Thanking God For Difficult Circumstances? Part Two

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Part One

I have little patience for debates over inconsequential matters. Too many debates on the Internet come down to questions with all the relevance of, “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”

At first blush, the question of whether we need to thank God for everything or in everything seems to be nitpicking about a single word. As I wrote in the previous article, we are called to thank God in every circumstance but not necessarily to thank him for literally everything that happens to us. The difference between the two is far from trivial. There are four pastoral and/or theological consequences to be considered.

1) It May Cause Believers to Stumble

Hurting people come to church in need of comfort and healing. They need to bring their hurts, their pain, and sorrow and to be met with compassion and grace.

Yet, many in the Church who share the hurts of their heart find not love but judgment. I know hurting Christians who fellow believers have corrected for not rejoicing in and being thankful for what was causing them pain.

There are a number of possible negative outcomes from this. First, the person can conclude sharing their heart’s pain was a mistake and stop doing so. This closes them off from the body of Christ and leaves them suffering in silence. This leads to a hardening of spiritual arteries, a plastic Christianity that is “smiling on the outside, dying on the inside.” Everything is fine with them, as far as you can tell. They smile at church and may go through the motions of saying what they’ve been taught to say. But inside they feel like a filthy sinner because they’re not sincerely grateful they’ve lost a loved one or a business. Then, suddenly, they’ll be gone. Maybe you’ll hear later about their divorce and wonder what happened. They always seemed fine.

It can lead to people leaving the church or walking away from the faith. For example, when the Church has taught a young woman that Christ commands her to thank God FOR a husband who beats her. Or when the Church has taught a young man that he must thank God for killing his mother with cancer. To hurting souls who accept it, this teaching renders our God an abusive monstrosity insensitive to our hurts. Fortunately, some hurting souls taught this know the Bible well enough to realize an interpretation of scripture that renders God an abusive monster is incongruous with a Christ who was a “man of sorrows acquainted with grief.”

As I said in part one, no one in the pages of scriptures was ever shown to praise God for literally everything rather than in everything. But perhaps there are people today that God gives the grace to respond in that way in the midst of the pain. That would be quite extraordinary, the way it is when a person gives a reverse tithe (90% of their income.) It is unwise to hold either practice up as the standard that everyone should follow. That imposes an extra-biblical burden on God’s people that most can’t achieve. Christ said his yoke is easy and his burden is light. (Matthew 11:30). This teaching is a yoke that is neither easy nor light.

The Holy Spirit gently guides us through our lives so we become more holy, more kind, more gracious, and more thankful. Commanding people struggling through a cloud of despair to give thanks for their suffering only brings them condemnation and discouragement.

2) It Ignores Scriptural Commands Precedents for Lament

You will never find in scripture, “Tell those who mourn to thank God for their loss and rejoice in it.” You will find scripture that says:

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.-Romans 12:15,16

To tell a hurting person to thank God or otherwise rejoice violates these commands. You’re not walking in harmony with the grieving soul. You may also be haughty and wise in your own sight as you rebuke a person’s need for comfort. In fact, let’s return to the Jesus Calling devotional book in which Sarah Young writes for Jesus. She says for “Jesus” that those who don’t know Christ intimately don’t thank him for their hardships. That is a false accusation against lamenting Christians that preys upon the Church’s widespread ignorance of lament.

The Bible is full of lament. Biblical heroes from both testaments, including Christ, take their sorrows, their anger, and their frustrations to God. The psalter is packed full of lament as is the book of Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Job. These people of God came to Him with their sorrows, hurts, and pains in a real raw way that makes most Christians uncomfortable.

Mind you, lament is never an end in itself. Lament is a journey of faith. It begins with us pouring out all of our pain and leaving it in God’s hands. It ends with us praising God as God turns our mourning into dancing. Some of the Bible’s most beautiful expressions of praise come at the close of laments. Take this verse from Lamentations:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.-Lamentations 3:22 and 23

The passage is the basis of that great hymn of the Church, “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” Jeremiah only reached that point through a dark and desolate place of mourning. Just a few verses before, he wrote of God:

He drove into my kidneys the arrows of his quiver; I have become the laughingstock of all peoples, the object of their taunts all day long. He has filled me with bitterness; he has sated me with wormwood. He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.”

