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Magic came early this spring! 

My kiddo, who was supposedly doomed to a vegetative state until his predicted death by age 4, went to the Tim Tebow prom last month with a classy “typical” classmate in a hott pink dress, who donned him with a crown and made him king for the evening.

He turns 17 this April.

Security on the main floor was tight as a drum. We peacock-proud parents, along with well-wishers and assorted spectators, were relinquished to the balcony Atop the main floor of a local Episcopal reception hall balcony. 

Parents reconnected. Teens connected. Souls and dreams flourished…


Dear God, thank you that there is a place in Heaven and here on earth for everyone. 

Help us remember that regardless of health or illness, strength or infirmity, life or death, earth or Heaven, sane or insane, righteous or sinners, we belong to You. 

During this Lenten season, Lord, let us wrap our brains around Your concepts of letting go of convention and embracing what is different, foreign and changed.

Transform us, God, into what You would have us be for You, not for men or earth or the lives we know here on earth.

Shine Your mercy on us, Father, that we might slow Down and cherish every moment, with the faith of Your promises beyond.

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How do YOU decide how much money or time to give to a cause?

Many Christian churches at this time of year may have a “Commitment Sunday” or something like it – a day when people can fill out a pledge card indicating what they intend to give to the church over the next year.

Some churches may not have the resources or the nerve to formalize this event, so they may simply set aside a sermon dedicated to the virtues of giving.

Although the plea to give may vary greatly from one denomination to another, the message boils down to the same thing: It takes money and time to run this place. Please give.

I greatly admire the many pastors, ministers, rabbis and priests whom I have heard give such a message – largely because the task of crafting an invitation to give is such a terribly tricky one. The message needs to hit home, it needs to be sensitive (since money is a such a touchy topic) and it needs to be moving.

The ability to develop a sermon which achieves all three of these things is surely nothing short of a miracle, and certainly requires at least a heaping tablespoon of divine intervention.

I’ve heard some really great sermons on giving and some pretty lousy ones. The great ones leave me feeling eager to give, willing to trust God in a genuine way – as opposed to foolishly pledging some amount that in my situation would be fiscally insane.

The great ones render me moved beyond words, amazed at the power of God and humbled at the nuts and bolts of meeting the needs of the church as an organization with which I choose to affiliate. They are empowering, motivating and cause me to feel included and hopeful, a part of the solution.

They also make me ponder what God’s will might be. Prayerful giving is a must.

The not-so-great sermons are the ones I unfortunately remember the most – and are probably the reason why so many people groan when it comes time to pledge to any cause. The worst ones leave bad tastes in the soul such as guilt, shame, fear, threats and even confusion. One pastor about four denominations ago in my walk urged us to “give hilariously.”

There are few things in life I find truly hilarious, so to pair money with “hilarious,” still has me scratching my head over that one. Besides, I believe charitable giving is a solemn, thoughtful, private act, far from hilarious. I think I understand what he was shooting for in theory, but it certainly didn’t help me decide how and what to give.

Money makes us squirm, from the guy who wins the lottery and suddenly has as many new “friends” as he has new dollars, to the guy who’s one paycheck away from bankruptcy. This should be our tip-off that money is indeed the root of all evil!

Nonetheless, the need for and use of money is our lot in this life, a force with which we must contend. Why, then, do people get so weird when it comes to giving?

I saw a reaction from someone who recently received in the mail a brochure and pledge card from a church. This person ranted that “it’s all about the money, that’s always what they’re after, that’s all they care about – it never fails – you go somewhere and eventually they hit you up for money.”

I tried to soften it by reminding this person that although a church is a place of worship and a place to connect with God, it still has utility bills, upkeep and other expenses like any other business or home.

But the heart of this person was hardened, and they preferred to think of their partaking in the month of Sundays as a free ride, something somebody else should pay for. And they turned their back and refused to go back.

Whose loss is THAT?

Giving, according to the Bible, should come from the heart. It is a willing act of sharing what originally was not ours to begin with. Our resources didn’t just drop into our lap, and it took a great deal more than our own God-blessed efforts to acquire what we have.

Really, we could all be disabled and unable to work, unable to play, unable to do anything but rely on the charity and good will of others – it only takes a snap-second to wind up in that situation.

