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Archive for the ‘Worship’ Category

 

“Let all who take refuge in you be glad;

let them ever sing for joy.

Spread your protection over them,

that those who love your name

may rejoice in you.

Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous;

you surround them with your favor

as with a shield.”

–Psalm 5:11-12

 

Thank you, Father, for each line of encouragement here, presenting truth worthy of contemplation and celebration. To that end this is my prayer:

 

 

I praise you, O God, for being my unfailing refuge—my protector and sanctuary.

Year after year you have:

  • Supplied my needs, like the three teaching positions you provided–each one a miracle (1)
  • Brought me through difficult circumstances, including moves to new communities that initially I wanted no part of
  • Surprised my husband and me with delights we didn’t expect, such as a generous check enclosed with a note, suggesting we enjoy much-needed R & R at our favorite getaway

 

(Aviles Street, St. Augustine, FL)

 

I’m not just glad you’re my refuge, I’m elated! My heart sings in celebration of your perfections, sovereignty, and kindness. You provide unending delight!

You have been my protection, preserving my life:

  • In dangerous circumstances, including that narrow mountain road outside Quito, Ecuador
  • From near accidents, such as that red-light runner who could have sent me spinning into heavy traffic
  • Through natural disasters, like those hurricanes during our forty years in Florida

 

(Hurricane Charley damage, 2004)

 

You have been my protection emotionally, carrying me through:

  • The incomprehensible, like the senseless death of a young friend
  • Hurtful circumstances, when those we trusted proved unreliable
  • Disappointment, as certain hopes were not realized

I thank you, Father, for every time you’ve limited our ordeals so we could endure; and when necessary you’ve given us your strength to withstand every difficulty (2).

 

  

I praise you, O God, that the righteous are not those who always say and do the right thing. Such a standard would disqualify me. Rather, the righteous include those who trust in you and love your many names–Shepherd, Counselor, Helper, and more.

I praise you that your favor includes adoption into your family, freedom from the eternal consequences of our sin, and freedom from guilt—when we ask Jesus into our lives (3).

You graciously give us access to your presence. And when we come you are always ready to listen, uplift, and advise (4).

 

 

You’ve designed us for purpose, to give us glorious satisfaction in life, and day after day you lavish blessing (5), including:

  • The privilege to watch children grow—from first steps to first race, from mere sounds to sentences, from making scribbles to writing stories
  • The delight of old friends we know well and new friends we want to know well
  • Your creativity all around us, whether it’s azure skies or smoke-like clouds, sunbeam ribbons or raindrop jewels, verdant treetops or bare filigree branches

 

 

Your shield of favor also stands between each of us and the evil forces on every side. You are beneath us as a foundation, over us as a shelter, at our right hand as security, before us to lead the way, and within us to provide strength (6).

Keep me mindful of all these glorious truths, O God—truths that make me more than glad. And as this new year begins, may my days be laced with praise to you, my choices motivated by gratitude to you, and my faith be strong in you until that day you take me home.

 

 

 

Notes:

  1. Two of those miracles are detailed in other posts, After the Fact and The Greater Plan.
  2. 1 Corinthians 10:13; Isaiah 41:10
  3. Ephesians 1:3-7
  4. Ephesians 3:18; 1 Peter 3:12; 2 Corinthians 1:3; Psalm 145:14; James 1:5
  5. Ephesians 1:11-12, 2:10; John 1:16
  6. Isaiah 28:16; Psalm 91:1; Psalm 73:23; John 10:3b, 4b; 1 John 4:4

 

(Photo credits:  http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; naplesnews.com; http://www.bible.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.commons.wikipedia.org.)

 

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Decades ago at the birthday party of a childhood friend, each of us that attended was given a surprise ball. (Maybe you remember this party favor?) Thin strands of colorful tissue paper were wrapped around and around to make the ball, about the size of a small grapefruit. Among the layers were tucked small trinkets.

We sat at the young host’s dining table, unwrapping, discovering, and exclaiming, until we’d created little piles of treats and toys such as candy, erasers, miniature tops, finger puppets, rings, gum, and stickers—next to a large mound of tissue spaghetti.

