Advent reflections… it’s time

Today, on the first day of Advent, I listened to the words of Matthew and heard them in a new way.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“As it was in the days of Noah,
so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.
In those days before the flood,
they were eating and drinking,
marrying and giving in marriage,
up to the day that Noah entered the ark.
They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away.

These words struck me today.  In fact, they hit me between the eyes!  You see, I live in central Illinois.  No flood here.  But, I live in one of the communities that was hit by devastating tornadoes on November 17th just after 11 am.  One tornado touched down just south of us in North Pekin.  Another one touched down not far from my house, jumped over the highway, destroying 30 homes and severely damaging 200 along a path through East Peoria and then picked up again to set down at the category of EF-4 on the south side of Washington.  There, the tornado went right through subdivisions, destroying everything in its path.  The last estimate I heard was over 1000 homes destroyed.   Pictures have been all over the internet, but nothing is the same as seeing it firsthand.

I am thankful that we were not hurt.  Our business and our home were spared.  But, friends have not been so fortunate and that in itself makes this so hard.  You see, that morning of the tornado, I was on my annual silent retreat.  Finishing up the final conferences on the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises and having come to terms with the changes that had been happening in my life.  I was looking forward to coming home and entering life with a new passion and purpose.  I took some pictures along the bluffs of the Mississippi of the dichotomy of the blue skies over the Illinois side of the river and the black, dark, foreboding clouds over the Missouri side of the river.  I was reflecting on how that image was so true of life!  One minute our life could seem so blue and crystal clear while dark storm clouds are brewing on the edges.  Little did I know just how real that image and reflection would come to mean in just a short period of time.

It has been 2 weeks since that day.  I can still remember how I started getting texts from workmates/friends wanting to make sure we were okay.  I didn’t know why they were asking and finally one told me what had happened.  I called my husband to make sure he and my daughter with him were okay and they were.  I was told that I should stay and finish the retreat, that they were okay.  So, I did.  I stayed for the final Mass and luncheon and left afterwards.  As we drove north, I called and checked in with friends and starting hearing details of what exactly had happened.  The more I heard, the more I shook.  When I got home, we ate dinner and prayed as a family and then I went out to start checking on clients and friends who lived in the areas hit.  The ones I knew about at that time.  All I knew about then were okay, just without power and only minor damage.  But, then each day brought more information.  Each day has brought more stories.  Each day has brought more knowledge that nothing we knew the morning of November 17 will ever be quite the same again.

The communities are working together and it is good to see the camaraderie that has come about in the aftermath of this tragedy.  It still takes my breath away with the realities.  There has been some not so good times as well with miscommunication and misinformation.  But, overall, we will survive this.  But, we won’t be the same.

My biggest prayer is that this helps all of us realize the true meaning of today’s Gospel and maybe take it to heart in a way we never have before.

So too, you also must be prepared,
for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.


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realities and struggles of the true union…

A husband and wife are no longer individuals, but are of ‘one flesh’.  Scripture tells us, ”Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”  One flesh means that what one feels, the other feels.  What one does, the other does.  When one sins, they both sin and both need to work together to strive to overcome the sin.  This is especially true of the sins of the flesh that one or both are battling.

Our goal as a Christian spouse is to help the other spouse gain entrance to heaven by helping them come closer to God each and every day.  Sometimes, that means we have to point out their faults and their weak points.  Maybe this works for others, but it doesn’t usually go over well here.  I can’t help but think who wants the person they love to point out all of their imperfections?  Isn’t our dream partner one who loves us unconditionally?  So, shouldn’t they just overlook all of the not so pleasant sides of us?

This is a true challenge in marriage today.  At least, it is in my marriage!

I came across this meditation today on a friend’s Facebook status.  It struck me profoundly as it is a very powerful statement and really speaks to me today.

