A FRIDAY MEDITATION – Love Stories

If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.” – Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry

Have I told you lately that God loves you and there is nothing you can do about it? Absolutely nothing! That’s it! If I haven’t, I have been remiss in my duty and this can serve as a reminder. Maybe it is me that I need to remind. I need to hear it some days. Right now, that’s every day. The days when I feel unlovable and bored with myself are the hardest. I felt achy and crabby earlier along with feeling a bit unsettled and disconnected. I had to remind myself that this is only feelings and not actually true. I had a class to attend, today, and I had to drag myself around to get dressed. I wanted to crawl back into bed, but I knew I would feel better if I got with it and made myself go. I did. It did. I needed to hear that Jesus loves me no matter what I feel like or how I act.

A section of the Conformation classes that I taught at Trinity a few years ago comes to mind. I had been asked to teach one of the components of the class and I chose Scripture. I had something to say about this. I titled this class “The Bible: A Love Story.” The young people in the class have now graduated from high school and some are off to college. The adults are still around. Several have said that this class was a turning point for them and one of the adults said to me recently, “The Bible is a love story, you know.” Yes!!! I know.

We discussed, from the Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer – Page 853, the section – “The Holy Scriptures.” We also discussed that God did not dictate the Bible word for word. It is a compilation of stories. It is a record of human beings growing understanding of who God the Creator is. We believe that the authors who wrote the stories down were inspired by God as well as were the books chosen to be included in the Bible. These stories have something to tell us. The Old Testament stories point to Jesus, and the New Testament talks about Jesus in the flesh – about the stories he told and the works that he did. Jesus told about love. He said that the 10 commandments – the Law – is summarized by loving God and loving neighbor and then he showed his followers what that looks like. Jesus said that if we want to know what God is like we should pay attention to himself and what he does. He said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father”. Jesus also said that he and the Father are one. The Bible also tells us about the forming, spreading and growing Church. Philip Yancey says, “In a nutshell, the Bible from Genesis 3 to Revelation 22 tells the story of a God reckless with desire to get his family back.” Stories. Love stories. Many stories. Stories like we could tell.

So, you might ask, why do I believe this about the Bible. The answer is because that has been my experience of God, too. You know that I did not always believe that God was love. I fell into the Old Testament thought that God was an angry God and would punish us (me) if we didn’t toe the line. It took some time the be taught by God that this is not true. You have heard these stories before, I imagine, because they were all turning points for me. I tell them often.

I was in my late teens and early 20s when the change began to happen. The first major story was when God miraculously healed our new-born baby daughter. Doctor’s couldn’t do anything for her though they tried, I had a come to Jesus moment with God, people prayed for her and at that moment, she was healed. I know it was a miracle. The doctor (a hardened army colonel of many years) said it was a miracle, but I already knew that. From this, I learned that God hears me and answers my prayers. There is the story about God finding an earring that I had lost and dropping it on my bed with the back still attached. If you haven’t heard this story, feel free to ask me about it. From this I learned that God cares about what I care about. The third story, and there are many more, came when I was studying 12 step programs and read that I needed to make “a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God, as I understood God”. I had always thought that step said to turn my life over to the will of God and since I was just learning about his love, I didn’t know if I could do that. But the CARE of God. He had been showing me that he cares. I could take a chance on that. Stories. I call them “touch stones.” Stories that I can look back on and see that God has always been in my life and has always loved me. He always will and there is nothing I can do about it.

I had the Conformation classes write their own love stories about God. They can also look back during times of unsureness and confusion and remember, it’s a love story. If you haven’t written about your own love stories, it might be a good Lenten exercise.

What does it mean to me now that I’m going through this new trial of having untreatable cancer? Well, God still loves me. He is still with me. He wants to spend time with me. He wants to love on me. He wants me to share stories.

Peace and Good,
Donna

 

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A FRIDAY MEDITATION – Many Gifts

 

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” ~ 1Corinthians 12: 4-7

I have found that when I spend a lot of time staying in my home as I have been recently, there is little that is different for me to reflect upon. However, in going over my week this, several things stand out to me. For one, this was Christmas Week. It started with the Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve on the same day. I’ve been confused about what day it is all week.

