5 Christian Cliches to Stop Using Now

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Christian cliches make you cringe, don’t they? Here are 5 Christians cliche identified by today’s guest writer Marie Notcheva, a featured counselor in Heart2Heart Counselor Directory. A certified counselor and author, Marie specializes in helping women and girls who have eating disorders, which she overcame through biblical counseling. Her article appeared first here on her website and is used with permission.

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heartIn biblical counseling, as in all forms of Christian ministry, we are called to exhort and encourage; listen and learn; love and give hope. Sometimes, however, words can hurt rather than heal. Although a counselor, friend, small-group leader or pastor may say something with the best of intentions, falling back on platitudes or Christian clichés can sometimes cause more harm than good to the listener.

Based on my experience as a biblical counselor and conversations with other women, I have identified five of the most damaging Christian cliches that have made their way into the counseling room. Over the years, I have heard all of these used, and while I understand the intent behind them, they make me cringe.

Let’s look at the five Christian cliches you should eliminate immediately from your counsel, and why.

1. “In order to feel good, you must DO good.”

This is an old maxim of biblical counseling, often said to depressed counselees who find themselves in a rut. The problem is that it’s often not true, and usually adds to the counselee’s guilt and self-recrimination.

A better approach? Get to the source of her depression.

A woman who is depressed because of a verbally abusive husband will not be helped by this phrase. She very likely is already “doing good things” to the point of burnout, to no avail. Is the counselee depressed because of a death? Telling her to get her act together and wash the dishes will not help.

The phrase implies that laziness is partially responsible for the depression, which is a dangerous assumption to make.

2. “How can I/we come alongside you?”

This is a Christian cliché that is so vague it is usually impossible to answer. Say what you mean. Perhaps make a suggestion: “I’ll show up at your place at 11 a.m., do your laundry, and take you out to lunch. You could use a break!”

Or, “Now that I know your family is struggling financially, let’s talk to the elders about getting a scholarship for your son to go to youth
camp. By the way, there’s a fund in place to help pay heating bills for folks going through a rough patch.”

The “coming alongside” offer can also be a thinly veiled but heavy-handed way of saying, “I’m going to interfere in this very private matter you’ve divulged to me, whether you consent or not.” Don’t spiritualize your offer of involvement. Spell it out, and respectfully ask the counselee, friend, or parishioner for permission.

3. “You have a very low view of Scripture (or Christ, or God).”

This is usually a callous way of dismissing what the other person is saying, simply because you don’t agree with it. It is presumptuous in the extreme to assume you know her heart on such matters, and it is lazy counseling.5-christian-cliches-to-stop-using-now

If a counselee or member is attending an evangelical church of any stripe, and especially if she is seeking out counseling, it is safe to take her at her word that she believes in the inerrancy of Scripture. It is doubtful that she has a low view of Christ, and to tell her this is confusing and hurtful.

One woman I counseled several years ago had been told at her prior church that she had a low view of God, because she had taken a tough-love approach to her son’s drug addiction. Although I don’t know the woman’s pastor, I have counseled addicts enough to know that she took appropriate steps – and indeed had a very high view of God.

If you don’t agree that the individual’s conclusion is biblical, do some research. It’s probably a matter of interpretation and you, as the biblical counselor, probably have the benefit of exegetical training. Engage the question; look at different angles and commentaries; reason together.

Never dismiss her by telling her she has a low view of Scripture/God/Christ. Such sweeping statements are designed to be conversation-stoppers, and have no place in the counseling room.

4. “Stop carrying around a root of bitterness/bitter spirit.”

This one is tricky, because it’s clearly a biblical warning. Bitterness is a sin, which ultimately destroys a person spiritually. The author of Hebrews cautions against letting such a spirit grow up within the Body, because it “corrupts many” (Hebrews 12:15). We see this all the time in the fallout of church splits, in the gossip and hard feelings that are left in its wake.

The problem here is being careful not to lump every angry emotion into this category, and gloss over it with this verse. This approach is what has given nouthetic counselors the reputation of “throwing the Bible at people” or a “take one verse and call me in the morning” attitude.

Having hurt feelings or struggling to forgive someone who has seriously wronged you is not bitterness. Often, counselors and pastors make the mistake of rebuking wounded believers for “bitterness” before they’ve even had a chance to start healing.

At that point, what hurting people need is to be listened to; have their experience validated; have the wrong of what was done to them validated. Then you can begin to help them work through the process of forgiveness. Bitterness is a heart attitude that comes about when one sees all others as enemies; deliberately refuses to forgive; and usually is a result of a non-existent prayer life.

