Screaming Into the Void

Sometimes, it all feels like too much. I didn’t add the Honest Faith tag to this blog post because at the moment, I’m not exactly sure how this relates to my journey of rediscovering faith. I’m overwhelmed, saddened, and at a loss. I took this picture today of this saint in a stained glass window. This is a part of a larger piece of work depicting Jesus being arrested in the garden. I feel like him. I don’t know what to do.

You see, I feel like I’m screaming into the void. Like nothing I do or say really matters all that much. Like I’m yelling at distant clouds. I feel this way because I see so many people tearing each other apart in the name of politics, perceived lapses of morality, a small disagreement, or ultimately a lack of understanding. I disagree with people, sure. I have seen a lot I disagree with on social media recently. It is taking a lot of self-restraint to not post on every little thing I see that I disapprove of. I feel like I’m the only one restraining myself, though, and for what?

I write about my struggle to find the Divine. I write about my quest to repair the world. I write about this all because I want someone to maybe join me. I want it to make a difference and to maybe not feel so alone on this path. I know this path isn’t easy at this point in time. But when will it ever be? There is no easier time, there is only now. Especially now when the world needs us to repair the most, in my humble opinion.

One thing that is driving me to not want to go back to Christianity at all is what I see Christian people doing on social media. I see them mocking, in retaliation to an imagined slight to their morality. The biggest problem with this is the one thing I’ve had my fill of. For some reason, Christians are tearing other  Christians apart. Because some marched with women this weekend. They were upset because there happened to be some anti-abortion folk that felt unwelcome to put forward their own agenda.  The problem is that I’m sure the organizers didn’t want that to be the only agenda. As I watched in solidarity with those marching I saw that there was no one agenda aside from human rights. There were some who were rallying against the person who was elected president. There were some who unfunnily joked about violent acts against him. There were those who wanted to make sure their voice was heard. I would say the latter was the vast majority of those who were there. Yet, still, the Christian groups are tearing themselves apart because of this and other such slights.

The reason this has me so dismayed is because I know that God is not in the business of building walls. The Divine is about building bridges. About bringing people together. Instead, it seems that the gods of fear, hate, divisiveness, and pain are gaining in the spiritual zeitgeist.

I feel like I’m not allowed to have an opinion or else I am called a “special snowflake”, or “over-opinionated”, or “elitist”, or any other random name that people come up with to shut down the conversation. It’s not just me either. I am seeing this on all sides people calling each other names and pointing fingers in order to shut down the conversation. People are having arguments rather than debates and discussions. It doesn’t matter what side of the political spectrum they are, a lot of people are guilty of this. Yes, you are all entitled to your own opinion, but you would also be wise to listen to the opinions of those around you. Wisdom is learning from others.

Granted, I am no fan of our current political climate. I am not a fan a lot of what is going on in our country at the moment. But I’m trying to keep a lot of my opinions to myself to help build bridges. The problem with that is it seems nobody else wants to build bridges right now. I could just throw in the towel and say screw it I don’t want to associate with ya’ll anymore, but then I would be guilty of doing the exact thing I’m railing against right now. I’m not a hypocrite, I’m as much a special snowflake as you are, I am a human being tasked with cleaning up a holy mess. SO ARE YOU.

So here is my spiritual point now. I’m going to, like Joshua, give you a call to action. Long ago your ancestors came to this country from beyond the oceans. They served other gods. You claimed to serve the Divine, yet you killed, stole, and destroyed. But still, you were blessed. Still, the Divine gave you chance after chance. So now it’s time to put away those old gods of fear, hate, division, scorn, and greed. It is time to come to the Divine. It is time to clean up this holy mess. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Divine, choose this day whom you will serve. As for me and my house, we will serve the Divine. We will serve the God of love, peace, patience, self-control, joy, kindness, gentleness, and generosity. As Paul said to the Galatians:

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become beholden to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Granted, he was talking about temple prostitutes and sexual immorality there, but I think his point rings true in this as well.

So maybe I am just screaming into the void. Maybe what I have to say makes no difference whatsoever. But I hope it doesn’t. I hope that someone out there takes some hope or some inspiration from my words. I hope I’m not the only one who has been set toward a movement of “repairing the world with golden joinery”. Even if I am just screaming into the void, I’m going to keep doing it. I’m not going to remain silent because my voice matters too. Even if sometimes what I have to say is completely random. Even if I am a special snowflake. Even if you don’t like what I have to say. I’m going to continue to scream into the void. Choose this day whom you will serve, I am going to serve the Divine.