We did get out of the house for dinner on Christmas Eve. We went to our son’s house for tacos. Their whole family was there which made a houseful of 20 people from three years old up to us. What a great evening catching up, helping, and eating. Our son took a family photo. Trying to get 20 people in one shot and making it is a great talent, indeed.

On Wednesday, our great-granddaughters and their mother came for lunch. We don’t see them much now that they are both in school, so it was a great joy. Spending time with them was always a source of meditation and reflection for me. Since they were here, I’ve been thinking once again, about how different they are.

The youngest is almost six always has something to say. I think that is why she calls our prayer room the “talking room”. It’s because it has chairs in it she informs me. She is quite a conversationalist and she often will answer questions addressed to her sister. She will do any activity if people are involved, and she can talk to them.

The older is just now ten. She is the quiet one, but she will join the conversation when asked a question, she just doesn’t volunteer information. She would rather be in her room reading a book. When asked what she got for Christmas or her birthday, the answer is always books. She reminds me of me. Or who I used to be.

They helped grandpa (papa) fix lunch – home made tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches – one of their favorites and, come to think of it, one of mine. The youngest gets right in there to help. I’m sure she gave papa a few tips on cooking. The oldest would be happy to help but she needs to be encouraged and invited to join in which she eventually was and did. It was so much fun watching them help papa with cooking, serving, and cleaning up. Such different gifts but what they do fits together so well.

God loves diversity. It has been said that he created no snowflake like the other nor did he create any two us the same. Not even identical twins. Each of us is unique. Each of us has different gifts. Some may be similar, but they are not exactly so. Our gifts equip us to do what God calls us to do.

On our Advent Quiet Day, Fr. Jack reminded us that Jesus gives tasks to his Church to be done by the Church. He reminded us that we each have gifts, uniquely ours, to help with those tasks. He asked us if we were aware of what God’s call is on our lives (it does not always stay the same), and if we knew what our gifts are and where God wants us to use them – in the Church or the World. Sometimes, maybe, both.

I have had many different “calls” on my life but they have mostly been about helping people know God loves them. I have always been in Choir. Well, since I was ten. I was a mom. Military wife. Church School teacher. I was a church secretary and parish administrator. I have worked in a lawyer’s office as secretary as well as doing some paralegal work. I was in a music ministry traveling around group. I worked in prison ministry as music leader, table leader, talk giver, and eventually as Spiritual Advisor. Now, I am mostly working in the Church as spiritual director, writer, and occasional teacher which surprised me. Most of these to help people grow closer to God. I think that this is probably my last call. But I have been surprised before. There were a few things I wanted to be called into, but I can’t even remember what most were. I even considered ordination for a while. That was not God’s call.

How do we know what God is calling? Discernment is part of the answer. St. Ignatius, who discovered and developed a method of discernment, starts with asking, “What do you really want? What is your passion.” I’ll write some more about that next week, God willing.

In the meantime, start with looking at your life. What has God called you to do so far? Do you know? Do you love it?

This is nearly the end of 2018, though I can’t believe it.

I wish you a Happy, Spirit Filled New Year.

Stay Blessed,
Donna

A FRIDAY MEDITATION – Listen!

Henri Nouwen writes, “It is Advent again. In his sermon this morning, Oscar Uzin said: ‘Be alert, be alert, so that you will be able to recognize your Lord in your husband, your wife, your parents, your children, your friends, your teachers, but also in all that you read in the daily papers.’ The Lord is coming, always coming, Be alert to his coming. When you have ears to hear and eyes to see you will recognize him at any moment of your life. Life is Advent; life is recognizing the coming of the Lord.’” ~ “Gracias! A Latin American Journal

Henri also writes, “The word ‘listening’ in Latin is ‘obedire’, and ‘audire’ means ‘Listening with great attention.’ That is where the word ‘obedience’ comes from. Jesus is called the obedient one, that means the listener. The Latin word for not listening, being deaf, is ‘surdus.’ If you are absolutely not listening, that is where the word ‘absurd’ comes from. So, it might be interesting to note that somebody who is not listening is leading and absurd life. ~ “Discovering Our Gift Through Service”

In our Trinity Way of Life, we call being alert and listening, “Pay Attention.” We can not only spend a period each day focusing on God alone in prayer, being with him and listening for his voice if he speaks, we can become alert to God working in circumstances and people around us. Walt Whitman said, “I find letters from God dropped in the street, and every one is signed by God’s name.” But it is hard to be alert and aware of all the ways God speaks to us unless we have that connection with him through prayer.

