Too Much or Too Little

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Getting together for coffee or tea or almost any kind of connection with friends is something most of us enjoy. Have you ever been in a season or noticed that sometimes there can be too much time doing those things in your calendar and other times not enough? Little wonder at that since relationships are a vital part of our lives at every season and we can be restless or dissatisfied when there is a lack of balance no matter what our personality or preference.

“Whether you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert, relationships are an important part of a well-rested life. Skip too many meals and your stomach will start growling. Just as the body hungers, your soul also hungers for connection. Loneliness is the soul’s plea to feed your need for social rest.”

Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD

One of the consequences of the worldwide pandemic has been more isolation and loneliness as well as a growing number of people experiencing depression and anxiety because of being cut off from usual times with family and friends. That was even worse for those who were ill and even in hospitals and unable to have those they love around them for comfort and encouragement. Every aspect of our relational selves experienced impact.

“You are made for three kinds of relationships: with others, with yourself, and with God.”

Dr. Gary Smalley
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We all know good relationships take work, intentionality, authenticity, good communication, and more. We know those relationships that refresh us and those that leave us feeling drained or empty after coffee. How reciprocal and authentic each person can be will have a great impact on how much we risk sharing of ourselves as well as invest in listening to the other person.

We will have many levels of relationship but if we are fortunate, there will be one or two persons we will never miss having a coffee date with or sharing what we are wrestling with. These are the ones who listen with their hearts, hold us accountable to our values and principles, pray for us without being asked, and know us so well they sense when something is going on even if we haven’t said. They pursue our hearts, not just the details of what we are doing or thinking about.

I think they are really special gifts from the Lord, and I sometimes wonder if those 3 disciples Jesus hung out with the most were like that with Him. Perhaps they heard differently even though they were all faltering at times and Peter often put his foot in his mouth.

These persons who are “heart listeners” are ones we should never take for granted; they are precious indeed.

Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith identifies 6 things that suggest we have social rest deficits:

1. Feeling alone in the world

2. Feeling detached from family and friends

3. Attraction to people who mistreat you or are abusive toward you

4. Difficulty in maintaining close relationships or making friends

5. Isolating yourself from others

6. Preferring online relationships over face-to-face relationships

“Social rest is when we find comfort in our relationships and social interactions. It is the ability to find solace in another.

Relationships are where we make deposits when we are full and withdraw from when we feel empty.”

Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD

Some of us have the mistaken idea what we need is a lot more time alone than we often do. Yes, we need time alone with the Lord and with ourselves, but if we are craving too much time alone perhaps it’s because the quality of our relationships is not replenishing and refreshing us when that is something we really need. We can be tempted to stop pursuing relationships if we are not as healthy or have been wounded in past relationships. Since relationships are hard work, we think we will just give up on them rather than risk learning what a safe relationship looks like and how to be that for someone else.

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Sometimes we look for relationships to nourish us without much thought about how we will also seek to nourish others as well. We must never forget that relationships are meant to be reciprocal and not just a means to fulfill our own needs.

“We often look down on fake people; however, we at times exhibit similar behavior. We become hypocritical in how we view authenticity in relationships, demanding it from others while refusing to fully participate ourselves. Social rest requires a willingness to deal with our relationship hurdles. It requires us to confront our reactions to the judgment of others, our feelings of rejection, and our fears about fitting in. In doing so, we secure relationships that give us grace to confront our doubts, speak our truth, and be authentic.

Social rest is about making space for those relationships that revive you. When you are with a friend you feel comfortable being around who makes you feel as if you could tell them anything, you’re experiencing social rest. These social rest relationships make you feel valued and take your concerns seriously.”

Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD

Relationships are both a gift and a choice. If we are without relationships of any kind, then perhaps we need to first seek the Lord about what has caused us to distance ourselves from others and not trust Him to discern those He would grant us to share our journeys. If we have failed to pay attention to those relationships we do have, this is a good time to seek the Lord about how to be a better friend, one who can provide social rest for others as well as receive it.

Research offers some significant findings about the importance of strong relationships:

“Studies show that people with strong relationships live longer, cope with stress better, and are overall healthier and happier. One study of over 300,000 people found a lack of strong relationships increased risk of premature death from all causes by 50 percent. This mortality risk is greater than that caused by obesity and similar to smoking almost a pack of cigarettes a day. Your social support system does more than just help you weather life’s storms; it lengthens the number of your days.” Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

Psalm 90:12 (NIV)
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As we moment-by-moment live out our faith and belief system, what feeds us so that our relationship with the Lord is fresh and refreshed? Anything and everything comes at us, and challenges us to hold steady in the storms around us. When we are worn and weary in the other areas I have written about (physically, mentally, & emotionally), our spiritual lives are impacted as well.