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Honest Faith: The Continued Dehumanization of Culture

2016 may well be a dumpster fire equivalent of a year. There have been a lot of horrible things that happened this year. There has been a large loss of life; human, animal, and other. Some things that we thought would never happen, actually happened. For many of us, some personal struggles finally came to a head. It certainly doesn’t negate the good things that have happened, but sometimes the bad is a lot easier to feel.

This year there has been a large number of celebrity deaths. Some of our most iconic heroes and artists passed away this year. John Glenn, Muhamed Ali, David Bowie, Prince, and Carrie Fisher to name a few. I have seen a lot of posts on social media talking about how 2016 is the worst or how people are complaining too much about 2016. It’s completely natural to mourn the loss. With a few exemptions I feel we celebrate those who have shown us what humanity is capable of. Artists, and Athletes that remind us of the divinity that resides in all of Creation. It makes sense for people to mourn the loss of those glimpses of the divine.

It is natural for those of us who grew up learning how to communicate digitally to share how we feel on social media. It releases dopamine when we get likes or responses on social media. It has become our norm. We millennials tend to live our lives digitally. It makes it very hard for us to have analog relationships and conversations with people. There has been a great video going viral recently that explains this phenomenon. There is a massive danger in this I think. The problem is that we who have become addicted to social media have begun to dehumanize each other.

I’ve talked about this issue before last year on arguments and other sprinkled references throughout my blog. I think that it is very easy for us who live our lives online to tend to see others as statistical views, likes, clicks, comments, and so on. We’ve become names and pictures, not real human beings on the other side of the internet. We can no longer see the forest for the trees or the internet for the people who make up the world wide web. This makes complaining a lot easier to do. Complaining about things like people venting feelings or needing some comfort because someone they looked up to passed away.

I think in so doing we not only dehumanize the other, we have dehumanized ourselves. We forget about the validity of the feelings of the other in so doing we are trying to protect our own feelings. By protecting those feelings we shut them down. I know that we do this because I’m guilty of it too. I have been guilty of getting involved in the shutting down discussion because I disagree with someone. I have been part of arguing with digital people because I thought I was trying to enlighten them. It’s tough. I don’t know what the answer is, truthfully. What I do know is that we have a big need for actual conversation. We need to stop dehumanizing and start talking… Just a thought.

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Learning to Love Pt. 1: Letting Go

“To change the world
start with one step
However small
the first step is
hardest of all” — Dave Matthews Band

“Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.” –John 21:4-8

I think one of the hardest things to learn in life is the ability to let go. We have a tough time as human beings not being in control of our lives, surroundings, situations, and people we know. I think it is a trait that we evolved over many millenia. It’s that instinct to be safe and guard ourselves by controlling every situation. I believe it is in learning to let go that we learn how to love. I do believe that part of love is letting go: Letting go of our need to be right, letting go of our need to control, Letting go of our right to revenge, letting go of the pain, and even letting go of being the victim.

One of the biggest things for me to let go of was being the victim. When I was younger, I played the victim a lot. Oh, poor me… I think on some level I didn’t want to heal from wounds that I encountered in my life. I received attention, however negative it may have been, for these wounds. I wanted to be noticed. I felt so lonely and so abandoned in my own mind. The reality is probably much different then what I had chosen to believe at the time. It was easier to play the victim. The role was very easy to portray. I think at some point in all of our lives we do this don’t we? We prefer to have these little pity parties for ourselves, and hope that someone will rescue us. We sit and wait when we are perfectly capable of walking out of these situations ourselves. I could have gotten up. I could have changed things, but I was too afraid. I was too stuck in that mentality that I refused to let go of the pain. I held on to it like we all do at times. My Rector told me about her thesis back in Seminary. She said it was about the spirituality of the victim mentality. She said that when we play the victim we believe we are blameless. It’s not our fault that we got into these situations, so we shouldn’t be the one to get ourselves out. This was one of the hardest things for me to let go of because I didn’t want to take responsibility for my situation. I think that my inability to let go created the circumstances for those situations to get worse, and they did.

Another thing that I still struggle with letting go of is my need to be right. I have learned in my first two years of marriage that more often than not I am not right. But all jokes aside, I think this another thing that we as human beings have a tough time letting go of. It’s this need to always be right that causes us to: begin to dismiss people because they believe differently than we do, Hold on to grudges, refuse to forgive others, and even refuse to forgive ourselves. I find an epidemic, especially with the teens I work with, to fall in with the last on that list. They for some reason got in their heads along the way that they could not be forgiven for whatever it was they did. Who tells us these things? Is it because we can’t forgive others for things? They feel the need to be right in their self image of a horrible being. I think this is what leads many to begin to bully others. They have been bullied themselves, so began to believe what others said. They then turn around and push it on others. I think this stems from a need to be right that we find so hard to let go of.

