Tag Archives: prayer

panic mode.

We have a 3-to-6 week window in which to have a baby.

And to put together a garage sale, and organize/clean/prettify our house and also sell it. And finish construction enough to move into the new house. And I just gave myself a heart attack thinking about all of it.

P.S. I am out of brown paper bags.

Here’s what’s been done to our middle-of-nowhere farmhouse this past week:

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Door knobs, and locks! This is a big deal.

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Actual garage doors. Also big.

It doesn’t seem like much. I am overwhelmed whenever I am out there. Piles of scrap lumber everywhere. Red dirt everywhere. Wood shavings–everywhere. I know it’s all coming together and it just takes time, but I’m losing the vision and I’m getting discouraged. There’s just so much to finish, and so many other things to do in our current house, in our church, and in our community.

Here’s what I don’t get to watch: Caleb, busting his rear end at his job during the day, and out at the property in the early morning and late night hours–mowing, drilling, wiring, hammering, sweeping, sweating…he comes home, picks the stickers out of his shoes, and rinses the sawdust out of his hair. I watch him sleeping comatose beside me, and I know how hard he is working just for us. His dedication is unreal and his energy is almost inhuman. I go back and forth between feeling incredibly grateful to distressingly guilty on a minute-to-minute basis.

This is where we knew it would get hard.

Y’all, this is soooo just…life. At times it’s tiring, overwhelming, and discouraging, especially when we don’t physically see any progress being made–but God cares about us. He is always working behind the scenes.

We sign on the dotted line, in theory knowing full good and well what it should take to actually follow Him–but the experience turns out to be more trying than we imagine. We question His techniques and His time frame, and we get impatient.

God is faithful. He stays working.

Exhaustion sets in. Our feet are sore, and it’s unbearably hot outside, and there are freaking wasps everywhere. We have so many other things on our to-do lists. People around us question. We worry. We doubt. Are we done yet, God? This is not turning out like I thought it would. Will things get any easier? Aren’t you going to help us? Are you sure this is what we were supposed to be doing?


I’ve been teaching my Sunday school class about the part of the Bible where the Israelites keep being unfaithful to God–which if you’ve read the whole Old Testament (I hadn’t), you would know that this is an ongoing theme that pretty much describes the case 97% of the time.

In preparing for the lessons I would ask this question over and over again: “Israelites, REALLY, for the love of GOD, you have your marching orders. How do you keep getting into these predicaments? How is this hard? Has God not told you? Has God not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. No, strong. And courageous. I said COURAGEOUS! Do not, I repeat, DO NOT worship other–DOH!”

After almost a year of studying this sort of business in the ancient land of God, the Israelites developed a reputation with me for sucking majorly.

But after a small season of stress in my own life, I get it.

Bad kings dictated. Invaders invaded. Wars raged. It got hot and food got scarce and there were undoubtedly wasps everywhere. (Because wasps are inherently evil and should be eradicated from the face of this planet.)

God’s people had heard. Some had even seen. They all knew.

But fragile human minds can only take so much–especially when we are not fully leaning on and listening to God during times of trial and uncertainty. We invite temptation in our attempts to do things out of our own power. We forget the basics and make things way more complicated than they need to be. We quickly become spiritually discouraged and tired, and then lazy and weak.

This part of our nature is not anything to be proud of. It’s not anything to coolly accept–but if we’re at least aware of it, we can take steps to fight it.

A wise man once said: “Knowing is half the battle.”

the battle

 

But an even wiser man said this:

philippians ch1vs6

 

 

God is working. He works in the wee small hours of the morning, and well into the scary darkness of the night. When we’re tired, He is energized and moving, sweating, and covered in sawdust, and fighting off wasps. He won’t stop–and NOT so that our little selves can have the house of our dreams for a few measly years here on Earth.

God is constantly working in us, so that many people can have an eternity of Heaven with Him. He is loving. He is faithful. He keeps His promises.

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outdoor cat.

