The Christmas Letter That Wasn’t

gift in the taking This year I accidentally took my own advice and sent New Year’s cards instead of Christmas cards. (OK, to be perfectly transparent… I haven’t actually sent anything yet. It’s on my to-do list!) I say “accidentally” because I actually wrote the blamed thing back in December, but then never had a chance to print it out, sign and address the cards, and get it in the mail. Henceforth and therefore, it is now a “New Year’s” card/letter.

Here’s the blogified version. It’s worth a read, if I do say so myself. 

“The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job 1:21

What if the greatest blessing is not found in the gift that is given, but in the gift that is taken away?

Consider for a moment: the arrival of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was a Gift that prompted the glorious praise of men and angels alike, and continues to be marked in celebration annually centuries later. Yet those who witnessed the coming of this precious Gift were stunned and dismayed when He was seemingly snatched from them before their eyes just a few decades later, apparently without having even fulfilled His purpose on earth. {Or so it seemed to them at first.}

God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform, and often, His greatest blessings come not when the gift is given… but when it is taken away.

My DH and I have experienced this firsthand! In March of last year, God gave us what we had been asking for a long time: a better job for my DH, with significantly higher salary, and a security clearance to boot! His direction in our lives was quite clear, and we moved excitedly – and with a little trepidation – to Northern Virginia, after having spent our entire married life thus far in Maryland.

Barely two months later, through no fault of his own, my DH lost his new job. We spent very little time wondering if we had misread the signs leading us to Virginia because God quickly strengthened the conviction in our hearts that He had given us this job for the express purpose of taking it away.

Doesn’t make sense? The mysterious ways of God do not make sense to our human mind, but both Jonathan and I can honestly say, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” We cannot explain to you the joy and the peace that flooded our hearts after the initial shock wore off. We have seen God work in our lives in an amazing way that would not have been possible otherwise. We have experienced God’s grace more personally and tangibly than we ever had previously in our lives, even though we both grew up in Christian homes surrounded by the teaching of the Word.

We are ever so grateful to God for His provision for us (not the least of which is Jonathan’s PT job and my job as a K3 teacher) and His love for us, and that He has not discarded us to live our lives as we wish, but continually draws us closer and closer to Him.

We know also, that just as Jesus – the Perfect Gift from Heaven – was not taken away from us forever {No, He is alive and well and will return in power and glory one day!), and therefore endured the suffering of death and the cross for the joy that was set before Him; so we can endure our temporary suffering here on earth, knowing He has a greater purpose to fulfill within us and through us. We look forward to being useful as clean vessels in His service, wherever that may be and whatever it requires of us.

Merry Christmas!

Happy New Year’s!

Uh… ya know… have a good life and stuff! 

(Next Christmas, I promise I’ll be on time!)

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Can’t See the Light at the End of the Tunnel?

Note: I’ve used  to my Amazon.com affiliate in the links to the various CD’s below. Thanks for supporting Authentic Simplicity! I rarely pause to share my heart here at Authentic Simplicity, mostly because I’m typically brimming with enthusiasm about other things, like cleaning carpet or storing excessive numbers of books or eating vegan for breakfast. Lately, though, my mind has been empty of all things practical while I deal with my heart that has been rebelliously insisting on some serious attention. Sometimes the details of life have to take a back seat so I can settle the big picture, and that’s what I’ve been grappling with lately.

Discouragement

Here’s the story: earlier this year, my DH, through no fault of his own (he is such an amazing man!), lost his job. If you’ve been through that experience, you know the roller-coaster of emotions that follows such a life-altering event. I don’t like roller-coasters, but this was one I had no choice but to ride! The painstakingly slow climb up the hill that takes forever, the crazy rush of hope at every possibility, the plunge into disappointment when it doesn’t work out, the twists and turns you weren’t expecting and don’t really welcome (hello, I thought we had already paid our car insurance bill through next year?!), all bringing you to a slow finish… right. back. where you started.

Oh yeah, and a massive headache to remember your thrilling ride of a lifetime. 

And unlike real roller coaster rides where you get off at the end, this one just keeps looping around and around endlessly. What started out as a sprint has become a marathon, and it gets discouraging to say the least.

