Category Archives: Transitions

It Is What It Is

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By Judy Villanueva

“If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31-32)

“An embrace of reality always supports the life of both spirit and soul. Both thrive in the soil of acceptance of that which truly is and shrivel when we wander from a commitment to such truthful living.” (Benner, Soulful Spirituality)

The smell of fudgy goodness filled the kitchen as dad stirred mom’s birthday surprise and I scrutinized the candy thermometer.   I was in town for a visit and while mom ran a few errands I got to hang out with my dad.  I noticed that his hearing seemed to have worsened and, at 88, the onset of dementia continues to interfere with his memory.  These changes feel sad at times, but as we talked and taste-tested chocolate, I also recognized my dad’s sense of humor and the joy he feels being together in the present moment.  While I miss being able to talk like we use to, it helped to focus on what is still good and be grateful. I am thankful that my father still knows me, and glad that, despite his memory loss, he remains loving, kind, and content.

My family has a saying that we’ve borrowed and say often. “It is what it is.”  When we say this to one another, we are actually inviting ourselves to know and accept reality.

To know what it IS” helps us get to the harder step of making peace with whatever “it is NOT.”

This peace-making  is necessary if we are to bring our real lives to God and receive His grace and strength to move forward.

In other words, when we stop resisting reality we can start becoming  constructive agents, free to cultivate love and gratitude in the “what is” of the present moment.

Sometimes this means accepting that the people we love have the right to choose their own way even when it breaks our hearts, or making peace with changes in life that we didn’t sign up for (or want).  Living “real” also means coming to terms with our disappointments and surrendering in faith to the life that is ours.   How do we let go of what we wish were true in favor of being held by the Truth that came to set us free?

Oh how we need the reality of Jesus to bear down on our lives with truest Love!

God redeems our past and holds our future but, it is in the present moment that He wants to be our Defining Reality.  The “It is what it is” of life can be hard on the heart sometimes but invites us to turn to God who always was and always will be who He is — faithful and full of love —  the Great I AM and the Truth that keeps setting us free.

“Father, it is hard to know and accept reality sometimes, especially when good things change or when I can’t understand the why of things.   Give me courage to accept what is and trust that you are always faithful.  Become my defining reality.  Amen.”

What about you?

Is God part of your daily and defining reality?  What might that look like?

Are you freed by His love to know what is true of your life, past and present?

How are you doing in accepting the realities of your life?  It can be hard  but pretending can only offer a temporary peace.

God is who He is always and wants to be your defining reality.

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Worship

Held

IMG_4539By Judy Villanueva

O Lord, You have searched me and known me.  You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar.  You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways.  Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O Lord, You know it all.  You have enclosed me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. (Psalm 139:1-5)

One of my earliest memories is of being rocked in my father’s arms and soothed by a tune that he used to hum over us kids.  His deep voice made it a rumbly lullaby that I could both feel as well as hear, and it wasn’t long before the humming gave way to sweet dreams.  I remember the feeling of being held and calmed by his voice and, to this day, this little tune quiets me.  It is a melody that I’ve since heard myself hum to calm my children and grandchildren. Being held and “hummed to” created safety all around and inside of me.  “Dad is here.  It’s all going to be ok.  I can rest.”

Is there a more beautiful reality than that our lives are held by God…always?

Our sitting down and rising up, our every thought and word, coming and going, working or lying down, He knows!  He is intimately acquainted with everything about us.  We are seen, known and loved by the God who made us…at all times, in all places, no matter how we feel about it.  How DO you feel about it?  It is an easy idea to cuddle up with when all is well with our world but it can be a most prickly truth to believe in the dark of night.  How, when we are frightened by the night, can we rest in His arms and let the sound of His voice bring us peace?

The fact that we are finite creatures means that we can only  see “in part” and are not able to grasp the entirety of why things happen as they do. There are times when we will not understand our lives…when we simply do not and can not have the same perspective as the God who always sees everything all time, now and forever!

The nature of being held means that it’s not up to us to know everything.

Believe or not, that is good news! What IS up to us is to trust the One who sees and knows what we cannot, and let HIm hold and deliver us into the plans He has for us. Can we lean back into the divine arms that cradle our lives with love, compassion, goodness and purpose? He holds all things together with perfection… even when we cannot perceive it.

“Thank you, Father, for holding my life…always.  To know that you do, consoles me.  To consider that you know me through and through helps me to exhale.  You are here.  It’s all going be ok.  I can rest.  Amen.”

What about you?

Is your heart troubled?  What brings you comfort?

Where/with whom do you experience being known?

Do you need to know today that you are seen, known and loved by the God who made you?

