Georgia, Round 2.

Before I get started with my post, I’d like to share something that’d been on my mind for a bit.

“Salvation is not about closing doors.  Salvation is about opening them.  That’s why Jesus knocks.” I have a whole blog post pivoting off that, but it’s not ready yet, so pardon while I fire up a tangent.

About a year ago I was still deep within the throws of trying to find a new place in GA. I’d gone through 30 houses in 2 months. I had offers accepted on 2, only to back out because the homes had some serious issues that were only highlighted AFTER I had driven/flown to GA and saw what the inspector exposed / the realtor hid. Zoom viewing fail.

The whole time, friends, family, and total strangers were saying “Why are you so quick to buy, maybe rent?” That was God trying to smack some sense into me. He knew better than I did, and was desperately trying to get me to realize it as such. It’s no coincidence that after I decided to rent, within a day I found the home I’ve lived in for the past year.

So the plan I had at that point (man plans, God laughs notwithstanding), was to rent for about a year and when my lease came up, buy a house, as I’d hoped by then the market would have gotten a little less silly. Shockingly enough, when interest rates and inflation spike, people are less likely to outbid me by throwing piles of cash at a place I want, sight unseen.

So yeah, the interest rates aren’t great, so homes have been staying on the market longer than they have been the past few years. Sellers have been lowering prices. They’ve been making concessions to buyers. Homes that were outside my comfortable purchase price range were entering my price range every day. That’s when I stumbled across this place:

It’s a mile from where I’m renting (3 if you drive and aren’t cutting through back yards), checks nearly every single box, and to say the process went smoothly would be an understatement. There are a handful of things I need to repair, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s a home run when it comes to what I wanted when I moved south for the ever.

Now one prayer I’ve made since this entire process began went something like this…

“Lord, if this is in your will then please let it proceed – but if it is not in your will, please make it impossible.” He did just that back when I was trying to buy a year ago. Renting? A breeze. I said I’d looked at 30 houses over the course of two months. This time? I looked at a half dozen homes. This one was top of my list, the last I looked at. Now it’s mine. Praise God!

I’ve got another two weeks or so until I move in fully, in the mean time I’ll be moving stuff over, handling various repairs, and cleaning my rental in the hopes that I’ll get some of my security deposit back.

My Georgia adventure continues!

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Stable Diffusion

For a while now I’ve been reading about this new AI tech where if I input a few words, or a description of a scene, the AI can then render something unique based on my description. Here are a few of what I’ve created (that look half decent) and the descriptions I used.

A robot reading a book in a library.
A feral cat drinking whiskey in a glass at a bar.
A tall brown yeti walking through a city center.
Elephants in a post apocalyptic wasteland.

I’ve made a ton which to me don’t look like anything interesting, so far I think I like the robot one best. 🙂

I think this one is my new favorite…

A 6 foot tall rooster in a trench coat standing on a city corner at night in the rain and illuminated by a single street light.

Not the hero we want, but the hero we need. John Cluck, Detective.

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Pasta Primavera -w- Jackfruit

Pasta Primavera from the recipe below, my only real tweaks were to add fresh habanero and jalapeño (for some zing) to the mix of garlic, onion, zucchini, tomato, bell pepper, jackfruit, spinach, basil, and cilantro (instead of oregano). Added some more fresh basil and parmesan cheese to top it off. It’s working really well with the Cask & Barrel Cabernet I poured to go with it. Quick, fresh, and delicious!

https://animaloutlook.org/pasta-primavera-lemon-garlic…/

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Man plans, and God laughs.

Some days I like to believe that I am not a stubborn man.  That in and of itself is me being stubborn.  Over many years and trials, I have learned to bend.  Recently though I’ve come to discover that while I yield on the surface, behind the scenes there were some machinations I held on to so tightly and so guarded that on the surface all it took to hide was a smile.

God knows how to get through to me, to chip away at the walls I have spent half my life building.  When I get a head of steam in me He is the only one who can get me to change course before I run myself off the proverbial cliff.  The thing is, for as logical as I can be at times, I am astonishingly good at missing the obvious.  I plan things out, self-assured.

“Der Mensch Tracht, Un Gott Lacht.”

Back when I pulled the trigger on moving to Georgia, I had a plan.  I was still living in the home I bought before I got divorced 10 years prior and had it on the market.  The idea of renting again after owning for so long seemed illogical.  My selling agent hooked me up with some buyer agents down in Georgia and over the course of two months I ran these men ragged.

