Fear Won’t Steal My Voice

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As a young child, I believed several lies about myself.  I felt that I was vastly inferior in certain areas such as physical appearance, social graces, coordination, athletic ability, and the ability to speak with people I didn’t know very well.  I was sure that I would be rejected, so the fear of rejection was my constant companion.  I didn’t know about “the fear of rejection”, this was just my reality.  It was just the way the world worked, and I lived and made decisions to protect myself from rejection.

In Elementary school I always got an “A ”in conduct, because I was well behaved and talked very little.  I didn’t want to do anything that would draw attention to myself. I wanted to hide or at least blend in to avoid any negative reactions.  In new situations with new people, I felt almost paralyzed by the fear.  Faced with a social situation that required small talk, my mind became absolutely blank.  I couldn’t think of a single thing to say.

Fear would steal my voice.

This continued until junior high when something amazing happened.  God began to alter my path.  My first boyfriend, Jesse, invited me to his church (Word Fellowship which is now Life Center) for a youth event.  I agreed to go simply because I liked Jesse so much.  I found myself in the church gym, surrounded by the overpowering smell of fresh onions, helping to assemble hundreds of subs for the youth fundraiser.  [Here is a little fun fact: who do you think rode into the gym on a skateboard and was introduced to me as Jesse’s best friend?  None other than Chris Brandenburg!  Of course I was too shy to really talk to him at that point.]

This youth fundraiser was also an overnight event complete with food and fun games.  Jesse was very outgoing and knew everyone at the church.  He also loved the game of bombardment, which is similar to dodge ball.  The thought of participating in anything that would expose my physical awkwardness was terrifying to me.  I was hoping that Jesse would sacrifice his love for the game to stay with me.  But he didn’t.  He left me in the youth room while he returned to the gym.

I found a chair to sit in and felt completely alone.  The fear of rejection had me so paralyzed that I didn’t move from that spot for what seemed like hours.  Other students came and went, some sitting close to me to carry on a conversation.  But not a single person spoke to me.  I didn’t move or even look at them.  I tried to become invisible and wished I had never come.

Yet when Jesse invited me to come to a Wednesday night youth service, I found myself saying, “I’ll be there.”  I showed up that Wednesday night, but I still felt very uncomfortable.  A ray of sunshine by the name of Patty Leach (wife of the youth pastor) shone on me.  She said with a big smile on her lovely face, “So you are Anne?  You are a lot prettier than Jesse’s last guest.” [Disclaimer: Jesse’s last guest was a boy so this was not really an insult to say that he wasn’t pretty.]

Just the fact that someone had spoken to me and called me pretty was very encouraging!  I continued to come for a few months and felt confused by this charismatic church culture.  It was all new and strange.

One wintery Wednesday night changed everything for me – forever!  There was a guest speaker who I had never seen before.  At the end of his sermon, he asked us to come up to the front if we wanted prayer.  I found myself standing in the front with a whole crowd of other teenagers.  I don’t know how I got there, as usually fear would have me rooted to my seat.  He began to pray for the students and they seemed really impacted. A few of them started to cry.

“I wonder if he will know that I don’t believe in this stuff.”  I thought to myself.

Sure enough, he knew.  The youth pastor, John Leach, appeared seemingly out of nowhere and asked if I wanted to be saved.  The truth was, I didn’t know what “saved” meant and had never heard the “sinner’s prayer.”  But I said yes, and repeated the prayer after John.  I hadn’t been looking for God.  I didn’t believe in Him or felt that I needed Him.  Yet He burst into my heart anyway.  I felt Him and I felt His amazing love for me.  The scales fell off of my eyes and the world seemed entirely new to me.

This was the beginning of my freedom from fear!  It didn’t happen overnight.  I came each Wednesday night to youth group which was called Heirborne, but I still hadn’t made many friends.  It seemed that everyone else was a part of the group but me.  I was a silent observer most of the time.  One night I went home feeling the sting of rejection.  No one had been mean to me, but I felt like such an outsider.

“I can’t continue to do this to myself, this is torture.” I reasoned.  I would just have to tell Jesse that this church thing wasn’t really for me.  I was very serious about never returning to Heirborne again.

