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Archive for the ‘salvation’ Category

Mankind can be insanely cruel. From political leaders who murder entire races to parents who abuse then abandon their children, it seems there is no limit to the atrocities inflicted upon man by man. And yet, humans can also be incredibly empathetic, looking deep  into the wounded heart of another, a heart that touches their own and moves them toward active compassion.

EleanorGustafsonAs I read today’s post by Eleanor Gustafson, author of Dynamo and The Stones, I thought back to the movie she referenced. I only saw portions of the Elephant Man, but even short blips were enough to break my heart as I imagined what it must have felt like to be that man. Alone. Isolated by the repulsion of others. Nothing stings quite like rejection. To be accepted, warts, deformities, and all. More than that; to be loved. Isn’t that what we all want?

Today, Eleanor discusses a scene from this poignant, though-provoking movie, bringing it home on a deeper level. As you read her post, pause to honestly, prayerfully evaluate your human condition, scabs and all. Then, consider God’s grace. I believe God’s mercy will appear all the more beautiful. :)

Note: Eleanor is giving away a copy of her latest release, Dynamo. Winner will be selected randomly from the comments left on this post or at Living by Grace on Facebook

 

Elephant Man and Communion by Eleanor Gustafson

Some time ago, I happened on a TV rerun of The Elephant Man.  Just the thing to set a person up for Communion the following Sunday.

In the Apostles’ Creed, which our church recites on Communion Sundays, is a phrase, “I believe in . . . the communioncommunion of saints.”  As the Communion elements drifted among the pews, I mentally looked around the congregation (head bowed, eyes closed, of course).  Saints?  Mostly sinners here, the whole lot of us, from the pulpit on down.  Yes, of course I know the phrase doesn’t intend what I’m making it out to mean.  I know it refers to the fellowship of believers made righteous by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  But at that introspective moment it seemed that “communion of sinners” might be more appropriate.

My thoughts eased onto “The Elephant Man”.  The film is based on the account of a real person who lived in England around the turn of the 20th century.  His physical deformity led to years of exploitation as a miserable, autistic, sideshow freak.  A doctor, initially motivated by scientific curiosity, befriended him, moving him to a hospital and caring for him physically.  In the process of trying to help him, the doctor encouraged the man to talk and discovered an amazing intellectual capacity.

The doctor began introducing his patient to friends, showing off this great scientific find.  He dressed him as a gentleman, took him to his home and to other social gatherings, with gratifying response from this cultured audience.  (Never mind that his protégé had become a freak of a different order.)

The drama turns on a scene in which the Elephant Man, in the privacy of his room, begins to indulge in posturing pretension, rehearsing erudite phrases and poses.  At last, he feels, his innate gifts, so long-buried, have gained him social acceptance.

In this moment of pride, a disgruntled “sideshow” huckster, hungry for the fast buck, breaks into the room with his clientele of bar patrons and whores.  Their “fun” lies in observing the shock effect of this monstrosity on women.  In an ultimate act of cruelty, the entrepreneur holds a mirror for the Elephant Man to see his face for the first time. This act totally destroys him, and shortly after, he lies down to die.

mirrorfreflectionCommunion is a mirror.  It reminds us from whence we have come, of our wretched state under that robe of righteousness.  No room for posturing here; we are brought face to face with the enormity of sin.

“Communion of sinners” does seem more appropriate here than “communion of saints.”  We must not forget this dimension of our human condition.  But it’s not the entire picture.  There’s more to the creed than that one phrase.  The whole thing is set to rights at the end with the breathtaking declaration that “God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth” grants us “. . . the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.  Amen.”

Here indeed is grace and hope for all us elephant people.

 

Dynamo:

dynamoCOVER_FB2Jeth Cavanaugh is searching for a new life along one of Pennsylvania’s mountain ridges when he stumbles upon a stable of show jumpers owned by Rob and Katie Chilton. Throw in a volatile gaited stallion named Dynamo, and Jeth will do anything to work there. Jeth earns his living by training and showing Rob’s jumpers, but Dynamo is his primary passion.

