Place-Holding, Being Kind

(the Best of) A Year of Being Kind, January 15, 2015

I enjoy popcorn, on occasion. This blog post features popcorn—and a whole lot more.

A Year of Being Kind blog – Tuesday, January 14, 2014


Place-Holding, Being Kind

The grocery store. I don’t generally go to the store during the day. Usually, my shopping trips involve evenings or weekends. But not today. My daughter called and asked for several things we could use in the kitchen, and I went on my way home from work, mid-afternoon.

What a difference a few hours makes! The daytime clientele inhabiting the nearby grocery store had marked differences. I saw a lot of moms doing shopping for the week (or, at least a number of days). The most notable group I noticed were senior citizens. As opposed to the moms of families. I felt a bit like a sociology grad student, out doing field research. Yes, I watched the moms as they pushed the well-laden carts. I could relate to them, and I knew what they were doing. Having often done it myself.  But the seniors, they were especially fascinating to me.

I’ve been told that I am especially good at working with seniors. A chaplain friend of mine who works at a large senior retirement center said to me a few years ago, “You ought to have ‘Good with seniors’ tattooed on your forehead.” This does not only go for my work. I genuinely like older people. They have complex and fascinating stories to relate. It’s satisfying for me to come alongside of seniors, listen to them, journey for a little way with them, try to alleviate their problems or needs, or rejoice and praise God with them. Whatever it is that fills the bill.

This particular afternoon as I shopped, I observed the seniors as they chose things at the store. I only had about twelve things in my basket, so I made a beeline for the 15 items or less lane. (The moms with large carts-full were taking up many of the other check-out aisles.) A senior stood directly ahead of me, also waiting his turn. Stooped and elderly, he still determined to get his own shopping done. His items already sat on the conveyer belt. Just a few feet from me, a store employee was assisting him as he tried to read the small print on a coupon. “It’s right over there. See? Just around the corner.” She pointed two aisles away.

I could see the senior deliberate. I could almost hear his thoughts. He decided to go for it. He left the ten or so items on the belt, and went over to get the popcorn. I had a sudden image of him at night, after dinner. Popping that corn and watching television or cable or movies, on DVD or TiVo. I found myself smiling. He had a bit of difficulty finding the specific popcorn, for the store employee went to help him. Just two dozen feet away. Just a number of seconds. I waited patiently in line, saving his place.

Another senior, a disgruntled one this time, came up behind me. He narrowed his eyes and looked over the seemingly-abandoned items on the belt. He looked at me. I smiled at him, and then turned my eyes to the first senior, still fetching his last item. The popcorn. The disgruntled one glanced over at the belt of items, and then back two aisles over. His face wrinkled up in a decided frown. He muttered to himself and stalked away to another check-out aisle. It was only a few more seconds before the popcorn-senior returned to his place in line.

He never knew about that little drama with the disgruntled man. And I never told him. But I saved his place for him. I stood back at a respectful distance, and that man got his popcorn. Bought it. Brought it home. I wonder if he’s popping it tonight, after dinner? I hope he enjoys it. And I was of service today. I think God was pleased. It’s as simple as that.


(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. Thanks!)

(also published at

Being Kind, Crossing International Borders

(the Best of) A Year of Being Kind, January 13, 2015

I try to go to the YMCA several times a week. In this blog post, I mention a chance meeting on the stairs at the Y. See whether you can relate.

A Year of Being Kind blog – Saturday, January 11, 2014

"Walking with Friends" by Carolee Clark

“Walking with Friends”
by Carolee Clark

Being Kind, Crossing International Borders

Earlier today, I happened to stop on the stairs. I had an unexpected encounter with someone from another country, and I hope I was of service.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll give a little background, and set up the story. As is my habit during the week, I went to the gym to do some stretching and cardio exercise. I finished a good workout, and started down to the women’s locker room. Halfway down the stairs, I saw a young woman holding an open pamphlet, obviously reading intently. She looked puzzled, and frowned at the piece of paper. I slowed down, since she caught my attention. She glanced up.

We smiled at each other. And that’s all it took for her to engage me in conversation.

