Bob Goff, Keith Green & Gratitude

“We’ll know we’re living gratefully by seeing how our love multiplies itself in the lives of the people around us. People don’t follow vision; they follow availability.”

-Bob Goff, founder of lovedoes.org

Last week I rewarded myself for five days straight of computer-gnashing a.k.a. book writing, by getting a pedicure. I dropped into my usual place downtown, grateful they had an open chair. Deciding to switch up my summer electric blue, I reached for a new color before I sat down, something closer to candy apple red, in honor of fall.

Instead of tapping on my tablet, playing Words with Friends (where my brother and sister always beat me), or checking Facebook, Instagram or email on my phone, I vowed to just be available, focus-wise, and opened the magazine in my lap.

As it turned out, there was a new gal taking care of me that day and we didn’t have any kind of conversation, per se. Instead, I found someone speaking to me through the pages of The Magnolia Journal (Joanna Gaines’ inspiring print endeavor).  The piece I read was entitled, “Time for Gratitude,” by Bob Goff. The article began with Goff’s retelling of how he wrote a letter to Keith Green one year when he was in college. And how Keith took the time to write him back.

Keith Green was probably one of the best-known Christian musicians in the late l970’s and into the 80’s; his music was a huge part of my newfound walk as a Christian.  Back in the day when the Jesus Movement was bursting the seams of Southern California, many, many musicians and singers were also being birthed. Every other weekend there was a Christian concert of some kind. (Free, I might add).

My husband and I were living in a Christian community at the time and the leadership decided to organize a weekend-long Christian music festival. Keith was invited and just like that, he and his wife Melody drove up to our Central California location, sharing their life and music with us.  Keith and Melody were part of a Christian community similar to ours in Southern California. We shared several conversations with them over the weekend about what it was like working and living in close proximity to brothers and sisters. I will always remember how the two of them took time to speak with us, exuding grace and giving, embodying the way Jesus would live.

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Goff continues, “Keith Green passed a few years later in a tragic airplane accident, but the few intentional moments of his life he gave to me blossomed into a pattern that has changed the way I connect with people who reach out to me.

“Each of us is a conduit of love … We have the ability to shape and transform one another thought acts of love. The reason is simple. God doesn’t pass us messages; God gives us each other.”

The words seemed to shout from the page, leaping right into my soul. “Yes! That’s how I feel.” I want to live with a grateful heart, available for those God connects me with in my corner of the world, living as a conduit of his grace and love. I want to live a grateful, expansive life, welcoming those God puts in my path, and pour out the gifts He’s given me.

That’s my want-to, an everyday, regular-Joe kinda gal, but sometimes I imagine my life as an Uber-Famous Author, Speaker Extraordinaire. Well-known. Important. I waste my days living into the future, unaware that the simplest acts of slowing down and being thankful for right now where I am can help me pay attention to the life I already have.

With my eyes ever forward I miss what’s already in my life instead of being thankful for the small but important ways I can take time now to live well. I want to to be intentional about noticing my neighbors, knocking on a door when prompted. I want to be attuned to blue skies and lovely breezes, knowing that both are from the hand of God.

All of life is from the hand of God, really, even pain and loss. Especially pain and loss.

Goff’s wisdom continues, “Pain isn’t graded on a curve. Whatever form it comes in, it just hurts. It will either take us out or lead us forward. Let gratefulness be your trusted guide. Follow its footsteps and it will lead each of us to kindness, patience and wisdom.”

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-Yosemite National Park, 2015

There are byproducts of gratefulness, changing our hearts to see all of life through the lens of Gods grace. I want to see the big explosions and the tiny miracles, too. “We don’t need to fire off a thousand fireworks to express our gratitude. Sometimes lighting one candle will do.”

“People who live their lives filled with gratefulness see more waterfalls.” 

I want to see more waterfalls and light more candles.

Join me?