So contemplate the sources of what you have on hand when you consider the extent of your giving. While giving shouldn’t cause a personal financial wipeout, it should definitely arise out of a deeply gracious acknowledgement of what you have on hand and what you believe is in your heart to give back.

Giving back – that’s the key.

And perhaps it’s not just money that you need to consider giving. God blessed you with talents, too – talents that can benefit His people, the neighbors the commandment says, we are to love.

A truly gracious receiver will never be insulted or judgmental about a gift of any size, no matter how small. And they will receive with the utmost of thanksgiving, something we would do well to remember as we Americans sit down to our next holiday feast in about a month.

No gift is insignificant. Every gift has meaning – remember the widow giving her only two mites. The smallest gifts can be the most meaningful and powerful.

I would be remiss not to add that giving is often an act of trust. The sky could fall tomorrow (read: wars, another Great Depression, disaster, Tribulation) – there is no way you or I can pledge anything with certainty. Every choice we make is a gamble and banks on the assumption that we will wake up tomorrow and life will be the same as it was yesterday.

On the morning after the big hurricane, our ears still popped after the 130 mph winds we withstood huddled with our children in an interior hall.

We went outside as angry clouds churned themselves northeast, giving way to sun. The sun afforded us the light to see that our world was no longer what it had been yesterday.

Katrina Destruction

We had no jobs to go to – everything was closed or destroyed, and even if anything was open, we couldn’t get to them because of the fallen trees and debris everywhere. There was work to be done, but it wasn’t the work we were used to in our workaday world.

Katrina Road Sign

Neighbors came outside as the morning progressed; we assessed the damage and assembled in the street. Together, we made plans to survive.

Neighbors with chain saws would take to the trees. Neighbors with freezers with no power and thawing food would take to the grills. Neighbors with generators would take to the neighbors who needed cool air, oxygen or other life-saving needs. Neighbors with boats took to the flooded roads down by the bayou to look for lost people, pets and to recover floating valuables.

We rolled up our sleeves, came together and collectively, made the best of everything, even though everything was the farthest thing we could imagine from status quo. Two weeks later, we were able to get through to main roads and road crews, National Guard and the Red Cross were able to get through to us.

There are so many ways to give. Please, dear friends, do not be turned off or scared away when your favorite organization or church you appreciate asks you for money, talents or resources.

That organization or church can only be as great as the collective greatness of those who nourish, feed and give back to it, both in times of feast and in famine. You never know when you’re going to need them.

Best yet, there is no greater feeling than to give, and to give willingly and cheerfully. Don’t worry that it’s not as much as the other guy, not as much as you’d like or as much as you think you “should” give.

Just give.

You will be blessed tenfold.

(Jesus wasn’t joking around when he fed the crowds with a few fish and some scant bread. And this is what turned up at my house early this afternoon when I got back from church after putting my meager pledge card in the collection plate (black drum in my child’s hands, red drum on table)):

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In case you missed Part I,, I was recounting how I blackballed myself right out of an uppity Bible study. Swiping the coveted blue teapot in a cutthroat game of Dirty Santa was just the beginning.

Later that year, I got engaged to my husband. I was told they would hold a bridal shower and that it was going to focus on “personal” things. I was told to (wink-wink!) scour the catalogs (implying I should not be seen shopping around for such things in our community). This, also, seemed to contradict the goal of accountability, but, good sport I am, I ran the race.

Okay, so I was a virgin when it came to Passion Parties, and this was a good decade before the Passion of Christ was released. But, y’know, I’m a pretty passionate person, and flexible, so…let’s roll. I was on fire for the Lord, why not be on fire for my marriage?

I implicitly trusted these elder women to steer me in the right direction. After all, hadn’t they invited me so they could keep a sharp eye on me in the first place? Wouldn’t they want to steer me closer to my husband-to-be and away from their husbands or their sons or whomever they foolishly feared this femme fatale might devour, or whatever they thought I was?

One day as the shower approached I mentioned something Christian-like such as a religious candle for the wedding ceremony. Oh, no, they chirped – we want to give you things you wouldn’t dare buy yourself! Isn’t there some nice lingerie or bedding you’d like instead? This is a LADIES’ GROUP!

