Attempting the impossible: describing my longing for God

How can I describe a longing for God? The scriptures describe it as a deer “panting” for streams of water (Psalm 42). The dictionary defines panting as a longing with breathless or intense eagerness; to yearn. Synonyms for panting include an ache, a craving, a desire. Hunger. Thirst.

Longing has equivalents in music: The sound of an oboe playing the “Going Home” theme from the second movement of Dvorak’s New World Symphony. A trumpet playing taps over a grave. Monks chanting, their voices in perfect unison stretching out the notes like a violin, back and forth, the voices swelling and then pulling back. The final note sung, hanging in mid air until it fades away.

Hernán Piñera Thanks for the music, mysterious form of time Flickr Creative Commons

Longing can be a pleasant feeling as it is for something good. My longing increases when God grants me the ability to sense and feel His presence; it is pure gift. It’s like the glow after a glass of wine. It’s the lightheaded peace I feel when swimming, moving slowly through the water and then floating, letting my body go limp. It’s that leftover warmth I feel when I visit my special friend after we have shared laughter, hopes and dreams, thoughts about God and our lives, occasional tears, and the Eucharist.

Longing can also hurt. It pulls inside of me causing a painful sensation. It is loneliness when the wall between God and myself becomes hard and thick due to apathy, pride and sin. It’s a constant sensation, often in the background but lately, more in the forefront. There is no concrete feeling or thought associated with my longing that can be sufficiently expressed in words; I only know that I yearn for God’s presence.

Sometimes God is so close to me that I cannot perceive him. I feel empty inside, alone and afraid. Frequently I wake in the middle of the night and try to reach out to him and feel no consolation. Yet my scant knowledge of God reminds me that He is near. Often that has to be enough, just to believe.

A seed was planted this summer after the silent weekend retreat with the Trappist Monks at St. Joseph’s Abbey. A tiny seed of longing. The seed has not yet matured enough to poke through the ground so it needs a great deal of care. My Catholic faith has supplied me with what I need to nourish it: prayers, hymns, the Word, the liturgy, the Eucharist and the community. And new tools and reminders: Gregorian chant, looking up at the sky, and swimming at the local health club. Beautiful, simple and concrete reminders of that which is beyond words to describe.

Winam Morning Swim Flickr Creative Commons

Perhaps the psalmist says it best:

As an antelope pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When may I come and appear in God’s presence?

Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

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Why is fasting so difficult? Looking for answers.

Note: This is my latest column for the Catholic Free Press. I also invite you to read my feature article in found on the Catholic Free Press website: St. Gabriel Lenten project to spread peace and joy

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Lent is upon us. In our household this means an extended period of fasting. My husband is a deacon in the Eastern Catholic Church (Melkite) and thus is required to fast for the entire season. That means that as his wife and support, I must too.

Fasting challenge

Fasting in the Eastern Church is rigorous — no meat, no dairy; fish is limited to shell fish. If we were in our twenties with no health issues this would still be difficult to follow. In our early sixties, we both observe diets that benefit our health. This diet eliminates most starch from our meals (pasta, beans, rice, etc.). Watching our cholesterol precludes eating shell fish regularly. There is not much left to eat, especially if you are not a good cook.

Heather Cheese straws Flickr Creative Commons

Even as I write this it sounds like a pathetic lament. But I confess that I find fasting very difficult. The reason is because after doing this for several years, it is still an empty obligation. I have yet to find the spiritual benefit from the fast.

Body as well as spirit

I am well aware of the arguments. Bishop Kallistos Ware of the Orthodox faith has written a helpful pamphlet, “When You Fast” which I have read many times and annotated. He says never to treat fasting in a legalistic way, as an end in itself. At the same time, fasting reminds us that man is both body and spirit; St. Paul states that, “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit,” (1 Corinthians 6:19) urging us to glorify God with our bodies. Bishop Kallistos writes of our willingness to fast in order to lose weight; “cannot we as Christians do as much for the sake of the heavenly Kingdom?” That pricked at my conscience as one who fasts year round to keep my weight in check. I admit that it’s easier to do that because I get the instant gratification of stepping on the scale and seeing that I am successful. Lenten fasting lacks such earthly reward.

Getting beneath the surface

I know that the purpose of fasting is not for payback. But I long for it to be something more than counting down the days until it is finished. It is painful to admit that the sameness of the meals and the added complications when it comes to shopping bother me a great deal. How I wish I had some inner understanding of why all of this is good and necessary for me to draw closer to God.

The arguments for fasting

Intellectually I am aware of the arguments for fasting. Bishop Kallistos writes that, “The primary aim of fasting is to make us conscious of our dependence upon God.” Our discomfort (hunger pangs, tiredness) reminds us of our “inward brokenness and contrition; to bring us … to the point where we appreciate the full force of Christ’s statement ‘Without Me you can do nothing.’ (John 15:5)”

Leading to prayer

Fasting is supposed to lead to prayer but for me it is still an empty exercise. How can I make my knowledge of fasting penetrate my stone cold heart?

