The Congo Connnection

Who knew that our way to the Congo would be through Kirksville?  Only God.

The way each detail was orchestrated through so many people to end in those moments on July 19 were absolutely incredible.  Bear with me – though this story is long, it is also deep.  To appreciate the final moments, it helps to understand the weeks leading up to it.

Andres and his wife, Esther, are from the Congo. They won a  “lottery,” (scam) that got them to the United States. Once here, they were subject to the demands of the person who had provided the “lottery.” They lived with him, obtained jobs and were forced to give all their money to him. If they did not do so, this man threatened to harm their three children.

One day, Andres was at Walmart when a woman, who he now calls their angel,  (Jan) spotted him. She sensed that she was to help him, but wasn’t sure what he needed or how she could possibly help. It was raining, so she approached him to see what he needed. He responded, “Parlez vous franca is?” The incredible thing… Yes! She does indeed, speak French! (Is it any wonder they call her their angel?)

Thus began the relationship that became a sweet friendship. Over the next days and weeks, Jan gradually learned of the conditions that brought them to the U.S. and the complications of their circumstances. She immediately moved them out from where they were staying, and in with her. She worked tirelessly on their behalf, filling out necessary forms, interpreting and eventually finding them a small duplex that they could rent and some furniture to make it home.

Over two months ago, my friend, Dorothea and I began communicating about when Steve  and I could go to Kirksville to visit her and her husband, Paul. We have known them for nearly 20 years, and though we don’t talk often, and see each other even less often, we consider them dear friends. We decided on the weekend of July 19 and 20.

Meanwhile, back in Salina,  I had begun a journey to get rid of excess in a variety of areas of my life.  My last blog talked a bit about the week that I limited my diet to 7 foods. As  a result, Dorothea messaged me and asked me if there is anything she should cook or not cook while we were there.  I explained to her that the food week was over but that while I was at their house on that Sunday, I would begin the week where I was to give 7 items away per day.  I asked her if they needed anything or if she knew of anyone who did. Her response?  Yes!

She told me a little bit about a family from the Congo who had begun attending their church. Dorothea sent a list to me that the church had emailed concerning their immediate needs.

Part of the list of requested items included: shampoo, bath mat, tp, bar soap, toilet bowl cleaner and brush, paper towels, hot pads, pots and pans, a set of drinking glasses, mixing bowls, mixer, utensils, salt and pepper shakers, canister set, 50 hangers, cleaning supplies and two sets of full size bed sheets.

I got so excited about the opportunity, I told the other 5 gals that are on this “7″ journey with me. They asked if they could contribute items for us to take as well.  In the meantime, we found out the ages and gender of their children and Esther’s clothing size. That was on Wednesday. I told them to have everything to me by Thursday, as we were leaving Friday at noon. All this (and more) was at my house Wednesday night!

Personal Hygiene

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One other thing we found out was that Esther’s favorite color was blue. These two dresses were also part of our offering.

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Dress 1

When we pulled out of the driveway on Friday, the entire back of our car was filled.

Car loadWe were not able to provide everything on their list, but we were amazed that between 7 of us (my daughter contributed a 20 pack of toilet paper and a set of full size sheets!) we were able to provide most of it from what we already had in our homes! None of us bought anything. We gave out of the abundance with which God has blessed us.

On Saturday, we had the privilege of visiting and meeting Andres and Esther and their 3 children! Once we unloaded the car we gathered in their living room, trying to explain through an interpreter, what could only have been arranged by God. We showed them where Kansas was on a map of the United States and for just a moment felt like missionaries to the Congo via Missouri. The children quickly spotted the box of toys and ran off to the bedroom to play. A few minutes later they returned.  When they did, we all joined hands to pray.

Andres lifted his voice and began to sing strong and slow, “Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” We joined our voices with his in worship. Eyes closed and tears fell.  Voices around the circle waned as the emotion nearly stole our strength to sing. He continued leading us in a second verse in English… “Thank you Jesus, thank you Jesus, thank you Jesus, thank you Jesus.” He ended with a flood of prayer, all in French. Throughout it all, I kept hearing, “Merci, Papa”, what we knew to be “thank you Father!” Though we couldn’t understand most of the words he was saying, we fully understood his heart and spirit. It was strong in gratitude, full of adoration to the Father, and humble in spirit. Clearly, it was heartfelt thanks for Jehovah Jireh – the God who sees and makes provision, not just for the things that were provided.