He loves you and is intimately acquainted with all your ways.

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Worship

Death and Daisies

DSC_0468By Judy Villanueva

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23)

Our family recently suffered the loss of a beloved member.  It hardly seemed real and doesn’t feel real even now.  Whether anticipated or unexpected, death seems to throw us into an unwelcomed and unimaginable state of disbelief.  While a shared destiny, its arrival ushers in an incomprehensible moment, a soul-wrenching anguish.  It is with great reluctance and tears that we let go and eventually accept the realities of life without our dad, mom, spouse or friend.  We are born into a world that brims with life, and knowing that one day hearts stop beating and next breaths simply aren’t inhaled doesn’t make death any easier to tolerate when it takes away our loved one.

And, then there are daisies.

Have you ever noticed that life is always piled up on top of life?  In other words, we are seldom purely happy or sad and most often experience a mix of emotions that live together all at once.  Grief sits in the middle of the arms that hold us and sadness amidst the good that surrounds us as the sun comes up and we awaken to God’s fresh mercies.  Life continues to pour out love and beauty right alongside great loss and, incongruous as it may feel, our hearts are designed to take in and hold both the joy and the sorrow.

Hellos and goodbyes stand side-by-side inviting us to let go of what has ended and reach out for God and the life He offers beyond the pain of loss.

Each June the fields around our house are visited by hundreds and hundreds of daisies!  At first, only a couple of bright yellow faces peek out from amidst the grass but before long the whole landscape is blanketed in what looks like happiness!  Their time with us is a gift every year and their presence, a reminder that God is good and beautiful.   As I soak up the blessing of “daisy-joy” I can feel the love of God wrap around my heart with healing grace…and I am helped to allow for laughter amidst the tears, joy alongside my sorrow and gratitude to rise up from the middle of my grief.

“Father, how we need You to hold us in times of loss and pain.  We cannot have been made for death as it seems so very incomprehensible.  Help us to lean against your faithful heart and trust You now and always.  Help us to receive the comfort that we find inside Your arms of love.  Amen.”

What about you?

Are you in a time of great loss?

Have you experienced the comfort of God’s presence?

Do you know the peace that surpasses all comprehension…found in the arms of God?

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

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Worship

 

Recollecting

DSC_0275By Judy Villanueva

Psalm 77: 11-15

I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord;  
I will remember your wonders of old.  I will meditate on all your work, 
and muse on your mighty deeds.  Your way,  O God,  is holy.  What god is so great as our God?

You are the God who works wonders;  
you have displayed your might among the peoples.  With your strong arm you redeemed your people, 
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.

I walked in silence along a trail scattered with the colors of Fall.  With each gust of wind, yellow, orange and red little masterpieces floated to the ground reminding me of the season that was ending and the one soon to come.  I stooped to pick up a firey maple leaf  and marveled at its perfection. Its simple beauty seemed to offer me a sweet consolation, a blessing that touched my anxious heart.  In that moment, I wasn’t altogether sure what had stolen my peace but suspected it had to do with looking ahead and troubling over a season yet unborn.  Each step seemed to invite me to either look at God and remember His goodness, or look ahead at unrealities that promised to steal any hope for peace.

Fear likes to disrupt my life and is merciless in tangling up my thoughts with “what ifs”.  Before I know it, I can find myself fretting over this or that,  derailed from life and work in the here and now.

Over years of contending with fear, I have found that there is power in recollecting God’s faithfulness…of remembering His wonders of old!

So, rather than peering forward, I am learning to glance over my shoulder at where I’ve been, what I’ve been through and all the ways God has provided for me along the way.  I am taking more time to meditate (or, muse on) His faithful deeds.  It is a fierce offensive  against fear that emboldens faith and becomes a mighty prayer!

One of my dear friends loves to collect autumn leaves for her Thanksgiving table.  I enjoy being with her on her gathering excursions because of the wonder with which each leaf is scrutinized and celebrated!

Recollecting God’s love and provision in our lives is a way of “collecting again” His goodness and setting it out to look at and celebrate.

It reveals a perfection of care that only a good, wise, and kind God could accomplish.  Remembering His provision in the past helps us to feel secured by his grasp of us in the present…and trust His faithful hold of our tomorrows.

“Father God , thank You that looking back  reveals your love at work in ways that I could not know or suspect.   You faithfully work all things together for good. Your deeds are mighty and all Your ways, wonderful!  Fill me with faith for today and help me to trust in Your good plans for tomorrow.  Amen.”

What about you?

Are you troubled or lacking peace?

Do you need to “collect again” God’s goodness from the past?