As it turned out, she held a pamphlet that listed information about GED classes. She trustingly started pouring out her story in accented but fairly good English. She wanted to take a GED course. And then, get her GED to be more prepared to get jobs here in the Chicago area. I encouraged her, and took a look at the pamphlet with her. “Yes,” I said. “The GED class you want is at the high school, on Tuesday night.”

She told me about studying English in high school, in her country of origin in South America. Again I smiled and was encouraging. “You speak English really well for taking only a couple of years of classes. I wish I could speak another language as well.” She beamed and nodded her head in gratitude for my words. She was very hesitant about English grammar, it turned out. Plus, she also was enrolled in citizenship classes. I was quite supportive. “That’s great! I wish you the best in both of your classes. God’s blessings in this new year, too.” She smiled even more widely. She wanted to know my name. Elizabeth, I told her. She readily gave me her name.

I think I made a new friend!

This is not an isolated incident.

I guess I have that kind of appearance that makes me approachable. People come up to me on the street, or when I’m stopped at a stop light. They’ll roll down their window and tell me they’re lost. And, ask directions. Or when I’m standing in line at a grocery store they’ll engage me in conversation. Tell me about personal details of their lives. Believe me, it happens! (My family is endlessly amused, and say that I have that kind of face. Or chaplainly air. Or something.)

In preparation for this year of service, I’ve prayed specifically to be open and willing, each day. As subtext to my month’s service, for January, the verse I have chosen is Ephesians 4:32. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” I think I was kind to this sweet young woman. She and I made a genuine connection. And—I pray that I was of service.


(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. Thanks!)

(also published at


Snow Blowing, Being Kind (Feature Friday!)

(the Best of) A Year of Being Kind, January 2, 2015

This was my first Feature Friday post in January 2014. Even though there’s no snow (yet) in the Chicago area right now, the spirit of this post still is true.

A Year of Being Kind blog – Friday, January 3, 2014

chairs shoveled parking place

Snow Blowing, Being Kind (Feature Friday!)

Another day of snow. Another day of service opportunities!

A friend of mine, David, who lives here in Chicago told me about a wintry situation that sometimes happens to him. I’ll let him explain in his own words.

“Owning a snow-blower opens up a whole new sense of “neighbor,” as in “Who is my neighbor?” As I’m out trolling the snow-blower up and down the sidewalks on my city block, where would I stop removing the snow from the pavement? What is the logical or “natural” boundary or stopping point? At what property line do I draw the line and turn back toward my “own” sidewalk? My next-door neighbors on each side are close and friendly people, friends even, so there’s no question that I’m going to go ahead and clear their sidewalks . . .  and now they pretty much expect that, if I’m out there clearing sidewalks, I’ll also plow out their driveways to the street. OK. We’ve all got our various senses of necessity and contingent emergency.”

Wow. How far down the block does my friend go with his snow blower? Who IS his neighbor? (For that matter, who is ours?) So, there is also a guy with another snow blower across the street. Could this blowing of snow turn into a competition? “Hmm. The guy across the street cleared off three more houses’ walks of snow. He’s winning! He’s more virtuous (loving/giving/helping) than I am!” I can just see how worry, griping, fear, resentment, frustration, anger, and even more negative emotions start roiling around inside, stifling good, loving, nurturing, helpful feelings.

We might know physically handicapped people who either have great difficulty or just can’t possibly clear their walks. Or folks who are in the hospital, or on vacation, or working two jobs and are rarely at home. Is God nudging me—or you—to blow off the snow from their walks? And what about people who do not “deserve” to have the snow cleared from their walks and driveways? (Who gets to decide that, anyway?) People who are snooty, or slobs, or just plain mean. Does that give me the right to ignore them when a service opportunity comes my way? Who IS my neighbor, anyway?

It goes without saying that any of these, ALL of these are my neighbors. If I get a creeping resentment or niggling gripe in my heart, I don’t think that negative emotion comes from God. Instead, it pleases God to see me being kind. (It pleases God to see my friend being kind, too.)

