A word to the wise…

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Wisdom teeth are interesting. They’re the last of our teeth to emerge (somewhere between the ages of 17 and 21) but they’re also the most painful and perhaps the most useless.

They tend to be impacted… meaning the tooth is blocked as it attempts to push through the gum into the mouth. But, even if they come in naturally, most people don’t have enough room in their mouth to accommodate them. The longer they stay, the more likely they’ll cause pain, swelling, infection, or crowd the other teeth.

There’s only one solution… extraction.

Why are they even called wisdom teeth in the first place? The reasoning was that they appear so late (as third teeth) … at an age when people are presumably wiser than they were as a child, when their second teeth came through.

So… that begs the question… is wisdom always painful and does it automatically come with age?

Well… yes and no. Wisdom is quite often painful and, no, it doesn’t automatically come with age.

The dictionary defines wisdom as “the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment”… things that take time and, often, trial and error. It’s rare that we acquire wisdom when life is going well. But, that’s not to say that wisdom is always the result of age or experience.

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Wisdom isn’t simply intellect, intelligence, or knowledge. It’s the ability to use what we know, or have learned, to think and act in such a way that common sense and good judgement prevail. We also gain valuable wisdom by surrounding ourselves with wise people. But, to gain the best kind of wisdom, we need God.

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Why God’s wisdom?

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Do you know someone who stands out because of their wisdom? Someone you look up to for that reason?

You can be that person.

It’s never too early or too late to seek wisdom.

So… go for it.

Wise up!

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Gentle to the max…

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A few years ago, I had a rescue dog named Max. He did not have the best life for his first 5 years, having been owned by an alcoholic and kept tethered outside. He was sometimes beaten, and his body bore the scars.

He would invariably figure out a way to slip through his collar and make a run for it but also invariably be picked up and taken back to his owner.

Except for the last time.

In the fall of 2009, he found himself at a rescue shelter, where he was adopted out and brought back… three times in short order. The note on the door to his enclosure simply said ‘too much to handle’.

Out of chances, he was scheduled to be put down the first week of January 2010. I came to the shelter the last week of December 2009.

I hadn’t planned to adopt a dog that Christmas. But, when I set eyes on Max, he was sitting quietly against the back wall of his enclosure with his ears back and a green stuffed toy in his mouth. I could sense his anxiety. I could also sense a kind and gentle soul. I could feel my heart tugging in his direction.

I decided to think about it for a couple of days. But, as I walked back to the car, a dog appeared and ran to the end of the fenced-in area to quietly but expectantly wait for me. Realizing it was Max, I bent down and put a couple of fingers through the fence. He immediately dropped to the ground and started gently licking my fingers.

Within the hour, I left the shelter with my new dog.

I can’t claim that it was an easy transition. He not only had to adjust to being an indoor dog, he had never been walked on a leash before, and he was a husky lab shepherd mix who needed a ton of exercise. He also had anxiety issues. Complicating matters was the fact that his previous owner was French, and so Max didn’t even understand English (something I didn’t find out for over a year… and it explained a lot!!). He was also seriously underweight, at only 45 pounds.

But, slowly but surely, we both adjusted. His anxiety lessened, his weight increased (to 78 pounds), and we fell into a routine of 3 one hour walks each day. His kind, funny and quirky nature overshadowed his occasional displays of stubbornness.

The one thing that consistently impressed me was his gentleness. In the beginning, he was so hungry that he would go crazy at the mere thought of food. But, even then, he would always take any treat ever so gently between his teeth, always being careful never to bite down on my fingers.

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The best illustration of his gentleness had to do with boiled eggs, his absolute favorite treat. He would gently take the egg into his mouth and then run down to the mat in front of the patio doors. Sometimes he would come and sit beside me, and we would both consider the egg as it lay there on the mat. Other times, he would just lay beside it, as if standing guard.

When he was finally ready, he would take the egg into his mouth and roll it gently around until, seconds later, he would deposit the yolk – fully intact – back onto the mat. He always made sure that I noticed and then, and only then, would he eat it.

Personally, I think he liked to prolong the experience. Savor the moment. Save the best for last.

I called it his party trick. He never got tired of doing it, and I never got tired of watching.

