Ash and Starlight

Connecting with God, each other, and ourselves in the broken and beautiful

Author: Arianne Braithwaite Lehn (page 1 of 11)

A prayer for boxes and a weekend recap

Photo by Lori Archer Raible

I shared this prayer in my Monday Manna newsletter today. I don’t know about you, but when I am under stress, I descend (quickly!) into black-and-white thinking. Especially about people and situations.

Last week, I saw Oprah’s Super-Soul Sunday conversation with Pema Chodron. One of the many wise things she said concerned our openness to “letting” people change. Or how we see situations. Our perceptions and beliefs about them can become so fixed and brittle (in large part due to justifiable pain). Here’s a little prayer to help us with this…. 

Humble Savior,

Help me be, see, and understand anew.

There’s a person, a place,

a question, an issue

I have put in a box.

Separateness gives the illusion

of some control,

and if I’m honest,

some superiority.

I am afraid to let

that person or that place

or that issue change

because of the change

that would ask for in me.

I’m cautious around invitations

with such ambiguous expectations.

Give me, God, the trust 

to see with innocent eyes,

to learn with a beginner’s mind,

to understand with a non-judging heart –

and really, to love even when I don’t understand.

Because showing how you were right

never seemed to be your first priority.

Rather than turn or edge back,

help me take one step closer this week

to what is other and different and hard.

Amen.

***

And then, yesterday was such a blessing to my heart – a meaningful gathering at the Winnetka Book Stall for reflection, reading, signing, and cookie eating. I was so moved by the cross-section of people who came….people from the congregation at which I first began writing prayers eight years ago all the way to beautiful new friends I’ve recently gotten to know. A tangible reminder of God’s goodness in the journey, always unfolding….Here are some pictures!

Ash and Starlight Book Launch Party!

Our family just settled in back home tonight from an incredible weekend in Minnesota. Yesterday, we celebrated the launch of Ash and Starlight: Prayers for the Chaos and Grace of Daily Life at Art House North in St. Paul, MN. This was the capstone on launch week. It’s hard for me to describe the matchless experience it was in recent days to receive pictures and texts from so many people I love, all sharing they’d received Ash and Starlight.

There is much marinating in my full heart right now…I’m overcome with profound gratitude, and will need to process for many weeks to come. So much beloved community – including family who flew in to surprise me – gathered to “give thanks, celebrate, and dedicate” at the launch party. It was a humbling and holy thing….to thank God, celebrate God’s goodness, and dedicate this offering.

I can’t stop reliving so many moments from yesterday. And what I’ve especially been awed by is not just the event itself, but the journey to yesterday – all the people and experiences, guided by God’s loving hands, which coalesced in bringing this book to fruition. Truly miraculous.

I sat at the piano as we sang hymns, I read prayers and reflected, and we listened together to the original recording of the musical piece, ‘Ash and Starlight – one of the earliest stepping stones toward this book.

This playlist played in the background. Lots of Sara Groves, of course….

More to come, I’m sure, about this day. In the meantime, pictures which speak a thousand words…..

Such a privilege to pen words of love to gracious friends and family again and again and again…
Programs for our time of worship and reflection
This 100 year old church was repurposed by musician Sara Groves, and her husband, Troy, with the intention of fostering creative pursuits after Christ’s passions.
Give thanks, Celebrate, and Dedicate – the handiwork of my sister-in-law, Shanna
Our foursome
My mom…
Especially meaningful to me was to discover the Good Shepherd stain glass imagery in the church. Some of my favorite texts in Scripture center here. And so did my dad’s.
Eden and Simon snarfing down star cookies
Hymns sung include: Praise Ye the Lord, Hymn of Promise, and Great is Thy Faithfulness…
The Lehn sisters, two of whom flew in to surprise me the day before the launch party. And of course, baby Joel (3 months old)
A chunk of the Lehn family….so blessed.
My aunt, Mary, and uncle TJ – dad’s brother who commissioned the musical piece of “Ash and Starlight”
Star cookies made by Emily Erickson and her mom, Gail – PERFECT – plus Costco cheesecake. Oh, and the toppings we forgot to throw together until 1 hour before leaving for the event….
When I started to give the benediction, Eden came up to join me. She sometimes does this when my husband gives the benediction at the end of our worship services in Wilmette…a sweet tradition.
Poster-child….
Also, just saw this tonight….currently a #1 release . One of the most effective things you can do right now to spread the word for Ash and Starlight to reach and bless others is to write a very brief amazon review. It can be 2 sentences!

