Moving to a Narrative Lectionary and Other Experiments in Worship!

Interactive Worship Art

It’s been awhile since I’ve written on this blog, having fallen off the daily reflection horse, it’s hard to get back on! But I am excited about a new phase of life we’re entering into at Friendship Presbyterian Church where I am the pastor and I’m going to use this blog to share our experience.

This fall we started what we’re referring to as a Season of Experimentation (again)… I say again because this community is no stranger to experimenting. In their short history they’ve merged and moved and lived deeply into their missional identity. We currently worship in the Norwood Park Train Station on the Northwest Side of Chicago. It’s a great space but limited in size and so this fall we are embarking on a Worship Experiment!

Here are the components of our experiment:

  • Moving from one service to two at 9am and 11am.
  • Incorporating and experimenting with a variety of worship styles, visual and theatrical arts, music and liturgy.
  • Moving from the RCL to the Narrative Lectionary offered by Luther Seminary on workingpreacher.org.
  • Over the course of this experiment our theme is: I AM and we are drawing on two questions offered by Diana Butler Bass in her book, Christianity After Religion. Who am I in God? & Who is God in me?

 

This is a three month experiment from Sept. 8 – Nov. 24th. For the first few weeks we are duplicating the service from 9 at 11 but in the next couple weeks the services will diverge… I think.

I will be posting thoughts on worship, liturgy and sermons from the series here. If you’d like to learn more about our community or this experiment check out my article about it on our website here.

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Beginning Lent: 2.15.2013

Ash Wednesday Reflection: Letting Go

Lent invites us to look closely, to peer into the darkness of the deep winter and into the crevices of our hearts…

The imagery of this season – the season of Lent – is stark.

Grey and slate skies and black lines outlining trees with no apparent life, showing no sign of the possibility of growth hidden deep in their roots.

Light giving way to darkness so early in our days, revealing what we have energy for and what must be relinquished to the winter fatigue.

Tonight our candlelight illuminates our hopes and fears – magnifying both, inviting us to examine our own hearts, to look and see what is casting a shadow on our ability

To love on another

To grow towards wholeness

To return to God

Much as Jesus will enter the desert to pray and fast for forty days, Lent offers us a landscape that calls us to look at our lives from a new perspective, what will we relinquish to God?

What are we clinging to?

What holds us back?

What hems us in and makes us afraid?

I invite you to take a moment and reflect… to remember how deeply loved you are, and how God longs for your return.

Your offering this lenten season is your willingness to give up what holds you back, what stands between you and those you love, what keeps you from knowing the fullness of God’s love.

What will you offer to return to God?

Peace, Shawna

Musical Mediation
Be Still
The Fray

(From our Ash Wednesday Taizé Service at Friendship Presbyterian Church.)

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Use Your Words, September 13.2012

James 3: 5-9
So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.
How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!
And the tongue is a fire.
The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell.
For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue-a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.

The author of James is not kidding around, after making several metaphors of how the human tongue sets the course and manages our behaviors he compares the tongue in these verses to a fire. And not just a small campfire, no he’s talking about a wild and uncontrollable forest fire, an all consuming hellish fire…

James does a great job living into the negative aspect of this metaphor. As many of us have experienced, whether it has been our own tongue that has gotten us in trouble or another’s that has been used against us, the fallout of such an experience does seem to spread like a wildfire burning out of control doesn’t it?

On the other hand, we know that fire can be the light in the darkness that guides us home. That a well tended fire can sustain and nurture us, it can produce heat for food and warmth on a cold night. A fire burning brightly on the tip of a candle wick can symbolize an attitude of prayer, peacefulness, even celebration.

James is warning his people of the danger of words that are cast about with the intention of hurting another, of putting someone in their place. He warns of the danger of using words to paint an image of ourselves that is unrealistic or deceptive. He warns us to be careful as people of faith not to say words about who we are and about God that we aren’t willing to live into. He speaks not as an outsider but as insider, one who has experienced first hand both the blessing of words spoken in genuine love and the pain brought forth by words used carelessly or destructively.

I remember when my children were small and first learning to speak. Speaking words was an effort, it took time, thoughtfulness and intention. When they would get frustrated they would resort instead to crying or yelling and we would say to them, “use your words.” We wanted them to use their words to describe what they needed, what they were thinking and how they were feeling.