Oooookaaaay…so I went home and rifled through some catalogs I’d recently received and stumbled on a Frederick’s of Hollywood catalog. Hmmm…

I browsed and dog-eared the pages. I considered the crotchless underwear, something, like they said, I’d never buy for myself. Leather corsets and bras with neat circles where the nipples should be, oh geez!

Frederick's

Exhibit A, the catalog, along with the beautiful butterfly thang I got from the French Quarter on my own dime 15 years later…with my husband present, thank you very much! If that isn’t the epitome of accountable…

The next Bible study, the leader asked for my catalog choices and I forked over a fistful of ideas, Frederick’s carefully stuffed in the middle.

Next week, on the day of the shower, I was greeted with a room full of blushing matrons and a hushed study. The air was so thick with shifty, uncomfortable fake politeness you could slice it with nothing less than the very sword of the Lord.

This was followed by an awkward opening of shower presents which included spatulas and sensible aprons from Williams-Sonoma and the like. One of them gave me a book on cleaning up one’s mind.

The tea-and-crumpets part of the Bible study was inexplicably abbreviated, and everyone either offered to skibble off to the kitchen to “help” or coincidentally had a pressing errand or appointment to dash to.

Then the wedding happened and I got lost in wedded bliss; somehow they never called after me to see when I would return, and likewise, I didn’t call them.

I was again free banished hurtled back into a life of unaccountability.

(okay, well, one of them who most held me suspect, cornered me in a coffee shop a year later and warned me to be good and stay in my own lane. She was drinking a giant mug of double espresso; I had a little latté. I had my Bible on me, she didn’t. One of us knew what she was talking about, and it wasn’t me, at that point. What, does nobody have fun inside the sanctity of a marriage anymore???)

This accountability group seemed to keep me more accountable to these ladies and their need to have someone or something to talk about, rather than to the good Lord. In fact, they made my mind wander astray and second-guess things.

I was always uneasy with how the initial task in accountability groups was to collect everyone’s prayer requests – and, in the guise of humility, nobody hardly ever asked for prayer for themselves.

No, the prayer requests always felt like a benevolent way of obtaining the latest gossip.

I do, however, appreciate the importance of being accountable – it is a matter of transparency and good intention, both good things when it comes to integrity.

But really, how can we, as sinners, be truly accountable to anyone but God? He knows our hearts and our being, down to the last jot and tittle of our soul, much better than a human prone to judging our baloney ever can.

If an accountability group is properly structured and those in home leaderships are held more accountable, I believe these can be a good way to grow in the Lord. Except the sinner is prone to presenting a façade to whomever he wishes, whenever he wishes – even in the most intimate of relationships.

My limited experience is that the bigger the church, the more diluted group leadership gets and the flock gets more off track with laypersons who mean well but who may be limited in their ability to counsel, guide and keep things focused on the spirit instead of the flesh.

Smaller churches, it goes in reverse and people tend to focus more on being accountable to the smaller, “inner circle” than on what the Lord intends (often a broader perspective) for them to focus on.

This group experience was a gold-mine of spiritual lessons, not one of which I regret.

If it’s true that good intentions pave the way to Hell, I’ll stick with being honest about my bad intentions, inadequacies and fallible foibles – and whatever little good comes out of me, therein lies the gold, silver and precious stones, even though it may not be much in others’ eyes.

It really DOES boil down to a person’s individual, personal relationship with God.

Only HE knows the whole story.

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Once upon a time, as a brand-spankin’ new Christian, I was invited to an “Accountability Group.” There were accountability groups offered for all makes and models throughout the congregation – it was just something you did.

(I think at my peak I belonged to about, um, seven, at once. I was pretty accountable back then.)

They usually met in somebody’s home, either at the crack of early for those who work, midday for the stay-at-homes or in the evening for the night owls.

The idea was to participate in a small Bible study with like-minded believers who, like an AA group on steroidal antabuse, would make certain you were walking a straight path.

This was accomplished by weekly assignments, perhaps a devotional with fill-in-the-blanks to prompt us into doing our homework and to keep us in God’s word.

This is a great concept – I really can’t think of a better way to stay on a healthy path than having a built-in buddy system. It was kind of like a religious Weight Watchers, except you weigh in with your two cents about the topic of the week. People stay off your back (except for a pat on the back) so long as you show up, weigh in and walk the walk.