How would you react if Jeremiah lived today and gave you that answer to how his life was going? Would you respect him as the highly spiritual man of God that he is? Would you honor him as a prophet on the verge of a mind-blowing insight into the goodness of God? Or would you quench the Spirit’s work in Jeremiah’s life by telling him to shut up and be thankful?

We all want to hear the praise that pours from Jeremiah. But too few of us patiently mourn with the weeping prophet as he works through his pain to get there.

Normally, “thanks for everything” means “thanks for all the good you do.” Why take the Bible’s use of it to mean to thank God literally for all things, even bad things? Perhaps it protects us from having to deal with hurting people. Perhaps it gives us an excuse to dismiss them.

3) Attributing to God what God Didn’t Send

God is sovereign, but not everything that happens in your life is God’s work. Yes, God does have a plan. Yes, God works all things together for good for those who are called according to his purpose. (Roman 8:28) No, that doesn’t mean all things that happen to us are good and thus a gift of God. Some things happen to us as the result of living in a fallen world, our sin, or the sins of others, and are thus works of the Devil who comes to “kill, steal, and destroy,” (John 10:10.)

The Devil is not all powerful and God can check the devil’s plans. Consider in the book of Job, where the Devil attacked Job. God allowed Satan to do it but limited the scope of his attack. It wouldn’t have been proper for Job to thank God for killing his children or destroying his herds, because it wasn’t God who did it, but it was the destroyer.

Sometimes our lives are messed up due to our owns sins. James is clear we should never blame God for temptation or for us falling into sin. (James 1:13-15). If overdosing on illegal drugs leaves us disabled or we end up in jail for armed robbery, we can’t thank God for the disability or for our imprisonment. They are not the result of God’s will. We can be thankful for how God will work through this, but we shouldn’t blame God in the backwards way of thanking him for it.

There are many views on this whole issue of free will and predestination within the body of Christ. You have to be a Calvinist with extreme views on predestination to conclude God is the literal ultimate cause of everything. And you need to support that conclusion before you can get to the idea that everyone needs to be thankful for everything that happens.

4) Trying to be thankful for your problems can keep you focused on your problems.

A sure way to remain focused on your problems is trying to be thankful FOR everything that happens to you. It requires you to actively work to focus on being thankful for it.

When you read Paul’s thanksgivings in his letters while he’s in prison, he’s not thanking God for imprisonment. He’s thanking God for those who are standing with them while he was there, and then he’s looking beyond his circumstances. He’s looking at how God is working through his Church and through the lives of faithful people.

However good our intentions are, forcing ourselves to thank God for our circumstances risks our becoming trapped in lies. Lament is the road that leads to sincerely casting our eyes above our troubles to see the glory of God at work in the world and praising the Lord.

We need to deal with the difficult parts of our lives, not to fixate on it all the time. Fixating can result from trying to force ourselves to be thankful for something that we need to lament.

Conclusion

Those who advocate giving thanks to God for all things have sincere, good intentions, but they are sincerely wrong. The overall effect of this false teaching is for us to stray into a shallow, inauthentic walk with Christ.

In “The Three Tools of Death,” G.K. Chesterton wrote a mystery about the death of a man who preached the need for constant happiness, a teaching that contributed to his death. Chesterton declared, “The Religion of Cheerfulness is a cruel religion. Why couldn’t they let him weep a little, like his fathers before him?”

Christianity is not meant to be a cruel religion that demands a plastic grin frozen on every face all the time.

The book of Ecclesiastes recognizes that there is time for mourning (Ecclesiastes 3:3) and that sorrow can make our heart better (Ecclesiastes 7:3) Our Lord declared that those who mourn are blessed and will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4) God knows our frame and that we are dust (Psalm 103). We have a high priest who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities (Hebrews 4:15.) God has shown in both Old and New Testament that he is big enough to handle our sorrows and laments.