After 4 long–and I’m talking LONG–months of personal restraint and self-control, I bit my nails. Like, I bit them clean off. I had come so far! I’ve been a nail-biter since I was 3 (truestoryaskmymother) and it was assumed that they had ceased to grow completely. But behold the power of a good prenatal vitamin and a superstition based in nothing but my own crazy head! By mid-February I had grown me some pretty fierce she-claws. Unfortunately, during this past bed-ridden Sunday afternoon, boredom and anxiety teamed up and became one great big mega-force to be reckoned with, and what started with the innocent nibbling of a thumbnail quickly progressed to an all-out war against my own hands.

I got gnarly man nubs again.

Though it feels really good to be biting my nails again, I am so angry with my self. I said “Self! Where’s your will power?” But my self never answers back, so I’m left to ponder, and probably over-spiritualize, the religious themes of The Walking Dead.

You’re welcome.

It is so easy to slip back into bad habits. Look at precious Darryl Dixon:

This is accurate.

This is accurate.

No really, look at him–so much awesome. For those of you who don’t watch, a little background information may be in order: pre-zombie-apocalypse, Darryl was a swampy white-trash redneck who drank moonshine, lived in the woods, and pretty much did whatever he wanted. Suddenly, zombies! Darryl Dixon met up with a group of survivors, and all of them became dependent upon his “Man-vs-Wild”-style expertise. The group was constantly in situations that called for Darryl to step up and be a protector and a leader. He made real connections with people. He became a hero.

Then that band of survivors got separated, and Darryl was roped into another group–this one made up of some real meanies: thieves, killers, and liars, who “claimed” things for themselves. Darryl stood firm in his struggle to be a good, fair person in a world that’s kill or be killed: “I ain’t claimin’ nothin‘,” he asserted, even if it meant going hungry or sleeping on concrete.

Sadly, by the end of one episode, Darryl (at least temporarily) gave up. He saw the body of an enemy and instead of respectfully covering it with a sheet (like Good Darryl would’ve done), he tossed the sheet aside. He gulped down moonshine. And he “claimed” things.

So much for fighting the good fight.

I wonder a few things:

  • How much decency did Darryl Dixon have in him before society went to hell in a hand-basket? My guess is, just like most people, he had the ability to be honorable and kind–just maybe not the opportunity.
  • Maybe his drinking and his swearing and his selfishness were all coping mechanisms. Maybe he was used to being in a kill-or-be-killed environment.
  • And in that case, was he just employing genius survival tactics when he started “claiming” and going along with the rest of the group?
  • Darryl is not known for his faith, in God or in anybody, and he occasionally says so around people of great faith. Does his self-reliance make him better equipped to handle the evils of his world? Or will it ultimately be his downfall?

And then I wonder a few things more:

  • How many times do I show kindness and compassion to someone in need? How many opportunities do I waste to be generous or hospitable? Do I really have to wait until the end of the world to be courageous and honorable?
  • What kinds of habits have I worked hard to overcome, besides biting my nails? People have all kinds of vices in order to cope with the unfairness, scariness, and pain from the world around them. My biggies are alcoholism and anxiety. In my happy bubble of church folk and family, I’m good–but it can be a slippery slope, just like gently nibbling one little fingernail. Of course I don’t need to be drinking a beer or going to a bar–even certain music can put me back into that good-time-girl mindset.
  • How do I act when I’m around people who might make fun of me for trying to set myself apart? I remain quiet. Or get drunk. Or drop f-bombs left and right while proudly displaying my (uselessly) vast knowledge of anything pop-culture.
  • It took me a while, but I have learned that going it alone is pretty much stupid. I can’t survive in the world without Jesus (as evidenced by sins of my past and present). I can’t carry on in my Christian walk without the friendship and the encouragement of brothers and sisters who hold tightly to my hand as we all walk along the same path. And I also can’t walk that path with a blind eye turned towards others who don’t share my hope–there’s a better way to live, and it involves so much more than survival alone.

 

“…pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called…” –1 Timothy 6:11-12

 


Counting it as garbage.