I never did have that conversation with Jesse. I was probably just too shy.  I found myself at youth group each Wednesday and gradually I made friends.  Slowly I learned that small talk wasn’t brain surgery.  Slowly I began to feel like I belonged there.

Sometime during my high school years, John’s brother Bryan took over as youth pastor.  He had a crazy idea; the youth should help to lead Heirborne.  He chose a group of us and called us the SALT team (Student Action Leadership Team).  Just the fact that Bryan had chosen me sent me an important message.  I had value.  I didn’t have to be like anyone else.  I could be myself, and I could be an important member of the team.  Bryan and his wife Marcey helped me to realize my worth.

We would meet once a week to pray and plan the next youth meeting.  We would take turns being responsible for different parts of the service – offering, announcements, and the teaching.  We would brainstorm wild ideas for skits or fun games that would illustrate the main point of the teaching.  I found myself up front speaking, teaching, or even dressed in crazy costumes doing ridiculous skits.  Talk about being out of my comfort zone!

Just the fact that I was able to get up in front of a group of people and talk was MIRACULOUS!

Once I was chosen to portray a “party girl” in a skit.  It was supposed to be a game show that had many different types of people answering the questions.  I would have never chosen this character for myself, being just the opposite of a “party girl.”  Yet I was determined to do the best job that I could.  I wore the closest thing to a mini skirt that I owned (which really was practically down to my knees).  A friend teased my hair until it was perfect 80s “big hair”.  I got out there with all the other crazy characters and acted as loud and obnoxious as I could, yelling out about wanting a case of “Red Bull.”

I felt absolutely ridiculous, yet there was no fear!  I wasn’t worried about being rejected by the other teens at youth that night.  I was just having fun and hoping that I could help the other teens have fun, feel a part of the group, and learn about God.  I stopped thinking about myself and began to want to be a blessing to others.  Fear became less and less a part of my life as I graduated High School and did missions with Youth With A Mission.  Preaching in front of others and meeting new people from all over the world became exhilarating.

I came back from YWAM and married that kid on the skateboard, Chris Brandenburg.  After a year of working and being youth leaders, we moved to Colorado Springs. We became part of a small church, but after 7 years I experienced the biggest rejection of my life.

I had always dealt with the FEAR of rejection but now what I had dreaded had come upon me.  The church (which was comprised of our leaders, closest friends, and spiritual family – almost our ENTIRE support network there in Colorado), kicked us out.  The main leader, Mary, told Chris that we could no longer be part of the church because of MY iniquities.  She said that I was interfering with their prayers.  She said I was holding Chris back from his destiny and that I was not the woman that God had wanted him to marry.  She said that I would one day leave him.  Once that happened, Chris could return to the church. Imagine hearing these words from someone you honored and respected as your leader.  I honored and respected Mary, but I also feared her. Mary had spoken harsh words to me before.  I had tried my best to follow God, yet she was always able to find something about me to criticize.  I remember thinking, “I will never be free until Mary dies.”  Isn’t that horrible?

Thankfully Mary didn’t have to die for me to be free from fear.  She just had to reject me, and God began to set me free!

I sought God like never before and do you know what I realized?

All of His words to me were good!

He loved me, more that I could take in or comprehend!

He delighted in me and actually liked me!

He gave me so much joy, more than I had ever had before!

He began to show me that the church that had rejected me did not have His heart.  Rather, they were working for the Accuser of the Brethren.  I am sure that the enemy of my soul, that dirty rotten liar of an accuser had a plan that he thought was fool proof.  He would link my heart and my identity to this little church and then turn them against me.  I would finally suffer the dreaded REJECTION and receive a mortal wound that would fester until the bitterness had consumed me.

BUT GOD…

GOD came down and saved me and filled me with His acceptance.  He loved me no matter what I had done right or wrong.  He loved me whether I had accomplished anything important or not.  Because of Him, I had a value that nothing could ever take away.

I had come face to face with my greatest fear.

I had met REJECTION and stared into its ugly, contorted face and you know what…it wasn’t so bad.