 

#On Beauty, Books & A Birthday-A Photo Essay

No matter where I live, I recognize the song of a red-winged blackbird. In rushes near the shore’s edge of a California beach, along the canals and waterways in the San Joaquin Valley, the tall grasses along a Louisiana bayou or deep in marshes along Washington’s coast, the voice of the songbird is the same. There’s a trilling like no other, punctuated by startled flight and appearance of dark black wings dotted with a circle of scarlet. Once you hear the voice of red-winged blackbird, you will know it anywhere.

When I first began this blog, I was introduced to a writer whose work became a song of a different kind, with words that sang and soared right off the page. My friend and I have swooned over this writer’s work for several years now. We compare notes about the ways in which she speaks to the depths of our souls, the longing we share for rich literature, the tapestry of language that weaves the glory of God’s kingdom into a piece.

I recall sitting in my living room last year reading one of Lanier Ivester’s essays, “Songless.” I had a printout in my hand and the piece featured the color print of a red-winged blackbird. When I finished, I sat for a few moments in silence; I was literally struck speechless with the way the words were woven together.

I can either do one of two things when I encounter writing that is lightyears beyond mine (don’t we all have a different measure of what “better than I can do” looks like?) I can either throw down my pencil or close my laptop and give up. Or, I can drink from the rich deposit in my soul, be inspired to go on in my own work, and keep looking for beauty, order, design, clarity, whatever facets of God’s creativity I’ve been given to show to the world.

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I’m turning sixty five this week. It’s a daunting milestone and one that is bittersweet; I’ve officially lived ten years longer than my mother. Cancer took her at 55 when I was in the throes of raising two children who now have children of their own; I miss her a great deal. Turning 65 also prompts its own kind of contemplation—what is my contribution to the world? Have I achieved my dream(s)? What legacy am I leaving? Is it too late to make a difference?

I set out at the beginning of this year to write a book about the season of Christmas. When I discovered that Laura Ingalls Wilder published her first Little House book at the age of 65, I was greatly heartened. So, for my birthday, I’m giving the world a book. Sort of. Living the Season Well-Reclaiming Christmas won’t be released until the end of October some two months or so away, but it will still be in The Year I Turned Sixty-Five.  

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Besides birds and a book and a birthday I’ve also been contemplating the stunning beauty of blown glass.

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My sister visited recently and we wandered through the Chihuly Glass Garden in Seattle. Chihuly’s work is housed inside in quiet, cavernous rooms and outside in wide open, bright spaces.

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The glass sculptures that took my breath away were those inside, where uplighting pierced through each installation and shone through the dark in glittering rainbows.

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We were spellbound. “How does someone even dream up these ideas? Where does this kind of creativity come from? I could never do that.”

No, I can’t. But I can visually absorb the power of each piece, the scale, the variety, the brilliance. I can let it soak in just a little bit then take it as fuel for inspiration. What kind of creativity can I bring to the world? What’s in my hand? What’s in my heart? What’s in my head?

In 1699 Jean Haudicquer de Blancourt wrote a book about glass blowing which uses ashes, not sand. (I have no idea how old he was.) “The art of glass: showing how to make all sorts of glass, crystal, & enamel” details in great length the way to transform beauty from the ashes of hearths and homes across de Blancourt’s native France. People looked beyond what they saw in their chimneys and someone figured out a way to melt it into glass. Glass which provided people with a way to see.

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I began this post telling of a writer whose work is a tremendous inspiration to me, someone who finds beauty in ordinary things like gathering color from her garden or sharing a cup of tea. In a tragedy that defies all that makes sense, this beauty-bringer recently experienced the loss of her 100 year old farmhouse when it burnt nearly to the ground. She and her husband were left with ashes.

In the shock and trauma that have followed since then, the community of writers whom she calls friends have rallied around her–not by sending cash or showing up to help rebuild. No, many of us sent a gift for her soul—lovely china tea cups, plates and saucers for daily use. While time perhaps does not allow for the ‘taking of tea’ in this season, and indeed might seem a preposterous undertaking given the weight of the tragedy she’s endured, Lanier believes that beauty matters. The pattern on L’s new tea set? The Phoenix.