At the same time, we do owe God our praise and thanksgiving even when we’re in pain. We can thank the Lord for the good things in our lives. We can thank God for salvation and for God’s unconditional love. We can thank him that he can handle our sorrow even when his people can’t. As we grieve honestly, in time, God will give us the grace to look beyond our sorrows and see the glorious picture of God at work in our lives, and others’ lives, and find a deeper gratitude.

[tweetthis remove_twitter_handles=”true”]Christianity isn’t meant to be a cruel religion demanding a plastic grin frozen on every face all the time. [/tweetthis]

[tweetthis]Thanking God For Difficult Circumstances #guestpost by @idahoguy[/tweetthis]

Thanking God For Difficult Circumstances, Part One

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By Adam Graham

Thankfulness is important.  We recently celebrated Thanksgiving in the United States. We have much to be thankful for, particularly those of us living in the United States. We are clothed, housed, and well-fed, with luxuries that many kings would not dream of.

Yet, there’s a trendy teaching that we need to be thankful for all things, including bad things. Yes, if we accept this, if our mothers have passed away, we must thank God that our mothers have died.

One source of this teaching is Sarah Young’s popular devotional Jesus Calling. She writes her devotional as if Jesus himself is talking to you.  She makes it sound like thanking God for our losses is a command from God. She writes for Jesus, “…I have instructed you to give thanks for everything….To people who don’t know me intimately, it can seem irrational and even impossible to thank me for heartrending hardships. Nonetheless, those who obey me in this way are invariably blessed, even though difficulties may remain.” She hangs the commandment she put in Christ’s mouth on Ephesians 5:20, “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This advice is well-intended. Christ can bring us to a place of thanksgiving for many difficult life circumstances. We see in the rearview mirror how God was there. How, if we hadn’t gone through that difficulty, we never would have found God, we never would have grown as a person.

The full council of scripture does teach us to be thankful in every circumstance. The difference between that hard truth the trendy error is one word. Replacing “in” with  “for.” This one small change can have a huge impact on God’s people. The Biblical truth lovingly calls us to keep pressing on towards a sincere gratitude that rises above circumstances.  In contrast, the trendy error is a law that requires instant, rote obedience from hurting souls and promotes a life of plastic phoniness that kills true faith.

Let’s look at the scripture itself, in context.  Ephesians 5 is not addressing the challenging and hard things of life. It is part of a general series of commands for living the life of faith:

 

Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.  And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

It is problematic to hang a doctrine of thanking God for bad things on a verse from a passage not written to address this. We need to examine the full council of scripture and that gives us a different picture.  Scripture teaches us to be thankful in all circumstances, not for them. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Consider the book of James 1:2,3, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” When going through trials, we can have joy and therefore give thanks because we know God will use it for our spiritual development. We can be thankful for how God is at work. , “In difficult times, we can even say “thank you for everything” to God the way we’d say it to a human who patiently had our back

We also have to look at the evidence of how Christ, the apostles, and Old Testament saints responded to difficult circumstances. I checked my concordance and found no examples of Biblical hero engaging in this super-spiritual practice of giving thanks for the bad in life. Especially not while it was going on. In Paul the Apostle’s prison letters, I never found the line, “I thank my God that I am chained to two guards and under house arrest in Rome.”  Second Timothy doesn’t begin, “I thank God for the rats in this cell.”

Paul didn’t wake up and give thanks for his imprisonment, but he gave thanks nonetheless. Paul’s typical thanksgiving from his days in prison might be paraphrased, “I thank you, Lord, for those faithful people in Ephesus. They have such love for all the saints, it fills my heart with joy. And thank you for the Church at Philippi, they have been partnering with me from the beginning, and they are still there for me even while I’m in prison. I can hardly wait to get out of prison and go see them. And I’ve heard great things about what you’re doing in  Colossae. Thank you for Epaphras, who faithfully taught them the Gospel. Oh and thank you for Philemon! I can really see how much he loves You and Your church.”

