A Matter of Clarity

The definition of clarity is “clearness or lucidity as to perception or understanding; freedom from indistinctness or ambiguity.” Clarity is something the folks in Congress and the Administration could use very large doses of right now. But clarity is something we all could use in large doses when our lives and circumstances are filled with anxiety or ambiguity. As Thomas Paine once said, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Indeed, they are.

There is so much out there in today’s world that tells us that we should have a “positive mental attitude” no matter what happens to us. “Learned optimism” is another catch phrase that Wikipedia defines as the idea in positive psychology that a talent for joy, like any other, can be cultivated. It is contrasted with learned helplessness. Learning optimism is done by consciously challenging any negative self talk.” For the Christian, the problem with these “options” are that they leave God totally out of the equation. And any time we spend more time talking to ourselves to psych ourselves up instead of depending on God we are sliding down a slippery slope. Over the years I’ve tried enough positive mental attitude and self talk to know that without God factored into our lives and circumstances and our very existence, they fall pretty flat and are unsustainable over time especially when the bottom falls out of our lives. And I’m not talking about including God in a shallow way if we do include Him, either. For example, Kenneth Lay, CEO of Enron Corporation, was considered a poster boy for “positive mental attitude” in the face of an American horror story surrounding the demise of Enron Corporation in Houston. A brief synopsis of the trial written at the time of his funeral indicates that he left a mixed legacy at best.

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) Jesus didn’t say, “Blessed are those who keep a positive mental attitude.”  No, He said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). In fact, the entire Sermon on the Mount states to those who truly follow Christ exactly how they should be living and conducting their lives in three short chapters. But instead of reading the Sermon on the Mount, we run after authors who write about having a “positive mental attitude” or “learned optimism” or whatever the latest catch phrase is out there that tries to cover over the deep hurts and horrific circumstances that are a part of living in this world.

“Blessed are those who mourn….”  We don’t seem to allow that kind of attitude in America anymore. We listen to the world’s philosophies on how to live and think and add them into the way we live and think and still call ourselves Christians. However, Christ makes it clear that we can’t have it both ways in the Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are the ‘poor in spirit,’ ‘those who mourn,’ ‘the meek,’ ‘those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,’ ‘the merciful,’ ‘the pure in heart,’ ‘the peacemakers,’ and ‘those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.'” Doesn’t sound much like those attributes are a part of the American dream of most Christians. No, we want the good life. And when things are going good in our lives, we think it’s because we’ve captured the essence of keeping a positive mental attitude.

I’m not pointing a finger at anybody. If I was I’d have to point one back at myself. Life is hard and at times it is downright horrible, and as Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) said at the end of the movie “Wall Street:  Money Never Sleeps,” “Human beings, we gotta give them a break. We’re all just mixed bags.”

The opposite of clarity is confusion. When Christians add the world’s philosophies to Biblical principles, you get large doses of confusion. This is nothing new as it’s been going on since the times of the Israelites in the Old Testament. Why do you think there were so many prophets back then that warned them about turning from God to “other gods” in their lives? In today’s world “other gods” include “the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life” (I John 2:16).  Pride gets all of us not to mention so does the love of money, love for power, love for recognition and a myriad of other “things” that push God out of our lives.

If you want clarity instead of confusion, read the Sermon on the Mount instead of the latest book to hit the best seller list. By the way, I do believe the Bible is still the best seller of all times. Too bad it goes unread by the majority of people who own a copy of it. My suggestion is to dust off the cover and start reading. Today would be a good time to start.

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The Insanity Stops Now

‎Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity is this: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. We’ve all heard it. We’ve all experienced it… over and over and over again. After spending the past two years and three months looking for a job… I QUIT!!!!!!!!!! Did you hear that? I QUIT!!! I have done the same thing over and over and over and over and over again and I’m still unemployed after applying for almost 450 jobs mostly in higher education. I’ve read where others have applied for upwards of 2,000 jobs in their line of work in their first six months of unemployment with no results. No results! I’m sure the frustration level among the unemployed is enormous right now, and personally I AM SOOOOO OVER IT!!! I’ve been going nowhere for two years and three months and I QUIT!!! Wow, I feel so much better having finally said that. Who needs money, right?