My heart bursts….

With thanks, celebration and dedication to the Weaver of all our ash and starlight….

Death, New Life, and a Book Launch

Photo by Lori Archer Raible

Today marks what would have been my dad’s 63rd birthday, and tomorrow is the birthday of my book – dedicated to my dad.

In John 12:24, Jesus says to his disciples, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” 

This weekend, friends and family will gather for a book launch party at Art House North in St. Paul. We will celebrate, give thanks, and dedicate this fruit to the God who weaves all ash and starlight into beauty.

I’m reminded today of God’s power to integrate into wholeness the paradoxes of our lives. Joy and pain. Endings and beginnings. Death and New Life. The holding of this book is physical fruit from some of the most painful deaths I’ve experienced – yes, the particular and acute loss of my dad’s life, but also the surrender to a future I hadn’t planned…and in some ways, even wanted.

Surrender always feels like dying because it is. It’s giving up our striving for control. Real surrender is trusting God is still God, God is still good, and that the agency we have here and now is enough. It’s also trusting the very fabric of this world God’s so lovingly created is a cycle of continual death and resurrection. Richard Rohr was the one who helped me see resurrection wasn’t a one-time event with the cross. This is the pattern for everything in our world and in our lives.

In the introduction to Ash and Starlight, I write about being 31 weeks pregnant with our first child the day my dad died. I knelt at his feet in the living room of his home while he took his last breaths on earth.  I held his fingers with one hand and had my other hand over my pregnant belly, kicking with life. I experienced in such a tangible way the holding together of death and life, of greatest grief and grittiest hope. 

Following my dad’s death, his brother, Tim, commissioned a musical piece in remembrance – not just of my father, but of the message his life spoke. Tim asked me to write the text for the piece, and the first stanza begins this way: 

On waves where trembling feet

Sink and dance there rises

Between my toes a peace…

Where heaven and earth embrace,

Where the ash in my mouth,

The starlight in my bones,

Weave together in wholeness

The “ash and starlight” allude to the poetry of Genesis. While God created us from the ash and dust of the earth, God then blew divine breath into us. This same breath created the stars – what ancient people saw as “heavenly beings” filled with transcendent, pure, and powerful beauty. We are made of earth and we are made of heaven – ash and starlight not separate, but woven seamlessly together. And this is true too of our lives. 

The Ash and Starlight piece would become for me a kind of grounding touchstone (later the title of my blog, and after that, the title of my book), reminding me how everything in our lives belongs – the ash and the starlight.

We live in a culture that wants categories, and often creates either/or. Bad or good. Painful or joyful. Light or Dark. But God is much more “both/and” than “either/or.” And prayer is one of the ways God helps us integrate our lives and ourselves into wholeness. It can bring together the seemingly opposite things of our lives and our own selves as we see everything we are is held in unconditional love by God. Prayer keeps us awake and alive to what’s really happening inside of us when we most want to block or numb or judge. 

I’ve been humbled by the goodness of God and God’s leading in my journey. Eight years ago when I started writing weekly e-news prayers for the congregation in Highland Park, I wasn’t thinking to myself, “Someday, this will become a book of prayers.” It was truly a case of fumbling toward faithfulness in the next thing, and then the next thing, and then the next thing. I felt God lead me to keep the prayer practice in Fort Wayne, then decide to start a blog, then  follow the nudge of a mentor who told me to try and float a book proposal to some publishers. 

This journey reminds me of one of my favorite prayers by Thomas Merton, “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end, nor do I really know myself. And the fact that  I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you…And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.” 

Today, I’m claiming God’s promise to lead me by the right road – even as I often feel anxious and fearful with the ambiguity of not knowing. I am a witness of God’s wonders and working.

That is what hope is. And that is Who hope is.

Some recent prayers….

