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Taking a moment to just … be …

Last Sunday was a stressful day. It was one of many.

Sometimes life travels too fast. The plate becomes full to overflowing. Carrying a load of worry and frustration can become oppressive.

Time to off load my burden … time to take out the kayak.

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An hour later on a nearby pond, I reflected on what I had read so far from Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Laudato Si’” (more to come after I finish the encyclical). Although there are many who consider this document to be controversial, there are these simple truths:

… the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation … (Patriarch Bartholomew, #9)

… Saint Francis, faithful to Scripture, invites us to see nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness … the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise … (Saint Francis, #12)

After two hours on a glassy smooth pond towards the end of the longest day of the year, the beauty of God’s creation stilled my anxious soul.

The summer greenery, the spectacular sky, and a Swan with her chicks all posed beautifully for my camera. If you would like to take a minute to off load your cares and take a virtual kayak trip on the water, I invite you to watch this short video:

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Celebration in Song: “Come Holy Spirit!”

teach me to loveFrom my first CD called Teach Me to Love I present a fun and uplifting song, “Come Holy Spirit!”

Of all the songs recorded for this album, “Come Holy Spirit!” was the most fun. At the time of its recording in 2000, my husband Rich was co-leading the youth choir at our parish of St. Luke the Evangelist. Made up of teenagers (along with Rich, co-leader Sarah Connors and percussionist Joe Jaworski), the youth choir sang at the Sunday night 6:30 mass.

I wanted “Come Holy Spirit!” to be filled with many joyful voices, inspiring me to invite the youth choir to NYC to record the song.

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After securing permission from the parents, we rented a van and took the group along with our children, then 13 and 11, to the heart of New York City, on Canal Street. My producer, Ron Zabrocki, needed to rent larger studio space as his could not accommodate such a large group.

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While driving in we saw a magnificent air craft carrier, the USS Intrepid, acting as the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum. Our son Stephen, who was just beginning his interest in WWII, particularly enjoyed that site.

220px-USS_Intrepid,_aerial_view,_docked_at_Manhattan-horz-vert

The studio was huge as well and most impressive. We gathered together, rehearsing and then singing the song. As fate would have it, I had no voice that day, having lost it to a cold! But it was exhilarating hearing all those young and energetic voices calling down the Holy Spirit in song.

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After recording the vocals, Ron asked the group’s percussionist, Joe Jaworski, to play every single percussion instrument he brought with him. It fascinating watching him play and it fit in perfectly with the song.

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“Come Holy Spirit!” has been one of the most successful songs from my collection. It has been used in several churches for confirmation and Pentecost (ours included). I also had the thrill of performing it on EWTN’s “Backstage” program. I know I always have a lot of fun singing it; try singing along too and pray for the Holy Spirit to come, just as He did on Pentecost so long ago:

Sheet music for this song is available; visit here to purchase your copy.

“Come Holy Spirit” is available on Teach Me to Love; a digital copy can be purchased from iTunes or Amazon.

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Latest Catholic Free Press Column – Lessons learned from crazy cat people

This is my latest monthly column for The Catholic Free Press.
I have now admitted in print that I am a crazy cat lady! :-)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I am a crazy cat lady. There, I said it.

While I have two cats of my own, that’s only the beginning. I also follow live kitten cams online and chat regularly with the many viewers. My main reason for visiting Facebook is to follow the lives of foster kittens after they have been adopted.

jen and rameses

My two, JennyJen and Rameses

Cat lovers will likely be the only ones to understand this phenomenon; I imagine many of you are shaking your heads in disbelief, dismissing us as “crazy.”

But then again, I consider anything to be of value when I can see the hand of God at work.

In us and around us

St. Ignatius taught that God can be perceived in the world around us and inside of us; God is active in our everyday lives. What that says to me is that sacred and teachable moments can be found in unexpected places, even in live kitten cams.

So what have I seen?