Oh yeah… money. Sigh… minor detail and I don’t want to think about it right now. I’m tired of thinking about money and finding employment and politics and religion and, well, I’m just tired of it all.  Einstein stated it so perfectly, and obviously he knew what he was talking about from his own experience, too.

Okay, I suppose I still have to keep looking for a job, but something HAS to change. This is not working and I’m tired of doing something that is not working. Yes, I know the unemployment problem is systemic and this is the absolute worst economy of my entire lifetime and that there are MILLIONS in my same situation. It’s heartbreaking but nobody cares, at least nobody who can do anything about it (and they are all employed), but I don’t want to take this post into the political arena. I may never vote again, but I’ll save my thoughts on that issue until after we know more and the election gets closer. And… if I am employed again by then.

So, now that I’ve expressed my frustration at the insanity of the job search, I’m going to take a break from it for a while. I’ve decided to focus on something I do have control over and make the necessary changes in that area. And maybe once I start to see results from that venture (it’s dependent on me and no one else) it will help me to renew and rethink perhaps the next steps to finding that elusive job in this most horrible economy. Besides, I have no idea how else to renew my strength for the long haul other then waiting on the Lord to move on my behalf and I can’t force His hand or His timing. After waiting for two years and three months (and it’s not a passive waiting as I’ve applied for almost 450 jobs so far) I’m not sure what the holdup is anymore. So, I must focus on something I can change (not related to job hunting) in the interim so as not to feel like a complete failure right now.

I receive a daily email devotion from Dr. Michael Youssef at Leading the Way (his blog is located here) and on July 10, 2011, I received a short devotion titled “Sent Into Hiding.” Hopefully the link to it will remain active as it is currently located in their archive. It is a devotion on what to do when you feel stuck in a stifling situation; in a season where you feel disconnected from other people; where “you long for the next step in your life, but you feel trapped in the present.” That so totally describes how I feel right now. It was a great help to me in trying to understand why this very trying time in my life just seems to go on and on and on with no end in sight. If you feel that way in your own life right now, I highly recommend reading this very short devotion by clicking here or the link highlighted above.

The one good thing to come from all of this frustration at being “stuck on hold” for what seems like forever is that it is not a permanent seclusion. When extraordinarily trying times come into our lives, God always has a reason. Since Bible times God has put His people in “waiting rooms” for a season until He is ready to move them on. Moses spent forty years in Midian between his earlier years in Pharaoh’s household in Egypt and his later years spent leading the Israelites through the wilderness to the Promised Land (see Exodus for a full account of his story). Joseph spent years as a slave and in prison before he eventually became the second in command in Egypt (see Genesis 37, 39-50).

So, it is not unusual for God to put us “on hold” or in a “waiting room” to prepare us for something in the future He has in store for us. There are many accounts throughout the Bible where He did this with His servants. That is not to say we might achieve things on such a grand scale as Moses or Joseph, but if we are patient and we learn to wait on God during this time of waiting (even in the midst of great frustration), His purpose will eventually unfold if we endure and don’t buckle under the stress or try to do it on our own. And, it’s not about the “greatness” of the task He is preparing us for, but the “purpose” of the task that He gives us to fulfill.

Well, now that I’ve thought this whole matter through I’m feeling better. Not that the frustration is gone but the focus has been put back where it belongs–on God. So let me end this post with the following verse from Isaiah 40:31 (NKJV):

“But those who wait on the LORD
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.”

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Fuzzy Faith Fails

Back in early April 2011 I wrote a blog post with this same title (Fuzzy Faith Fails) which I’ve since deleted but as I looked back and reread it three months later I realized something. I realized that I was becoming very cynical about what has been happening in Christianity here in America over the past few decades. While I am certainly not alone in my observations about the decline of Christianity both within the church and in the broader culture, the one thing I was not aware of was how it had jaded me. I must confess that for some time now it has been hard to find a church (well, mostly I stopped looking) because I didn’t want a church that followed church growth gurus or were trying to be relevant to the culture or hide behind a shallow “positive thinking” approach. And, I wasn’t looking for a rock concert before the sermon, or treating God like a good ole boy or magic genie waiting to fulfill my prayers if I just learned to pray right or be positive enough. But I also discovered that it was my own “fuzzy faith” that had failed as well.

