out of the darkness: the "A" word–abortion

the a word

it’s summer, and i’m definitely down to posting once a week at best; that’s plenty for right now.  i have been in the midst of typical refuge nuttiness, which i am trying to really embrace as the glory and beauty of real community together.  life in the trenches, healing, growing, learning, giving, stretching is hard and wonderful work, and sometimes i wake up and say “well, i guess this is what you asked for, isn’t it?” right now we are working the 12 steps together at our wednesday eve house of refuge.  i have been integrating material from several different sources into a workshop-y format that is refuge-style & have been amazed by the small & big shifts many are making as we focus on this season of intentional change (if you are at all interested in the personal journaling/processing material, let me know and i’ll be glad to share it with you).  at the same time, it’s been kicking my butt!  but i can proudly say i have taken some hard relational steps to shift some unhealthy patterns that i’ve been stuck in for the past 3 ½ years (well, longer than that, but planting the refuge definitely magnified them).   real love doesn’t always look like what we’ve been taught. i believe an important mission of the church is to teach nuts and bolts kinds of ways on how-to-become-a-more-loving-human-being-in-relationship-with-yourself-and-God-and-others.  anyway, i’m thankful for my courageous friends who aren’t afraid to go to hard places and be honest about their bullsh*t; they make me want to keep moving closer to God, closer to me, closer to others & find out what that really means.  well, that’s a brief check-in on me.  i appreciate your readership & am glad that somehow through the carnival craziness you are being challenged, gaining courage, and finding some weird hope here and there.

it’s time to pick up with another contribution to the “out of the darkness” series.  if you are just now reading, you catch up on previous posts here. i have been wanting to write this post for a long time about “the A word.”  not adultery.  the other flaming A–abortion. it was recently inspired by this video on my friend craig spinks site, recycle your faith.  it was such a lovely piece but i was so disturbed by the comments that were shared on youtube in response. yes, i know it’s a hot topic and creates much controversy and there are people whose full-time jobs and lives are to advocate against it.  but i think what bothered me so much about it is just how stinking mean some of the comments were.  i mean how could “have an abortion=burn in hell” be anything in the same realm as loving like Jesus?

so i wanted to bring a personal story to the table. i’ve already shared a piece of it here.  it is not painful anymore for me to talk about, so i am not going to use a different name or use the exact same format as the other out of the darkness interviews.  i’m just going to tell you what it has been like for me over the years as a christian woman who had an abortion when i was in high school.  and though i have been speaking publicly & writing about it for the past 12 years, there are some that don’t know this part of my journey.  i am guessing high school & college friends who link to this blog through facebook will wonder how they never knew.  but for those of us who have had abortions, we can probably all say how easy it is to try to hide, to keep the truth of our stories buried, to try to forget, especially in the church where the topic comes up more than anyone who hasn’t had one probably even notices.

i am not going to get into the politics of it; it’s just too complicated and i believe completely unnecessary in the moment.  the part that i want to address is the fall-out from it & how terribly easy it is to keep it hidden in the darkness, especially in church.

when i was 17, the summer before my senior year, i found out i was pregnant.  it was of course devastating and scary; the worst part for me is that my mom had my brother when she was 17 and i had seen how much she struggled & scraped to make ends meet after not going to college.  in the moment, my boyfriend wanted to get married and have the baby and try to figure it out.  his parents had recently become christians and they were good people but very unsure on how to help.  i felt a lot of pressure to not repeat the pattern my mom had and to get an abortion and move on with my life.  there were so many crazy iterations of what to do and what not to do in the moment, but in the end i went through with it.  i found a doctor who performed a DNC, broke up with my boyfriend a few weeks later (his call, not mine), stuffed as far down as i possibly could (and it can go down deep) the shame and pain of what had just happened, entered into my senior year of high school filled with a great sadness that no one had any idea about, and was crowned homecoming queen a few months after that.

