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(Granddaughter #3, Maarit Anne*, was born on Sunday, January 15.)

 

Creator of Maarit Anne and Heavenly Father of us all,

We praise you for this precious gift of new life—

A delightful reward from your gracious hand of love.

Already she is a blessing as we cuddle her tiny form,

Caress her downy head, and kiss her soft cheeks.

 

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We marvel how you wove together so many disparate parts

To create this unique little person,

Evident in her distinctive collection of family traits:

Mommy’s dark hair and Daddy’s brow line,

Auntie Heather’s long, slender fingers, and

Grandpa Terry’s narrow feet.

In more ways yet to be revealed Maarit is an exemplification

Of your exquisite workmanship—

a heavenly piece of poetry—

in mind, body, soul, and spirit.

 

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We praise you for the perfect life-course

You’ve already planned for Maarit—

A future gleaming with hope because

You’ve set her apart and equipped her

For special purpose to accomplish your good works.

 

May her eyes be drawn to you and your Word,

The wondrous splendors of your creation,

And the signs of your love all around her.

May Maarit’s mouth be filled with praise,

Declaring your glory all day long.

May her ears be quick to hear your voice,

And her heart be delighted to respond.

 

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May Maarit’s spirit grow strong

In the loving care and nurture of Jesus.

May she wear your instruction

As a garland of praise.

 

Give to all who love and care for Maarit

The wisdom and grace to guide her in all your ways.

Protect and provide for her all the days

You’ve ordained for her.

 

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These things we ask for our Maarit Anne

In the Name of Jesus.

Amen.

 

(Psalm 127:3, 139:15; Ephesians 2:10; Psalm 119:18; Jeremiah 1:5, 29:11;

Psalm 71:8; Proverbs 23:12; Psalm 119:35; Proverbs 1:9; Psalm 139:16, Psalm 23:6.)

 

*Maar (rhymes with bar)-it is a Finnish name, meaning “pearl,” in honor of our daughter-in-law’s Finnish heritage on her mother’s side. Maarit’s middle name was given in honor of Hilja’s grandmother–and me, a delightful, humbling surprise.

 

Art & photo credits:  Nancy Ruegg; http://www.pinterest (3), http://www.ourdailyblossom.com.

 

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Sometime on Christmas Eve, after the kids have finally fallen asleep and the last gift is wrapped and all do-ahead preparation is completed for Christmas dinner, peace on earth will at last settle in many homes.  Such peace is characterized by contentedness that everything is ready for tomorrow.  There’s also a sense of good will toward mankind–even toward the eccentric relatives who’ve come for the weekend.

But of course such peace doesn’t last long. The children awake and the noisy celebration begins—way too early in the morning.

Truth is, throughout recorded history, peace on earth has always occurred in small, intermittent fits. Since 36 B.C., the world has seen 15,000 wars.*

So it seems incongruous that the angels told the shepherds, “On earth peace to men” (Luke 2:14)–until we read the rest of their proclamation: “On earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

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We have to understand: the heavenly choir was not proclaiming universal, political peace but individual, internal peace to those who enjoy God’s favor (same verse, ISV).

So how do we access this favor and receive God’s peace? It occurs as we:

  1. Accept Jesus’ invitation to be in relationship with him.

He is the way God has chosen for man to be reconciled to himself (John 14:6).

Some people want to believe all religions should lead to God. It doesn’t seem fair to them that one is deemed better than another. But if we look at the situation from God’s point of view we realize: It’s not necessary there be dozens of ways to him. He chose one way, through his Son, Jesus.

And those who accept him into their lives do indeed receive great favor. They become the children of the King of the universe (John 1:12)–forever.

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  1. Learn more about God and his attributes. “May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord (1 Peter 1:2, NLT). For example: 
  • He knows all (Romans 11:32-36)—every worrisome situation and how he will resolve it.
  • He is all-powerful, able to do anything (Job 42:2). If, in his wisdom, he chooses not to rescue us from our circumstances, then he’ll see us through.
  • Everything is under his control (Psalm 103:19)–even those inexplicable, puzzling events that throw us into a momentary tailspin.
  • Everything he does is good and right (Deuteronomy 32:4).
  • He makes perfect decisions, including how and when all events will unfold (Psalm 147:5).