From Mia’s Jesus Calling book today, assuming I’m on the right day because, let’s face it–I’m a little scatter-brained when it comes to days. And dates. Or what time it is. What holiday it is or isn’t. And where my keys are (in my hand). And where my necklace is (around my neck).

Anyways:

Nothing is as wonderful as knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have given up everything else and count it all as garbage. All I want is Christ. –Philippians 3:8

Okay, so actually that’s from the Bible. And it’s pretty straight forward. Nothing here on earth even compares to the awesomeness of knowing God’s son. I get it.

He can take away my sweet new shoes. He can take away the Kia that I love so much and replace it with my old Saturn. He can scrap plans to this new house we’re building. He can make Caleb lose his job and all the things that we own.

I talk a big game. But there has not been one day that has gone by since April that I don’t ask God why He took my baby. I struggle with it. I can’t move past it. I maybe even feel a touch angry about it.

I really feel like God gives me a little taste of heaven when I sit on the couch at night curled up with my kids reading a book. Or when I’m driving down the road and they’re singing songs together in the back seat. Or when Cheyenne keeps the jokes rolling for hours on end. Or when I’ve had a bad day and I check my phone and see a million selfies of Mia. Or when Merrick insists that I take a walk with him to see the sunset because it is so beautiful, and I do, and it really is beautiful.

I can’t count those things as garbage. I can’t count my baby as garbage.

I can’t even wrap my head around the comparison. My family is no way, shape, or form, garbage.

So I skipped ahead to tomorrow’s devotion:

The Lord gives his people strength. The Lord blesses them with peace. –Psalm 29:11

The harder things get, the more I help,” the book says. “See your challenges as chances–chances to depend on Me more than usual.

Easier said than done, I guess. Still doesn’t explain much, but it is encouraging nonetheless.

Did God give me strength? Because I feel weak. Did He bless me with peace? I am tormented. Do I depend on Him more than usual? I did for about 30 days.

Admittedly, I’ve been in “Toni’s-got-it-all-figured-out” mode for a while now. But just like my confusion and hurt, my need for God doesn’t just go away after a certain allotted time has passed. And though I learned so many lessons this past spring, maybe now–when the rest of the world has continued to turn; when no one else is crying with me–maybe now is my time to truly lean on Him and Him alone.

My kids aren’t garbage, but I know now that these moments with them are fleeting and not guaranteed. My family is precious to me but God loves them even more than I do. And He loves me, too. I may not ever understand why it happened; but this is an opportunity for me to just trust Him. And though I can’t grasp the concept, the most wonderful parts of life here on earth are nothing compared to the glory of God in heaven.


Man in the Mirror

So how ’bout that Beth Moore and her bible study on the book of James?

If you’ve experienced Beth Moore ever, you know that she’s a teeny little blonde lady whose intensity will scare the bejesus out of you, and that’s just through a video. I’d die of fright and fall into a puddle of my own pee if I ever saw her in person and she looked at me with her actual eyes and smiled at me with her teeth which I’m betting are sharp enough to bite right down to my bones. Not that I think she’d bite me; well, she might, and that’s a chilling thought to be sure. I know I went to a really dark place just now, but Beth Moore freaks me out, you guys.

That said, the woman can rock a bible study, amiright? The video sessions and the workbook have pretty much completed the very easy task of massacring my brains. Also, the book of James: if you’ve ever been a little Catholic girl in a swarm of hot-headed Southern Baptist youth-groupers and you accidentally may or may not have said something to the effect of: “Well, you can’t really be saved if you’re always acting like a psycho-heathen baboon on meth, can you?”…well, this particular part of the New Testament is heart-warmingly validating on multiple levels. Take a listen:

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.

If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.

James 1: 22-27

But wait! There’s more!

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”

You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?

James 2: 14-20.

BLAMO! I wish I had memorized more Bible back in the day. It would have felt great to whip that one out and lay it on the table.

I’m not one to get all proud and cocky, at least not in the past year of my life and between the hours of 3 and 4 a.m. But these passages do speak to me, even more so now than they would have in my teenage years. And not because they’re great verses to present to other people–I am more and more convicted by these words every time I read them.

