Living Consumed

My wife recently sent an email with a quote she found on the internet (she always sends me great quotes and scripture!).  The quote reads:

“What consumes your mind controls your life” – unknown

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I’ve been on a trip of life changes and so I took time to ponder how I measure myself against this quote.

On the surface it is easy to say that the wisdom within this quote is obvious, and perhaps it is.  It was when I was honest with myself that I found I wasn’t consuming my mind with the best things.

I’d allowed myself to let anxieties and fears over the future to replace much of my time in God’s Word.  I haven’t been keeping my promise to God to read his word every day.

I chose other compensatory behaviors:  Reading western novels (Hey don’t judge me Ha! Ha! Ha!) and ‘napping’ for hours.  Both allowed me escape the relatives of my exile.  Instead, I should have been losing myself in scripture to reinforce God’s love and protection.  If you’re going to distract yourself with something, be sure it’s a healthy something, right?

I’m not saying that I shouldn’t lead a balanced a life as possible.  I still read novels (I’ve now branched out into thrillers and mysteries!) and nap (for 20 to 30 minutes) but I find that bringing God’s Word back into my daily life brings a comfort I’d forgotten.

I’ve also begun to consider daily how I measure up against that quote and I’ve been surprised at how easy it is to become consumed with life’s little things.  For me, some of life’s little things here in prison can be daunting.  Things like guys spitting on the sidewalk instead of the grass and not holding doors open for the physically challenged and talking loudly in the library and and and… Things that in reality are annoyances that I can deal with by ignoring.   Those behaviors, after-all, they don’t directly impact me.

The most surprising thing to come of living by that quote is how much more pleasant and easy life is.  Eliminating the negative and replacing it with the positive is empowering.

Be empowered!  Join me in living consumed by the Spirit.

~jdoe

Living In Exile – part 4

Gosh, that’s a lot so to summarize:

Settle down and be happy because it’s okay to do so; build houses of faith; plant seeds of faith and live life “faithful in all (God’s) my house.”  In these, and from these, the exiles – and we inmates – will find freedom within and after captivity and peace and happiness within captivity.

Some may ask, “Does this mean I have to become a zealot proclaiming God’s word on the compound?”

Absolutely not.

Faith comes in many forms: a smile, a bit of food for the indigent inmate, a sincere ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ an ear for the broken, returning love for hate, holding a door open – infinite ways but unless we sow these seeds we cannot eat the crop.  Imagine when that ‘hater’ says, “Excuse me,” when he bumps into you all because you’ve said it to him even when you weren’t at fault for the contact.  And the reward?  Eternal freedom in God’s house and if we continue to live in our house of faith after incarceration, physical freedom too and all the while planting seeds to keep God’s word eternal.

Suddenly being an exile – inmate – in captivity becomes bearable and in an odd way, a worthy effort for God and ourselves universally.

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~jdoe

Living In Exile – part 3

Time to look at the meaning behind Jeremiah 29:5, “Build Houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit;” for prisoners.

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There are many references to houses in the Bible.  It’s evident that both the structure and concept are of vital importance to God.  Let’s look at a few verses that best illustrate the idea of a house with Jeremiah 29:5.

In Numbers 12:7-8 we’re told God speaks face-to-face with Moses because Moses is “Faithful in all My house.”  That must mean beyond the Tent of meeting, right?  So what then is “all My house”?  It means in all ways and all things. [But recall, Moses didn’t start out that way – he made a choice – he opened his eyes and came out of darkness.]  Here we understand that when “Faithful in all” God’s “house,” He will meet us face-to-face.  God’s “house” therefore is more than a structure.

In Joshua 24:15, Joshua says we must make a choice and in Joshua’s household they will serve the Lord.  Again – a choice and a concept of a house that reaches beyond the physical structure.  Joshua is saying that wherever he or his family may be, they will serve the Lord.  Joshua’s house reaches as far as his family, not the walls inside of which he resides.