A collection discovered on our walk along Lake Michigan…It’s beautiful when people leave gifts for the strangers who will come after…

Hello, friends! Blessings in this in-between space of summer ending and autumn starting. I recently made the switch to sharing the bulk of my writing and updates through Monday Manna which I wrote about here.

With Monday Manna, I share a prayer, a place to channel your prayerful energy, something that nourished me in the last week, and some updates on book news. You can sign up through the box on my website.

I want to now share here, however, some of the most recent prayers I’ve sent through Monday Manna. May they be nourishment for you as you head into the weekend.

***

Companioning One,

When I begin to feel the fears rise

and the pressures push

me toward that cursed corner –

the dark and crushing space

saying, “it all depends on me” –

help me rise.

Lift me out and above

this swirl of deceptions, God,

and remind me I am not alone,

or expected to know everything.

My eyes just need to be in the right place.

Reground my understanding

 that while I am called to faithfulness

with what I have,

where I am,

the make-or-break power of my days

is beyond my skill.

Give me one reminder this week, God,

of your presence in the details….

Just enough to shake me from

this stupor of self-reliance.

I commit today’s work to you,

and thank you in advance for what you’ll

make of it.

Amen.

***

Loving God,

Please make me a vessel today

of your creative, life-giving spirit.

When I feel too tired to

invent, create, or decide,

remind me all I must do

is remember the Source

to Whom I’m connected.

Can beautiful holiness

be less about that for which I strive

and more about what I allow

to make a home in me?

Plant yourself on the

shoulder of my soul.

I will open and rest

while you flow and work.

Amen.

***

Reassuring God,

Sometimes, the work

before me feels like

a cog in the wheel

of endless turning,

no progress.

Each spin presents

the déjà vu of questions…

Is there meaningful worth

in this?

Is this what I am *supposed*

to be doing?

All those haunting interrogations

surfacing a steady low-grade anxiety…

Keep me today from apathy, God,

but also protect me from despair.

Remind me of the promise and truth

that most wheels are connected to something else,

and through continued faithfulness,

what I thought was an endless wheel

brings me to a new horizon,

a fresh perspective,

and a surge of strength.

Amen.

***

Loving One, 

I enter the week with open hands, 
asking for the trust, 
the humility, 
the contentment
to find holiness in all I experience. 

Help me cultivate
an awareness toward abundance
so often disguised
in forms I miss,
or even reject.

I count with concern

what appears available,

looking right over what’s

under my own feet.

What’s within my own heart. 

Keep me from measuring – 
myself or those around me – 
and instead, see with awe
the limitless ocean of grace in which
we’re all floating.

Amen.  

Monday Manna – an invitation…

Photo by Susanne Moorman Rowe

Summer blessings to you, my friends!

I hope and pray this summer has provided space for deepest renewal in all the ways you most need! Sometimes what is supposed to be “vacation” leaves us more drained and tired than our status before. Being a student of the Spirit’s voice within you and your core needs will keep you in tune to how and where to lean in or rest. You know yourself! Trust that inner voice.

I have an invitation for you.

In the past, I offered a prayer on Fridays to close your week (sometimes and inconsistently, because #life….. ) With the coming of my book launch this fall, I will be shifting to a newsletter instead that will come directly to your mailbox on Monday mornings should you so choose. I am desiring a more personal way to connect with you and invite engagement, and believe an email message to you will nurture that in fresh ways.

My hope with this new newsletter – “Monday Manna” – is to help set your week’s tone. I know many people (myself included!) who find themselves on Sunday nights a bit anxious, heavy, apathetic, or all-around overwhelmed that come morning, the routine starts rolling full-speed ahead. And so with this weekly email newsletter, my prayer is that you can begin your week from a place of intentionality – a spirit and stance grounded in the goodness and provision of God.

The meaning of “manna” is significant to me. It’s shared in numerous faith traditions, but the story to which I hearken is in Exodus 16.  The Israelites are in the desert wilderness, walking with a promise from God but living in total uncertainty as to how and where this journey would lead. God’s daily provision to them (along with quail – eeek) was “manna.” It couldn’t be hoarded or stored up, but had to be freshly received each day. The people lived in trust that what they needed to live and continue the journey would fall like grace. And every day, it did. The manna edified them at their deepest levels because while it was food to their bodies, it also restored their daily hope. God was still providing, present, and caring for them, and the manna they collected each day was a physical reminder of that.