“We don’t teach meditation to the young monks. They are not ready for it until they stop slamming doors. — Thich Nhat Hanh to Thomas Merton in 1966

The piercing truth of this statement struck me as a perfect way to communicate the endless disguises and devices of the false self. There is no more clever way for the false self to hide than behind the mask of spirituality. The human ego will always try to name, categorize, fix, control, and insure all its experiences. For the ego everything is a commodity. It lives inside of self-manufactured boundaries instead of inside the boundaries of the God-self. It lives out of its own self-image instead of mirroring the image of God. It is that superior self-image which must die.

The ego is constantly searching for any solid and superior identity. A spiritual self-image gives us status, stability, and security. There is no better way to remain unconscious than to baptize and bless the forms of religion, even prayer itself. As long as I am going to church, it is really meaningless whether I close the door quietly or slam the door. A spiritual master would say, “first stop slamming doors, and then you can begin in the kindergarten of spirituality.” Too many priests, bishops, and ministers are still slamming doors, so how can we expect the laity to be any better?

In the name of seeking God, the ego pads and protects itself from self-discovery, which is an almost perfect cover for its inherent narcissism. I know this because I have done it all myself.” – Rohr

When I first read this, I immediately identified with it.  I could easily sit here and accuse others I know (including my spouse) of hiding behind a wall of spiritual self-righteousness.  But as I continued to ponder this truth, I realized that the ‘point’ in this sword of truth is really in my own gut.  I have slammed a few doors in my time, especially when I am angry.  It happens when I allow myself to build up that self-righteous feeling, believing that I am right and the other person is wrong but just too bull-headed to listen or admit it.  I admit to hiding behind my ‘image’ as a good Christian knowing deep down that if those that really know me and know of my sins could speak out, it wouldn’t be all rosy and sweet but rather more like the stench of a road-killed skunk!

I especially find this concept hard in a marriage.  It is so easy to see our spouse’s failings but to ignore our own.  As a spouse, it is our role to help them get to heaven.  So, pointing out when they are ‘slamming doors’ is good — but to do so requires that we aren’t also slamming our own doors in the process.  Our spouse is never inferior to us.  Nor are they superior.  Instead, spouses need to be teammates helping each other tear the walls that get built between them down AND most importantly, it needs to be done in the greatest of humility.

If we are truly one flesh, then a spouse needs to always realize that what splinters they are pointing out in the other’s eye, are really in their own eye as well.  It is so easy to ‘know’ inside when I have done something wrong.  It is an entirely different thing to speak that knowledge for others to hear.  Why is it any different for our spouse?  It should be just as difficult to acknowledge their sins as it is to acknowledge our own.

Honestly, I think this is why so many marriages now end in divorce.  Couples are not taught the true meaning of being ‘one’ and the realities that come with being one.  When hard times come like lost jobs or illness, most couples know they are supposed to stick together.  But what about if your spouse has an addiction to porn or drugs?  Is that his/her problem? Is it really any different from an illness or lost job?  It shouldn’t be different.  But, it sure can seem to be!

The ego is constantly searching for any solid and superior identity.

But, a ‘one flesh’ marriage cannot survive with this ‘superior’ ego intact.  To move to spiritual kindergarten and the true understanding of the ‘one flesh’ marriage, we need to stop slamming doors.

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Martha and Mary….again

The Martha and Mary story has always fascinated me.  It really caught my attention as I became a wife and mother.  I feel so many days like a burdened Martha as I call out to God wondering why it is ME that has to do everything.  Where is everyone else who should be helping me?  I feel that way at times with committees at Church.  I feel that way at work.  And I ESPECIALLY feel that way at home!  Today would be a good example.  I just bought a 3rd car for our family to help with transportation issues with 4 drivers and 7 schedules to keep up.  So, this morning, I had to do the requisite trips to the Driver License facility to register the car, transfer plates, renew the sticker, pay the tax etc.  I also had several other stops to make including insurance company, service shop, and hair salon for haircuts for 3 of our crew.  When I finally made it home after all of the running around, I was hot, hungry and tired.  NOT a good combination for this momma!