Take a moment and then another, to remember His mighty deeds and wonders of old.  Allow His daily graces to bless you.  Leaves count:)

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Worship

 

Seasons and Surrender

DSC_1221By Judy Villanueva

Romans 8:38-39

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

A friend’s daughter got married a few weeks ago.  It was surreal to watch her come down the aisle, a beautiful bride on her daddy’s arm!  What happened to that little one who, once upon a time, literally fit in the palms of my hands?  That day I watched my friend say good-bye to the daughter she had raised, and to her family, the way it had always been. These milestone moments come upon us almost without warning!  Sometimes seasons feel like they will last forever, but don’t blink because all seasons come to an end.  Change.  It is subtle one minute and shockingly bold the next.

What can we do but love well, feel our endings with joy and tears…and then, open our arms to whatever is next!

My mom has shown me what it looks like to surrender with grace to whatever is next in life.  As she approaches eighty, her perspective on this last season of life is remarkable and bright!  I don’t think I’ve ever heard her complain or lament growing old.  Instead, she says things like, “Growing old sure is interesting!”  She seems to be a student of every phase of life and, with a disposition of curiosity, she stays present and positive as health, relationships and realities change.  Most pronounced to me is the gratitude that keeps bubbling to the surface of her life.  She is grateful for good blood flow, that dad doesn’t have any pain and that she can live these days with the love of her life next to her.

Accepting change isn’t always easy especially if we have loved the life that is changing!

Letting go and saying good-bye is an act of faith.  We entrust our life to God each time we surrender to endings and new beginnings.

This seems to be the way of it.  Seasons end and new ones begin.  Children grow up and get married.  Jobs change, friends move away, we all get older and one day, old.  Loving and belonging to God is the strongest anchor in life, isn’t it?  His love never ends!  His hold on our lives is forever faithful.  We can be curious and grateful for all of the seasons that come to us because we have a Father who does not change, who will not leave, and who walks with us through every change…all the way, and until we are in His arms to stay.

“Father, it fills me with joy to remember that nothing can separate me from Your love!  Help me to be grateful and let go of the things that have ended so that my arms might open to receive whatever is next!  Thank You for staying with me throughout my life.  Amen.”

What about you?

How are you doing with the changes in your life?

Are you letting yourself feel your endings with gratitude and tears?

Are you surrendering with grace and looking forward with hope?

God is forever faithful.   Nothing can separate you from His love!

Worship:

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Following Breadcrumbs

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By Judy Villanueva

Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.  Lead me in your truth and teach me, 
for you are the God of my salvation; 
for you I wait all the day long. (Psalm 25:4-5)

It was one of those days.  You know the kind where you wake up and, for whatever reason, feel finished before you’ve even started?  All of the undone things that are usually entrusted to God are bubbling up at the surface of awareness…things over which only God has control.  I never quite understand the ebb and flow of faith.  Why did I feel full of faith yesterday and sorely lacking in it today?  On mornings like these,  I find it helpful to bring my angst to Jesus with a question,  “What is it You want to say to me about this, Lord?” Then I try to pay attention and follow the breadcrumbs back into His arms…to a place of faith.   Do you remember the story of Hansel and Gretel when, as they ventured out into the forest, they dropped a pathway of breadcrumbs so that they might find their way back home again?   Jesus’ voice marks our pathway home and when we ask Him to speak to us about our lives, He faithfully speaks.   We “hear” as we expect Him to speak into our ordinary days, as we pay attention, and as we follow His voice to revelation!

Breadcrumbs.  An imperfect metaphor, at best, but useful in fashioning a picture of what it looks like to watch for God’s leadings.  What are the spiritual “breadcrumbs” that mark God’s path for us and help us discern His voice?

Believing that God is present in ALL of life helps us notice the holy crumbs that are scattered throughout our days.

God’s voice often comes to us as impressions,  highlights, if you will…an emphasis, an exclamation point, or a goodness that nestles up and wraps itself around us.  It also urges us through our angst, our woes and worries.  It may come as we read the Word, or look out the window…as we sit with a friend or listen to a sermon.  God is speaking and His ways of reaching out to us are endless!  Noticing His voice is the first step toward discernment and moving toward it with curiosity is next!  “What do you want to say to me about this?”