Encouragement

However.

(Thank goodness for the “however”!)

However, I can say honestly and truthfully that while I – more often than I care to admit – have my moments of doubt, discouragement, and despair, I know most certainly that much good has come out of our jolting journey through unemployment. I can’t think of a single good thing about real roller coaster rides, but this life-size one has been used for good in our lives. We can see where God prepared us for it financially, mentally, and emotionally, and we can see how He has provided each need along the way.

Throughout this journey, I’ve had to fight against the depression that’s always threatening to take over my mind and heart, and as usual, God has used music as a source of encouragement and exhortation in my life. The following songs have been particularly meaningful to me in recent months, and I want to share them with you in the event that you, too, could use a little encouragement.

Note: I just want to mention that we are not destitute or on the streets or anything! I am working full-time as a teacher (a job I L-O-V-E!!!) and my DH has a PT job with health benefits that pays decently while he’s looking for a FT job. Plus, he’s taking the time to launch his own online graphic design business, something he’s been wanting to do for a really long while now. We’re not exactly rolling in dough, but we have enough to pay the bills and are excited about what the future holds!

1. Our God is in Control by Steven Curtis Chapman

Our God is in Control has been a go-to encouragement song for me ever since the CD, Beauty Will Rise, was originally released. The entire CD, in fact, is just one encouraging song after another! SCC wrote it after the devastating experience of losing his little girl in a car accident in his own driveway. Each song reminds you to look up and keep the big picture (the eternal one) in mind. I’ve even sung this particular song in church because it has meant so much to me.

2. Worn by Tenth Avenue North

This is the first song I ever heard from this group, and I was introduced to it by my friend Rachel. It comes from their CD, “The Struggle“, that is full of songs addressing the various struggles we go through in life. What I love about this song is how it so beautifully and clearly expresses how I feel sometimes when it seems like one more day of the same-old-same-old is just too much to take. I will say that it doesn’t do to focus on this song for long. Listen to it, identify with it, cry all the way through… and then listen to another song with a happier ending. You’ll never pick it all back up again if you stay where this song ends!

3. You Are I AM by Mercy Me

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I’ve been a big fan of Mercy Me for a long time now, and their CD, “The Hurt and the Healer”  has become a very important one to me. It’s full of songs that speak to human suffering from a divine perspective, which is exactly the sort of song one needs to listen to in the middle of difficult times! This is one of those songs that you have to turn way up, lift your head, close your eyes, and raise your hands. (Even if you’re a Baptist. I mean it.) Instead of focusing on everything that’s wrong, it leads me to focus on Who God Is. He Is I Am, and that’s all I really need.

4. All Things Possible by Mark Shultz

Even my Certain Little Someone knows the words to this song and we both sing along whenever it comes on in the van. You just can’t help but be lifted up and encouraged after singing this song. It’s impossible! So sing it out, now! And also, “It Is Well” from the same CD (All Things Possible) is another uplifting super encouraging song. Put those two together and you can’t be beat!

5. Great Is Thy Faithfulness

Psalms 37:3 is translated in the NKJV this way: Trust in the Lord, and do good; Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. To me, that means learning that we exist only because of God’s faithfulness to us… but I also think it means focusing on and meditating on God’s faithfulness. If our mind is dwelling – feeding – on thoughts of God’s faithfulness, we cannot help but be lifted in spirit. To that end, I began singing the old hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness” as I went around the house loading the dishwasher and whatnot. As I sang from my heart, it kind of fell into an arrangement of sorts, which I recorded here. (Although it feels a little weird recording myself like this… it’s just the easiest way to share with you what God has shared with me! Just ignore the unintentional twenties ‘do, the occasional “pitchy” note, and the computer glare on the mirror in the background. In fact, just close your eyes and listen to the message in the song.)