Everything changes when God enters his life—in the unconventional form of a hard slap by an old girlfriend—and ignites a new, greater passion within Jeth. But along with fervor comes fear at the undeniable evidence of God’s hand on his life. Inexplicable events, both good and bad, make him moan plaintively, “Why does God do this to me? I get the feeling I’m being set up for something.”

He is, indeed. Jeth’s life is anything but predictable, much like the God he serves. The real Dynamo and his ultimate trainer emerge out of an excruciating mix of disaster and brokenness, which are never beyond the reach of redemption.

This story is God in your face: Who is He really? What does He ask of us?

Eleanor K. Gustafson began thinking up stories when she was five or six. When she started to read, God drew her to Himself with, yes, a story. Her fascination with story continued, but after reading early written attempts, friends and even her mother told her straight-out to stick to music as a career. She pushed manfully along, however, and began publishing both fiction and nonfiction in 1978. Dynamo is her fifth novel and builds off her lifelong love of horses. Her previous title with Whitaker House is The Stones: A Novel of the Life of King David.

A graduate of Wheaton College in Illinois, Eleanor has been actively involved in church life as a minister’s wife, teacher, musician, writer, and encourager. Additional experiences include gardening, house construction, tree farming, and parenting—all of which have helped bring color and humor to her fiction. One of her major writing goals has been to make scriptural principles understandable and relevant for today’s readers through the undeniable power of story.

Readers can find out more about Eleanor on her Web site, www.eleanorgustafson.com.

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Let’s talk about this! Grace is amazing, and it’s important we live in LivingbyGracepicgrace, forgetting what is past and moving toward that which lies ahead. And yet, I also think it’s important that we remember where we came from–who we were when Christ grabbed hold of us and where we’d be without His grace. This is humility–recognizing our utter need for God. This, my friends, is what brings us to and keeps us on our knees.

With my book, Beyond I Do’s release approaching, I’ve been preparing for interviews and such, and in so doing, I’ve been contemplating my past–where I was and all God’s done. It can be painful to remember the pit I’d gotten myself into, and yet, it’s also immensely beautiful because it reminds me afresh of God’s radical love, power, and grace. (You can read more about my grace-saturated journey here.)

What about you? Pause to reflect your sin in light of God’s grace. What kind of responses does it evoke? Have you had an “elephant man in the mirror” experience? If so, tell us about it. Not just that moment of self-revelation, but whatever grace God showed you after. Do you believe your experience of that grace was deepened by the revelation of your depravity? How so?

Join the conversation here, in the comments below or on Facebook at Living by Grace.

 

 

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bethlehem-star-remix-2-695143-m

I’m the queen of distraction. I easily get caught up in the tinsel and carols and cinnamon smells of the season, but this year God used a squirrel-like husband and a box of old ornaments to center me in Him and the essence of Christmas. You can read more about that crazy yet emotional morning here.

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1 (NIV)

Before there was time, the God-head envisioned His creation, a universe filled with radiant light as millions upon millions of stars glimmered throughout infinite space. The earth, now but a vision in the mind of God, would soon abound with life.

Ice-capped mountains would glisten in the sun and gently flowing streams would weave through flower-filled meadows. Jay Larks and Robins would fill the air with song while newborn cubs tumbled over grassy plains.

But the crown of His creation? The creature that brought a song to the Creator’s lips and tears of anguish to His face?

Man. Humans, just like you and I. People that would fight against Him at every turn and ultimate drive Him to the cross.
God made man, knowing man would betray Him. Knowing man’s rebellion would result in His death. And yet, He created humans anyway, molding flesh from a mound of earth, breathing life into a lifeless body.

The first man to be created was named Adam. In the beginning, God and Adam enjoyed sweet fellowship, an intimacy unparalleled by any other creature roaming the face of the earth. An intimacy that penetrated to the very depths of the soul.

Fear was unheard of.

Loneliness was unknown. Everything was bliss, like a melodious love song echoed in united hearts.