We learn at a very young age that words are the secret to communication, words give us a way to express ourselves, to tell our stories and to speak up for ourselves. We live in a world of almost constant communication, words are being emailed, posted, blogged, texted, spoken, sung, written, yelled, whispered and spelled out, back and forth between us, constantly filling up all the spaces between us.

What are the quality of the words you exchange in the length of a day? How often are you exchanging information, telling your story, asking for help and offering to help another? How often do the words you speak to others mirror the words you speak to God in prayer?

James invites us to be intentional with our tongues. To match our words about God and to God with the words we send into the universe all day every day.

May your words be a warm fire that sustains another,
May the words of your family, friends and community nurture you,
May you refrain from using words that will destroy another,
May you listen as often as you speak and
May your words be a blessing to those who have long been silenced,
May your words encourage them to speak up and tell their own story,
And may all our words together honor God forever.
AMEN

Peace, Shawna

Musical Mediation
Man On Fire 
Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros 
(PS: I love this video 🙂 )

(Yesterday the image wasn’t working in my reflection post, I’d love for you to see it because I drew it for just that occasion, you can find it if you click here!)

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Two-face Jesus? September 12.2012

MARK 8:27-33
Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that I am?”
And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them,
“But who do you say that I am?”
Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

I don’t know about you, but when I read this text I really feel for Peter. First, it seems as if Jesus is baiting the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” What are folks saying about me?” And it’s Peter who seems to land on the right answer, declaring Jesus the “Messiah”. This is no small title. For the first time in Mark’s Gospel Jesus has been identified as the one for whom the community has been waiting. Peter steps forward and makes an audacious claim, Jesus is not simply a devout Jew, not just a really compelling Rabbi, not only a prophet but the Messiah.

For a people who can’t seem to get ahead, who are constantly under the thumb of the ruling class, who are pushed to the outside again and again this is a scandalous statement. It’s brave and crazy to imagine that finally, the one who will save them — who will bring them justice and win the day — has come.
And just as shockingly Jesus confirms this news. But then, in an even more incredible twist he goes on to describe what is about to unfold in the days and weeks ahead. Rather than triumph and power he describes a scene of violence and death. His death. He paints a picture of those who will turn against him, his own people, the ruling class, the government, even his own friends.

I grieve for Peter in this moment… this isn’t at all what he thought he was describing when he declared Jesus the Messiah. The one who comes to save them will be arrested and put to death in the most shameful of ways? Peter’s head must have been reeling when he pulled Jesus aside and demanded an explanation.

Have you ever signed up for something and then found out it wasn’t at all what you thought? It required much more from you than you expected? Have you ever believed in someone with your whole heart? Thrown your whole self into following and supporting them only to discover that they weren’t quite what you thought? Maybe you romanticized or idolized them and then they turned around and got real… it turned out they were more than what you imagined, more complex than simply meeting your personal needs.
In this crucial moment Peter finds out that what he thought would save him didn’t look at all like the salvation he’d hoped for. This was his first glimpse at what loving Christ would cost him and at God’s vision for reconciliation that didn’t entail a hostile takeover but instead included a road right through the valley of death before it would emerge into the beauty of a mountaintop resurrection story that could heal the world.

Sometimes it’s those crucial moments, when the rug is pulled out from under us, when the veil is lifted, when we’re confronted by the complexity of life and we begin to see the raw, messy and hard truth of it; in these moments we learn who we truly are and who we are truly called to be.

Peter’s life will never be the same, he’s looked into the eyes of his Messiah and seen the truth. This isn’t the Messiah that he expected but it is the one the world desperately needs.

May the many faces of Christ take you by surprise,
And stretch your imagination,
May the cause of love that is bigger than winning,
and larger than just one life,
turn your expectations on their head.
May this surprising Messiah who is more than we could ever expect
continue to bring new  life to darkest places in your life,
and healing to the world.
AMEN

Peace, Shawna

Musical Mediation
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
Rolling Stones

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Absorbing God, September 11. 2012

PSALM 19:1-3 & 14
The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
  
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

Psalm 19 is a beautiful Psalm, it declares all the beauty of the earth to be the voice of God. It goes on for many verses claiming that God is like the sun whose heat radiates and extends across the earth. Nothing escapes it’s light and warmth. Later in the Psalm the psalmist makes this same claim about the laws of God.

Often times when we hear the word law we think of rules that we shouldn’t break or precepts that are meant to keep us safe but so much of God’s law is about how we understand ourselves in relationship to God and one another. How do you understand the idea of God’s law? Is it something you feel you have to mind like traffic rules or other regulations? Or does God’s law give you guidance in your most important relationships?