Yes, using a snow blower is a wonderful way of being kind. We are blessed to have such mechanical appliances and tools like snow blowers (and snow plows too, when that’s applicable!). We are so blessed to be a blessing to others. To be kind and tenderhearted. Thank God that I am given opportunities like that. I don’t want to be like the lawyer in Luke 10, who grudgingly acknowledged the Samaritan as being kind and showing mercy. Instead, I want to strive to be like the gracious, giving Samaritan. God willing!

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. Thanks!)


Unexpected Service—Serving the Homeless (Feature Friday!)

A Year of Being Kind blog – Friday, December 19, 2014

you are not alone

Unexpected Service—Serving the Homeless (Feature Friday!)

Posted outside of the church I attended, some years ago, was a sign by a small tree covered in blue ribbons: “While celebrating One homeless Family, these ribbons ask us to remember the homeless with us today.” I had never thought about the Holy Family in that way before.

Some people in the 21st century probably are so accustomed to the Christmas story that their idea of shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night is somehow associated with Christmas cards. But it was life as usual for these working people. An everyday way of life in Palestine. What’s more, being a shepherd was not a particularly high class job. The lowly vocation of shepherd was on the outskirts of society. A possible comparison today is to think of a person selling “Streetwise,” the news sheet sold for $2.00 outside of grocery stores and coffee shops here around the Chicago area.

And suddenly, the angel of the Lord came to these shepherds—came to people in homeless shelters, people selling “Streetwise,” people down on their luck, people on the edge, on the outs of society. The angel of the Lord came to them with good news. Good news. With news of God’s birth announcement. We can see God again breaking through, in an unexpected way, to an unexpected group of people.

Are some of these people the “underclass?” Are these people undesirables? Untouchables? Not to God. And, not to the Night Ministry, either.

As their website says, “The Night Ministry is a Chicago-based organization that works to provide housing, health care and human connection to members of our community struggling with poverty or homelessness. With an open heart and an open mind, we accept people as they are and work to address their immediate physical, emotional and social needs while affirming their sense of humanity.”

The Night Ministry served over 138,000 individuals last year, including more than 12,000 young people (aged 14 to 21) who were homeless. Trying to live—to survive in Chicago on their own, without any family or guardian. The Night Ministry works to reach these teens, as well as adults and new moms who have nowhere else to go.

This vital ministry works in Chicago neighborhoods to build relationships and provide immediate, practical resources. They have a new Health Outreach Bus (replacing the old bus that had clocked over 90,000 miles), offering medical exams, treatment and HIV testing, as well as coffee, conversation and a sense of community. The Youth Outreach teams reach out to homeless and LGBT youth in the Lakeview neighborhood to offer non-judgmental support, guidance, food and self-care supplies.

So—especially during the holidays, at that time of the year when the thoughts of many turn to family and friends, this is an especially difficult time of the year. Think of these homeless people, far from family or friends. Send thoughts and prayers to them. Just as you think of that homeless (Holy) Family, two thousand years ago. I know God blessed that homeless (Holy) Family, as I pray God blesses the homeless in my own hometown, tonight.


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Of Service, in a Department Store

A Year of Being Kind blog – Thursday, November 13, 2014

LOVE one another John 13-34

Of Service, in a Department Store

I helped out today. Volunteering in a department store. My church is participating in Carson’s Community Days, this Friday and Saturday. By participating, the church sold coupon books. The coupons are designated as “our” coupons. So when people who bought books from St. Luke’s Church give the cashier at the register “our” coupons, they are credited to “our” account. (At least, that was the way the process was explained to me. I may not have it quite right.)

So, I spent two hours yesterday, and two hours today greeting people at one of the main entrances in Carson’s. Asking whether anyone would like to purchase the books to use tomorrow or Saturday. I had some really interesting interactions, too!

I assisted one senior who was looking for a small cart. (Yes, Carson’s has small shopping carts, in a little corral by the door.) She was really downhearted at not finding a cart. I could see it in her face and hear it in her sigh of frustration and regret.

In my friendly, open manner, I came up to her. I asked her whether she might be able to use one of the metal strollers. “I know it’s more of a stroller, but it’s heavy duty. And it can carry packages and bags, too.” The senior looked at the black metal stroller assessingly, and then said she thought she would take it. About forty-five minutes later, the senior returned. Pushing the stroller with several bags in it.