In fact, I actually felt honored that a church that had fallen so far from the Amazing Grace of God had rejected me. I wouldn’t have wanted to be the type of person that they would have accepted – one that feared men more than God.  It was a compliment that The Accuser had felt that I was enough of a threat to come after me like that.

Now I look back at that rejection and feel that it was one of the biggest blessings in my life!  I learned so much about God and about myself, and I was set free from that cult.  Of course I had a lot of healing to do, a lot of wrong teachings to unlearn.

Again, Life Center played a big role in my freedom from fear.  A year after that big rejection, Life Center offered Chris a job and helped to move us back to PA.  The atmosphere of love and acceptance at that wonderful church was just what we needed to heal.

I would love to say that now I never feel fear, that I boldly go speaking the Words of God wherever I go.  That is not the case.  Fear, specifically fear of rejection, is still my biggest hurdle to overcome before doing anything out of my normal routine.  Something as simple as making a phone call, walking across the street to talk to a neighbor, initiating a conversation with a stranger, or speaking in front of a group can bring on a flurry of anxious thoughts.  I would rather stay in my safe zone and never have to risk rejection again.  But now, it is usually very easy to silence those thoughts.  I simply stop thinking about myself and ask God to make me a blessing to whoever I am going to encounter.

Speaking at the Propel meeting was just an example of this.  I have enjoyed attending the monthly Propel meetings over the last year.  I have sat in the audience and looked up on stage at the many beautiful women and have been touched by their amazing stories.  Yet, I would think to myself, “I would never want to sit up there with them where everyone could see me and realize that I am not as pretty as the others.”

When Patty called me last week to ask if I would share at the February meeting, immediately that fearful thought flashed through my mind.  I heard myself saying, “Yes, I can be there,” because there was a much more dominating thought.  That thought was, “I know that God has put something inside of me that could be a blessing to the other women…

 and I don’t want fear to steal my voice again!”

Fear tried to silence my voice.  But in God I have found my voice.  Many times when I talk to a group or one on one – I can feel God speaking through me.  I feel lies being broken.  I feel atmospheres shifting.  I feel hope rising.  I feel peace coming down and settling.  When I am in tune with Christ, THERE IS POWER in my voice!  Yet many times I must chose to overcome fear before I am able to open my mouth.

Fear feels to me like Paul’s thorn in the flesh.  In 2 Cor 12:8-10 he says, “Three times I pleaded with the LORD to take it away from me.  But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

There is also power in my written words.  Power to crack open strongholds.  Power to impart wisdom.  Power to lead others to God.  I have loved exploring the power of my written words with this blog.  There is a certain amount of fear involved with telling your inner most thoughts to the world.  But I am not trying to make myself look perfect to avoid rejection.  In fact, most of my articles are about my weaknesses, my insecurities, my mistakes, and my failures. That is where I find His Grace.  That is where my real power lies – in my imperfection.  For when I am weak…

Then God shows Himself Strong!

I Have Never Felt So Old

I just turned 40, and I have never felt so old.  I didn’t expect my 40th birthday to be such a big deal, but it has gotten me rather discouraged.

You see, as a young person, I had a much different vision of the person I would be at age 40. I imagined that I would be firmly established in some great work, resulting in many accomplishments and victories.  I thought I would be much more confident and able to teach others all the wisdom I possessed.

The opposite has happened.  I have simply become more aware of how infinitesimally small my knowledge really is.  I have become more aware of my tired bones and creaky joints.  I think the trends and fashions of my teenagers are weird.  I have never felt so old.

This is a new feeling for me.  I have always looked rather young for my age, not quite as grown up or sophisticated as I should.  When I had my first child at age 23, I looked like a teenage mother by people who didn’t know me.

Now I have white streaking through my dark brown hair, and I feel and look older than I ever had before.  I know that 40 is still very young, not even middle-aged!  I am still full of life and vitality…just sometimes I forget.

I took Courage, my three-year old to the park last week.  He was complaining about being cold, so I explained to him that if he started running around, he would warm up.  Then I demonstrated by running up the stairs of the jungle gym and dashing up and down the various bridges and towers.  Courage thought this was great and joined in.  He told me that I should follow him down the slide, so I complied.  It was fun until I whacked my hip on the side.  It wasn’t made to be used by a full-grown adult.  I decided to stand back and watch Courage play.

