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Archive for the ‘Holiness’ Category

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After more than a week of full-blown cold symptoms—painful sore throat, totally stuffed-up nose, throbbing headache, and complete lack of energy–I finally woke up feeling more like my old self.

Such euphoria!  I could swallow without pain, take in glorious gulps of air through my nose, and function without the tight hat of sinus pressure on my head or the virtual suit of heavy armor on my body.  Throat, nose, head, and limbs were once again operating in unified wholeness!

But what if I still carried deep heartache, suffered from depression, or continually dealt with on-going stress at work? Relief of cold symptoms would be a small matter by comparison.

Unified wholeness must include mind and spirit as well as body.

This was the kind of completeness Jesus was referring to when he told a healed leper, “Arise, go your way: your faith has made you whole (Luke 17:19, King James 2000 Bible).

 

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You no doubt remember him, the one-out-of-ten healed lepers who took an extra step beyond healing, returned to Jesus, and expressed his gratitude.

Such effort demonstrated a spirit of humility and righteousness as he set aside his own agenda and did the right thing. His faith had impacted his body, yes, but also his mind and spirit.

The leper’s wholeness* manifested holiness—not perfection or proud piousness—but completeness and health of the total person as God fully intended.

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) explained it like this:

“The old word for holy in the German language, heilig, also means healthy. And so Heilbronn means holy-well, or healthy-well. You could not get any better definition of what holy really is than healthy—completely healthy.”

Wholeness is holiness, and God is our example. He is the picture of complete perfection with the sum of his glorious attributes: love, joy, peace, wisdom, and more.

By contrast, we are pictures of imperfection, with our deficient condition and inability to perfect ourselves on our own.

Yet God comes to us, arms outstretched in welcome, and says, “Your faith can make you whole.” We can turn to him like that one leper did, and he will begin the work of making us like him.

 

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Oh, that sounds wonderful! Just as I desperately want to be made whole when a cold wreaks havoc in my body, so I want to be made whole as sin wreaks havoc in my spirit.

But such transformation involves choices.

During a cold, the choices of rest and plenty of fluids will speed the healing process toward wholeness.

My mental and spiritual wholeness this side of heaven will also require at least two choices:

 

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  1. “Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always” (1 Chronicles 16:11, NIV).
  1. Distill the positive out of the negative—goodness out of evil, peace out of pain, joy out of sorrow.

 

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And from the fullness of Jesus’ grace we will receive one blessing after another (John 1:16)—beginning with his power and wisdom to make these sound choices toward wholeness.

 

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Oh Father, sound choices are easy to talk about, not so easy to live out. Remind me that from your wholeness, you provide grace upon grace—if only I look to you. Help me turn away from fear, self-pity, and anger, which lead to brokenness, not wholeness. How I praise you for your good will toward me and the good work of restoration you continue to develop within me!

 

*Synonyms from Webster’s New College Dictionary include: health, restoration, healing, and completeness.

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.families.com; http://www.youtube.com; http://www.verseoftheday.com; http://www.ourdailyblossom.com; http://www.verseoftheday.com.)

 

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(“The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year.

It is that we should have a new soul.”

G.K. Chesterton)

A new soul. I like the sound of that, don’t you? In my imagination I see a freshening of my attitudes, improved motivations, and increased spiritual strength.

But where do I start in order to achieve a new soul?

No doubt, a new soul begins with repentance—expressing to God my sorrow for wrongdoing and availing myself of his help to change. Just as King David prayed, I can ask God to:

 

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(“Create in me a pure heart, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

–Psalm 51:10, emphasis added)

 

Notice that David asked God to create in him a pure heart. David didn’t promise to clean up his act on his own. Only God could make David’s heart new and pure. The same goes for me. All I can do is submit myself to his transforming power and follow his lead.

That pure heart David asked for is a clear conscience. And with the release from guilt came a rush of joy and the restoration of sweet peace with God. Doesn’t that sound wonderful?

“No one is happier than the one who has repented of wrong” (Max Lucado).

 

A new soul involves renewal of the mind.

 

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Or, put another way:

 

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world,

but let God transform you into a new person

by changing the way you think.

Then you will learn to know God’s will for you,

which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

Romans 12:2, NLT (emphasis added)

 

Once the negative influences of sin have been removed, I need to fill my mind with excellent, praiseworthy contemplations.