It is good for us to stop and enjoy the weight of God’s glory that shines in the sway of flowers in our garden, the glance of sunlight on the water or birdsong out our windows. We also can live as purveyors of goodness and beauty, shining our own gifts through the ‘glass’ God gives us.

Can you draw or paint? Write a song, play a tune or dance?

Have you a pen in your hands you can yield to God as you write through your pain?

Is speaking your gift?

Bring beauty from your ashes, write the words, fashion a glass and help us see. 

*****

Lanier’s post “Songless” is here.

 

How Books Saved Me

Some of the most delicious morsels we consume are not the meals we partake of but rather the nourishment of words which speak to our souls. When you are the oldest of five children with alcoholic parents, life is tenuous and uncertain, to say the least. Rocky around the edges and loosely glued together by the basic threads of food, shelter and clothing. Although my stepfather was often either unemployed when I was growing up (“I’m just in between jobs”) or underemployed, we did not go hungry.  God, via neighbors and friends throughout my young life, saw to it that we had enough to eat.

But the meals that really saved me soul-deep were the feasts I found in glorious stories, words that took me away from a chaotic and crowded household to a world of people and places that shone with beauty, peace and plenty.

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Nobody worried about ‘personal space’ when I was growing up—it would be decades before people considered that a thing. Whenever we traveled somewhere in Southern California circa 1960, we’d pile into the family station wagon, drawing invisible lines down the middle of the bench seat. Thus we claimed our personal space. There weren’t even seatbelts then to contain us.

Around the age of twelve or thirteen I was often left to babysit my brothers and sisters while my parents stepped out for the evening. (Times were different then, yes they were). When I was in charge, I simply left my siblings to play on their own while I escaped into the pages of a good book. (No one died. We are all still friends.)

During the long, slow summer days when everyone was at home, if I wanted any peace and quiet at all, I retreated to my bedroom with a book. There, away from the clamor and chaos, I could dive into the pages of a story to take me far away. Books became my solace, shutting out the noise and distraction, leading me to a pleasant world full of kind and caring people. I found beauty and gentleness, people who were just like me, getting by on little, yet living with happy hearts. I know this is the time that God planted the seeds of my love affair with words and writing.

One of those lovely books into which I escaped was Louisa May Alcott’s Rose in Bloom(c. 1876), a sequel to Alcott’s Eight Cousins. Rose in Bloom was a very old-fashioned coming of age story “with absolutely no moral” as the author stated in the preface.  The lines I read sounded like a fairy tale; splendor and parties, fancy dresses, adoring young men—all a young pre-teen girl could want.  I got lost for hours.

I also fell in love with Alcott’s classic Little Women and gravitated to the lead character of Jo (my mother’s nickname for me).  The heroine and I had much in common: both of us the oldest, bossy to a fault, and enamored of our absent fathers—Jo’s was off fighting the war, mine-a stepfather-was often away somewhere drinking or gambling.

Jo often dreamed at her mother’s feet of her father’s homecoming; perhaps the story resonated so with my young girls’ heart because I longed for that to be true as well—that my father would be present in my life.

I discovered Gene Stratton Porter’s classic Freckles which became like a sacred text to me; I have the volume I read as a 12 year old on my bookshelf today. Dreaming as I read, I envisioned Freckles’ cathedral in the swamp forest as a place of quiet wonder.  Freckles crafted a place of beauty from the forest at his feet, designed by God, where he was heard and understood.  Between those pages I found an escape like I’d never known, a place where silence spoke volumes.

I also found a kindred spirit with Freckles— a father who’d abandoned him (as my birth father had when I was five. Freckles had no one but he and God and the stunning beauty of the Limberlost Forest. Although Porter’s story never directly mentioned the Divine, God”s existence palpated between the lines.  I could sense a Presence in her words, the light glimpsing its way into the Cathedral in the woods, the chapters like a song calling me to a Somewhere Else far away. This longing planted the seeds of my search for a father who would never leave me–my Heavenly Father.

There are many other volumes that struck a chord as well—stories like The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, Margaret Sidney, 1881.

