Letter to the Graduating Senior

Dear Graduating Senior,

I’m writing you today to share some wisdom, but by “wisdom,” I really mean “thoughts” because, let’s face it, I, too, have yet to graduate and have no room to offer any sound advice for how to handle what’s to come. But, here I am anyways, so just hear me out.

I’ve spent the last three-and-a-half years of my life looking forward to graduation day. While I am still eager to float gracefully across the stage as Pomp and Circumstance loops for the fortieth time, I’m only now beginning to question just how ready I actually am. Am I ready to fly the coop, get a big girl job, and start making a life for myself? Yes, absolutely, one hundred percent. I’ve done my time, and I’m excited to start my journey, but am I ready? Can I function as a human being, on my own, without the comfort of knowing that I can come home to a secure campus with real people who face the same struggles as me? I mean, I don’t even know if “fly the coop” is a real expression, so I’ll leave that for you to decide.

All jokes aside, when I truly and honestly evaluate my preparedness to enter into the “real world,” I do feel as though I’ve been adequately equipped. The Lord has blessed me with an invaluable education, and, while four years seemed incredibly excessive and overwhelming as freshman, I’m beginning to realize now that I can never learn enough. Senioritis is real and distracting, and I’ve definitely missed out on learning some things by being impatient and trying to rush through these last two semesters. It’s hard to absorb new knowledge and information while being engrossed in fantasizing about the future and preparing to begin the next chapter of life; so, here is where the advice comes in:

Enjoy the time you have left.

Appreciate today and the opportunity you’ve had to attend a university, let alone make it successfully to the end of your senior year. When you’re old and decrepit, and you’re telling your grandchildren about your college experience, is your graduation day going to be the only experience worth telling them about? No, probably not. You’ll want to share about the people you met, the places you traveled to, and the memories that have lasted a life time. Enjoy a few more weeks of making those memories, and finish your studies out strong. After all, you haven’t received your diploma yet…

Take some time to reflect.

Believe it or not, a lot has changed in your life since the beginning of your freshman year, and now is the time to reflect on how much you’ve grown. Look through some pictures from the past few years and thank God for the people He’s put on your path. Thank Him for the good times and for the hard times, too, and thank Him for the lessons you’ve learned through the challenges He’s thrown your way. Consider taking your reflection a step forward and start a journal, detailing your time spent on campus. It’ll come in handy down the road.

Always seek learning opportunities.

There is a never ending amount of knowledge in the world, so make it a goal to learn often. Find things that interest you and pursue them. If you’re like me, you’ll apply to Grad school because, while you can’t wait to start your career, you realize that there is so much more you want to know before leaving. You can never find out all that there is to discover, but I believe that, by learning about the world around us, we learn more about the One who crafted it, and there is something really special in that.

Philippians 2:13 states, “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Isn’t that amazing? No matter what we might be feeling or what the Lord calls us to do post-graduation, He is working for His good pleasure. While His plans for our lives don’t always align with what we desire for ourselves, we can rest in comfort and know that there must be something better in store that we can use to give Him glory. I mean, if what He’s doing within us is being done for His pleasure, can’t we assume that we, too, can find it pleasing as well?

According to the greatest philosopher to ever live, Dr. Seuss, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you chose.” This is true, and you’ll probably be hearing a lot of this soon because, hello, what graduation card doesn’t refer to Oh the Places You’ll Go these days? But while you have the power to decide where you want to go and what you want to do, I urge you to consult the Lord before making those decisions. Consider how you can use the brains in your head and the feet in your shoes to honor Him with the talents you use. I promise you won’t be let down.

Happy Graduation!

Written by Haley

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Take Chances, Make Mistakes

Over the Christmas/New Year holiday, one of my family’s favorite traditions is watching the annual Mythbusters marathon on the Science channel. For anyone who actually has things to do over the holidays and has no time to flip channels, Mythbusters episodes—all fourteen seasons—run back-to-back for nearly two weeks, saving everyone the breath it takes to moan, “There’s never anything on over Christmas!” It’s almost as good as a college education, but with practical knowledge instead of vague theories. (Sorry, college.)