Paul waxes thankful in the midst of imprisonment, but not for being imprisoned. Rather he focuses on the majesty of God, the people who stood beside him during his imprisonment,  and on God’s work in the World. These are all principles we can apply to our life in how we can give thanks.

What about Jesus? While we may sing a chorus, “Thank you for the cross,” Jesus wasn’t singing it on the day of his crucifixion. If it is a sin not to give thanks for all things while you are going through them, then Christ sinned. He didn’t give thanks while he was being crucified. What he did cry out to God from the cross wasn’t a song of thanksgiving. It was a lament. “My God, my god, why have you forsaken me?”

Christ did express thanks on the road to his crucifixion. In John 11: 42, he thanked God for hearing him when he prayed before Lazarus was raised. Each of the three gospels that record the last Supper mention that Christ gave thanks before the meal, knowing that it would be his last meal before he was executed. In difficult times, it can be hard enough to simply be grateful for the blessings we do have, but God calls us to do so.

Finally, let us look at Job. He learned his wealth was gone and all his children died. Only to perform one of the most profound acts of faith ever recorded:

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Job didn’t praise God for the death of his children or loss of his property. It recognized God’s sovereignty and praised him because he was God and worthy to be praised. Singer/Songwriter Michael Card calls this “worthship.”  He’s worshiping and praising God because God is worthy of it because of Who God is.

Looking at the full council of scripture, it’s clear there are two types of thanksgiving that are practiced. The first is thanksgiving for the clear blessings of our lives. If we would make a habit of looking at our lives and merely thanking God for the good he brings to it, then most of us would be far ahead spiritually.

There is a second type of thanksgiving that comes in times of trouble. Rather than thanking God for the trouble, it focuses on gratitude for what God is doing. The relief God is providing. The Lord’s redemptive work. How God uses trials to make us more loving, kind, patient, and Christlike people. Or it thanks God for the work God is doing in the world or even just to thank Him for being Him, for his very nature. In the Psalms, this type of thanksgiving typically follows an honest expression to God of the Psalmist’s grief. I’ll discuss this more in the next article.

I remember when my mother-in-law died in 2014. I didn’t thank God that she died.  I wasn’t thankful for the sorrow my wife’s family began enduring. Yet, I was thankful for her life and the positive things she contributed to my life and that of my wife.

I had made a commitment to do four half marathons in five weeks as part of a fundraiser for AIDS Orphans in India. I missed the final race due to my mother-in-law’s funeral out-of-state. I could still fulfill my commitment by running a race where we were staying. After obtaining leave from my wife to do so, I registered for the race. The problem was the race on Sunday morning. We wanted to go to church, so we had to find a church that offered a Saturday night service. So we attended a local evangelical church. My mother-in-law had died shortly before All Saints Day. At the end of the service, the church honored the day and the pastor invited anyone who had lost a relative in the last year to light a candle in their honor.

It was a true moment of grace and a blessing to my wife and me in the midst of this sorrow. All Saints Day is not something most evangelical churches celebrate. Without seeking it or planning it, we found an evangelical church with a Saturday night service that ministered to us in a way Andrea needed. Probably no other church Andrea would go to would offer this service. In that, I saw God’s loving guidance, care, and provision in the midst of our sorrow and grief. For that, I give thanks.

To be concluded in part two.

[tweetthis]Thanking God For Difficult Circumstances, Part One #guestpost by @idahoguy [/tweetthis]

Confessions of a wimp

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Hi, my name is Andrea, and I am a wimp. So many people suffer so much worse than me, with bravery, faith, courage, hardly even seen them cry. Yet a little back pain and I want to rush straight to Heaven. A little pain in the ribs, where a deep breath hurts, and I succumb to tears, let it interfere with my work, keep me from accomplishing everything I should’ve done today.