Even as I write this, my words fall short in describing such beauty and I regret that there are so many pictures of the stuff. The stuff was simply the vehicle God used to allow us the absolute privilege of getting to meet this  family. We would have certainly been allowed entry without it, but it was also incredibly fulfilling to get to be a tiny part of God’s plan in providing for them. The time that we spent with them was so pure, so holy and so beautiful that I could not bring myself to pull out a camera to try to capture in a photo what my heart will never forget. At the end of our time together, we took this photo.

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After the worship had ended and they began to look through their things, Andres told Jan that it was Esther’s birthday. Jan communicated the message to the rest of us and we quickly looked through the bag to find the dresses that were given specifically for her. She held one of them close to her with both arms wrapped around it. She needed no words. Then we pulled out the second blue dress. As we held it up, she gasped and said, “I like!” A third dress also brought a tear-filled smile to her face.

I will not quickly forget that Saturday in Kirksville.  I stood in awe of God’s plan. I was humbled that we got to be a part of it. I was reminded that although we think we make our plans, God always has a much bigger picture and purpose. This one had been in the works for two months.  If Jan had not been obedient to that still, small voice on that one rainy day. If Dorothea had not thought of them when I asked who may need some things. If we had started our Bible study one week earlier or one week later… none of this would ever have happened. Dorothea and I thought we were planning what was most convenient for us as we compared our calendars. Only God knew that we would choose Esther’s birthday as the weekend to be there.

We returned twice to their home that day. Once to take medicine for their son, Israel and a birthday cake and roses for Esther, and the second to return Israel’s bike that Paul had taken home to fix for him. The next day when we saw them again at church we hugged one another as if we were longtime friends.

“It’s the joy of the small that can make life large and all wonder and worship can only grow out of small and humble things.” Ann Voskamp

I can’t say it any better than that, Ann!

Abundantly Blessed by His Goodness,

DebbieSignature

 

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Getting Uncomfortable

I have recently begun a journey with a few of my friends. We just finished our first week of a real-life experiment. We are choosing to be uncomfortable.  By the time the nine weeks are over, we will have attempted to grow outside of our comfort zones and have a better understanding of the world around us in a variety of areas.

The first area we tackled was food.  For a week we chose to eat only 7 foods.

Before I began the week, I said to myself, “I can do anything for a week.”  You may remember my last post – yes anything when it’s my choice and on my schedule. Sure, I’ll sacrifice when it’s on my terms.

So I chose 7 foods that I would eat for the week: chicken, eggs, rice, beans, brocolli, apples and bananas. It wasn’t real well balanced. There really weren’t any super foods involved.  I just knew it would be doable.

As the week went on, my mantra changed. Though this was a sacrifice of sorts, it wasn’t really. I had the privilege of being able to eat 3 meals a day, a couple even in restaurants and snacks (an apple or banana) if I wanted.  I still live a life of privilege and abundant choices. I drank lots of clean water. As each day went on, I was more and more mindful of all the people who do not have the choice of whether to eat or not. I thought of all the other people who do not have a choice in what they will eat.  I have many more choices than so many, based solely on where and to whom I was born. I was not about to complain. I stopped saying, “I can do anything for a week” because it sounded kind of pouty and far from humble.

The results from the week were varied.  Most of the week I didn’t feel well, even though I got to eat.  The departure from the standard sugars, caffeine and whatever else my body was used to but wasn’t getting , gave me headaches, and various other aches and pains. On the other hand my spirit was more sensitive and my emotions were raw. I cried easier (could that even be possible?), and thought of others more. Not just far-away ‘others’ in distant lands who are starving to death. Others in Salina who are going without. In Salina alone, 61% of our children qualify for free or reduced lunches. There are those in our town who are living in poverty, families one day from homelessness living in local hotels on a week to week basis. Others that I know personally are living dangerously close to the edge of hopelessness.