Among the many notable quotes from the show (e.g. “This is starting to sound like a bad idea,” “Am I missing an eyebrow?” and “I reject your reality and substitute my own”) is one used quite often throughout the show’s run. In the episode in which this particular quote was first used, the Mythbusters hosts attempt to get two trucks to fuse together by crushing a small car between them at high speed, but no matter what they do, some part of the experimental process goes wrong. After several failed attempts and discouraging results, the hosts finally manage to completely demolish the trucks and car, but, just before the test, they spray-paint a valuable lesson on the sides of the semis: “Failure is always an option.”

The idea of failure being a viable option is easy enough to learn when the whole idea of an endeavor is to learn whether or not something can be done, like in the process of myth-busting. When the stakes are higher—say, a student must make an A on her final exam in order to pass her class—failure suddenly becomes a lot scarier. When we think of failure, we often think of an ashamed student refusing to look his or her angry parents in the eye as they wave a test with a big, red F scribbled across it, but it’s not always that simple. Failure can take different forms for different people; even the student with a 4.0 GPA can live in fear of that first A- (ask me how I know). Writers know this well; after all, what if their manuscripts aren’t good enough for a publisher to accept?

Sometimes we need a little push to get going on a task and do it well, and fear of failure is as good an incentive as any. However, letting that fear of failure run our lives is a much bigger mistake. Say, for example, all your friends are going ice skating at the mall, and they invite you to go with them. The thing is, you’ve never skated before, and you’re sure you’ll end up on your backside, bruised and embarrassed, with the entire mall laughing at you. What’s the harm in saving yourself a little dignity? Besides the fact that you could be a great skater and you just don’t know it yet, you’re giving up valuable bonding time with your friends. Plus, even if you do have trouble simply standing in skates, you might have a good time, anyway.

Most importantly, though, failing gracefully in a small instance such as this failed ice skating excursion would give you the ability to fail gracefully in bigger situations. I can’t stress enough how important it is to train your mind to not beat yourself up over mistakes. It takes conscious effort to say, “Hey, that didn’t go well, but I’m still smart and capable, and I can learn from this, so I can avoid making the same mistake again.” However, as hard as that can be, completely forgiving one’s own mistakes is even harder.

There are endless Bible verses about forgiveness, but sometimes we forget that those verses aren’t just for sinners to receive admittance to heaven. We can rest easy in God’s forgiveness, knowing that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Our sins are covered, so what are our blunders to God? They simply don’t matter. That means we can forgive ourselves; we can refuse to dwell on our mistakes and move on; we can learn from them, but they don’t have to signify the end. In that sense, failure is absolutely an option.

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The end of the Mythbusters story didn’t come for another four years. This was the time when the valiant Mythbusters decided to retest the myth—only this time, the test was successful. The ultimate conclusion, that two semis cannot fuse together via high-speed collision, was the same, but this time, everything went according to plan, and everyone was satisfied (except for the unfortunate assortment of vehicles, of course; they didn’t stand a chance against a rocket sled). That’s the thing about failure—it’s almost never final. In a vast majority of cases, failure is still a perfectly viable option. Failure is a chance to learn and grow. Don’t rob yourself of that chance. Go out on that limb. Maybe you’ll regret it in the moment, but chances are, you won’t regret it forever.

Written by Catherine

Image credits: Header image, Ms. Frizzle

He Met Me In St. Louis

I know who you are.

You were raised in the church. Your parents sent you to Sunday school fifty-two weeks out of the year, signed you up for every children’s and youth event, and prayed with and for you nearly every day of your life.

You’ve been baptized, probably before the age of nine. You don’t quite remember the details surrounding the day you prayed the ABC prayer because life after that prayer doesn’t feel much different than life before. You still go to church, read the Bible, and pray, but that has always been true.

You don’t really like to share your testimony. It’s not interesting. There was no drastic, world-rocking change. It feels incomplete sometimes, like it never really happened. Occasionally, although you don’t really admit it to anyone, you wish that God had come to you in another way. Other times you secretly wonder if he ever came to you at all. But you ignore those thoughts when they arise; you dismiss the strange, churning nag that something somewhere is a little off. Because why would it be? You aren’t just a Christian; you’re a called, dedicated Christian who, on most days tries to pursue Christ.

