Fork in the Road (A Guest Post)

“Sometimes it’s embarrassing to talk to You, to hold a conversation with the only one who sees right through this version of myself I try to hide behind” -Relient K

Yes, I DID just brilliantly quote Relient K. Despite their [for some – unpreferred] punk rock tones the lyrics of certain Relient K songs are extremely deep and can speak to my Christian walk. This particular song “I Am Understood” perfectly depicts a 19 year old version of myself. Maybe you remember a time in your life where you met “the fork in the road” as a young person. Well, I hit mine at age nineteen. I needed to make a very specific decision that I knew would determine what kind of character I would have for the rest of my life. You see… God had called me to a very full life; a life that I would have to dedicate my whole self completely to His service. I have known since I was nine years old that God has called me to full time vocational ministry. However, this dream became a little tainted when I became a teenager. I quickly realized how difficult ministry life would be for myself and my future family (husband and children). So, I planned on making a deal with God. I created a few “terms” that were my conditions for accepting the job for full time ministry! I know… I was blindly arrogant and presumptuous because I was operating out of fear. And yet, God saw right through me and He “let me know I was understood”.

I am a fourth generation pastor’s kid. My parents are exceptional Pastors and always tried their best in keeping my childhood experience as it rightfully should be. Being a PK [Pastor’s Kid] is something I am very proud of. However, that also means I saw a side of ministry that most young people do not ever experience. I was exposed to the sacrificial and emotionally draining effects of ministry life. Through some of my PK friends and their families I saw the darkness of ministry failure. I saw so much anger and hurt from other wounded and failed pastors and missionaries. I knew the scary statistics for Pastor’s families. I realized as a young teen that my parent’s had somehow beaten the odds. Would I be so fortunate to replicate their success in my own adult life someday? I was so fearful to release my “terms” because I did not want my future family to struggle financially or even relationally. You’ll laugh when you hear that one of my terms was “I will NOT marry a Pastor under any circumstance”. I wanted to marry someone with a so called “normal” job that could provide a steady source of income who’s schedule was reliably 9am – 5pm. That way I could continue to do ministry myself and not have to worry about making money to provide for a family. I had to be [what I thought was] realistic about life! I thought if I married a Pastor then my children would eventually miss out on something due to our busy ministry schedule. So, I tried living my life on my precious terms. This proved more difficult than I anticipated! I was trying to do ministry uninhibited, but my “terms” kept on getting in the way! I desired to be captivated by Christ and wanted to grow my relationship with Him more and more, but this required full obedience to Him.

Ultimately, I was faced with that proverbial “fork in road”. I had to make a decision to either cling to my terms, or cling to God and trust He would take care of me. Finally, I was tired of the charade. Decision time was unavoidable. I just could not continue running from the full embrace of God’s calling – it became so draining! I couldn’t keep everything together, only God could meet all my needs.

During that decision time I spent so much time in prayer seeking God. As I made changes in my life God began to reveal to me a new set of terms – His promises! He promised to be with me, to meet all my needs, and assured me that He would always have my back. A difficult time of transition became an era of promises! My God had proven faithful to me, yet again. As Relient K sings “You’re the only one who knows [me] yet still loves [me] completely… through the times I’ve faded and you’ve outlined me again; You’ve just patiently waited to bring me back… Your voice has broken my defense. Let me embrace salvation.”

Six years later my life hasn’t been easy, but it’s been beautiful. I have watched God provide in good times and bad. He has delivered to me an amazing husband that I can live out my youth ministry calling with. Can you believe I ended up marrying a Pastor? We make an incredible team – leaving a dent in the kingdom of darkness! I wish there were words that existed to more accurately describe how fulfilling, joyous, and comforting it is be in the perfect will of the Father. I could have had a decent or “good” life on my terms… but now I’m living an EXTRAORINDARY life that is beyond my wildest dreams on His terms. How could I have ever thought my plans were better than God’s plan for me?

“Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust in Him and He will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.” Psalm 37:3-6

Kimberly Clervois is an enthusiastic Youth Minister with a passion for this generation of teenagers.

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  • God saw right through me and He let me know I was understood.  Buffer
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Questions Jesus Asked in His Ministry

Sometimes people get the false impression that faith means learning the right answers. However, Jesus understood the importance of asking the right questions. Here are a few examples.

Questions of Priorities

The priorities I would write on paper and the priorities my choices write on the hours of my life sometimes begin to differ in the rush of living. A good question slices through the growing hypocrisy. Jesus understood the gap between intentions and actions, asking questions such as:

And why do you worry about clothes? (Matthew 6:28)

So, could you not watch with me one hour? (Matthew 26:40)

Why are you sleeping? (Luke 22:46)

Questions about Emotions

Jesus understood that faith is much more than intellectual assent. He knew that a good question presses beyond mere information to address the emotions driving our choices.

Why are you so afraid? (Mark 4:40)

Why are you crying? (John 20:15)

Does this offend you? (John 6:61)

Questions about Purpose

Jesus knew we are made for more than mere survival. Life is more than eating, sleeping, and working. Everyone has a greater purpose beyond just getting through the day. He asked people questions to help them get their focus beyond their immediate concerns to the larger spiritual truths.

But what about you? Who do you say that I am? (Matthew 16:15)

What do you want me to do for you? (Matthew 20:32)

Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? (Luke 5:22)

Honest answers to good questions grow our faith more than memorizing the right answers ever will.

 

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  • A good question slices through growing hypocrisy.  Buffer
  • How do you handle the gap between intentions and actions?  Buffer
  • Everyone has a greater purpose beyond just getting through the day.  Buffer

Winning in the Twelfth Inning

How can you not be romantic about baseball? – Billy Beane

Last Saturday, my family had the opportunity to attend a baseball game at Fenway Park. For many years, I worked in a research lab across the street from Fenway, so taking the subway into the city brought back memories. You could not have asked for a more beautiful September afternoon to enjoy a baseball game.

America’s Pastime

Sitting in a good seat directly behind home plate, I quickly understood why baseball earned the appellation “America’s pastime”.  As the vendors came through the stands with hotdogs, lemonade, hot chocolate, and cotton candy, I felt like I was having a picnic with all the other fans. People passed money and napkins down the rows, helping each other. The entire stadium participated in “the wave”, standing with arms thrown in the air just long enough to create a ripple effect.  Everyone enjoyed a party in the stands for many innings as the two teams scored runs.

The Ninth Inning

The atmosphere changed a bit in the final inning. At the bottom of the eighth inning, the Boston Red Sox tied the Baltimore Orioles, 6-6. Everyone focused on the field during the ninth inning, especially me. When the Baltimore Orioles failed to score in the top of the ninth, I grew excited at the possibility of my home team winning this game. What a perfect ending to a perfect day!

Unfortunately for Red Sox fans, the ninth inning ended with the tie still standing. Now the Red Sox had to keep the Baltimore Orioles from scoring in yet another inning. While I grew a little nervous for the Red Sox, I felt I just received a bonus. I would have the chance to enjoy the game longer. In the top of the tenth inning, one player grounded out to third, one flied out to right, and the last player grounded out to second. Relief washed over me! Time to win the game in the bottom of the tenth.

Only Runs Count

The shadow of the stadium grew long across the field, and many fans seated around me headed for home.  In baseball and in life, not everyone sticks around when the game goes into extra innings.  When one player singled to the left, then advanced to second when another player walked, I thought the Red Sox would win the game.  After all, they finally got on base, something the other team failed to do.  But in baseball, only runs count. The next player struck out swinging, and all the hard work was for nothing.

The Green Monster at Fenway Park runs out of room after ten innings, so the entire scoreboard was reset. Inning number eleven would be recorded as inning number one. Even more fans left the stadium. Would the Red Sox be able to keep the Orioles from scoring in yet another inning? The first two Orioles players struck out, and the third grounded out to second. Hope swelled in my heart! However, the Red Sox did not even get on base in the bottom of the eleventh.