Who doesn’t need a mentor when running a race? My marathon mentor, in the two years it took me to train for a marathon, rode me like a hound every chance she got. She was a French Canadian with a chihuahua personality, and I couldn’t have done it without her.

As a single, baby Christian being perceived with suspect intentions, I was evidently deemed unaccountable. Therefore, a group of older, supposedly wiser, married women railroaded took me in under their wings.

These were “nice” ladies – they all married young (I was already slightly over the hill by the time I showed up on the scene), they all were chaste, discreet and all held uppity, esteemed positions in their respective roles in the church and community. And their husbands did, too.

These chicks guarded the gates with their perfect makeup and hair. Collectively, they could have finally put Beth Moore and her coffee cups to pasture, once and for all.

Yes indeedy-Bob, these were the ladies of Proverbs 31.

They were seasoned in the church. I was seasoned in the streets. Well, sort of, comparatively speaking.

Never mind that I had pieces of paper from prestigious places – I didn’t have the pieces of paper that mattered to them.

I was an outsider, and that was all the glaring reality that counted. I was worldly. I was like a man from Mars, these women were from Venus. And my being from Mars probably frightened them most since their men were also from Mars. Color me Martian.

Which one is the Sea Muse?
(hint: not the one on the bottom)

One Christmas they held a Dirty Santa Christmas Tea. This sounded like an oxymoron to me, since I had trouble wrapping my head around anything but Jesus at the time – Santa was off my Christmas list, and I was perplexed why these upstanding ladies would honor Santa on Jesus’ clock, much less a game hellbent on greed, deceit, spite and theft.

Nonetheless, I obediently participated, good sport as I am. Basically, in this game, everybody gets to pick a gift but you run the risk of somebody who gets to pick after you, swiping your chosen gift.

In this case, I was one of the last to go and had my eye on this cobalt blue teapot. Only because it happened to match my cobalt blue canisters and other kitchen kitsch.

Cobalt Blue Teapot

Still looks great today next to my Crate & Barrel moo-cow. But it’s a damned dust-collector, I tell you…

Little did I know, this miniscule teapot which barely holds a teabag, much less a cup of tea, was the pièce de resistance. I was supposed to graciously defer to one of the older ladies who initially refused to pry her bony little fingers off the dang pot in order to fork it over to me.

I was only playing by the rules of the game. I was too naïve to realize that it would have been the gracious thing for me to settle for the cheesy bookmark with some Bible verse on it, or the tacky jalapeño napkin holders that had obviously been regifted.

(Hey, I work with little children – the me/mine population, so I tend to take things a little concretely and often miss the unspoken conventional social rules)

In my efforts to fit in and please, I just thought I was doing what they told me to do in the first place.

Somehow, though, a stale hush fell over the group as I read their expressions. I back pedaled and quickly offered, “Really, I don’t want it, I was just playing – I really had my eye on Mrs. Potiphar‘s crocheted potholder…”

Potholder or pastie?

But the damage was done, I was too late and had not played by their unwritten rules, and they made sure to see me off with the too-tiny-teapot I’d never use as a teapot. I think I heard someone quietly sniffing into her embroidered, monogrammed hankie in the corner as they bid me farewell.

Ladies’ Bible Study doublespeak at its best.
Say, aren’t most marriages like this?
Tell me the truth, darling…does this make me look phat?

(I never did check to see if the blue pot had someone’s ashes in it…)

(Just a sec…)

(nope, it didn’t)

(wait…is that dust, or…)

(or was there supposed to be a genie in there?)

Coming up next, the sequel in which Southern Sea Muse discovers there is no St. Frederick’s of Hollywood in the Bible…nor is St. Frederick’s allowed in the accountability group, for that matter. Heh heh heh…

For Pete’s sake, don’t bring this to a Bible study! Even if they tell you to!!!

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I was recently reintroduced to a concept known as “spiritual bypass,” coined by American psychotherapist John Welwood. Spiritual bypass occurs when one worships the spiritual experience and exploits it to avoid working on necessary psychological tasks.

Dr. Welwood observed the phenomenon in the context of his Buddhist experience, although I recognize it also in the context of Christianity, causing me to infer that it is a universal phenomenon.