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A Look Back at 2012 in Blog Posts

January

I started out the new year with a goal to learn how to make a variety of dairy products. I made almost everything on my list (except mozzarella and butter, which I determined was kind of pointless for me, since I could get it cheaper from a local farm than I could make it), and I blogged about some of it: Super Simple Yogurt, Sour Cream/Creme Fraiche, and How to Make Ghee. Mission accomplished! (Except the mozzarella. I might never get to that one.)

chicken dumplings

February

My bloggy friends and I did a series in February called “Sizzlin’ Soups (We even made a free eBook – anybody want a copy? I’ll be offering it to subscribers pretty soon here!). My contribution was a delicious healthified version of chicken and dumplings. My mouth is watering even now as I think about it (and the eBook contains a gluten-free dairy-free version as well!).

March

In celebration of International Woman’s Day, March was all about Women’s Wellness. We talked about everything from easing PMS symptoms to the sun and Vitamin D to emotional and spiritual health. Plus, there were a few recipes (of course!): Choco-Cado Smoothie (a favorite around here), Savory Oven Pancake (another favorite), and the Healthified Shamrock Shake (yet another favorite – it was a yummy month!).

April

April was a slower month for me blog-wise, but it did bring another standby recipe that I L-O-V-E: Vegan Oat Muffins. This is one of those recipes I love that always turns out no matter what I do to it. Plus it’s wheat-free, dairy-free, and egg-free, which are kind of important around here.

May

Some friends and I participated ina one-day blog series about The Real Truth About Real Food. My post for the series was all about how I’ve come to learn that relationships with people supercede my relationship with food every time. There’s a great freedom and balance that comes when you learn that important lesson. And your friends (and husbands) are a lot happier, too.

Your Grocery Budget Toolbox

June

In June, I launched my first ever eBook, Your Grocery Budget Toolbox! To celebrate, I focused on grocery budgets for 7 days, with posts like A Budget for Every Personality, Menu Planning, and How to Become a Gardener. It was an exciting week for me, and I’ve been thrilled with the positive response to my eBook. Self-publishing is a highly fulfilling experience; I recommend it!

July

I had the privilege of experimenting with a WonderMill grain mill starting in July, and posted about the experience on the Grain Mill Wagon. Some of the recipes inspired by the mill: The Best Pancakes EverGrandma’s Biscuits – with Spelt, and Spelt Pizza Crust,.

August

August brought big changes – this blog went from Quick and Easy Cheap and Healthy (mainly focused on food) to Authentic Simplicity (broadening that QECH focus to include life in general). I didn’t waste any time, either – I participated in a week-long series where I featured all the different ways I save money on organizing products: at yard sales, with empty jars, at dollar stores, and with shipping boxes.

September

I kicked off the school year with a series of posts detailing my simple approach to preschool at home. It was very well received, particularly the posts about phonics and reading. Which is awesome because that happens to be one of my passions in life.

October

In October I was privileged to attend the Allume Conference, which prompted two posts: one a recap of the event, the other a post written by my DH! I have to say, he did a fantastic job. The man has skills!

November

In November, I launched another facet of my online business: I became a distributor of Young Living Essential Oils (note that the giveaway mentioned in the post is no longer open). You can read the whole story by clicking on that link, but to sum up: I’ve decided to focus on essential oils as a natural method of helping the body to heal, and I learned that becoming a distributor was the best way to make high quality oils affordable. I’ve been very happy with my decision, and am, in fact, about to go apply some oils to my coughing little Tiger Cub. I know they will help immensely, and I’m thrilled that I have access to them.

December

December was all about keeping it simple: A Simple Christmas was the theme. I’m going to tell you a little secret: I wrote all the posts and scheduled all the social media updates prior to December, and I took the whole month off of blogging. Oh, I still did some work here and there, but by and large, I had myself a nice, month-long vacation. And a lovely, simple Christmas. Ahhhhh!

Now it’s back to the grind for me! But thankfully, I happen to love my chosen grind. Here’s to a wonderful New Year here at Authentic Simplicity!

 

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The Top 12 Posts of 2012

It’s been a big year on the blog: a name change, domain change, design change, and the whole nine yards! I can barely even remember the old Quick and Easy Cheap and Healthy! But the spirit remains: the focus on all things simple but real, and, of course, cheap frugal.

So many new friends have joined us along the journey, and I am so delighted to have each and every one of you here to help me figure out this delicate balance between authentic and simple. So for new friends and old, here’s a quick backward glance over this past year as we head into the promise of the new.