I know who you are because, until December of 2015, I was just like you.

I spent my last years of high school and the first years of college trying to reconcile the confusing pieces of my Christian life. On one hand, I doubted my relationship with God; on the other hand, there were moments that I couldn’t ascribe to anything apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in my life. By the time I made my way to St. Louis for the Urbana 15 Mission Conference, I was at the breaking point of my spiritual chaos. In the most hidden part of my heart, I secretly delivered God an ultimatum for that week in St. Louis: Either you are everything I thought you were, or you do not exist at all. I no longer cared which one turned out to be true, but if God was really there, I needed him to meet me in St. Louis.

One morning, half-way through the week, David Platt got up in front of 16,000 conference attendees to talk about the impossible task of manufacturing a heart for missions, and delivered God’s response to my demand. “You can’t create yourself a heart for missions…and you can’t manufacture your own heart for Christ, either. Only He can do that.”

That was my problem and I knew it. I didn’t know how; I couldn’t explain it. My life in the church, my years of prayer, my countless hours of ministry, my sincere desire to follow Christ in life and in missions—it no longer seemed sufficient.

I spent the rest of the day arguing back and forth with the Lord, who whispered honest replies of Truth. The conversation went something like this:

“But God,” I reasoned, “I thought you called me into missions. Why would you do that if you are not already the Lord of my life?”

The Spirit gently reminded me, I never change my mind about anything. Your surrender cannot quiet my call. But I still want your surrender all the same.

“But God,” I asked later, “all these years I believed you were speaking to me, comforting me, convicting me. If that wasn’t really your hand at work, what was it?”

Everything I have ever done in your life was done for the purpose of drawing you to me, he explained. Everything I will ever do throughout the remainder of your life will be for the same purpose.

“But God,” I pleaded, exasperated from my failed justification, “I can’t even name what exactly I’m holding back from you.”

He answered leaving me no room for excuse: It doesn’t matter. I want every piece of you. Just give me everything.

So I did. It was then that I discovered that my ultimatum earlier in the week was altogether false. Of course God exists, but thankfully he is not everything I thought he was. The God I met in St. Louis is bigger and stronger and more loving than my self-made image of him ever could have been. Doubts no longer creep into my mind. My call to missions is clearer than ever before. My prayers are more frequent and sincere, my study of Scripture no longer brings empty results, and my shortcomings have ceased to define my status with the King.

So, like I said, I know who you are. And I know who you can become.

I write this because you need to know that you aren’t the only one asking the questions you’re asking or doubting the things you’re doubting. I write this because God wouldn’t let me write anything else until I let you know that you are not alone.

Throughout the conference, there was repeated emphasis on the truth that for Jesus to truly be Lord of your life, you must give all of yourself to him. Before December 30, Jesus wasn’t really Lord of my all. That night I gave Jesus the rest of me so that he could finally have all of me. If Jesus isn’t the reigning Monarch of every single aspect of your existence, no amount of lordship in any other area of your life will ever be enough to make up for that. He is either Lord of all or he is not Lord at all.

Written by Savanna

Image credit: Savanna Mertz

Fire Drill

Picture this:

It’s 5 o’clock on a Monday, and I just found out that I have three major assignments due before the end of the week. There’s no telling how long it’s been since my hair has been washed, laundry is piling up, and I’m teaching my very first lesson to a group of kindergarteners tomorrow morning. On top of all that, I’m taking 18 hours of classes, working 25 hours in the Writing Center, and I haven’t gone to bed before two-thirty a.m. on a single night in over a week and a half. To say that I’m stressed is an understatement and a huge one at that.

So, in all of my infinite wisdom, I decide to take things on one at a time. I decide to prioritize the tasks at hand and do the most important things first. I naturally decide to watch The Office.

Okay, so maybe this wasn’t the wisest decision, but hear me out before you judge. On that very cloudy, very crummy, completely overwhelming Monday, The Office taught me something I’ll never forget. But, before I get ahead of myself, let me set the scene.

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Season Five, Episode Fourteen.

