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In every large city in America there are art museums, especially in places like New York City. Those museums display a variety of the most expensive paintings by some of the world's greatest artist like Van Gogh and Picasso. Many of the works of art are worth tens of millions of dollars. Visitors to the museums stand in awe before the paintings, discussing such things as style, brush strokes, and magnificent colors. They describe the artist with words like 'genius' and 'masters.' However, there is an artist who makes the works of all the great artist look paltry besides his. In fact his museum dwarfs all museums combined. Regrettably, most do not bother to ponder the skill, colors, and ingenious strokes of the artist. The display is free of charge. It spans the entire planet, in fact, the universe. Zoos are set aside as special places to house some of his most spectacular and interesting subjects. Oftentimes he paints in the strangest places, for example, the sky, beneath the oceans, the jungle or in the dark caves. Undeniably, the genius of the artist is everywhere to be seen. Who is this genius that is both artist and sculptor beyond compare? Of course you recognize the artist as our almighty Creator God. The universe is his massive canvas. In it, He has rendered the most beautiful scenes. A master sculptor, he has fashioned species of extraordinary forms and capacities. He fills the air and seas with kinds that stagger the imagination. Beneath the earth are innumerable creatures hardly seen. Our God wants us to pay close attention to his works--To stand in awe of them; to talk about them-then to greatly rejoice that he has done such great things!

Gerald Cornelius

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On October 10, 2018, Hurricane Michael made landfall off the coast of Florida. It was a ferocious storm that plowed a path of destruction across Florida, Georgia and Alabama. The estimated damages caused by this deadly storm was in excess of 8.1 billion dollars, with 50 fatalities, hundreds of injuries and thousands left without power. Many were left homeless and wondering what to do next. I think it is safe to say that the destructive power of this storm had been greatly underestimated by many...including me.

Our city of Dothan, Alabama, would soon be impacted in ways we never expected or prepared for. By Wednesday afternoon around, 3:00 PM, our power was out. But at that time, there was just a steady rain, and the winds were just beginning to pick up. I was confident it would pass quickly through our area and that power would be restored most certainly by the following day. Boy, was I wrong.

As night fell, I was beginning to feel that perhaps my confidence had been greatly misplaced. The winds were growing increasingly stronger and the rain was a steady, pelting downpour. I quickly grabbed my phone to catch the latest updates on the storms path and the forecast for Dothan. It was then that I realized we were in for a long night...and more. Winds had been clocked steadily over 50 mph with periodic gusts up to 75 - 80 mph. The whole city was quickly plunged into darkness. I decided to step out on my front porch just to get a feel for what was going on outside. I could barely keep the door from pushing me over due to the forceful push of the howling wind. The rain felt like small pebbles hitting me in my face. I retreated immediately back inside to presumed safety. I looked out the front window just in time to see a huge pine tree branch fall from one of the 12 that cover my yard. It landed on the side of my house, knocking down the power line, destroying the meter box and tearing a hole in the roof. A few moments later, a second large branch fell in the back yard, hitting the roof of the back bedroom, causing minimal damage only because the branch flipped over as it fell, the heaviest part falling harmlessly to the ground about 3 feet from the bedroom window. This storm was real...and it was dangerous.

The night was long and without rest. Any one of my 12 pine trees could very easily cause the total destruction of my home, or just as easily leave me trapped inside, or even worse, I could be another fatality. I placed candles throughout the house and waited. I prayed for those who were in the direct path of Hurricane Michael. If it was this bad here in Dothan, I could only imagine what they had to be going through. I prayed for my neighbors, friends, church members, and especially those who had nowhere to go or were alone with no one to reassure them that everything would be alright. The wind and rain continued relentlessly throughout the night. I did not go to sleep.

As morning broke, the winds had retreated for the most part, and only a light rain continued to fall. I stepped out my front door to survey with my eyes what I could only hear with my ears throughout the dark and restless night. I was shocked by what I saw. My yard was covered with tree branches and limbs. I could tell by the huge tree on the power line that there would be no electricity for a while. Neighbors were slowing emerging from their homes as well, all of us looking around in awe and amazement at what we saw. Trees were down all up and down our street. The road was blocked by huge downed trees on both ends. My neighbor and church member across the street had a huge tree lying perpendicular to the front of her house, missing it by inches. Another branch stood straight up through part of her roof as if it was supposed to be there. My next door neighbor on one side had a gigantic tree that had snapped about 3 feet from it's base, but thankfully fell away from his house. We saw this over and over again. An inch more to the inch more to the left...if that tree had fallen to the north instead of to the south...if the car had been parked where it usually was...if I had not walked inside when I did....some many close many stories of God's hand of providential care and protection.

As we walked and looked around the neighborhood, we began to greet one another, to make sure everyone was okay. We offered assistance to those who seemed to be most in need. Some of us had never met, some of us had never even seen each other before that morning. This beast called Michael had done something that we probably would not have done on our own. It brought us out of our most comfortable place, to a place of commonality and likeness. All of us, no matter who we were or what we looked like, at that moment, recognized just how fortunate we were, and together, we were all grateful. Now we know and understand that we are not just neighbors, but we are our neighbors keeper. And when the storms come, when calamity strikes, we are there for each other. Maybe one day it won't take a hurricane to accomplish that task. Maybe one day we will simply realize that when it's all said and done, we are so much more alike than we are different.

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Today is my birthday. I am immensely grateful to God for how faithful and merciful he has been to me. I am always cognizant of the fact that He didn’t have to do what He did…but He did. To see this day is just another example of His goodness to me.

This is my first birthday without my mom being here to call me and remind me how much she loves me. I miss that. As I reflect on her life, there is one thing that I find myself most grateful for out of all the wonderful things that I remember. You see, my mother was a prayer warrior. She believed in, and practiced the consistent act of prayer. I know because I benefited greatly from those prayers that she prayed. No matter where I was in life, regardless of what side of the fence I was living on, I always knew that my mother was praying for me. She was always interceding on my behalf. She wasn’t praying for a good job for me, or a new car or house, or any of those material things. She let me know that her prayer was that I find my purpose in Jesus Christ and that I commit my past, my present, and my future into His hands. And for that I am eternally grateful.

So, yes, I miss her deeply, but I am so very blessed to have been her son. I never would have made it without her prayers. As I celebrate my birthday, one so insignificant in the grand scheme of things, I pause to give thanks to the one whose birth, death, and resurrection made the difference in my life. To Him be all the glory, honor and praise. And…yes, thank you mama.

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