So, my little experiment was barely a drop in the bucket. I got to say when it started and ended. I got to choose what I wanted to eat for a week. In comparison to others, mine was a wimpy attempt at understanding. For those  Americans who are like me, however, who walk into our kitchens and declare there is nothing to eat, when our cupboards and refrigerators are full, it was a good lesson. I counted the food items in my kitchen. Not counting spices and beverages, I had 244 items.

This is just the beginning of a journey that I am sensing will last more than 9 weeks. It is one I am glad I am taking. There is nothing like doing things differently, upsetting our routines, not getting what we want when we want, to help us see things differently.

“God can give us eyes to see and ears to hear; He can gift us with perspective and wisdom, discernment and mercy. These are His to disperse, and they change everything. In His care, luxuries can become disposable and resources dispensable.”  Jen Hatmaker  – Author of “7″ (the book we are basing this journey on).

Now THAT is worth getting uncomfortable for.  Let it be so, Lord!

Abundance is… the many different choices we get to make in the course of a day.

DebbieSignature

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When All Seems Broken

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about simplifying my life – it seems to be getting more complex.  I have been contemplating selling things for money to meet other people’s needs or giving  my stuff personally, if I have what they need.  I have been happy- even excited to do these things. Recently, however, I’ve realized I’m only really excited when it’s on my own terms. When I plan “to do without” or sacrifice for a purpose, it’s no problem!

The last six months have shown me that I’m not so excited, when it’s not my idea.

In addition to the ups and downs of life, we have had a variety of things “break.”

We were without a home computer for  five months.  Depending on how much you use the computer that may or may not be a big deal.  For us, it has been a big deal.

At work, we were without our printer for over two weeks.  Again, in the big picture of life, it is not such a big deal. But in the daily demands of the job, it was challenging not to really be able to complete anything. I got further and further behind as the days passed. I grew more and more stressed as the time for our tour departures approached.

The air conditioning unit in our home went out. Completely. There was no small part to replace. No minor adjustment or repair.  The whole unit. Major expense. It’s amazing how quickly we become uncomfortable and inconvenienced with no air conditioning when so many others never have that luxury to begin with.

Our dryer quit working. Completely. As we thought back, we realized we had it over 20 years. It served us well. We had no reason to complain. There are Laundromats. Still, we felt inconvenienced.

I was referred to a dermatologist to take a closer look at some suspicious moles. Before the month was over I had four biopsies, each with scars, slowly healing. Broken skin, but thankfully, no skin cancer.

Our daughter announced an unplanned pregnancy. We are confident that what began with despair will end in delight, but there are still broken pieces along the way. Our other daughter also finds herself  “broke” and broken from various choices and circumstances. Though none of it was in our plan, I have learned that none of it takes God by surprise. That is tremendous comfort to me in even the most difficult times.

I understand that so much of what I’ve just mentioned are “first world” problems. We are beyond blessed to have air conditioning, computers, health care, insurance  and a multitude of tools and appliances to make our lives easier. We are privileged to have jobs to pay bills and rich to be able to set aside a bit each month to save for something we want or need.

Nevertheless, I still have had moments filled with tears, fears and doubts. When things don’t happen on my terms, it is easy for me to lose sight of the big picture.

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen

I am reminded that my life, my heart, my circumstances will always be cracked; they will always be flawed.  I am taking some practical steps to let more of God’s light in to my life. I am understanding that the brokenness I have experienced can be a source of light – the very thing that knits my heart together with others and breathes hope into our circumstances.

I am recognizing how rich I really am and how little the ‘stuff’ contributes to my happiness. I am becoming more willing to do without some things that I used to think I needed.  I am certain that the abundant life Jesus talks about has nothing to do with possessions. On the other hand, I’m also learning more about how selfish I really am. How I really do want things done in a way I am comfortable with- on my terms and in my time.

I ask for your patience with me as I  write more about this in the coming weeks.  I’m learning.  I’m a work in progress to be sure. I’m only now in the process of being willing to be uncomfortable.  I am almost scared to say it out loud, lest God hear and make me really uncomfortable.  See what I mean? Like he doesn’t already know my every thought and the motives of my heart.