Solomon says in Psalm 127:1 that, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.”  This seems to contradict Jeremiah 29:5, however it does not.  It says that we have a choice: To build with God or without.  Jeremiah 29:5 clearly says to build with God!  And as we learned previously, God, through Solomon, is again telling us His house surpasses any physical structure.

There are more by my point is made – for we inmates, God is asking us to build houses beyond physical structures.  Our houses may be things like continuing to be a husband, father, son, brother, or friend.  Joining in a church sincerely or perhaps loving the unlovable.  Suddenly, we’re building houses of faith within God’s house and for God’s command to be, “Faithful in all My house.”  Imagine the power of every inmate – as well as every person walking the street – building a house of faith instead of brick.  No wonder Jesus’ church was built upon a single rock – no physical building could ever encompass God’s earthly house.

Now we’re left with understanding that it means to plant crops and eat the reap.  Crops begin with seeds, right?  Let’s look at scripture around “seeds.”

In Matthew 13:2-8 Jesus tells the parable of seeds scattered by a farmer.  We know he was not being literal; it’s a parable after all.  So what then?  Obviously it’s seeds of faith.  So in telling the exiles, and by extension we inmates to plant seeds, He’s telling everyone we can.  Also, as in Matthew 13:8 we will be, and by extension He will be, blessed with a crop, “A hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”  How wonderful to be a farmer of faith.  This is then confirmed in Matthew 13:23, “He who hears the word and understands it (sic) is the one who produces a crop…”  Looking further, Matthew 13:43 explains who we become if we successfully plant the seeds: the righteous!  We can also look at Matthew 13:31-32 and see God ask that we plant a seed as tiny as a mustard seed and gain a tree for birds – other inmates – to perch in.  So it’s vitally important for inmates, as it was with the exiles, to understand what God meant in Jeremiah 29:5.

Finally, the strongest scripture, 1 Peter 1:23-25; Here we are told that we are born of “imperishable seed… through the living and enduring word of God.  For all the people are like grass and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.”  Sounds dismal in a way.  The exiles, and by extension we inmates, wither and die but through them- and we inmates – God’s word lives – by the seeds we sow and the ongoing crop produced.

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jdoe

Living In Exile – part 2

Continuing on with a look at Jeremiah 29:5 from last week, Living In Exile – part 1

“Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit.”  What?  I can’t do that literally.  So what do these commands mean?  To understand these I had to think back on scripture I had read in relation to prisoners – inmates – exiles.  Because the answer to this question is paramount to understanding Jeremiah 29:5 and 29:7’s link to inmates.

Why are prisoners special to God?

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In Psalm 107 we see God’s blessing of rescue for those who were rebellious but turned back to Him; focus here on verses 10 through 16 and again a choice is given: turn to Him and be rescued or live in darkness.  In Psalm 68:6b,c we see that God gives prisoners a choice: be lead out with singing or live in a sun-scorched land.  In Psalm 146:7 we see God upholds the cause of the oppressed and sets prisoners free but only if they chose (choice again) to be bowed down.  In Psalm 79:11 God is asked to heal the moans of prisoners.  Finally, in Isaiah 42:5a and Isaiah 42:7 we have, “This is what God the Lord says…open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness,” – again a choice: open your eyes and be freed or remain blind in captivity.

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So why are prisoners special to God?

Two reasons: 1) They suffer and 2) They, like no other, have a choice.  Only those whose physical, mental, and emotional freedom is controlled by others can find the meaning of true and total freedom in God and His word!  Who among those walking freely in the world can feel or know what freedom is until first suffering in exile?  Who besides the prisoner can truly know the power of faith and God?  These are the reasons God’s greatest were pulled from among the worst of people – because in some form they were prisoners and suffering even if not evident to themselves.  They all were given a choice:  Remain blind or open their eyes and walk out of darkness to be set free both spiritually and physically – what better army can there be to spread God’s word?  Wasn’t the greatest contributor to the New Testament, Paul, a prisoner?  Yes!