And so, my prayer is that “Monday Manna,” will be a channel of God’s nourishment to you through four things:

  • A short prayer and/or reflection 🙂
  • A place to channel your prayerful energy this week
  • Something that nourished me in the past week
  • Upcoming book news

You can sign up for Monday Manna here, or through the box on my website! If you were already subscribed to receive my blog posts through your email, you are currently registered for the newsletter and don’t need to do anything. And of course, should you want to unsubscribe at any point (I also hate email clutter!) there is an easy button for that!

One of my deep hopes is that you might be so gracious as to share the ways God is nourishing you! Together we will be encouraged for another week of faith, hope, and love.

A prayer for tonight’s Lights for Liberty…

Tonight, people are gathering in communities all across our world for “Lights of Liberty.” Perhaps the one thing giving me any hope in recent weeks has been witnessing the Spirit of God alive and at work through active people – people who will not tolerate this kind of treatment of migrants and refugees. Children of God who are our neighbors. Our collective family in life. 

Alongside the Lights of Liberty gatherings, I wanted to offer an option. Going to one of these collective events is not doable for everyone tonight, including my family. Yet we can all – no matter where we are – give powerful, whole-hearted witness and join the communion of saints. I know it is not the same as being together in person, but we believe and know there is more that binds us than physical presence.

Most gatherings will be around 7:00 or 8:00 p.m. tonight (relatively, depending on time zone). Join in this communal light by creating some in your own home, or wherever you may be. 

Light a candle. 

Breathe and bless. Focus your mind and your heart’s attention on the world’s children detained in places lacking dignity, compassion, and basic needs. 

Here is a prayer I wrote some time ago called, “When I cry for the world,” and it is what my family will read tonight. 

When I cry for the world 

Merciful Jesus,

I cry for our world. 

I cry over broken bodies 

and broken homes 

and broken hearts.

I cry over violence 

and exclusion 

and indifference. 

I cry most of all over the children! 

Through my body and breath,

I pray for your kin-dom…

For allto have 

nourishing food and nurturing homes, 

edifying work and safe, skilled schools,

compassionate healthcare and dignified wages, 

soft beds to fall into at the day’s close…

For the children to be protected,

the elderly honored, 

and both hugged every single day…

For reparative justice,

cherished diversity,

and peaceful purity in what’s

breathed, eaten, drunk. 

I cry and I pray, 

confessing the many times 

I’ve declared what I deserve

rather than asked what I could give.

I cry and I pray, 

knowing I’m complicit in the pain 

and essential to the healing. 

I cry and I pray, 

trusting my tears mingle with your own, 

hoping this tearful river softens and shapes

the hardest canyons of injustice – 

or at least lays the groundwork.

I pray and I act, 

moving my body and resources 

toward your kin-dom vision,

trusting my skills and gifts 

carry forward the new, just world you imagine

and are always bringing.  

I remember this work is mine to do. 

“Christ has no body but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks 

Compassion on this world,

Yours are the feet with which 

he walks to do good,

Yours are the hands, with which

he blesses all the world…”* 

O Jesus, have mercy 

and help me. 

Amen. 

You may choose to take a picture of your candle and text to other friends and family, or share on social media with #lightsforliberty (an instance when I actually think social media can do some great good!). 

My husband recently wrote a letter about the border crisis that will be going out to our congregation with some places to give, ways to learn, and advocacy opportunities. Near the end of his letter, he says, “our first and last job as followers of Jesus is to pray. There is power in prayer, in listening to God, in interceding for those who are suffering. And yet we must remember “thoughts and prayers” are not something we just blithely tweet after a crisis. Authentic prayer always changes us and impels us to action. As 1 John says, we are called to love not just “in word or speech, but in truth and action.” We encourage you to pray for the migrant families, for the political leaders and government agents on both sides of the border, for non-profit and religious leaders. We invite you to find ways to talk to your children about this crisis and include their voices in your prayers.”

I believe with every fiber of my being in prayer’s power. And I deeply thank you for holding hands in the circle tonight. As Glennon Doyle so often says, “we belong to each other.”  

O Lord, hear our prayer.