Waiting to Win

The Baltimore Orioles, who have been almost unbeatable this season when a game goes into extra innings, were simply waiting for their opportunity to win. Opportunity knocked in the top of the twelfth inning, and the Orioles answered with three runs. The Red Sox could not return the answer in the bottom of the twelfth. I left Fenway disappointed for the loss, but inspired by observing what it takes to win in the twelfth inning.

In life and in our journeys of faith, sometimes the game goes into extra innings. We experience delays and unexpected outcomes. Extra innings can breed doubt. Not all our fans will stand with us, although watching the faithful ones keep cheering delivers great joy. Winning in extra innings requires perseverance and quiet confidence to wait for the right opportunity. Winning in our spiritual lives requires living with unanswered questions, trusting when we cannot understand, and finishing the journey we started. Only runs count. (1 Corinthians 9:24)

* The Boston Red Sox won the game the following day at the top of the ninth inning.

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Faith Leaves Room for Questions (A Guest Post)

Have you ever had a serious faith-related question, but were afraid to ask it? Many Christians have their curiosity kick in, while at other times, the way something was explained raises more questions. Do you dare ask it? Do you raise a question that deals with a matter of…faith?

 

I had the privilege of growing up in a family where I could always ask questions, even questions that were related to faith. Admittedly, some of the questions asked made heads turn (no wonder I’m now a Ph.D. student in Theology); other questions led to answers of “I don’t know.” In either situation, this provided the opportunity to read, study, and journey together in a process of discovery. Questions concerning the age of the Earth, the eternal state of those who never hear the Gospel, and from where the spouses of Adam and Eve’s children came all serve as samples of the many questions on the minds of people of faith—questions that many are afraid to ask.

 

Admittedly, some will argue that such questions are a source of weak faith or a lack of genuine faith. I strongly disagree. If anything, these questions stem from a heart seeking to learn more about the God they serve and the world in which they live. Just as I remember being told, “I don’t know.” I also remember, “…but we can study together and see if we can find some answers.” That attitude has aided me in understanding the importance of asking questions. So from where does the fear of some come? Some fear that the Bible (the written standard of their faith) might be proven wrong or that their entire faith is wrong because they come to understand that one thing they believed was incorrect. I can say that my thoughts have changed on some issues, and I find this experience has actually strengthened my faith.

 

I encourage you to ask your questions and grow in your faith. God is big enough for your questions. He isn’t afraid of them; you shouldn’t be either. If you choose to ask some of the “hard” questions of faith and explore them with others, there is no guarantee or requirement that you all come to the exact same conclusion. That is okay. The beauty of faith is that we can have unity on the essentials, liberty on the non-essentials, and love in all things. Remember to remain humble on this journey and be open to the thoughts of others.

As a final note, be warned that there are some things for which you will not obtain a solid answer. Use these opportunities to embrace the mystery of the God of the universe. I mean, if you could really figure out everything concerning God—an omnipotent, eternal being—he wouldn’t really be God, now would he?

Dan Morrison is enrolled in the Doctor of Philosophy program at McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, ON. When Dan is not reading or doing research, you can usually find him working out at the gym.

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  • The beauty of faith is that we can have unity on the essentials, liberty on the non-essentials, and...  Buffer
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Constructing Newton’s Bridge

Isaac Newton, one of the most influential scientists who ever lived, also was a Christian theologian. He once said, “We build too many walls and not enough bridges.” His quote resonates with me because bridges filled the landscape of my childhood.

I spent the first eighteen years of my life growing up in “The City of Bridges”. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, contains more bridges within its city limits than Venice, Italy, with the current number of bridges totaling nearly two thousand. Three major rivers come together at the Point, the location of Pittsburgh’s iconic fountain first built in 1974.  In addition to the presence of rivers, the steep hills and ravines around the city make bridges a necessity for transportation. The early European settlers of Pittsburgh quickly learned that they had to choose between living in isolation or finding creative ways to span the waters and valleys.