But the best surprise was at the center. When all the wrapping was removed, each girl found a miniature doll with hand-painted features, and each boy found a tiny car—with wheels that actually moved.

The trinkets paled in comparison to the treasures at the center.

I’m thinking the Christmas season offers us many delights among the layers of things to do and places to be, including:

 

 

  • unpacking the familiar decorations, each one laced with memories
  • baking vanilla sugar cookies and scenting the house
  • reading Christmas cards and letters, bringing far distant loved ones close to heart
  • creating a jumble of colorful packages under the tree

Lovely, holiday moments for sure, but they pale in comparison to the heart of Christmas: Jesus.

He is the treasure, and everything else is mere trifles.

 

He is the way—for a world that is lost.

He is the truth—in a world full of lies.

He is the life—for a world that is dying.

 

And the wonders of His radiance far exceed our capability to understand.

For example, he is:

 

 

  • Emmanuel—God with each of us always (Matthew 1:22-23)
  • God incarnate–fully divine, yet became fully human (John 1:14)
  • Our compassionate Friend (John 15:15)
  • Omnisapient—all-wise (Romans 16:27)
  • Lord of our Righteousness, putting us right with God (1 Corinthians 1:30)
  • Our great intercessor, praying for us continually (Hebrews 7:25)
  • Able to create out of nothing (Hebrews 11:3)
  • Productive —always working on our behalf (Hebrews 13:21)
  • Faultless–absolutely perfect (I John 3:5)
  • The Alpha and Omega—eternal from beginning to end (Revelation 22:13)

 

 

There is nothing wrong with the Christmas traditions of decorating, baking, card-sending, and gift-giving. But they are just paltry trinkets—unless Jesus is preeminent within the celebration.

 

https://quotefancy.com/saint-augustine-quotes

 

And as we contemplate our Treasure, adoration swells within our hearts:

Lord Jesus, we bow in holy wonder before your supreme majesty, incomparable power, and unfathomable glory. You are the Morning Star! The King of kings! The Everlasting Father!

Yet, out of love for us, you left your throne and kingly crown to take on human form, giving up your majesty for a manger, supreme rule for severe restraint, and the beauty of heaven for the brokenness of earth.

What wondrous love is this, that you were willing to bear the dreadful curse for our souls? Our minds cannot comprehend.

 

 

But our hearts can sing in adoration of you and your overwhelming love that dispels the darkness with glorious splendor and ushers in eternal bliss—when we say YES to You.

 

You have opened heaven’s door,

Man is blessed forevermore–

Jesus, our priceless Treasure.

 

(Carols referenced: “Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne,” “What Wondrous Love Is This,” “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” “Good Christian Men, Rejoice.”)

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.publicdomainfiles.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.canva.org; http://www.jpl.nasa.gov; http://www.quotefancy.com; http://www.canva.com.

 

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“Would you look at this?” my friend exclaimed. Her outstretched hand waved over a selection of magazines in our favorite place to meet, a local bookstore/cafe.

 

 

Do you see what caught Cindy’s* eye? That word “Mindfulness” or “Mindful” shouted from nine different periodicals.

After the initial surprise, we realized why mindfulness is such a hot topic.  These days many adults are under great pressure to push themselves hard, move faster and accomplish more each day. All the while electronic devices are demanding their attention.

Add to that the worries rasping in their minds: the mistakes and failures of yesterday, the tight schedule and uncertainties of tomorrow, and fears for the future.

The pace, stress, and anxiety take their toll in the form of health problems, sleep disorders, and relational strain.

 

 

As a result, many have embraced mindfulness—a pleasurable time-out to capture the joy of now–like pausing to savor the tart, crisp, juiciness of an apple, stopping to listen as small bare feet patter down the stairs, or taking a moment to study a chipmunk collecting acorns.

And according to the research, just a brief interlude of mindfulness can calm the nerves, reset one’s emotional equilibrium, and foster contentment—all to positive effect upon our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

But I wonder, how many people know God offers even more–if we augment mindfulness with gratitude and praise?