In the story of the Israelites, God’s people are invited again and again to write God’s laws on the hearts. To move towards God while caring for and loving one another. The Psalmist ends this beautiful prose by getting personal. Instead of leaving off only describing who God is the author writes this prayer for himself, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

It’s common to hear this prayer before the sermon in the course of a worship service but the Psalmist isn’t using it as an introduction to an official proclamation moment. Instead, it’s almost as if it’s a reflection or response to who God is. It could serve as a daily prayer or mantra. In light of God’s willingness to enter into relationship with humanity, to enter into the darkness and the shadows, to warm our hearts and to write on them the story of who we are the Psalmist makes this commitment. To respond to the beauty and graciousness of God by mirroring God in their own life and relationships. To absorb God in order to be more like God.

It’s such a simple phrase isn’t it? And yet such a difficult one to live out. I know I am likely to jump in with criticism or sarcasm, ready to shut down someone I disagree with or misunderstand. I often feel the need to be heard or to win in a heated debate. What happens to our relationships to one another when being heard trumps truly hearing another?

There are times in which speaking up and speaking out is necessary but I wonder how turning to God like we turn our faces to the sun and absorb it’s warmth on a summer day might change our tone or capacity for compassion in the most tense or troublesome  moments.

May all that you are God,
all that you have created,
bubble up within us so that
every word that escapes our lips,
every thought in our heads
and every feeling in our hearts,
be an extension of you, O God,
to whom we turn to and rely on.
AMEN
Peace, Shawna
Musical Mediation
Beautiful God
Shawn McDonald

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Lady Wisdom is a Street Preacher, September 10. 2012

PROVERBS 1:20-23
Wisdom cries out in the street;
in the squares she raises her voice.
At the busiest corner she cries out;
at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
and fools hate knowledge?
Give heed to my reproof;
I will pour out my thoughts to you;
I will make my words known to you.

I love this image… this character of God. The street preacher, the prophetess. She cries out to us to be attentive, to be filled with the wisdom she offers us. Can you hear her calling out to you?

What does it mean to hate knowledge, or to resist wisdom? I don’t think the character of Wisdom is speaking of intellectual intelligence here. Don’t get me wrong, I have an intense appreciation for intellectual curiosity but the knowledge Wisdom is proclaiming and desperate to share is a knowledge we carry not only in our minds but our hearts and in our whole bodies. It is a knowledge she is inviting us to embody. She is inviting us to get to know God with our whole being.

In our American culture we have established institutions of learning and we think of knowledge as a consumable project, mostly for our brains. We amass words and books and research and formulas. We conduct experiments and read charts and graphs and take surveys. All of this information is filed and processed and sometimes we connect it and integrate it and sometimes it’s in one ear and out the other, we hold onto it fleetingly while we need it and then let it go, allowing new information to take it’s place.

The knowledge of God that Wisdom offers us isn’t imparted in the way we’ve become accustomed to. The secrets of God, the beauty and gravity, the enormity and generosity of God is learned in simple practices like walking along the road with another, daily prayer and in the small tasks that contribute to truly loving one another. The Wisdom of God passes through the eyes of a child, a grandmother, or a stranger.

This embodied experience of God is hidden in unexpected packages. It comes in the redemption found at the very bottom of the pit of darkness, under the scab of broken relationships where the healing is just beginning, and in the still, still voice at the center of your being. Wisdom is that street preacher or vagrant woman you pass unawares. Wisdom is hidden in the depths of the most ordinary people and practices of your day-to-day life.

May Wisdom be your teacher,
May you stop to peer into Wisdom’s eyes,
May you pause long enough to suss her out,
To hear her voice whispering in your ear,
May she fill you with the special knowledge of God,
So that you will be Wisdom too.
AMEN
Peace, Shawna
Musical Mediation
Mumford and Sons with Birdy
Learn Me Right

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Paparazzi, July 20. 2012

Mark 6: 53-56
When they [Jesus and the disciples] had crossed over, 
they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 
When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 
and rushed about that whole region 
and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 
And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, 
they laid the sick in the marketplaces, 
and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; 
and all who touched it were healed.

 When I read this text the only current-day-scene in which I can imagine a similar circumstance, that is, people running around following one person hoping for a touch, a glance or a word is our culture’s obsession with the famous among us. Whether rockstar, movie star or simply rich and famous these are the folks in our culture that draw on what seems to be an almost primal neediness. The willingness to ‘follow’ them to the ends of the earth. What inspires us to stand in long lines and flock to their appearances?

