It was time to meet the Army.

Us on the day of Alan’s commissioning

In April of 2002, the train ride into the future became more like a hurry-it-up rocket trip to Mars.

It was time to meet the Army.

Meeting the parents had nothing on meeting the Army.

So there I was, sweet, innocent, 21-year-old April, twirling my brand new engagement ring around and around, filled with visions of happily ever after.

Did I skip the fact that I started dating Alan in December, and we were engaged by Spring Break? Well, yes, that’s true. If you’re looking for more on that story you can find it here: The Boldest Thing I Ever Did for Love.

By April, we were getting ready to jump off the proverbial cliff. Alan had his orders, and they were for Fort Hood, Texas. On April 15th, I met with my advisor and learned that I had enough credits to graduate in December 02, rather than wait until May 03, as planned.

So, of course, we moved up the wedding date.

Our date books were exploding with significant events.  Alan would be commissioned on May 16, and he would leave May 28th for his military assignment in Washington state. Then in August, we would be married.

But first! There was the annual Alabama ROTC spring ball with my fiancee!! Squeeaaaaal!!!!

I was all giddy and nervous to prepare for my very first formal military event. I did all sorts of things to prepare for it, like buying 10 visits to the tanning bed. (Never do that. I paid for that with an early stage melanoma, 6 years later).

I drove home one weekend and picked up my beautiful indigo prom dress. No one at college had seen it, so it was as good as a new dress.

I hung the dress on the closet door, safely in its plastic bag, not touching the ground. I could just gaze at it and smile and think about how much fun I was going to have, going to the ball with my own Prince Charming. It was going to be the perfect weekend.

I was not in a sorority, so in my 3 years of college, I had never gotten to go to any formal dances.

I was finally getting my chance, but it was going to be complicated to pull this off.

Alan earned the George C. Marshall Award for outstanding ROTC cadets, so he was at the Virginia Military Institute the week of the ball, where he got to see none other than President George W. Bush speak along with many top Generals.  This was months after 9/11, y’all, this was beyond exciting.

It was time to meet the Army.

Alan took this photo of President George W. Bush addressing the George C. Marshall award winners at Virginia Military Institute, 2002.

I’ve done my share of vicarious living through Alan over the years, but that’s okay because you couldn’t pay me all the money in the world to strap on all that protective gear and guns and stand out in the 135 degree desert, away from home for a year at a time. No ma’am. No sir. April stays local. April doesn’t want a heat stroke.

Alan was flying into Birmingham, from VMI, just in time for me to pick him up at the airport and drive us to campus, do a quick wardrobe change, and charge on to the ball. The party must go on!

Around 3pm, I got a phone call from the airport pay phone. Remember those?

“Hey, honey, I’ve got bad news and good news. Um, they overbooked this flight, and anyone volunteering their seat gets a FREE ticket…which will always come in handy…we could even go somewhere fun later. What do you think?”

I tried to hide the disappointment in my voice, “Oh….”

“But honey, even if I don’t give up my seat, the flight is delayed, so I probably wouldn’t make it to the ball in time anyway. I’m sorry. I hope you didn’t have your heart too set on going to the ball.”

Disappointment. Yes, I was disappointed, but I was also relieved. No mad dash to the airport and back and quick change of clothes. No uncomfortable silences trying to make conversation with people I’d never met before.

I put the dress back in my closet. Some other day, perhaps.


I waited until 9 or so, and I drove to the Birmingham Airport to pick up Alan. I had only been in an airport once before, to pick up another friend, and I had never flown on an airplane myself, so airports were still a novelty to me.

During the day, airports are a bustling, upbeat place, but at 9 o’clock at night, it was much different. The airport was a quiet, deserted place that night. It felt like I waited forever, all alone, in an atmosphere that was foreign to me.

It was time to meet the Army.

Waiting at an airport gives you a dangerous amount of time to think.

I remember feeling contemplative, and I couldn’t help but wonder, “Is this what my life will be like, as an Army wife? Waiting at airports alone? Always watching for his plane to land?”

I wondered….

Just how many times will I sit here, waiting for him to return?

How often will our plans be canceled because the Army had other plans?

How much should a military wife even bother to plan?

Will it always be like this? Is this just a taste of things to come?