I smiled at her. “I see you found some things today. How did the stroller work for you?”

“Oh, very well. Thank you for suggesting it.” I wished her well as she went out the door to her car.

Unexpectedly, I also met a wonderful woman, a retired employee I had known while she was working at a care center nearby. Such a caring, giving woman! It was marvelous to run into her again. Truly. She and I had a brief opportunity to talk together. And it was not just superficial. We had some meaningful, true conversation. Deep sharing. It is so amazing when that sort of thing is able to happen.

And those are just two of the wonderful interactions I had today. This was yet another situation when I saw God’s hand at work. When I put myself out there, give God the opportunity—“here I am. Use me. Send me.” God can do marvelous things.


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In Which I Help and Save the Day

A Year of Being Kind blog – Saturday, November 1, 2014

Michigan autumn lake reflection  photo credit Terri Gostola

Michigan autumn lake reflection
photo credit Terri Gostola

In Which I Help and Save the Day

Well, almost. I mean, not really. The save-the-day part. But my son and his friend were extremely grateful, nevertheless. Let me tell you what really happened. My son and his friend were some distance away. Near, by standards of the commuter railway, but not in terms of travel by foot.

I had absolutely no idea I was going to be needed. It was a quiet Saturday afternoon. Here I sat in the living room, checking email and doing other computer work this afternoon, when I got an unexpected telephone call on my cell phone. Hmm. I didn’t know the number. “Good afternoon,” I said, using my business delivery, not knowing who on earth it might be.

“Hello, Mom?”

Just from the tone of my son’s voice I knew something was the matter. (Yes, a mom can usually tell those kinds of things.) “What’s up?” I asked, using my cheerful voice.

“Well . . . “ I waited, wondering what was coming next. “We missed the train. We almost got there in time, but not quite. And the next one won’t be here for almost two hours.”

I nodded to myself. “And let me guess. You would like me to come pick you up.” The answer was affirmative, and sheepish. Accordingly, I needed to shut down several things. Finish an email. I left as soon as I could, in just a few minutes. It was a beautiful day, after all. Sunny, bright blue skies with wisps of high clouds, even though it was downright cold. (Maybe the cold snap was causing people to stay inside.)

Yes, I saved the day. Like I said, my son and his friend thanked me and expressed their gratitude repeatedly. (It was a cold day for walking!) And, we had a really enjoyable time on the way back. I needed to stop by the library, and we all went to the pet shop nearby. I met two adorable mixed breed puppies, and the store cat. So, I had some animal-petting time today, which is always a plus. My son and his friend chattered about all kinds of things, and I enjoyed the animated conversation. Even got in on some of it.

So, did I help out today? Yes. Did I enjoy myself today? Yes, again! All in all, a successful day. (Especially petting the animals.) What kind of service are You going to send me tomorrow, God? I wonder.


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Kindness through Kids Books Without Borders (Feature Friday!)

A Year of Being Kind blog – Friday, October 31, 2014


Kindness through Kids Books Without Borders (Feature Friday!)

As some of you know, I am a mom. (My youngest is seventeen, a senior in high school.) As some of you also know, I love books. I love reading. And I especially love to read books out loud to children. (Yes, I do voices. I studied with a vocal coach for some months about fifteen years ago, thinking I might get into the voiceover business. And then, I did comedy improv. But that’s another story. Another post!)

One of my blogging friends, Marilyn— on—had an intriguing capper to her cross-cultural blog post earlier this week. She talked about a friend of hers who has started a service called Kids Books Without Borders, and added the link. Wasting no time, I contacted Gail through her blog. And—she wrote back! She said she was more than happy to be featured in my blog.

I am so happy to let people know about Gail’s service through Kids Books Without Borders. Almost everyone I know is acquainted with someone who is presently living or who has lived overseas. Gail grew up in France, with a British mom and an American dad. Gail especially loved to read. (Just like me, when I was a girl!) However, their family had a real challenge in finding children’s books in English. While in France, I mean. Gail treasured those rare packages from grandparents that included children’s books! The Little House books. The Paddington books. Any book by Roald Dahl. Charlotte’s Web. Mary Poppins. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The Hobbit.