looking back, it was completely nuts.  but in talking to many other women over the years who have had abortions, the patterns are usually similar.  it starts with great fear about what to do.  anger at ourselves for ending up there in the first place.  then in some way, shape, or form, making the decision to go through with it.  all of the shame and ickiness and pain of the procedure and the aftermath.  pretending it didn’t happen and moving on with our lives.  and then over time realizing that it’s very hard not to think about it every day and hate ourselves more and more with each passing moment.

for me, it wasn’t that hard to hide.  i had become a very good hider at an early age, keeping the peace and making sure everyone around me was happy with me.  i am the classic good-girl.  and most good girls (and i think especially “christian” good girls) are hiding something, not necessarily specific acts like an abortion, but usually there are hidden negative feelings, inappropriate behaviors no one knows about, self-hatred, and deep insecurities.  so like so many other women who have had abortions, i hid, pretended it never happened, and did my best to blend in the christian world.  i graduated from college, went straight to graduate school & a full-full-full-time job, got married, and continued to do everything i could to “prove” to myself (and sometimes overtly, often covertly, to God) that my decision wasn’t for no reason.  i was going to make something of myself, dammit!  inside, though, my heart was filled with unforgiveness and shame.  my husband had no idea this was part of my story; there was absolutely no way i was going to tell him and risk being ditched, especially after keeping it from him for a nice chunk of years.  i couldn’t for the life of me accept Christ’s forgiveness; i could spout out about it for everyone else, but when it came to me, in the deep places of my heart, i always felt dirty, shameful, and unforgiveable.  this played out subtly in all kinds of ways—in my relationship with jose, myself, and God.  i pulled off what looked like real relationship, but somehow i always felt separated, unworthy, distanced, unable to really receive anything good.

so i worked harder, tried harder, hid harder.  it actually wasn’t that hard to do, and i always say my dysfunction brought me great success in the church!  i honestly think if i hadn’t ended up in a crazy women’s group my dear friend was facilitating (check out her recent book—church on the couch: why the church needs therapy, it’s really excellent!) i might not have ever come clean about the shame i was hiding in the darkness.  but somehow, through a wacky move of the Holy Spirit & a burst of a temporary fleeting moment of not protecting myself like i was so used to, i ended up saying it out loud to another woman in my group.  then i told jose (it was one of the most powerful moments in our marriage).  then i told the group (they were always the most amazing listeners).  what was once hidden was brought into the light, and i felt shame’s power begin to be broken. then i started the brutal hard work of letting God into all the emotional and spiritual collateral damage that was not just connected to the abortion but to my unhealthy patterns that surrounded far more than just that one decision.

it took me well over a year to even say the word “abortion” (i would call it the ‘A’ word).  i remember my friends being so proud of me when i could say the real word.  i began to stop lying when i went to my yearly OB/GYN appointments and they asked questions about how many pregnancies i had.  i began to scare people who were used to me being “nice” with my honesty about how i sometimes felt about myself, about God.  and over time, i began to feel more free and integrate the reality of what had happened into my story.  as i began sharing it more openly i have been continually amazed by how many other women out there share the same experience.  the thing we most often have in common:  the shame and pain of hiding, the way it affects our relationship with God & others & ourselves, and never really being able to talk freely about it in safe places.

part of this out of the darkness series is really focusing in a reminder for all of us what we can learn both personally and corporately how to both be safer for people who are desperate to come out of the darkness and also to find hope for ourselves when things hidden are ruining our freedom and peace.  i feel passionate about reminding people that there are real people, with real stories, real struggles, real hearts behind the hot topics of abortion and homosexuality. and when you are talking about these issues, please do not forget that someone sitting right across from you might have had an abortion, had a girlfriend or partner who had one, or be gay.  i can’t tell you the number of times i have been in christian circles (or my kids have been victims of christian-school-craziness-related-to-this-issue-and-it-really-stinks-when-your-mom-is-the-person-they’re-talking-about) where there is a blatant disregard for the reality of other’s stories.  remember, assuming is dangerous.  and i know so many women who are afraid to say something for good, good reason.