But then something happened and this heavenly union was shattered. The creature God had created, the creature God loved infinitely and immensely, turned on Him, and the perfect love-bond was broken.

Suddenly the child created to rest in His arms fought against Him, spurning the very love scream-924206-mthat would save Him.

In the depths of man’s heart, bitterness took root, weaving its entangling web around everything that was once good and pure and lovely.

And all the while, God watched with breaking heart, knowing the day of total restoration would come.
But it would cost Him everything.

His cross-church-1386416-mvery life.

Merry Christmas, my friend! And as you and your family unwrap your Christmas, pause to remember the Christmas story, from beginning to the glorious, victorious end.

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TeresaPollardCroppedWatching your daughter fight for life must be unbearable. Hearing her gut-honest questions–questions that appear to have no answers this side of heaven–is unfathomable. So how did Teresa Pollard answer the heart-wrenching question–why do bad things happen to good people? Not with words, but with love. Today, after her daughter’s death, she addresses the question again. Not with anger or bitterness nor a raised fist at God, but instead, with the answer that can only come from surrendered faith.

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

By Teresa Pollard

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character, and proven character, hope.      Romans 5:3-4

There are several important themes in our novel Not Guilty, but possibly the main one is:  why does it seem sometimes that bad things rain on good people like monstrous thunderstorms, while (at least for a time) bad people keep getting away with their malicious and evil deeds?  Candi Pullen and I both lost our daughters at very young ages, so it’s a theme that’s become extremely important to us even though the novel was actually written before either death occurred.

When my daughter, Kara, lay dying of cervical cancer, 1100587_hospital_handthis was the question she kept asking me.  She wanted to know what she had done to deserve such an early death.  She knew she was saved and had a home in heaven, but she had a young son who needed his mommy, and she didn’t want to leave him.

I didn’t really have an answer for her.

All I could do was tell her I loved her, and that I knew that God loved her too.

I think one of the first songs I ever learned as a small child was Jesus loves me.  When Kara was born, her daddy sang it to her in the delivery room while the doctors worked on me.  She believed that Jesus loved her, but she didn’t really understand why a loving God would let cancer happen to her.  I’ve spent a lot of time over the last six years pondering the same question.

The Apostle Paul pondered it too.  He was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, hungry, thirsty, in danger from all directions, and in great emotional distress.  Was he some kind of a super Christian who could endure things that just aren’t possible for us normal folks?  No.  He was a man just like we are.  He admitted weakness.  In fact, he said if he had to boast about anything, it would be his weakness, because he knew that it is in our weakness that we find God’s strength.

In the thirteen months between the diagnosis and Kara’s actual death, I shed countless tears.  I ranted at God, and I prayed and begged Him to spare her life.  He said “no.”  I was helpless.  I would have given anything to be able to save my daughter’s life, but all I could do was entrust her to the Lord’s keeping.  And that’s where I found strength.  That’s the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian.   We have hope.

This earthly life isn’t the end or even a large part of our existence.  It’s a tiny speck of time.  But it’s the speck that determines where we will spend 248782_carnations_pink_2eternity.  Not only that, but it also determines our rewards in that eternity. One of Kara’s last deeds before she became too ill to go anywhere was to take 300 carnations with messages of hope to patients in the hospital where she had spent so many of her days.   The Bible tells us that God even rewards a cup of cold water given in His name.  I wonder what the reward is for 300 carnations given by a dying mother to bring hope to patients in great need of that hope.

In Psalm 73:3, Asaph said, “I was envious of the arrogant as I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”  Then God gave him a vision of how the wicked will end—an eternity of destruction.  On the other hand, I know I will see Kara again someday, and we will spend eternity together in heaven.  If you haven’t read Randy Alcorn’s Bible study on heaven, I highly recommend it.