The first live cam I followed was known as “Seven Kittens.” In that litter, a little runt with no hair who resembled Yoda captured our hearts.

at 2 months - Hank is looking up while the others sleep

at 2 months – Hank is looking up while the others sleep

Loki (aka Runty)

Loki (aka Runty)

“Runty” turned into the magnificent Loki. Recently we learned that Loki, at only three, has developed a heart condition that will likely shorten his life. Along with an outpouring of sympathy, his Facebook community assumed the entire cost of his emergency visit to the vet within days of the event, all through online donations.

Loki’s owner, Nat, has experienced first-hand the caring of a community.

Then there’s the Critter Room and Foster Dad John. John has fostered over forty litters with a nearly one hundred percent success rate of adoption.

In the name of one kitten

One kitten, however, did not make it. His name was Peter and he died four days after he was born. I, along with a thousand other viewers, witnessed the event, and John’s reaction. Usually cool and collected, John was moved to tears as he held the tiny life in his hand and watched it ebb away.

640 ghostbusters cropped mom and peter

Reaction from the community was swift. Expressions of sympathy manifested themselves in donations made in Peter’s name to the no-kill shelter that sponsors John’s fostering: Purrfect Pals.

The caring however goes way beyond cats and kittens.

kitten cam con 2015Many viewers, burdened with a debilitating illness, unemployment, stress or loneliness watch the cams to find some relief. They discover the gentle humor and empathy of the community and friendships develop. Gathered around the common theme of kittens, people come together and comfort each other, pray for each other and offer practical help. Many viewers have met each other in person, traveling from around the country to gather for the annual Kitten Cam Con in Seattle, WA, not far from the Purrfect Pals shelter.

Finding meaning

To me the kitten cam community is a microcosm of a perfect world. Perfection does not mean that things can’t go wrong; nature will take her course. But when things do go wrong, the community finds meaning through their love of each other, demonstrated through countless acts of thoughtfulness and generosity.

For the least of these

The kitten cam community demonstrates that if we as a people can unite in love and caring for the least of these, our bigger world will be a better place. That caring comes one at a time: one kitten, one mama cat, one person, one family, one community.

So where is God in all of this?

I am reminded yet again that we are surrounded with tactile reminders of love and grace. When we choose to belong to something bigger than ourselves that is life-giving, great things will happen.

Pockets of good

The constant emphasis on the ugliness of our world can skew our vision, robbing us of hope that goodness still exists. Yet it’s all around us if we look for it: pockets of quiet and gentle people who love, laugh, cry and celebrate together. Pockets in our families, churches, cities and towns. And in live kitten cams. Reminders that the love of God is alive and well and that we are called to share his love with everyone around us.

This is why, for me, live kitten cams go far beyond obsessing over kittens. It’s a concrete reminder that grace exists, moving us to life-giving and wonderful things.

That’s what I learned from crazy cat people; I am proud to be one!

me with noah for BC

p.s. I put together a scrapbook of pictures from Foster Dad John’s litters (including his special girl, Trillian) into a book called
The Critter Room Memory Book – order your copy for $15.95 and $7.15 will go to support Purrfect Pals.

River of Grace Creative Passages Through Difficult TimesJoin my Email List (special surprises just for you!)
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Celebrate with Song: “Teach Me to Love”—the first person to post a comment wins a free copy of this song!

Andy Morffew Singing in the Rain with words featuredCelebrating second chances in song

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“Teach Me to Love,” recorded in 2000, is one of my favorite songs for several reasons.

It’s about Blessed Mother Teresa.

Mother Teresa died right around the same time that Princess Diana died. With Diana dominating the headlines, there was very little attention focused upon what had been a living saint. It was then that I sat down and wrote “Teach Me to Love” so that I could honor this woman small in stature who loomed large in her service to the poor.

Who is that singing with me?

