Leave it All Behind…

December 17, 2012

By:  Staci Stallings

Over the next couple of posts, I simply want to share some thoughts about the song, “The Well” by Casting Crowns.

The opening words are haunting, especially in their repetition.  “Leave it all behind… Leave it all behind…”

Those words beckon us, weary travelers on life’s path, away from the hustle and bustle of our busy, over-crowded lives.  In them Christ, through the lyrics, calls us out, away, and apart from those things that tie us down, weigh us down, and make our lives feel so very heavy and hard.

When was the last time you left it all behind?

When was the last time you took even five minutes that wasn’t filled with thoughts of bills to pay, kids to pick up, how to fix that, how to do this, who needs what tomorrow, and how am I ever going to get that done today?

If you’re like me, it’s way too easy to wake up in the morning, sit up and start processing.  Who needs to be where today?  What do I need to get written?  Who do I need to call?  What do I need to finish?  What do I need to start?

It’s like this whole long army of thoughts and to-dos that never quite seem to end.

I think that’s why those opening words are so very powerful to me.  In a way, they call me to be Mary rather than Martha, when the truth is Martha is so much easier to be.  They call me to yes, leave the cares and worries and STUFF behind, and come and sit with my Savior.  It is a call away from chaos into peace, a call away from myself into the One Who makes everything make so much more sense.

It is easy as I hear these opening words to think of leaving everything behind, if only for a moment, and going to visit Jesus at that well.  It is so enthralling to think of Him waiting there for me, a fresh drink of Him and His love waiting for me.  Not because I got everything done on my to-do list.  Not because He’s got five other jobs I need to do.  But just because He wants to spend some time with me, and I want to spend time with Him.

I don’t know how you spend time with God, or even if you do.  But in this crazy busy, often chaotic season… the one in which we work so hard to be able to celebrate peace, take a few minutes today to leave it all behind, to just go and sit with God, to listen, to slow down, to just be.

It will be an awesome gift.  I guarantee it!

*~*

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The Well

December 13, 2012

by: Staci Stallings

Last time I had you listen to a song by Casting Crowns called The Well.  (You can go here to listen to it:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vLxdxw4Gj6g )

I hope you listened several times.  I know I have.

There are many truths woven into this beautiful song, but I want to take a moment today to elaborate on the wisdom of one word:  Come.

In the first video I watched of the song, there was one incarnation of this word that was misspelled.  However, I probably would have misspelled it as well if I would just have been transcribing based on the way you would think it would be said, rather than the profound truth of how they chose to say it.

This time happens toward the end when they sing about after you have come to the well and others begin to see the living water flowing in your life.  It says, “Soon all the world will see, living water is found in Me, ’cause you come to the well.”

In the first video, the lyric was “’cause you came to the well.”  That’s how I would have written it, but that’s not right.  See, we think, okay, you’re empty and broken, and you go to the well, and God fixes you.  Period. End of story.  You CAME to the well, and now you’re healed and can go on with life.  Ah, but that’s not what the actual lyric says!

In the video I gave you here, it says, “cause you’ve come to the well.”  And honestly that might be what the actual lyric says.  However, I think that too is a fundamental misinterpretation of the true lesson here.  “You’ve…”  you have… again past tense.

But that’s NOT what God wants.  And from deep personal experience, that’s not the way it works!

God truly working in you is not a one-and-done thing.  You don’t go to the well and get healed and you’re done.

Life will continually throw things at you–new challenges, new issues, new incarnations of old hurts.  And you have to KEEP going to the well.  Yes, your salvation is worked out in the first trip if you accept what Jesus is holding out to you, but your LIFE must be going back to the well.

I know for me, I can be going along great and then BAM!  I’m thrown off-track.  Maybe it’s an illness or a serious challenge, maybe it’s something with my kids, my friends or my husband.  And once again, I’m empty and scared.  I don’t know which way to go, where I’m going or how to get there.

The secret I’ve found is in going back to The Well–The Answer… Jesus.

I didn’t go to the well once.  I go every day, often multiple times each day.