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The more we know, the more confidently we can rest in our powerful, all-wise God.

  1. Review his promises.

 At the first sign of worry or fear, we can replenish our peace with a scripture promise. A few of my favorites include:

  • “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24).
  • “I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
  • “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

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  1. Pray.

 Our prayers about the situations that troubles us can include praise that God’s glorious attributes are already at work, his promises never fail, and his blessings continue to flow. Worship is the way to peace (Philippians 4:6-8).

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  1. Practice God’s presence.

 Strive to live aware of God’s presence at all times, in every place—even at the kitchen sink, in the car, at the mall, in the office.

And during those rather mindless moments while washing dishes, sitting at a stoplight, or walking from one store to another, we can enjoy his company and affirm our trust. Strong trust results in peace (Isaiah 26:3).

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To enjoy God’s favor and peace does not mean we are devoid of emotion or concern. It’s when concern is accompanied by unbelief in God’s attributes or promises that worry and fear result. But if concern is combined with prayerful faith, then perfect peace is the outcome—peace that will not only pervade the mayhem of Christmas morning, but also the maelstroms of life.

What helps you  open your heart to God’s peace?  Tell us about it in the comment section below. 

*John MacArthur, www.gty.org , “The Gift of Peace.”

(Art & photo credits:  www.imgur.com; http://www.indulgy.com; http://www.pinterest.com (4); http://www.flickr.com.)

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We’re off! The race to Christmas has begun.

The next twenty-six days will include shopping, wrapping, sending, writing (the Christmas cards), decorating, cleaning, baking, attending, final rehearsing and performing. Did I leave out anything?

No doubt some of you are far down the track. Your house is already decorated, the cards are nearly finished, the cookies are baked and tucked in the freezer. You started preparations weeks ago.

 

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I am not among you—never have been. What would Christmas be without a little hustle and bustle to get the adrenalin flowing? Except I almost always become overwhelmed, which leads to frazzled nerves.

This year I want to maintain (or recapture as needed) an Advent perspective of tranquil expectation and worshipful celebration—even when the schedule and the to-do list get a little crazy.

How?  The following three ways might be a good place to begin:

 

1. Gratitude.

Gratitude will prepare the way—the way to salvation from discontent and agitation, the way to the presence of God.

 

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(“He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me

and prepares the way

so that I may show him

the salvation of God.”

–Psalm 50:23)

 

Gratitude renews my mind and spirit as I remember: “The things [I] take for granted, someone else is praying for”–things like:

  • Colorful Christmas cards in the mailbox
  • An ample supply of sugar, flour, and butter for cookies
  • A Christmas tree filled with treasured, memory-laden ornaments
  • Loving family gathered to revel in each other’s company and hear the story of Jesus’ birth once again
  • Presents aplenty under that tree, to express our love

 

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“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” – William Arthur Ward (1921-1994).

What better time than Advent to be more thankful, to experience more joy, to take note of our many blessings in the ordinary? M-m-m. ‘Think I’ll reflect on that question in my journal during these days leading up to Christmas.

 

2. Prayer.

 If someone asked me, “Is there a scripture about the impact of prayer on a person’s emotional state?” I’d steer them to Philippians 4:6-7.

 

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“Do not be anxious about anything,

but in everything, by prayer and petition,

with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

And the peace of God,

Which transcends all understanding,

Will guard your hearts and your minds

In Christ Jesus.”

 

How easy it is to steer others in the right direction, but not take that route myself.

So these reminders are for me:

  • Be anxious about nothing – including the long task-list that requires completion by Christmas.
  • Pray with a grateful heart about everything that needs to be done – including what to say on the Christmas cards, what gifts to give, what is needful to accomplish and what is just my OCD in over-drive.
  • Pray for godly perspective. The result will be as he has promised: peace that transcends understanding.

To keep mindful, I’ve put Philippians 4:6-7 on the bathroom mirror.

 

3. Hope.

 

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Yesterday, the first Sunday of Advent, we focused on the word, wait –an action often accompanied by impatience.

But in the ancient language of the Bible, Hebrew, the word wait is the same as the word for hope. How appropriate—hopeful waiting—waiting that includes positive expectation, confident assurance, and absolute conviction, because our God is the One and only God of hope.