The posts listed below are the most popular ones this year based on my traffic statistics. In other words, readers visited these posts more than any others on the blog. So that means they must be good, right?

The Top 12 Posts of 2012 on Authentic Simplicity

pumpkin soup 12. Pumpkin Soup

This kind of tickles my funny bone, because I made this pumpkin soup exactly once. I liked it and everything, but I haven’t had the desire to make it since. The honest truth is that I really like my soup to have stuff floating in it – you know, like meat, and noodles, and vegetables, and all that yummy stuff. When I eat a bowl of straight pureed soup, I sort of feel like I haven’t actually eaten anything. I keep thinking I’d like to make this soup as an accompaniment to a meal (like maybe with sandwiches) but I haven’t done that yet. Maybe one day!

11. Don’t Throw Away Those Sweet Potato Peels

It’s kind of my mantra: wait, don’t throw that away! You can still use it! Even for the homely old sweet potato peel. These make a yummy snack, let me tell you. And this I have made more than once.

10. Easy Protein-Rich Snacks

Upon embarking on my low-carb diet, I found it tricky to have high-protein snacks available in between meals, so I made this post so I would have a quick reference whenever the munchies hit. It’s come in handy more than once!

9. Gluten-Free Vegan Samosas

This is another one-hit wonder. I made these gluten-free vegan samosas for the Secret Recipe Club, and *I* enjoyed them thoroughly, but they weren’t such a big hit for My Certain Little Someone. Since I have no need to eat gluten-free vegan anything, there’s no way I’m going to go through the effort of making these purely for my own enjoyment. Maybe when he’s older, we’ll give it another go. Actually, maybe not, since he is no longer wheat-free. Well, anyway, you can enjoy these, because although they require quite a bit of effort, they are quite yummy.

8. Clean Your Oven Safely and Naturally

In the interest of full disclosure, that is not my oven in the picture. I wish! My oven is clean, but it ain’t that clean. I’m glad this post made it to my top ten, because I want everybody to know that cleaning your oven without exposing yourself to dangerous chemicals is totally do-able, and frankly, easier than the chemical-laden alternatives.

7. A Little More Mexican: Pork Carnitas

Whenever I buy a pork roast, I always think of this pork carnitas recipe first, and nine times out of ten, this is what I do with said pork roast. I can’t help it; it’s just so yummy!

6. Frosting Without Powdered Sugar: Fluffy Coffee Frosting

This one is an oldie but goodie: I originally posted it back when I was on Blogger! Seems like forever ago, but really was only a couple years. Anyway, this twist on the old-fashioned 7-minute frosting is delicious and much more nutritious than other powdered-sugar-full frostings.

5. Pickles 3 Ways: Fresh-Packed Pickles

I referred to these instructions earlier this summer when once again embarking on my pickle-making adventures. Turned out just as well the second time! The easiest ever way to make canned pickles.

  4. Decadent (and not so decadent) Indulgences: Cream-Cheese Frosting

Yet another oldie, and yet another non-powdered-sugar frosting. This cream cheese frosting boasts honey and a small bit of sugar as the only sweetener. And it’s delicious!

3. How to Get Canning Supplies for Cheap or Even Free

Canning doesn’t have to be expensive, as I explain in this post. I share my favorite strategies for purchasing all the needed canning equipment on the cheap!

2. How to Make the Most of Your Grocery Budget Dollars

Once-a-Month-Shopping (grocery shopping, that is) is something I am quite passionate about, mostly because it is the number one tool in my grocery budget toolbox and saves me LOTS of money on food every month. This post explains the nuts-and-bolts of the process, but I highly recommend (naturally!) getting my eBook for even more info and other money-saving tips.

And…. drumroll please….

The number one visited post this year was:

1. No Butter? No Eggs? You Can Still Make Cookies!

When I originally wrote this post, I had no idea that it would become BY FAR the most visited post on this entire blog. It gets almost twice as much traffic as the runner-up, and for good reason. This recipe is reliable, flexible, easy… and delicious! These cookies always turn out no matter what I do to them, and we eat the entire batch in a day or two. Every single time. And yes, this is one I make a lot. I won’t tell you how often because you really don’t need to know how often I eat cookies. But this one’s a keeper.