Oméga * Femme priant – Woman praying Flickr Creative Commons

In one sense it is leading me to a simple prayer: “Lord, please show me how to fast such that it makes me more aware of You.” Remembering from St. Paul that we are to pray always, this will be my consistent daily prayer.

What is your experience?

I’d now like to ask: What does fasting mean to you? How do you make it work? What spiritual lessons have you learned from your fasting? Please share your experience in a comment. Perhaps through our community I and others like me can figure out the mystery of fasting through our mutual sharing.

In the meantime let us keep each other in prayer that we may fast in a more worthy manner.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

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When faith is tested: He’s got this.

My monthly Catholic Free Press/Catholic mom column.

When I awoke to the news of the massacre in Las Vegas, I felt numb inside. It was all too much. First the hurricanes in Texas and Florida. Then the devastation in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. And now this. (And after initially writing this, the fires in Northern California). I had not been directly affected by any of these events and yet a heavy sense of dread lay on my heart as I began to pray for those who had been affected. In reciting words that praised God and spoke of his protection, I felt a thud inside my heart saying, “no, they had not been protected.”

Where is God?

Later in the day I had a short conversation with a good friend on Twitter. She had written, “Las Vegas makes us ask God: where are you? The answer: God is here, asking the same question of us: ‘Where are you?’ Seek and let him find you.” I answered, “Got to admit, this one is shaking my faith a bit. I will never abandon my faith and I will always love God, but it did give me pause.” She answered, “I understand. What God permits is always jarring, but He sees the whole picture. That doesn’t make it any easier to trust Him.”

She thought her reply had not helped but in fact, it did. I felt the burden lift just a bit at the thought of God alone knowing the whole picture. I answered, “Actually, in a way, it does. He’s got this. Thank you; your words brought me comfort.”

He’s got this.

It’s not for me or for any of us to know the entire picture. He sees the world in its entirety from the beginning until the end of time. I don’t know why that comforts me, but it does. It is not within my ability to be omnipotent and therefore, not my responsibility to know it all. I am only asked to know enough to offer prayers and supplication, to lend a hand, to offer some words of comfort.

All I ever have to be …

This all reminds me of a song written by Gary Chapman and sung by Amy Grant,

“And all I ever have to be is what
You’ve made me
Any more or less would be a step out of Your plan
As you daily recreate me help me always keep in mind
That I only have to do what I can find
… all I ever have to be is what You made me.”

One day at a time

It’s the same idea. None of us were made with the capacity to carry the whole world on our shoulders. And that is a comfort to me. Somebody Else is in charge of that. All I have to do each day is to do what I am supposed to do. I can’t physically be in Houston or the Keys or San Juan or Las Vegas. But I can pray. I can carry these people in my thoughts and in my heart. I can choose a favorite charity and donate. I can give blood even though it may not be of help in Las Vegas; it will, however, help someone in my own backyard.

The suffering in our world is overwhelming; it’s impossible for me to wrap my head around it. Thankfully I am not asked to do that. I can leave it to the Lord; He’s got this.

A prayer

“Lord, guide me in your wisdom to those little things I can do to help ease some of the suffering of this world. Chase away my dread and those nagging doubts and show me what I can do in this moment to be of help. And please, keep reminding me that all I ever have to be what is You made me.”

Listen to Amy Grant singing the song:

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Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

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Book Recommendation: Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles and God

Note: I was sent an advance copy by the author for review purposes.

I am so pleased to recommend the debut book by a blogger whom I have come to regard as a friend – Lori Erickson’s Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles and God.

Erickson describes herself as a seeker and a pilgrim:

In my search for the holy, I’ve wandered down many paths. I’ve been a Lutheran, a Wiccan, a Unitarian Universalist, a Buddhist, an Episcopalian, and an admirer of Native American traditions. I’ve been spiritual-but-not-religious and religious-but-not-spiritual. I can read tarot cards and balance chakras. My spirit animal is a bear, which is a great relief because for years I thought it was a raccoon, an animal that while perfectly fine lacks a certain gravitas.

After many years of spiritual wandering, I’m now a committed Christian, but one who frequently flirts with other religious traditions.

Nature of the spiritual journey

The way to God is always a crooked path; it’s up to us to approach that path with an open mind: with eyes ready for new vision; with ears that will hear a something different and absorb it; and with a heart ready to accept, listening to the prompting of God’s Holy Spirit to help us understand. This is how I see my spiritual journey; I recognize that same spirit of pilgrimage in Holy Rover.

Pilgrimages across the globe

I discovered Erickson’s blog right around the time I created Be as One. She wrote the way I wished to write, creating a sense of longing for God while at times evoking strong emotions. She and her husband Bob are experienced world travelers, having taken numerous pilgrimages and documenting them in words and pictures.