“Ben, Polly, Joel, Davie, and Phronsie, and their widowed mother are a loving family, full of spirit and adventure. Ben and Polly do what they can to support the family, but a bout with measles threatens the well being of the entire Pepper clan, especially Joel and Polly.” (from the book jacket)

Five children, an absent father and the measles, a threat to our family I remember very well.  The book had been written for me, I was sure. Another classic was The Boxcar Children, Gertrude Chandler Warner, 1942, first book. A tale of four orphaned children living in—imagine!—an abandoned boxcar, making do with little or nothing.  The common thread of happy children scraping by with little, making the best of what they had; the parallels rang true as a bell.

Through all these ‘bells’, the resonating tune I heard was God’s song calling me through tales of beauty, peace and provision, feeding my soul and tuning my heart to hear His voice. My friend Laura says that “every good story leads to God” and I am inclined to agree. I didn’t have ears to hear until many years later, heeding God’s call to come, a lost and lonely little big girl with an empty heart.

I am still drawn to the classics, the song and rhythm, the beauty of the language a magnifier of the beauty in that other world where I will live some day, with my God who will never leave, the Source of all I will ever need.

Books brought me a sort of salvation, carrying me to my Savior; they carry me still to this day.

What books carried you to the Savior, Jesus?

*****

This is an edited version of  post which appeared in August 2015 for the blog link-up “Literacy Musing Mondays.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

On God’s Timing (and Rejection Letters)

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will

reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

Why does it always seem like the final hours of a long trip last forever when all you can think about is your comfortable bed? My husband and I had just spent a recent weekend with our son and his family so the two of them could work on car repairs; their family van was kaput primarily because of a timing belt.

Clearly life and car repairs mirror each other often—timing is everything.

Now, I have no idea what a timing belt does but I’ve heard my husband moan more than once about the challenge they represent when something is off. I realize we are beyond fortunate that he can repair our vehicles (and our kids’) but sometimes the task is easier than it sounds.

As our tires lapped up the miles in the dark, I began a conversation that would keep Mr. Mechanic occupied while he drove. It was a simple question. “So honey, how’d that all work out with Aaron’s van? Obviously you guys got it running…..”

Thus began an explanation in my husband’s usual animated style, making a long story longer. Smile. I pretended to listen to his response; all I know is he talked pretty much nonstop for at least 30 minutes about pulleys and rotator thingys and notches and tension belts and… Well, he lost me at “top dead center” and “serpentine.” My innocent question prompted way more information than I bargained for.

You get the picture. In fact, I was so impressed with his auto repair recitation, I actually pressed the recorder app on my phone to document the conversation. Feigning attention, I have to confess I had my own running dialogue inside my head. “How does he remember this stuff? He can’t remember six things on a grocery list once he’s gets to the store.”

Then my thoughts turned to timing of a different kind.

I was thinking about writing in particular and the dream or desire of many people to be well known for their words. Since I’m currently working on a book, this is a frequent thought of mine. Imagining my name of the cover of a book, stopping shoppers as they pass by in the bookstore. Oh, the power. The fame. The glory.

Then there’s the other voice in my head, God’s voice via the Apostle Paul, reminding me that all good things take time, not just recognition for a well-written book.

Sometimes when you’re doing good, it may be awhile before people notice. Actually, you can count on it. Whether that ‘good’ is everything from sharing what God’s given you via voice or writing, serving others, teaching and investing in your kids or grandkids. The list is a long one of good and noble endeavors.

There’s no magic formula to “success” and if success is what we’re after, we will come up empty. If there’s to be any recognition for our accomplishments at all, they manifest only when we show up and do the next right thing, whatever it is.

And showing up, whether it’s for an audience of 1 or 10 or 100, is what we are called to do with the gifts we have. The holy spirit reminds me often, “what you have came from God to begin with. Just offer it back to Him with an open hand.

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As a writer, I haven’t had a lot of rejection letters (yet) in the short time I’ve been serious about my work. Okay, I’ve had three. I know those “Dear Jody” letters are an expected part of the publishing process, but it doesn’t make it any easier. When I feel a little discouraged, I’m reminded of my hero and inspiration, author Laura Ingalls Wilder who published her first “Little House” book at 65. Sixty-five. I imagine she had a few rejection letters along the way. Talk about perseverance. She then went on to write 7 more books. Seven.