Dwight Schrute, Assistant to the Regional Manager, decides it’s time to have a fire drill. Since nobody paid attention to the fire safety presentation he gave last week, Dwight decides to make the drill a little more creative. What better way to do that than to jam all of the doors leading to the exterior of the building, to scorch the door handles with a torch, and to start an actual fire in the office? When his co-workers finally notice the smoke, havoc is wreaked, and they quickly try to evacuate the building. As they sprint around the room, screaming, pushing, and burning their hands on door handles, Dwight calmly announces fire safety procedures in the midst of all chaos. Ignoring his existence entirely, Dunder Mifflin’s finest staff completely lose their cool. Oscar climbs through the rafters to retrieve help, Angela fears for the life of the cat she’s hiding in the filing cabinet, and Jim attempts to bust down the door by slamming the copy machine against it. In the meantime, Michael throws a projector through his second-story window, and Kevin prepares for his last meal by shattering the glass of the vending machine. Commotion continues, and all the while, Dwight never ceases to provide safety instruction for his coworkers, yet, engulfed by the intensity of the stressful situation, his colleagues fail to utilize his guidance.

Now, let’s stop there.

I don’t know about you, but this scene, though I had seen it twenty times prior to this particular viewing, held more value to me on that day than it had ever before. There they were, my closest friends in Scranton, living through what might have been the most stressful experience of their lives; here I was, a poor and struggling college student still pining for her future husband, John Krasinski, living through what definitely is the most stressful chapter of her life. And yet, neither they nor I decided to look to the only One in charge of situations at hand that day. Instead we looked to people. We looked to our possessions and food and things of this earth. We looked to ourselves, hoping that we could conquer the stresses of our lives on our own. We did all of these things and chose to ignore the ones in charge. I failed to ignore the One in charge.

We, as Christians, tend to think that we have complete control of our lives. We exhaust ourselves daily by trying to keep up with the demands of the world on our own, and all the while, the Lord calls to us, yearning for us to submit our worries unto Him. Why is it that we are so slow to turn to Christ for guidance? The truth is, He already knew if those three major assignments were going to be completed, when they were going to be completed, and how well I was going to complete them. He already knew that a restful weekend would come at the end of the week, that my mom would help me do my laundry, and that my kindergarten lesson would be a success. He already knew the outcomes of every task I was stressing over, and all He was asking me to do was to turn to Him, having faith that He would give me the strength to make it though.

Today, I encourage you to look to Him. When finals start and presentations begin, turn to Him for the wisdom and strength. Don’t flounder in your own fire drill, but turn to Him.

Written by Haley

“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on the wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31

Image credits: Header image, Everybody Stay Calm .gif

The Most Miraculous Time of the Year

I don’t know about y’all, but I love Christmas – the cold weather, the sweaters, scarves, boots, and most of all, the cheesy Christmas movies, which are so alluring to me. It isn’t called the most wonderful time of the year for nothing. The atmosphere is full of happiness and love. Families come together to celebrate and exchange gifts while roasting chestnuts on a fire. Hot cocoa and apple cider are the choice beverages of the season. But despite all the many glorious things that Christmas brings, perhaps the most important aspect of this season is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Sometime around the 25th of December way back when (most experts think He was born in spring) two expecting parents in the Middle East, Joseph and Mary, sought shelter for the evening. They had ventured to Bethlehem, Israel, the place of Joseph’s birth, for the census required by Caesar. Having found none who would take them in, they were forced to rest in a stable. That night, it came time for Mary to have her baby. In the midst of the livestock and hay, a beautiful baby boy was born, and they called him Jesus. This was the baby promised to them by the Angel Gabriel. Little did Jesus or his parents know the amazing things that he would do in his life.[1]

In a cave elsewhere, shepherds were protecting their flocks. An angel of the Lord came and spoke to them declaring that the wondrous birth that had just occurred. They began their trek to marvel and praise God for the little baby. Likewise, three wise men saw the Star of David appear in the sky and came to bring gifts to the newborn. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh were presented to the “king of the Jews.” It was a marvelous sight: Mary and Joseph bent around a manger holding Jesus, livestock stood and slept around them, and shepherds, wise men, and angels praised God.