Was Jesus the rockstar of the Gospel era? Did people long after him because he was famous? Rich? Powerful? No, it doesn’t seem so. The text tells us that those who came desperately seeking his attention and ministry were the sick, the powerless, the broken. They were drawn to Jesus not for his earthly power but for his holy capacity to heal, to proclaim peace.

Often times we talk about the decline of church in the same way we talk about marketing a product or a superstar. We consider our ‘target audience’. What might ‘sell’ we ask ourselves? Our culture has shaped us to believe that our only way into relationship is transactional. We are overwhelmed by the consumer experience and the consumer story. What do you have that I need? How much is it going to cost me?

But what of the sick? What of those who seek wholeness and healing? Where do I go if I need to tell my story? What are my options for a community that will accept me, feed and nurture me? Where do I turn to ask hard questions about brokenness, despair, about God? How do we know that we are marked by God? Loved and protected by that which is bigger than just one of us?

Jesus offers a timeless counter-cultural narrative. What Jesus offers isn’t for sell. It’s free. You can’t earn it and it can’t be used up or worn out. It’s infinite. It can’t be bought or sold or selfishly hoarded. It belongs to everyone. It crosses every social, political and religious boundary. No one is left out.

“And all who touched the fringe of his cloak were healed.”

The healing love and infinite grace of Jesus was the word on the street in the Gospel of Mark. Is it the word on the street of the neighborhoods and communities where we practice our faith? How do we become conduits of healing? How do we make for peace in a violent world?

If you are in need of the healing love of Jesus,
May you reach out and touch the fringe of his cloak,
May you move towards wholeness
and have loving companions for the journey.
May you also be a conduit of the healing touch,
The bold and unbidden forgiving love of Christ,
And the deep and boundless grace of God.
AMEN

Peace,
Shawna

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A Time To Rest, July 19. 2012

Mark 6:30-32
The apostles gathered around Jesus,
and told him all that they had done and taught.
He said to them, ”
Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”
For many were coming and going,
and they had no leisure even to eat.
And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 

Feelings of busyness and exhaustion (even the working hard kind) means our bodies have gone into survival mode and this includes our heads and hearts as well. When I consider the most exhausting time in my life I remember my final months of seminary.

A lot happened over my three years in seminary. I became a single parent through a heart breaking and identity shifting divorce; I was confronted with theology, worldviews and biblical history that rocked the foundations of my personal story and Christian identity. I learned through my required experience as a summer chaplain that the only way to truly and authentically care for another was to confront and attend to my own brokenness with vulnerability and authenticity (also that this is a life’s work and try as I might I couldn’t rush it or do it perfectly).

On top of all of that I easily read over one hundred books, articles and blogs, I wrote papers, some excellent and some so off the mark I was “invited to write them again.” I did projects and wrote curriculum and children’s stories and painted the scriptures in my own language. I lost countless nights of sleep reading, working, writing and talking to seminary friends as we wrestled with and attempted to internalize all this information.

I remember in the final days of my last semester standing in line at the Starbucks near my seminary. I looked at the menu and seriously considered purchasing the giant boxed coffee for 8-12 people, just for myself. I remember thinking to myself, “I am so tired.” In my head, I had this conversation with my body: “You can do this body, just a few more days, I know you’re exhausted, hungry for quiet meals and full nights of sleep, I know you’ve been pushed to the very limit but seriously, a few more days and then we can sleep.”

It wasn’t very long after graduation that I was able to look back on this experience and ask myself some hard questions. Why did I believe I had to get through graduate school in three years like everyone else? How had my relationships suffered as I plowed through this experience single-mindedly?  Was there a little pride and stubbornness mixed in there with my sense of call? Why the sense of urgency, the tremendous immediacy? Even in the gospel of Mark where almost every story is punctuated with the urgent word immediatelyJesus says,

“Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”
Find your own ‘deserted places’ whether in small momentary doses or daylong retreats. Full and fulfilling lives don’t have to equal crazy busy ones. The pace at which we live and move will naturally ebb and flow throughout our lives, at times it will pick up and at other it may even feel as if it is crawling. Jesus invites us to pay attention to the pace. To take time to rest in God no matter what speed we are traveling.