When I walked into the main living area, I found crumbs, dishes, food, bags/wrappers and so much more all over EVERY single kitchen counter.  Now, the kids had already eaten their lunch.  We have a meal chore chart.  I was ready to ‘forgive’ the mess if it was the youngest on cleanup duty that day, but no.  It was one of the older girls. *sigh* So, I had to ‘remind’ her of what she is supposed to be doing and then supervise her doing the job correctly.  Again.  It wouldn’t bother me so much but this is one of the older girls who has a job and knows what should be done.  But, since I wasn’t here — none of that was ‘remembered’.  At home, if I am not around, nothing gets done.  They all seem to be blind to the messes and it drives this mom nuts!

So, what am I supposed to be learning in this Martha and Mary story that I just am not getting??  I would love to be Mary, but instead I just don’t have the time for it with all of my Martha tasks.

Well, this morning, a new thought on this story struck me.  What are they each actually doing?  Martha is running around, getting food and helping to make sure that Jesus is comfortable and all of his needs are met.  Yep — that seems to be me most days…  Mary on the other hand, is just sitting around doing……  hmmm, what IS she doing?  She is listening!

If Jesus is telling Martha that Mary is the one doing it right, what is he saying?  He is saying that it is more important to Him if we take the time to listen.  Listening is a forgotten skill in this highly technical world we now live in.  Listening is a gift.  When someone listens to you, you feel validated, loved and cared for.  It is the ULTIMATE way of meeting a person’s needs.

So, I ask myself again — who am I?  Mary or Martha and which do I ‘want’ to be?  Someone who meets the physical, external needs of our bodies?  Or someone who fulfills that deep inner need we all have to be listened to and actually heard?  As a wife and mother — and follower of Christ — I pray that all I know and love see me more as Mary than Martha.  I know that isn’t the case many days.  But, hopefully, over time…


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just when you think the battle is under control…

WHAM!  Just when you sit back and realize that life has been pretty smooth for the most part and that spiritually, while not ‘on fire’, things are simmering along; and you start to feel good that maybe you made it through the battle with wounds that are healing well — WHAM!  Right between the eyes!  and it starts all over again.

Maybe when my vision clears enough to see the computer monitor clearly, I might be able to say more.  But, that time isn’t now.  Now is the time for prayer.  Serious prayer.  Please.

For those how have fought for loved ones as they battle the devil, please keep us in prayer.  The battle continues and is growing.  Just as we think we have overcome the hurdles for one, it pops up in another.  This time and this culture seriously makes me want to take my family and move to a hermitage away from all of it.

So, please pray with me…


St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen..

O glorious prince St. Michael,  chief and commander of the heavenly hosts,
guardian of souls, vanquisher of rebel spirits, servant in the house of the Divine King
and our admirable conductor,  you who shine with excellence
and superhuman virtue deliver us from all evil,
who turn to you with confidence and enable us by your gracious protection  to serve God more and more faithfully every day.

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changing roles

Today’s Gospel reading is from Luke, Chapter 2, verses 41-51.  It is the story of Jesus remaining behind in the temple and his parents search for him when they thought he was lost.  The part that struck me today is:

“Why were you looking for me?
Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
But they did not understand what he said to them.
He went down with them and came to Nazareth,
and was obedient to them;
and his mother kept all these things in her heart.

When reading this story time after time, I have often wondered what exactly Mary kept in her heart.  Was it memories of how her son scared her and she thought she had lost him?  Was it his actual statement about needing to be in His Father’s house?  What exactly did Mary ‘keep in her heart’?

As a mother, I know I have kept many things in my heart.  Memories of special moments like first steps, actual birth stories, first day in kindergarten, and so many more.  But, I have also found myself keeping other not so good memories.  Times of misbehavior.  Times of physical hurts/illness.  Times of the revelations of my own imperfections and weaknesses coming through in their actions.  Watching our children grow and become individuals separate from us equals joy and pain.

But, today as we celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I am feeling challenged to love my children with a love like Mary’s.  A love that is like Mary’s in that her love for her Son, was also love for her God.  So, that is a challenge to me to love my children as I love my God.  Total, free, faithful and fruitful love.    With all that I am, was and will be.  And why you make ask?  Because we are all created in the image and likeness of God.  My children are all tabernacles of God.  HE is in them.  Even when they are choosing to ignore that part of themselves and not act very well,  He is still there.  Waiting.  Loving.  Forgiving.  Being.