And because of him we have confident assurance of:

  • Strength (Psalm 31:24)
  • Blessing (Jeremiah 17:7)
  • Joy and peace (Romans 15:13)
  • Eternal life (Titus 1:2)

 

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What a glorious list.  And that’s just the beginning.

If I focus on my God of hope and all his benefits, my attitude will be transformed (Romans 12:2). If I turn my face to the Son, the shadows will fall behind me.*

Too often in the past, my attitude has turned the season of Advent into an adversary to be beaten.

This year I want Advent to be an adventure of gratitude, prayer, and hope.

 

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*Based on a Maori proverb

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.flickr.com (2); http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.youtube.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.pixabay.com.)

 

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Some years ago I started keeping prayer cards instead of a prayer list. A 3x 5 gives plenty of room to record updates and answers. Another benefit: It’s easy to rotate through the stack, praying for six to ten people/organizations per day.

One card in the stack trips me up. At the top is written the name of “a difficult person.” He’s arrogant, dishonest, and unreliable.

I know I need to include him in my prayers, but I hardly know where to begin, except for “God, help this man!”

So I finally did some reading on the subject of difficult people, to find out how to pray for such individuals. Below are several suggestions I found helpful. If you have challenging folks in your life, perhaps you’ll find these thoughts useful also.

First, I need to begin with repentance. Before I pray about the faults and shortcomings of others, I need to address my own (Matthew 7:1-5). In addition, before I look at the person to be forgiven, I must look to God for the power to forgive (1).

 

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Second, I can ask God to:

  1. Open the heart of this person to the error(s) of his ways.
  1. Reveal the truth of the gospel to him—that Jesus is the only Way to salvation.
  1. Grant the person self-awareness so he’ll see how his choices and behavior negatively impact others.
  1. Curtail his influence so that innocent people might be protected.
  1. Bring godly people into his sphere, to exemplify the God-enhanced life.
  1. Cause circumstances that draw his attention to God.
  1. Reveal the difference to him between godly wisdom and human foolishness.

 

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Third, I can praise God that:

  • He is sovereign over all—even difficult people.
  • He can cause positive outcomes—in spite of erroneous judgments.
  • “Mistakes” on their part can actually produce God-ordained benefits.

 

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And just how might such a prayer unfold? Perhaps something like this:

 

Oh, God, as I pray for those who

cause great frustration and even suffering for others,

it’s easy to lose sight of my own sinfulness.

I have not lived free of pride, dishonesty or unreliability either.

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Forgive me, Father, for the many ways

I fall short of your desires for me.

Thank you for your grace and love that

prompt you to accept my confession and

prod me toward greater reliance upon you,

to become a better version of myself.

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Because I fall short

(even though I know you as my Savior and Master),

it is with deep humility I pray for Mr. X.

I am no better than he is.

 

First, may he recognize the truth of your Word

and the reality of salvation through your Son, Jesus.

I pray Mr. X will seek the Light of your wisdom to guide his way.

May your Holy Spirit shed Light on the choices he’s already made,

and reveal to him the full, true consequences of his behavior.

Guide him to change course to your ways.

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I thank you, Lord, that every day you are

sending Christians into Mr. X’s life as bearers of your Light,

to draw him to you.

You are engineering circumstances that highlight your power,

and using that sovereign power to curtail his influence.

I thank you for your ability

to produce positive outcomes even through difficult people.

The story of Joseph is one example.

In addition, even mistakes on the part of Mr. X

can actually produce just and righteous benefits.

 

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Oh, how I praise you, Almighty God,

that you have established your throne in heaven,

and your kingdom rules over all—

even over difficult people.

 

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(Psalm 51:1-5; Romans 3:23; Romans 7:18; Ecclesiastes 2:13; John 16:13; Psalm 119:130; Matthew 5:16; Romans 1:20; Psalm 37:17; Proverbs 19:21; Psalm 103:19)

  1. Ralph Sockman,The Higher Happiness, Pierce & Smith, 1950, p. 107.

 

How do you pray for difficult people?  Please share your insights in the Comments section below!

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.fotosearch.com; http://www.pinterest.com (5), http://www.ourdailyblossom.com; http://www.pinterest (2).