In these last six months much has seemed broken. In these next six months I will be looking for the Light to shine through.  Maybe you’d like to join me in doing the same in your own life.

Abundant Blessings,

DebbieSignature

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Salina Shares

Yesterday, I got a message from my friend saying that her mom had found clothing on clearance at a local store for $1.00 each.  I decided to check another location and found that they had even more left!  I started filling my cart. With each item that I placed in the cart, I thought about the number of people we will bless this Christmas.

I remembered the money that had recently been given to me for the Easter Party we did in a local park. Everything I had needed had been donated so I set the money aside, and wondered what needs would arise that the money had been supplied for. When I found this clothing, I knew I had the freedom to use the donated money to purchase the clothing. What a blessing that was!

As I was ready to check out, I sent out a Facebook message.  I mentioned the great deal, said I had reached my financial limit, and welcomed any help.  Last night two women got in touch with me offering to contribute money toward more clothing.  Reinforced with that provision, I went back to the store this morning.  I loaded another cart and got to talking with the manager. She told me she actually has a lot more men’s clothing that needs to be put out but that there had been no room.  I joked with her about how helpful I had been by clearing her racks.  She loved what I was doing, took my phone number and told me she would give me a call when she had things to donate. {BONUS!}

One of those who had offered to contribute last night, brought a check by the office where I work.  When I told my boss what was going on, he contributed money too! So today at lunch I ventured out to the 3rd of 4 locations.  They had moved all of their $1.00 clothing outside so I started sifting through for children’s clothing first. As I was looking, a friend of mine walked by with her granddaughter. She had seen my facebook post the night before. She asked me (in essence) how I  budget for these things.  I told her I have just learned that God provides.  She handed me $20.00!

I decided I would restrain myself and just get 25 more items.  I had a coupon for $5.00 off a $25.00 purchase {yes, really!} and  paid with her $20.00.  As I was checking out, the clerk told me that a lady had been in just before me and bought “like 80 items!”  Not five minutes later I got a message from my friend that she had been at that same location and purchased 79 more items! We just had to laugh!

Between the 2 days,  3 of us shopping, and a multitude of givers, we probably have between 350 and 400 items!  I took a couple quick pictures of things that I sorted last night. {Now I just need to figure out where to put it all!}

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I am continually amazed at how quickly and easily God provides at times like this.  I am inspired by the plan that is bigger than we are – the perfect timing and divine appointments. I am always touched by how many people are willing to give to be the blessing.

For months I have been thinking about all this.  I have wanted a way to answer people when they ask who we are with when we embark on these joy-filled adventures.  I have come up with this answer…

Salina Shares 

I have found this to be true.  It is at the heart of what we do. I am blessed to have a variety of people in my life willing to share their time, their hearts, their resources, their paychecks – their lives with those throughout the community of Salina. We understand that we are all neighbors and our lives are enriched by spending time with one another.  In the meantime, if our excess can help meet another’s need, then that is all the sweeter!

Salina has a number of organizations that come alongside to help those in need. We also have wonderful churches that are active in our community and who share in different ways.

So with that in mind, I am in the process of setting up a separate Facebook page for Salina Shares.  I have taken the plunge into Twitter land @SalinaShares to help get information out that way as well.  I haven’t started using either one, but the goal is May 1.

These last two days have been the perfect illustration of what can happen when people come together with like vision, ready to do their part. To all of you who have contributed to this adventure and all the ones we’ve embarked on up to this point, thank you so much!

I Am Abundantly Grateful,

DebbieSignature

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A Full Heart

Saturday morning my car was full.

Among its contents were 100 pouches of Kool-Aid,  8 dozen eggs, a plastic tote full of Easter baskets and serving bowls, an Easter Bunny costume, a dresser (and 2 packs of Depends for the man I’m a guardian for). I wish I would have thought to have taken a picture.  It’s a typical snapshot that pretty much reflects my life these days.  The kool-aid and 8 dozen eggs had been donated by different people for our “Play in the Park”  on Saturday.  The Easter baskets and bunny costume were on loan from another friend for Saturday. As for the dresser, I had been to garage sales and was delighted to find it for my friends!