“You are made up of a body, a mind, and a spirit. Three unique parts make a whole. Whole is what your body thrives to become. Your body seeks to remember its disjointed relationship with your mind and spirit, and in doing so remember the sanctity of wholeness. It would stand to reason, however, if you can be whole, then you can also be the opposite of whole. You can be fragmented or broken…”

Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD

Most of us might be nodding our heads when we read Dr. Dalton-Smith’s words. We have felt or been fragmented and broken and come to our faith looking for healing and help to restore us. When we were far from God, we may have been less aware of why life wasn’t working for us as we hoped or needed but less aware of how sin separated us from Him and affected every part of our life and all relationships. But if or when we made the choice to come before Him and acknowledge that we couldn’t do life on our own and apart from Him, we started to seek greater wholeness and discovered there was more fragmentation and brokenness than we had been aware of.

We may have sought discipleship, a Bible study, or even counseling when all those things started to come to light – all good things, but there was more to discover if we were going to gain wholeness and repair the spiritual rest deficits we had (may still have).

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“The spirit experiences brokenness in the form of spiritual trauma, anger toward God, a lack of belief in God, and feeling a disconnectedness from God. When any one of these three (body, mind, spirit) experience brokenness, it affects the function of the other areas. Spiritual rest is where the broken places mend. Rest holds up the fragments, naked and unashamed before God. Rest acknowledges the disconnection and draws near. Your faith and relationship with God affect your ability to feel well rested.”

Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD

So, what does Dr. Smith list as evidence of a spiritual rest deficit?

  • Feeling decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment
  • Feeling helpless, hopeless, trapped, or defeated
  • Feeling like life is a total waste of energy and having no motivation
  • Feeling distant from God
  • Experiencing suicidal thoughts and depression
  • Feeling numb and apathetic

We get to these places for more than one or two reasons, some outside of our control, and some because we want what we want when we want it. Ugh!

“Over time throughout our lives, the Self stakes out its own territory within us to assure getting its own way, ordering our world to its likings. It has imbedded assumptions and privileges in our psyche; there is a momentum to its desires, motives, and presence in us.”

John Eldredge

Even as believers those things can be there by how we believe every aspect of our faith experience should go. We may be consistently doing all the things we have heard we are to do and think we should do and yet there is very little intimacy with the Lord developing along the way. We may go through prayer requests and lists in a rote manner, having a one-way conversation with the Lord without ever pausing and sitting in his presence listening to what He might want us to see or hear. Sometimes it means just sitting in his presence and letting Him enfold us while we say nothing. It also means not simply going through a Bible study or Bible reading program but meditating on what we read. It’s less about what we know and more about what is engrafted in us and available to apply moment by moment.

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One of the things that revolutionized my level of intimacy with the Lord was when I read a book by Sandra Wilson in 1999 entitled Into Abba’s Arms (Finding the Acceptance You’ve Always Wanted). The author shared about times she spent with the Lord, and it was as if she were journaling a letter to Him and then pausing to listen for whether He gave her a sense of a response and writing that down in a different colored ink to see if it stood up to a biblical context. She wrote about how those times began to fill “a hole in her soul” as she came to recognize Christ’s desire for us to move closer to Him.

We have received so many faulty messages about ourselves and Him that we can miss that truth even though the Bible makes clear his desire for a close personal relationship with Him where we are wholly authentic without any fear of rejection or loss of his love for us.

“God wants us close to him even more than we want to be close to him! How do I know? Because he plants a part of himself, the Holy Spirit, in each of his beloved children. God’s Spirit acts, in part, like a homing device, sometimes beeping softly, other times shrieking deafeningly in our hearts to direct us back to where we belong – to God’s eternal embrace.”

Sandra Wilson

I still recall an afternoon where I was sitting in a women’s conference in Chicago when the speaker suggested we take time in silence before the Lord to hear Him and even ask Him what He thought of us or wanted us to hear from Him. It felt like a risky thing to do given that I was cued in on my weaknesses and I was sure He knew many more I had not even recognized. But what I discovered was that He wanted to remind me of his love for me, his grace and mercy for all those weaknesses and failures even after coming to accept Him.

“God is much easier to get to know when you take religion out of the equation. As much as He would love for all of us to be holy, His first request is simply to love Him. Love is not religious; love is relational. Do you remember what it was like when you were trying to get to know your lover? The long hours of talking into the night and the endless love notes all seemed as natural as humidity in Alabama.”

Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD

This is the relationship that moves us into spiritual rest and mends the brokenness and fragmentation that erodes our spiritual selves. This is the sanctuary that can restore us if we will lay aside what pulls us into other things and practice being in his presence. It’s then we will discover He has been waiting in that place for us all along.

“Sanctuary is where we lay down our fight and rest. In the process, we find our way back home to a relationship with God.”

Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD
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For Better or Worse – Emotions

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How do you view emotions? Whatever your perspective may be about them and whatever other words we may use for them (feeling, reaction, response, sensation), they are part of our design and have been so from the beginning. Our experiences with them often cause us to label them as good or bad and what informs that choice tends to relate to what we experience of them in ourselves and in the home where we grew up. Why? Because it is in our family where we cry or laugh or express anger and someone uses a word to name what we are experiencing. How they describe it or label it and what they tell us about it impacts how we view emotions going forward until or unless we gain additional information.