Why do bad things happen to good people?  God isn’t finished with me yet, and I still don’t have all the answers.  I know we live in a fallen world.  I’m still not to the point where, like Paul, I can “exult” in tribulation, but I do know God promises in Romans 8:28 that “all things,” both the good and the bad, “work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”   I can understand that somehow they’re for my good and for the good of others.  What we don’t really understand when we’re in the middle of things is that it’s not really about us at all.  It’s about Him.  It’s about the kingdom.  If even one person spends eternity in heaven instead of hell because of our suffering, isn’t it worth it?  Suppose that one person were your son or daughter?  Wouldn’t it be worth it then?

NotGuiltyFrontCover3x4-5Not Guilty by Teresa Pollard and Candi Pullen:

It’s 1974 and Carrie Shepherd, daughter of the minister at Windspree Community Church, is a college senior with plans to be a missionary in Africa. Raped by a masked assailant, Carrie is so traumatized she tells no one until she realizes she’s pregnant. Refusing to have an abortion, she must find the courage to face her family, her fiancé, her friends and a gossiping, angry congregation, which may include her attacker.  Can Carrie find the strength to cope with the secrets, silence, and shame?  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1938708067

Teresa Pollard is from Richmond, Virginia, and was saved at a young age. She has a Masters degree in English and Creative Writing from Hollins College, and has served as a Sunday School teacher and children’s worker for most of the last forty years. Married for forty years, she was devastated by divorce and the death of her youngest daughter, but God has blessed her with a new home and another grandson, and she now resides in Dacula, Georgia.

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I love the song, Blessings, by Laura Story.

In it, she sings about some of our greatest blessings coming through pain and trials. I’ve never lost  a child and can’t imagine the pain those who have must feel on a daily basis, but I have experienced trials. And I’ve found, it is often during my moments of greatest pain that I sense God the most. And it is often following intense periods of struggle that I experience my greatest freedom. But more than that, when I look at our world with all it’s pain and suffering, I’m reminded, and grateful, that this is not my home. No, God has something much better planned for those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose. But while we are here, through trial and triumph, what He longs for most is that we point others to Him and His life-saving gospel. For this time is short, and often wrought with pain. But eternity? That will be glorious, my friend, if you know the Lord. For those who don’t? Well, there’s still time to send out invitations. :)

Let’s talk about this. Are you or a loved one going through a difficult time right now? How might your response to pain reveal the depth of your faith? And what might that say to a watching, hurting world? Pause to think of what Teresa’s daughter did, shortly before her death. She used every last possible moment not to grow bitter or isolate, but instead, to reach out with the love that had taken hold of her, to spread hope.

Share your thoughts and stories in the comments before or on Facebook at Living by Grace.

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Today’s post comes from an author who has quickly become one of my favorite–Nikki Arana. Her recent novel, the Next Target, kept me up many nights. Not just because I wanted to keep reading, but also because once I set the book down, my heart continued to race. But more than that, her novel stirred my heart and challenged me to take my faith–my call–seriously.

If you haven’t read the Next Target, I strongly suggest you do. (Read my review here. Scroll down. There are two reviews posted and mine is the second one.) It’s a novel about determined, love-driven missions; about overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds; and surrendering fully to the call of Christ.

Nikki’s giving away a free copy of The Next Target to one lucky reader. To be entered in the drawing, leave a comment or tweet or FB share the link to this post then shoot me an email to let me know you did. And after you read it, let me know what you thought! I’d love to chat with you about this fabulous novel!

Today Nikki Arana, a woman passionate about Christ and reaching out to the Muslim community, shares some of her own struggles and what she’s learned through them as she seeks to follow God’s calling with all that is in her.

Count it Joy

I’m an author and sometimes I need words.

And Wednesday morning I needed encouraging words. You see I have been under constant attack for months. And I know why. It’s because God is prospering my ministry, A Voice for the Persecuted. I help Muslims who have converted to Christianity and are under the threat of death. Because of that Satan wages war against me, my family, my finances, and on and on. This morning was really no different than a hundred other mornings. But this morning I was tired. A lot is going on in my life, my mother just suffered a massive stroke, my father is in heart failure, we’ve had no income since last November. A glitch on Amazon that stopped my book promotion from beginning today sent me in a downward spiral. And for just a moment I forgot something . . .