I looked at 30 homes over the course of two months.  Two of them I put offers on and travelled down to Georgia to be there for the inspection.  The first was a renovated bungalow in Marietta, on the surface it looked fantastic.  Underneath it was a mess.  I also did not like how congested the town was, so I backed out.  Then a house in Flowery Branch.  It was a dump.

As I toured it with the realtor and spotted all the problems the inspector had found and saw them firsthand, in my mind I was telling myself “I could fix this.”  In reality, I would have spent a small fortune to buy that place and more to fix it up.  It became clear after I slid down the hill behind the house and fell flat on my hind end.  Nope, not happening.

Now throughout the process, a small voice in my head said “maybe you should rent.”  The buyer agent said “maybe you should airbnb until you find something.”  My Mom said “Why do you want to buy?  Maybe rent.”  More friends than I could count all said the exact same thing to me.  “Nope, I’ve got a plan” I said.  A plan that God gloriously laughed at. 

So I’m down to the wire.  I find one last house that is perfect.  It checks every single box.  I put in an offer, well over asking and wait.  I got beat by a few grand.  So after 30 homes, two months, and countless hours of stress and planning, I called a different realtor about a rental.  Within 1 day of making that decision, I found the house I am in today.

Curiously enough, that last house I tried to buy is one street over.  It’s also the exact same floorplan as my rental.  The very moment I did what God wanted me to do all along, every single detail fell in to place, praise God.  Now it is my firm belief (as this was only ever an idea, not a plan) that God sent me here for a reason.  Until the other day, I had no clue what it was.

Back home, I never really got lonely as I had family and friends in my day-to-day life, but most of the time I kept to myself.   After one or two brief ventures into dating, I’d convinced myself that I lost all interest.  I was tired of getting hurt and hurting others as no matter the situation I found my heart simply was not in it anymore.  I was going to die alone, and it was fine by me.

Well, here’s the thing.  My plan was to remain alone.  I found comfort in my solitude and the apathy towards relationships that it depended on.  I planned, and God laughed.  When I was saved back in 2019, He knew what I had to do (and would not do on my own).  The decade long draw south had come to a climax when I saw a job posting for my company down in Georgia.

God knew that where I was I would not break out of my shell.  Eventually the loneliness crept in and I knew I was on the wrong path, so I prayed.  I prayed for God to end my solitude.  I prayed for God to bring the woman I was meant to be with into my life.  After years of picking the wrong ones, and running from the right ones, I was very set in my ways. 

Truth be told, I was praying for the wrong thing.

I’ve met some good people here, but also held on fiercely to my long-term plan of not dating, not seeking, just taking care of myself.  Well, that loneliness kicked in again.  Only where back home I considered myself isolated (I really wasn’t) down here in Georgia I am undeniably isolated.  When given the opportunity to meet and bond with people, I run.

So, I started praying again for God to end my solitude.  That’s when James 4 crept in.  That entire chapter convicts me more and more every time I read it… So I called my mom. After I admitted how I really felt, James 4:2-3 absolutely glowed like a neon sign to me.  I had been asking God for something, but I wasn’t asking for the right thing.

Where do [a]wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and [b]war. [c]Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. [d]Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?

James 4:1-5

As we spoke, whether she realized it or not, my mom was speaking scripture to me.  She was speaking the book of James that had crept into my brain a week prior as I dwelled on my situation.  The first time I re-read it after that call, it was like a bomb went off.  The illusion I had so articulately designed and lived in for over 10 years was shed in moments. 

I am the reason why I am alone.

I held on to the fear of being hurt again so tightly that it became woven into my very DNA.  It was so deep within me that when the pain faded and the scars healed, I didn’t realize that it was all still very much there.  Every decision, every interaction was colored by my pain and shielded in a heavy and unshakable cloak of apathy that I almost took as a point of pride.

I do not deny for a moment that the Lord has given me His peace beyond all understanding – but I allowed that peace I felt to justify not actually living my life to the full.  In the same breath I both thanked and denied God. Life is meant to be shared.  Well, that’s going to change.  I’m going to pray the right way.  I’m not going to plan, but I have faith.

Lord, I pray to you now that you will remove my apathy from me, that you will soften my heart and lift away the pain I have clung so dearly to for far too long.  Open my eyes, Lord, I pray you will make my path straight and help me to stay out of my own way as I follow you.  In Jesus name I pray, amen.

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Espresso Rubbed Chuck Roast & Mujadara

Combined one of my favorite vegetarian dishes (mujadara) with one of my favorite carnivore treats for an absolutely epic dinner. Rubbed the chuck roast with mustard as a binder, generously coated it with my dad’s espresso rub, let it sit for a few hours, then grilled it over charcoal to an internal temp of 125 before tenting it with foil. Turf and turf magic!