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Just over 2 years after adopting him, Max suddenly took very ill on Good Friday. By Easter Monday, he was gone. A massive intestinal tumor. Ironically, he’d been given a clean bill of health not even three months before. Just before he was put down, they brought him into a private room where he climbed into my lap and started gently licking my fingers as I wept.

He was gentle in life, gentle in illness, and gentle in death.

I marvel that a dog who had experienced so much hardship could be so gentle. It’s a lesson to us all that, no matter what we’ve experienced in life, it’s up to us what kind of person we will become. We can choose to rise above our circumstances and write a different ending.

Be better instead of bitter. Be gentle instead of harsh.

The moral of the story?

Gently, please…

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Oh my goodness…

 

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The sixth fruit of the Spirit is goodness, which was surprisingly difficult to define. For instance, the dictionary defined it as “the quality of being good”.

What?

Since the New Testament was originally written in Greek, to gain some clarity, I looked up the Greek word for goodness, which is agathosune.

Agathosune is defined as “intrinsic goodness, especially as a personal quality, with emphasis on the kindly (rather than the righteous) side of goodness.”

To have agathosune means to have goodness for the benefit of others and not goodness simply for the sake of being virtuous.

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The four gospels in the Bible are filled with examples of Jesus doing good to everyone regardless of their social status, gender, race, political views, or moral compass. He also did good to his enemies. Even as He was being crucified on the cross, His words extended grace toward those who were putting him to death. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.”

Acts 10:38 sums up Jesus’ life perfectly by saying that He “went about doing good”. Jesus was the epitome of goodness.

What about me? Could I be described as being the epitome of goodness?

If I’m being honest, the answer is no. It’s not that I go about doing evil. It’s just that, all too often, I get in the way of my own good intentions. I get preoccupied with my life, my problems, my hopes, my dreams… in a word, preoccupied with me.

Doing good is not intended to be an event. True goodness should be a way of life… just as it was with Jesus. My prayer is that God’s goodness will continually flow through my life so that I will consistently – and habitually – go about doing good to others.

For goodness sake…

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Kindly consider…

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Kindness is something that’s not easy to define, yet somehow everyone knows when someone is being kind… or unkind.

As Christians, we’re called to do two things… love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love our neighbour as ourselves. According to the Bible, “There are no commands more important than these” (Mark 12:30-31 NCV).

Kindness is at the very heart of love, perhaps emphasized by the fact that there’s an actual word that ties the two together… loving-kindness.

The extent to which we are kind conveys the extent to which we love.

Being kind comes at a price. It requires going out of our way for someone else, and that will always cost our time, energy, or resources… sometimes all three.

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This past week, my husband and I went out of our way to do something we really didn’t want to do but something that we felt was important to do for someone close to us. Quite honestly, it didn’t feel the greatest… or even very comfortable. We don’t know if it made a difference, and we may never know. But regardless, it was the right thing to do. The kind thing to do.

The thing about kindness is that it’s what you do whether anyone notices or not. Whether it’s appreciated or not. Whether you’re given recognition for it or not. Because true kindness is never self-serving or self-important.

An act of kindness can be something as small as sending someone an encouraging note. Or helping someone carry their groceries. Or holding a door open for a senior. The options are limitless. We just need eyes to see opportunities because they’re literally all around us.

What’s the payoff?

Kind people are happier. People who focus on others are always much happier than people who focus on themselves.

The bottom line is that kindness is a necessary stop on the road to joy.

Seriously?

Yeah, kinda…

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Perfect peace…

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Peace is an interesting topic because many people want it, few have it, and most don’t know how to get it or keep it.

Peace has been around since the beginning of time, starting in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve never had a single argument, no one was at war, and even the animals all got along. Peace never crossed their minds because they didn’t know a time where they didn’t have it. For one brief time in history, there was peace.

Perfect peace.

But, then sin entered the world when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, and mankind has struggled to keep a grasp on peace ever since, starting when Cain murdered his brother Abel, and quite possibly when Adam and Eve had an argument or two over whose fault it was that God had banished them from the Garden of Eden.