Why waste my thoughts and allow them to wander on worthless topics or circle around pointless worries? Instead, I want to set my mind on the positive, especially on God himself.

A renewed mind is not problem-focused; it is Person-focused.

 

A new soul requires day-by-day rejuvenation.

 

“We do not lose heart.

Though outwardly we are wasting away,

yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”

–2 Corinthians 4:16 (emphasis added)

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God has established certain laws by which our world is governed. Gravity is one example. The law of entropy is another. It states that all elements of the universe tend to disintegrate over time. Plants and animals die and decay, iron rusts, rock erodes.

Our souls tend to disintegrate over time, too, when left unattended:

  • Worry and fear wreak havoc.
  • Self-centeredness creates an appetite for entertainment, possessions, and recognition—appetites that are never satiated.
  • Foolishness reigns because wisdom is ignored.
  • Rationalizations replace honest evaluations.
  • Uncontrolled behaviors harm relationships.

But when we avail ourselves of God’s influence day-by-day and step-by-step, the law of entropy has no effect on our souls.

 

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The Amplified Version expands the meaning:

 

“The steps of a [good and righteous] man

are directed and established by the Lord,

And He delights in his way

[and blesses his path].”

–Psalm 37:23, AMP

 

Consider the import of these key words:

 

Steps – Even spiritual achievement rarely happens in an instant. God values slow and steady progress.

 

Directed – He isn’t just interested in the details of our lives; he’s lovingly engineering them.

 

Established – There is always design and strategy in God’s endeavors, even if we only occasionally perceive it.

 

Delights – God is pleased with those who follow the path he has thoughtfully and wisely set.

 

Blesses – God lovingly bestows such gifts as peace, joy, hope, satisfaction, and purposeful living.

 

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Holy Creator of new souls, as I stand on the brink of a new year, I do confess my failings to you. Purify my heart; show me how to refine even the motivations behind my right actions. Thank you for your gentle nudges to turn my mind toward you, and your loving attention upon every step of my life. I praise you that continual contact with you results in a soul–a life–that is continually refreshed and made new!

 

(Art & Photo credits:  www.pinterest.com; http://www.mybible.com; http://www.verseoftheday.com; http://www.dailylifeverse.com; http://www.pinterest.com.)

 

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Years ago I read a story that still comes to mind now and then.

As I recall, an older church member (a woman of very high standards which she vocalized frequently), came to visit a young mother of the church—unannounced.

The impromptu hostess—we’ll call her Beth—invited Mrs. Perfect into her home, grateful that she’d straightened up a bit after her two older children left for school. The two younger ones were playing quietly with new Legos (How fortunate was that?), allowing the two women to chat.

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As they sat at the kitchen table, Beth considered the room from her guest’s perspective: table cleared, dishes done, counters not too cluttered or spotted. Whew.

Then she saw it: an orange peel on the floor—not a fresh strip from breakfast; more likely from last week. How did I miss that? Beth thought. One thing for sure: Mrs. Perfect wouldn’t miss it. It was in plain view from where she sat, too.

Suddenly, Beth experienced an epiphany. What difference did it make to her if this poor, old woman noticed the orange peel? Mrs. Perfect, however, would leave with a spring in her step because she would never allow such filth to remain undetected on her floor.

And Beth smiled to herself as the other woman prattled on about the upcoming bazaar.   I hope that orange peel makes her day. And Beth truly meant it.

God brings that story to my mind because I have to fight against perfectionism, too.

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And the reasons? So others will be pleased with me, appreciate me, and admire my efforts. Notice: me, me, my.

Clearly perfectionism is a close relative of self-centeredness.  Oh, Lord, forgive me.

I pray God steers me away from such counter-productive expectations of myself. Instead, I want to strive for excellence.

Yes, there is a difference between perfection and excellence.

Perfectionists have the tendency to:

  • Set unreasonably high standards
  • Experience satisfaction only when those high standards are met
  • Become depressed over failures and disappointments
  • Be controlled by fear of failure and therefore procrastinate
  • Worry about disapproval when mistakes are made

On the other hand, those striving for excellence are likely to:

  • Set standards that are high but reachable
  • Enjoy the process as well as the outcome
  • Recover quickly from failures and disappointments
  • Keep fear under control with positive truth
  • View mistakes as opportunities for growth

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For the Christian, excellence should be our loving response to God, with the desire to please him.