here’s what i always, always hope for the body of Christ—that we’d be a safe container for the messiest, ugliest, scariest part of people’s stories and experiences, in the way that Jesus was concerned with people’s real stories and taught us that when we are poor in spirit we will see him. that the “high places” which have been culturally constructed by churches, by christians, would be smashed down and we’d be willing to live in the place where grace seems to pool the most—the low places.   abortion is a low place in people’s experience.  and left unhealed, hidden, festering, it is probably causing trouble in the ways of love.  every person’s experience is different, and i would never want to make assumptions for anyone else, but i think i can confidently say this:  there’s lots of us in church.  in your neighborhoods.  in the places where you work.  in your families.  we don’t wear a big A on our chest, but many are scared to share their story because of shame; we are afraid to put it out there for fear of being rejected, judged, fixed, or pressured to come up with all the right answers.  every person’s experience is different, and i can only speak from mine.   but the greatest healing in my life came from a safe place to be honest, reckon with the damage from my past and how it was messing with my present, and have some other people who loved me unconditionally despite.  through them, i met the real Jesus, the healer, the restorer, the lover of those that felt the most unlovely.

please be kind with my story. and with others you hear along the way; it might not be about abortion but about a myriad of other things that cause shame & hiding, not just in “the church.”  and if you haven’t told yours yet because you’re just too afraid, please know you are not alone.  beauty can come out of ashes. and for most of us who have come out of the darkness & into the light, that beauty starts with telling the truth in a safe, hope-full place.  sometimes that’s enough.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

26 Comments

  • I don’t think I knew this part of your story, so thank you so much for sharing it. There’s a story behind every person. It would benefit us all to listen for it before we go off on “issues”. Thanks for the reminder and exhortation. You are one of my favorite pastors.

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  • Hey Kathy …

    What to write that doesn’t sound bald? I, too, am a member of this sorry sorority. Thank you for writing this piece.

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  • Kathy – thanks for your courage and love in sharing your story. very powerful. transparency is a beautiful thing – it lets the light shine through.

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  • You brave, amazing woman. So many people need to hear your healing words…not only those who have had abortions, but those who have been in any place that fosters such shame in the church.

    You are so right that making one significant choice not only causes repercussions related to that choice, but in many other areas of life. We can end up changing our entire personality or lifestyle to hide the pain. I have been there…and am so thankful for finally having come so far towards real freedom. I hope and pray your words will bring freedom to those who need it.

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  • Kathy, I too, love your transparency and boldness. Thank you so much for your passionate witness and voice. You area great gift to Christ’s church.

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  • very well said

    and so very very true

    I’ve never dealt w abortion but I do know what its like to hide one of the many ‘taboo’ topics as a christian and sit through the countless conversations about ‘those’ people kind of sitting still hoping people cant hear you heart pounding as much as you can

    Christains need to really really try to remember that every topic is not just a topic, but the deep in the lives of real people, many real people who might be right there.. and harsh words can be damaging and this christian life is suppose to be all about healing

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  • thank you Kathy again for sharing and for your honesty. And you are once again getting a spot in my blog – I so believe in the same things as you for us as His Church. That’s my dream that we would be what you just said.

    Love,

    Mimosa

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  • I agree with you sincerely. I have been on both sides of the “issues.” The dogmatic preacher and the silent guilty. Unfortunately, due to the christian circles that I grew up in, both at the same time. Fortunately, due to loving friends, the 12 step program (that turned into a 48 step), much counseling and a loving wife I have deconstructed enough of my life to at lease see where I am not living honestly.

    I am one who desires to live truthfully, but has a harder time when it comes to expressing it in a palatable way. I have learned to keep silent rather than to cause ripples.

    I have heard of “speaking the truth in love” but have only witnessed it between close friends.

    Well I wish I could type more but I have to go, Please stay in touch.