One of the earliest words signifying peace was the Hebrew word ‘shalom’. To this day, it’s spoken by many Jewish people around the world, and even by many non-Jewish people. It’s often used interchangeably with ‘hello’ and ‘good bye’, which reminds me of John 14:27 when Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.”

Shalom.

At the church we regularly attend, after the praise and worship part of each service, it’s customary to shake hands with those around you and speak the blessing, “May the peace of Christ be with you.” To which the reply is, “And also with you.”

I confess it felt weird to do that the first one hundred times or so but I’ve come to appreciate that it’s one of the nicest things we can say to each other. There’s power in speaking peace into someone else’s life, as well as having peace spoken into your own life.

Words aren’t the only way peace is conveyed. For centuries, the dove has been a universal symbol of peace, as has been the olive branch. And, in 1958, a British designer and artist, by the name of Gerald Holtom, designed an actual peace symbol.

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Peace must be important to our well being for there to be so many different ways to communicate it. After all, consider that wars rage, terrorists terrorize, people feud, families divide, and it can be easier to hate than to love. Some people are even at war with themselves, as evidenced by self-harming behaviours and self-hatred.

You don’t have to look very far to find people needing peace.

Peace is elusive but the peace from Christ is perfect. Isaiah 26:3 puts it this way:

“You will keep him in perfect peace,
whose mind is stayed on You,
because he trusts in You.”

Sounds straightforward, eh? Well, in practice, we’re imperfect people trying to perfectly trust God, and that affects our peace. Oh, we can have moments of peace… and maybe even stretches of peace… but then something happens to cause inner turmoil or external turmoil in our lives, and our peace goes out the window, just like that.

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It’s like riding a bike. It’s easiest to ride on level plain, with no obstacles in sight. But, add some rough terrain, a few obstacles, and a couple of steep hills, and it’s another story entirely. You find yourself having to stand up to pedal or maybe you have to get off your bike and start pushing. Sometimes you need someone to come alongside you… either to help push or simply to encourage you.

Someone to help you bear your load.

“Two people are better than one,
    because they get more done by working together.
If one falls down,
    the other can help him up.
But it is bad for the person who is alone and falls,
    because no one is there to help.”

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

But, then there are the sweet moments when you find yourself at the top of a hill. The bigger the hill, the better. And you can just soar to the bottom without having to hardly touch the pedals.

It’s in those moments when you can just enjoy the ride, and revel in the joy of the journey.

Ahhhh… perfect peace…

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For the love of…

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The past couple of weeks have been really good in some respects but really tough in others. Tough enough that my last post for April is only happening on the first day of May.

The details are unimportant but, for more than a year, I’ve had an ongoing challenge with certain people who don’t love me. I’m pretty sure they don’t even like me. My recent discouragement has come from thinking that the tide had finally turned only to discover than I’m somehow farther from shore than ever before.

If I could avoid them, I would but, in this case, it’s neither practical nor possible. So, I have to deal with being actively disliked pretty much every day, and to say it’s not easy is an understatement. I pray a lot that the situation will change but only God knows if it will.

So far, He isn’t saying.

There’s a cost to love… even when it’s reciprocated. It costs us time, energy, commitment, and sacrifice. It costs the same things when it isn’t reciprocated.

It just feels worse.

But, if I consider the alternative, history shows that hate comes at the highest cost of all… our souls. Hate breeds nothing but more hate. If you don’t believe me, just check the news everyday. You’ll find far more reports about hate than about love because love is hard and it doesn’t come naturally. It’s no coincidence that when people choose to love instead of hate, they often end up on Oprah because that reaction is not our human nature.

My own situation alternately upsets, frustrates, discourages, and angers me. It depends on the day, and sometimes the moment. But, I continually remind myself that I can’t live there. I need to choose to rise above my emotions, and be loving.

No matter what.

Period.

That means extending kindness, showing an interest in them, praying for them, and treating them like I treat everyone else. Treating them the same as I would if they were being lovable.

But, let me be clear about one thing… loving others doesn’t mean being a pushover or a doormat. It doesn’t mean putting ourselves in harm’s way or living with abuse. It’s important to set boundaries for another’s behaviour towards us. When those boundaries aren’t respected, sometimes we have to put distance between us and them… both physically and emotionally. Sometimes for awhile and sometimes for forever.