Sharing her travels

I am a decided homebody, being most happy in familiar territory. There are times however when I know I need to emerge from the cocoon. Lori’s writing about her pilgrimages have enabled me to where I would never have normally gone; exotic places that have been home to saints and spiritual guides from all over. I found myself frequently engaging in discussion on her blog with both her and her readers, all of whom struck me as fellow travelers.

Now I have all that beauty and wisdom packed away in a lovely book (complete with an autographed name plate, thank you!). It is something I can turn to when I need to “get out of the house” whether it be my physical home or just out of myself. When I find the need to expand my horizons, I can turn to Holy Rover and never be disappointed.

Lori Erickson writes with refreshing honesty about the spiritual journey, free from judgment and dogma. Whether your wanderings take you around the world or into your backyard, far from the religion of your youth or just a few steps away, you will find a fascinating, wise and compassionate guide in Lori. I have. Thank you, Lori.

You can read a sample from the book here.

Order Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles and God from Amazon.

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Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

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Living with thorns in my side

This is my latest column in the Catholic Free Press, also running on Catholicmom.com.

Why is it that some wounds remain even when one has been healed? Several years ago I lost my singing voice due to acid reflux. I gave up singing thinking I would never do it again but after three years of rest, my singing voice returned (and I am sure St. Blaise had something to do with it). I happily joined the adult choir at my parish and took on cantering duties. I feel deep gratitude that God restored his gift back to me.

Accepting fear

Yet I had a new and most unwelcome guest with me whenever I sang—fear. I had never experienced stage fright before I lost my voice and now it is my constant companion. It causes me to break out in a cold sweat and I become tremendously self-conscious. Sometimes when my head and heart feel confident, my body still responds with that fear welling up deep inside of me.

One day while leading a song for the congregation I felt a sense from God that I was to walk side by side with this new companion for the rest of my singing days.

Does this mean my healing which I believe I received through the intercession of St. Blaise was somehow incomplete? No. There’s a reason why the fear is present. And it relates back to St. Paul.

Running side by side with a marathoner

Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. St Paul the Apostle, Flickr Creative Commons

I love St. Paul; he is a part of the entourage of saints to whom I pray for intercession each day. On my holy card he stands tall, a long sword by his side. Paul was fearless because of the armor provided to him by the Lord. His wisdom and clarity guide me on my spiritual journey. At times he has run beside me, urging me on through this marathon. He will be with me at the finish line.

Paul however had a thorn in his side. While he never revealed the nature of this thorn, still he tells us in 2 Corinthians 12 that the thorn remained despite his pleas to the Lord to remove it. God’s reply to his prayer was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Thus St. Paul declared, “I am weak, then I am strong.”

Reflecting on these verses, I accept my companion of fear and use it as a reminder that God is in control of all things and that through our difficulties he works out his plan for the good.

More than one thorn

Andreina Schoeberlein Thorn in my side, Flickr Creative Commons

How nice it would be if there were only one thorn but there are others. One thorn in particular has me running to the Cross every morning asking for forgiveness for a particular sin. If only I could live with this thorn and not sin, but thankfully, forgiveness is just a prayer away. With God’s grace, someday that thorn will not lead to sin.

A friend’s thorn

I think of the thorn my friend Jackie must endure. It is deep and heavy, a true cross to bear. Her thorn requires her to lean on Jesus every step of the way. Someday I may have to endure such a thorn. It frightens me until I am reminded to stay rooted to the present moment and cling to Jesus.

I must remember to invoke St. Paul the next time one of my thorns trouble me. I can’t think of a more capable and understanding companion.

Sing about grace

If you want to be reminded of God’s promise that his grace is sufficient, listen to Matt Maher’s wonderful song, “Your Grace is Enough,” found on YouTube. The melody will stick in your mind in an instance. And in singing that line “Your grace is enough, your grace is enough, your grace is enough for me,” perhaps your thorns will become easier to live with too.

 

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Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

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Good Friday multi-media meditations to fit your schedule

I wish to offer to you a couple of Good Friday meditations.

Short meditation

If you only  have a few minutes today, here is a short meditation on the Stations of the Cross:

Longer meditation

If you have 45 minutes to meditate, try this meditation on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary with scripture and sung prayers:

May you have a meaningful, blessed day today and a Happy Easter. Remember that with God, we can overcome anything and come out transformed.

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Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

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Book review: A Gathering of Larks: Letters to Saint Francis from a Modern-Day Pilgrim

When asked by Eerdmans Publishing Company to review A Gathering of Larks by Abigail Carroll I hesitated at first. I am dense when it comes to poetry. Unless the language is plain, the meaning escapes me. I don’t know how to read it nor can I write it, despite the fact that I have written a plethora of song lyrics.