People cluster on one of two riverbanks in their approach to relating human reasoning to faith. The first approach, common in many Christian circles in my childhood and college years and persisting to this day, revolves around mistrust of the intellect. Acquiring knowledge, analyzing information, and questioning assumptions become suspect activities. Too much thinking means that you are not listening to your heart; you are out of touch with practical concerns; or you are not truly spiritual.

Many Christians find support for mistrusting the intellect in a variety of Biblical passages. All the way back in Eden, Eve’s temptation included a desire for wisdom and knowledge. In Proverbs 3:5, an often-quoted verse reads, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” In the New Testament in John 20:29, Jesus said to the doubting Apostle Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” In his letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 1:27), the Apostle Paul explained, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”

Clustered on the second riverbank, we find those who worship the life of the mind above all else. Human reasoning reigns supreme. The standard for judging truth becomes data collected through the human senses and processed by rational thought. Atheists and agnostics wield Occam’s razor to slice away the possibility of revelation, preferring explanations that avoid spirituality. While the 14th century Franciscan friar William of Ockham was right to suggest that a scientific model should avoid introducing more causes than necessary, the principle often is used to exclude from the possibility of existence everything not perceivable by the human senses. Occam’s razor is a sound approach to the practice of science, but when brandished too freely, justifies positivism. This philosophy persuades those dwell on this second riverbank to stop their search for spiritual truth when they reach the limits of human reasoning and empirical evidence.

Perhaps the two camps of settlers could survive adequately without venturing beyond the limits of their respective riverbanks. Yet I join Isaac Newton and the early settlers of Pittsburgh in the conviction that a richer life waits for those willing to construct a bridge.

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  • People cluster on one of two riverbanks in their approach to relating human reasoning to faith.  Buffer
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Patterns Likely to Lead to Success

I enjoy sports on a recreational rather than competitive level, yet I often find inspiration for my non-athletic goals by observing the practices of top athletes. Even elite athletes occasionally experience bad days, sustain injuries, and perform under their potential for a game or a short stretch of a season. Yet, successful athletes know how to return to high performance levels after a setback. They know the secret to a comeback is repeating previous patterns of success.

Finding Patterns

A good coach will help an athlete uncover patterns worth repeating. For example, reflecting on what makes for a successful practice session shows an athlete how to prepare for the game. The coach prompts the athlete to consider the amount of sleep he had the night before, the particular foods he ate, how he warmed up, and what was on his mind. Many times when I am working toward a particular goal, I reflect on my past successes to look for useful patterns. I remember what it feels like to focus wholeheartedly on a goal. I remember how to disband negative thoughts and embrace a faith-filled outlook. I remember the work intensity necessary to meet a deadline. I rehearse in my mind the feelings associated with completion of the goal.

Attending Practice

Once I uncover the useful patterns, I need to put them into practice. Our brains love to form habits. Habits make life easy by decreasing the amount of mental processing needed to complete a task. Once you learn how to ride a bike, scramble eggs for breakfast or drive to work along a particular route, your brain guides you almost effortlessly through these tasks without you consciously thinking through each detailed step. Of course, as every golfer who has struggled to fix a faulty swing will tell you, habits can sometimes work against you.

Patterns in our brain are like riverbeds through which water effortlessly flows. Practice is about carving out and strengthening useful patterns. The key to getting rid of a bad habit or correcting a faulty golf swing is to repeat the new habit or swing until it replaces the old one. You can bring old patterns of success to life again to help you in your new endeavor by consciously repeating these patterns until they become automatic once more.

Being Yourself

Everyone has a unique way of getting things done that works for them. I have known many academic high achievers who seem to wait to the last minute to spring into action, yet always brilliantly achieve their goals. At first glance, you might accuse these achievers of procrastinating and urge them to change. However, what appears to outsiders as procrastinating is a pattern of success in disguise. These high achievers function by quietly collecting and processing vast quantities of data before taking visible action. In reality, they have not waited until the last minute to work toward their goals; they have been at work all along.