 

 

For example, while doing the dishes I can focus on the hot water warming my hands, the clean scent of soap, the rainbowed bubbles floating in a bowl, the burbling water cascading over glasses and cups–then add a short prayer:

Thank you, Father, for giving us five senses

with which to enjoy your world.

 

 

While traveling in the car I can take note of the late summer haze clinging to the hillsides, today’s cloud exhibition, and the leaves on the roadside performing pirouettes on the breeze–then honor the Lord of all things:

I praise you, Father, for your creative genius

on display everywhere I look.

 

 

While reading a book with my two-year old granddaughter, I can pay attention to the sensation of her little body snuggled into my side, the sweet sound of her toddler-voice “reading” some of the words, and the dimples on the back of her hand as she points to a picture–then express gratitude to the Giver of all good gifts:

Thank you, Father, for the delights to be found

beneath the surface of ordinary experience.

 

 

Each day I can pause to observe the rose-pink tint of dawn, the dappled treetops in the noonday sun, and the slow glide of shadows at sunset–then rejoice in God’s power and glory.

My mouth is filled with your praise, O God,

declaring your splendor all day long.”

–Psalm 71:8

 

 

Mindfulness may prod us to notice God’s gifts in the moment, and that’s good.

But mindfulness plus gratitude and praise prompt us to treasure him, and that’s transformational.

God’s presence becomes palpable (James 4:8), joy sings in our hearts (Psalm 92:4), contentment settles in our spirits (Isaiah 26:3).

And the Giver of all good things surely smiles with pleasure in response.

 

 

*Name changed.

 

Photo credits:  Nancy Ruegg; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.pexels.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.pexels.com; http://www.pixabay.com; ww.canva.com.)

 

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Generations ago, an ancestor of pastor Fred Craddock suggested that Sunday afternoons be spent on nature walks to find and admire God’s handiwork. He called it, “going marveling (1).”

That phrase brought to mind the old Christmas carol, “Here We Come A-Wassailing.”  ‘Remember the first few lines?

 

Here we come a-wassailing

Among the leaves so green,

Here we come a-wand’ring

So fair to be seen.

 

If we’d accompanied Pastor Craddock’s forbearers on one of those woodland hikes, perhaps we would have sung:

 

Here we go a-marveling

Among the leaves so green,

All around creation charms;

Such fairness to be seen.

 

Indeed, our God of wonders provides fairness (as a synonym for splendor) in countless ways:

 

from the majestic…

 

 

…to the minute,

 

 

From the firm…

 

 

…to the fragile,

 

 

From the colorful…

 

 

…to the camouflaged.

 

 

“Wows come in all shapes and sizes.”

–Anne Lamott

 

But there are many more sources of jaw-dropping awe that deserve our attention.

We can go a-marveling at the wonder of us.

Consider these wows:

  • Approximately sixty thousand miles of blood vessels course through the human body—enough to wrap the earth more than twice (2).
  • Blood travels 12,000 miles per day through the vascular system.  That’s equivalent to the distance from coast to coast across the U.S.—four times (3).
  • Human hemoglobin that makes our blood red is made up of extremely complex molecules. Each contains 9520 atoms of various elements, hooked together in a precise pattern (4).

 

 

Hemoglobin Molecule

 

Astounding, isn’t it?  And with King David we can certainly affirm:

 

 

We can go a-marveling through our memories. Perhaps you remember such delights as these: 

  • Coming in from the cold to be warmed by thick, hot soup and familial love around the table
  • Almost floating down the sidewalk on the first warm day of spring—with no coat or boots to weigh you down
  • A board game with friends—complete with popcorn and laughter

 

 

Even such ordinary events as these inspire wonder, because they point to a God who orchestrates satisfying moments into all our days.

We can also go a-marveling through the memories of miracles.