The cover and the title won me over. I am a bird lover yearning for Spring when scores of birds will fill my yard again with song. It seemed like a good way to prepare for that eventuality.

I cannot judge Abigail Carroll as a poet as I have no point of reference. What I can say is that her lines moved me. More than half the book has turned-down page corners to mark poems that struck a nerve. Her writing is accessible to anyone whether or not you are a poetry connoisseur. She addresses her poems as letters to someone who is on the minds of many because of his namesake, Pope Francis.

Carroll offers a brief biography of the life of St. Francis of Assisi which is helpful when reading the letters that follow. He was born around 1181, the son of a wealthy Italian cloth merchant. He was expected to follow his father into the family business but instead became a French troubadour. Eventually he chose to become a knight and joined the Fourth Crusade. That plan was thwarted the very first night by a disturbing dream which drove him back to Assisi in shame. Over the course of time he abandoned his wealth and adopted a life of poverty, caring for lepers and rebuilding the church (sometimes literally). An order of friars grew around him along with a sister community led by St. Clare of Assisi.

St. Francis is affectionately remembered for his love of nature and animals along with canticles and poems he wrote in his later years while afflicted by poor eyesight and chronic illness. He never lost his ability to lift up the spirits of those around him with his creative skills.

Carroll’s letters to St. Francis are deeply personal without falling into sentimentality or lament. Her intimate knowledge of Francis aids her in building a bridge between his world and hers. That bridge extends to the reader who is brought along on the journey through her use of everyday cares and concerns.

Randy St. Francis of Assisi, Flickr Creation Commons

During her course of writing the book, Carroll suffered a foot injury which left her totally dependent on others to take care of her needs. She weaves this experience into her letters discovering through her correspondence with Francis that ability to let go of control over her life and revel in the unexpected freedom her injury brings.

Illustrated with drawings by John James Audubon, A Gathering of Larks is an easy read filled with wonderful messages. Read to get the overview, and then prayerfully study with pencil in hand to ponder the many messages within.

A Gathering of Larks by Abigail Carroll
Published by William B. Eerdsmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan

 

 

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Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

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Today’s the day to try “River of Grace”

Ave Maria Press is offering River of Grace Creative Passages Through Difficult Times at a deep discount for a limited time. If you’ve always wanted to read it, now’s the time to take the plunge!

Be sure and purchase it directly from Ave Maria Press — here’s the link.

Still not sure? Here is more information on the book.

You can help out too by leaving a review on Amazon — just search for “River of Grace by Susan Bailey.”

And thanks!

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Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

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The Feast of All Souls — a sense of “Going Home”

Do you believe that life ends here …

mt-auburn-05-2011

or perhaps, somewhere else?

libera-going-home2-featured

Today’s Feast of All Souls gives me pause; I wonder …

  • My mom and dad are gone, but are they? Where are they?
  • Where will I be going? Where do I want to do?
  • Do I believe there is something beyond this life?

For some reason I have always had a strong belief in the afterlife; it’s what got me through the deaths of my parents. I remember looking at my mother’s casket covered in beautiful purple and white flowers and feeling a strong sense that she was safe and free from pain. It was because she was well loved whether she knew it or not. Her beautiful memorial service showed that love to the capacity crowd that was present.

I believe that love never dies.

Whether our loved ones live on in our memories or actually “live” someplace, perhaps today is a good day to think about such things. Let go of fear and allow the imagination to fly higher and deeper, to that place where we truly live forever with our Creator.

We are loved. And love never dies.

This video of one my favorite pieces from Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” performed by Libera can perhaps lead you to such a place. The video provides the beautiful lyrics to this hymn.

May your reflection fill you with hope of things to come.

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Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

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Talking with Allison Gingras on Breadbox Media radio about “River of Grace”

00 cover drop shadowI was privileged to have my River of Grace discussed on Allison Gingras’ radio program on Breadbox Media, “A Seeking Heart” for the last 3 episodes! She used the first two programs to talk about how River of Grace impacted her own life — it’s such a blessing to hear that my book has impacted someone in such practical and powerful ways. In the third episode she invited me on-air to talk about my experiences of grace that inspired River of Grace.

Sit back, relax and listen to how God surprises us with gifts of grace in even the smallest of ways!

a seeking heart with pic
Be sure and check out Allison’s show notes with lots of interesting links to more information about the various things we talked about.

p.s. I am offering a free giveaway on the program — if you purchase River of Grace after listening, email me your receipt to susanwbailey@gmail.com and I’ll send you a PDF book of all the Flow Lessons included in the book – they include color pictures and links not included in the book. It’s an easy way to pick out the Flow Lessons you want to try.

Click to Tweet & Share: Talking with Allison Gingras on Breadbox Media radio about “River of Grace” http://tinyurl.com/glvqve8

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Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

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