I love “Teach Me to Love” for another reason– because my daughter Meredith, then eleven, sang on this song with me. Here she is in the recording studio:

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This is the result:

Eight years later, Meredith and I had a chance to sing “Teach Me to Love” at our parish coffeehouse and someone captured it on video:

Part of the healing process

River of Grace Creative Passages Through Difficult Times“Teach Me to Love” was an important song when it came to learning to sing again after losing my voice. In River of Grace I write,

“That first small step back to music was taken with my high school confirmation class. After hearing a speaker who had worked with Mother Teresa, we returned to our classrooms to discuss it. As music has a unique way of conveying a message, I wanted to present the right song to the class that would affirm what we had learned about Mother Teresa’s mission while creating an atmosphere conducive to prayer and reflection. Searching through my iPod, I came upon one of my own songs called “Teach Me to Love.” The words were perfect but the song was recorded in a way that would not produce the ambiance I desired. I paused, wondering if I still had the voice to sing it live in front of my students. Singing to them in person would create a sense of intimacy that a recording could never achieve. I decided to go for it. I loved these kids and wanted to give them the best opportunity for meaningful prayer and reflection. The result was that sweet stillness in the air followed by spontaneous applause. By overcoming fear I was able to lead my students into a sacred moment. I gave; the gift was returned, and it became a prayer.”

teach me to love“Teach Me to Love” is part of the Teach Me to Love CD.

You can win a free copy of “Teach Me to Love”
by being the first to comment on this post.
I will email you the mp3 file.

Good luck!

River of Grace Creative Passages Through Difficult TimesJoin my Email List (special surprises just for you!)
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Keep up with news and free giveaways regarding Susan’s new book, River of Grace!
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Celebrating a second chance with singing!

You lose something precious, an essential part of yourself.

You grieve. And rail. You lament. And cry.

You tick down a long list of regrets, of missed (and botched) opportunities.

You think it’s all over.

And then, you get a second chance.

Four years ago I lost my music. The singing voice disappeared. The songwriting stopped. The passion died.

Or so I thought.

JudeanPeoplesFront day 46 - lost cat

JudeanPeoplesFront day 46 – lost cat

Last year the voice was restored (see previous posts). And this year, I am falling in love again.

We all know how it feels when we lose our keys, a credit card, an important document or picture, a favorite book. How about if your cat or dog runs away? We panic. We sweep the house and surrounding area, searching. We become angry when the search yields nothing. We may even cry in frustration. It eats at us, gnaws at us. It takes a long time to accept that it is gone.

And then, the lost item turns up!
How do you feel?

How would you feel if you lost a part of yourself?

  • What if your eyes could no longer see the books you love to read?
  • What if you lost the ability to hear your grandchild’s voice on the phone?
  • What if your limbs will no longer take you where you want to go?

And how would you feel if that lost ability was restored, either through a miraculous healing or a wonder of medicine?

  • What would you do with that restored eyesight, hearing or ability to walk?
  • How would you feel towards The Great Physician?

A way of showing thanks

preparing for easter massRecently I thanked God (yet again) for the completion of my healing. I had sung at two Sunday masses, marveling at the new-found strength of my voice but more importantly, reveling in the gratitude that I feel every time I sing.

The dread of performing in public is diminishing while the joy in and appreciation of what I have been given back, grows.

I devoted a chapter in my upcoming book, River of Grace on the loss and healing of my voice; I write:

“In reflecting upon the healing of my voice … I have learned that healing is so much more than a cure of the physical symptoms; it is the restoration of the whole person. And while the physical portion may happen in an instance, the true healing of the interior person unfolds over time. That unfolding requires our partnership with the Great Physician; we must take the medicine and perform the disciplines necessary to retain that healing and grow from it. I still have many issues to work through regarding my music including that newfound fear to perform in public and working through my writer’s block regarding songwriting. As one who has been healed, I have a responsibility to follow through, seeing that healing to its fruition.”

I want to celebrate this healing from the Great Physician
and I’m going to call it, “How Can I Keep from Singing.”