Whining, grumpy, snappy, all things we should never be. A little pain in the flesh and the fruits we should show–love, peace, joy, kindness, self-control–they seem to evaporate. It shouldn’t be. I should be stronger than this.

Forgive me, God. Forgive me, brothers and sisters. Everyone deserves better from me than what I’ve been today. Lord, help me to endure. Help me not to invert, focused on self and the silly, insignificant hurt of my day. Help me to be there for others who are going through so much worse, to patiently understand, to listen, be there for them. Help me to continue the work you’ve called me to, no matter what.

I pray I’d seek you and walk according to the spirit, not the flesh. Help me to be there for others in need. Show me what you’d have to do. Lead me. Give me the strength to bear up. To not let anything stop me. I am weak, Lord. You are strong. Grant me wisdom, to know to do. Faith, to walk in the way I should, even when it’s dark. Love, to put others first, even when the flesh is weak and hurting yet overpowering my soul. Change me, God. Make me better than this. In Jesus name I pray, amen.

 

The Edgy Psalm’s Invitation

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O daughter of Babylon, who are to be destroyed, Happy the one who repays you as you have served us! Happy the one who takes and dashes Your little ones against the rock! Psalm 137:8-9, NKJV

These shocking words are more likely to be quoted by atheists than Christians. Most with even a cursory knowledge of the faith knows this flies in the face of our teachings on revenge.

If you’re reading it in a version that renders “Happy” as “Blessed,” understand why the NKJV turned “Blessed” into “Happy.” Too many verses–many of them right in the Psalms–describe God as gracious, loving, and full of compassion for us to accept the idea of God blessing someone for such cruelty. It can be hard enough for some of us to accept that, over the course of many centuries, entire cultures can become corrupt, unjust, and plain wicked enough for it to become in keeping with a merciful, compassionate God’s character to either order or carryout genocides, before or after the cross.

We hope the cross has changed that by taking all the wrath of God. We know it is Satan’s character to try to find ways to put God in situations that make God look bad to humans from our finite perspective if God refuses to bend the rules God plays by, which are all rooted in the character of an infinite being.

That’s not what this post is about, though. What I want us to focus on is why is Psalm 137 in the Bible? What is it’s real point?

If we read the whole Psalm, we will see, like many Psalms, it is a prayer, God’s people talking to God. This one in particular is a lament. What it’s saying authoritatively is that God’s people said this to him. Psalms isn’t primarily a prayer book, though. It’s ancient Israel’s hymnal. One thing a hymnal does is give God’s people examples of how to worship God in ways acceptable to God.

Psalm 137 is the prayer of a broken heart during the Babylonian captivity. It expresses the grief of a people who’d seen Jerusalem/Zion burned, plundered, and razed to the ground. It expresses the rage of a people who have been carried away as slaves into a foreign land. Their captors love to torment and mock them by asking them to sing the Psalms about Zion/Jerusalem. A very frustrated Psalmist responded to those taunts with Psalm 137.

I say this based on the whole text of Psalm 137. Likely, the Psalmist has also seen the women raped and loved ones murdered. If we read the whole thing, most of us can probably think of a situation that has provoked the kind of emotions the author of Psalm 137 is expressing.

The “formula” for a lament Psalm includes a “but” where after the Psalmist vents his doubts, fears, anger, and grief to God, the Psalmist praises God and starts singing the uplifting verses we love to quote. That is absent from this Psalm. Why? The author wasn’t ready for it, most likely. Don’t force yourself to return to “normal” worship because a formula or cultural script says it’s time to, if your heart’s not ready for that. Pour out grief to God is worship, too. It shows a trust and faith in God that are pleasing to God, if we’re doing it to fork over our toxic waste and are willing to let God fill us with the “good stuff” when God says it’s time.

Christ forbid cursing our enemies as Psalm 137 does, but it remains an invitation to pour out our honest emotions to God in prayer. His grace can handle such confessions and trade us the power to do right.