I wish I had this ‘love’ thing down pat but the past couple of weeks have shown me that I have a lot of room to grow. Truth be told, I will always have a lot of room to grow but I sincerely hope the learning curve won’t always be quite so steep.

I know I’ve only been on The Joy Journey since the beginning of April but focusing on love these past few weeks – both the successes and the challenges – has helped me feel more joyful in general.

So, gotta love that…

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Creativity chip…

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All my life, I’ve believed I don’t have a creativity chip because I can’t draw, paint, sew, knit, or do crafts of any kind.  If it involves anything with my hands, I lack the natural ability to do it.

But, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that I’ve been way too hard on myself.  Just because I lack ability in the most commonly recognized types of creativity, it doesn’t mean I don’t have creativity in other respects.

After all, creativity takes many forms.

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Writing involves creativity.  Baking involves creativity.  I can do both.  I’ve also always been able to think outside the box, which is creativity in a different sense.  Maybe I do have some creativity, after all!

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I think the biggest enemy to creativity is believing that you’re creative only if you can do certain things.

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I was one of three kids in my family.  One brother created elaborate things with Lego, the other brother drew elaborate drawings –  mostly of Snoopy – and I wrote elaborate stories – primarily mystery.  Three different expressions of creativity but I somehow convinced myself that my brothers were creative and I was not.

I was wrong.

blog 10Everyone is creative in their own way… some more than others but all are creative nonetheless.

Creativity is imagination… self-expression… something we all possess.  I lost sight of mine for awhile but it’s back in focus now.

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There are things I wish I had a talent for that I don’t.  But, rather than dwell on what I don’t have, I’d rather embrace what I do have.

I’m free to be uniquely and creatively me.

So are you.

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Life is an obstacle course…

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Well, it’s nearly the end of 2013.  The end of a year always prompts me to look back and reflect on the highlights and the lowlights of that year, so here goes.

To sum it up, 2013 has been an interesting year.  And, by interesting, I mean challenging.

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I started the year unemployed (over 3 months), with no fixed address, and no personal life to speak of.  I’m finishing the year with a brand new dream job, a great place to live with a great housemate, and my personal life is better than it’s ever been.true 8The journey in between was often uncertain, often changing, and often obstacle ridden.  I moved twice, had four jobs, and struggled with financial challenges.  In one of my jobs, my personal safety was in question every single shift.  Knives, fists, feet, and even Bibles (I’m serious!) were used as weapons.  I was kicked, punched, swore at, bitten, and slapped more times that I can count.  The fact that I now have a sane and safe desk job in an office with regular hours, vacation and sick time, benefits, and interesting work with a well-respected company is amazing to me.  I especially appreciate it because of all the obstacles I had to overcome to get to this point.

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2013 is ending better for me than any year in well over a decade but I have no doubt that, at least to some degree, obstacles will still be part of 2014.  That’s because life is an obstacle course.

I’m sure you’ve noticed.

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For me, the most important thing to remember is that obstacles are not an end… unless you let them be.  I am determined that obstacles will never get the best of me.  That especially includes the main challenge I’m carrying over to 2014, which is debt.

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The truth is you can always, always, always find a way to turn an obstacle into an opportunity.  I’m not saying it’s easy or that it’s always immediate or that you won’t feel overwhelmed or even momentarily defeated in the process.  I’m just saying it’s possible.  Trust me, I know.

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The key?

Perseverance.

Steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.

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Two things are extremely important in that statement.  The first is steadfastness or standing firm.  And the second is doing something… anything.  Even if it feels like you’re taking two steps back for every step forward, it’s crucial to keep moving because simply waiting for something to change rarely changes anything, if ever.

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There have been times that ‘doing’ hasn’t seemed to bring results after an extended period of time so I’ve had to stop and re-evaluate if I need to change what I’m doing or how I’m doing it or where I’m doing it or even who I’m doing it with.  There is a time to press forward and keep doing the same thing, and there is a time to change direction and start doing something else.  If you’re not sure which it should be, talk to someone you trust.  Wise counsel can bring perspective, encouragement, and moral support.

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I also pray.  I’ve seen prayer change things many times, and in many ways, some of them miraculous.  Prayer also changes me and I cannot overstate the benefits of that.