As a way of celebrating, I will share with you each week (on Thursdays) a song from my collection along with a short story behind that song. There will be links to where you can purchase the CD or the song itself from Amazon or iTunes.

And, each week, you will have a chance to win an mp3 copy of that song, emailed directly to you, simply by being the first one to comment on the post!

So watch for the first installment of “How Can I Keep from Singing,” coming this Thursday!

Let’s celebrate the gift of our lives with singing!

River of Grace Creative Passages Through Difficult TimesJoin my Email List (special surprises just for you!)
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Keep up with news and free giveaways regarding Susan’s new book, River of Grace!
Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read Susan’s blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

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When Worlds Collide! After yelling “Help!” what next do you do?

What happens when you are in one place but your head and heart are elsewhere?

How does it feel when you must pay attention to the present while your head and heart are dragging you into the future?

What happens when you have the essence of two full-time jobs colliding?

Does it feel like this?

Ugh. That was my week. Super busy at work and equally busy in my head. Struggling to remain in the present moment.

Are you feeling like that too?

What worlds are colliding for you?

I work in for Rutledge Properties, an independent real estate firm. We are hip deep in the busy Spring market with lots of houses are coming on for sale all at once.

The day job

I prepare the advertising and marketing materials, both print and online. My job is to make the property, and the agent, look their best. Everything must be accurate; I can’t screw up.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my day job. And yet, the struggle to pay attention is epic.

The whenever-I-can-fit-it-in job

River of Grace Creative Passages Through Difficult TimesIn my other “full time” job, I am preparing my first book, River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times for launch in late October.  I am swimming in marketing courses, planning, scheduling, networking, scouting for speaking gigs … you name it.

My head so wants to be with my book, not with real estate.

What to do?

When all else fails, ask for help.

I turned to the same person who was my constant guide in writing the book in the first place: I turned to God. If he could inspire me with thoughts and guide my pen, would he not also help me finish the process in exposing my words to the world?

Help!

My head was too full for anything eloquent; I just blurted out that I needed help and fast! I gave it all over to God, And just as before, the answer was swift in coming.

First I was told to take a few deep breaths.

And then I took two hours of my day after work, sat at my desk and looked at the big blob of marketing information in front of me; I then began to take that blob apart, piece by piece. That alone made it more manageable.

L: Lee Morley Blob; R: Sinan Onur ALTINUÇ Blobs--Flickr Creative Commons

L: Lee Morley Blob; R: Sinan Onur ALTINUÇ Blobs–Flickr Creative Commons

Next I chose what I considered to be the most important piece and drew up a schedule and a plan. The sense of relief was palpable. The other pieces I put aside for the next time I’d have a chunk of time.

I then took a moment to reflect, to remember how in the past, everything always worked out for the best so long as I trusted. God knows me best and knows what I need. He knows what he wants and what I want.

Time again to Let. It. Go. Whew!

Are you drowning in work, family and personal commitments?

Do you have to be in one place while your head is elsewhere? Is everything in your life right now just one massive, oppressive BLOB?

  • Call for help.
  • Breath deep.
  • Break down the blob into pieces
  • Choose the most important piece and make a plan.
  • Remember how things worked out in the past.
  • And let it go.

Try it. Let us know if it worked for you and how.

Artwork links: Lee Morley Blob; R: Sinan Onur ALTINUÇ Blobs–Flickr Creative Commons

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Announcing my first book to be published this Fall! River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times

I am pleased to announce that my very first book, River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times will be released this Fall, published by Ave Maria Press!

A memoir with life application

River of Grace is part spiritual memoir and part life application, offering true and hopeful stories of growth and transformation after hard losses.

Father Robert Reed, president of CatholicTV and author of Renewed writes of the book:

“If you, like me, have experienced failure or loss and can’t quite find your way out of the darkness, Susan Bailey offers gentle reflections with graceful tools that bring light, creative renewal and a fuller Christian life.”