Come back on Monday to see my own favorite posts from this past year!

 

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A Simple Christmas Tip #25 – Happy Birthday to Jesus!


If you want more information, click here or on the graphic itself to take you to a full-length post on the topic. Click here to see all the posts in this series.

Come back tomorrow for another quick tip to help you simplify your Christmas by focusing less on spending and more on celebrating.

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Of Christmas and Tragedy

This picture was posted on Facebook by a local radio station. I am not sure who is the original source. But I think this is what Heaven looked like today.

To some, Christmas seems like a terrible time -as if there’s ever a good time – for events like the tragedy in Connecticut to occur. Tears come to my eyes as I imagine the presents bought and perhaps even wrapped, but never to be given. Of children with excited anticipation awaiting the holiday of the year in less than two weeks. Of empty chairs at family gatherings… if the family can even bring themselves to gather together. Certainly, those won’t be gatherings of celebration. Not this year.

And yet, part of me feels like -if such things must happen – perhaps the Christmas season is better timing than it seems at first. Hope. Joy. Peace. We are desperately in need of these things. We are desperately in need. We are desperate. 

We need a Savior.

Christmas – no, the Christ of Christmas – brings us hope. Hope for an eternal future as bright as day, regardless of the darkness that is our night on earth.

The Christ of Christmas brings us joy. Not always an exuberant dance, but sometimes a sober “The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”  A smile washed with tears, a hug tight with love. Joy that supercedes our deepest pain.

And the Christ of Christmas is the only source of true and lasting peace. There is no peace on earth without the Christ-Child. There is no peace in the heart without the presence of His Holy Spirit. There is no peace between fellow-men unless God is there in the midst of them.

In fact, without Him, we are broken. Lost, deluded, dying, hopeless.

I cannot help but think of that young man, so filled with the burden of bitterness and hatred that he sought solace in violence, not only against those he believed to have wronged him, but against the innocent and helpless.

I cannot help but think that I am much like him. I find myself angry, frustrated, and irritated when my day doesn’t go the way I planned. I carry heavy burdens of ingratitude and selfishness that continually inflict pain on me and those around me. I harbor grudges against people, against situations, against God.

I need grace.

I need forgiveness.

I need a Savior. 

Oh, may we all humble ourselves before Him and accept the grace, forgiveness, hope, joy, and peace He freely offers us, wrapped up in the precious and unassuming gift of a tiny baby in a manger.

How desperately we need Him.

How grateful we are that He came.

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A Simple Christmas Tip #3 – Simplify the Outdoor Decor

If you want more information, click here or on the graphic itself to take you to a full-length post on the topic. Click here to see all the posts in this series.

Come back tomorrow for another quick tip to help you simplify your Christmas by focusing less on spending and more on celebrating.

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A Simple Christmas Tip #2 – Redefine the Perfect Holiday


If you want more information, click here or on the graphic itself to take you to a full-length post on the topic. Click here to see all the posts in this series.

Come back tomorrow for another quick tip to help you simplify your Christmas by focusing less on spending and more on celebrating.

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Happy Thanksgiving

image source – This Heart of Mine

Earlier this year, my Certain Little Someone struggled – as we all do occasionally – with the little monster of materialism (otherwise known as “the gimmies”). Those toy company marketers really know what they’re doing, don’t they?! With every toy he received, there was a little slip of paper, brightly colored and filled with pictures of even more wonderful and amazing toys that he suddenly simply had to have. No trip to the store was complete without a stop by the toy section, followed by polite (or not-so-polite) requests to purchase this, that, or the other wonderful amazing toy. The denial of said polite request was usually followed by much weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Frankly, I was getting sick and tired of the constant begging for this that and the other amazing toy that he simply could not live without. I couldn’t seem to get him to understand how richly blessed he was: whenever I pointed out how many awesome Cars characters he had at home, he could always give me another lengthy list of the Cars characters he did not have.