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I can’t say I’ve always enjoyed the obstacles I’ve encountered but I can say they’ve all had a purpose.  Some have made sense in retrospect while others quite frankly still remain a mystery.  But, I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.  I have grown and changed from obstacles in ways that I never would have without them, and that’s quite possibly the greatest purpose of all.

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I can honestly say I’ve appreciated the high points in my life all the more for having overcome the low points.  No strength without strain.  No pain, no gain. They’re true.

I think it’s fitting to end this post with a quote from the late Nelson Mandela, who knew more than most what it means to overcome obstacles.  He should be an inspiration to us all…

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I think they meant it…

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I’ve been struggling lately with mean people.  One person pretends they’re my friend but then says and does things that are less than kind fairly often. Other people have been hostile or outright mean for seemingly no reason.

The problem with meanness is that you can’t always predict it, expect it, avoid it or reason with it.  That leaves having to deal with it… which, at least for me, is easier said than done.

When people are mean, I think our default reaction runs the gamut from surprised to defensive to hurt to angry.  Our instinctive feelings aren’t necessarily wrong – in and of themselves – but how we respond can be, if we’re not careful.

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One of my favorite books when I was growing up was Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  I really like what one of the characters had to say about mean people.  “Because they are mean is no reason why I should be. I hate such things, and though I think I’ve a right to be hurt, I don’t intend to show it.”

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When confronted with meanness, sometimes it’s best to just distance ourselves from the person or situation but sometimes that’s not possible or practical.  Sometimes it’s wisest to remain silent, or to be kind, or to be diplomatic.  Sometimes it’s necessary to be firm.

Every situation calls for a potentially different reaction but the one reaction that’s never right is meanness.  The Bible doesn’t say that it’s wrong to be angry but it does say, “in your anger, do not sin.”

The only thing worse than dealing with mean is being mean.  It says something about someone if they’re mean to us but it’s says volumes about us if we’re mean in return.

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I’m still working on handling mean people.  I would like to be wiser in the moment.  My current strategy is to do my best to be slow to respond or react.  I would much rather ask God for permission about what to say and when to say it than to have to ask for forgiveness for speaking in haste and regretting it.

I would rather be a Charlie Brown than a Lucy.

I mean that sincerely…

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One step at a time…

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I recently found myself in bumper to bumper traffic, something that is a semi-regular occurrence for me.  I was inching along when a full-sized pick-up truck squeezed in front of my relatively small car.  I instantly felt annoyed, a reaction that I recognized as not being completely rational.  After all, it’s not like I was going anywhere fast.  One vehicle cutting in front of me wasn’t exactly going to slow me down.

After a few minutes, I realized it wasn’t so much that a vehicle had pulled in front of me, it was that a big vehicle had pulled in front of me.  The truck was blocking my view.  I wanted to be able to see down the road, not just to the end of my bumper.  Hence my feelings of agitation…

It struck me how similar that scenario is to our perception of life.  We don’t want any obstacles blocking our view.  We want to be able to see down the road unobstructed.  And we expend a whole lot of energy being impatient with anything that stands between us and that view.

The truck eventually moved into a different lane, and I instantly felt relief.  Nothing had changed about the traffic except that I could see down the road again.  The irony is that I still didn’t know a single thing about what was ahead than I’d known when the truck was blocking my view.

Visibility doesn’t always bring clarity.

A short time later, the traffic cleared just as suddenly as it had gridlocked.  I’ll never know the reason for the delay but, even if I did, it wouldn’t have changed one inescapable fact…

I would have had to wait regardless.

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Life is like that.  You can think you have a clear enough view of the future to know what’s going to happen down the road but, once you get there, you realize it was just an illusion.  Things might turn out differently than you’d thought – either for better or for worse – and you may never know the reason why.  But, regardless, the journey will still most likely take the same amount of time.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that it seems to me that we spend far too much energy living in the future.  I think it would be foolish not to give it any consideration.  But, it would be equally foolish to live there.

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As the Bible says, “sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (Matthew 6:34b).

Huh?

Basically, every day has enough trouble of its own.  So, why not just take it one step at a time?

After all – like it or not – no one has ever been able to do anything but…

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