It is so easy, isn’t it, to get disconnected. We get sick. We get especially busy. We have company. We are company. Right now, we have that shopping, cleaning, wrapping, baking, decorating, planning the big meal stuff to do, don’t we? We’ll have our quiet time later. Why are we doing all this again? But sometimes later never comes. We’re tired. We are out of our accustomed place for praying. Other people are still here. Little by little, we stop being alert and in touch.

At the Quiet Day at the beginning of Advent, Fr. Jack asked, “How is your connection with God going? Does it need to be renewed?” My answer to this question was, “Yes”. That is often my answer. It’s not that I feel disconnected, exactly. It’s just that I don’t sense the closeness, now, that I often do. Finding out that I am so sick was a major shock. My illness had been going on for some time, but I was just beginning to feel that something was wrong and had made appointments with the doctors. So much else had been going on in my life that I wasn’t paying attention to my body. Ending up in the ER in great pain and being diagnosed with probable cancer in three places and perhaps more hit like a ton of bricks. I was stunned. Why had I not known?”

I knew that God was with me, always, but my feelings turned off. I disconnected in a way. I think I am starting to come out of that, but the relationship needs a little TLC. Our Renewal Weekend the end of August came at a good time for me as Fr. Russ Parker came with his words of blessing, healing, and listening. I so need all of that.

For the last several weeks, I have been waking up at 1 am. Absolutely wide awake. I’ve tried to go back to sleep but I am not able to do it. I am totally alert to something. It dawned on me one night that, just perhaps, God might be calling me to spend some time with him. Maybe he has something to say. So, for the last week or so, I have been getting up, at 1 a.m., going to my prayer chair and becoming still – listening. I haven’t heard any particular words, but I have become more aware of his presence sitting there in the semi-dark. I believe that we are renewing our relationship. Words may come later. His presence is enough.

Advent is a great time for reconnecting. So is Lent. So is Sunday. So is right now. So is tonight. So is 1 o’clock in the morning. We get to choose to pay attention.

Lord, help us to rein in all the distractions that bombard us daily. Let us pay our full attention to you. Let us truly listen to your requests. Keep us from the shortsighted absurdity of bestowing our attention on the wrong things. Amen. ~ Henri Nouwen

Grace and Peace,
Donna

 

A FRIDAY MEDITATION – Again Suddenly

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth ~ John 1:1-2, 14

“And, suddenly….”

Advent begins this coming Sunday. How can that be? It would be nice if everything could slow down a little. Advent is a good time to work on slowing down, but why would we want to do that? For one, we would be able enjoy Christmas when it comes, but a major reason for me is that when I am rushing around like crazy, I might miss all of the “suddenlys” that happen when I am not really paying attention, and I don’t want to do that.

God shows up in the suddenlys and life changes – he suddenly does a new thing. We live life doing what we are doing, and suddenly….!

Suddenly, an angel appears to Zachariah and says, “You will have a son….”

Suddenly, and angel appears to Mary and says, “I have news for you, you lucky girl. God has chosen you….”

Suddenly, the baby, John, jumps in his mother’s womb, when he recognizes the Messiah in Mary’s.

Suddenly, angels appear in the heavens singing, “Glory to God in the Highest….”

Suddenly, there is a cross, where Jesus hanging says, “Father, forgive….”

Suddenly, on Sunday, a stone blows away from the door of a tomb and….

Suddenly, a mighty wind fills a room and scared apprentices are changed….

Suddenly, life is changed never to be the same. God is like that.