Letting go I think should be the first step in getting out of the box I previously wrote and talked about. I think playing the victim just reinforces the walls. We point to it as the reason why we can’t leave. I think then that our need to be right reinforces our excuses. We are right about not leaving. We can’t let go. Because look at how awful and horrible the world is outside our box. Look what it did to me! I can’t go out there.

Last night I talked to my youth about something that inspired a previous post, which turned out to be one of the most popular surprisingly, “Does God Cry?”. I talked to the students about the existence of God. I think that at times like these where we feel that the world is about to break it’s tough to believe that God exists. One of my reasons for believing that God is there is because I have been to some of the darkest places and I have found that despite the dark there is still hope, still love. That to me shows that God is there. The bible says that God is Love. I know that love exists. I know that it can overcome every thing. I think that we hold on so tightly to the darkness that we can’t see the light that is there waiting for us. I think letting go is the first and hardest step in beginning to love. This Love God has called out to us in the darkness to let go of all we are holding on to there and move toward Him. Move toward the light that is love, hope, and all things good. Letting go can take many forms. I can only speak for things that I have had to let go of. I can’t speak for those things that you may need to let go of that are in your way. I just know that it’s the first step of many to move out of the darkness and into the light.

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The End of Hate

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.” –John 21:15-19

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
–Martin Luther King, Jr

This week is the anniversary of a lot of tragedies. Not only do we morn the losses in our history, but we have new tragedies that are very fresh in our memories. We weep with the people in Boston. We weep with those in Texas. We also weep with those who struggle with personal tragedies. I once wrote about wondering of God did cry. I think that God feels pain especially when we, God’s creation, suffer. This last summer I had the opportunity to visit the columbine memorial. This was only a week after the Aurora Shootings. I was greatly moved at that time. I wrote about that experience. I wept, as I did back then when it was unfolding before us on the news. Does God cry? Yes, I thing God does. I think that when we give in to hate, malice, violence, and evil to cure us from the same.

I feel the world is at a breaking point. Or maybe it’s just me. I feel that over the course of the last year we have seen too much. We have witnessed the mindless, and horrid taking of lives. We have witnessed the tragedies that happened through no fault of any one person, though we still seek someone to blame. I feel that in all that we suffer our first instinct is to find someone to blame. Someone or something to pin our anger on. That anger turns to hatred, and we end up continuing this cycle that leads to more of the same. We have found that the easiest path to take is the one that leads to destruction. It’s too hard to forgive. It’s too hard to love. We have used the words “Hate” and “love” so much that they have lost all their meaning. We have become numb. Desensitized to the motion and direction this carousel of hate takes us.

I have just returned from a youth retreat weekend. This was a mountain top experience for all involved. It’s weekends like this that really prove to me God’s love does exist. I saw a small group of teens and adults come fully into the loving embrace of the God that loves. It was beautiful. Words cannot describe how it is. I know that love. I strive to show that love. I often fail, but I try every single day. This love is so much bigger, stronger, better, and amazing than hate. It’s a lesson of mass construction.

A little over a week ago I gave a sermon about stepping outside of our box and going out to love. I believe the boxes we build for ourselves are built with labels, hate, and generalizations that help to wall us off from the outside world. I believe we all do this. I think that Christians as a whole are guilty of this too. We label people and justify our lack of love for them. Gay, Straight, Liberal, Conservative, Idiot, redneck, or whatever it may be we call others. Those labels create the bricks, and hate is mortar that glues it all together. We need to leave those boxes. God has already broken in and told us we are free.

I think we are living in a world that is in desperate need of the love we all preach about, and that I experienced. I feel we have sat in our little boxes for far too long. I believe the only way we could ever get off of this carousel of hate is to stand with the God that loves. The world needs people to love now more than ever. We need to stand against violence and hate of any kind. We need to say no more. We need to love. The world is falling apart and the only thing that can put it back together is love. I truly believe unless we begin to love, things will get a lot worse. Rise up! Love your fellow human being! They may be ugly, disgusting, or stinky; but they are a human being as well. They need love just like you and me. No one is exempt. God calls us to love. Will you answer the call?