This part is a challenge to me now.  For just as Mary’s role in Jesus’ life changed, my role in the lives of my children change. Sometimes, the changes come daily!  As our children reach adulthood, when do the rules change?  When and in what situations do we stop being the director and become the counselor and then eventually, just the ear to listen, eye to watch over, and soul to pray?  When our children are grown, finished with school and it is time to fly from the nest, when exactly do you push them out?  How do you push them out so that they know that they are always welcome in your heart and in your life, but that they need to not be dependent on you?  Is pushing them out still being loving in that total, free, faithful and fruitful love that Mary’s Immaculate Heart demonstrates?  Or is letting them stay actually doing the exact opposite and enabling them to not grow into the person God has meant them to be?

Novena Prayer to the Immaculate Heart of MaryO Most Blessed Mother, heart of love, heart of mercy, ever listening, caring, consoling, hear our prayer. As your children, we implore your intercession with Jesus your Son. Receive with understanding and compassion the petitions we place before you today, especially …(special intention).

We are comforted in knowing your heart is ever open to those who ask for your prayer. We trust to your gentle care and intercession, those whom we love and who are sick or lonely or hurting. Help all of us, Holy Mother, to bear our burdens in this life until we may share eternal life and peace with God forever.


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highs and lows

Today has been a wonderful day!  Our youngest daughter made her First Holy Communion at our parish.  Even with a few disappointments, our small parish still went out of their way to make it such a beautiful experience for the 2 communicants.  The day was truly special.

And yet, in the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but remember.  And grieve.  For the last time we celebrated a First Communion with daughter #4, I was emotionally reeling as my mom had died unexpectedly the day before.  That communion is in many ways a blur.  Mom and Dad were supposed to be there.  Many of my siblings and nieces/nephews were supposed to be there.  Instead, most of my immediate family were still at my dad’s house making arrangements.  I had been there with them the afternoon/evening/night before while we made plans and comforted each other, but then I made the lonely drive back home to get back just in time to bring my overnight bag into the house, check with my older daughters who had been helping their sister get ready and then off to the church we went.  I see pictures of the day and I am smiling.  But, inside, I was numb.  I remember so much wanting it to be such a special day for my daughter and doing what I could to hold myself together for her.  I don’t know if I was successful or not.  But, I did the best I could.

This morning as I was putting dd #5’s hair up in a bun and curling all of the tendrils, dd #4 made a comment that she doesn’t remember anything like that from her day.  And my heart broke.  In many ways, due to the circumstances, she was robbed of being the princess for the day.  I know she understood and I know that she still recognized the importance of the day and receiving the Sacrament, but still, she didn’t get what I had wanted her to have that day.

So, today was bittersweet.  It was full of memories.  Memories of all of my girls’ first holy communions especially with the realization that this was our last ‘first’.  But, the memories of the last one we celebrated and the realities of who wasn’t there who was supposed to be were very strong.  But, as usual, God reminded me that life continues.  Today, there were 3 grandparents physically there with my daughter.  Her maternal grandfather and her new step-grandmother and her paternal grandmother.  And we know that her maternal grandmother and paternal grandfather were watching over her with special care.  Ultimately, she knows the important part — that she is loved.  And I will continue to make sure that all of my girls know just how much they are loved.  All.  The.  Time.  Period.

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Come Holy Spirit!

Today has been a totally awesome day!

The day started with some special reflection time looking over the past week, its challenges and its blessings.  Then, from there, I was blessed to be able to attend a seminar with Jeff Cavins on his program titled “Walking Toward Eternity”.  Jeff is an awesome speaker with so much knowledge, mixed with humor.  This particular seminar wasn’t totally a focus on knowledge (there was definitely some in there), but this was also a look at our goal — our ultimate desire — heaven!  But, how do we get there?  Only through a personal relationship with God, can we even begin to set out on that walk.