I must confess that over the years my book collection went from solid Christian authors to the more dubious but prolific “Christian” authors whose books took over so much of the bookshelf space in Christian bookstores. And the focus of most of these books was and still is clearly on us and what we should be doing in order to get something from God. Oh, the titles aren’t as obvious as that and are couched in language to “sell” to our own fleshly needs and desires. And I read a lot of them. Talk about confusion! But I came to realize that I was looking for a magic bullet just like everybody else, and the one book I kept ignoring over and over again was the Bible.

My first realization of this was after I had lost my job in Houston in April 2009 and was still living there. The “positive attitude” messages I heard weekly from the pulpit of the megachurch I had been attending since I arrived in Houston in September 2008 suddenly rang shallow. The “smile and be positive and God will come to your rescue” messages fell flat. I had lost my job through some very adverse circumstances and I was getting “cotton candy” sermons that didn’t deal with the hard realities of life.

When I first moved to Houston I felt a very strong impression that I needed to start waking up a couple of hours earlier then I had been before work to read the Bible and pray, so I started doing this immediately even though I must confess it felt odd to me. This was definitely something I had never done on a regular basis before, even though I professed to being a Christian for years. It’s not that I didn’t read the Bible (I did, sporadically) or pray (also sporadically) but I absolutely had no clue about the reality of spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:10-18). The circumstances of my life for the past many years indicated an erosion I was totally unaware of because the focus of so many churches or televangelists was not on understanding what true discipleship requires but on being “relevant” to the culture and learning how to get what we want from God. The vacuum was huge.

Within a very short time after starting my daily devotional time in the mornings before work I discovered a hunger that I had not experienced since I was a very young Christian. Hebrews 4:12-13 states “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” What I discovered was that my own very shallow faith was being built up, day by day, on the very sound principles of Scripture and I was learning to build a relationship with Jesus Christ that surpassed anything I had known in the past. It is the very thing that helped me survive the unfortunate work situation I found myself in as I knew there would be no “happy ending” as the sermons I heard on Sunday morning promised if I was just positive enough. No, there is real evil in the world and sermons on “being positive” don’t prepare anyone for that kind of battle.

After rereading my first version of “Fuzzy Faith Fails,” I realized that the fight I was picking was big and that there are too many churches out there that have fallen away from the principles of the Bible and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I realize now that my anger was misdirected and that I still have issues to deal with in this area and that anger is not the way to address them. As a Christian, I am responsible for my own learning and should not be dependent solely on any church to build my relationship with Jesus Christ. That is not to say that the church isn’t important as the church is very important to the health of any believer, but in today’s society one must be careful of the church one chooses to be a part of, and that it is Biblical and not just trying to be relevant to the culture or serving our own desires.

I am so very aware of how much we are all just flawed human beings. I have always known that but I keep expecting people in churches to be different–to be kinder to each other; to not play games; to not gossip; to actually care about each other and not just their particular clique or group. There is no perfect church as all churches are made up of flawed human beings who aren’t always kind, who do play games at times, who do gossip (this one is prolific in most churches), and who only care about people “like them.” And I don’t have any answers to help remedy the situation (I’m so glad I’m not a pastor or a pastor’s wife).

I still struggle with all of this, but there is one thing that clearly stands out in my almost three years now since I moved to Houston to take the worst job of my life that has left me unemployed now for the past two years and two months: If I had not started to have a daily devotional time first thing every morning upon my arrival in Houston in September 2008 to really get to know Jesus Christ and the Bible, I would have never survived this whole ordeal. It was just way too big for me, and I was way too small. God has been my Protector and Provider through it all because I let go of myself and turned to Him when I didn’t even realize how far I had fallen into such an empty, fuzzy faith until then.