And isn’t it now obvious why God also calls out widows and orphans and the poor and the disabled?  All are suffering in their own prisons and we have the ability and responsibility to open their eyes, bring them into the light and free them!

So when we combine our understanding of God’s love of prisoners with His command to live life while in exile, and it’s okay to find happiness there, we can see He is waiting for us to prosper (find peace) in captivity.

But how?  Next week I delve more specifically into Jeremiah 29:5, “Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit.”

Blessings, jdoe

Living In Exile – part 1

When I started writing for this blog I said I would not attempt to convert anyone to any particular belief.  I also said I would not avoid talking about my place as a Christian.  And so it is that the coming posts contain numerous Bible scripture references.  To get the  most out of the coming posts it would be helpful for you to have a Bible available.  I used the NIV translation for my writings.

Over the next few weeks my sister will be posting my thoughts concerning the commandments God gave the Israelites for Living In Exile [Jeremiah 29:4-14].  The commandments were very specific about how they were to live while captives.  It is my belief that these same commandments apply to prisoners like me, or anyone in their own prison.

Let me explain…

I’ve been contemplating Jeremiah 29:4-14 and how I’m doing here in exile.  I keep asking myself how it is I’m to “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.” [Jeremiah 29:5]  I’ve filled my locker with personal items I’ll need for my time here.  I’ve got my cell mate situation stable and I make my bed every morning.  Yet I do not feel “settled down.”

As I walked the track recently (summer took one last gasp of near 80 degree weather) things began to dawn on me; revelation is a strong word but I feel again that they Holy Spirit was talking with me.

The first thing to hit me was sparked by seeing two guys in their late teens to early twenties playing Frisbee.  They were shirtless and playing in a grassy part of the yard.  As they ran, laughing, the setting sun made their skin glow with youth and energy.  And for a moment I was transported to the edge of a beach watching people having fun.  It lasted only a moment yet in that moment I saw two people who had “settled down.”

“How,” I thought, “can they laugh and run so carefree?”  I actually had to stop walking because I heard a voice ask, “Where in Jeremiah 29 does God say to the exiles, through Jeremiah, that they should not or cannot be happy in captivity?”

I had no answer.

So I had to go back to the beginning and ask myself, “Why would God tell the exiled Israelites to settle down, build houses, plant gardens, eat and procreate?  Was it only to assure the survival of His people or was it more?”  Then the answer came to me in the form of Jeremiah 29:7.  God tells the exiles to pray for the prosperity of the city they’ve been sent to.  This amounts to praying for the prosperity of their captors!

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Why?

Of course for their survival, but recall God cared for them in the wilderness by turning the exiles over to the care of others – so by telling them to pray for their captors’ prosperity (peace) He was assuring the best possible environment.  He was giving the exiles an implicit command that becomes apparent when combining Jeremiah 29:7 with Jeremiah 29:5: Be content, find happiness, survive emotionally – live life.  So I pray for the prosperity (peace) of my correctional institution.

“Okay,” I said to myself, “But what other truths exist in the parallelism between the exiled Israelites and we inmates?”

As I began to walk again I also began to see things like:  The exiles lived under foreign law and inmates live under foreign law; the exiles obeyed foreign masters and inmates obey foreign masters; the exiles lived in foreign (unfamiliar, strange, confined) lands and inmates live in foreign (unfamiliar, strange, confined) lands; the exiles created a culture and life within foreign powers, lands, and laws and God has commanded inmates to do the same.

Keep that thought and next week I’ll continue with my breakdown of Jeremiah 29:4-14

Happy New Year, ~ jdoe

But It Is Personal

I wrote the following after being pent up in a county jail for six months without seeing the light of day, or the dark of night for that matter, literally.  I’d arrived here in my present location and the first four days it snowed.  It didn’t snow much, maybe an inch or two each day, yet it gave me the season I’d missed while in county jail – winter.  Winter is not my favorite season but I did miss going outside in the cool, crisp air. As I was able to finally go out and experience it I’d leave the housing unit every chance I was given.  I listened to other’s complaints about the snow, wind, jackets and boots and I could think was,

“God’s doing this for me!”