What exciting places will I get to go to too? When will I get to go along?

I looked down at my beautiful engagement ring and wondered just what sort of adventure I was setting out on, and I hoped that I wouldn’t always be the one waiting. I wanted to join him too, for some of the fun, not the Afghanistan trips, but certainly there were many places I’d like to travel to with him.

If I had a time machine, I’d go back and give my younger self a hug that night. I’d pat 21-year-old April on the shoulder and tell her that everything will be okay.

Would I tell her that eventually she will stop going to the airport and waiting? That he can ride the shuttle? That one day she will be so buried in babies, that she will actually let him come home from a SIX-MONTH Afghanistan deployment via taxi, because who takes 3 babies to the airport at 5am after so many years of this routine?

I can’t help but chuckle at that idea. No, obviously, I couldn’t tell her that. That would not help her at all.

It wasn’t a sad evening. I had that young, filled-with-hope, love, and joy feeling, but at the same time there was a hint of reality beginning to dawn on my heart.

I was realizing and accepting that when I got married, the adventures would not always be my own. There will be disappointments, and waiting, and tears. There will be a massive amount of uncertainty, but it will be worth it. It’s just what we do for those that we love.

And I couldn’t wait to begin the journey.

It was time to meet the Army.

The cover of my journal that year was perfect. Seize the day. That is exactly what we were doing.

 

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It was time to meet the Army.

 

The Real Army Wives #1: Tuesday, September 11, 2001

Tuesday, September 11, 2001

I was supposed to get up at 7:30 to be at work at 8:30 that morning, but I overslept, such a typical college student I was…Instead, I woke up at 9:10am for my 10am Anatomy and Physiology class. I had put off my shower long enough that it was non-negotiable that morning.

You see, I was a junior at the University of Alabama, and I had the hard-earned privilege of a private room, thanks to my job as a resident assistant in the largest freshman dormitory on campus, Tutwiler Hall.

I had my radio on while I was getting ready. Before I got into the shower, the D.J. mentioned that an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Center (north tower).

I paused in consternation. “What!? Weird.” That was puzzling, but I went ahead and took my shower.

The thing I will never forget is that moment when I got out of the shower, and I had my towel wrapped around me like a dress, and the man on the radio told us about the 2nd airplane hitting the other tower (south tower).

I immediately sat down.

“Whoa Whoa Whoa Whoa Whoa. Wait. What? What is happening?”

I listened intently. I don’t know why it never occurred to me to turn on my t.v. to watch coverage of this. It’s like I was stuck in 1930, listening to my personal stereo. I suppose I was too shocked to think anything at all besides, “What is happening?? Are we at war? What will happen next??”

Tuesday, September 11, 2001

My Fall 2001 Journal.

They didn’t have much more information to give us that morning. What could they say? Unsure what else to do, I went about my normal routine.  I put my clothes on in a daze and walked the half-mile to my anatomy class, hoping to hear some reassuring words or just more information, from my professor.

Instead, I entered what felt like the Twilight Zone. Seemingly, no one in my class had any idea that it had happened. Probably they didn’t. The professor certainly didn’t know. He taught class as usual, and I absorbed absolutely nothing that Dr. Graham said.

Have you ever felt like you knew the world was ending, and no one around you had a clue?

And you start to wonder if you misunderstood? That one hour, on 9/11/01, I felt that way, which is funny because I was normally the one who was notorious for not being up on current events. Watching the news wasn’t my thing. I’ve always been more of a bookworm than a t.v. person.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I arrived to my 11am class, Psychology Research Methods, and the professor marched in and canceled class. Finally! I didn’t imagine all of this! I’m not crazy. This really did happen. Now I was free to talk about it.

There was a resident on my floor, named Stacy, who was from New York City. I had a burning urgency in my chest to get ahold of her. I left her notes on her door, I looked for her, I called her, and I prayed and hoped her parents didn’t work at the Towers.

She found me that afternoon and reassured me that all of her folks were present and accounted for. It wasn’t easy back then. This was 2001. Most of us did not have cell phones, and the regular lines were jammed with so many people calling that I heard reports that it was hard to get a call through.