So, if you’re reading this and you want out of your own “fuzzy faith” and you’re wondering how to get started with a daily devotional time that really means something and isn’t just a ritual but a real building up of your faith and relationship with Jesus Christ that will stand the test of any trial you may be facing, let me make a suggestion. Lay aside your own wants or needs and start reading the Bible with Jesus in mind. The Gospel of John is a great place to start and then you might want to follow up with the book of Romans (written to a Christian audience where you will find both the very bad–keep reading–and the very good news). And, if you read with an open heart, you’ll find your way out of the fuzzy faith that has infected so many Christians today.  But don’t believe me, read it for yourself.

The title for this blog post came from a subtitle in the book,Hard to Believe: The High Cost and Infinite Value of Following Jesus(p. 187) by Dr. John MacArthur (Thomas Nelson, 2008).

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Don’t Lose Your Soul At The Crossroads

When I was a very little girl, my mother told me many stories about Jesus. My family went to church every Sunday, and one day when I was ten a traveling evangelist and his wife came to our church and presented the gospel message. I was sitting in the back of the church when he gave the invitation and I ran to the front of the church to repent of my sins (oh, for the sins of a ten-year-old) and accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. Over the years, I’ve never forgotten this, and while I have stumbled my way through most of my life, Jesus has never taken His hand off of me. You see, when I accepted Him as Lord and Savior of my life at the very young age of ten, He put something in me (the Holy Spirit) that has kept me chained to Him all these years, through all the bad and the good.

Jesus frequently spoke in parables, and the one I’m thinking of right now is The Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:4-15). Jesus spoke to a great multitude about a sower who went out to sow his seeds, and as he sowed, some fell on the wayside and was trampled down and the birds devoured it. Some fell on rock, and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because of a lack of moisture. Some fell among the thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked it. And some fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded up a crop a hundredfold. When He finished this parable, He cried, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

Most who are familiar with the parable know that the seeds represent the Word of God (the Bible), and it is fairly clear that the first two soils found no place to grow either because as soon as they hear, it is forgotten and never takes root; or else when they hear, they at first receive it with joy, but develop no roots and fall away at the first sign of temptation. It is the last two soils I want to address here: the seeds that fell among the thorns; and the seeds that fell on good ground.

Thorns… we’ve all been there. We can look back at the day we accepted Jesus Christ at whatever age we were and accepted our new lives in Christ with joy. We made it past the first two soils, and then we hit the thorns. You know those thorns–-the cares of this world–-running after the money trail or the “prosperity gospel” grabbed your heart, or maybe you just got tired of the struggles that come with life and decided to take in the pleasures of this world, or you did whatever it took to get ahead in your career or profession, figuring your soul would still stay intact, or you lived in fear and doubt most of your life, or pride. We’ve all been there, and many are still living there, but the thorns in life produce no fruit that clearly shows that we are called to live out a different type of life from the rest of the world. And if we stay in this state, at the end of our lives we’ll discover we’ve wasted our lives, and when we stand before Christ to give an account we will have nothing to give to Him, and no amount of excuse-making will work. In fact, I dare say, the shame will be almost unbearable when we realize at the end of our lives we’ve really only lived for ourselves. It’s called wood, hay, and stubble. And it gets burned up.

I have a lot in my past that will be burned up. In fact, if it wasn’t for what happened to me in Houston, I’d still be mistakenly going in that direction. You see, when I accepted the job in Houston, I thought that maybe, just maybe, some of that “prosperity” stuff was actually true; that perhaps I had it wrong all my life (I am not of the Charismatic persuasion where much of that teaching is taught). I was never so excited about a job in my entire life and I really thought that God was smiling on me big time. The salary was more than I had ever made in my life by a substantial amount, and it was in an environment that I loved–-art and creativity abounded. And, I could attend the megachurch of the pastor I had been watching for the past year and a half on TV. Life was good or so I thought.