Please do not forget that in some serious circumstances (such as sexual abuse, fraud, injury or murder of one’s relative), forgiveness may be a long, extremely painful process. Be very careful of bringing out the “root of bitterness” trump card.

5. “Thank you for sharing your heart.”

Usually said with the best of intentions, this is the single most meaningless, cringe-worthy, condescending, cliché-sounding phrase in the ecclesiastical lexicon, according to women I’ve spoken to.

It is meaningless because it is a non-answer, offering no resolve. It is condescending because it dismisses whatever the counselee (or parishioner) has said to the level of emotionalism. It is insensitive at best; insulting at worst. And rank-and-file church members know that.

One woman told me that this sounded like a pat-phrase taught in biblical counseling courses as a buffer; something to pull out when one doesn’t know what else to say. I know of another incident where a woman carefully documented details of incidents – with dates, names, witnesses and details – to give credence to a serious situation of abuse she had brought to her pastor’s attention. She was thanked for sharing her heart.

“My heart had nothing to do with it,” she said. “They wanted facts? I gave them very specific facts. I’ve never felt so dismissed and unheard in my life.”

A better alternative to thank you for sharing your heart might be to thank the person for the trust they demonstrate in you by sharing this information with you, and then ask what action steps she would like you to take.

This not only validates that the issue they’re addressing is important; it puts feet to the faith we profess to have. Faith and love both lead to action – there’s usually a reason they’re telling you something, and unless it’s over a coffee in Starbucks, it’s rarely just for the sake of sharing their heart.

Choose Words Wisely

As Christians, whether in the counseling room or out in the world, we’re called to be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). Although certainly none of us does this perfectly, thinking about how to make our words more meaningful (and edifying) might mean changing some of the ways we phrase things.

Always try to consider how the listener will receive what you say, in her personal experience and situation. Frame your words accordingly, and in this way you will be demonstrating the love of Christ.

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Friend, are you sick of Christian cliches? Would you consid effective, “cliche-free,” and caring biblical counseling?

Please contact me and we can set up a free 15-minute free consultation. We can “meet” by Skype, in person, or over the phone. Just the other day, a woman from Germany had a free consult with me, and now we’re counseling, looking to Jesus and the Bible for answers to life’s troubles.

Sharing Hope with Your Heart,

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Saying Sorry Versus True Repentance

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When you hurt someone’s feelings, is it enough to say “I’m sorry”?

Or do these words fall flat when spoken without godly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:10)? Is there a preferred alternative? Is so, what?

Years ago these questions swirled in my mind when one of my children called her sibling a name, snatched an item without permission, or smacked her on the head.

In this short article, I’ll share. . .

  1. an experiment that flopped
  2. the change that made the difference.

The main point: Don’t raise a little pharisee who knows the right words to say. Instead, train up a child to who desires to please the Lord.

The ‘I’m Sorry’ Method

Several Christian moms at my church, Bible study, and MOPS swore by a method to change their dear children’s behavior after a skirmish.

Picture this scenario: Carrie tiptoes into older sister Mary’s closet and snags a super cool top to wear. Later Mary sees Carrie at school in her top and pointed words fly like daggers. Later at home their mom learns of the problem and tells the swiper to return the top and say “I’m sorry” followed by “I forgive you” from the other sister, then they hug. She requires both girls to say “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” for the mean words, and they hug again.

The mom in the scenario truly believes she’s getting to the root of the problem and that the girls learned a valuable lesson about taking without asking first and using hateful words. Have you found yourself in a similar situation? How did you discipline your kids?

My Experiment

Sort of hopeful (but not confident) this method would work, I tried a week-long experiment with my three children. I clued in my husband. A united front, right?

The plan: When one child was mean in some way to another, the offending kid had to say, “I’m sorry” whether or not she felt sorry. The offended kid had to say, “I forgive you” whether or not she truly forgave her — and they hugged.

The goal: to instill a humble, contrite spirit leading to true repentance. But did it work?

Ah, no.

Laura called Julia a name, said “I’m sorry” while rolling her eyes, and Julia said “I forgive you” with great enthusiasm, bless her heart. Their hug resembled a vice grip you might witness on WWE. Within minutes John hit Julia in the face with a bouncy ball. It was an accident.

“I’m sorry.”

“I forgive you.”

Vice-grip hug.

Those two began throwing things at each other just to get to the vice-grip hug. Laura was “like whatever” and escaped to her bedroom.

When a lamp crashed and a cat flew out of the way, I stopped the experiment. I could not handle another six days! 

The  experiment flopped.

My children said the right words without an inkling of repentance. I was raising vice-grip loving, little Pharisees!