This series of talks really reminded me of my favorite passage — that of the disciples on the road to Emmaus.  We are all on this walk of life, wondering the same type of why’s and what’s that the Emmaus road disciples were.  So, how did they come to know that it was the Lord?  They realized it through communication along the path with the Lord, followed by sharing a meal with Him.  Then, they finally recognized Him for who He truly was — the Son of God!

How is that any different from our own walks?  We are also asking the questions about what is happening around us and what does all of this mean.  But, are we communicating regularly with Him?  Are we listening to Him explain the whys and whats to us?  Only through those experiences, can we fully recognize Him through the breaking of the bread at Mass.

So, for me, that was THE challenge.  Am I listening to His answers to the whys and the whats?  Am I even looking to the place where His answers are?  I am doing the daily readings, but am I asking God what He wants me to learn from His word?  No.  Not really. So, that is the challenge I am being faced with.

Just when I realized this and decided to take action, I started to get cold feet.  How could I truly know what God means?  It is easy for Jeff Cavins — he studies the Bible and so figuring out what God means would be easy for him.  I’m not anywhere close to that, so what was I thinking?

Then, the next part of my day happened.  I met up with the 6 kids I have been working with through our parish preparing them for the Sacrament of Confirmation.  Today was THE day.  Today was their Confirmation day.  Veni Sanctus Spiritus!  Watching and praying for each of them and watching their reactions through the whole experience, I learned one important thing.  I might not know all of the answers, but I know and believe that if I ask the questions, He will guide me to finding the answers.  He is my teacher and guide just as I was for a short time in that role with these kids.  Just as I challenged them to be open to the process and what the Holy Spirit has in store for them in life, the Holy Spirit through that mental challenge earlier in the day is challenging me to be open to the process and whatever is in store for me along the way.

So, Lectio Divina, here I come!  Not just the 1st step of the process, but all 5 of the steps.  Reading, meditation, prayer, contemplation and then the final challenge of them all — action!  You might even see some of it here.  Maybe, maybe not.  Time will tell.

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jumping out of the boat and facing our sin

Today’s Gospel reading at Mass was a well-known story.  The story is from John 21 and is of the disciples deciding to go fishing.  They catch nothing until Jesus tells them to toss the net over the other side of the boat and they caught a large number of fish.  Father John focused on the next section of the story during his homily today and it took me by surprise.  I felt like I could tell this story in my sleep as I’ve heard it so many times!  But, he focused on a line in this story that I don’t ever remember hearing before.  The line is right after they caught the large number of fish.

So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.”
When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord,
he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad,
and jumped into the sea.

As Fr. John explained, in the Greek language, that small phrase ‘for he was lightly clad’ would mean that he was in actuality naked.  So, the reality is that when Simon Peter heard that it was Jesus, he put on a garment for he was naked and jumped into the sea.  Why would he do that?  Wouldn’t it make more sense to remove clothing before jumping into water?  But, we are really being taken back in time to Genesis and the Garden of Eden.  When Adam and Eve had eaten of the tree of knowledge, they covered themselves because of shame.  They knew that they had done wrong and recognized their sin, felt shame and hid.  Simon Peter does this same pattern.  When he knows the Lord is there, he covers himself out of shame for his tri-fold denial of even knowing the Lord.

But, the thought that crossed my mind went deeper than this.  Jesus had died, the apostles had hid and had seen Jesus several times after the resurrection.  During this whole time, Simon Peter went about life as he usually did.  During this particular passage, he is out fishing and going about his life as if that time of sin, those times of denying Jesus never even happened.  It isn’t until Jesus shows again here that Simon Peter is made aware of his sin and feels shame for this sin.  Isn’t that much the way we go through life?  We go through life wanting to do good.  But, we sin.  When we sin, what do we do?  Usually, go about life.  We may feel bad when it first happens, but most times, life seems to ‘take over’ and we get caught up again in the process of just living.  It isn’t until we are faced with Jesus, face to face, that the realization of what we did followed by the shame for that sin sets in.