It was near or about the heat of day when I felt a “nudge” to go out for walk.  A breadcrumb.  I grabbed my headphones and went, listening to worship for an hour as I hiked under the shadows of the San Juan Mountains.  So many beautiful songs blessed me and I began to notice a theme emerging.  More breadcrumbs!  I felt drawn to the stanzas that sang of God’s presence and authority over all the earth!  Each song seemed to declare that God is great and faithful…able in all things and trustworthy.  I felt invited to gather the day’s crumbs and taste the Bread that is life!  What would have seemed so ordinary to any onlooker was, for me, extraordinary…soul-filling, peace-giving and revelatory!  What I heard as I followed the breadcrumbs was a holy whisper that loved me with these words,

“What do I want to say to you today, as you travail and wonder about your future?  I am saying that I am with you!  I will never leave you!  You have Me now and always!  I am on the throne and you, child,  can rest. Now rest.”

“Father,  thank You for Your voice of love.  You know what a worrier I am and for that, I am so sorry!  Teach me the sounds of Your voice and alert me to when and where you are addressing me.  I want to hear what You want to say to me everyday.  I want to follow.  Amen.”

What about you?

What delights you?  What troubles you?

What are you drawn to in any given Bible passage that you’ve read lately?

What has caught your attention in worship, a sermon, devotional reading or in the movie you’ve just viewed?

What does God want to say to you about your life?  Have you asked Him lately?

Will you consider that God is speaking to you all day long and wants you to hear His voice?

Worship:

“You Are Here”  by  Tommy Walker

“Who Am I” by Casting Crowns

“Awake My Soul”  by Phillips, Craig and Dean

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Changing and Changeless

DSC_0505By Judy Villanueva

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  (Hebrews 13:8)

The grass withers, the flower fades,
  But the word of our God stands forever. (Isaiah 40:8)

With my arms full of laundry, I walked past the three senior portraits that hung on our family room wall.  They seemed to mark an ending to what was our family life in that home…playing in the rain,  family dinners, long walks, growing-up talks, and stacks upon stacks of love!  I sat down to pause and enjoy the faces of these precious ones and, as I did, was overtaken by a wave of emotion.  So, I sat there and cried and remembered and smiled and cried a little more.  It had been a wonderful life and I would miss it.  But, life was changing and much as I wanted to hang on to what had been, I could feel God beckoning me forward.  It was as though He said, “Wasn’t it so good?   But, daughter, what your heart most needs is not your little ones back in your arms.  Life is changing.  Let it.  I am here.”

Change.  It is a constant…faithful, steady, and unpredictable.  Some of it is welcomed and some of it, not.  It is God’s design.  With open arms we welcome positive changes and, not surprising, brace against life’s strenuous shifts. We may run to the altar to be wed but will certainly drag our feet into the storm.  Promising or threatening, blessed or cursed, we tend to evaluate life’s movements as qualitatively good or bad.  What is sure is that change is the nature of our existence and the real question is, are we learning to trust God in and through the seasons and shifts that move us from birth to death?  Are our roots of faith sinking more deeply into the love of God as we grow through our changing lives?  Knowing God helps!

God is immutable.  Have you felt the divine comfort of knowing that God does not change? Has the fact that the Father is the same yesterday, today and forever touched you with its peace and power?  God is always and completely Himself without shadow or variation. That God does not change means that His love for us will forever remain committed, deep and wide!  It means that He is not fickle and will never change His mind about anything.  His faithfulness will not and cannot waiver…ever!  When God said that He would never leave or forsake us, He could only mean it as a permanent, fixed and “without end” reality.  We can count on Him forever!  And, all of this means that as  life continues to change, we can let it  because God is here… with us and, always will be!

“Father,  to think of Your unchanging nature fills my mind and heart.  There is nothing else like it!  I feel so grateful that I can count on Your love forever!  In the midst of a life that changes constantly, I feel the deep comfort that comes from knowing that You are unchanging.  Amen.”

What about you?

How are you handling the changes in your life?  Are you holding tightly or lightly?

Are you learning to trust and lean on God through the changes?

Have you thought much about what it means that God is unchanging?

Have you felt the comfort of knowing that God is the same yesterday, today and always?

(This reflection was greatly and gratefully influenced by AW Tozer’s Knowledge of the Holy)

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Longing for Spring

emeraldlake2By Judy Villanueva

“Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth;
 the time of singing has come…”

Our faces were turned toward the screen and our eyes squinted as we strained to decipher the image hidden within the black and white background. “Yes, there it is!” the doctor announced. Tears and joy filled the room! It had been six years of praying, hoping and disappointment. “Only one?” my friend asked. “What? Well, I only see one but let’s check again.” the doctor complied. “Here’s the one and let’s see…oh my, yes, there is another! You are having twins!” Springtime! Have you ever been with someone when their spring arrived? I was lucky enough to be in the room at the moment when my friend’s winter turned to spring in an instant. Warmth, color, sunshine and the sweet fragrance of life had blown in a new season and, from one moment to the next, it became spring!