Most people have heard this story time and time again, but I think we often forget the magnitude of hope that this story brings. I go to a Christian school, I work in a strong Christian atmosphere, I am involved with a Christian sorority, and I serve on Wednesdays with the youth at my church. I am surrounded by Christianity and Jesus on a daily basis. Sometimes, I get a little numb to Christian topics as a whole, so when I hear the Christmas story, it goes in one ear and out the other. But when I really look and dissect the story, it is quite extraordinary. Jesus is the Son of God. He did not have to come to earth in the form of a baby; He could have simply appeared in His true form. Yet He came as a lowly baby to identify with man. If He did not come to earth as an infant, He could not have lived a fully perfect life as a human, and then He could not have died a wrongful death on the cross. This birth was required in order for Jesus to be unlawfully crucified, buried, and raised on the third day to conquer sin and death. In order for us to be reconciled to the Father in Heaven, someone had to die. But this someone had to be blameless, which was only credible through the Son of God.

What a miraculous story it is. When we think about it, it is actually very beautiful. I am comforted by the fact that, through Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection, I can now come boldly to the throne of God and worship at His feet. Let us not forget the weight and necessity of the Christmas story. When we walk past nativity scenes, let’s not allow our eyes to glaze over and simply keep on our way. But let’s ponder the significance that is the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.

[1] See Luke 1: 26-2:20 and Matthew 1:18-2:12

Written by Maddison

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The Nature of Beauty: Short Story Day 2016

Two men stood upon an edge of a cliff, overlooking the land. The first was blinded in a childhood accident; the second was his dear friend, who took care of him every day.

“Can beauty be taken from a man?” The first cheerfully asked to the second.

The second scoffed. “It was taken from you, for you cannot behold the sight before us. Indeed, I know you cannot remember this sight from our childhood. I pray to the Almighty every day that your sight might be returned, that you might know beauty again.”

“Is beauty something one must see, then?” the first asked.

“Obviously. How can you appreciate a work of art without seeing it? Paintings and drawings must all be seen.”

“I can hear a piece of music,” the first hummed. “The chatter of men, the singing in a theatre.”

“Fine, fine. You can find beauty in music, in sound. But you still cannot behold most kinds of beauty.”

“And what of the sculptures found in the king’s gallery? I can feel the edges, the smooth curves, the grooves formed by the chisel. Can I not feel and behold that work of art?”

“I suppose you can behold the beauty of those works of art,” the second admitted.

“And I can eat,” the first grinned. “I love the taste of a pastry in my mouth. That, my friend, is beauty from a chef’s hands. Can I not behold the art of such a masterful chef?”

“I suppose you can find beauty in a chef’s work,” the second frowned.

“I can smell that same pastry as its being made. I can enjoy flowers. The fresh smell of rain, during and after, is nature’s own way of singing in joy that I can partake in.”

“I see you’ve thought this through quite thoroughly.”

“There’s more, my friend. What of the beauty of love?” the first said. “Can I not hear the kindness in her voice, feel the softness of her touch, and laugh at the sharpness of her wit? Can I not feel the thrill, the pulsing of my heart whenever she is near?”

“Fine,” said the second. “But what if all these things were not enough, if all these things were only pain in the end? If you were isolated, starved, your skin burnt ‘til you could not feel, and your ears deafened, you could not know beauty. All that would remain would be pain; therefore, beauty can be taken from a man.”

“What if the pain changes day by day?” The first asked. “If it does, then beauty, to that person, would be the times that pain lessens.”

The second grumpily huffed. “What is your point, my friend?”

The first smiled. “It seems to me that it is in man’s nature to seek beauty in all things.”

“Even in pain?” the second questioned.

“Especially in pain,” the first said, “for we seem to understand that there is a way things should be, and we search for glimpses of those moments.”

The two stood in silence. The second slowly realized that the first was, despite blindness, more able to perceive beauty than he.

“We would not have had this conversation without your blindness,” prompted the second.

The first smiled once again. “Indeed,” he said. “I believe your prayers have been answered, for I can see beauty far more clearly than before I lost my sight. Is that not something beautiful as well, that my blindness should be used to redeem my perception?”