So, we live much of our time in a state of sin which is unrealized.  Only through confronting that sin by being face to face with Christ on the cross, can we move ahead into the light of the Resurrection.  Confrontation is never easy.  But, it is necessary.  As necessary for us as it was for Simon Peter.



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windows to our souls

Tuesday evening, I was able to hear a good friend talk to a group of ladies about spiritual direction.  I have had spiritual directors at several times of my life, but am currently without a ‘formal’ director.  I have friends who have been spiritual guides for me especially in the recent months and trials we are enduring, but nothing formalized.  I kept wondering though throughout the presentation whether it would be possible to do spiritual direction as a couple.  If the two who are married are truly one flesh and have one spirit as our goal, wouldn’t it make sense to do spiritual direction as a couple?

But, then another thought bounced around my head.  Isn’t your spouse already a spiritual director?  Or should he/she automatically be in that role due to the goal of wanting to help you to gain heaven?  Maybe I am wrong in my prayer that as I look into my spouse’s eyes with the love of God and my love for him in my heart, I pray that I can see his soul.

This isn’t always easy to do.  In fact, it is easier NOT to do.  It is so much easier to just close my eyes and ignore his thoughts and feelings.  To take a quick glance and when seeing his tiredness, just back away rationalizing that you are really just letting him rest.  Are you really doing the right thing though?  NO!  Even when we are tired, both of us dog-tired after running in this race we call daily life, we NEED to connect emotionally and spiritually.  How else can anyone truly live that one flesh union that marriage calls us to?

So, I am issuing a challenge to all of my married friends, male and female (yes, even those of you who have newborns and are barely surviving due to sleep deprivation), take a few moments each and every day to look into your spouse’s eyes.  Put aside all other thoughts, concerns, worries, schedules etc — anything that takes you away from the moment — and look into your spouse’s eyes.  Look into their eyes and look for their soul just as you used to when you were just dating.  Find that soul again and reconnect.

But what do you do if your spouse isn’t willing?  What if there is already a barrier that has been built up between you?  KNOCK it down! Get INTO his/her face if needed and make that contact!  Be not afraid!

I command you: be strong and steadfast! Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the LORD, your God, is with you wherever you go.  (Joshua 1:9)

If we all truly did this and took down the walls that Satan builds between us, walls of doubt, shame, guilt, fear of rejection, and so much more, would we ever need such a thing as divorce in our world?

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my favorite passage — Emmaus!

Today’s Gospel reading is one of my all time favorite passages — the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus.  In case you don’t know the story, read it at Luke 24:13-35.  Here are these two disciples, distressed and despondent over the happenings in Jerusalem going on about their lives and heading home discussing all that had happened.  Along comes a stranger who seems to know and understand what seems totally confusing to them.  Then, in the breaking of the bread, their eyes were opened and they KNEW.

This in so many ways is what life is all about.  We hear about this Jesus who has done great things — he taught us, suffered for us, died for us and then defeated death for us.  But, living life today, this all seems so far away many days and so fuzzy and confusing.  What really does it all mean?  Why did he do that?  Now, how is death defeated for me when He did it?  And so many more questions that we discuss with our friends, walking through life.  Then, along comes a stranger, who confidently explains it and VOILA!  my eyes are opened and I can see in ways I never could before.

Then, I travel a bit further in life and other areas seem fuzzy and confusing.  Again, talking with friends as we walk through life until one day a stranger comes along and once again — sight has been restored to the blind!

I don’t know about you, but this has been an almost daily experience for me through life.  Daily I am confused and fuzzy, but through my daily Scripture reading or through prayer, my vision can be miraculously cleared so that it all seems clear again.  At least for a bit … until the next confusion period hits…

I am SO thankful for this story of the journey to Emmaus.  For aren’t we all traveling that same road?  Knowing the story brings hope that understanding will come when we recognize Jesus for who He is in our stories.  He is there.  Usually disguised as a stranger.  We just need to look carefully and we will find Him.  But, until we look, how will we understand?


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