Why is that? Beth Moore posed this question: When was the last time you were changed by the word of God? Not when was the last time you were touched by the word of God, or the last time you were sentimental over it, or felt guilty because of it, or the last time you agreed with it….but when was the last time you heard His truths and were so impacted that you actually changed?

Personally, I love to get this little baby out of my pocket: “I’m not a stark-raving alcoholic anymore. BOOM. What more do you want, God?”

And here’s God: “Every. Flipping. Thing.” My temper. My impatience. My spending. My dishonesty. My anxiety. My free time. My hands and my arms and my legs and my back. My thoughts. My heart.

So many times I pick up my Bible and I read, and I eagerly nod my head and I pray and I thank God for what He just showed me…and then I turn right around and blow up over something miniscule like my dog is looking at me cock-eyed (which, coincidentally, he does all the damn time.) I tell God that my life is in His hands one minute, and the next minute I’m freaking out because my lunch plans fell through. I say my prayers and I have my quiet time, but then I hop in my car with a to-do list and all my quiet thoughts and calm vibes and good intentions go right out the window and suddenly I’m throwing up gang signs at the morons who won’t let me get in the exit lane.

I am exactly like the man who looks intently into a mirror at his own natural self, and then turns away and forgets completely what he looked like. I pig out on the word, and then I just sit there and burp til I doze off.

We can do bible study after bible study. We could analyze and philosophize until we’re blue in the face, but still not get the point. Sure, we could mentally understand the point, but until we get off the couch and do the point? We’ve missed the point. Salvation through faith alone–it’s awesome. Know what occurs naturally with true faith? Good works. This, btdubs, is happy information for Baptists and Catholics alike.

I’m trying. I really am. I’m doing the bible studies and teaching my children and memorizing scripture and giving things to the poor and bringing food to sick people, all the while trying to remember to switch the clothes from the washer to the dryer. And if you’re like me, you’re probably asking this question: “When do I get perfect, God? Come on already!”

That is one sneaky bastard of a thought, and it pops up time and time again in my head, especially when I’m surrounded by awesome Godly women who have totally nailed this “doers-of-the-word” thing. My friend Libby is calm and wise. My friend Kayla is caring and thoughtful. My friend Lynette is chill every minute of every day. My friend Stephanie is a solid rock of common sense. My friend Paula has more energy than a hyperactive labrador puppy on crack-cocaine. My friend Kim could people-charm the KGB. My friend Kristy invented every craft on Pinterest. My friend Tiffanie is a beast on a bicycle–if beasts look like Kim Kardashian except way prettier. My friend Shanna’s voice sounds like a combination of Fergie and Jesus.

But you guys: Comparison is a torture device of the devil. God put certain talents into certain people for certain reasons. Separately we are limited, but together we could take over the galaxy, or at least the tri-state area.

I can’t be all things to all people. I will never ever have all the answers. I will always be striving and seeking and asking and knocking. Sometimes I will slack off and regret it. Some days I may scream out with my whole heart and tears will burn in my eyes and my body will ache from running to Him. I am not going be perfect, not here on this earth and not by my own power ever. I might read the book of James 50 times this year and still not understand every sentence, but one thing is clear: Love God, love others. The two go hand in hand.


Lights.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

–Jesus said that in Luke 4:18-19. He really did. It shocked the crap out of all the haters. Which is awesome because who doesn’t love to shock a hater?

This morning I snarfed croissants and enjoyed stimulating conversation with a friend of mine. This chica is super thoughtful and edgy and honest; she really inspired me and my brain is still churning hours later. Seriously, you can probably smell the smoke.

So here it goes:

Church.

Church and Christianity.

Church vs. Christianity.

Christians in the Church.

True faith. True love. Honest motives. Unselfish behavior.

Family. Friends. Sacrifices. Giving. Prayer.

How does it all fit together? What does it look like to really be in love with the Lord? How much of what comes out of people’s mouths is true? Why are so many “Christians” such jerks about Jesus? What’s with those people who are really “shining”–and how the hell do they do that?