The wind whispered gently over the two.

“This is how the Almighty works,” the second concluded, “in ways that create beauty from pain.”

“You are close to my point,” the first said, a thrill in his voice.

“Which is?”

“The Almighty, who created all things, who created mankind, who allowed us to see, to touch, to taste, to smell, to feel, is the source of all this beauty. And though His creation was corrupted, He still creates from the pain more beauty, which we otherwise would not know. He is truly everywhere, for He is beauty, and it is a miracle that we exist and experience Him.”

Written by Isaac: Many thanks to Brandon Sanderson for the inspiration of this short story—the first half is basically just retelling a conversation in the book Words of Radiance from his series The Stormlight Archive.

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Hope and Sickness

Have you ever been so sick that you were confined to bed-rest?

I have. That’s where I was for an eternity and a half. I laughed; I cried. I went crazy, Bob. To be completely honest, I didn’t even stay in bed for the entire month I was supposed to rest; as soon as I felt better (the first week) I returned to normal life with a passion I haven’t felt for a long time. I even looked forward to work, and no healthy American would ever admit that. I was curious to figure out why my enthusiasm was much greater than usual, and it got me thinking about several topics, the most prominent of all being hope.

First, why is the day-to-day life dreaded? I suppose, if you aren’t as lucky as we are at the Writing Center, your boss might drive you crazy. Maybe your classes bore you, or maybe your professor is a psychopath who thinks the students are all his guinea pigs. After weeks, months, or even years of this treatment, plus all the other things like family and friends and humans being annoying, we start believing that tomorrow isn’t going to be a good day. Tomorrow, in fact, starts looking like a putrid pile of pure pain.

That sort of thinking, as easy as it is to fall into, is very dangerous.

Let’s look back to when I was confined to bed. All the days blur together for me. Basically, I didn’t want to go sleep. I didn’t want to wake up. I didn’t want to eat, or drink, or exist. I lost pretty much all hope that I could get better, because I was so caught up in the pain. I focused too much on everything that had gone wrong. Losing hope that our everyday lives can be wonderful is similar to being sick. I’d call it worse, since it can’t be diagnosed as easily as a physical symptom. Losing hope is like losing faith in God. He wants what is good for us; why can’t that look like a good day? (Yeah, I mean every day. But that’s another blog post.) Sometimes, I pretend that losing hope is smart because God isn’t a vending machine, and He doesn’t promise flowers and happiness and loads of money to His followers. But He does promise Himself. And He is very, very good, indeed.

Ever since I was diagnosed with chronic depression last winter, I end up relating most of my thoughts to my fight with this mental illness. (Suffer, my poor readers!) Hope is, by far, one of the most useful skills to develop when fighting things like anxiety and depression.  I say it’s a skill because it takes discipline to look at the world, circumstances, and others in a positive light and tell yourself to think well of these things. Negative thinking literally shapes your brain; negative thought breeds negative emotion, and negative emotion causes the brain to produce certain chemicals. In the same way, positive thinking can help a body function correctly. But not stupid thinking: the best kind of positive thinking is realistic and rooted in truth. Just because chocolate is positive doesn’t mean one can eat a truckload of it. That’s even worse for the body.

We still don’t know much about the brain. A lot of it is a mystery. But what we do know is that it’s an incredibly complicated thing. If we think, and look closely enough at anything, it’s extremely complex. The atoms that form molecules which bond together to form everything are complicated. I can’t even list half the periodic table, and those atoms can come together to make an infinitely more lengthy list of molecules. And these molecules bond together to form an infinitely more lengthy list of things. Look at your hand. Every cell in your body was intelligently crafted, beautifully made slowly over the years into what it is now. God knows where it all came from and how it was made. He was there at the beginning, and He will be there at the end. Like the Bible says: if we know how to give good gifts, as corrupted as our hearts are, imagine how much more does He!

So even when the body fails, don’t forget hope. It is a joy to be able to work and to be able to do productive things. Creation is beautiful, and we get to be part of it. It’s a miracle we exist. “There’s good in the world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for!” It’s worth enjoying, and praising the One who made it.

Written by Isaac

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