Bypassers are the folks who jump headlong into religion, especially during a time of crisis, using chapter and verse to smile when they should be weeping and gnashing their teeth. It is justification for not feeling, chalking it up to “God’s will;” psyching ourselves out of critical opportunities for growth. Misplaced priorities.

This is the churchaholic, throwing themselves headlong into every activity available when the church doors are open, thereby bypassing perhaps what God really intended for them.

This is the workaholic, grinding away at the office for hours on the premise of doing a good job and bringing home extra bacon while neglecting duties of primary importance.

This is the alcoholic, the drugaholic, the sportsaholic. And, yes, the Facebookaholoic.

I propose that the concept of “bypass” is not only spiritual, but emotional, mental, physical, psychological, and any other framework within which one chooses to avoid God’s reality for them. I’d venture to say it even has neurological underpinnings, and is not unlike the brain’s ingenious way of creating dissociation in the face of unbearable trauma.

How many times have we seen those who are addicted to substances, to abuse (victims or perps), to human dysfunction of any sort, “find Jesus” (or Buddha, or environmentalism, or any good cause to an extreme) and “miraculously” turn their lives around for a time?

This is where the concept of salvation may seem shady to some: one “dedicates their life to the Lord,” only later to stumble and fall, and then at some point may again rededicate.

Throw a little Calvinism into the mix and you’ve got some worthwhile confusion to chew on.

Nobody wants the wood, hay & stubble, yet we wrestle with what quantifies the gold, rubies and Good Stuff. I like to think of it as a process that God needs us to go through to be closer to Him.

I suppose “bypass” can be any means of avoiding God’s will for us to fully experience our weaknesses. By His mercy He gave us manna, judges, prophets and, finally, Jesus, to help us face the fears we have behind our avoidance. He gave us these things to soften the blow, because He loves us. He knows we are vulnerable to pain – that’s how He made us. There is merit in ashes and sackcloth. But also in balance.

Jesus faced those fears head-on, but not before an attempt at bypass, Himself (“…let this cup pass.”).

I challenge you to examine your own bypass, ways you evade the experience of going through the necessary eye of the needle:

How do you bypass your own discomforts?

How do you bypass God’s intentions for you?

Do we sugar-coat these things with do-gooding and man (or self)-pleasing benevolence?

Sit erectly in the pew with the utmost appearance of faithful attentiveness, or lie crumpled in a heap, quietly weeping in a dark corner where only He can see?

Stay on the track we think best, when He’d rather we go on a wilderness walkabout?

What if you went through the eye, totally raw, skinless, open to the experience? Willing to feel? Amenable to risk? Susceptible to His sharpening?

What would that look like? And feel?

Courage, my friend.

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It has taken this long through Lent to get over my hump of withdrawals. The face of my heart no longer disfigured, I can finally sing the praises of fasting from something.  “Something” being my morning coffee.

The devil has done his level best to tempt me, using all five, and, yes – even my sixth sense –  to get me to stumble. Everywhere I went there were visual and auditory reminders, catching the aroma and even the feel of my eager, needy lips puckering up to the familiar tumbler on my commute, met with green tea instead. It’s better for me, anyway, but convincing my lips and my soul of this was another story.

The usual mental wranglings went on: I can quit anytime! I don’t need it, I choose it at the control of my will. (Then came Ash Wednesday…”). I don’t need it. Bad stuff. Never liked it anyway. Did me wrong. Look at how it wrecked me. Jacked me up, yanked me down, left unsightly stains, cost me plenty, etc. Then…

Okay, I need it. Must have it. Can’t have it. Must avoid it. Panic. Find replacement (green tea). Not the same. I can do this. Not as good. But plenty of antioxidants. Tastes great, less filling. Or something like that. Yeah, it IS simpler. I know I was supposed to know that.

The ultimate devil’s insult was having to share a home with a person who continues to drink coffee. In front of me. And often. Kind of like mounting a staircase up from the water in my town:

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I drew the line at cleaning up the coffee pot for him. I’m done with it now, bubba…if you want to keep drinking the stuff and trying to throw the ol’ pet sin back in my face even though I’m over it, it’s on you. It is now your addiction, not mine, and now I know no matter how many times you brew a nice big pot, I don’t need it, don’t want it, period. (P.S. – let me know when you’re ready to give it up – I’ve got a lot of good tips on Giving Up, when you’re ready. When YOU’RE ready. I’ll be waiting for ya.)