Years ago I wrote a post about why church in general is awesome and why I love and need the people in it. I will not back down on the points I made.

Here’s what I am to understand:

Church is a coming together of believers, so we can spur each other on, and keep each other accountable.

And also roll up fatties of fellowship and fun.

Church is supposed to be a powerhouse, a place where we come and gather strength and encouragement and inspiration, so that we can go back out into the world proclaim good news and junk.

In theory. That’s what we’re supposed to do. And hopefully, in general, that’s what the church does do.

But I know there’s a growing number of people who are not convinced–and not impressed. They look at us “Christians” and the only things they know about us as a group are 1. That we don’t cuss or drink as much, at least not in public, 2. That we quote the Bible when it suits our purposes, and 3. We think Obama is pretty much the antichrist.

(I do not think Obama is the antichrist.)

I’ve heard people say “I love God, I love Jesus; I just hate the church. The people there are hypocrites. Church is pointless. I can watch church on TV. I can worship God on my own.”

I get it. I’ve said that myself once upon a time. And I was asked, at that time, “If you love Christ, and Christ loves the church, then how can you hate the church?”

The church was not designed to be a bunch of meanies that stand around judging everybody. The church wasn’t meant to be a place where a bunch of self-righteous rich people come to feel good about themselves once a week. It wasn’t meant to be a place where teenagers go on Wednesday night to eat pizza, listen to a rock band, and then talk about Jesus for 2 minutes in between gossip sessions.

People are not perfect. Christians are not perfect. But God’s love IS perfect.

The church is meant to be the hands and feet of Jesus here on earth. The church is meant to be good news to the poor.

We can’t do that if we’re focused solely on ourselves 95% of the time.

And I certainly need the accountability that being actively involved with a group of fellow believers brings. I need the encouragement. I need the wisdom and advice of those who are strong in the faith and more knowledgeable than me about the teachings of the Bible.

And the church needs me. It needs me to be part of “the team”. The “team” has goals: Love others. Bring the good news. Be lights in a dark place.

I can’t bring sight to the blind or freedom to the oppressed all by myself.

I can’t even make a dent.

It’s soooo not about not drinking or cussing or bible-thumping, or even Obama.

Guys–if you love Jesus, then the church is a team you want to be a part of. You gotta get in on this. It needs you and all your spunk and talents and hopes and dreams and even your heartaches and disappointments. If you think the team sucks, well by all means, please–come help make it better.

Humanity is one hot mess. We’re warm-blooded, quick-tempered, impulsive, emotional drama-queens who strive painfully for perfection but time and time again we fail epically. But Jesus loves us, and He loves His church.

And sometimes we do get it right.

It’s about reaching out, and helping people. Feeding the hungry. Clothing the naked. Taking care of the orphan and the widow. Loving the unlovable.

Even more than all that, it’s about being human and banding together to help accomplish the task of spreading hope. And I can think of no greater hope than Jesus.


(More) Uncertain Times

As wars rage in faraway countries and U.S. battleships line up in foreign seas, let’s try doing something a little outside the box, a little crazy: Let’s….say…a prayer…for our president.

Take a deep breath, because that really did come out of my mouth just now.

And all I know is that, like so many other points in history, this moment in time is meaningful. The government’s decision on whether or not to step into a situation that may or may not be our business absolutely requires our most fervent prayers.

It scares me that we live in a world filled with such ridiculous violence. I hate that I can sound off my half-informed opinion of it all from the comfort of this uncomfortable office chair, while real people–young, old, male, female–are literally ducking for cover from gunfire in dilapidated buildings. Gunfire, people.

I’ve never been shot at. The only times I’ve ever even heard gun shots were at my high school track meets. I’m beyond sheltered. And probably also beyond naive.

A part of me says, “No. Let’s not go to war; let’s not invade yet another country. Let’s not start this.” But another part of me says, “This is wrong. What they’re doing to their own people is wrong.” And still another part of me questions, “Was it really us that gave them the ability to hurt their own country like this?” And most of all, I think “What about our country? What about my children? What about gas prices? Food prices? What about my comfortability? When are we ever going to get a twirly cushioned office chair?”