Well as you know by now, I lost that job in Houston a scant seven months after it began. I lost all of the money I spent to move there, and I lost most of my possessions (including furniture and appliances) and over 1000 books (I love books and that was the hardest thing to lose) because I couldn’t afford to move them back to Florida. The prosperity gospel wasn’t so prosperous after all; nor did it ever represent the Gospel.

By now you’re thinking I must have missed God’s will big time when I moved to Houston, right? Not at all, in fact I had never been so right in the middle of God’s will for me in my whole life. You see, Houston was my Crossroad, and God used that experience to wake me up to the fact that my life was filled with thorns, that I had lost my first love (Him), and He used some pretty drastic measures to get my attention. My blog post titled “Moving Forward addresses those issues.

God, in His unfathomable love, reached down to yank me from the thorns and my pitiful spiritual state. Also, I have never been so aware of spiritual warfare in my entire life as during my days in Houston. The adversary is, indeed, a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (I Peter 5:8). I learned a dependence on God in a way that I never would have learned in any other way. I clung to Him, I repented, and He brought me out so I could finally land on good ground.

Good ground… past the thorns that choke out life. In these past two years since I lost my job in Houston He has planted me in good ground; the ground of His Word, the ground of prayer, the ground of fellowship, the ground that softens the heart. It’s ground that is capable of bringing forth good fruit. And while I may be much closer to the date of my death then the date of my birth, and, therefore, not have as many years left to yield a crop of hundredfold as in the parable (and not in the materialistic way of meaning hundredfold), I know that I can do nothing that bears real fruit without Christ. But, I’m finally on good ground, and the wood, hay and stubble (and thorns) are behind me, thanks to God’s great intervention in my life.

It’s not too late for any of us to turn our lives around if we are stuck in the thorns. Hopefully, it won’t take as drastic of measures as it did in my life. But no matter what, it’s never too late to leave the thorns behind and move on to good ground. But don’t look to the world for the answers. It has none to give. Look to God, and give the thorns to Him (it’s called repentance).

You’ll never regret it . . . .

YouTube Video (added on July 17, 2020): “Lose My Soul” by TobyMac, Kirk Franklin, and Mandisa:

Photo credit here

NOTE: This blog post was originally posted on March 26, 2011 and republished on July 8, 2011.

The title for this blog post came from the painting at the top of the post titled Don’t Lose Your Soul At The Crossroads by Otis L. Stanley.

Moving Forward

This blog post was originally written and published on March 19, 2011.

It’s really hard to move forward when you feel like you’re standing still no matter what you do or how much effort you put into trying to move forward. As you know, I’ve been technically unemployed for almost two years now and will slide over that two-year mark on April 21, 2011. As a Christian I know that we walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7) and that God’s timing is vital at the transition points (in fact all points) in our lives.

I never dreamed when I lost my job on April 21, 2009, that two years later I would still be looking for that elusive job, or maybe now it’s not a job but something else that will move me in another direction. I have learned some incredible lessons during these past two plus years ever since I left Florida for Houston in September 2008 for the job that I lost in April 2009. The most important lesson I’ve learned is that so many people in America call themselves Christians but rarely ever, except maybe when they attend church, open their Bible on a daily basis and read what God has to say to us every single day if we will only do it. I was guilty of that myself. As Christians in America many times (most of the time, I dare say) we run on the fumes of last Sunday’s sermon (if we even went to church) or the Christian celebrities on TV and somehow think that we can live this Christian life by osmosis. I know that personally for more years then I care to remember I spent little time in the Bible except when times went bad. But for some reason, the day I landed in Houston to start my new job there, I felt a quickening in my spirit to start getting up very early in the morning a couple of hours or more before work and spend time with God reading the Bible and praying.

To say the least it has totally transformed my life over the past 2 1/2 years since I started doing this and continue to do to this day. In March 2009, when I was in the thick of the battle at work and knew that my days there were numbered, I gained a strength from my time with the Lord and reading His Word every morning that was simply astounding to me and helped me to navigate my way through some very perilous waters. He really was beside me every step of the way. I began writing in a journal that month noting mostly the passages of the Bible that I read everyday with very little commentary about my personal life except at key points and I kept this up for a very long time.