And what might those responses look like, as we strive for excellence?

  • Ask God to reveal what his expectations are. Then invite him to work in us toward meeting his standard:  maturity (James 1:4).
  • Take pleasure in signs of spiritual growth, as we manifest the fruit of the Spirit more and more each day (Philippians 1:9-11).
  • Turn to him for encouragement and strength when failures and disappointments come (Psalm 18:25-33).
  • Keep fear under control with appropriate scriptures and uplifting devotionals (Psalm 118:5-8).
  • View mistakes as opportunities to grow in maturity and in our relationship with God (Proverbs 24:16).

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(By the way, when the Bible tells us to be perfect (as in Matthew 5:48), the words, mature and complete are helpful synonyms to interpose. Perfection is not within our abilities to achieve (Romans 3:23). We know it and God knows it.

Here’s what we can do:

“Strive toward holiness, yet relax in grace.”

–Philip Yancey

 

Isn’t that a wonderfully balanced goal?

Let’s remember: “Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone [including ourselves] put a harness of slavery [to perfectionism] on you.” – Galatians 5:1 (MSG)*

*Words in brackets added.

Photo credits:  www.deeprootsathome.com; http://www.femhack.com; http://www.worshipmatters.com; http://www.pinterest.com (2).

What are your thoughts about perfectionism and Christian excellence?  Share your comments below!

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My first teaching job was in a small community southwest of Lexington, Kentucky. Although the school included first through sixth grades, there were only five teachers. Second grade was divided, some students included in first, the rest with third. I was assigned the first/second split.

The first morning of school went by quickly as we read stories, played a few learning games, and completed a class chart of favorite summer activities. Soon it was time to march to the cafeteria for lunch.

The children lined up to receive their plates of food, and then were instructed to pick up napkins, utensils, cartons of milk, and straws – all without benefit of trays. Little hands struggled to hold so many items–much less carry them all without accident. (And why were the first and second graders seated farthest from the serving line? I never had the nerve to ask.)

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So began my habit of standing at the end of the counter, wrapping utensils and a straw in a napkin, then perching a milk carton on an empty corner of the plate as the students passed by.

One second grader, Ricky, was much too manly to use a straw. Each day he would proclaim, “I don’t need no straw.”

Each day I would patiently correct him: “I don’t need a straw.” Ricky would repeat it again after me.  It almost became a joke between us, as the exchange occurred day after day, month after month.

One noontime in March, while focused on wrapping the next set of flatware, I heard Ricky’s voice proudly proclaim, “I DON’T NEED A STRAW!”

My eyes popped, Ricky’s twinkled, and his broad smile indicated his pleasure in remembering–all by himself–how to correctly form his request.

A quick hug, a few pats on the back, and an “I-am-so-PROUD-of-you!” let him know how I felt.

It never occurred to me to say, “Well, it’s about time, Bud! You DO realize we’ve repeated this little ceremony over one hundred times, don’t you?”

No. This was a moment to celebrate! Our perseverance had paid off. And perhaps this one little grammatical victory would prompt Ricky to conquer the next. I was thrilled.

Do you suppose that’s how God feels when our “practice makes perfect?”

When:

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  • Our quiet time with him finally becomes a near-daily habit?
  • We remember to express gratitude and praise to him throughout the day?
  • We’re able to think before we speak more consistently?
  • We forgo some purchase for pleasure in order to supply someone else with necessities?
  • We put aside our agenda to do a favor for someone else?

Yes, I believe God is thrilled with our steps of progress, just as I was with Ricky’s effort. If God withheld his pleasure until we reached perfection, we’d never experience even one good thing (Psalm 84:11). He’d always be in discipline-mode.

But Isaiah tells us: “The Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion” (30:18).

David reminds us that out of his grace and compassion he guides our steps and takes delight when we follow his way (Psalm 37:23).

Another psalmist proclaimed that the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love (147:11).   No mention of delight reserved only for those who are perfect.

Ah, but what about Jesus’ statement in Matthew 5:48:   “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect?”

Yes, that is the standard, but God does not disapprove of us because we have not achieved that goal.   He knows perfection this side of heaven is impossible. What he does approve of is effort—to press on like Paul to “receive the heavenly prize for which God through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Philippians 3:12-14).