Suddenly he rushed over to the swings with such enthusiasm, I had to follow.  I sat down in the swing next to him.  Why did I ever like these things as a child?  They are too small and squeeze my hips painfully.

I gave it a try anyway.  I started pumping my legs and began to lift into the air.  My head began to spin and I got a bit woozy.  I thought of my Grammy who would never ride the carousel with me because it would make her dizzy.  I never understood why she would give up such joy!  Now I understand!

Still, I could feel the cool, crisp wind in my face!  It felt like I was flying!  I was free, like a bird in the sky!  This is how it feels to be a child again, hair blown back, face towards the sun.  It was glorious!

It was then that God spoke to me.

“You look at your child with such delight and wonder as he explores and discovers his world.  You recognize his potential and celebrate the man he will someday become.  You are certain that he will accomplish great things during his life.  He is so new and fresh, full of promise.

I see you that same way.  I still see you as the young child with wide-eyed wonder, your face towards that sky as you “fly” on the swing.  You are full of promise and potential.  You are not old at all compared to me, the Ancient of Days.  You are not behind schedule and it is not too late.”

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I love to hear God’s voice!  He energizes me and gives me hope!  I was trying to wrap my brain around my new-found childhood throughout the next week and into the weekend when I attended the yearly Women’s Conference at my church, Life Center.

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Many amazing women took the stage and shared about the outrageous love, mercy, forgiveness, faithfulness, and goodness of God.  At the very end of the conference, a group of young women stood up to share prophetic words that God had given them about the conference attendees.  Each of us attending had been given a special name tag that was hanging on a colored ribbon.  There were nine colors and each color had its own prophetic word.

My color was pink and Tiffany began to talk about how pink makes us reminiscent of our childhoods.

“What I felt for you women is that God wants you to be able to just see something, see what you are going through, see your life, see everything around you through this different perspective of a childlike faith…childlike expectations…There is just this excitement and enthusiasm that is going to come on you and you’re going to be able to see things from a different angle and from that childlike perspective, and even when hard things come up that you would be able to just not lose your step. I just saw you skipping around.”

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God’s voice at the playground had changed my perspective of myself.  God viewed me as still full of promise and potential. God delighted in watching me as though I was a carefree and eager child.  Perhaps I should think of myself that way too.

A woman I had never met came up to me during the conference.  She had a head of completely white hair that was styled in a cute, hip way.  She had a very young face (I later found out that she was only 46).  She must have notice those white streaks in my hair because she said to me, “I just wanted to let you know that your hair is going to be totally white like mine.  Mine started out very dark like yours, but I began to get some white hairs when I started having children.”

“I think your hair is very pretty.” I replied, wondering why she felt the need to inform me of the impending signs of aging knocking at my door.

“How old are you?”  She asked.

“40”

“OH MY GOODNESS!  I THOUGH YOU WERE IN YOUR TWENTIES!!!!”  She looked taken aback by my actual age.

I raised my hands in spontaneous enthusiasm and shouted like a silly child, “THANK YOU JESUS! YES!!!! I look like I am in my twenties!  THANK YOU JESUS!”

That women just made my day.  I think I am seeing myself more that way God sees me, and I am so tickled about it!

I Found the Words of God on a Coffee Sleeve

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I had just written the rough draft of my last article about the passing of my neighbor, Sandy.  I had a heavy heart, feeling that I had failed God and failed Sandy.  Writing the article had evoked deep emotions in me, and I was still trying to sort them all out.  It was a dark Wednesday night, and I was attending a meeting for those helping with the annual Women’s Breakfast at my church.

The women’s ministry at Life Center is always planning lovely events.  The goal is that every woman who attends would experience a special touch from God and hear his voice personally.  Each time there is a creative way to give a personalized, encouraging word to every woman.  There have been ribbons, medals, bracelets, necklaces, compasses, mugs, purses, and book marks given out.  The item contains some sort of message (such as a scripture verse, a single word, or phrase) and has been prayed over.  Every one of the gifts that I have received over the years has been special to me.  The scripture that I received at the Women’s Conference last March sustained my faith through the events of the past year.