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That same day, as I lay in bed after lights out, I thanked God for winter.  I told him I knew it wasn’t for me personally but I was deeply appreciative anyway and I heard The Holy Spirit say, “But It Is Personal.”  As I considered that revelation I had to change my perspective.  What follows are my reflections, a wish for you and a contemplative question for all to consider.  (Psalms 30:5b) ~jdoe

     I look at so much as a new part of my personal relationship with God.  As I move through my days – physically and spiritually – I can now see and know so much in my heart that I missed in life.  It’s like being a child again, back when clouds were a mysterious wonder that looked like angles, dinosaurs, and Abraham Lincoln.  When the breeze, or wind, was something you looked into to blow your hair back while closing your eyes and enjoying its feel on your cheeks.  When birds represented your every dream – to fly and look down on this earth as you broke the bonds of whatever it was that held you earthbound.  When digging in the sand lead to China and other faraway lands.  When ice on the sidewalk was for crunching.  When the moon still looked like a face and was a companion you dreamed of visiting.  When you looked up as much as down.  When everything was new, fresh, clean and yours for the picking, reaping.  When it was all an experience and exploration.  When anything was possible.  When a rainbow was still a mystery and promise.  It’s so sad I had to come here to rediscover so many freedoms and God’s hand and love. 

     I wish everyone could feel as I do in these times, it’s so easy really.  Stand still someday in the middle of your yard, a park, the street you walk – anywhere in God’s creation – and listen, look up, clear your mind and heart and look, listen, feel as you did as a child.  If you’ve forgotten how – watch a child at a playground, your own kids or grandkids – and ask them what they see in clouds, feel in the wind, wish when a bird flies by, or know when they look at a rainbow.  No one should be in captivity before realizing God put it all here for you to experience, own, and keep your entire earthly life.  Maybe, just maybe, this would help others, all, to find their own joys in the tribulation they face or suffer.  How amazing it feels to smile walking across the compound of a prison – imagine walking across the parking lot of Wal-Mart on a busy, raining, windy, traffic jammed day.  It’s all nothing if you walk in God’s Heavens here on earth with childlike wonder, right?

     Let me close with this: We may have been exiled from Eden, but isn’t what was left truly beautiful?

Psalms 30:5b

Weeping may endure for a night,
But joy comes in the morning.

Baptism By Fire

This came in the most recent letter …

I believe baptism comes in several forms.  Through the Bible we hear, read, of baptism by water.  It’s the symbolic washing away of sins and the death to sin of the old self and birth to righteousness of a new self.  It is by its very nature a cleansing and a leaving behind.  I’ve come to understand though that what we read in the bible is symbolic of something bigger and that there is at least one other type of baptism.  

Baptism by Fire. 

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It’s a sad and unfortunate thing that I had to come to prison to experience it because I think it’s an experience everyone should have.  So what does it consist of and why should all experience it?

It consists of having everything stripped from you so that only you, and you alone come out the other side.  I lost everything – career, material items, contact daily with loved ones, hopes, dreams, goals, the future I’d planned, my clothing – I literally stood naked.  I was forcibly washed of all earthly things.  I died to all sin out there and came up into that fire naked and unknowing of what the future would be.

I think of how the Apostles and Israelites must have felt when told to give up everything or have it taken away. 

How many questions they must have had:

“What now?”

“Who am I?”

“What am I worth?”

“What will become of me?”

Isn’t it amazing though that all of them also came out with the same bit of direction – the very direction I was left with? 

To follow God. 

I feel that God said, “If you won’t come willingly then I’ll take you forcibly but you must be cleaned, purged, washed first.”

I know I felt like a washcloth wrung of all water and laid aside to dry.  Everything but my essence was gone – or was it?  No, what was left was my purpose.  Like that cloth still damp, still fulfilling its purpose of sopping and holding moisture I was left with the Holy Spirit and purpose. 