Stop,
Breathe,
And listen to the quiet spaces,
Trust,
God will be with you if the quiet produces tears,
God will be present if the quiet causes laughter,
God will move in your heart if the quiet exposes wounds,
God will protect you if the quiet uncovers fears,
God will surround you with love
and the quiet will bring God’s companionship.
AMEN

Peace,
Shawna

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Overflow, July 18. 2012

Psalm 23
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. 
God makes me lie down in green pastures; 
God leads me beside still waters; 
God restores my soul. 
God leads me in right paths for God’s name’s sake. 
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; 
For you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me. 
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; 
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, 
And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.
The 23rd Psalm might be one of the most inviting poems ever written. The Psalmist invites the reader into a visual world of peace and rest. Even the darkest valleys cannot overshadow the care and attending of the one who calls us each beloved.

This Psalm has functioned to comfort the sick and dying and the mourning. But it also invites us to consider our blessings. How has God anointed your head with oil? What does this even mean? An anointing can be for healing, to mark the holy or to set someone aside for a particular role or work. How has God marked you?

We are each marked as God’s beloved and our cups overflow. What is overflowing in your cup today?

I have to admit that on days like today I get so caught up in the busyness, in the tasks and conversations, in the worry about getting things done and crossing things off my list I nearly forget to breathe let alone stop and acknowledge that my cup is overflowing with utter beauty and the gifts of friendship, love, community and conversations that fill my life not the tasks and details that I am allowing to either distract or overwhelm me.

Someone I know posts a list (on facebook) at the end of each day of what they’re thankful for. If you’re like me you might find this, well, annoying… cynically I think to myself, “Wow, how can she be so thankful? No one is this thankful everyday!” And then I realize it’s a spiritual practice, a discipline to get to the end of our days, the end of a year, even the end of lifetime and say,

“This. This is how my cup is overflowing. This my blessing and my anointing. This is how God has marked me for service and relationship in the world. Thanks be to God.”
So, what’s on your Thanksgiving list today?

Even if it’s silly or simple or cheesy,
write it down or pray it out loud
and give thanksgiving to the God
that says, “you are mine”,
“you are beloved”
and “you do not walk this path alone”.
AMEN

Peace,
Shawna

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Saving Face, July 13. 2012

Mark 6:26-29
King Herod was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
Once again we’re confronted with the dramatic events of the beheading of the Prophet John the Baptizer. What is interesting to me in this portion of the text is King Herod’s willingness to sacrifice John the Baptist for the sake of saving face in front of his guests. The text says that while it grieved him to do so, he could not bear to deny his daughter (really deny his wife on whose behalf his daughter had made the request) and did not want to embarrass himself in front of his guests.
To our ears this sound horrific and ridiculous. What, I wonder had King Herod thought his daughter might request when he promised her anything she wished? When he promised her half his kingdom?

But how often do we make sacrifices in order to save face? How often do we sacrifice one another, whether because we don’t come to one another’s defense or blame the actions of another for our own failures in life and relationships? It’s a harsh question but one that King Herod dramatically illustrates. Why does the pleasure of his guests win out over the very life of John the Baptist? How do their positions as guests, and their higher ranking social standing make their needs and desires, no matter how foolish, a priority over the life of a wandering Prophet?

King Herod also makes this sacrifice in order to keep the peace of his own household. According to the Gospel of Mark it was his wife Herodias who wished to destroy John the Baptist because he had questioned the morality of her marriage to King Herod. Have you ever sacrificed your own beliefs? Your own intuition? Your own voice in order to maintain a relationship with another person or community? What is the quality of our relationships if we are asked to sacrifice parts of ourselves in order to maintain a relationship?

Self-sacrifice is long held as a necessary part of the Christian life, and I do believe that in living into loving relationships and authentic communities we will make sacrifices. We will be faced with choices and be called upon to discern what to let go of and what to pick up in the process of following Christ. However, I also believe that there is a difference between making scarifies and becoming the sacrifice itself.

Herod forced John the Baptist to pay the price for his need to save face, to be approved of and to maintain relationships. Fair or not, Herod’s wife plays the role, in this version of events, as the enemy of life. She intends to solve conflict with violence, to answer the question John the Baptist raises of her relationship to King Herod with a deathblow.

How can we answer conflict with love and honesty? When we are asked to sacrifice ourselves or someone else in order to maintain a relationship is there a third way? A way forward that moves us towards reconciliation rather than violence?

May you find the third way,
The way that is grounded in love,
That requires humility and yet the
Courage to speak the truth,
Do not lose yourself, and do not sacrifice another,
Hold your truths together and be open to transformation.
AMEN

Peace,
Shawna

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