The burning bush in the Old Testament was one of those “suddenlys”, too. You know that story but let me share a modern one. I was one of the spiritual directors on a weekend when a table leader came to get me. She wanted me to hear a story. One of the women had been wrestling with a calling she felt was from God, but she wasn’t sure. Someone at the table asked her if she was waiting for a burning bush. When those at the table looked out of the window, suddenly a bush was on fire. This bush wasn’t burning up, either. The reflection on the window of a fire in the fireplace of the room made it appear that the bush outside was burning. The really odd thing was that where ever I stood in the room, the lit bush was still visible. Unusual! Out of the ordinary! Strange! The woman answered God’s call. Her life changed and has never been the same.

Sometimes, a “suddenly” comes to me when I am reading the Bible. Sometimes, it comes when I read a spiritual book. The voice of God jumps from the page. Sometimes, while in the shower, He speaks. Sometimes, I realize that the words a person is speaking to me has suddenly become the voice of God. Often, creation speaks – like a burning bush. Of course, God is with us all the time, but when I am running around like crazy, I could miss seeing him. I might assume that what I hear or see is just an ordinary happening. I need to choose how I will respond, because these “sudden” appearances of God have all changed my life in one way or another. I want to notice, so I must slow down in order to listen and watch for him. How about you?

Come, Lord Jesus.

Donna – [29 NOV 2013]

 

A FRIDAY MEDITATION – With Gratitude

 

All day long I hope in Your goodness.

Remember Your love,

The love that You promised long ago.

And the kindness that you

Gave from of old.

 

Refrain: To You, Yahweh, I lift up my soul O my God.

To You, Yahweh, I lift up my soul, O my God.

~ Tim Manion, “I Lift Up My Soul

 

 

 

I just don’t know what to write about anymore. I have a hard time getting my mind to focus. The thoughts that go through my head are full of me.  I’m being so self-focused. How do I feel today? I can’t seem to concentrate or meditate.  Sometimes I’m a bit afraid and I need to give myself a good talking to. People ask how I am and all I know to say is, “I’m hanging in there.” Or “I’m ok.” And I am ok, even when I’m not. This meditation is days late and I had it mostly ready on Friday of last week. I just couldn’t finish it.

 

 When a person is seriously ill, all of one’s days seem to be the same.  Or at least it seems so to me. I can plan to do a certain thing, but I may not feel well enough to do what I plan. Or I might have a doctor’s appointment somewhere.  In the last four months, I have been in the hospital four times and in ER three or four as well. I have said, often, that I try to stay in the moment because that is the place I really live.  I don’t live in yesterday and I don’t live in tomorrow, but really living today is, many times, difficult.

 

I had an appointment with the cancer nurse about two weeks ago and she told me that the doctor is not going to give me the cancer drug again. That’s good because we’ve tried it twice.  I have had two episodes of septic shock while taking it – the second episode was the very day that I restarted it. My last two hospital stays were because of serious reactions to that medication and those episodes have really sapped my energy. The first one nearly killed me. My life now, for sure, is in the hands of God, but then, life really is anyway, isn’t it? I continue to hang tight to the hem of Jesus’ garment. But there are other things I can do.  God things. Jesus things.

 

 I can, and have decided to, take something from each day that comes.  I can focus on where I have noticed the presence of Jesus this day. What has God given to me? What joy? What insight? What sense of his presence? What God moment? What gratitude? What event took place? Perhaps a disappointment. What did God teach me through that disappointment? When in this day was I closest to God? When did I feel far from God or did I? Where did I see light today? When did I give it? For what was I grateful today? Most grateful? In our evening prayer I can, and did, talk this day over with Jesus.

 

Part of this exercise is called the Examine of Consciousness (awareness). This is NOT the Examination of Conscience used for preparation before making a confession. The Examine was developed by St. Ignatius Loyola but I have added some of my own questions for reflection.

 

These last two weeks I’ve been trying to deliberately be more aware of God in my day. Since Thanksgiving was yesterday, my main focus for the week has been on gratitude and giving thanks. Sometimes, when a grateful thing happens, I send myself a note so that I don’t forget these things at the end of the day and can list them.