The struggles I have gone through these past 2 1/2 years have been some of the hardest and most intense in my lifetime, yet the things I have learned I wouldn’t replace for anything, not even the best job in the world with the fanciest title or a big fat salary. No… nothing in this world holds a candle to getting to really know the God of this Universe and Jesus Christ and all the treasures found in the Old and New Testaments including how we should be living our lives on a daily, hour-by-hour basis. Setting aside our “wants” and all the “self” focus of so much of Christianity in today’s culture to learn from the Creator Himself is like nothing else, and it can and will transform your life. But you can’t leave the Bible on a shelf and ever get to really understand who He is and how He really wants us to live by listening to other people talk about Him and focusing on yourself and what you “want” from Him. You wouldn’t ignore your spouse or close friend or family members and expect to learn everything about them by only listening to what others say about them or focusing on you, would you? So why do we do that with God? We are quick to blame God for the hard times that come into our lives, but we never take the time to get to know Him. Take the time… now. Not tomorrow or next week or next month or next year. Now. If you call yourself a Christian, you can’t live without reading His Word and praying daily. On the day I lost my job almost two years ago, the LAST thing I would have ever done was blame God. On the contrary, because He had lit a fire in me on the first day I landed in Houston to get into His Word and read it and pray for understanding and set my own desires and agenda aside to find His desire for me, He began a work in me that continues to this very day and will continue until the day I breathe my last breath. And I wouldn’t trade these past 2 1/2 years, including all the money I lost moving to Houston and all of the material possessions I lost moving back to Florida, and how financially tight things have been for the past two years for the incredibly awesome ways He has met my needs every single step of the way and opened my eyes and my life to the incredible wonders of seeing the world through His eyes and His heart instead of my own.

And it’s not just about the fact that He has met my needs and opened up my life in incredible ways but that He also, very importantly, showed me the areas of my life that had been significantly hindering my progress in life and helped me to clean up my act (it’s called repentance–and we all need it on a regular basis). I have also had some rather significant anger issues that had followed me through life and although it took the better part of 2010 to get to the bottom of them (some of these issues went back many years) with His help I spent the year unraveling those anger issues and can say that the significant anger I have carried internally most of my life is finally breathing its very last breath. And, I have discovered a freedom that I have never felt in all of my 58 years. I have also discovered a love that was not possible until I could finally take my eyes off of myself and my needs or my hurts and really looked at the needs of others.

That’s not to say that I’m perfect in any of this, but I’m light years ahead of where I was just 2 1/2 years ago, and it’s because I realized how pointless it was to call myself a Christian when I hadn’t really taken quality, daily time to get to know the God of this Universe, and Jesus Christ, and let the Holy Spirit transform me by the renewing of my mind (Rom. 12:2“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God”).

The journey has been worth every tear I’ve shed, every heartache I’ve experienced, and every transforming Word I’ve read in the Bible over these past 2 1/2 years. If your life is stagnant or your hurts are deep (mine were) or you’ve just experienced a devastating event in your own life, don’t wait. Pick up a Bible today and ask God to show you what to read, and do it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, and before long your life will change from the inside out… and He might just also change the outside of your life, too.

I’m still waiting to see where He leads me next… and no, it’s not a passive waiting (I’ve applied for over 400 jobs in the past two years and I’m attending networking groups on a weekly basis and I found a church home at the beginning of 2011), but while I take all of these steps in moving forward, He can still come up with something totally out of the blue. And I’ll wait for Him, because He’s all I want (Psalm 23).

Photo credit here

Back Again

I started this blog on July 8, 2010 but I didn’t know what direction I wanted to take with it so I deleted the posts I wrote up through April 2011. However, I’ve now decided to write with a focus on what I’m learning through this long process of unemployment (since April 2009) so here I am, back again! I’m starting with two previous posts that I wrote back in March 2011 (Moving Forward and Don’t Lose Your Soul At The Crossroads) since that will give you some background on how I’m integrating my Christian faith with this journey through unemployment. If you wish to read more about my background, you can go to the top of this page and click on A Brief Bio or click here.

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