 

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(“Every day we should hear at least one little song,

read one good poem, see one exquisite picture,

and, if possible, speak a few sensible words.”

–Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1749-1838)

Author and lawyer, von Goethe, was much too easily satisfied.

Yes, a day without music would be dreary.

Poetry does feed the soul and intellect in ways that prose does not.

An exquisite picture does lift the spirit.

It’s also true that sharing a few words of wisdom can be satisfying.

Yet, is that enough for one day?  What about:

  • Offering the music of “thank you” or “you go first” or “I love your smile?”
  • Reading and pondering several verses of scripture?  That will feed the soul and intellect even more than poetry.
  • Creating an exquisite picture of kindness by finding ways to be helpful and engaging?  Such artful living often impacts people more than we realize.
  • Speaking a few sensible words of encouragement, and feeling uplifted ourselves?

But beyond von Goethe’s suggestions of music, poetry, art, and wisdom are many more possibilities for a day full of delight.  We can:

 

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  • Savor a pleasurable moment or memory–better yet, when the two happen back-to-back.  Just today a neighbor girl whooshed by on her scooter, and I was reminded of happy, long ago days doing some whooshing of my own on bicycles or skates.  I smiled.
  • Make a discovery or learn something new.  Read.   Listen.  Think.  Recently in C. S. Lewis’s The Weight of Glory (Eerdman’s Publishing, 1949), I came across this statement:  “Obedience is the road to freedom, humility the road to pleasure, unity the road to personality” (p. 36).  Well deserving of some careful pondering, I think.
  • Celebrate at least one small miracle of nature:  a magnificent cloud formation, bright green growth on the tips of evergreen boughs, a cardinal’s song echoing through the woods.
  • Engage the creative side:  draw (even if it’s doodling), paint (even if it’s adding color to someone else’s art), or write (even if it’s in a journal that no one else will see).
  • Offer a smile–wherever we are.  “Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.  Peace begins with a smile” (Mother Teresa).  Better yet, add words–a cheerful greeting, a compliment, a bit of gratitude.

 

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  • End the day by counting blessings.  Drift off to sleep in an attitude of prayer–a prayer such as this:

*     *     *     *    *     *     *     *    *     *

Thank you, Father, for your gifts that offer daily delight–gifts like the warm pleasure of childhood memories bubbling to the surface unexpectedly, discoveries that challenge the mind and inspire the soul, and miracles of nature that amaze.

Thank you, oh God, for creating us in your image, including the ability to imagine, design, and produce.  Thank you for the deep satisfaction of the creative process.

And thank you for the astounding privilege to be a positive influence in this world, an ambassador for your Son.

 

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(Art & photo credits:  www.doublequotes.net; http://www.beactive.com; http://www.pinterest.com (2).

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(reblogged from 10-24-13)

“Mail’s here early today!” called Lorna, as she entered the kitchen.

Oh, that was good news. Living far from home in Quito, Ecuador made letters a very precious commodity.

“Terrific!” I responded, and dashed upstairs to get my keys.

Lorna and her husband, Elbert, served as missionaries with HCJB. I was a short-termer, living with them for the four months of my assignment as a preschool and kindergarten teacher.

 

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The compound was only a brief walk from the house. Once there, it was just a matter of unlocking the gate, heading down the main walkway a short distance, up a few steps, and into the post office alcove where all our mailboxes were located.

I jogged the whole way there and back, excited to read my mail. But no sooner did I return home than my head started to pound, nausea engulfed me, and all I wanted to do was lie down. Never mind those coveted letters!

My problem was not a sudden onset of the flu, but mild hypoxia–oxygen deprivation. Quito is located 10,000 feet above sea level in the Andes Mountains.

My experience (as well as those of countless others) proves: we humans require oxygen—lots of it.

Even folks who live near sea level can suffer from lack of oxygen, because they’ve become accustomed to shallow breathing. Their bodies never receive enough oxygenated air, causing them to feel short of breath and anxious.

On the other hand, research has proven that deep breathing helps us manage stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure and heart rate, and even spark brain growth. By not taking slow, deep breaths now and again, we deprive ourselves of these benefits.