As Gail grew up, married, and had children of her own, she passed on her special love of books and of reading. However, she remembered the difficulty she—and her parents—had of finding many children’s books in English while overseas. She came up with the idea for this service to be able to “put children’s books (and some young adult and adult books as well) in the hands of children and families living overseas.”

Here is more about Gail’s service, in her own words: “I now have available over 2000 books, both picture books and chapter books, fiction and non-fiction, which are available to you at no charge, if you are living overseas. They are all books that I have read and which come highly recommended. I am mostly self-taught, but have read extensively about children’s literature. If you are overwhelmed by choices or do not know what books would be best for your child, please email me. I would love to give you recommendations if you let me know your child’s (children’s) age, gender, reading level and areas of interests.

“All the books are free and there is no limit on the number of books you can request. However, I do ask that you pay for postage if shipped to a US address and half of the postage if shipped overseas. The majority of families living overseas ask that I send the books to US-based friends or family. The recipients then deliver them when visiting the person requesting them. This is the least expensive and most reliable way of mailing them.”

The link to Gail’s blog is below. (Just a reminder—the holidays are not far away!) I am also glad to be able to pass the word along about Gail’s tremendous service! Such a wonderful opportunity to pass the gift of books along to another generation. I am so grateful for the gift of books, and awed by the innovation and inventiveness of the authors, illustrators, and all the other creative people who contributed to the production and publication of these incredible resources. The written word. So powerful. So moving. Thank you again, Gail!

For further information, see:


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Of Service through Bible Study

A Year of Being Kind blog – Wednesday, October 22, 2014

flowers Isaiah 55-11

Of Service through Bible Study

Lots to do today! I had some email correspondence to go through this morning (at home), and then went to church to get ready for the bible study. A member of the board and I were talking, and before I knew it, it was after eleven. After the time bible study was to begin! So—the two of us dashed into the meeting room. I apologized up and down. But it seemed okay. Several people were practicing on special music for Sunday while they were waiting. I’m so glad I didn’t leave people just twiddling their thumbs!

I taught the next installment in the study. Good topic, although I felt the study wasn’t quite like the previous weeks. Somehow, not as insightful. However, I hope and pray that the church members who attended received a blessing from what we read today. I’ve always found it good to open the Bible and study more in depth, even when the questions were not as penetrating and thoughtful.

Contemplating on this makes me wonder: what does God think of us when we study the Bible? (Even when the questions don’t pack much of a punch . . .) I am leading the midweek study group through a series of studies on the titles and names of Jesus, found in the Gospels. Last week’s study was on Servant—we looked at Jesus in the Upper Room, and discussed Him washing His disciples’ feet. Excellent study, and wonderful discussion, too! But—not today. I tried to help the study along, but I wasn’t able to do as much.

I suspect God is pleased whenever believers gather to study the Bible. I know there are many places in the Scriptures where the study of the Word of God is praised and lifted up. I know many devout believers in God search the Scriptures regularly, and write commentaries and bible studies and other biblical and devotional literature. Moreover, they pray and meditate on God’s Word. And, I get to do this, too! I love to lead people in study. I relish teaching others about the Bible, letting them know more about the things I have studied diligently, over many years.

One verse does come to mind, regardless of whether I have an excellent study or not. As Isaiah 55:11 states, “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Even so, God’s Word is living and active, not static. Readings from the Bible will always bear fruit. Regardless of whether the study has mediocre to poor questions, or whether the teacher is more or less dynamic. God has promised, and I believe in the truth of God’s promises.

So—I find I have the best team-teacher in the world—God. And, I can truly be of service when I teach about God: service to others, and service to God.


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Church Service, Serving Our Congregation

A Year of Being Kind blog – Sunday, October 19, 2014


Church Service, Serving Our Congregation

It’s another Sunday. It’s another day to gather together for worship. And, it’s a day to celebrate the sacrament of baptism. First baptism in several years at St. Luke’s Church!