Included in my list for the last two weeks of gratitude are thanksgivings for the many prayers being said for my healing and for comfort for my family

For delicious meals brought in

 

For a warm fire on a cold, grey day, watching the flames and feeling God’s presence

 

Feeling better and stronger some days

 

Being able to do a few household chores

 

Being able to sing a bit more

 

My voice is stronger

 

Good day with Soul Friends

 

I walked around the block.  Ok, it’s a long block. Without backup.  First time in awhile.

 

 See how much better I feel after just listing some of my grateful things.  I thank God for them and you. If you want to know more about the Examine, let me know,

 

 When you’re looking for JOY, you will always find it hiding in your GRATITUDE ~ unknown

 

 May you find many grateful things the rest of this Thanksgiving week for which you want to thank God. 

 

 Peace and Good, Donna

 

A FRIDAY MEDITATION – It would be easy

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. ~ Psalm 3:3

If things keep continuing as they have been the last four months, I’m going to need to rename A Friday Meditation to A Saturday Meditation. Friday appears to be taken over by the medical people in my life for the moment.

It’s been almost five weeks since I had the serious septic shock episode. I am, finally, feeling a bit stronger. The pain in my back is lessening and my stamina (what stamina?) is increasing by micro amounts. But it is increasing, and I thank God for that.
This has been a challenge on so many fronts.

It would be easy to feel discouraged.

It would be easy to fear starting my cancer meds again even though it is a smaller dose.

It would be easy to worry if the medicine will do anything, now, in this dose even when the larger dose was helping.

It would be easy to be afraid of having another serious episode of something.

These are all within the realm of possibility, but if and when I do go there in my mind, I am nowhere near the present moment where I want to remain. I forget who holds the reigns on this journey. I forget that I am to hold on to his garment, and I lose my peace. I don’t like to lose my peace because I am likely to find myself in the middle of all of the “Why doesn’t God….” or “Why does God…” questions which just aren’t helpful to me.

What is helpful is to remember that Jesus is about loving and about healing. He was about it while he was on earth and he is about it still. He still works what we call miracles and he works through his body on earth the church and those who make up the church if we let him. He works through the doctors that he has called into that ministry. For me, he has already done many healings and savings over the last four months. I remember those and replace my worries with Himself.

Today is the feast day of St. Jude, one of the twelve apostles. Traditionally, he has been called the saint of lost causes or last resorts by those who add saints to their prayer chain and ask them to pray for us in our need. Jude is rather a favorite of mine because of an incident that happened over 20 years ago. Many of you know this story, but it is worth repeating here, I think.

I was on my yearly retreat to Sacred Heart Retreat House. On the grounds there is a statue of St. Jude. I would walk out every year and pray there. I was concerned for a son. This day was the last day of the retreat and I was particularly concerned. As I stood there, a blue bird landed on the base of the statue. He cocked his head one way or another, several times, as he looked at me. Then he said, “With Jesus there are no lost causes.” I have never, either before or since, seen a bird like that there. Only that day. When I got home I learned that our son had killed himself. But I knew that he was not lost. God has him. I remember this story on St. Jude’s day and many other days as well. And Jesus has me. And you.

A few weeks ago, I told about a dream I once had. An image dream of a broken flower pot on the floor behind a bare altar. Dirt was scattered around from the broken pot but a vine was growing from it and climbing up the altar. I haven’t come across the meditation I wrote but I did have a couple notes in my journal. I reflected that the vine was me climbing out of messy brokenness onto the altar where there is regularly bread and wine served – Jesus body for my body. At one time in my life having communion twice a week meant I could make it through the week without hiding in my basement afraid. If I didn’t, I couldn’t. Jesus body saved my body.

Over the last few weeks, as I have thought about this image, I saw the vine as the “Vine” – Jesus. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. ~ John 15:5

The two vine images out of dirt and brokenness becomes one in our brokenness. We are not lost. We are not alone. Jesus broken body is with us in our mingled brokenness and at this place we become his body for the world that is in need and pain.