No doubt you’ve experienced spectacular moments such as these:

  • A new job provided just as the old one was terminated
  • The cost of a new refrigerator covered by a surprise check in the mail
  •  A baby born dangerously premature that not only survives but thrives

 

 

And while marveling at the miracles…

…We can go a-marveling at the wonder of prayer, which often precedes God’s astounding works.

First, our all-powerful God allows mere humans to come alongside him as he engineers events and accomplishes his good purposes.

Second, and even more marvelous, his Spirit comes alongside us as our partner in prayer, helping us pray as we should.

 

 

How wondrous is that?

Finally, we can go a-marveling through scripture.

The Bible was written by at least forty authors from different walks of life, over the span of 1500+ years, on three continents. No other book has come into existence out of such wide-reaching diversity. And yet the reader can’t help but notice the unity of its content.

Within the pages of scripture we find wisdom and inspiration for living, strength for difficulty, comfort for pain, and peace for unrest.

It’s true:  those who know their Bibles best, marvel at its truths the most. They notice “wonder after wonder, and every wonder true” (St. Brude).

 

 

And where might all this marveling lead?  To still more wonders:   stronger faith, deeper contentment, and greater joy.

 

*     *     *     *     *    *     *     *     *     *

 

Who is like you, O God—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, continually working wonders? Our lives are FULL of marvels, O God!  May we be lost in wonder, love, and praise, just like the old hymn writer proclaimed. 

(Exodus 15:11; “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” by Charles Wesley)

 

What are you marveling in today?  Tell us in the comment section below!

 

Notes:

  1. Fred B. Craddock, Craddock Stories, ed. Mike Graves and Richard F. Ward, p. 65.
  2. https://my.cleveleandclinic.org>health>articles>17059
  3. https://iheartintelligence.com/35-incredible-facts-about-the-human-body-that-might-surprise-you/
  4. John Phillips, Exploring John’s First Epistle, Kregel Publications, 2003, p. 36.

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.pixabay.com (2); http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.usnhistory.navylive.dodlive.mil; http://www.maxpixel.net; http://www.flickr.com (2); http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.maxpixel.net; http://www.usafe.af.mil; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.needpix.com.

 

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The summers of my childhood included a blend of games and activities with neighborhood friends, afternoons at the community pool, bike rides to the library, and a few weeks spent with Grandma Clara and Grandpa Henry who lived four hours away in Iowa.

No doubt some would describe our summer experiences as mundane, not realizing the joy hidden among the ordinary:

  • The delight of lazy Monopoly marathons
  • The wonder of fireflies in a jar
  • The satisfaction of a big bowl of buttery popcorn–after biking to the park and spending several hours of nonstop cavorting in the pool, then biking home again
  • The pleasure of tucking ourselves under the willow tree to read
  • The fun of an evening bike ride with Dad

 

 

It’s the small, happy moments—not the grand events—that contribute to satisfying days and a joy-filled life.

 

The joy of small…makes life large.

–Ann Voskamp (1)

 

However, I have to admit: my childhood-self took those lovely moments for granted. I lived unaware of God’s glory pervading my everyday experiences: his creative genius on display—even in the backyard, his love, peace, and security within a family grounded on Christian values, and his goodness to provide joy-filled moments that shimmer in my memory with holy perfection.

Now, as the decades have passed, I’m learning to identify more of the transcendent moments God provides, including:

 

 

  • A cardinal filling the silence of the woods with his hope-inspiring “Cheer! Cheer! Cheer!”
  • A toddler wrapping her arms around my neck and crying, “I love you!”
  • A devotional that speaks exactly what I need to hear
  • An opportunity to encourage a waitress and see her concern turn to hope
  • A small gathering of family and friends quickly ballooning to twelve—with much laughter, camaraderie, and delightful conversation

 

 

God’s glory is on display right “in the middle of our minutes” (2).