I don’t shine because I came to the well once.  I shine because I COME to the well often.  I recognize my need for The Well.  I recognize how often I have asked the world to fill that need, and how poorly it has done.  We will talk about some of those things pointed out so beautifully in the song next time.  For now, know that you can go to the well any time you need, and Jesus will always be right there to let you simply rest for a moment in His arms.  Ahhh!

 

 


Come

December 10, 2012

by: Staci Stallings

I’ve found a song you just HAVE to hear.  I want you to go and listen (several times if need be).  We will be discussing this song and another over the next couple of weeks.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vLxdxw4Gj6g

 

For now, just watch.  Listen.  THIS is what I’ve been trying to tell you.

Next time, we’ll talk.

*~*

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Questions that Make You Go Hmmm… #7

November 19, 2012

by:  Staci Stallings

We are, by nature, an outcome driven people.  To win the game, we will spend hours practicing.  To have a comfortable retirement, we will work and save for 65 years.  To be successful, we will go to school, then to college, then get a job and work endless hours.

Outcome is what drives us.  We want to see results.  If the prize is big enough, we will drive ourselves half crazy to get it.

So it’s no wonder that many people’s prayer life is results oriented.  We don’t pray to get closer to God, we pray to get things from God.  We pray like this:

“God, if you will just let me get that car… or that job… or that husband… or these bills paid….”

Whatever is our immediate concern is what gets prayer.  And there is always a “result” we are seeking.

Here’s the problem with that.  It doesn’t work.

I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you that, but it doesn’t.  You don’t pray for the result to get the thing so that you can relax, be at peace, and be happy.  You are happy, at peace, and relaxed and the blessings show up.

So our final question is this:

Are your prayers too results oriented?

This is a hard one because it’s both how we’ve been taught and how we’re conditioned.  It’s not bad to have some of your prayers be results oriented.  I mean, if Grandma is sick, you should pray for her to get well again.  God wants you to take your problems to Him.  However, if that’s all you ever do, you’re misreading the kind of relationship God wants to have with you.

Do you spend time in prayer, for example, simply “being” in the presence of God?  Listening for His voice to tell you that He loves you?  Or do you rush through memorized prayers followed by a list of “how You could make my life better if You really cared” prayers and then get on with life?

If so, maybe it’s time to rethink the role of prayer in your life.

One of my favorite prayers growing up has this line:  Thy will be done today…

THY WILL.  Not mine.  Not what I want, what You want.  I want what You want, God.  Do you?  Do you really?

Or are you a little afraid of what He might put into your life if you give Him that much leeway?

If you find that your prayers are too results oriented, I challenge you today to take one minute and just BE with God.  Just sit, and listen.  See what comes up.  Then do it again tomorrow and the next day and the next.  As you do this, I believe you will start to see peace return and hope spring anew in your heart.

Want what God wants, give Him all of everything in your life.  Otherwise, you will be so focused on getting what you want that you may miss completely the blessings He has in store for you.
*~*

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Questions that Make You Go Hmmm… #5

November 12, 2012

by:  Staci Stallings

So far we’ve examined some interesting questions about God and our relationship to Him.

If you’re like me, there are days I so feel God’s Presence and days He feels very far away.  I know from my studies and personal experience that when God feels far away, He didn’t move. I did.  Thus we come to this very important question:

What is between me and God?

Let’s say that you and a friend are at a party, but neither knows the other is there.  Let’s also say it’s a rather large gathering that’s divided into sections or rooms.  Now, you might, of course, get fortunate and run into your friend, but it is equally likely that you miss each other altogether.  Why?

Well for one, you’re not looking for your friend.  You don’t know they are there.

Two, if they are in a different room than you the whole day, how are you ever going to see them?

I think the same thing happens with God.  For wont of a better metaphor, we put up walls between ourselves and God and then get mad when we don’t feel Him.

What are these walls?  Oh, they can be lots of things.  Worries, doubts, fears. Activities, meetings, schedules.  Sheer busyness is often a culprit.  Stress can be too as well as impossible expectations of ourselves, our God and others.

In short, anything that separates us from God is what is between us.

The thing to know, however, is that it is never God that put up the barrier.  Once we are saved, the barrier is removed and the only way it goes back up is if we put it there.

So what is between you and God?