Both athletes and academic high achievers understand that being yourself is the key to high performance. My pattern of success may be very different from yours. You will do best when you employ your own previous patterns of success instead of mine. Stay true to what works for you to achieve your own best results.

From a spiritual standpoint, moving past doubts and disappointments requires revisiting key moments in your faith journey and remembering what God has done in your life. A good way to rekindle any relationship, whether spiritual or earthly, is to remember the relationship at its best and try to recapture those feelings by repeating the behaviors and actions that strengthened the relationship in the first place. Those patterns likely to lead to success live in your memories. They are waiting to help you succeed in sports, in life, and in all your relationships.

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  • Successful athletes know how to return to high performance levels after a setback.  Buffer
  • Stay true to what works for you to achieve your own best results.  Buffer
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Blip or Trend?

At some point in every relationship and along every path to a goal, something goes wrong. A friend disappoints you. A partner is insensitive. You are disillusioned by how a teacher, coach, or church leader handles a situation. You experience a setback. You make a careless mistake. You skip your morning run and choose a double fudge sundae for an afternoon snack. The moment is forever gone; the words cannot be unspoken; and the regret begins.

You cannot undo your choice or rewind your circumstances. Your failed midterm will never magically be given an “A”. In all likelihood, your former boss will not hire you back. However, you have a new choice to make. You get to decide whether this moment in your life remains a blip or becomes a trend.

Choosing Your Future

About five years ago, I learned the concept of the “blip” from a friend who worked as Director of Human Resources for a large bank. He said that a person who loses his job at the bank must decide if this event is a “blip” or the beginning of a career downslide. If the ex-employee is willing to learn the necessary lesson from the unpleasant experience, the event becomes a blip. If the person goes on to the next job with the lesson unlearned, history can repeat itself again, slowly derailing the person’s professional life. Finally, if the person learns his lesson but becomes too demoralized by the experience, the person may never regain his former career trajectory.

Graphing Your Life

A “blip” refers to a point at which a line on a graph makes a sharp change of direction before returning to its original course. A trend is a long-range change in a certain direction. In other words, one argument does not need to create permanent conflict. One double fudge sundae does not necessarily mean the end of a person’s diet. You can lose a battle and go on to win the war.

Marriages that go the distance happen because a husband and wife decide to turn setbacks, disagreements, and stressful events into blips, not trends. People who attend the same church for years do the same within their faith communities. Successful businesses surmount a bad quarter to turn a profit over time. History teaches that individuals who make their mark on society persevere past the quitting point for everyone else.

Clearing the Hurdles

Jonas Salk, the University of Pittsburgh researcher who developed the first safe and effective polio vaccine, had to clear several hurdles before he led his own laboratory. Three institutions turned him down before the dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine offered him a lab. However, when he arrived in Pittsburgh, Salk quickly discovered that the lab was in a cramped basement location of an old building with no laboratory equipment. Yet Salk found funding from the Mellon family, a wealthy and influential family in Pittsburgh.  He turned the cramped basement into a working virology laboratory and went on to develop a vaccine for the worst disease of the postwar era. The rejections became blips and Jonas Salk became a household name.

The next time your faith is shaken through challenging circumstances or frustrating encounters with difficult people, remember Jonas Salk. Choose to make your momentary problem a blip. Even if justified, reject the impulse to wallow in your frustrations, turn away from relationships, and become cynical. Instead, question your doubts, re-engage people productively, and get back in the game.

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  • You can lose a battle and go on to win the war.  Buffer
  • Choose to make your momentary problem a blip.  Buffer

Which Butterfly Caused the Tornado?

The public expects science to deliver discoveries that provide increasingly precise answers about our world. Yet some scientific discoveries suggest inherent limits to scientific knowledge. One example is chaos theory, popularized as the “butterfly effect.”