Change That Makes the Difference

The real point behind genuine sorrow is repentance. Wordly sorrow is fakery; it’s death.

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death (2 Corninthians 7:10).

“Sorrow,” in this context, refers to sorrow that is according to the will of God and produced by the Holy Spirit, says pastor John MacArthur whose Grace to You media ministry reaches millions. True repentance is impossible apart from genuine sorrow over one’s sin.

sorryThis was my problem and my kids’ problem: The “I’m sorry” were just words, not genuine sorrow.

Worldly sorrow has no redeeming value. This type of “I’m sorry” results from getting caught in a sin or from wounded pride, and leads to shame, despair, self-pity, and even death (see Mattew 27:3 for the account of Judas’ hanging).

Genuine repentance is at the very heart of one’s salvation. Believers repent of their sin continually as they turn from loveless thoughts, words, behaviors, and motivations and turn to God.

A person who is truly repentant experiences change in the inner person. Consider this:

But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. (Matthew 15:18-19, NIV)

The Pharisees were experts in “good” behavior–as my children became adept at saying “I’m sorry” and vice-grip hugs–and missed heart change. True repentance cuts to the heart.

An Offer

Are your kids (young or older) driving you nuts? Do you need encouragment and godly counsel? Consider scheduling a free 15-minute phone call with me; contact me and we’ll set it up.

Sharing Hope with Your Heart,

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7 Lies About Submission

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SUBMISSION? Use this S word among girlfriends in church or on a night out and toes curl.

Many people misunderstand what the Bible means when it says that wives are to “be submissive” to their husbands. This includes many married women I’ve counseled.

Forever I’ll remember the panicked call from a friend whose former college roommate fled her West Coast home, very pregnant and with two little ones in tow. The former roommate and I soon talked by phone. Through sobs the story came out:

Her Christian husband demanded that she “obey” his every word and threated her with physical harm.

Fearing for her children’s safety and her own sanity, she packed bags and drove east toward her childhood home.

Do you have a handle on the real meaning of submisison? Has someone use care about used this word against you in order to manipulate you or shame you?

For this article, I turned to Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood by John Piper and Wayne Grudem for answers and discovered 7 lies about submision I share with your. Read 1 Peter 3:1-7 here and the 7 below. My prayer is for you to understand God’s plan for marriage and to learn common abuses over submission, like the one my pregnant counselee had encountered.

Lie 1: Put Your Huband in the Place of Christ 

Christ is always first. 1 Peter 2:21 says,

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men (1 Peter 2:13).

Rather, look to Christ and follow him.

Lie 2: Never Try to Influence Your Husband

You should influence your husband, wisely and winsomely. For instance, a wife whose husband is an unbeliever ought to win him over (to Christian faith) “without words by their behavior”–pure and reverent.

Lie 3: Stop Thinking for Yourself

Peter speaks directly to wives in 1 Peter 3:1-6, not to the husbands. He wants them to think about God’s Word and apply it to their lives. My former counselee who had put a safe distance between her and her husband reported that he told her what she should think. She wasn’t allowed to think for herself. Have you received a similar edict from your husband?

Lie 4: Give in to Your Husband’s Demands  

When a husband demands that a wife sin, she must say “no” to her huband. Her refusal to sin lines up with Peter’s command to have proper conduct among unbelievers:

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Lie 5: You Are Less Competent Than Your Husband

This is another lie. In fact, some wives have far greater spiritual insight than husbands. This is certainly true when a Christian wife is married to an unbelieving spouse. She has the Holy Spirit dwelling within her. He does not.

Lie 6: Submission Means Wives Should Fear

On the contrary, Peter says wives should not “give way to fear” (verse 6). The instruction for husbands to respect their wives as “the weaker partner” has nothing to do with a woman’s lack of courage when endangered.

Lie 7: Submission Means Wives Are ‘Less Than’

Jesus submitted to God the Father, and he has dignitity and honor. A wife’s submission to her husband is similiar to Christ’s submission to the Father; they have equal importance.

What Submission Means

“Be submissive to your husbands” (verse 1) basically means that a wife willingly affirms the leadership of the husband. It doesn’t mean she’s a doormat or has no say or lacks value. Rather,

In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives, as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. (Ephesians 5:28)

Both the husband and wife are called to self-sacrifice. Look at the word the apostle Paul selected for love. It is agape in the Greek. This self-sacrificing kind of love isn’t about sex or affection or brotherly kindness. It is the kind that lays down one’s life for the other.

As a Bible study author astutely pointed out, an argument in a home where a husband loves his wife and she submits to his leadership might sound like,

“I insist that you have your way.”

“No, no, really, I insist you have your way.”