Maybe it’s the events of the world that plunge you into fear.  Remove them by taking your gaze off of them and putting it on God.  Spend more time in prayer and in seeking Him.

Maybe it’s personal stuff–the death of a loved one or an illness.  Again, learn to see “through” those things to God who is right there.

I know after my brother’s death, my emotions were in a swirl of chaos, never so bad as at night. I would lay there, and fear and anger and sorrow would just about overwhelm me.  It was in those moments that I learned to say over and over, “God is here and He loves me.”  When there was nothing else to hold onto, I held onto those two baseline truths.

What I did, repeatedly, was to consciously remove every other barrier between me and God.  I held onto Him, clung to Him, pulled Him close and refused to let go.

So if you’re in a state of loneliness, fear, or worry, work on consciously removing any barrier that stands between you and God.  You can remove them by casting Satan and his minions out by the Blood Jesus Christ.  You can remove them by conscious focus on prayer to God.  You can remove them by taking your eyes off of those things and fastening them to God.

Doing so is an act of will, but it is also an act of faith.

Try it.  See how much difference it makes.

*~*

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Questions that Make You Go Hmmm… #4

November 5, 2012

by:  Staci Stallings

Human beings seem to be hard-wired to go for something.  It might be to win.  It might be to succeed.  It might be to be the best at something.  It might even be to grab as much pleasure as possible by doing as little as possible.

It also seems that we are hard-wired to not just want to go for whatever it is, but to be the best at it.  To be the chief of it.

Zaccheus knew all about this hard-wired human drive.  You know how I know that?  Because the Bible says Zaccheus was the chief tax collector.  That means he was over all the other tax collectors.  That would be like being the manager of the tax collectors, the supervisor.  He wasn’t just some newbie, rookie who was working his way to the top.  He was at the top.

Now you also have to understand what being a “tax collector” meant at the time to understand the depth of Zaccheus’ “top” mentality.

Tax collectors worked for Rome, and the Jews hated Rome.  Think the Boston Tea Party before there was a Boston or tea.

This was the forerunner story of taxation without representation.

The Jews pretty much paid taxes to Rome for the express reason that Rome owned the Jews and their land.  And the Jews held great animosity for Rome just taking their money via taxes.

Add to that, the tax collectors got paid by taking more money from the people than Rome demanded.  So if your tax was say $20 (I know, but let’s make this easy).  Then the tax collector would come and collect $22–$20 for Rome and $2 for himself.

But here’s the thing.  If you decided not to pay the Roman tax, you could be thrown in jail–possibly for a very long time, leaving your family, wife and children, to fend for themselves.  You couldn’t say, “Come back tomorrow.  I’ll pay you then.”  You couldn’t put it on a credit card.  You either paid it, or you went to jail.

So let’s say for a minute that you are a Jew back in this time, and the tax collector is coming.  How much fear do you attach to that arrival?  After all, you may know what Rome will charge, but what will the tax collector add on top of it?  What if you can’t pay that?  Worse, tax collectors became much like extortionists in that they began to “collect” as much as they could get away with.  Instead of $22, maybe he would charge $30.  And if you didn’t have it, off to jail.

Do you see why this man, this chief tax collector (who probably collected taxes from the tax collectors in his “downline”) was so hated?

Long story to get to this question.

What are you “chief” of?

When we become “chief” of something, like Zaccheus, we can take our eye off of people.  We put it instead on the goal–on the money or the prestige or on ourselves–what we want, what will look best for us, what will give us power.  We forget to be servants.  We forget to have compassion. We forget about love.

And this chief mentality can creep in some very subtle and sinister ways.  For example, I’ve seen it in church choirs, where a choir member is told they are not good enough to be in the choir by the chief.  I’ve seen it in schools where the chief leaves others out on the playground simply because he or she can.  I’ve seen it in organizations where the chief refuses to listen to anyone else’s ideas.  I’ve seen it in relationships–parents to children and between spouses–where one opinion always wins, and no one else gets a say.  I’ve seen teachers with a chief mentality and bosses with a chief mentality.  I’ve seen managers with this mentality–lording their power over workers who must comply risk getting fired.  I’ve even seen this mentality in esoteric situations like writing–where certain authors set themselves up as “chiefs” and dictate to others what can and can’t be written.