 

So each night before falling asleep, let’s measure the moments of our days:

  • Taking note of God’s blessings and the delights of his creation; singing our praise for his breath-taking handiwork (Psalm 92:4; Job 5:9).
  • Thanking God for the camaraderie and conversation, hugs and support among family members and friends who keep us strong (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).
  • Counting the riches that result from abiding in God, beginning with peace (Isaiah 26:3), stability (Psalm 16:8), and contentment (1 Timothy 6:6).
  • Celebrating the honor of ministering to others in Jesus’ name (Matthew 25:40), giving us purpose and cultivating fulfillment in our spirits.
  • Delighting in the opportunities to smile, laugh, and find moments of joy—even in the midst of trouble or frustration (Proverbs 17:22).

 

“Laughter is to life what shock absorbers are to automobiles.

It won’t take the potholes out of the road,

but it sure makes the ride smoother.”

–Barbara Johnson

 

 

And just as inches are measured into feet, so we can measure meaningful moments into satisfying days and a joy-filled life–because God is in them.

 

What meaningful moments are at the top of your list for today?  Please share in the comments section below!

 

Notes:

  1. One Thousand Gifts, Zondervan, 2010, p. 167.
  2. Sara Hagerty, Unseen, Zondervan, 2017, p. 109.

 

(Photo credits:  http://www.geauxguard.la.gov; http://www.pixnio.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pexels.com.)

 

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The first time I saw the above painting by Richard Schem, Times Square in New York City came to mind. If you’ve ever stood at the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue at night, you too may have been overwhelmed by the cacophony of color produced by thousands of neon lights.

But Richard’s painting is titled, “See the World.” That provides a very different perspective.  Now I see the colors of the sea, the brilliant hues of silken saris from India, the verdant hillsides of Ireland, the rich crimson of Chinese lacquer, the terracotta and ochre tones of the Grand Canyon.

 

 

In one painting, he’s captured the glory of color that pervades much of our world.

Of course, Richard Schem isn’t the only artist who sees the world with fresh perspective and provides a delicious moment of discovery for those who pause long enough to experience a work of art, not just view it.

I wonder what would happen if we became artists of our days—pausing long enough to find fresh perspective now and then? Might we make a delicious discovery or two? Might our days explode with colorful moments, like Richard Schem’s canvas?

If that sounds enticing, the next question would be: How do we become artists of the everyday? I’m thinking the following strategies might provide a good place to start.

 

1. Paint the day with positivity.

 

Why let the drab colors of disappointment, difficulty, and frustration shroud the day when we can choose the cheerful hues of optimism, opportunity, and blessing?

 

 

“A joyful heart makes a face cheerful.”

–Proverbs 15:13a

 

Just this morning (It’s Monday as I begin to draft), Steve and I had to go to the hospital for his weekly blood draw. Unfortunately, Mother Nature played an April Fool’s joke during the night: the SUV was covered in frost. Not being quite tall enough for the job, I attacked the ice on the windshield with some difficulty, and was soon huffing and puffing.**

Well, at least this is good exercise, I thought. And listen to the birds, happily trilling and chirping, not the least bit deterred by the chill this morning. My frustration began to subside.

 

2. Weave gratitude from morning till night.

 

(This photo taken last September)

 

Recent threads in my gratitude tapestry include: hot coffee in a thermal mug, sunshine streaming in the windows, a trio of deer feasting on the backyard hillside, candle-lighting time each evening, and a delightful book intertwining mystery and humor.

God’s goodness comes in many colors and textures.

 

3. Mold moments into sanctuaries of joyful worship.

 

 Instead of just waiting for joy to find us, we can create it. Here are a few possibilities:

 

 

  • Celebrate the prize of a smile from each person you meet—especially if you’re the one to smile and say hello first.

 

  • Savor virtual snapshots of delightful observations: a squirrel perched at the very tip of a branch, feather duster clouds sweeping the sky, the dimples on the back of a small child’s hand.

 

  • Find richness in the commonplace: the miracle of crocus blooming through the snow, fire flames leaping on the hearth (never the same way twice), and raindrop jewels glistening on the foliage.

 

 

“For you, O Lord,

have made me glad by your work;

at the works of your hands

I sing for joy.”

–Psalm 92:4 ESV

 

Design to bless others.