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  • Hey Kathy, I always love hearing about your story. It gives me hope. Lately I’m all stopped up and can’t talk about anything. For some reason I have this idea that sharing what is going on inside of me, is a weakness. That those I would choose to share with won’t want to hear about it or tire of it. Isn’t that strange considering what the refuge was founded on. Anyhow…thanks for sharing your story and being vulnerable. It’s something I am able to experience less and less of lately.

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  • Kathy, I love you and I love your blog. Thanks for sharing your hurt and pain. And the book rec! My new husband is a therapist himself and I think he should read it! ^_^
    Also, I’ve been posting stuff about women in leadership on my blog and it feeds into my FB. The comments… oy. -__- Maybe I’ll tag you from now on so you can give a response, if you like. =)
    Loving you here in NYC, Chinatown!
    =) Jasmine

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  • Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful heart and your story. It feels strange that after reading about something so deeply painful, that the main impression I’m left with is beauty. I know I’ve seen the same thing in other friends’ stories too. It’s not the “my life was hell and then I accepted Christ and now everything is fixed” story, which frankly is not beautiful to me any more. But the honesty without shame is beautiful; who you are, having come through that is beautiful; the compassion and gentleness you have for other people’s stories is beautiful; the fact that you don’t have to tell the story in a way that makes it seem like everything is fixed is beautiful; the passion you have for the suffering is beautiful. Thanks for opening all that up to us.

    I have some pondering to do about the role of “assumption” in Christian community. That has been a big source of shame for me, whether it’s something small like people assuming that everybody has quiet times (ummm…) to the big stuff, like same-sex attraction or what it means that you grew up in a Christian family. Sometimes it feels like you get brainwashed in assumptions. Especially growing up Christian. Everyone tells you what Christians are like so much that there’s almost no way to go except split your real self off from your Christian self. And don’t even get me started about how “We’re happy and fulfilled because we have Christ, but all non-believers are empty and unfulfilled because they don’t…even if they don’t realize how unhappy they are.” Yeah…didn’t work for me.

    But I also realize how many assumptions I used to make because that’s what I’d always been told, and because I was too young to have grasped reality much. That makes me really sad. I wonder how many people I hurt. And I really wonder how I can teach my kids not to assume; how to keep the balance between innocence and reality for them. Hmmm.

    Thanks again, Kathy.

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  • Hey Kath – WOW – ok? Are you familiar with Ramah International and/or “Her Choice to Heal” by Sydna Masse. I have it, I read it, I want to give it to a friend… BUT I don’t know if it would be taken as helpful and loving or forceful and comdemning. If you know what I’m talking about, and I know each woman’s experience is going to be their own, I could use your guidance on this one – this blog was an answer to my prayers (literally!). I never would have guessed when I saw the preview that this piece was going to be about you – it really puts a twist on some of the advice you gave me as a young teenager, I can clearly now see you were trying to help me avoid much of the huge pain you were dealing with at that very moment. Of course back then I thought you were “perfect” and had never made a “bad” decision in your life – you were playing the part well, weren’t you? 😉 I just love you so much and appreciate the role you played in my life back then, and are again now! You challenge me in the best ways and I am REALLY growing in my walk with God and others. Thank you for your honesty – you are so awesome!

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  • Kathy, along with the others, I thank you for the honesty with which you have shared your story. I especially appreciated your remarks about the need to the church to be a safe place. So often that phrase comes to mean something completely different–protecting the “righteous” from “bad influences”, which creates huge alienation with hurting people, not to mention shame among the ones who play along and wear the mask for fear of being rejected for their secrets. Stories like this remove the sense of blackmail. Thanks for reminding us what it means to be a safe place for people.