I’m sure you have many other examples.

I think that Jesus’ answer to the chief mentality was best displayed when He washed the feet of the disciples.  In Jesus’ Kingdom those who want to be first must serve, not be served.  You don’t acquire a high seat in the Kingdom.  You don’t get to be chief because you understand that God already is, so that is not even your goal.  Your goal is to serve as many people as possible.  Forget about being “chief.”

So the question, “What are you chief of?” should make us stop and think, “What am I pouring my life into trying to be a worldly chief?  And how can I turn that around and instead be a servant?”

In the work place, maybe the manager calls everyone in and says, “I want us to be a team.  So you tell me what you need to be able to work better?”  Maybe an organizational leader says, “Tell me your best ideas” and then listens and incorporates those ideas.  Maybe the parent says, “Let’s sit down and work out how we can make this work for both of us” rather than me dictating everything.

In fact, I just had a conversation with my 13-year-old the other day.  I said that years ago I heard someone say that when you’re a parent, you start as the hands-on worker with the child.  The child’s schedule is determined by you.  What the child eats, what they wear, everything is determined by the parent, and that power is seductive.  The problem begins when a parent needs to move from manager to supervisor and then from supervisor to consultant.  If as a parent you don’t or can’t make that switch, you will have an extremely contentious relationship with your child.  Put another way, as the child gets older, you are no longer the “chief.”

The truth is, the older you get on this cycle, the less “chief” you will be.  You will have even less of a managerial position with your grandkids than you did with your kids.  You will have even less with your great-grandkids.  Each generation, you are required to relinquish more control.  It’s a lesson I think that is woven into the very fabric of being human.  So learn to let go of being “chief.”  Let God take that position in every situation in your life.  I guarantee you, it will greatly reduce your stress level!

*~*

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Questions That Make You Go Hmmm… #3

November 1, 2012

by:  Staci Stallings

It’s amazing how basic these questions are and how very wrong I got the answers for oh, so long in my life.

Not only did I see God as a vindictive employer, I also answer that I was worth something only if I performed well.  Those two questions were bad enough, but this next one really sent me into a tailspin.

Do you accept what God is trying to give you?

Now, seriously.  The easy answer to this one should be, “Yes.”  But for a long time, my answer was no.

I couldn’t accept that God loved me just as I was because clearly I wasn’t good enough.  I couldn’t accept His forgiveness for the things I’d gotten wrong because… well, I wasn’t perfect.

Of course, I knew Jesus hung on a cross and died for my sins.  I knew that gave me admittance into Heaven, but that didn’t have much to do with now or with how I felt about myself and what I was doing with my life.

Please go back and reread the last two paragraphs as you do, carefully count how many “I”s “myself”s “my”s and “me”s there are.  Now count how many “God”s, “Jesus”s and “He”s there are.

And no, I didn’t do that on purpose.  You see, I can easily remember what that time was like before I finally accepted what God was giving me.  I remember how lonely it felt, how depressing, how isolating.  I remember thinking everyone else was looking at me and judging me.  I very well remember trying to walk the tightrope of doing enough perfectly enough to please God while simultaneously keeping that from others who would judge me for trying to be perfect.

Then, a miracle happened.  It really was and is a miracle I live every day.

God knocked on my heart and said, “I love you, just as you are.  No more is needed than My love.  Come rest in Me.”

I’m not going to tell you that was easy, and it wasn’t a one-time-and-it’s-done deal either.  At first it took real, conscious effort.  At first, I stumbled in that walk more often than not.  I had gotten so conditioned to look inward for my validation that it was hard not to berate myself when things didn’t go perfectly.

But what I found as I accepted what God was giving me was that when I fell, I was the only one in condemnation mode.  He was not.

His eyes, ever soft, ever forgiving simply held out hope and a love for me that I never could have imagined.  As I experienced that, my heart softened–yes, toward Him, but more toward myself, and then to others.  I saw how much others were hurting just like me.  I saw how they were asking, just as I was, to feel important and loved.  I saw how tragically low so many of them felt about themselves and how very far from God’s love they felt.