Becoming artists of the everyday for our own hearts’ sake is certainly beneficial, but inspiring others to connect with the Master Artist as the result of our optimism, gratitude, and good cheer? Well, that just multiplies the blessing.

How have you painted your day with positivity, woven gratitude into the hours, or molded moments into sanctuaries of joy? Share with us in the Comment section below!

 

______________________________

 

*A phrase borrowed from Run with the Horses by Eugene Peterson.

**My thoughtful husband usually takes care of this chore, but he’s recovering from a subdural hematoma as many of you know. Such exertions as frost removal are not allowed for at least three months.

Art & photo credits:  http://www.horchow.com (Richard Schem); http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.pexels.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.flickr.com; Nancy Ruegg.

 

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No doubt about it.  Our senses are bombarded with stimuli during the Christmas season.

Decorated trees, wreaths, and garlands; figures, swags, and fairy lights festoon building after building, home after home.

 

 

Carols and holiday songs accompany every errand run and shopping excursion.

The scent of cinnamon, pine, and gingerbread; peppermint, vanilla, and clove urge us to breathe deep—frequently.

 

 

Velvet dresses, satin bows, and cloud-soft batting; feathery bird-ornaments, and fuzzy teddy bears beg to be touched.

Grandma’s stuffing, Butterball turkey, and squash casserole; Wassail, snowball cookies, and cranberry coffee cake all tantalize the tongue.

 

 

Some days, however, we practically drown from total immersion in everything Christmas. What is a worn out sensory system supposed to do?

If you Google “strategies for stress relief” you’ll be presented numerous options from the experts.  Some suggestions require more time than many of us can sacrifice during December. Examples include working on hobbies, getting a massage, or taking a vacation.

 

 

I can hear you through my computer screen: “NOT gonna happen this month!”

But there are other strategies we can weave into our days no matter what the to-do list requires. And SURPRISE! The experts often echo what scripture has taught all along.

We can calm ourselves through:

 

 

Meditation

Not mind-numbing exercises that supposedly elevate us to euphoria, but meditation on scripture, God’s works and mighty deeds (Psalm 119:97; 77:12). For me, that includes starting each morning with him and his Word, to set the tone for the day.

And as we fix our thoughts upon him, God has promised to keep us in perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3). He is our source of equilibrium and tranquility, prosperity and contentment of soul. Daily he supplies what we need to accomplish what is necessary (2 Corinthians 9:8).

The rest we can let go.

 

 

Music

“How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him” (Psalm 147:1, emphasis added).

Sometimes that means a loud and majestic “Hallelujah Chorus.”

But when nerves are frazzled, the experts recommend slow, quiet music. And many of our favorite carols offer just such repose.

So, when tension rises, be ready to select “Silent Night” or “What Child Is This.”  Save “Ring Christmas Bells” and “Sleigh Ride!” until the stress subsides!

 

Prayer

We can allow all the sensory input to turn our minds toward Jesus “by praying continually–simple, short prayers flowing out of the present moment” (Romans 12:12 and Sarah Young, Jesus Calling).

Sentence prayers such as these:

 

 

Thank you, Jesus, for the laughter of children that opens my heart to your joy.

Thank you for the power of delectable aromas—like clove-studded ham, vanilla sugar cookies, and cinnamon rolls–that conjure up sweet memories of Christmases long ago.

Thank you for the family and friends represented in this stack of Christmas cards, who’ve left their love stamped upon our hearts.

 

 

Thank you for the familiar carols, reminding me of that wonder-filled first Christmas.

And thank you, Jesus, for lights that glimmer and candles that glow, celebrating you, the Light of the world, our Emmanuel.

 

 

They say it takes just three weeks to learn a new habit. With all the sensory reminders around us, this may be the most opportune time to become continual pray-ers.

And as we seek to turn everything Christmas into gratitude and praise, the joy of the Lord will surely follow.

 

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.maxpixel.net; http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; http://www.pexels.com; http://www.goodfreephotos.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.doncio.navy.mil (photographer:  Diana Quinlan); Nancy Ruegg; http://www.pexels.com; http://www.heartlight.org.

 

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