When we stumble, we keep going. When we fall, we get up and try again.

But listen closely.  You’ll hear God celebrating our progress (Zephaniah 3:17).

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We praise you, Heavenly Father, for being a gracious, compassionate God,

who is slow to become angry and always abounding in loving-kindness.

Even as we strive to be more like you,

we can rest in the knowledge that you will not condemn us

when we stumble and fall.

Thank you for your readiness to forgive and your everlasting love.  

Thank you for continually drawing us closer to you and your perfection. 

(Psalm 103:1-2, Romans 8:1; 1 John 1:9; Jeremiah 31:3).

Photo credits:  www.pinterest.com; http://www.grist.org; http://www.neabscobaptist.org; http://www.untilsheflies.com.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Last week, on April 22nd, I read the devotion, “Listen to Me Continually,” by Sarah Young (Jesus Calling, Integrity Publishers, 2004).

Did you happen to read it, too?

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As you may know, Sarah determined a number of years ago to listen to God with pen in hand and write down whatever she believed he was saying to her. Those meditative moments became this book.

God’s messages through Sarah often speak timely challenges to me.  Last Thursday was no exception.

First, a bit of background.

As I write this, my to-do list is a bit long, even though I’m retired. (To those who are still employed or still have children at home under your charge, that sounds ridiculous, I know. But let me tell you, retirement does not change how busy you are, just what you are busy doing.)

Not only is that list of tasks long, but I have a strong desire to do a thorough job on each item. After all,

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(“If a task is worth doing, it is worth doing well.”)

Except that goal can easily lead to perfectionism, which I do have to fight against.

So here is what Sarah sensed Jesus telling her for April 22nd:

When Jesus died, he set us free. That includes freedom from compulsive planning.

And that’s exactly what I have been doing: figuring out when I could accomplish certain jobs, deciding whether a few tasks could be postponed, wondering if I’d be able to accomplish everything–on time.

Jesus continued; Sarah wrote more:

When we’re distracted by a whirlwind of thoughts, we cannot hear his voice.

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Oh, Lord, that is so true. Sometimes my thoughts are a stress-inducing jumble of “Stay on task! Don’t waste a minute! Don’t forget that! Do this first!” No wonder I feel overwhelmed.

Then Jesus and Sarah hit me between the eyes:

“A mind preoccupied with planning pays homage to the idol of control.”

Oh, my. I never thought of planning as a possible idol, something excessively adored.

But there is truth in that idea. I do prefer to be in control, to feel competent in handling my responsibilities, to know that everything will be accomplished efficiently and in a timely manner.

That sounds an awful lot like pride, doesn’t it.

I don’t think the problem lies in the planning, as if it’s a sin to make a to-do list.

The sin is in the attitude.  I need to ask myself:   Is my planning an effort toward making an impression? Rooting for compliments? Looking for a pat on the back?  I have to be honest.  Sometimes, yes.

Jesus reminded me (through Sarah) that my attention needs to be on him, not on the best ways to complete a task list. I need to listen to him, not the voices telling me to hurry to do this; scurry to do that.

And what will be the result? Stress will melt away, and I’ll enjoy the peaceful, God-enhanced, abundant life he’s promised.  I’ll be more useful to him and compliant to his will instead of mine.

That sounds much more satisfying and enjoyable, doesn’t it.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Heavenly Father, I am so sorry that I’ve allowed a preoccupation with planning to become an idol. Help me to hold very loosely the plans I make, in order to embrace the interruptions and changes ordained by you. Teach me also to release control of the to-do list to you.  Amen.

Photo credits:  www.imgbuddy.com; http://www.picturequotes.com; http://www.eastbabtlife.com.)

 

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If I asked you, “What’s the most popular flower?”, you’d probably get the answer right. It’s the rose. En masse on the bush, they provide a striking sight—dozens of large blooms framed by dark green leaves.

 

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But most of us can’t pass by a rose-bush without leaning in close to view the soft petals, and breathe in the singular scent. To study a blossom up close enhances our appreciation.

 

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We notice the varying colors, the delicate curl of each petal, the intricate, spiraling pattern. Our sense of wonder increases the more we gaze.