M-m-m. Reminds me of Ecclesiastes 2:10-11, where King Solomon lamented the results of shallow living: chasing after wealth, accomplishments, and pleasure. In the end, nothing gave him lasting satisfaction and fulfillment.

Shallow living brings on symptoms in the spirit, similar to oxygen deprivation in the mind and body: heartache, fatigue with life, nausea from repetitive, meaningless activity, and shortness of temper.

In contrast to Solomon’s lament in Ecclesiastes is Paul’s praise to God for the power and strength of deep living:

“Oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength” (Ephesians 1:19, MSG)!

Deep living happens when we breathe in God’s strength with a prayer, his wisdom and encouragement with a scripture, his joy with a song.

Deep living happens when we practice his presence as automatically as we breathe.

And how do we do that, “practice his presence?”

By pausing frequently throughout each day, to turn our attention to God.

I might say such things as:

  • Thank You, Lord, for this new day. Work through me to accomplish your purpose.
  • I love you, Heavenly Father. Thank you for filling my heart with peace and joy every time I turn my attention to you.
  • Thank you for your power at work in me as I complete this task.
  • The wonders of your creation–graceful tree branches dancing in the breeze, lyrical songs of the mockingbirds, delicious aromas of pine and orange blossoms–They make my heart sing with praise!
  • Oh, Lord, I shouldn’t have spoken to Mary like that. Forgive me, I pray. Help me to think before I speak. And yes, I will apologize to her.

Refreshing. Energizing. Purifying. Like a deep breath of oxygen.

Shallow breathing causes a lesser quality of life. So does shallow living.

Deep breathing fosters strength of mind and body. Deep living does that and more.

Deep living radically transforms the spirit.

Let’s breathe/live deep!

* * * * * * * * * *

What deep living habits help you practice the presence of God?

(photo credit: http://www.wikipedia.com)

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Dear Father,

Christmas 2015 is almost here. Soon, all preparation will have to cease.

However (as You well know), my to-do list is still not complete; I’m going to have to prioritize and leave some things undone. That’s probably just as well, so my OCD tendencies don’t win over reasonableness!

But even as I try to settle myself, to pray and worship You on this holy day of Christmas Eve, distracting thoughts continue to ping around in my brain:

  • Did I dust the windowsills in the guest room? ‘Can’t remember.
  • Hey! We now have an evergreen tree in the yard. I could clip off some low branches and put them in the deck planters. That might look pretty.
  • Don’t forget to make sure the oil lamp is clean and ready for lighting.

I keep writing these thoughts down so they’re on paper and not in my head, because what I really want to do in these quiet moments is focus on You. I want to wonder again at the magnificent mystery of God becoming man. And I want to thank and praise You for sending Your Son to save me from the consequences of my sins.

Hush my mind, Lord; still my spirit as I pray…

 

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You are the God of the heavenly lights who lovingly sheds Your radiance over us.

With the angels, we praise You: “Glory to God in the Highest!”

All honor, splendor, and glory are Yours!

No one on earth or in heaven is as perfect and splendorous as You.

Who else can wrap himself in light as if it were a robe (Psalm 104:2)?

No one.  No one is Your equal.

What a comfort to know that Someone smarter and wiser than mere man is Sovereign over all.

What peace of mind You provide when I turn over to You the concerns of my life.

 

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Light of the World, Lord Jesus,

All praise to You for leaving Your glorious, heavenly home to dwell with us.

You are our Emmanuel—God with us.

More astounding yet, Your dwelling is not a general presence in the world, but personal.

You actually reside within each of us—when we invite You to do so. Another magnificent mystery.

And You have promised never to leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

In addition, Your Light provides guidance for our choices of action, strength to meet all life’s situations, confident hope for our future in heaven with You, and more.

 

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Help me, I pray, to rise up and shine like a brilliant star, because Your. Light. Has. Come (Isaiah 60:1; Philippians 2:14-15)! What a glorious privilege–to reflect Your Light, pointing the way to abundant life in You.

How I praise you, Lord Jesus, that Your glory, splendor, and power have risen upon me–an incomparable blessing I now enjoy in part, but one day in resplendent totality!

 

(Photo credits:  www.talkofjesus.com; http://www.themelight.radiantwebtools.com; http://www.eso.org.)

 

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