Amy Belding Brown, author of Mr. Emerson’s Wife and Flight of the Sparrow (which I reviewed last year) writes:

“Susan Bailey’s powerful and beautifully-written book is much more than an insightful spiritual memoir.  River of Grace is also a brilliant reflection on the connections between creativity and grace. Deeply grounded in a profound Christian faith, the author chronicles her personal experiences of loss and shows how they were transformed as she learned to accept and respond to new challenges. This wonderful book also includes a valuable assortment of exercises that will enrich your spiritual life and gently guide you to confront your own difficulties and deepen your relationship with God. Anyone who seeks to discern God’s purposes in life’s most challenging situations will find this book one to cherish.”

Seasons of loss

Just about all of us can cite a time in our lives whether now or in the past, where we have lost something precious to us.

  • Perhaps it’s been the death of a parent or a child.
  • Or, you yourself are suffering through a long illness.
  • It could be a long stretch of unemployment causing financial difficulties, even the loss of your home.
  • Maybe you’ve lost a best friend due to a falling out.
  • Perhaps you’ve recently put down a beloved pet.

These are all serious losses that tear at us, causing grief or anxiety or anger. Where do we find the strength to pick up the pieces and carry on?

Could a serious loss signal a new life, even a transformed life?

This is what I write about in River of Grace, beginning with the loss of my parents and then my singing voice. Through the means of a kayak and my love for Louisa May Alcott, God led me on an amazing, joy-filled and sometimes crazy adventure within his river of grace, leading up to this book and beyond.

Stories and tools

River of Grace is not just book of stories. I provide practical tools so that you too can go on your amazing adventure. These “Flow Lessons” appear throughout the book and will also be available on this website.

In the weeks to come, I will share quotes and stories from River of Grace. Please spread the word to everyone you know who has gone through a season of loss or is just looking to jump start their spiritual and creative lives.

Available in many formats

River of Grace will be available as a print book, e-book and audio book (through Audible.com and iTunes). Just this past week I started the process of recording the book. My thanks to producer extraordinaire Ron Zabrocki for his expertise (he produced several of my music CDs).

recording montage

Here is more on River of Grace:

Writing River of Grace and having it published by such a well-respected publisher has been a dream come true. I would definitely classify it as a “crazy adventure!”

River of Grace Creative Passages Through Difficult TimesPlease share this post on Facebook, on Twitter, on Pinterest, through email with anyone whom you think would benefit from reading my book. Feel free to share the book cover. Your recommendation is the best way to get the word out.

I will let you know just as soon as it is available when you can order River of Grace. Signing up for my email list is the best way to be the first to know.

I can’t wait to share this book with you!

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Dealing with the problems in our country: One person, one step at a time

This is my most recent column in The Catholic Free Press:

stephen's classroomOur son called the other day to share a lovely story about a former student.

Until recently Stephen had been a pre-school teacher in Brooklyn, NY. Although he had neither experience nor background in education, he took the job because he was desperate, having been unemployed for months.

Even as he fumbled in the dark with no idea as to what he was doing, Stephen managed to touch the life of a then 3-year-old boy.

Surprising encounter

Stephen knew well the thankless nature of teaching. So imagine his surprise when the now five-year-old boy recognized him on the street and ran up to him, throwing his arms around him. The family followed up with a phone call and Stephen is planning an outing with them as a result.

Give what little we have

We never know how we will affect other people’s lives. We think we have to be experts; my son’s experience says otherwise. We don’t need to know anything—we just need to be open and vulnerable, willing to give whatever we have.

What can we do?

We have witnessed the horror in the streets of Baltimore and around the country. A large group of disenfranchised people are protesting the purgatory of their daily lives, ones of poverty and hopelessness.

While the means of “protest” through robbery, arson, assault and defiance are wrong and cannot be tolerated, we as a nation are stilled forced to consider the deeper questions: what went wrong and how to fix it.

The problem is overwhelming in its scope and it’s tempting to just tune out. After all, what can one person do?