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  • I continue to be blessed by the safe community you allow to grow through this blog. Thank you. 30 plus years ago I drove a friend to an abortion clinic in a different county. The one we were in bragged about their zero abortion rate. They attributed it to their “good Christian” living. They were unwilling to even think their “good kids” could be having abortions at a referral rate that made them the highest per capita county in the nation. Ouch. When I think about all those silently hurting young ladies I want to scream. My friend did not know who the father was. Her long distance boyfriend at the time paid for it but broke up with her a few months later. I often wonder how guys are effected (if they even know) about abortions they are a part of. I am sure for some it is an emotionally painful process as well, and maybe even more difficult to talk about.

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  • Kathy, thanks for being real…I chersish real moments with a passion…as they are truly sacred….I need to come to Colorado soon and give you and Jose a fuerte abrazo latino…

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  • hi all, sorry for the late response. it’s always wild around here during the summer with 5 kiddos home. i have so appreciated all of the comments & emails & ways that people have connected with these out of the darkness stories…thanks for reading & for taking time to comment. it means more than you know…

    randy – i miss you! i hope we can catch up soon but i am glad that we can stay in touch this way. yes, a lot more listening a lot less judging is always better, there’s no doubt.

    davida – come down and hang out soon! maybe a little voca femina party? there’s one monday!

    sonja – i always love the words you use…”bald”….so good. i am proud to know you from afar & loved your piece last year.

    elaine – thanks my friend. it was nice talking to you today. thanks for all you do to encourage bridge-building conversations and love for all in the kingdom.

    erin – i am so with you, it’s not about abortion but about shame and hiding, no matter what pain it is. how sad, eh, that the one place there should be the least of it has the most. thanks for all you do to call people to freedom. it’s beautiful.

    ellen – i think you rock.

    dan – thanks. i think the work that you are doing intersects with this in so many ways. we have to learn healthier ways of being together and healing the woundedness and practicing freedom. you are a great teacher of those things…

    tiffany – oh yes, the heart pounding thing used to be so familiar. i call it the heart-is-pounding-and-you’re-out-of-breath-wondering-how-can-i-disappear-as-fast-as-possible moment. i agree with you, we just need to become more sensitive and not assume. thanks for reading and taking time to comment. i am glad you’re part of the conversation here.

    mimosa – thanks, i love your heart and i am glad that we can all encourage one another some how, some way, from across the seas…

    robert – great to hear from you here. thanks for taking the time to comment and share. how did you her about the carnival? your 48 steps made me smile. yes, it is such hard work deconstructing all of the things that served us well but really damaged and limited us, too. it can be confusing, but i have such deep respect for those willing to go to those hard and painful places and let God heal and restore and strengthen and move. i think that was always the idea. and yes, true community is a rare thing and it’s only in those respectful, deep and authentic & dedicated relationships can that verse really be applied without damage. peace to you on your journey and i hope we can stay in touch here too.

    lisa – love ya and yes, all those crazy voices in our head that tell us to shut up, figure it out, get over it, whatever are really freedom robbers & will keep us from healing and peace. i am glad we’re in all of this together.

    jasmine – yes, definitely tag me. i’d love to hear and i am so glad that we can stay connected from afar. peace and hope to you in the work that you are doing in the trenches there (and congrats on getting married, too, so beautiful!)

    blueorchid – oh i always love your ponderings here and the things that you are wrestling with like so many of us. i think the assuming thing is huge. like assuming that no one in the room struggles with same sex attraction or food or abortion or porn or a whole lot of other things and just tossing out words like they’re nothing. i know that i used to do a lot of that in the olden days about other issues and over time hope to keep shifting into a sensitivity that takes into consideration all that might be rumbling underneath. i think it’s learning how to be a safer person. and hopefully a bunch of safer people will create safer communities. thanks for sharing..

    kathleen – oh i love you and am so glad all these years have gone by and we are still in touch and i have seen you grow up. yes, when i knew you i was right in the thick of so much craziness. weird, eh? anyway, i don’t know that exact material although i have heard of it for sure. the material that i liked was called “forgiven and set free” by linda cochrane but it was more of a group thing than an individual book to read. my caution on books is that it’s so important to ask for permission instead of just offer it. and that the most important gift you can give is just your loving presence and heart for your friend. to let her know you are thinking of her and care and are always there to listen. asking questions is so much better than giving advice. anyway i can help you support her you know i will gladly do. sometimes it just takes a lot of time and for the pain to get great enough before they’re ready. i totally get that. as a friend standing by and watching someone hurt, it is so painful and hard to be patient and trust and wait and keep offering grace and love.