Stacy told me this story:

“My parents are good. Everyone is fine. Even my aunt! This is incredible because this is the 2nd time my aunt has been rescued from harm in the towers. My aunt works in the WTC, but she had gone across the street to get coffee this morning. She saw the crash happen from a window and went straight home from there. My aunt is a faithful prayer warrior, and she says God has protected her, and it was not her time to go yet. She was spared once before, during the 1993 WTC bombing. She happened to be at home sick with the flu that day.”

Then Stacy went home to New York City to be with her people for the rest of that week. It was just as well. She didn’t miss anything.

The world stood still that week. 

Airplanes were grounded. Ball games were canceled. Tests were postponed. Candles were lit everywhere. You couldn’t walk a mile on campus without running across candles or a group of praying people.

I’ll never forget holding hands in a giant circle on the University of Alabama quad. There must have been 100 or more of us, both teachers and students. There were Jews, Christians, and agnostics all standing there praying together, between classes. We sang hymns too, though I don’t recall which ones. It was an empowering thing to be a part of.

In my journal that day, I wrote that “What worries me is–what if more awaits for tomorrow–or next week.”

Tuesday, September 11, 2001

My actual journal entry. Yes, you can laugh at me about the Pentagon bomb, but it was early, and I didn’t have all the facts straight yet.

I was only 20 years old at the time. I was a full-time student with 2 part-time jobs. Alan was just a guy in a group of friends that I ate lunch with on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

After 9/11, I looked at Alan differently.

On Wednesdays, the ROTC cadets wore their uniforms all day long, so the day after 9/11, I saw Alan in his uniform at lunch. Alan was the top ranking cadet at Alabama. He was an impressive looking young soon-to-be-officer in the United States Army, standing at 6 foot 3, 225 pounds, in his size 15 combat boots. Alan has a strong jaw line and an air of authority and strength about him, but once you get to know him you realize that he is also exceedingly kind, reasonable, disciplined, and even funny.

I asked him how he felt about all this.

Alan was so business-like and serious in his response to my question.  He said matter-of-factly, “We are always ready to go to war and defend this country, to keep Americans safe and defend our freedom. Always ready.”

“You’re not worried? This will affect you directly. You aren’t afraid?”

“No. This is what we train for. I can’t wait to go.”

Maybe that was the day I started to like him, though I didn’t know it at the time. At the very least, it was the day I began to deeply respect him.

Tuesday, September 11, 2001

a Crimson White clipping I saved from those days after 9/11

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

How September 11 would affect us

The already married military spouses knew they would soon be called upon to make humongous sacrifices.

As we watched all the sacrifices that the firemen, policemen, and rescue workers were making on 9/11 and the time following, we held our breath with them. We cried for them.

How could I know that someday my children and I would make sacrifices too, and that so many families would give all?

When you are enduring hardships for your country, like sending your husband overseas for months on end, over and over again, you need a good reason for that. 9/11 is always the reason I remind myself of.

When Daddy misses a whole year of birthdays….that’s for 9/11.

When I ate my 1 year anniversary wedding cake alone…..9/11.

When Christmas feels lonely……..9/11.

When I had to shepherd my son through the confusing and scary seizures and testing for epilepsy without my husband there to share the burden…….9/11.

And I remember what Alan said in 2001. It held true for all of these years, though no one ever wants war. War is a horrible thing, but on that day the terrorists attacked us first. They left us no choice.

“We are always ready to go to war and defend this country, to keep Americans safe and defend our freedom. Always ready,” and I am proud to be the flip-flops back home, supporting the boots on the ground overseas.

Every Monday: a new installment of The Real Army Wives blog series on storiesofourboys.com

This is just the beginning of my series of The Real Army Wives, stories from the home front of the War on Terrorism. 

I hope you will join us next week, Monday, May 21, for the next installment, Marrying the Lieutenant.

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

Were you already a military spouse or have a compelling 9/11 story to tell? I’d love to share it on Storiesofourboys.com. Please send your submission to april@storiesofourboys.com. Feel free to just send me your article or just your idea to see if it fits in with what I have planned. Thank you!

 

 

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I Actually Do Need a Tribe

This is the lovely Amy and Tegann. They were our friends in California, we were beyond excited to visit with them recently!

Right when you move is always at the exact moment that you’ve finally made close friends. In California, we were lucky enough to have a whole group of them.