So why do I think everyone should experience this loss?  To KNOW there’s a life without sin and pain or anchors or fear waiting for them.  You can go willingly or forcibly.  Go willingly and lose only the negative, those things holding you down or back.  Don’t wait, as I did, for the force – the fire – because you’ll lose the good with the bad.  Either way, you’ll be cleansed and left with purpose, God’s purpose and in the end that is all that matters anyway.  It’s what the Bible says and now I know it to be true – just as the Apostles and the Israelites learned. 

And if you’re already in a prison – mental illness, addiction, abusive relationship – it can be the first step out before, like me, your first step in.

~jdoe

I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.   His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”  ~ Matthew 3:11-12 NKJV

Love Thy Enemy – Concludes

Well, I left you hanging didn’t I?  And right at the part where I began to apply the Holy Spirit’s guidance!  Yes, it got you to come back but more importantly, I hope you walked away wondering how you’d handle Ed and Frank – Your Eds and Franks – we all have them…

If you missed part one, click here…  Love Thy Enemy

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British and German soldiers fraternizing at Ploegsteert, Belgium, on Christmas Day 1914, front of the 11th Brigade, 4th Division

I began to observe, Ed’s, habits and words.  I also did this for my second cell mate as he’d jumped on the persecution wagon with one foot, meaning he was also being decent at times.  Frankly, his decent times existed when he wasn’t high on drugs; but I digress.  I learned Ed’s schedule and responded by offering to develop a schedule that met everyone’s needs for time alone in the cell.  Previously, I’d defend myself by pointing out when I was gone (almost all day) and telling them to deal with me being in the cell from 3:30 until dinner at 5:00pm.  Although he had the cell from 6:00am til 3:30pm and from 5:00pm until 8:30pm it caused tension; ‘He needed’ 3:30 until 4:00 and 4:30 until 5:00, so I began to be in the TV room or another cell at these times.  I also gave him daily updates on my efforts to relocate.  I stopped verbally responding to his verbal attacks and instead walked away.  In essence I accepted his hatred, and that I was in the way of his running his ‘business’ out of our cell and gave him what I’d want if I were him, selfish and hateful as he is and difficult as it is to think that way, I gave him space and time and returned love for his hate and persecution.  Where the other cellie, Frank, is concerned I noticed he was constantly asking people for sweetener packets at night for his evening coffee.  Since I don’t use the stuff I began bringing my two daily packets from breakfast to the cell and giving them to him- an act I still do.  Also, I found that he didn’t care if I was in the cell as long as I wasn’t listening to his conversations with his ‘business’ customers so I always worm my MP3 player after lights out – when his customers typically showed up.  Finally, I would speak kindly about differing subjects because I heard him tell someone that my giving him and Ed this ‘silent treatment’ was stressful for him.  Again, love for hate and persecution. 

Within 5 days of my behavior changes I was moved.

The outcomes:  Ed told a guy he thought I was, “A good dude” but that he couldn’t live with my offense. – HA! “A good dude”!  And Frank told me to my face he thought I was “Cool, I’d live with you if Ed could chillout.”  I’ve carried these lessons into my new cell and have continued my actions with Ed and Frank.  I guess God feels I’ve learned what I needed in my first cell and I’m continuing in those learnings.

I now see that you can indeed Love Your Enemy and suffer no real loss but instead gain so much.  I gained a peace spiritually and worldly both.  Imagine using love, not manipulations or defensiveness, as your shield in life as given by Jesus, our Lord and Savior!  God is great.

It’s not easy – do it anyway.  jdoe

Photo Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205247304

Love Thy Enemy

Love Thy Enemy?! 

Sounds crazy to us today, imagine when Jesus said it over 2000 years ago.