[tweetthis remove_twitter_handles=”true” remove_url=”true” remove_hidden_hashtags=”true”]Christ forbid cursing as PS.137 does, but it remains an invite to pour out honest emotions to God in prayer. www.christsglory.com/?p=1300[/tweetthis]

 

Precious Memories

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alzheimers blog tour

 

I joined the Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month Blog Tour due to personal experience. In my teens, my grandfather suffered a form of Alzheimer’s combined with dementia and ended up losing his home and much of his possessions before anyone realized he was unable to take care of them and defend himself from con artists. It was a terrible time and as he was living with my family we continued to be baffled by his odd behavior. Like many families who don’t understand the disease and/or don’t recognize the symptoms, my family operated under the mistaken idea that Grandpa could be persuaded to “buck up” and get his act together if we simply continued to expect more from him than he was capable of and gave him a hard enough time for letting us down.

It doesn’t work. It just makes everyone miserable. In fact, some of the persuasion methods used in my home were ill-advised for use on healthy people, too, but that’s a side issue. I want to send an “I really do get it” to everyone struggling with watching an aging relative lose the ability to take care of themselves and having memory problems.

Let’s try to imagine what it is like for our loved ones. You who have been an independent adult in many ways are losing adult functions and returning to a child state. You have a growing need for Mommy and Daddy to come take care of you. Mommy and Daddy are long gone. You’re also losing your memory and ability to understand this.

Memories are important. Good or ill, they shape us, mold our character. Each experience captured in our memories is a vital part of who we are, even our wounds, sometimes especially our wounds. This is, incidentally, a core problem in the Web Surfer series; the hero is a genetically modified boy-AI hybrid forced to be in multiple places at once in a cyberspace made of matrix-like digital worlds. Each version of him is subject to a user who can customize him as they please. He combats this vicious assault on the integrity of his person by separating his “human mind” from his “AI mind,” which frees his human mind to help with AI mind’s constant task of synchronizing his broken pieces’ lives and help him maintain a core true identity, one that feels eons old in his late teens.

Perhaps one of my greatest influences for such a scary fictional assault was Alzheimer’s scary real-life assault. There is no cure. We cannot save ourselves if we get it or our loved ones if they get it. All we can do is love the person we knew, be gracious about the new limits of who the disease makes them, and trust God. If we know him, if our loved ones know him, he will restore us/our loved one as good as new in His Kingdom Come.

To close, in case someone with an undiagnosed relative stumbles onto my blog before they find this information on WebMD, here are seven warning signs of Alzheimer’s:

 

  1.  Asking the same question over and over again.
  2. Repeating the same story, word for word, again and again.
  3.  Forgetting how to cook, or how to make repairs, or how to play cards – activities that were previously done with ease and regularity.
  1. Losing one’s ability to pay bills or balance one’s checkbook.
  1. Getting lost in familiar surroundings, or misplacing household objects.
  1. Neglecting to bathe, or wearing the same clothes over and over again, while insisting that they have taken a bath or that their clothes are still clean.
  1. Relying on someone else, such as a spouse, to make decisions or answer questions they previously would have handled themselves.

WebMD also notes, “If someone has several or even most of these symptoms, it does not mean they definitely have the disease. It does mean they should be thoroughly examined by a medical specialist trained in evaluating memory disorders, such as a neurologist or a psychiatrist, or by a comprehensive memory disorder clinic, with an entire team of expert knowledge about memory problems.”

You may also want to review this link from WebMD: Alzheimer’s Disease Symptoms

Andrea  Graham studied creative writing and religion at Ashland University, has been envisioning fantastic worlds since age six, and has been writing science fiction novels since she was fourteen. She’s signed a contract for her Web Surfer books with Helping Hands Press and has co-authored novels that were primarily by her husband, Adam Graham. She encourages readers at christsglory.com and offers assistance to writers at povbootcamp.com. Andrea  and Adam live with their cat, Joybell, in Boise, Idaho.

Find me on:

facebook.com/alightchild           pinterest.com/alightchild/

twitter.com/povbootcamp         amazon.com/author/andreajoygraham

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