A Good Tribe Makes Life Happier

My California neighborhood crew

It took a year, though. That first year I knew very few other people. It’s hard when you’re new!

I saw an article headline written by a mom with no tribe. I didn’t read it, so I’m not sure how she felt about that, but I am always happier when I DO have a tribe of friends.

No, actually, I’d go so far as to say I NEED a tribe of friends. It brings me happiness and encouragement. People need people. We do. Yes, I spend almost all of my time with my family, but we aren’t meant to be isolated families of people. I always carve out time to go hang with other ladies too.

When I’m hanging out with a group of gals, I laugh so hard my sides split. And I am known for my loud cackle.

Alan’s mom and her sisters hold us all in awe. Three sisters. It’s like the ultimate tribe. They text, they call, they travel together, and they support and tease each other through life.

Just today, I was at my friend Brooke’s house, thinking how much more I smile when I’m visiting with her or any of my friends or my mom, just a friend who accepts you for who you are.

It takes me over a year to develop a tribe of friends with each place, and I don’t have one here yet. My friend Brooke and I were just talking today about how lonely that is.

I need to get pro-active about that and put together a supper club…any takers??

A Good Tribe Makes Life Happier

My friend Amy, from my Virginia tribe (how I miss them!), came and visited us in California.

 

If I hadn’t missed so many MOPS meetings, I would be calling that my tribe already. I love MOPS and the ladies there, but sometimes I don’t make it because of JD or because I have work to do.

At this stage of life, we don’t have ‘time’ to pour into friendships

and that’s why we have to be extra understanding and forgiving of our friends. Everybody’s busy.

However, I think the mommy years are years when we need friends just as much as ever. I would say more than ever, but I actually can’t think of a single stage of life when we don’t desperately need a support group.

Some people find that group at church or at the playground. I seem to usually find them in my neighborhood, thought that isn’t the case here.

I’ve been blessed to belong to several AMAZING tribes of friends over the years. I just had a different group for each place that I lived. Eventually, I will have one here too. These things take time.

A year from now, I won’t be tribe-less anymore. By then, I’ll just be heart-broken to leave. How do I know? Well, I always have before, so I can be optimistic, and I’m hoping for the best and trying to remember to be friendly and speak to people. Ha! It’s hard for an introvert sometimes, but we need people too.

 

What about you? Do you have a group of pals that make you laugh ’til you cry? It’s not a tribe unless it’s both fun and supportive.

 

http://topmommyblogs.com

 

 

 

 

Military Marriage Retreat at the Cove

Military Marriage Retreat, the Cove, North Carolina

Last weekend Alan and I packed our suitcases and drove up to Asheville, North Carolina. We left the kids in the capable hands of my parents, and we enjoyed a peaceful weekend in the mountains. Oh, and by the way, all we had to pay for was the gas to get us there.

Not too long ago, Alan learned of the Cove, a retreat center owned and operated by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. They host retreats, Bible studies, training events, prayer events, and even Senior Hymn Sings.

But the coolest thing for us is that they host these marriage retreats for military couples–FOR FREE.

Free is good. We like free.

There are 3 different ones this year, but why waste time, we went ahead and signed up for the February retreat.

I had no idea what to expect, really. I was a little nervous, as I am in all new social situations. We didn’t go with a group or anything, so we were on our own.

standard double room (photo credit: thecove.org)

Upon arrival, we checked into our room. The Cove has two hotels on site. We stayed at the Pilgrim’s Inn. The room was immaculate. It had two queen size beds, a table with 2 chairs, a rocking chair in the corner, a luggage stand, a dresser, 1 sink in the room and a bathroom with another sink.

I expressed my joy over there being two sinks. Alan said, “Well, the key here is not to destroy marriage [by making us share a sink]. Haa!!!!

On the third floor, the inn has 24 hour drink machines, complete with coffee, tea, and sodas! We did take advantage of that!

Right away, we spotted this sign.

We got our stuff put away and headed up the hill to the convention center. Now, when I say up the hill, believe me I really mean up what felt more like a mountain. I’m surprised my legs aren’t more sore. This hike was not for the faint of knees.

The first thing we noticed on our hike was a “Beware of bears” sign.