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Veggie Chili with Homemade Cornbread

Cool weather calls for chili,  in this case 3 bean vegetarian chili with homemade southern style cornbread.  Added black,  red kidney,  and garbanzo beans, corn, Chipotle, diced tomatoes, my own seasoning and a can of Hop Dang Diggity IPA to the crock pot for 8 hours, then added Morningstar farms veggie crumbles in the final hour.  Spot, hit. 🙂

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Vegetarian Peanut Butter “Chicken”

Made this the other day, came out fantastic. I started with this recipe: Quick Easy Peanut Butter Chicken and tweaked it a bit. For starters I obviously did not use actual chicken but a bag of Gardein Chicken Tenders (vegan chicken, I challenge you to tell the difference from actual!). I used brown rice cooked in chicken broth (Ninja Foodi in pressure cooker mode), skipped the brown sugar, I used chunky peanut butter instead of creamy. The “chicken” was air fried instead of skillet fried so I cut 1 tbsp of oil, using 1tbsp of sesame oil and 1tbsp of avocado oil in the sauce. Also instead of white vinegar I used rice wine vinegar. I then added steamed cauliflower and broccoli as well as thin sliced green onion and some sesame seeds to garnish. Next time I may take the low sodium soy sauce route but overall a delicious and healthy dish! 🙂

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Mujadara -w- Spiced Yogurt

My latest #vegetarian meal from scratch, #mujadara with spiced yogurt. I’ve never cooked with lentils before and this absolutely delicious dish opened up entirely new culinary doors for me. I combined two recipes to get here, one of the most involved dishes I’ve made yet and it is fantastic! The yogurt recipe is at this link: https://food52.com/recipes/8565-mujaddara-with-spiced-yogurt and the mujadara is from this one: https://cookieandkate.com/mujaddara-recipe/

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Count your blessings, not your complaints.

Being a saved sinner, and having spent my formative years in New York, I’d have to say at points in my life my grumble-per-minute rate was excessively high. How many opportunities do we have each day to see or experience something that makes us grumble or argue? What’s the goal of grumbling and arguing? A release? A validation of a slight against us?

I tell you now the only validation we need was given to us on the cross by Jesus Christ.

14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”[a] Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.

Philippians 2:12-16

Between my Monday bible study, my Wednesday bible study, and a service I attended in VR last night… I think God has been hammering this one into my heart because even to this day – despite being aware of it now – my desire to grumble can quickly overpower my ability to NOT grumble. I won’t lie, grumbling, complaining, arguing at times can feel GOOD.

It’s not like I do not have a valid reason to complain, right? Some people… That driver… I’M OUT OF HALF & HALF… My credit card is maxed out… My rent is going to be late… My car won’t start… The roof is leaking… I am ill… My job…

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

Genesis 3:1

All are seemingly valid reasons to complain and lose sight of the goal of our lives to glorify and worship God, to allow ourselves to forget the promise of Christ… These grumblings do not come from God! To overlook the infinite grace and mercy that has been applied to our lives… We can completely miss every single opportunity to rise above our propensity to sin, to overcome our very human nature through Christ!

Realize that in our day to day words and deeds, our brothers and sisters be they believers or non-believers will see those words and deeds, not only will they judge our actions but they will judge God on our behalf. I’ve heard it said many a time that you or I may be the only Bible another person may look at on their lives. When we lose our cool, grumble, and argue they will not only convict us but convict God and further turn away from salvation!

I will fully admit that at times I am a horrible example of a Christian. Despite how good a day is going, how good my life is comparatively speaking to others, or even when I am at my lowest and the chewing, swarming, and crawling locusts have come to devour the hope and joy from my heart – I am a flawed sinner and God forgive me I let sometimes them without fighting back!

Hear this, you elders,
And give ear, all you inhabitants of the land!
Has anything like this happened in your days,
Or even in the days of your fathers?
Tell your children about it,
Let your children tell their children,
And their children another generation.

What the chewing [a]locust left, the swarming locust has eaten;
What the swarming locust left, the crawling locust has eaten;
And what the crawling locust left, the consuming locust has eaten.

Joel 1:1-4

What can I do? When I/we overreact to the stresses of life and finally snap we get that fleeting moment of self-righteous release and afterwards where are we? Whose face do we see? Where has God gone? The answer is we see OUR face. God has not gone anywhere, but we have turned from Him! Not only after we lose our way but when we see and feel that loss of control coming we need to collect our thoughts, turn to God and cry out to Him!