Just imagine that was the tone of your arguments, with the husband trying to out-sacrifice his wife and the wife trying to out-submit her husband. Just imagine the number of marriages that would thrive. The kids too.

I encourage you to read Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood for yourself. It sheds light on many Scripture passages that have confused men and women, leading to clarity in the roles of husband and wife in the home, church, and personal life.

Let us live in harmony with one another, as God intends.

Sharing Hope with Your Heart,

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Abortion: Finding Healing at Your Church

abortionAbortion stories are very rarely shared in most churches today.

Christian women are far more likely to admit depression or anxiety, a rebellious kid, or a troubled marriage.

One reason Christian women don’t talk their abortions is fear of condemnation from other Christians.

Last year’s undercover videos of Planned Parenthood got everyone talking about the horrific selling baby parts after abortion. It set social media on fire. My heart hurt as I heard of the sale of livers and kidneys and craniums.

And my heart hurts. . .for the women and girls who’ve had abortions.

I am privileged to know Tiffany Stuart, a blogger and a wonderful women who shares her abortion story at Tea with Tiffany. God is using her ministry to educate women and to bring healing to those who’ve ended their pregnancies and feel horrible, empty, numb, angry, depressed, and unforgivable. Her voice offers healing words.

It Could Happen to Anyone

Lynn was just 17. College bound. A steady boyfriend. And a missed period, then another.

Did you know that every year in the U.S., there are roughly 1 million abortions? 1.5 percent of abortions are pregnancies from rape or incest. Lynn’s boyfriend drove her to the clinic and paid for the abortion.

“I’m so scared,” she confided to me. (Names have been changed.)

We were close friends, Lynn and me. After “it” was over, we never spoke of her abortion. Like it never happened. Back then I had believed the “right to choose” propaganda, and if an abortion was right for Lynn, then fine. Just get it over with and move on right? Right?

If it were that easy, why did we never speak of it again? Ever. Were we. . .

Ignorant?

Ashamed?

Prideful?

I didn’t know then what I know now: Women who have abortions are in desperate need of emotional and spiritual healing.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,  who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, NIV)

Honestly, if I had known the devastation to women, I would not have helped my friend get an abortion. In fact, I would have yelled, screamed, laid down in front of her car, anything but stay silent.

The workers at Planned Parenthood had told Lynn that her unborn baby was a blob of tissue.

They are wrong. She was wrong. I was wrong. We know better now, don’t we?

Breaking the Silence in Churches

If you want to help make your church a safe place to share painful secrets of abortion, start with prayer. Ask God to bring a hurting woman into your life. If you’ve had an abortion, ask God to send you a compassionate woman whom you can trust.

Here are warm words for compassionate friends and hurting women.

Dear compassionate friend, the hurting woman won’t tell you her pain at first. She needs to know she can trust you. She needs to know you won’t condemn her.

The Bible says,

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1, NIV)

Dear hurting woman, are you afraid to tell a friend about your abortion? If you haven’t experienced healing, you need to reach out. Do you feel nervous or angry around babies and children?  Sorrowful? This sorrow may show up as uncharacteristic silence. These are signs you need healing.

Dear compassionate friend, offer her hope. She must learn that nothing can separate her from God’s love. Show her this verse in the Bible:

“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.” (Romans 8:38-39, NIV)

Dear hurting woman, you’ll find peace when you reconcile with God, with yourself and with others. If you haven’t already, talk with God and agree with him that you made a bad decision. Ask for his forgiveness. He will give it to you. At Calvary Jesus paid for all of your sins–past, present and future. However, you do not need to forgive yourself. No where in Scripture are we commanded to do this. God’s forgiveness is all that matters.

Dear compassionate friend, help the hurting woman reconcile with others when possible by speaking the truth in love to people who had a role in the abortion. They may have sinned against her, or she against them. Guide her in these difficult conversations.

Dear hurting woman, do you need a healing way to remember your loss? If you desire, write a poem or draw or sculpt, or memorize a scripture verse, to remember God’s loving-kindness toward you.

If anyone reading these words had an abortion, may you wrap yourself is the truth that God loves you and is for you. Why not talk with him? He’s waiting with open, gentle arms.

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Sharing Hope with Your Heart,

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Chronic Pain and Time to Renew

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Chronic pain and disability are constant companions of Suzanne Holland, one of the featured counselors in Heart2Heart Counselor Directory. She shares her story of renewing her disabled parking permit and all the emotions that rode along. Suzanne writes at Near to the Healer and is a biblical counselor. Her article was used with her permission. 