I read a comment recently by a Christian writer who said it took her eight faithful years of writing and blogging until the time was right for her first book to be born. This perspective encouraged me; in fact, she strongly urged new writers to keep a file of their rejection letters as a way to later recall God’s faithfulness when the fruit of their work showed up. I liked that idea; sort of like a paper trail, but the best kind. I’ve got my three.

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Positive results are always about timing—the message I have to share will resonate and reach people when God makes the way for them to hear. There’s preparation that needs to take place first, not only in my life in the process, but in the lives of whoever will read the message. And in the publishing business especially, it is often the simple fact of the words falling on someone’s desktop or laptop, when your gift meets the need and the timing is just right.

An old French proverb came to mind last week when I thought about how we build our lives and our work and our words.

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“Petit a petit, l’oiseau fait son nid.”

Little by little, the bird builds its nest. (from the French)

One piece of straw at a time, some yarn or spent leaves, (eraser dust? wadded up paper?) moss or downy feathers—they’re all part of the perfect environment for something to be born, all in God’s perfect time.

Keep on, my friends, whether you’re writing or painting or singing. Keep plowing, investing, pursuing….for in due season you will reap if you faint not.

Why Your Story Matters

Some friends and I were having lunch the other day, discussing various challenges to find the time to write—caring for children, caring for our homes, talking with spouses, all manner of delights and duties. Then there was the other ‘D’—distractions.

In between bites of fish and chips, I lamented the ease with which I am sucked into all sorts of social media vortexes. That particular morning it was Instagram—and decried the slippery decline away from what I actually set out to do—write an original thought or two, unhindered by all those other voices.

My friend Holly told us about what she called a ‘download’ earlier that week straight from God’s heart to hers—a message that everyone’s story matters, especially the stories of those who feel they have no voice. (She’s drafting a six-week workshop on just that very thing—such a needed message.) Each one of us chimed in with our individual roadblocks to writing and the ways we fall into listening to all the other noisy gongs out there. Then we circled back to the truth–we each have a story to tell that is uniquely our own. Adoptive mom, recovered trauma victim, heart transplant survivor, grandparent and over 60 book author….a vastly diverse group.

When I sat with our iced tea and lunchtime conversation running through my head the next morning, I heard the Holy Spirit remind me what we writers do: tell the world what we know from where we are in our own way. But the white noise of other voices—actual flesh & blood ones, or virtual via Facebook, Instagram or other writers—can drown out the voice of our Shepherd Jesus.

Then I thought of the words about Jesus in John 10:3, “…and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls out his own sheep by name and leads them out.” And verse 4 “…and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.”

I find myself often battling not only the subtle shouts of other people’s words but the shoulds. “I should write about this,” “I should sound like this,” and so on.  But that’s a way of being pushed, not led.

Jesus leads us out, the enemy of our soul prods and pokes and pushes. I want my words to take me where God leads. I don’t want to make up content or manufacture an idea—I have all I need with the life I live to write from what I already have. My life experience is different from your life experience and the way I flesh out my walk with God may be an encouragement to you. I want to write about that.

Another thing about sheep (face it, baaaaa…) sheep are confined; they know their boundaries—and they only go somewhere else when the Shepherd moves them. I often want to be in a different pasture than my own, different circumstances, a better place. But the problem with looking over fences at other peoples’ ‘property’, real or imagined, is I’m left dissatisfied and there it is again, distracted, from the words God has given me to share.

There is only one voice, one vision and one view from where I stand. That’s all I can tell you about. As I stay where I am, nibbling on this ‘grass’ from God, I want to hear Him the way Holly did that day, to get a regular ‘download’ of ideas and words to share. And I remember I can.

When we belong to God we can all hear from Him if we are open to listening. I want to keep tuning into His voice.

What about you?

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My lunchmates and I are part of an online and in real life group called Glory Writers. Find out more about joining us in our Facebook group here. 