Consecrate a fast,
Call a sacred assembly;
Gather the elders
And all the inhabitants of the land
Into the house of the Lord your God,
And cry out to the Lord.

Joel 1:14

The solution is always right there before our hearts and minds, the solution is Jesus Christ! Cry out to him! We do not have to grumble or argue. God gave us grace and mercy we do not deserve and every single day we have opportunities to use that grace and mercy to glorify Him and we ignore it! I ignore it! Thank God we have God, for where else can we turn to escape the pit of despair we allow ourselves to occupy?

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He [a]made us accepted in the Beloved.

Ephesians 1:3-6

Pray for His wisdom. Pray for His courage. Pray for His grace. Pray for His righteousness. Pray for His peace. He is our only defense against the forces in our lives which work constantly to turn us away from Him. He gave us minds to think, hearts to love, and souls to glorify Him. What more do we possibly need? Turn to Him in these moments and find peace.

It may not come easily, but it will come. Focus on God first, and He will provide for us what is right and just. It may not always be what we want, but it will be what we need. Turn to God in our trials. Turn to God in our triumphs. Praise Him and thank Him for every blessing, and seek His face for even in our darkest days there are blessings, we just need to open our eyes and hearts to see them.

15 Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, 18 the eyes of your [f]understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power 20 which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places,21 far above all principality[g] and [h]power and [i]might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.

 And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

Ephesians 1:15-23

Do not grumble. Do not argue. Count your blessings and be thankful to He who has blessed you. Turn to Him at every opportunity and realize He is right there with you, always.

Hallelujah, and amen.

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Picture it, Warwick, 2019.

As I’ve gone over in this blog a couple times, I was saved by giving my life to Christ back in 2019. Through a string of events only He could have tied together, I walked into a new church where I had never been before and realized that I was where I was supposed to be. It was more than a feeling, it was knowledge. Through that church I made friends who became family, brothers and sisters in Christ who I walk in worship with every day, even 900 miles away.

One of the first things I did when I got to GA was try to find a church. Now I like to joke that churches in the south are like Starbucks in NYC. There’s one on every corner and sometimes while standing at one, you can see another. Many churches, many denominations, how is a guy to choose? I’d spot checked a few which I decided against for various reasons. One looked promising until I realized that they were in the midst of a 6 week series on tithing.

What is tithing? These days, tithing is sacrificing 10% of your income to your church to further the mission of God (Numbers 18:26, Deuteronomy 14:22, Deuteronomy 26:12). Now I may be oversimplifying that, but it is how I see it. Being raised Catholic, I recall every week the basket being passed through the pews as folks would sacrifice money to support the church. Other churches had small boxes around the room where one could give.

It’s always been a point of contention to me, tithing. I believe that if any church takes more than a minute to explain the where and why to tithing, they’ve lost the mission. I could be completely wrong there, but in my own personal experience the longer the message on tithing the shorter the message on anything else. It came off more like marketing than teaching. The numbers are down, so they must remind us why we need to give to them.

I distinctly recall the last time I attended a bible study at the church in Warwick. I believe we’d planned on discussing 1 Corinthians, but it was abruptly derailed into a very forced conversation on tithing to the church we’d all been attending. I sat quietly as what seemed to me a marketing spiel unfolding which had nothing to do with our studies. Amidst the cacophony, I bluntly stated “Look, if my choice is between giving money to this church, or a brother/sister in Christ who needs it, I will joyfully give that money to my brother/sister and not feel badly for a even a moment. By doing so, I am loving my neighbor as myself and following the commandment of Christ.” With that, the marketing spiel promptly came to a close and we resumed our previous bible study.

Once I heard someone say it better than I could, I’m paraphrasing here… “If you preach the Gospel, and people are convicted, the money will come.” Period, end of story (for me). I’m not against a message on tithing, of sacrificing the first fruits of our labor to the Lord… 6 weeks of messaging though? Nope. So I kept looking. I could have simply remained watching Jack Hibbs out of California, or messages from other Pastors whom I know and respect online, but it wasn’t enough.

I tried one of the local “mega” churches, just once. On the way in I was stuck behind a Ferrari. Thousands of folks attended that service, the place was packed to the rafters as the band broke out into a CSI themed introduction to that weeks message which could have rivaled most rock concerts I’d been to in my life. It was too big, it was less worship and more noise to me (Amos 5:23, 1 Corinthians 13:1, Isaiah 29:13). Not to mention, the lead pastor heavily discounted if not dismissed the Old Testament and God’s original covenant with mankind. I left that grand building and never returned.