Pastor Gordon and I led the worship service today, and it was an affirming, prayerful time. Excellent sermon, too. (Thanks, Gordon, for everything!) The baptismal font is situated in the back of the church, and after the sermon, Gordon and I stood next to it. I called the parents and baby forward, and the extended family and just about everyone in the congregation came and encircled the font. Such a warm and wonderful feeling! Such a special moment for everyone in the sanctuary, too.

I made the opening statement about baptism, being a sign and sacrament of God’s grace and mercy extended towards us. Gordon then addressed the parents, and told them of baptism signifying God’s promise not only to us, but also to the dear baby, baptized today. I had the privilege of praying over the water, thanking God for the repeated demonstrations of God’s grace and mercy throughout the Bible, using water. I also asked God to transform this water we used from a common use to a sacred, sacramental use. Then—Gordon baptized this dear little one in the name of the Triune God. Amen! He introduced her around to the whole congregation as a new member of God’s forever family.

I know there are differences in beliefs. Some people believe strongly—personally—in infant baptism, or in believer’s baptism, or in full immersion, or in sprinkling, or in something else I haven’t mentioned yet. I realize there are differences, and I try to honor those when I can. This way, the way I just described, is the way that is traditional at St. Luke’s Church. As pastor there, I strive to follow their practices as best as I am able. Even though I went to a bible college for my undergraduate degree which leaned heavily on the practice of believer’s baptism by immersion, I have since embraced the Reformed tradition as my personal understanding. (I’m trying not to get all theological on everyone, I really am.) Suffice it to say that I am open to different understandings and views of baptism.

I thought this service not only lifted up God and displayed God’s Word through Gordon’s sermon and the sacrament of baptism, I appreciated this extended family gathered here to celebrate their youngest member becoming part of God’s forever family. I take the vows of the baptismal service quite seriously. I will strive to do my part to raise this dear little one in the knowledge and nurture of God, and God’s grace and mercy. True, this kind of service is more official than what I usually seek out for these blog posts. That makes this pastoral service all the more special. God bless this little one, the baby’s family, and everyone in attendance today. Amen.


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Kindness Through Planning and Preparation

A Year of Being Kind blog – Wednesday, October 8, 2014

prayer and meditation

Kindness Through Planning and Preparation

My husband has the occasional dream (or is it nightmare?) where he is completely unprepared for a class. Different classes—middle school, high school, and sometimes college—with different specifics, but he always seems to be completely unprepared.

Me? I don’t remember my dreams. Well—that isn’t quite true. I rarely (and I mean, very, very rarely) remember my dreams. I might have similar dreams, like my husband. I just don’t remember them. However, I wouldn’t like to be caught unprepared, either. (Especially caught with my pants down, as has happened in my husband’s dreams now and then. Really.)

What does all this have to do with being kind, you ask? Great question! I am busily preparing for a morning of presentations and group facilitation, coming up soon. The presentation is going to be a morning of focus on prayer and meditation. A beginner’s overview, with some prayer practice built in during the final half hour. I’m excited! Enthused! Pumped! Oh, and I am wondering whether anyone will show up. *sigh* (That’s the nervous, anxious, nail-biting-me talking.)

Ultimately, who comes or doesn’t choose to come to the morning presentation doesn’t really matter. What matters is my stewardship. How faithfully and well I plan and prepare. I am providing service to others, and I hope those who attend the morning groups and presentation receive a blessing. And if they receive helpful, encouraging information, too, that’s an additional bonus!

I don’t usually talk about this here, but in addition to my Master of Divinity degree, I also am certified in the State of Illinois as an Alcohol and Drug Counselor (or, CADC). As I share about prayer and meditation and facilitate that group, I will also weave some basic recovery principles into the presentations. Spirituality, prayer, and meditation intersect and are closely aligned with the recovery program. A well-rounded understanding of prayer and meditation can be helpful to those who would also like a more thorough understanding of the recovery program.

So, yeah. That’s what I am busily involved in right now. Actually, it’s fascinating, finding so many intersections of prayer, meditation, and spirituality. Then, the practical side, the practice-part. And to add some spice to the mix, a healthy dose of recovery principles.

Is this being of service? Is it kind? Am I helpful? I hope so. I pray so. God willing, let it be so.


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