These stories actually do speak to me when I find myself in worry mode. Jesus has been present in so many ways and so whatever transpires, he will be there and I will hang on to him.

“Many voices ask for our attention. There is a voice that says, ‘Prove that you are a good person.’ Another voice says, ‘You’d better be ashamed of yourself.’ There also is a voice that says, ‘Nobody really cares about you,’ and one that says, ‘Be sure to become successful, popular, and powerful.’ But underneath all these often very noisy voices is a still, small voice that says, ‘You are my Beloved, my favor rests on you.’ That’s the voice we need most of all to hear. To hear that voice, however, requires special effort; it requires solitude, silence, and a strong determination to listen. That’s what prayer is. It is listening to the voice that calls us ‘my Beloved.’” ~ Henri Nouwen

Grace & Peace, Donna

 

A FRIDAY MEDITATION – Not Today

 

LORD, you have searched me and known me!

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

You discern my thoughts from afar.

You search out my path and my lying down

and are acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue,

Behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.

You hem me in, behind and before,

And lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

It is high; I cannot attain it. ~ Psalms 139:1-6

 

 You know that, especially since I’ve been sick, I talk about a lot about staying in the moment.  I know that this moment is all I can count on.  I can’t change the past though I have memories of it both good and bad. I can only project the future and perhaps do some minor planning. Perhaps I may have some influence on it.  God is everywhere, past, present, and future but for the most part he is present to me today. Right now. Today, in the everyday events of my life, God is present.

 

 It would be easy to think that if God is present with us in our day, and if we can stay focused, this should be a great day.  We can hang on to the hem of his robe. We know he wants to heal us. We can relax into that right? But what if this day totally stinks. What if the only thing we can think to say to God, in our present awareness, is “What’s up with this? I thought you were my friend. I thought you loved me.” God listens to our rants but he rarely provides an answer. Some things are a mystery. As I have said before, these are mysteries not to be solved but to be lived.  God has lots of these and he has things to teach us that we need to know, so we trust, at least part of the time that God knows what he is doing and march on.

 

 Let me share a recent day or series of days, really.  It was a stinky day and yet…I’ve been trying to make sense of it for days and it finally started to come together on Wednesday. This happened on Monday, September 25. I had a meeting at the office with two Soul Friends. We had been trying to have this meeting for three months or since I became ill.  I didn’t feel on top of things but I didn’t want to reschedule.  We hadn’t even started our meeting when I became violently sick. I knew I would need meds for nausea and vomiting as well as an ambulance.  I asked my friends to call my husband to come get me. Then it got weird.

 

 Dave got the wheel chair to take me to the car because I couldn’t stand. We got home, the ambulance came and I was in the hospital for five days with septic shock most likely caused by my cancer medication. They told Dave that I was very near death and none of them really expected me to make it. One doctor came into my room that night and said, “Good luck, tonight.”  I thought that a very strange thing for a doctor to say to a patient.   What none of them knew, and what I find difficult to describe, was that I had already made it.

 

 So, let me back up to when I left the church in a wheel chair.  The light was strange and I hadn’t really been able to describe it until now. I’m still not sure that I can. There seemed to be a focal point of very intense white light with rays of blue light radiating from it. It filled my whole vision. The light itself seemed like a star. The star was flashing or pulsating in some way but that image isn’t entirely right, either.  I was being propelled toward it by a force.  My hands were stretched out ahead of me as if I were trying to stop the forward motion. Then there was a greater force that grabbed me back from the light. I saw nothing, I just felt the forward motion jerk to a stop. This great force was loving and powerful. God? The power of a loving God? The power of prayer by His warriors? The power of love? All the above?

 

 Was this light the light that others have mentioned in near-death experiences? Dave and I have talked about some of this.  I remember bits and pieces of what went on around me in ICU.  There was much I do not. My blood pressure was hardly detectable. They didn’t know if they could bring me back.  They didn’t know that God had already made the decision. It was not my day to go.  Not this day.

 

  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. ~ Psalms 139:7-12

 

 

 

Peace and Good,

Donna