What did Jesus do?

The problems that Jesus faced during his time on earth appeared overwhelming as well.

Streams of sick people dogged his every step, begging for healing. Being God of course, he could have just gathered all the sick together and granted a mass healing with the wave of his hand.

But he chose a different way, the way that we are asked to follow: deal with the problem one person, one step, at a time.

One person, one healing

Jesus sought intimacy with the sick.

  • Consider the paralyzed man, lowered through a roof on a mat, called “son” and forgiven of his sins before being told to pick up his mat and go home.
  • Or the blind man, healed from a mixture of mud and Jesus’ own spittle.
  • And the hemorrhaging woman who touched the Lord’s cloak in secret, called forth from her shame and brought back out into the open.

People who changed the world

While Jesus often taught thousands, he also counseled Nicodemus in the middle of night.

He formed his small band of disciples, pouring out his heart to them and washing their feet.

These men, imbued with the Holy Spirit, would go out and change the world following their Master’s example.

Daring to step out

Recall Philip, teaching and then baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8.

Or Ananias, daring to obey the Lord and lay hands on Saul (aka St. Paul) despite this man’s relentless persecution of the early Christians.

We only need to give what we have

Even in the midst of the staggering problems of poverty and race in our country, the Gospel reminds us that it is possible to become part of the solution.

We don’t have to be experts in education, community organizing or social work. We don’t need power or money. We need no other means but the simple offering of self, in partnership with our Lord.

Power in weakness

Stephen reminds me that in our weakness, we can make a difference. In the midst of chaos we can touch that one person, changing their lives forever.

We need to be open to our Lord’s prompting, committing ourselves to doing the best we can with what little we have.

This is when good happens.

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Slave or Free? Less or More? Reflections on the Sunday Readings for May 31, 2015

The Sunday Readings: Deuteronomy 4: 32-34, 39-40, Psalm 33, Romans 8:14-17, Matthew 28: 16-20

Why is it that so many people today attack Christianity?
What are they so afraid of?

Is it because the Church is perceived as an authority figure bent on depriving us of personal freedoms, especially that of choice?

Is it because it is seen as an institution that deprives rather than as a life choice that fulfills?

For it is a choice.

God gave us free will which we can exercise as we please. Since choices have consequences, we need to be well informed before deciding.

God gave us his Holy Word as a means of helping us to make an informed choice. A thoughtful examination of this week’s Sunday readings points to reasons why inviting God into our lives could be considered a good choice.

Powerful and generous

The first reading portrays a powerful God, generous in spirit, going out of his way to demonstrate his love for his people. In Deuteronomy 4: 32-34, 39-40 Moses reminds the Israelites of all that has been done for them: “Did anything so great ever happen before?” referring to their miraculous release from slavery in Egypt. God intervened directly, raising a leader in Moses to take the people to a new land and a new life. The subsequent commandments of the Lord that Moses presented to the people were meant for their well-being, to ensure that they “may prosper” and have “long life.”

Does it sound like these people were being deprived?

The second reading from Romans 8:14-17 spells out the benefits of choosing God clearly: we are no longer slaves but children, heirs to a great fortune–a meaningful (though not trouble-free) life on earth and eternal life in paradise.

Deprived or privileged?

Children are disciplined and schooled, guided into adulthood by the love of their parents. We have the privilege of calling the Omnipotent God, the God we cannot see or ever hope to understand “Abba,” Daddy!

Slaves are deprived; children are privileged.

Spreading the word

With this in mind, today’s Gospel from Matthew 28 shows Jesus sending his disciples forth to spread the Word, the Good News, to inform the world that we can choose to be children; and not to be slaves.

Making a choice

It’s that constant paradox that is Christianity: Submission means freedom. God’s commands leads prosperity and long life.

The choice is ours to make. How will we decide and where will it lead us?

It’s time to do the homework, to ponder and consider the consequences.

Our lives are too important to waste.

 

 

 

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