    jeff – oh i love the word “blackmail” that is such a great word and really something to think about…see you soon!

    minnow – yes, there it is, up close and personal in the story you shared, how so much is hidden. yes, it’s interesting that over all of these years i haven’t heard a ton from the men. here and there for sure but proportionately so much smaller. i think a lot of men don’t even know it happened and for those that were involved i know there is a lot of pain and sadness over it but not the greatest places to talk about it.

    katherine – 🙂

    carlos – muchas gracias….come anytime!

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  • don’t know how many times i’ve heard your story, but it never fails to bring tears to my eyes. tears of sadness from being a condemner of beautiful women, just like you. and tears of joy, as i see the great work that God is doing in and through you. you are amazing, my friend!

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  • I am grateful that you are so willing to share the deepest places of your story, so that others can also find paths to healing . Who would have thought that when you were in the midst of dealing with the layers of that $#@& that so many would find life again in your wounds?!

    My hope for my own heart is that it is continually cultivated to be a “be a safe container for the messiest, ugliest, scariest part of people’s stories and experiences”. 🙂

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  • So, Kathy…what IF you’ve put EVERYTHING out in the light and spoke 100% truth about it, and STILL got judged, rejected and abandoned? Sorry, just being honest…reached out to supposedly “safe” Christian women who said they would never give up on me, etc…and well, they did. :-/
    I’d be interested in your 12 step personal jounaling/processing material…sounds like you put some good stuff together.
    Thanks and God bless!
    Tammy

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  • Kathy,

    found out about this blog from Marti. Loved this piece, thanks for your transparency and honesty. Having dealt with this issue personally I totally understand the “shame, hiding, fear and lying”, the church does a great disservice to women who need healing and acceptance for a decision gone wrong. I’m looking forward to reading more of what you’ve written. thanks.

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  • mike – oh you’re the best. thank you for your continued courage and faithfulness. we’re all learning more than we ever bargained for! xo

    stacy – yeah, it is the weirdest thing–how the ugliest thing can turn into the most useful & redeeming somehow. i am glad you are part of creating “safe containers for the messiest, ugliest, scariest part of people’s stories and experiences”!!!

    tammy – oh i am sorry to hear that. it is so painful. i don’t have any answers, that is for sure. but i think i lean toward this: it is good that you were honest because you gave it a try. yes, it sucks to have made yourself so vulnerable and then have it go south. i have definitely known that feeling. and i think where it sits for me is i still just told the truth. sometimes, honestly, christian circles aren’t the safest and many i know have found love and support in safe groups outside of the church. that of course makes me sad but is often true. the solving, fixing, get-it-over-with-now-so-we-can-feel-good-about-ourselves-and-believe-God-is-real is really so integrated into so much of our thinking. i don’t know the ins and outs of your situation, but will say i am sorry it went the way it did. i will email you the work we are doing on wednesdays. the actual gathering is a fleshing out workshop-style of the ideas so some won’t be as clear as others. peace & hope to you, tammy.

    judy– so glad that you took time to comment, judy. welcome. and thanks for your honesty, too…so you know the feeling. hoping more and more shifts will continue to happen over time so the church can be a safer, more healing place for this kind of pain.

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  • Thank you, Kathy! I look forward to the material…I really appreciate you emailing that! I just finished a great book by Michael Klassen…”Strange Fire, Holy Fire” and a bible study on Joshua! So, am looking for “new” stuff! I look forward to the Kathy Escobar “12-steps”! 🙂 As always, God bless you for your words and allowing God to use you! Your readers are blessed!

    Reply

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