Huh.

But as it turns out, black bears are known to be docile, not aggressive like the grizzlies.

military marriage retreat at the cove, north carolina

This hiking path was so steep! I finally earned my 50 flights of stairs in a day badge on my Fitbit, thanks to this hill!!!

After we checked in at the convention center and read over our itinerary, I admit I actually got a little uneasy.

Wait a minute. This itinerary here says “1-6pm Alone Time with God”….

I whispered to Alan, “Do you think they expect us to spend the WHOLE time with God, or is going to see the Biltmore Estate okay too?”

And suddenly it dawned on me.

“Alan!!!! Was there a t.v. in our room?”

We’ve been kidnapped. Gasp! What if there is no Wi-fi either?? What if we are supposed to have prayer and meditation and togetherness, sing cum-ba-ya, and hike up mountains all afternoon???? Will we survive???

Alan chuckled. Don’t worry. I had not said all of those things out loud.

“Yeah, you put your suitcase on the dresser. So I’m pretty sure there was no t.v.”

We both looked at each other with the wide eyes and giggled. This should be interesting…..or challenging…..hmmm

(photo courtesy of my friend Kasey Myers) No, unfortunately, they didn’t go at the same time as us. They went a different year, but how exciting is it that this is available every year!?

Soon after our no-t.v. discussion, it was time for dinner. Ya’ll!!  The food! If you don’t love the speaker, though I think you will, the food will win you.

(photo credit: Kasey Myers) They must have been at the very front of the line.

We made awkward conversation with other couples that we met, and then it was time for the first marriage seminar.

These seminars were more than seminars. It was like giant group marriage therapy, where thankfully we didn’t have to do any talking. We did; however, get to sing together. We sang at the beginning of each session, mostly songs that we knew or had heard before. The singing was one of my favorite parts. The song leader was an expressive and talented guy with both piano and guitar skills.

The speaker was a pastor and retired Army chaplain,Pastor John Cook, from Fayetteville, North Carolina. He was not only interesting. He actually knew where we were all coming from, having lived the military life himself. He taught what the Bible has to say about marriage, and I managed to totally pay attention to all 3 sessions, believe it or not.

They change up the speakers at each retreat, but I’m sure they’re all good.

By the way, the convention center has cappuccino and frozen yogurt on tap, available during the day time. That came in handy during the on-your-own stretch of Saturday.

military marriage retreat at the cove, north carolina

This is us on the Convention Center deck. It was a huge wrap-around porch full of rocking chairs, and I failed as a blogger because I did not get a photo! Okay, yes, I did, but Alan blinked in it, so I will spare him that.

You may be wondering if I ever did make it to the Biltmore Estate. Well, no, I didn’t. Alan looked it up, and it wasn’t a good time for us to devote the hefty admission prices for as little time as we would have gotten to spend there.

They had fireplaces gong everywhere, including a beautiful, large circular one outside. We sat in front of this one for 30 minutes and found it extremely comforting.

We were able to enjoy simply resting, relaxing, hiking, and talking at the Cove. We even did a little shopping at the on-site book and souvenir shop. We never did miss the t.v.

 

Some people arrange to go with couple friends, which I imagine would be a blast. (photo credit: Kasey Myers)

Here are a few fast facts for ya:

–I did not see any other marriage retreats on the schedule besides the military ones. 🙁 Sorry, my civilian friends. However, there are tons of events that last all weekend that you could sign up for.

Next Military Marriage Retreat is May 26-28, 2017. Experiencing God’s Best for Your Marriage. Speaker: Chip Ingram 

Literally EVERYTHING is FREE. Free meals. Free room. Free seminar. Click here to sign up. It’s open only to active duty military. Yes, Reserves and National Guard counts, so long as your active.

–There’s another Military Marriage Retreat September 8-10, 2017. The Art of Living Well in Marriage. Speaker: Tommy Nelson

Again, it’s all free for active duty military. Click here to sign up.

 

 

 

Military Marriage Retreat

(photo credit: thecove.org)

Other Events at the Cove do have costs. Just click on the links below. Many of these are also weekend-long retreats. Some are just evenings or luncheons. Just click through for details.