*Quote in my prayer is widely attributed to St. Teresa of Avila (1515–82), but not found in any of her writings according to numerous sources, so maybe written by someone else. Still, it’s beautiful. 

A beautiful book to add to your list…

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Dani Shapiro’s most recent book – one for your summer list….

With summer book lists a flyin’ here is one to add to your list. My recent book review of Dani Shapiro’s Inheritance is now available at The Christian Century. You can read it here.

This powerful book delves into some of the biggest identity questions we hold…Who am I? What (or who!) makes me who I am?

This is a book about secrets and the shock, anxiety, chaos, and grief that can come with major revelations. It is also a book about release, trust, the deepest kind of faith, and true essence.

Perhaps my favorite part of the book is when Dani shares her shocking familial discovery with a rabbi friend. “You can say, ‘This is impossible, terrible,’” he tells her. “Or you can say, ‘This is beautiful, wonderful.’ You can imagine that you’re in exile. Or you can imagine that you have more than one home.” Shapiro’s journey to name home in more than one place re­flects the internal paradox faced by all people of faith. We are made of heaven and we are made of earth. The work of faith is to merge these worlds and realities, embracing them as unified rather than hierarchical.

I’m reminded through this book that while we “can never know what lies at the end of the path not taken,” we can offer ourselves to the here and now with gratitude and trust, finding ourselves at home.

Friday Prayer, May 10, 2019

IMG_1594

Stopping to smell the beauty at the Chicago Botanic Gardens….

The news of Rachel Held Evans’ death hit many of us very, very hard. Some amazingly beautiful pieces have been written in recent days days, all illuminating what a tremendous woman – what a matchless voice – the world will achingly miss. I never met Rachel. She also changed my life and faith trajectory in too many ways for me to name. Her words have been a companion to me for years, and that’s exactly what so many people have named. Her voice. Her words. How she changed the world because of them.

I’m preparing to lead a women’s retreat next week on the theme of “Finding Your Inner Voice.” I’ve been thinking about the power of words and the creative force in using one’s voice. This is something to which we’ve been reawakened through Rachel and her legacy.

Abraham Joshua Heschel believed, “words create worlds.” With our voices, we can call into being the world we envision. And this is, after all, the way our story started.

We are born of God’s voice and breath. Living from our inner voice is pausing to listen to what’s deepest within – and that is always a place of beauty, authenticity, and integration. Nurturing your inner voice changes your life, and in turn, the world. What’s happening ‘out there’ in the world starts with what’s happening here in our hearts. Rachel said she knew she always wanted to be a writer, and so she decided to just start writing about the things her inner heart was wrestling with – especially regarding the Bible and her faith. As she did, millions of people were set free. Her words are alive, and her voice is going to continue in this holy work.

Expressing what’s deepest within us through voice and word – whether by lips or through pen – becomes a devoted offering. We have the power to name our world as beautiful, then go about the hard, faithful work of making sure all can enjoy it that way.

My prayer for the women I lead next week and my prayer for you is to receive God’s love and fresh empowerment for living by your inner voice. The voice within you showing everything belongs.

You have some really important words to share. Rather than write a prayer today, I invite you to create your own. It can be one word, a phrase, or a whole flow of things.

Thank you for creating a beautiful world through your voice today.

 

Good Friday Prayer, April 19, 2019

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Thank you, Susanne Moorman Rowe, for sharing this beauty with me on my birthday this week!

Good Friday blessings, friends. I’ve been eating up so much Richard Rohr lately. He’s long been one of my heroes. Father Rohr has set me – along with countless others – free. It’s not an overstatement to say he has changed my life, and his latest book has been (IMHO) his best yet. I beg every one of you to read this book, or even listen to the accompanying podcasts. You will not remain the same.

On this Good Friday, I think of a couple of truths from Father Rohr that sink deep into my bones today. First, that “God loves things by becoming them.” And second, “everything will be all right in the end. If it’s not all right, it is not yet the end.”

My understanding of the cross and what it means is very different now than it was growing up, and through Richard Rohr, I love and appreciate it in a whole new (and much more healing, helpful) way. God incarnate in Jesus Christ embodies for me how love is the undercurrent beneath every single thing in our world.