As I write this, I am watching a winter storm blowing in and while it looks harmless enough, it is bitter cold outside and it won’t be long before all the land is covered in white. Before spring arrives, we must endure the quiet and cold of winter when life lies dormant and it can feel unending at times. What does it mean to wait with faith and how do we surrender to winter with hope? It blesses me how God made the seasons to reflect the rhythms we experience in life so that we’ll be helped to remember that after a long winter comes a warm and fruit-filled spring!

There is life buried beneath blankets of snow and resting in trees that appear dead, and we must hope while we wait for our springs to form.

I wonder if God doesn’t use winters to slow us down and help us long for Him. The truth is, we want the comforts of spring, but need the love of our Father and it is often during cold winters that we finally relent and reach for Him. God does not leave us without hope during long, cold seasons and, if we pay attention, we will hear the melody of spring even in the thick of winter.  Remaining open to God’s presence through His word,  people, beauty, and love is sustaining and helps us in our waiting.   Reach for God in the winter and listen for His songs that want to fill our hearts with hope and wrap us in His love.  Rest in His arms and trust that He watches over the seeds of life that wait to flourish in the spring.

“Father, help me to want You. I love springtime and I get impatient during long winters. Thank you for quieter and even, emptier seasons that help me to reach for You. Draw me into awareness in the winter of your springtime songs around me and help me to wait while my spring forms. Amen.”

What about you?

Are you in a season of winter, longing for spring?

What are the longings of your heart?

Are you able to reach for God?

Do you know that He is with you and longs to fill the empty places of your heart?

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Trusting in the Dark

DSC_0370By Judy Villanueva

1 Samuel 1:12-18
Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk. So Eli said to her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.” But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.” Then Eli answered, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your sight.”

It is a mystery as to why some prayers are answered as we hope and others are not. Most often, there is no way of making sense of it. When a heart’s desire is suspended, a desperate prayer unsatisfied or when the thing braced against happens, we are left to travail with questions about God. Is He good? Does He hear? Can He, and if He can, why doesn’t He? We join Job and a great company of brothers and sisters in the faith who have traveled through a dark night on a well-worn path of suffering with no clear answers. It has always both baffled and amazed me that God allows us to wander along these roads of unknowing. How does He tolerate us second-guessing His wisdom, accusing Him of not caring, or thinking Him impotent to act on our behalf? How does He stand it when we cry out in the dark?

I don’t pretend to have answers, only a few morsels of grace that I have gleaned along the path of my own dark night. If you are in the middle of a season of desolation, know that you are not alone. Many Christians have traveled this road and have shared the pain of not having answers and not feeling God. It is an arduous and lonely passage. You might find, like I did, that it is helpful to have someone listen and care that you feel lost, even if they cannot relocate you. One such friend of mine sat with me and listened to my lost thoughts…so unpleasant and raw. After some quiet, she finally said, “Judy, stop striving. God knows where you are and is able to bring you through this dark night and into a place of dawning. Rest. Be at peace.” She didn’t tell me to stop feeling lost and she didn’t offer any answers to my questions, but her reassurance that God knew where I was and could help me find His heart again, planted a seed of hope and light. It felt relieving and helped me begin to let go of my need to understand everything and make room for God to be God.

Inherent in dark nights are invitations to widening spaces where we grow in our capacity to allow God to be Someone we can count on, but cannot control… Someone who loves us perfectly, but does not explain the unfoldings around us.

Dark nights are humbling as they teach us to want God. What I love about Hannah is that she brought her suffering heart to God. She poured out her soul before the Lord…her troubles, sorrows, and disappointments. She didn’t turn her back on God in her despair, but rather, trusted Him with her pain. She stayed in relationship and, by His grace, held onto His love in the middle of the night. How it must bless God to be sought and trusted in the dark. We, too, must bring our honest tears to God, and trust that He listens and cares deeply, even if we cannot feel His presence or understand our circumstances. Can you rest and be at peace knowing that God is able to bring you through the dark night and promises to remain close until the dawn breaks? God knows where you are and is able to help you find your way back to His heart.

“Father, I pray for anyone reading this who may be experiencing a dark night and cannot feel You with them. Let these words reassure that You are, and will always be as close as the breath they breathe. Bring peace and new life. And, may You, the God of Israel, grant the petition they have made to You. Let them find favor in Your sight. Amen.”

How about you?

Have you experienced a season of feeling lost and disappointed with God?

Can you pour out your heart to God in prayer?

Seek a listening friend. Is there a pastor, priest or friend who is available to listen and pray with you?

Worship

“I Will Not Be Shaken”  by Tommy Walker

“Praise You in the Storm”  by Casting Crowns

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