The truth is, Saturday morning my heart was also full!

A friend of mine and I ventured out toward the park that we’ll play in this Saturday with our community.  We attached invitations to water bottles filled with candy and tied them from the trees and playground equipment at the park.

 

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These young girls came to the park while we were there.  They excitedly discovered the bottles and wore them as necklaces.  They asked if they could help us.  We were about done but told them the best way they could help was to tell all their friends that there would be an Easter Party for them next Saturday. In just a few minutes other kids were running down the street toward the park.

GirlsAlso while we were there a man from the “tucked away” community that I wrote about last year came walking through the park. We started talking and he asked if we were setting up for a birthday party. I told him, no, that actually we were getting ready to have an Easter party for everybody in the neighborhood next Saturday. “For real?” he said. He looked happy and thanked me. I gave him a handful of invitations and he told us he would be sure to tell the kids so that they could come get some of the candy from the bottles.

 

We continued on up and down some of the streets where we have gotten to know people and one particular block that we know is full of children.

Invitation

We saw a family sitting out on their front porch.  I pulled over and my friend jumped out to run an invitation to them.  They remembered us from the past (we call each of our times together, “Play in the Park”), were excited to come and asked us if they could bring anything.  As my friend told me about their conversation I took a deep breath, got goose bumps and a bit teary-eyed.

That is, after all, what friends and neighbors do.  My heart was encouraged. I have never wanted it to be perceived as us doing a good deed for them.  I have always wanted it to be about coming together as one community.

As for providing for a community, well, I am learning, that is not my job.  My job is to step out and do what I’m supposed to. We set the date, gather the people and the pieces of things that we do have and show up. That is all we’re ever really asked to do in life. Show up, give what we have, when we can, with grateful hearts. Show up and let the extra stuff, as well as the extra love, joy, peace, forgiveness, hope (etc.) that God gives us, be the provision for those who need what we have to give away.

I continue to take the pieces of what I have been given and give thanks for it, offering it to Him. God  is ever faithful and does an incredible job providing…through people! I have not made a public request for anything and yesterday came home to this…

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76 cups of fruit, multiple packages of cookies and crackers…and 48 bottles of bubbles!

I am so thankful for the amazing circle of friends that have kindred spirits and vision. I am grateful for their generous hearts that continually give both sacrificially and of their extra,  mindful that there are always those with less.

Next Saturday, children will leave with toys, books, treats and eggs that they decorated themselves. They will have enjoyed music and games, and heard the Easter Story. I pray that the park becomes a place of good memories for those children and families. Most of all, I pray that everyone who comes leaves with a full heart!

Gratefully Amazed At This Process With You,

DebbieSignature

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Plans, Purposes and Prayers

I started to draft this blog weeks ago. For over a month, little has gone as planned.

I’m beginning to rethink planning.

This coming from someone who would prefer everything being thought through, executed with ease and ending with fruitful results.

I work for a tour company that plans tours for groups. We arrange a lot of details. We reserve the hotels, schedule the restaurants and sites, even plan where we’ll take  breaks. It’s practically perfect on paper.  Then the travels begin. We cannot plan for weather conditions, mechanical difficulties with buses, flight delays or cancellations, illnesses or accidents. It is all part of the big picture that we have no control over.

There is always a bigger picture.

There will always be times we do not control the plan.

It seems the things that upset us the most are when things don’t go according to our plans. We get sad, confused, disappointed, or even hopeless when our plans don’t work out.

What if we pursue our purpose and not our plan?

The tour company that I work for has a byline on all their literature: “Travel the World With Friends Creating Enriching Experiences.” That is their true purpose. So when weather conditions, delays, or unexpected circumstances arise while on tour, we continue to nurture relationships and create enriching and lasting memories – even if it is Plan B!

I can’t say I know the grand purpose for my life. I do know, however, that part of it is to be a blessing.  Another part of it is to encourage others. So the byline at the top of each of my List of Things to Do says, “Live Simply, Love Lavishly.” It is something I have purposed in my heart to be a criteria for my daily life.