Life suddenly became about reaching out rather than looking inward with the whip.  Interestingly, the more I just let God love me, the more I could love others.  Deeply.  Profoundly.  Not in a “what can they give me in return” way.  Just lavishly.  Because I was already full.  I didn’t need them to fill me.

So, where are you with this question?  Do you let God love you?  Do you feel His love?  Or are you striving to gain it?  Do you accept the love and forgiveness He is holding out to you, or are you keeping yourself from it until you feel you’ve earned it?

Trust me, you will never feel like you’ve earned it.  And even if you can get there for a little while, it won’t last if it’s based on what you’ve done.  It has to be based on HIM, never on you.

But if you can get that right, wow, does it change EVERYTHING!

*~*

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Questions that Make You Go, Hmmm… #2

October 29, 2012

by:  Staci Stallings

Here is our second question that brings up soul answers that get to the bottom of everything:

Are you noticed, valued, and loved?

Our first question was about God–who we really think He is and how that shapes our perception of our relationship to Him.

The second question is both about our God relationship as well as our relationship with ourselves and with others.

I used to go at this question backward, and it created a lot of turmoil for me.  Instead of seeing the question primarily about my relationship with God, I instead saw it in relation to others, then myself, then God.  This created all sorts of havoc in my life.

Let’s face it.  People don’t really and consistently worry about you.  They are too worried about their own bad hair day!

So when you break your neck to get that business proposal in and your boss yawns, it might be because she got no sleep the night before.  However, if you are looking at this question and trying to answer it from how she sees you and the feedback you’re getting from her, you’re in trouble.

I was like this with teachers.  I had a radar for what they wanted and how to give it to them.  That worked for awhile until the drug of their approval stopped working to give me that “high.”  It began to take more and more and more to get that same “I’m okay” feeling.

I looked to everyone in my world to answer this question–parents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, friends…

If they made a big deal over me, the answer was good.  If they were busy with their own lives, the answer was bad.

I got a lot of bad answers.  Not because they were bad people and not because they didn’t care.  Because I was not the center of their universe! (I know, shocking… right?)

When I finally flipped this equation and stopped looking at others to answer this question and instead looked to God, things finally began to be peaceable in my soul.

God always notices me.  He is always right here.  I can always look to Him when I’m struggling, and He always has time for me.

And He loved me enough to die on a cross so that I could be with Him forever.

So for me, the answer when I look to God for this question is, “YES!”

What is it for you?  And how do you go about trying to get it answered?

*~*

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Life As Rocket Science, Part 7: Christian Walking

September 27, 2012

by:  Staci Stallings

So far we’ve covered a lot of different kinds of experiments you can do with your life–weight loss, homework, life, etc.

Today I want to look at how the concept of experiments works in our Christian walk.

I think we have been conditioned to believe there is “one right way” to be with God.  We think it involves praying a certain way for a certain amount of time at a certain time of day or day of the week.  We think it involves doing certain good things and avoiding certain bad things.  And we believe if we will just “do all of that,” our experiment called the Christian life will be a success.

Here’s the thing though… Much like my son with spelling, no two of us are exactly alike.  So what works for Janet down the street might not work for you at all.

However, we get trapped in thinking that doing it “right” has nothing to do with our way of doing it.  So we keep doing what doesn’t work for us because it looks right to someone else.

I recently read something that said, “Pray as you can, not as you can’t.”  I’m not sure if that’s from the Bible or not, but I know it’s true.

My sister was a good example of this.  She had been doing her praying, reading, meditating before bed each night, and it was working great for her.  She is not much of a morning person AT ALL .  Her children and husband all are.  So her mornings were filled with noise and people needing this, that, or the other thing.  Waking up earlier than them was not possible nor even advisable for her.  That would only have made her more irritable and less awake and able to deal with things.

So she was enjoying her nightly time with God.  Then she got a book that said the way you are “supposed” to pray is to get up early in the morning, an hour before everyone else, and sit in the quiet and pray.

Immediately she felt like a complete failure in her prayer life!  She called one night sounding really defeated.  “I just don’t know how to do that.  If I try, I’m just going to be exhausted…”

Pray as you can.  Don’t pray as you can’t.