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To Be thought a Fool…

I have been thinking about this blog post for some time now. I didn’t really know how to begin or even where to go with it until yesterday. Yesterday, our Associate Rector taught on “The dangers of being a prophet.” Our scripture lessons were showing the dangers of such. You have David dancing in the street and being ridiculed by his family. Then you have John the baptizer loosing his head. Both of these events are hundreds of years from each other, but there is a common theme. They are both following God with all that they are, and people don’t understand them. People ridicule and punish them because they have different beliefs. I have posted before about intolerance, acceptance, and the end of hate. That’s not exactly what I’m posting about today. I’m posting about something that has been bugging me for the last few years…
“Hi, My name is Miguel, and I am a Creationary Evolutionist.” I only admit this because it is what has been bothering me. I am a big fan of learning. I love to watch the Science channel and learn about fantastic things like theoretical physics, Cosmology, and Quantum Physics. My wife and I both enjoy these programs and documentaries. (I know I’m a nerd) The problem with all of that is I am taught over and over again I could not possibly understand these things because I happen to believe something that many think is incompatible with science. I happen to believe in the existence of God. This irritates me to no end! Yes, I believe in God, and I love science.
For years I have been listening to arguments that the two are mutually exclusive. What’s worse is that argument is coming from both sides. You have people of faith saying that science is a bunch of hogwash because it doesn’t happen to line up with some of their beliefs. You have people of science saying that people of faith are idiots and cannot possibly understand anything they say because science doesn’t line up with some of their beliefs. I actually took a class in college that was completely on this topic. It was the debate between Creation and Evolution. I came out of that class saying, “yes, one of those things happened.” I was completely confused by the end of that course and could not tell you what I believed one way or the other. I came to an understanding a while after that.
As I said earlier I am a Creationary Evolutionist. Which is to say I believe in both Creation and Evolution. I do believe that God created everything in the fashion of the Big Bang. That God set things into motion from the beginning of what we call time. That God formed and directed things into the paths to become what they became and has not stopped directing all of those things on those paths to become what they will become one day. I don’t believe this is contrary to Scripture in any way. I feel that God is still at work today creating and helping along the evolutionary process that is still happening all around us every day.
I don’t believe that Science and Faith are mutually exclusive. I watched a documentary a little while ago which was rather enlightening on the topic. The Documentary was done by Nathan Frankowski and Ben Stein (Of Ferris Bueller Fame) called “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”. It was not well received. One of the things that I noticed about the film was that both sides treat the other like they are idiots. I think that is very dangerous territory. I think the moment we dismiss someone we happen to disagree with as an idiot is the moment where we become one ourselves. We shut the door on further growth and education that can come from that arena. I believe that Faith and Science can and should inform each other. They should be in conversation with each other. They can learn a lot from each other. Yes, they have both held the other back at times. But, they have also helped to create some of the best advancements in history together!
One of the biggest arguments that drives me up the wall is, “Well there is no scientific evidence that God exists.” To that I have to say, “Well, there is no scientific evidence that God does not exist.” Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater! If we did that we would have never figured out that gravity is a very real force, that the Earth orbits the sun not the other way around, or even that the earth is not flat. Another argument that irritates me is, “The earth is only 6,000 years old. God Created it to look old.” Um, No. I have no idea where that idea came from or even why it has so much prevalence in the church. What in the world makes you believe that? There is more conclusive evidence that the Earth and the entire universe is old.
I say this all because according to both camps I am thought a fool. I am thought a fool for believing that God exists and set all of Creation in motion. I am thought a fool for believing that evolution occurred and is still occurring around us every day. To be honest, I wish both sides would agree that they aren’t going to agree on everything, but that they can learn from each other. I would much rather be thought a fool, than to be completely foolish and not learn from both my Faith and science. God has created such a fascinating reality for us to explore, and I am going to explore it with all that I am. I may be ridiculed and punished for that, but I don’t care.