It struck me one day that the antidote to envy, greed and discontent was gratitude. And that the only way to eliminate a bad habit was to replace it with a good one. That thought process led to a simple but effective practice that continues several months later with great success.

All I did was ask him every morning at breakfast to thank Jesus for one thing in his life (besides the food in front of him). Already being in the habit of thanking Jesus for his food, it was easy enough to add one more “thank you” into his little breakfast prayer, although to be honest, he balked at it the first few days. My only condition was that it had to be something different from the day before, and something specific. Not just “I’m thankful for my toys”, but “I’m thankful for my Thomas trains”. Sometimes, he’s just thankful for the beautiful day (which is particularly touching when I consider it to be a rainy, dreary day!), and that’s OK. As long as he’s expressing gratefulness in an appropriate manner, the mission has been accomplished.

After a few weeks of diligently practicing gratefulness every morning, it dawned on me that we had experienced little to no episodes of “the gimmies” during that period of time. Maybe a little bit of whining when we left the toy section once or twice, but no begging for this that or the other wonderful amazing toy, and no lengthy lists of the Cars characters he did not have.

It occurs to me that I could stand to develop this habit myself. My attitude is far too often one of envy and greed or discontent, when the truth is that I have been richly blessed in many ways. The only way to eliminate “the gimmies” or “I wannas” is to replace
 them with “I already have” and “Thank you”. So as I celebrate Thanksgiving with my wonderful family, I am indeed grateful for God’s many blessings on my life, not the least of which is you! I hope you also have a very Happy Thanksgiving – made happy not by your circumstances but by your gratefulness.

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Touched By Cancer – New Series

Touched by Cancer - a series at Authentic Simplicity Have you been touched by cancer? Maybe not you personally, but a close friend or family member? Then this series is for you. In honor of a dear friend of mine who was diagnosed with colon cancer earlier this year, I dedicate this small space of the internet to spreading hope and compassion in the face of a terrible disease. Hope for prevention and treatment, and compassion for those suffering. Please share the posts in this series with anyone you know who has been touched by cancer.

I was so saddened when I read of the loss that you, my readers, have experienced at the hands of cancer. It intensified my desire to move forward with this series in the hopes that future generations can be spared the devastation. And since I personally know nothing about cancer other than what I have learned vicariously through my friend’s experience, I have asked a couple of my fellow bloggers who are more knowledgeable than I to share their expertise.

Mary from The Encouraging Home, who has personally dealt with cancer in her own immediate family, will be sharing with us how to deal with the side effects of conventional cancer treatments. Most people will choose surgery and chemotherapy, but the side effects of those treatments can seem worse than the disease itself. Mary will teach us how to deal with those side effects using natural methods that will also hopefully counter-effect the damage of the treatments.

Jill from Jill’s Home Remedies will be sharing with us things we can do in an effort to prevent cancer. (Many experts suggest that cancer is largely preventable with a few important lifestyle changes.) As an herbalist, Jill has much wisdom to offer in the realm of prevention and natural treatment of disease.

And if you are interested in natural treatment options for cancer, I will be compiling a list of excellent trustworthy resources for your information.

In discussing this topic of cancer (or any debilitating or terminal illness) with friends of mine, they all expressed one huge concern: “What do I do when someone I love is diagnosed?” We all want to help our friends and family in anyway we can, but when we have no prior experience with something so big and huge and life-changing, we feel a little stymied as to how we can best be an encouragement and support. This is one area I feel qualified to write about, especially since I took the opportunity to ask my friend what has been most helpful to her since her diagnosis. I will be kicking off the series with a post that will give you the confidence and tools you need to encourage and bless your loved ones who have been diagnosed.

I would also love to take the time to mention my sponsor for this series, Crystal from Survivors Collection, an Etsy shop that specializes in cancer awareness jewelry and wine charms. Crystal, a cancer survivor herself, also created a website, Faith Hope Cure, that is dedicated to all those who have been touched by cancer. Please check out their products and share their encouraging website with anyone you know who might benefit from it.

And even if you don’t currently know anyone struggling with the disease, I believe this series will be very helpful for you, and I encourage you to subscribe, read along, and share, because I have learned to my sorrow that eventually… you will be touched by cancer.

 

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