I have a friend who hit the same wall.  She went to a retreat and at the end of it, the liturgy director invited us into her “living room” one morning to pray with her.  It was very peaceful and wonderful.  My friend decided THIS was what she should do.  So she did an experiment (okay, she called it “what I’m going to do from now on”).

She got up earlier than the sun, sat in her chair and read and prayed.  The first morning this worked.  The second morning, she nearly fell asleep.  So she decided to have her coffee with her prayer.  That worked a little better until about the fifth morning when she really did fall asleep and was very nearly late for work!

She called… also sounding completely defeated.  “I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.  It worked so good for Carrie.”

Pray as you can.  Don’t pray as you can’t.

I’m the third example.  From the time I was very small, we prayed the rosary.  My grandmother was a huge rosary pray-er.  She loved it.  Me?  Uh…

Oh, I had the best intentions.  But when I’d start praying, my mind would wander–mostly to the beads.  “Was that #7 or did we already switch beads?  I don’t remember.  Am I behind?  Or ahead?  Maybe I should switch beads now…”  The thing you have to know is my sister loves the rosary, and she would expound on how wonderful it is.  So I would hunker down, determined to get this.  It still didn’t work.

Then one day at a retreat I was praying it behind a wall, waiting to play music at the end.  I got really frustrated with myself.  Why couldn’t I keep my mind on the prayers?  Then the Holy Spirit gently said, “Just hold the beads.  Don’t count.  Just hold and trust the person leading… Me.”  I literally lost it, bawling so hard I thought they would surely hear me.

Why?

Because I’d finally found what worked for me.  And all I could think was, “Thank You, Jesus.  Thank You for letting me be me and loving me anyway!”

So stop trying to pray as you can’t and start praying as you can.  That’s what God put in your heart to pray like!  If you love gardening, garden!  And don’t let anyone tell you that something else is the only way to pray.  If you love a set of prayers, pray them!  If you are called to work with the elderly, don’t get roped into working with pre-K because that would be more “holy” or “worthwhile.”

I know that sounds crazy, but it happens all the time to people of good faith, people who are sincerely trying.  And their light slowly gets dimmer and dimmer because they are trying to be in a place they were never meant to occupy!

Experiment in your Christian walk.  Find what works for you, where your spirit is released and relaxed and open!  It’s a great place to be!
*~*

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Life As Rocket Science, Part 2: Small Things

September 11, 2012

by:  Staci Stallings

Last week we talked about one friend who has been dieting and how her attempts at losing weight was like Thomas Edison experimenting with the light bulb.  He had lots of failures that all eventually led to the success he’s known for.  In the same way we are all “experimenting” with various things in our lives, finding out what works and what doesn’t.

Today I’ll turn my attention to a different friend of mine.  This friend was overwhelmed when I met her.  Haunted by a past she couldn’t change and wishing things could be so, so different now.  Seeing that trying to change everything overnight would not work, I instead suggested she try something radically new–small things.

We’re not even talking small like cleaning the kitchen.  We’re talking, being grateful for one minute somewhere in the day.

At first she was skeptical because what did she have to be grateful for, and what difference would that even make, but I challenged her to do one small thing.  The first day was interesting because I think she related to me one small thing she did toward God and like 7 she did away from God.  But the experiment was a success.  I got her to do ONE small thing.

The next day, I challenged her to do two small things.  She came back with a list of two small things and five things away.

Within a week, she had flipped the list six-seven small things toward God; two-three things away.  Then in two weeks, she had a list of 8 things toward God… and NONE away!

So very cool!

But here’s the thing.  She had come up with a lot of ways that life didn’t work, and she rehearsed them every day, nearly every minute of every day.  She had gotten very good at picking herself and her situation apart so that there was not much left.

However, it was in experimenting with very small changes that she finally found the key to turning life around.  It was in being willing to try something new that something new showed up.  And just like rocket science, it was built one small piece of knowledge and understanding at a time.

So when you’re thinking about experimenting with life, remember, you don’t have to do a whole-sale change to everything.  Choose some small things to change, to try, to experiment with.  Do those things and then add onto them.

You might be surprised how quickly your list of steps away from God and steps toward God flips!

*~*

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