Women’s Events

Senior Adult Events

Seminars for everyone

Pastor Retreats (for pastors)

We would like to personally thank the Graham family and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association for using their facilities and talent to serve those who serve our country. This is a blessing to so many families!

Pouring into your marriage relationship is so vital to the overall happiness of your whole family. Kids grow up, but hopefully when they have left, you still have a spouse you can love and grow old with. It’s such an important relationship to nurture. Happier parents = happier kids.

military marriage retreat

Our thanks again to the Cove!!! This was like a breath of fresh air!

 

 

 

 

 

It’s been 7 months since we flew south, but we are always home.

It's been 7 months since we flew south, but we are always home.

Daniel had his first week of tee-ball. Alan didn’t sign up to coach this year, not even to assistant coach, but he went out there today and helped anyway. And you know what happened? Alan came home so refreshed and happy. It was a beautiful thing to see.

Alan says that Daniel will actually be one of the oldest, most experienced players on his team this year. Yayyyyy, Daniel!!!

Meanwhile, you know what annoys me? Pop culture.

Why? Because it has reached my children, at least one of them, and he has started saying “Dang, Daniel!” all the time. Insert me, looking like an annoyed vulture.

Now some of you have no idea WHAT I’m talking about because you don’t know anything about pop culture. Well, allow me to shrink your brain by catching you up. There was this video that went viral in 2016, originally on Snapchat, of these high school kids saying “D***, Daniel,” over and over again.

And go figure, the video-maker’s name is Josh. So of course, someone told him about it. So now he says, “Dang Daniel” all the time. He’s not allowed to say the original version. Of course, Daniel doesn’t get it at all. Only I get it.

(If you have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s the Ellen clip to explain.)

Speaking of my big boys, I thought this was hilarious. We spent last week hanging out at DaddyO and Nonna’s house r-e-l-a-x-i-n-g. It was wonderful. Check out the amazing amounts of sleep I accomplished, according to my Fitbit. I was so proud. (By the way, I noticed Amazon has the Fibit Charge II $20 off right now.)

Yep! Proud of myself

I wanted to find a funny movie we could enjoy with the boys. I found Father of the Bride and Father of the Bride Part II!!!!!  I talked up how uproariously we would all laugh at this movie.

Father of the Bride Part II

We watched half of the first movie, and then Joshua proclaimed, “You said this was funny! I don’t think this is funny at all!” And then he disappeared upstairs.

What? Not funny? This stuff is HILARIOUS.  I guess there’s an age range for this humor. Remember this?

It's been 7 months since we flew south, but we are always home.

It has been 7 months now since we moved in, and we are starting to feel settled. We’re using our GPS less and less, and the boys are asking to go back to California far less. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times. It takes a year to fully adjust to a move.

I’d say it takes two years to actually get past surface-level relationships and put down roots. That’s the lonely thing about it. No one knows you well enough to relax, and you are still trying to figure out all the new people you’ve met.

I can learn their names easily, but sometimes it takes time to root out the kindred spirits from the high-maintenance ones.

It's been 7 months since we flew south, but we are always home.

I feel like Alan and I did this ONE particular thing right that’s going to be the thing that makes life fun and frequent moving doable. These 4 boys. I can’t really say we gave them each other because God did that. If I had gotten to decide it myself, there would have been a Gracie and a Josie thrown in, and then our whole family dynamic would be different.

But this is better because this is what God gave us. I can’t imagine our lives without a single one of them. We have two sets of best buddies, and I wouldn’t trade that for the world. The younger ones are learning from the bigger ones things, for better and for worse, ha!, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. They fill our hearts with so much joy.

And no matter where we move they all have each other, and Alan and I have each other and these boys.

Best of all, we’ve never grown too comfortable with any one place or house. There’s no confusion about where home is. Home is not a building that can be taken away. Home is right here, wherever we are. Home is us. So we are always home.

It's been 7 months since we flew south, but we are always home. It's been 7 months since we flew south, but we are always home.

And now here they are, all telling me that Lego Batman movie premiered today, and they are just dying to know when I am going to take them to see it. Yeah…I might have promised them to take them to see that because Lego Batman is a serious obsession around here.

Maybe I can make it happen today……

A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so also you must love one another. 35By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”…            –Jesus  (John 13:34-35)

 

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