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Through the Looking Glass

A few years ago I wrote a blog post about leaving from a summer of working at a camp. I really felt God’s love at that camp. It was a deep connection with those around me, the area we were at, and the God I love so dear. I wrote that it felt kind of like stepping through the looking glass, returning from wonderland. I had another such experience just this last weekend.
I attended a youth retreat weekend as an adult participant, which in itself was a great experience (not running anything and not having to worry about all the stuff that youth leaders worry about). This program is mainly put on by teenagers for teenagers, and supported by adults. Over the course of the weekend it was as if God slowly snuck into the campground and started connecting all of us to each other and to God’s self as well. We reached that ethereal and ineffable substantive experience of which I believe heaven is made of.
This was not my first time getting to taste what heaven is like. It is in fact something I strive for every day of my life. It is this feeling of oneness. To borrow a word from Hinduism, Nirvana. As i sit here writing I am wanting to describe what it is like, but I feel it is so much bigger than words. It is like being loved, accepted, welcomed, cared for, and at peace all at the same time. I felt this back when I worked at that camp, at an amazing concert, at various moments during my wedding week (including my wedding), and this weekend.
For those of us who were involved and connected during those moments it’s very hard to return to the places that we are from. It’s like you have changed into another person, but everything you returned to belongs to the person who left. It is very much like stepping through the looking glass out of wonderland into a dark reality. You try to explain to people about what it was like on the other side, but all they can see is a reflection of their own reality staring back at them. You feel disconnected. It was so easy to listen to and hear God in that place, but now God feels distant and unclear.
I do believe this is what the first Christians intended church to be. The first Christians were called such because they were just like that revolutionary Rabbi named Christ by his followers. They lived together in love. They connected on that deeper level. They showed the world how they were different by inviting them into this community. This community that loved each other, cared for one another, accepted everyone (most of the time), and loved peace. I don’t know maybe I am just an Idealist and create this beautiful picture that never truly existed. I do believe the concept is sound though. I do think that is a community we are capable as a church of creating. This is a big lesson, but I don’t want to spend all day writing this post. If you would like to learn more about the early church I recommend checking out Nooma video #15 “You”. Rob Bell does a great job of condensing a lot of ideas into about 11 minutes. You can purchase (it’s only a buck to watch online and 2 bucks to download) and download itHere.
My challenge to my readers today is this, strive to bring about the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is here and all we have to do is welcome it in. We can create the Kingdom of God all around us. We are citizens of that Kingdom after all. We need to fight against hate, injustice, greed, corruption, nonacceptance, and all those things that keep us on this side of the looking glass. Let’s allow God’s love to invade our world and revolutionize who and what we are as a people. God’s love is too good not to share.

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It gets better…

So as I sit here  only half watching the “Tony Awards” with my wife, I was blown away by the opening number “Broadway isn’t just for the gays anymore.” This was just moments after watching a special on teen bullying. It was also a few more minutes before the now controversial “It gets better” google commercial.

I want to focus on the itgetsbetterproject; If you haven’t heard of it, Google it. I started to wonder whether or not a straight youth pastor, or for that matter a gay youth pastor, has posted a video in support. I searched and all I found were videos telling gay youth that “Christians don’t care” or that they need to “get help to become better (as if there was something wrong with them)” This saddened me to no end. I feel like church people have dropped the ball on the whole loving thing. I feel like all of a sudden we needed someone to hate so we decided homosexuals were the perfect people for that. The late Peter Gomes once said in a speech, “When anyone looks at the record of our religious treatment of the other in the culture, we find that the first and the last resort used to justify a prejudice is the fact that the Bible tells me so.” I find it very sad that we use this collection of books, about how God has continued throughout the ages to act redemptively and lovingly toward His people, to push an agenda of hate and prejudice. Who are we to put that in God’s words? Are we judges? Who gave us the God badge? Who gave us permission to be God? In my opinion, nobody. We did it ourselves. It sickens and saddens me. What’s worse is I do it too. I know I do. I try to stop myself, but I can’t. So in response to that I would like to write out my “It gets better” speech:

Hello! My name is Miguel. I am a straight youth minister in western New York. I wanted to take an opportunity to tell you, it gets better. I know high school is rough. I was there. I was made fun of. I was bullied. I know how rough it can be. I was plagued by thoughts of suicide and the like. What’s worse for you is that I know I have brothers and sisters out there who share my profession that are allowing the continued bullying and discrimination against you. Not only that they are even encouraging it sometimes. I want you to know that God doesn’t hate you. I don’t hate you. The church shouldn’t hate you, but right now it is a very hostile environment for you. To be honest if I were you I wouldn’t want to be there either, even if I was Christian. I want to take this opportunity to apologize. I’m sorry for what is being done to you. I am sorry that instead of stopping this hate and prejudice we have continued it and fueled it. I’m sorry that once upon a time I bullied people like you. I am sorry that you have to endure it now. But I promise you, it gets better! There are people, churches, and even church leaders who not only openly accept you for who you are; but even are a part of that community as well. I know straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered  people who are great examples of God’s love. So I ask not only for your forgiveness, but also for your patience. One day the Church will be a safe place for you to be. One day we wont try to tell you who to be, or who to love. I pray that day comes quickly. As for me, I will love you and accept you. You are always welcome here. It will get better elsewhere. Don’t listen to my brothers and sisters that try to tell you to be different. Don’t listen to those who tell you it’s wrong to love that person. I don’t believe God made a mistake when God made you. You are perfect the way you are. As Ga Ga has said “God makes no mistakes.” My promise to you is that I am going to try to make it better.

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