Giving something up forced me to reflect on how something comes to be meaningful to us in the first place. And of the process of letting go, whether it be for self-centered betterment or for the purpose of submitting to a higher authority. Or both. It taught me that we are made to be flexible creatures, the ultimate goal being to evolve for the better.

It taught me to re-question some of the rites in some churches which can give the impression of being outdated, antiquated or just plain silly observances which may seem designed to keep the foolish, unenlightened sheep in line, at the hands of the system. What I noticed was that at whatever point this or that church decided to institute this or that observance, there was undoubtedly some greater purpose behind the rite, designed to draw us nearer to God. SOMEBODY meant it for good.

But it only works if our heart is genuinely inclined to evolve for the better, be it for self or other purposes. No wonder so many denominations are criticized for routines which seem hollow and rote – it is because too often, we become comfortable with rote and lose perspective of our stage of personal evolution. It is only when we are jarred awake that we suddenly realize it is time to let go and move forward (and unfortunately this often comes by way of traumatic life events which trigger the panicked prayer for God to help us after days of not speaking to Him).

Rote rites lose sight.

Most rites won’t change much, and, like God, it’s not Him that needs to change – it’s us in need of focus.

Letting go IS easier than latching on. We latch on without a care, with blissful ignorance and with joyful anticipation. If we did not latch on, we would not grow. Likewise for letting go – for only through the birth and death process of latching on and letting go, the alpha and omega, do we fully grow and draw nearer to God. Only then do we know Him better by having a closer comprehension of what it means to latch on and love, even taking for granted those days, and then to give up and grieve, as Jesus did, as God was well-pleased in His Son for doing the same.

It makes us stronger, fuller and wiser. It grants us perspective we might not otherwise have had, had we been unable or unwilling to fully let go. Giving up is a strength, not a weakness, in most cases.

I am reminded of my friend who was inspired to run a marathon this year, whom I encouraged and edified every step of his training. We ran the half-mararthon last year together, and he realized if he could do that, he could do the whole thing, so he trained all this past year and finally did it.

In talking to him afterwards as he recounted his experience, he said he realized a very critical point he never would have considered had he not challenged himself to this greater height that he always knew was within his capacity, but he feared. He said come mile 20, the bedreaded mile for most first-time marathoners, he began to feel pain. Real, sharp, unavoidable pain. He faced the decision to either keep running and face likely permanent damage/disability, or sacrifice his goal time and walk.

The pain of continuing in folly won out and forced him to walk a mile or more, until he could muster the will to safely finish running. He finished with a time that mocked his original goal, but he was able to heal and to be stronger and wiser in the overall picture of what it means to give up something. That to give up is actually to gain something greater than one is able to see from the perspective of holding on. He finished safely.

What if those who hold hard and fast to their own beliefs were to take a giant leap of faith like that, to consider the possibility that there might be greater benefits on the other side of stubborn clinging?

In my caffeine-free and post-ashes & sackcloth state, I am enjoying life immensely. This was partially captured in the craziness of my last post, and now followed by a weekend of bliss. Bliss was a good book and a tall drink at the water’s edge, a taste of our next-door neighbor’s award-winning bbq after a competition and they had too many leftovers (yowza! we let his kid borrow our boat motor & other equipment today in exchange for their good stuff), warmer temps, and plenty of scenes like the one Spanish moss-draped one below, all weekend long.

Oh, and I shouldn’t leave out the small wonder of stopping by our friendly neighborhood Piggly Wiggly yesterday on the way home to get ingredients for my infamous gumbolaya, bumping into a buggy of marked-down wines from some obscure location (Cave Junction, OR – get thee behind me, Satan! ) and finding out there actually IS a red wine out there that doesn’t betray me. On the other hand, maybe we should have more than one Lent per year. For my next trick, I will try to give up lengthy posts. 😀

Peace be with you…

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Spotted in the church stairwell this week:

Two posters for two different classes,

placed a wee bit too close to one another…

11.5.12

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