When I landed in my first Federal cell after the move from County Jail holding, I was fortunate (yes, I see it as being fortunate – now) enough to be placed with Ed, The Contraband King and His Sidekick, Frank.  Ed was also the worst of the worst ‘haters’ for people with my charge.  The night I arrived he pulled me aside within five minutes of arrival and said I had to move.  As a first timer this scared me deeply.  In the end, it took a month to the day for me to be moved (others in similar situations were moving within a single day!) I’d probably still be there had I not learned the lesson of “Love Thy Enemy”

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British and German soldiers fraternizing at Ploegsteert, Belgium, on Christmas Day 1914, front of 11th Brigade, 4th Division.

I mediated at great length on what I was to learn from Ed’s behaviors and continuous, non-stop harassment.  First, I looked for The Joy In The Tribulation, that is always my first thought now as I’m faced with a new, or renewed, trial.  I determined, through conversations with the Holy Spirit, that the Joy was in being given an opportunity to grow in my faith.  Okay, sounds simple and straight forward, right?  Not if you were faced with that type of situation. What growth would you think you’re to experience?  I thought patience, tolerance, perseverance and suffering without complaint (Romans 5:3) as well as “Turn The Other Cheek.”  So I worked at these things and at night as I prayed after lights out, I’d offer up my experiences and sacrifices as testimony of my growth and go on the next day with exercising these things.  I DO believe these are/were things I was to live in this way, even though I’d tried outside.  The big difference though is outside I could walk away from the persecution; in here it follows me.  Ed was everywhere as himself and embodied in others.  It dawned on me that Ed was simply God’s vessel for direct interaction but was/is in reality His one person to represent a much larger body of hate.  This revelation lead to a new question: “What Dear God, am I really supposed to learn?”  It was obvious to me that all those other lessons were either preparation for, or benefits of, some other more significant teaching.  So back to my medications after lights out and during my walks.

One night, as I drifted off to sleep I heard the Holy Spirit again and these are His words, “What are the greatest commandments?”  I snapped awake with this thought, “Oh My God, I have to love this man?!” 

Mark 12:29-31 “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  This is the first commandment.  And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 

My first reaction was, honestly, “UGH”

In the morning I began searching scripture to find out what I was to do!  What I found was: “Love your enemy.”  So I determined to figure out what that might mean in my situation. 

There is so much more to this experience, please come back for Part 2 next week. ~jdoe

Photo Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205247304

Joy In The Tribulation (part 2 of 2)

This is part of a post begun last week (But It’s Snowing! (part 1 of 2)).  Without further delay… here you’ll read of my first revelation around finding Joy In The Tribulation.  Later posts will expand on this mantra in my life.

I was meditating on “Joys In The Tribulations” since God’s Word (The Bible) tells us we have to find the Joy In The Tribulation.  I was wondering how on earth I could find joy in my cell issue, captivity, etc.  As I lay there I heard the Holy Spirit say, “You have to acknowledge them, not seek them.”  It was profound!  That’s why we suffer so much.  We refuse to acknowledge what’s already in front of us.  So acknowledging God’s glory in this out-of-doors moves me from hating the fence to appreciating what cannot be taken from me – God’s Heavens!  And my cell issue moves me to appreciate God’s wish and desire for my growth and giving Him glory in my tribulations because it makes the future that  much more valuable!  I suppose it sounds “preachy” but if only people who have never had literally everything taken from them could feel these things; it would be a very different world.  Imagine finding joy in a traffic jam or while on hold with the cable company, and without complaint.  It is possible if we acknowledge that the tribulations we find ourselves in are supposed to be joy inducing.  Am I this good about all of it?  No way.  Am I working to be?  Absolutely.  Now I see that so much of the suffering I did was my fault and unnecessary.  How much life I lost and/or wasted when I think about all the times I blew up over the smallest things – ugh- I have so many regrets now. 

We’re not meant to have regrets.  But I’m sure everyone reading this, like me, does.  God forgives and forgets.  (Psalms 103:12, Isaiah 43:25 NKJV)  Regrets are so often self-impressed and based on fears that man, our loved ones, or society can’t forgive us when really we need only the forgiveness of God and ourselves.  Those who truly love us on earth have already forgiven us or soon will.  Forgive yourself.   ~ jdoe

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