It’s not all about the United States. It’s just not. We live in the world. The world has 99 unending problems. We can’t ignore them, and even if we try, it’ll all eventually come crashing through our front door.

I don’t say this because I think we should obliterate other countries off the face of the planet.

I don’t say this because I think the U.S. is morally and ethically superior to any other place.

I don’t know what the right answer is.

But I know who does. And I know that His plans are unstoppable. And I want on the side of Him. Because–*spoiler alert!*–Jesus wins.

Would God be on the side of our country? Let’s just say I’m hesitant to believe it. Shall we take a short look at pop culture, perhaps? Music that glorifies violence, alcohol, and drug use. Men who objectify women. Women who completely degrade themselves by grinding on teddy bears in front of a world-wide audience. Parents who let their kids get away with any fool thing at any hour of any day. Teenagers who go on random killing sprees because they’re bored. This is the stuff that scares me far more than the possibility of war on foreign soil.

But let’s keep in mind that none of this is taking God by surprise. This is not the first war in the history of mankind. Obama is not the first leader to mess up. (Can we agree that King David’s whole love-child/arranged murder scandal would’ve had Americans calling for his actual head on a stick?) Miley Cyrus is not the first girl to lose her damn mind. And this is not the first economic disaster we’ve endured (The Great Depression/Dustbowl days seemed pretty freaking bleak.)

I will admit, that although nothing is new under the sun, our current problems don’t exactly point us in a promising direction.

So now that I think about it, let’s pray for our president and our country. Let’s pray for the poor souls overseas who are in the midst of battle today. Let’s pray for the women and children who are powerless and scared to death. Let’s pray for ruined countries and countries headed toward ruin.

Let’s pray for the people across the world that don’t know Jesus. Let’s pray for those who can only think of hate and fear. Let’s pray for the people who don’t know love and kindness.

And pray for your neighbor. Pray for your neighbor’s marriage, and their children. Pray for the single mom walking in the hot sun to pick her kids up from school. Pray for the single mom at work, worrying about how her kids are getting home from school. Pray for the family in the car in front of you in rush hour traffic. Because guess what? If it’s not your problem now, it will be soon. And if it’s Jesus’s business, then it is your business.

And spread the word: You don’t have to be a slave of the world. You don’t have to give in to evil. You don’t have to be sexually depraved and addicted to drugs. You don’t have to seek negative attention. You don’t have to kill. You don’t have to fight.

There’s something so much better, and you are loved.

john 16


Time-outing myself.

My name is Toni and here’s what I like: new tubes of paint, blank canvasses, coffee, air condition, giggling kids, New Mexico, northwest Florida beaches, House Hunters International, zombie movies, coffee, talking to my mom on the phone, hiking in the woods, doodling on my hand with a permanent marker, gabbing with my friends over a pot of coffee, fresh blackberries, and coffee.

Here’s what I don’t like: …

…um…

Oh! Sweeping up dog hair 15 times a day, a six-month long softball season, and not being able to drink coffee.

And here’s what I believe in right down to the core of my very soul: Jesus.

What does that involve? Responsibility. Accountability. Love. And almost every other good thing you can think of.

And sometimes–sometimes–it involves sticking to truths that not everyone in this day and age agrees with. Sometimes it means that, no matter how lovingly I state a belief, people will be angry with me.

It means knowing that God made me and everyone else in the world. It means knowing that God rejoices over us with shouts of joy and singing. He delights in us. He loves each one of us. And it pains Him when we turn away.

Loving Jesus means knowing that life is so much bigger than me. God is so much stronger than all my problems. And heaven is so much better than anything I can imagine.

But just for kicks and grins, let’s imagine that heaven is New Mexico on the beach while drinking coffee with my mom at an air-conditioned painting party for my friends to the background noise of giggling kids. Plus I get to have all my babies with me. I’m so totally glad we’re not made for this world.


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