At the meeting, each of us got to pick a coffee sleeve with something special written on it.  I randomly picked a sleeve that had “Matthew 10:42” nicely hand written in black pen.  I looked up the scripture on my phone and it read:

“And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

I thought, “Oh that is nice.  I certainly give out lots of cups of water to my children.”

But then a new thought broke into my own, with a brilliance that I have come to recognize as the Holy Spirit.

It was a thought of Sandy and the times I brought her soup.  God was telling me that I would have a reward for the small acts of kindness I had done for her!  I felt so humbled and in awe of a God that would reward me even though I had fallen short of my goal of introducing Sandy to Jesus.

What a good and generous God I have!!!!

The next day I got into my van to drive to the grocery store.  I turned on the New Testament CD that was already in the CD player.  And guess where the CD started that day?

Matthew 10:42

That Saturday was the day of the Women’s Breakfast.  I arrived early to welcome women to the table I was hosting.   I was praying that everyone would feel loved and blessed.  I encouraged each woman to pick a coffee sleeve when they went to get their coffee or hot cocoa.  I had the opportunity to pick a second one for myself.  When I read the words, again I wanted to cry!  My heart was so full of the goodness of God.

“Writing a New Chapter”

I love to write and have been working on this blog for a year and a half now.  I would love to write a book someday…lots of books in fact!  But I tell myself that it doesn’t matter if anyone else notices or even likes my writing.  I am doing it for myself and my children, so we never forget the marvelous things God has done for us.  Sometimes I feel rather silly, spending so much time writing down the little details of my life.  Yet I feel the words are like fire in my bones that won’t let me go until I write them down.

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Here God was telling me that the writing was from him!  And that I would be writing about a new chapter.  Our lives could sure use a new beginning!

This “word from God” was confirmed a few weeks later in a most unusual way.  Each year I choose a foreign country to study at Christmas time.  When all of my children were homeschooled, we would take a break from the normal school and learn about this country.  Then we would incorporate the Christmas traditions and food of this country into our own holiday celebration.  We have studied Sweden, Germany, Russia, Spain, and Italy.  Each year, one of the resources we used was the World Book series on Christmas around the World.  The books always contained interesting facts but were very dry reading.

This year, even though I am only homeschooling my special needs daughter, I chose Ireland.  I just love to learn about other countries so much, I couldn’t give up the tradition.  As I read the first few pages of the World Book called Christmas on the Emerald Isle, I was struck by the emotion and passion in the writing.

“On Christmas night, there is another custom – the telling of stories.  The oldest member of the family gathers everyone around the hearth or table and recounts the story of Mary and Joseph.  The tales, of course, don’t stop at Bethlehem.  There are yarns about the family, about the famine, about the great heroes and villains of Irish history…While the Swedes have 25 versions of the Cinderella story, the Irish have 311 and are still counting.  Christmas night is not, or course, the only appropriate time for storytelling.  Any occasion will do, and the Irish have a story for any and every occasion, for every event of life…By extracting the meaning from every event of life and turning that understanding into a parable, the Irish preserved their culture and taught their children a sense of history, justice, and identity.”

My heart burned within me as I read these words.  That is what I wanted to do!  I felt that God was saying that my passion to write was there for a reason…because he had put it there.

It went on to say, “If life was short and bitter, the memory of that life was not.  Filled with victory and joy, the memory became a living thread that passed through the consciousness of generations of Irish men and women. As long as the stories survived, the lives and events that inspired them survived and had meaning.”

I must have a bit of the Irish in me… and in the midst of trouble and sorrow, the goodness of God keeps overwhelming me…and giving me stories that I just have to tell!

 

I Love My Tribe

 

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The music washes over me.  It is not just melody and rhythm…it is the very atmosphere of heaven.  The lights are bright, the stage is full of musicians, and I am surrounded by my tribe.  Almost every Sunday morning I find myself here, in the sanctuary of Life Center and saturated with the swirling presence of God and humanity.  There are so many worship leaders that share the stage, so many musicians that rotate from week to week.  They are full of talent and resurrection life, and I love them all!  They have birthed an abundance of CDs out of the overflow of their lives of praise.

