new; and I heard Jesus voice ringing through the hillsides when He preached that famous sermon on the mount known as the Beattidudes.  And surprise, surprise……I found no wiggle room there when it comes to love and forgiveness. No wonder those words seemed so radical back then. They still do.

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Matthew5:43-45

Even Isis, Lord? Even those who might seek to do me or my family harm? Even those who misunderstand what I am trying to say, who misinterpret and twist my words? Even someone who might even kill someone I love? Even them?

The answer is always the same. Yes. We are called to love and forgive. Anything and everything. Because He did.

He forgave me everything, and He intercedes for me even up to this very day, and pours fresh grace into my life, even when I make bad choices. He has filled me with His Holy Spirit who enables me to do the impossible. I think of the laundry list of things I have neglected to do for Him, times I have turned the other way when someone who glanced my direction may have really needed a kind word.

All the things I said I would do tomorrow.

I am humbled afresh today. I think it’s possible to stand down for peace even while holding up your convictions. The Beatitudes have taught me again how far I have to go in that direction.

Holding onto His hem today……….all I need is one touch.

Jesus got up and began to follow him, and so did His disciples. And a woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years, came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak; for she was saying to herself, “If I only touch His garment, I will get well.”……Matthew 9:19-21

The Universal Language

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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.

In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
    It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
    like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
    and makes its circuit to the other;
    nothing is deprived of its warmth.

Psalm 19:1-6

If you’ve ever spent any time in nature, any serious study of it at all, it would erase all doubt forever that there was a God who set it all into motion. King David spent much of his youth outdoors, many nights out under the stars watching over his family flocks. His writings reflect that. Some of the most beautiful passages of Scripture come from the Psalms. I truly believe one of the best thing parents can do for their kids is give them an early exposure to nature. I will be forever grateful that my childhood was filled with camping trips and days spend by the sea.

And think about it, nature really is the universal language that God used to try to get us to look toward Him. Some people still miss Him entirely. They are so dazzled by nature that they forget to keep looking further to the One who fashioned it (and them) all together in a perfect symphony of rhythm that repeats itself day after day. Night after night. We just have to open our eyes to see it. And keep seeing it.

Sometimes when the world makes no sense, I go out and gaze up at the moon. It reassures me that God is still in control.

The Father, Son and Holy Spirit worked together in perfect unison and spoke it all here out of a great love. Everything we see here is because He loves and continues to love.

And everything we see that has marred His great creation is because we have failed to love.

C.K. Chesterton had it right:

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister.”

The Encounter: Road Trip Stories

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“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so, some have entertained angels without  knowing it.”  Hebrews 13:2

It was one of those spur of the moment stops. The kind we said we’d do when we planned this 3800 mile road trip. We turned down a road because I was enamored of the amount of vegetation, and the promise of a stunning view at the end of the road. Oregon held shades of green that we just don’t see in Arizona and we made many stops along the way. We turned down a road that had a marker for the Pacific trail and winding our way down to the bottom we saw a hiker who seemed to be in distress.

He was carrying a backpack but not an overly large one, certainly not large enough to spend nights in the woods. He made a motion for water and Elaine rolled down the driver’s side window and handed him the bottle we had. He looked spent. As he gratefully took it, he looked back up at Elaine and said, “Thank you, for giving me that, I will watch over you.” We wound our way down to the bottom and captured what vista we could with the encroaching fog.

But the view on the way up was what stunned us. It was as if the Heavens opened.

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We looked for our hiker on the way back up the road, to give him some bread we had, we would have passed him since he was coming down when we were going up. He was gone. There was no trace of him…….I asked Elaine, “When you looked in his eyes did you feel something?” She said yes. Was he an angel in disguise? We may never know this side of Heaven, but two things happened on the way home that made us think maybe he could have been.

Later that day, we rounded the corner and saw a car have flipped end over end on the shoulder of the road. Let me just say. If this had happened on any other stretch of the road he wouldn’t have survived, anyone who knows Highway 1 on the Pacific coast knows those cliffs that dip their toes in the ocean. And if we had been directly behind him? I don’t like to think about it.

The car was resting on its smashed roof with the tires in the air and the driver was somehow outside the car. He was walking around it stupefied, leaning on his cane and smoking a cigarette taking pictures of the damage. We asked him if he had called already and he said he had. We continued on with our flashers to warn other cars, which did the same. There was no safe place to pull over.

The second close call came on the freeway on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Traffic had just started to move after being gridlocked and we were moving at a pretty good pace, as well as we could with heavy traffic in all lanes. Elaine saw something fly out of a truck ahead and immediately there were brake lights all around. There was nothing she could do but slam on the brakes and hold the wheel. She had to do some fancy maneuvering but even so, there was nowhere to go. We waited for the impact from behind, but thankfully it never came. Thankfully, everyone was paying attention.

The red couch landed in the lane right next to us.

After asking each other if we were okay, we took a deep breath, said a prayer of thanks and went on out way.

But not without thinking about our encounter with the hiker the day before.

This morning thought about it again as I said another prayer of thanks for those times, and all the other times where I am sure that before the Grace of God go all of us.

“For it is written, He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you carefully.” Luke 4:10

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