The butterfly effect is a simple insight first extracted from the complex science of meteorology by Edward Lorentz in 1961 at MIT. He found that small changes in initial conditions, such as rounding a number used to represent an atmospheric condition from .506127 to .506, could completely transform a long-term weather forecast. He explained this insight in his 1972 paper, “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?”

His paper described both a practical limit for weather predictions and a philosophical limit for the explanatory powers of science. In complex, nonlinear systems, a small change in input can produce a large change in output. Thus, weather predictions more than a week in advance always will be fairly inaccurate. The philosophical limit is that the effects of chaos prevent us from knowing which butterfly caused the tornado.

So the lesson of the butterfly effect is that our world will remain fundamentally unpredictable because tiny differences in our scientific measurements make too big a difference in the final answer. Everything happens for a reason, but science may be unable to give us an exact cause for an event. Accepting limitations to the explanatory power of science does not diminish the importance of science. After all, the discovery of our human limitations in fully comprehending our world is a finding with profound significance.

Questions to ponder: What does the inherent limitations of science say about the limits of human understanding? Does science preclude spirituality?

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Connecting the Dots

In his 2005 Commencement address at Stanford University, Steve Jobs (1955-2011), co-founder of Apple Inc., made this statement:

“If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards 10 years later.”

Steve Jobs understood that we recognize purpose best in hindsight. Certain experiences become meaningful only as the future unfolds. With the passage of time, at least partial answers to the “why” questions regarding painful life circumstances can emerge.

Consider an athlete like Bethany Hamilton, a surfer who lost her left arm in a shark attack. She inspires others today because she first overcame hardship in her own life. Her pain became her platform for ministry.

Of course, not all pain we experience may be as dramatic as a shark attack. Sometimes pain comes through lost relationships or career setbacks. Only with time do you learn how your loss altered the course of your life. Years later, you may find that your geographical location, your present employment, and the birth of your children all exist as they are because your life was redirected through a loss. Everything you love about the present may have come into your life through an unwelcomed ending long ago.

The English romantic painter, John Constable (1776-1837), who is known for his beautiful landscape paintings, once remarked,

“I never saw an ugly thing in my life: for let the form of an object be what it may, – light, shade, and perspective will always make it beautiful.”

In many ways, your life is like a painting. When you look at your life from the right perspective, you find beauty. Each experience, both joyous and burdensome, creates a portrait of a life with purpose.

Questions to ponder: Do you believe that your present setback could become a future asset? When you connect the dots in your life, do you see mere coincidences or a greater purpose?

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  • Certain experiences become meaningful only as the future unfolds.  Buffer
  • When you look at your life from the right perspective, you find beauty.  Buffer

Finding Answers Together

 

Near the end of a typical Harvard commencement ceremony, the University President confers degrees on the candidates from the various schools. Doctoral candidates belonging to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences are welcomed “to the ancient and universal company of scholars,” a traditional phrase that accurately describes the life of an academic researcher. The University President admits the seniors of the undergraduate class to “the fellowship of educated men and women.” The ceremony concludes with bells ringing from church towers across Cambridge, with at least fourteen churches participating.

 

The Harvard Commencement ceremony recognizes that good scholarship happens in a community. The research of today links with the work of the brilliant minds of the past. This process connects with Christian thinking expressed in the Bible in Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” The community of scholars refines and corrects the thinking of any one researcher.

 

By asking questions of other scholars and learning from each other, researchers advance knowledge. Perhaps the scientific community offers a good model for those embarking on a journey of faith, seeking answers to the questions that science does not answer.

 

We do better in life when we join together with others. We make better scientific progress working together than we ever could accomplish alone. I believe that we also experience enhanced personal growth when we connect with others to find meaning in life and to seek ways to make a positive impact on our world.

 

My hope is that this blog community will become a place where we can find answers together, accomplishing more than we ever would on our own.

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  • The research of today links with the work of the brilliant minds of the past.  Buffer
  • The process of discovery rarely happens in isolation.  Buffer
  • We do better in life when we join together with others.  Buffer