On the days where I don’t cross any of the things off my list of things to do, I still check to see if there were times in my day where I simplified my life, or someone else’s. I ponder whether I took the opportunities to love others lavishly.

Even then… there’s a higher plan, that we don’t always see.

Can I just confess, that today, even as I finally try to finish this post after a month of trying, I am in the midst of nearly overwhelming circumstances, none of which I would have imagined a month ago? There is little I can ‘do’ about any of them. And because much involves my family, I have to yield to God’s plan for them and let go of my plan for them.

What if we pursue prayer and not our plan?

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.  Isaiah 55:8

The truth is, His thoughts and His plans are not ours. His purposes – that “big picture” is not always in our view. Our plans can not trump His plan. Our prayers do not change His heart.

I have learned, however,  that my prayers change my heart.  He gently transforms my will, my emotions, my desires, and helps me to accept His plan, seen or unseen, as good. We can not  change people or circumstances, but in prayer we can move from people wrestling for control to people resting in His plan.

Years ago, when our oldest daughter was a baby, I was fortunate enough to be able to stay home with her. We had established a daily routine.  One day, anticipating that she would awaken from her nap any time, I began preparing her bottle. While I was in the kitchen, she began crying in the other room. I knew she was hungry and was in fact, already preparing to meet that need. That was of no comfort to her as she waited impatiently to see my face at her door. She could not comprehend that I had a plan set in motion to meet her need before she even made it known.

I’d like to think I’m further along in my Christian walk, but I still stress, cry,  fuss and whine when things don’t go my way or I don’t see the plan set in motion to meet my needs.

I should know by now that His plan is already set in motion. I just need to trust.

So today, in the midst of the fear and uncertainty and all the problems that have presented themselves, I choose to believe that His bigger plan is the best and that He who has begun a good work in me will be faithful to complete it.

Still Learning to Trust With You,

DebbieSignature

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Inspired and Influenced

There is a woman at church who stands through all of worship whether or not anyone else is standing. Because she can. She speaks slowly and deliberately, with strong opinions and deep compassion.  Words do not come easy but all the thoughts are there. She can’t remember her address but can show you the way to take her home. Our pastor told me that she told him he needs to be more patient. He smiled, agreed and says he knows that is true.

She was in a horrific car accident a few years ago. Her baby died in that accident. She lost part of her motor skills and part of her ear. Her husband divorced her. They told her she would never walk or even stand again. But she can. And she does.

She stands in the front row at church every week, with her crooked, shy and beautiful smile and gives Him praise for who He is.

Just down the row from her is a developmentally delayed man who sings loud and long. He may be a verse  behind the rest of us with each song, but I have a feeling that his spirit has most of us beat by leaps and bounds.  He points one finger up to the sky, as if to remind God he is singing to Him. He reminds us  all  who we are singing to.

Last week for whatever reason, there were not enough communion servers in our Saturday night  service.  Seeing this, a man with a withered hand and a severe limp, made his way to the front to help serve communion. Every year, he goes on our church missions trips, overlooking the obstacles – instead, always ready to help however he can. I have always heard he is one of the hardest working team members.

Last weekend we attended the funeral of a 50 year old teacher and coach who looked the picture of health. He was an inspiration to so many students, athletes, parents and peers. No one could have imagined that his life would be cut so short. He was strong. He was determined. He was fit.

Every one of these people have inspired me. Every one of them reminds me that we can not look at another’s outward appearance to know the depth of their character or the level of their influence. My two friends who sit on the front row and worship with abandon, not caring what anybody else thinks? They have powerfully influenced me. The man who stepped forward to help serve communion? I had him in a class I facilitated at church. He is humble, teachable and deeply thoughtful. He is quick to listen and slow to speak.

The funeral last weekend? A vivid reminder that we are to live each day to the fullest; that we are to love each other as best we can, and that there is no excuse not to.

We know God does not look at our outward appearance but looks at our hearts. I can clearly see why.

Abundance is: the ability to give thanks, despite the circumstances and regardless of our limitations.  Because we can!

Doing What I Can With You,

DebbieSignature

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