I’ll start with when I learned of the problem. It was 4am. I got up to see if my novel The Winds of Sonoma was free on Kindle for the book giveaway promotion I have worked on for weeks. Blogs were set up, articles written, over 40 people involved in different aspects of the promotion. But the book wasn’t showing free! For whatever reason the promotion program had not initiated. After working with Amazon it was fixed, but to start tomorrow. I had to contact everyone involved with the change and they had to change all their pieces of the promotion. When I finally had all that done I took my hands off the key board, closed my eyes and asked God why. Why do You allow me to be attacked? Always in areas I have no control over. (As if we have control over anything!) Then, literally, as I opened my eyes, He answered.

Because I was in front of the computer screen, I saw the Oswald Chambers widget right on my own website. I’d been on the site trying to solve the problem. The title for Oswald’s devotion today was: The Habit of Rising to the Occasion. I clicked on it. And read:

God is the Master Designer, and He allows adversities into your life to see if you can jump over them properly—”By my God I can leap over a wall” (Psalm 18:29). God will never shield you from the requirements of being His son or daughter. First Peter 4:12  says, “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you . . . .” Rise to the occasion—do what the trial demands of you. It does not matter how much it hurts as long as it gives God the opportunity to manifest the life of Jesus in your body.

You can imagine how my eyes widened as I read. How is it that when the topics for My Utmost for His Highest were chosen that that is the one for this day in my life? Look at that first sentence. It doesn’t just kind of fit the question I asked of God just moments before. It is a direct, specific answer that couldn’t have been better worded if God and I were having a conversation in my office . . .

That brings me back to what I mentioned in that first paragraph. Reading that Oswald Chamber post made me realize that for a moment I had forgotten something. God is in control of my life. I gave it to Him. We were having a conversation in my office. And as I reread those words of wisdom, I couldn’t help but think of how God knew about that Wednesday morning before the foundations of the earth were laid. He is in control of everything and everything from God is good. I didn’t say everything that’s good comes from God. That is a very different statement. EVERYTHING from God is good. Even glitches and delays in book promotions. They are good because of all the things the verses noted above say. God is the master designer. With Him I can leap over every wall. I can rise to the occasion. And I can praise Him for the trials because they give Him opportunity to manifest the life of Jesus in my body. The words of James come to now. “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials.” Yes, I can do that today. Today I have the joy of the Lord.

Oh, and that promotion that didn’t start until a day late . . . it went to #1 in  its category!

The Next Target:

Would You Share Your Faith If It Would Cost You Your Life?  

It only took one bullet. Austia’s friend and student fell dead. And with a glimpse of a newspaper headline, the young and recently widowed Austia knows more about what happened than the police. From that fatal night, Austia’s secret outreach to the U.S. Muslim community—in the guise of English language classes—becomes a target. Local Muslim extremists set their sights on ending her ministry and even her life. And the women she ministers to will be next.

A thick web of deceit closes in around Austia, and her circle of friends becomes smaller by the day, even as she finally opens herself to the idea of falling in love again. But who can she trust? Facing a spiritual battle that proves more treacherous than it at first seemed, Austia’s convictions are tested to their limits and her heart becomes primed for breaking. She must ask herself: how much she will risk to stay true to her herself, her faith, and to the lives of the women she serves?

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Nikki Arana is an award-winning author of suspense, women’s fiction, essays, poetry, and magazine articles whose work has been published in the United States and Canada. She has won several national awards, including The Carol Award – twice, and the Beacon Award. Her book, The Winds of Sonoma was named One of the Top 20 Books of the Year by Christianbook.com.Nikki is also the recipient of the Excellence in Media Silver Angel Award. All of her books deal with social, political, and spiritual issues that confront society today. She is an experienced speaker and has presented numerous, highly successful workshops on the craft of writing. Nikki also serves persecuted Christians who are under the threat of death through her ministry, A Voice for the Persecuted. Her newest release, The Next Target, was inspired by her ministry. You can visit her website here: www.nikkiarana.com/blog  or as Nikki Arana, Author on Facebook.