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I got a notice in the mail this week that it’s time to renew my disabled parking permit. Even just typing that sentence brings up emotions and feelings that I don’t want to be having.

Now, I will say that I am not as disabled as some who have these permits, and I might be one of those whom people would judge as they see me walking away from my handicapped spot. I look like I walk fairly normally.

But I must limit the number of steps I take if I am to get through the whole day with a manageable amount of pain. I try very hard not to use the handicapped spots, but sometimes it is necessary, and during those times, I am very grateful to have it.

That doesn’t eliminate the feelings about it. I have written now hundreds of blog posts about managing the emotions that come with chronic pain and mobility restriction, yet I still feel frustration and sadness when I see my neighbors out for a walk, and envy when my husband reports his Fitbit step score each evening. I always commit these feelings to the Lord, and lay them at His feet, but the sting remains, and it is a battle to calm it down.

Discovering the Meaning of Renew

As I was searching the DMV site for a way to get my new permit without actually entering their building, I kept having to type the word, renew. Of course I couldn’t help but think of the biblical meaning of that word, and the many Scriptures I have memorized about the renewal of the mind. So, I had to take a pause in my search to meditate on mind renewal as it relates to these emotions about the handicap placard.

The Lord and I have worked hard at renewing my mind about my “new normal.” Most of the time I do quite well with keeping my heart submitted to His will for me in this area.

One of my favorite verses about mind renewal is Romans 12:1.

With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.

I love this JB Phillips paraphrase, because it holds the exact encouragement that I need. Let’s go through this passage bit by bit, and just think it through together.

Pain and Mercy

The first thing I am reminded about here is that God has shown me mercy in allowing my body to become something other than what I would like it to be.  I need Him to open my eyes so that I can see clearly that this is sanctifying me in a way that no other trial could have done; and accomplishing God’s purpose to the degree that nothing else would have reached.

To me, this first sentence says, “Open your eyes, and see God’s mercy in this situation. Give your body to Him, and trust Him to use it for His glory.” This is a much-needed reminder for me, practically every minute. As I’m thinking about this placard that I want—but don’t want—I must remember that getting and using it is an act of submission to God’s will for me.

Pain and the Mind 

Next, I read that I am to let God re-mold my mind from within. So, He has changed my body, and now He wants to change my mind. The two are intricately related!

God knew that nothing would bring me to my knees (at least figuratively!) like a physical affliction. He knew that my strength, stamina, and fitness had become an idol, and He absolutely cannot tolerate any other God in my life. I’m not saying that my current condition is necessarily some kind of consequence or punishment for sin, but it certainly has accomplished the knocking down of that idol.

The Lord has done an amazing work in my heart, humbling me and drawing me near to Himself with every step I take. My relationship with Him is completely different from what it was before. I am dependent on Him now in ways I never was in my able body.

While I am far from perfectly humble, He has shown me the distance that my pride and self-focus had brought between us. Even better, He has shown me the beauty and wonder of intimate fellowship with Him. I had never imagined the level of closeness with Jesus that I could have until He brought me this affliction.

New Thinking!

Suzanne HollandThis passage tells me that I am to use my new thinking to show myself and others that this plan of His was good! This is why I must stop and meditate on Him when I begin to feel sad or am tempted toward self-pity about my situation.

You know, we are always talking to ourselves. Maybe not out loud (ok, out loud sometimes!), but whenever we are awake, we are thinking. Thinking is self-talk, so if we’re going to talk to ourselves, we might as well say something good! When we are telling ourselves true things about God and our circumstances, our countenance will tell others about our trust in Him.

Much of what we call mind renewal really boils down to telling ourselves something different from what we’ve been telling ourselves.

So, in this case, if I want to prove to myself that God’s plan for me is good, I need to stop lamenting over my need for a handicap placard, and start being thankful that I have it!

So I tell myself as I park in that space, “What a blessing to have this privilege of getting to park close to the store on those days when it’s hard to walk. Thank you, Jesus, for providing this for me!”

Gratitude is almost always a mind changer, and it is my go-to thing when I want to put off self-pity and put on joy.

Becoming Like Jesus

Friends, as this passage wraps up, we see that the goal is maturity. How are you doing in this area?

I have to admit, I think sometimes that I am stuck at the toddler stage, tempted to throw a tantrum because I didn’t get what I wanted. But then I remember that God calls us His children no matter what age we are. I believe this is because He knows that we will not reach full maturity in this life.

“Let the little children come to me,” he says in Matthew 19:14-15. Sometimes, I am that little child. As I come to Him, He offers me comfort, reminds me of His Word, and my mind is renewed. Hallelujah! What a Father! What a Savior!

Sharing Hope with Your Heart,

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