I craved fellowship. Now I already had that, in buckets, even 900 miles away from the home church I attended until I moved south. I needed to get out of this house though. I needed to meet people, listen, testify, and learn. Easter Sunday was approaching. It would be my first holiday away from home. I kept seeing and hearing reference to lake front services, so I began to attend one maybe 15 minutes from my house. I think the first thing I experienced there which rubbed me the wrong way was one family who arrived by personal helicopter and landed maybe 20 yards from the stage, blasting everyone and everything present with a nice layer of red dust. Thankfully it was not the pastor arriving via chopper, had that been the case I would have immediately left instead of continuing to attend for several months.

The style was different. Maybe a few blips of scripture encased in a boisterous message. The pastor was a great speaker, he did quickly introduce himself once or twice, and I will admit I had moments of conviction during the weekly services. Like I said though, I was craving fellowship. To this day I still attend the remote bible study from my home church, but I needed to expand my studies. Prior to a service one day, after hemming and hawing to myself about that need, small voice in my head said “ask the pastor, duh.”

So I asked the pastor. A new study was to begin that very day after the service. Previous studies I had experienced, all involved direct discussion of various books of the bible. This study involved a book that was not the bible – but heavily influenced by scripture. I won’t lie, it was a good book, but it was not – to me – a bible study. It felt more like discussing a commentary on the bible as opposed to discussing the bible while utilizing a commentary to more greatly understand the message and the context.

Recently I began to grumble quite a bit. I was becoming more and more distracted by the world around me. I personally was losing the mission. The weekly services I attended had the spark of the Holy Spirit, but not the illumination I was used to. I’d found that illumination again, online, but it wasn’t enough for me. I’d recently begun attending services in VR (Virtual Reality) via an application called BigScreen. I was introduced to it by a friend and brother in Christ, and will frequently visit the weekly service.

It’s through that VR experience that I met another gentleman who is a well known Christian apologist. What is that? I’ll quote Wikipedia here as the definition is short, sweet, and to the point for the purposes of this discussion: “Christian apologetics is a branch of Christian theology that defends Christianity.” This fellow knows scripture, inside and out, and also provides guidance to those seeking a church. As I explained my current situation, and what I was looking for, he asked for info about the church I’d been attending.

I provided the name of the Church and within minutes he found one immediate problem. The church believes that baptism is required for salvation. Now I was baptized as an infant (an experience that although scientifically improbable, I remember to this day). I was again baptized, and born again of water (which I interpret as the water of everlasting life, given to us by Jesus (John 4:14) and the Spirit on April 28th, 2019. This was after giving myself to Christ and accepting him as my Lord and Savior.

By the time I had been baptized, I had already declared my decision to follow Jesus. The baptism was a public declaration of what I had already privately declared. Over the years I have heard many pastors state unequivocally that baptism is a requirement, usually as they quote the number of people who were baptized at any specific event. It felt like marketing to me. What did not come off as marketing to me was what transpired in Luke 23:40-43.

40 But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said [a]to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”

43 And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

That criminal was redeemed by Christ in that very moment, but where was the baptism?

This realization, in addition to others which I felt made me realize that the church I had been attending was the wrong church for me – forced me to step outside of my comfort zone and find a new church. Again – at that church, the messages were good and I did find myself convicted at times, the environment was beautiful (lake side services), but I noticed that there were no men’s bible studies available and the one I’d been attending was not scripturally sound (1 Timothy 2 / Titus 2).

I discussed this with a brother in Christ, and the solution he suggested was to find a church affiliated with Calvary Chapel. I’d been virtually attending Calvary Chapel Chino Hills lead by Jack Hibbs for years. Now while I don’t agree with everything he says, and at times I can find the preaching prideful, there is no doubt that what is taught there is 100% scripture, verse by verse, and fellowship abounds. Christ is absolutely in the room. So I hopped online and found that this entire time, a mere 15 minute drive from my home was River Rocks Church, who is affiliated with Calvary Chapel.

Not only were they 15 minutes down the road, but last night they had a Wednesday bible study service I was able to attend. Upon arriving, I had a short and fruitful chat with the Pastor who immediately introduced himself. Once inside, others introduced themselves to me completely unprompted, we shared portions of our walk thus far and what lead us to that specific church. The study of Ruth 3 was on point, delving further into Numbers, Leviticus, and Genesis. The prayer was fulfilling. Against my old nature, I participated and shared.

For the first time since I moved to Georgia, I felt that I was where I belonged. The church I came from back in Warwick had a mission statement about creating thousands of new followers. The church I just began to attend proclaims… “just one more.”

I cannot wait to go back.

God bless!

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