I watch the senior pastors in the front row, boppin’ to the rockin’ music.  They are in their sixties, but they enjoy the youthful expression and energy as much as anyone.  They actually lead the rest of us in radical, “out of the box” thinking! They have served this church for over twenty years, and I love them! I see one of the younger worship leaders, passionately singing a song that he wrote; and I think about how I used to babysit him when he was a boy.  I look over and see his parents in the front row, beloved pastors who raised me in the youth group; still loving, still serving, still standing for all that is true.

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Some folks are out of their seats, dancing.  Some are swaying to the music.  Others are sitting with their eyes closed.  Others are kneeling on the floor.  My teenage daughter is up front, worshipping with her friends.  I observe many gray heads in the crowd, faces lined with wisdom and love.  I see parents holding their little ones.  I see children twirling scarves and prancing on bare feet.  Life is always bursting forth at Life Center.  There are more pregnant women than I can keep track of, and I love them all! I long to be able to tell each one of them how gorgeous they are and how precious they are to God, carrying His little children of promise!

I notice women running to each other in joyful reunions, laughing and hugging.  I see people spontaneously begin to pray for the person next to them, passion and concern on their faces.  I see others exchanging gifts or notes.

It is time for the offering and one of the “newer” pastors takes the microphone.  He and his family have become so precious to me.  Every time I see him take the stage, I am alert with anticipation.  I know that some stunning revelation will spill from his lips that will rock the way I see the world.

The music subsides and there are announcements of births and deaths; family business that herald joy and tears all at the same time.  How we each know that thrill and that pain, and how we each long to share those with our brothers and sisters.  I walk to the back of the sanctuary during the meet and greet time, and I am enveloped in a warm and healing hug by a beautiful black mama.

“Look at you!   You’re beautiful!  Just beautiful!” she always says to me with her eyes shining and her amazing, white smile blazing.  She is the beauty! I wish I could describe the indescribable, how dark and lovely she is…but her beauty is so deep and so true, I am at a loss for words.

It is time for the message and another pastor comes up.  He and his wife are treasures to me, having led countless youth events, missions trips and prayer times that I was apart of.  We have even lived with them a couple of times.  Some folks in the crowd are a little confused because he talks too fast, as though he has 4 hours worth of revelation to impart in 45 minutes.  Chris and I are fluent in “speed talk” since we grew up under his tutelage, and we just chuckle to ourselves.  In his message, he talks about a mission trip that he led 20 years ago.  I was part of that trip, and how I cherish those memories!

After the service, I hug my dear and longtime friends.  I greet friends I grew up with and friends who were in my wedding.  I talk with my children’s pastor, who I went to school with.  I see more recent friends, who have quickly taken residence in my heart.  I identify new acquaintances as well.  I notice many fresh faces and hope to call them my friends someday too.  So many personalities, so many gifts, so many stories, so many ways that God reveals Himself to me; represented by these precious people.

“I love my tribe!” I always think to myself on a Sunday morning.  The love wells up within me, along with pride.  I love my tribe!  There are children of God all over this earth, in different denominations, different countries, varying cultures and traditions.  But I am so glad that my boundary lines have fallen here, at Life Center.  I started coming to this church in 1989, when it was meeting in the old casket factory.  My husband Chris started coming earlier than that, in 1985.  We left for a time and moved to Colorado Springs.  In the eight years we were there, we couldn’t put our roots down, no matter how hard we tried.  Now we are back in our promised land, surrounded by family.  How good it feels to watch our family tree grow tall and strong with a wide trunk and thick bark, an oak of righteousness, a planting for the display of His splendor.

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How glorious it feels to let our roots descend into the rich and fertile soil of Central Pennsylvania! How refreshing to drink the deep, deep waters.  How thirsty we had been for those waters!

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There are wonderful people of God all over the world, but this family is mine…my clan…my tribe.  I am so glad!  How I love my tribe!