I wish you tangible experiences today of Christ’s pervading, unconditional love. And in doing so, offer another sneak peek toward my book – launching this fall – that includes a Lenten prayer.

***

For Lent

 Redeeming One,

You came, Jesus, to show me the

best way to live and walk this path.

You let yourself feel the depth

of need surrounding you.

You kept a purity of focus.

You always, always chose love.

All with bravery and trust.

I need you, Jesus, to walk

beside me now,

helping me reflect,

confess, prepare…

This Lenten path puts before me

the questions and realizations

I so often stuff away.

With each step, I’m recognizing

barriers built through my

rote habits and unrealized prejudices,

my base-line grudges and routine neglects…

I must acknowledge compromises

that drew me further away

from my own soul and your calling.

But I’m coming back home.

Hone my desires to that

pure focus you held.

Help me fast from self-absorption,

finding my sustenance in the

rich profundity of suffering-love.

Draw my heart and feet forward

on this path that’s both total mystery

and innate to who I am in you.

A minor melody marks our cadence,

yet you tune my ears for more than that.

Resurrection is always the final number.

Help me walk, Savior Lord,

with hope amid heaviness,

ears to the ground.

I will welcome my mortality

and the potential in ashes and dust.

Amen.

 

Psalm 51:17 * Isaiah 53:4-6 * Luke 9:23-24

 

“If any want to become my followers,

let them deny themselves and take up

their cross daily and follow me…” Luke 9:23

Friday Prayer, April 5, 2019

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Thanks to my sister, Em, who captured Georgia’s spring beauty this week!

 

Spring blessings to you, friends! Welcome to the end of the week. Perhaps these recent days had some challenges for you. Maybe it was hard not to take comments you received personally. Maybe you’re getting really tired of the chronic pain that just can’t be kept in check. Maybe the kids had a tough time acclimating to routine and rhythm after spring break. Maybe you discovered you had a dead skunk underneath your deck that made your entire house smell like the plague of death. Yes, that last one did indeed happen to us this week.

Whatever the week brought, here is some encouragement for you, friends, as you begin the weekend. Spring is here, and with that comes all the promises for which we yearn. Growth and blooming, beauty and rebirth, always come. The most exquisite sights regularly appear after quiet, strenuous work below ground (often unnoticed, routinely in frigid, gray sameness).

God never ceases from creating beauty. As we witness it outside, remember God’s creating that beauty in you. It might not feel like “spring” in your soul or life. Maybe you’re grinding through the same-old that’s needed and asked of you right now. Know without a doubt, though, that spring always comes. It’s in the fabric of the world. It’s in the skin and heart and life of you. And your faithfulness right now lays a foundation of rich, nourishing soil. It will feed the fruit about to form.

I shared last week that my book, Ash and Starlight: Prayers for the Chaos and Grace of Daily Life, is now available for pre-order! As another little “sneak peek,” here is a prayer for springtime from the book .

For Springtime

Loving, Creator God,

Spring reminds me it’s

never too late to start over.

That there’s been quiet growth

over these long months

of winter when I saw nothing.

When I was called to believe

there was growth happening

beneath hard, cold soil.

And now? Glory!

I celebrate the loveliness

of all you’ve made.

The newness, Lord,

the freshness –

it inspires my soul!

Tulips in the front yard,

buds on the trees,

the voices of birds,

the cleansing of rain,

the comfort of sunshine…

each gift renews me,

speaking of the promise within

all those months of dormancy

and preparation.

As spring awakens my physical senses,

I ask, God, for you to awaken my inner senses.

May my mind open and blossom

to the longings you’ve placed within me…

to the steps and path that will

satisfy the desires of my heart…

to the hopes and passions

you’ve planted in every

one of your children…

May I seek what will truly fulfill them.

May I journey toward their Source.

May I be guided by your gentle and wise Spirit.

It is never too late to be

what you call me to be.

Even as it takes greatest courage

and deepest humility.

With your help, I will open myself to

what I never expected before,

never experienced before,

and never thought possible.

Amen.

Psalm 16:11 * Psalm 104:24-30 * Isaiah 55:8-9

“You show me the path of life.

In your presence there is fullness

of joy.” – Psalm 16:11

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