Might the same be true as we study the beauty of our God? That’s what David wanted to do:

 

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(“One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple” (Psalm 27:4).

 

But how can we gaze upon an invisible God? By contemplating all his glorious attributes. One commentator described the beauty of the Lord as the harmony of his perfections. I like that.

Just as the petals of a rose create a harmony of color, pattern, symmetry, and form, so the traits of our holy God manifest a harmony of perfect grace, holiness, triunity, and power.

And though we may be acquainted with a number of God’s attributes, appreciation of their beauty expands with a close-up view—through the lenses of scripture and personal experience.  For example:

God’s beautiful grace becomes visible in the story of the prodigal son, as we witness the father actually running to welcome his wayward son home.  He throws his arms around the filthy youth, even kissing him (Luke 15:11-20).

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God’s glorious holiness (purity, righteousness, and separateness from everything else in the universe) is highlighted in Revelation 4:1-11 as John strains for words to describe the Lord of heaven…

… ”Seated on the Throne, suffused in gem hues of amber and flame with a nimbus of emerald…Lightning flash and thunder crash pulsed from the Throne. Seven fire-blazing torches fronted the Throne (these are the Sevenfold Spirit of God)” — vs. 3-5, The Message.  

God’s harmonious triunity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is celebrated in Ephesians 1. Paul reminds us that:

  • God the Father bestows all spiritual blessings upon us (v.3).
  • God the Son provided redemption and forgiveness of our sin (v.7).
  • God the Spirit guarantees our inheritance in heaven and gives us assurance (vs. 13b-14).

And God’s magnificent power is on display throughout scripture and creation, even in our personal lives.  Our Heavenly Father is a God of infinite wisdom, unfailing guidance, strong empowerment, attentive care, competent help,  rich blessings, and more.

We can contemplate each of these attributes as we would the individual petals of a perfect rose.  We can remember occasions when he has demonstrated each trait in our lives.  And perhaps we’ll burst into song as Moses did:

 

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(“Who among the god is like you, O Lord?  Who is like you–majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” — Exodus 15:11).

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My heart fills with wonder and praise, O Lord, because you are a beautiful, holy God.  No one is your equal in power, wisdom, creativity, splendor, or love.  No one else is perfect in all he does.  And you, in all your holy glory are  My.  Heavenly.  Father.   Such statements are too glorious to comprehend!  

But oh, how grateful I am that they are true.

(Photo & art credits:  www.dorsetcereals.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.ameliarhodes.com; http://www.luke-15.org; http://www.praisejesustoday.com.)

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A new year requires a new calendar.  Don’t you just love the crisp, uncurled pages–the empty spaces for each day, filled with nothing but optimistic possibilities?

Perhaps you’re starting the new year with a fresh journal.  Again, the pristine pages are filled with nothing but hope and expectation.

We might also desire to start the new year with:

  • New eyes—to see the glory of God around us
  • New ears—to hear his still, small voice.
  • New resolve—to follow God’s direction.
  • New courage—to speak his truth boldly.
  • New faith—to live with confident trust in our Heavenly Father.

These abilities cannot be bought at Barnes & Nobles, like a calendar or journal.  They are procured through prayer and discipline.

A good place to begin?  David’s prayer in Psalm 51:   “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me…Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me” (Psalm 51:10, 12).

Allow me to personalize it a bit.

Create in me a pure heart, O God (just as you created a perfect universe from chaos).

And renew a steadfast spirit within me (that my greatest desire might be to please you).

Restore to me the joy of your salvation (just as we experience in the euphoria of Christmas Eve)!

Grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me (throughout 2014).

The typical new year’s resolution is made, broken, and forgotten.  Rarely does someone make a once-a-year promise and keep it faithfully for the next 364 days.

Perhaps we’d be wise to see each new day as a fresh opportunity for beginning anew.  To repent of yesterday’s failures and forget them. To strain toward what is ahead—with enthusiasm, expectation, and hope (Philippians 3:13).

And gradually those new abilities we aspire after, will begin to flourish.

God says, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See I am doing a new thing” (Isaiah 43:18-19a)!

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Thank you, Father, for your mercy to forgive the past, and  your grace to provide for the future.  Thank you that each morning is a fresh start, and each new day holds hidden opportunities.  With great anticipation I turn the page!   

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