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And here’s my question to you — Would you share your faith if it cost you your job, your friends … your life? Today at Living by Grace, we’re talking about that very thing.
Let’s talk about this! Join us at Living by Grace as we talk about counting the costs.

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I’m so grateful my salvation doesn’t depend on me and my good works. If it did, I’d fail big time. I spend way too many days thinking angry thoughts and gratifying my selfish will. I’m selfish, irritable, and discontent. I long for a servant’s heart, to be Christ’s hands and feet to a hurting world, but more times than not the monster within rises up and says, “What’s in it for me.” Praise be to God His love extends beyond my failings, and His strength extends beyond my weakness.

In Matthew 11:28-29, Jesus extends a beautiful invitation: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

In essence, He said, “Quit trying to earn My love. Simply come.”

When I think of a yoke, an image of yoked oxen comes to mind. When carrying the plough, the two must be in step with one another, and the load is much lighter spread between them. When we yoke with Jesus, we fall into step with Him, allowing Him to take the lead. Only He doesn’t ask us to share the load of our sin. He carried it all, and having paid the heavy price, He now invites us to come and rest. Today Kathi Woodall shares the moment this truth became real to her, with the help of a furry friend, Sylvester the Cat. :)

Sylvester & Tweety by Kathi Woodall

On my blog, in my classes, in my books, in my life, I talk a lot about Jesus. I talk about things like relationship, salvation, freedom, holiness, and resurrection. Why are all those things so important to me? Why do I care?
Forgive the child-like simplicity of this story, but, well, I was a child when it happened. Remember the old cartoons? You know, the good ones, like Looney Tunes. Whenever a cartoon character, such as Sylvester the Cat, had to make a decision, two more Sylvesters would show up, one dressed in an angelic robe and one decked out like Satan with a pointy tail and a pitchfork. They would then plead their case as to why Sylvester should or should not pop poor little Tweety Bird into his mouth.

Albeit incorrect, this imagery led to my first understanding of how we enter heaven. In my mind, I envisioned two similar characters in heaven standing by a dry-erase board. Of course it was a dry-erase board because I always thought they were so much cooler than chalkboards. To one side of the board was an angelic being in the white robes and golden halo. Her job was to make a mark each time I did something good or right. Shared my toys – got a mark. Finished my vegetable soup – got a mark. Went to bed when I was told – got a mark. Standing to the other side of the board was a more satanic being, complete with pointy tail. Her job was to make a mark when I did something bad. Yelled at my brothers – got a mark. Didn’t do what mom said – got a mark. Was mean to a friend – got a mark. My thinking was that, when I died, whichever side had the most marks would determine my eternal destination.

Riding home from church one Sunday, in the back seat of my parent’s car, something clicked inside me. It was a fabulous “light-bulb” moment. The marks didn’t matter, regardless of which side of the board they were on. When Jesus died on the cross, the board was wiped clean. The bad wouldn’t be held against me and the good wouldn’t increase my chances of going to heaven. I will spend eternity in heaven only because Jesus made it possible by sacrificing Himself on the cross and resurrecting three days later.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9, NKJ

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Kathi Woodall’s passion is to serve God through writing and teaching the truth of His Word, loving her husband, Jimmy, caring for their home, homeschooling their four daughters and serving in her church. To learn more about Kathi Woodall, please visit http://www.growbarefoot.com.

If you’d like to learn more about the Christian faith and how to become right with God, you can read the following:

What Are the Steps to Salvation

Salvation: Yes, You Can Know For Certain

As a side note, I made an error when I announced last week’s book winner. When I went to find the person’s email in my subscribers, they were no longer there. I’m not sure what happened, but as I have no way of contacting that person, I decided to draw again. This time Patricia won. Patricia, I’ll be sending you an email shortly to get your address. I hope you enjoy Eileen Rife’s novel, Second Chance. I did!

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