A Prayer for America

I wrote this poem the week of the Inauguration and it appeared on my poetry blog ‘another facet’. The words seem fitting again, in this week that we are reminded of our freedom and how we need to look up to our Creator for His help alone.

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I wish I could collect
the light, landing its shadows
on this page as it creeps
ever brighter through the gray.
Pour it out to wash my heart,
salve the wound of this
present heaviness, the sighs
that never end.Hold it lightly aloft, praying
no sharp wind or
quiet, steady breeze
snuff it out, for we
need it so.

Father, carry us,
ferry us through storms,
silent and proud as we
shine hope in the right
direction–people-ward
up ward.

Send us, spread us
like the daily sure rising
of your sun, that moves ever
on into the distant dark.

——
In this holiday week as we celebrate the country’s independence it seems that all manner of circumstances would give us reason to despair. I’m choosing more often than not to turn off the news and turn to prayer over my kitchen sink instead.
May God Bless America.

Everyone Needs Some REST

I wish I could paint a lovelier picture than the one I’m about to share. I’d rather talk about the bright side of summer, the pool party we’re going to tomorrow or my grandkids’ play recital, but the truth is, summer has a dark side, too.

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Here I am propped on the couch with an ice pack on my knee, resting as my doctor suggested after a straining injury. Volume 5 of Classical Favorites CD is playing in the background; I just finished humming along to a selection from Gustav Holst’s ‘The Planets.’ Windchimes on my deck message me along the afternoon breezes and birdsong floats through the window.

While I sit thusly reclined, I also have time to read my mail. There’s a brochure from a non-profit we have supported in the past; they say they miss me. After I read their stories, I realize I miss them, too and my eyes well up with tears.

The letter and brochure in my hand are from REST Ministries—Real Escape from the Sex Trade—an outreach in the greater Seattle area where I live. REST is a partnership between law enforcement and other agencies that rescues women caught in the sex slave industry. Reading about the work they’re doing leaves me an emotional wreck.

The program director’s letter has this quote from a recent resident, “When I called the REST Hotline, my whole life changed. REST has become my family, giving me the support I never had. This place has saved my life, and I didn’t think I could be anything but a prostitute before I met REST. Thank you.”

Women trapped in the sex trafficking industry don’t have the luxury of time to sit and listen to music they love while reclining on a comfortable couch with summer breezes blowing in through their living room windows.

No, they do not.

“Over the last year, we’ve seen our biggest increase in requests for help since REST began in 2009. Over 400 new individuals reached out to REST for help. And in just over six months over 1350 nights of safe shelter were offered.

The brochure tells the story of Alaina. Recruited by a pimp at the age of 16 after running away from home, she was exploited through strip clubs and on the streets until meeting a team from REST.

“I am so thankful that REST came into my life. The help I received impacted me in powerful ways that I didn’t fully realize until much later. Now I want to do the same for other girls who are trapped like I was.”

Here are some of the outcomes REST ministries shared via this brochure in my hand:

  • 3,142 nights of Rest provided
  • Approximately every four days someone new experienced an interruption from commercial sexual exploitation
  • 231 found community through the emergency shelter, the REST house and other services
  • Clients achieved various goals including earning their GED, finding housing, getting a driver’s license & more

REST’s continuum of care goes from “Prevention to Intervention to Restoration.” Their current phase is moving from an emergency center to housing, for which they are asking funds. Hence the Director’s letter; they need money for housing and shelter. For rooms with couches and soft pillows and open windows…and maybe a windchime to hang near the window.

So I consider the disparity of my rich, full life and the darkness that exists in the bright middle of a June day because women are still trapped and enslaved, sold for sex and degraded because of greed. It breaks my heart as it does our Lord’s.

So–I take this broken heart feeling, get up off the couch and head down the hallway. I have some extra funds from an unexpected source—sitting in my dresser drawer for who knows what?

I think I know who.

I think I know what.

I think about now.

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More information about the work of REST ministries is here. Even $10 a month can help. Or find a non-profit in your area that is doing the same good work and pray about how you might support them.