If we are fortunate, we experience our developmental years with healthy emotional boundaries and learn to label our own emotions (as well as others) accurately and then how we can respond to them in effective ways for ourselves and those around us.

“Emotional boundaries set limits on what is safe and appropriate for us to feel. They limit what things we let in and let out that provoke feelings. They determine how we let people treat us, including the range of personal comments we will accept from others.

Emotional boundary violations occur when someone intrudes or distances himself or herself from an individual with emotions or lack thereof that are inappropriate to the relationship.”

Mike O’Neil
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Unfortunately, many of us do not get those messages and can have emotions flooding out sideways and in ways that can sometimes seem and feel out of control. Others of us feel it isn’t safe to express feelings and we keep them inside where they do a different but just as painful damage. Those unexpressed or repressed emotions that accumulate within us can provide fertile ground for depression and relational challenges over time.

“Shelved emotions are the rawest kind. They are not tempered by exposure and easily bruised on contact. So, contact becomes the enemy, and we cocoon in isolation. We limit the ability to use emotions for our own healing. Emotions are powerful. They can override thoughts, influence relationships, and transform our behavior. They empower us to understand ourselves and overcome challenges. Emotions are to be explored, encountered, and enjoyed. They were never meant to be bottled up.”

Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD

When we do not recognize the truth expressed by Dr. Dalton-Smith, they can also be projected on our relationship with God and we might project blame onto Him or consider Him untrustworthy, demanding, or unsafe.

All the while God is seeking to show us who He is and to offer us grace and hope to overcome our deficits and need for emotional rest and healing. Look at how John Eldredge describes this:

“God surrounds us; we swim in God like we swim in oxygen. He is by your side right this very moment, as you read this sentence. Despite this wonderful reality – what a wonderful reality it is – we don’t always feel him near; don’t have a consistent experience of his presence (some people rarely experience his presence). It can be so disheartening; I hate that rollercoaster.”

John Eldredge

By now you may recall reading about physical and mental rest or lack thereof and wonder what emotional rest deficits might look like. Here is Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith’s list to consider:

  • You tend to focus on your failures and flaws
  • You experience self-doubt and insecurity that prevents you from trying new things
  • You constantly compensate for who you are with apologies or clarifications
  • You beat yourself up when you make even the slightest mistake
  • You feel depressed or angry when you think about your life
  • You exhibit excessive worrying or display feelings of anxiety about situations

We may experience these from time-to-time, but if they are chronic or tend to be there much of the time, we need to consider how we replenish this deficit of emotional rest. Sadly, we may not be sure of what that looks like or what it would feel like or how to get to that rest we need. Some of the practical steps would be recognize our own emotions and what may trigger them, curbing the tendency to compare ourselves with others, and start to consider being truly authentic with ourselves and others. We all have strengths and weaknesses and knowing that can help us set healthier emotional boundaries and risk being real and more vulnerable when that is safe and appropriate.

Most important of all is to be real with the Lord and take time to breathe Him in and know you are deeply loved (warts and all) and He has been waiting for you to invite Him in and receive his healing and help to gain the emotional rest you may have needed for a long time.

What would emotional rest look like?

“You experience emotional rest when you no longer feel the need to perform or meet external expectations. It is the cessation of emotional striving. We each have an internal capacity to manage emotions. We pour out of the space as we offer sympathy to a friend who just lost her husband, console a tearful toddler in our arms, or encourage a coworker on a job well done. Each interaction is giving a bit of ourselves. When our emotional withdrawals exceed our emotional capacity, we will experience emotional fatigue. Emotional rest is a deposit back into our emotional account.”

Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV)
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Why Can’t I Focus?

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Each of us can have times (frequent or not so many) where we have difficulty with focus. It’s always been that way. We can be anywhere and find ourselves drifting our focus onto something else. It doesn’t mean we are dealing with attention-deficit disorder to experience this. It doesn’t even mean we are always physically tired when it is an issue. And the sources of the challenge to focus can come from more than one direction.

Some of it relates to the way our brains collect and store information and a lot of information is coming at us every moment of the day in addition to what we already have stored. One of the worst parts is that highly emotionally tinged memories of things that were not so good or hurtful often want to stay in the forefront of our thoughts where we can be prone to reworking them to try to sort out what and why it happened, how it happened, and whether we should have or could have stopped or prevented it.

“As important as it is to rest your body, it’s equally important to quiet your mind from the ongoing influx of information it receives. Much like our social media news feeds, our mental background noise is often infused with negativity. Thoughts about the future are contaminated with anxiety, thoughts about the past are tainted with regret, and thoughts about the present are spoiled with discontentment.”

Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD
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Our brains are working all the time (not unlike our heart and other parts of our body). God created an incredible thing when He created our brains. They are so complex that science and medicine has yet to learn a great deal about them. That marvelous pump we call our heart that works hard despite so many ways we ignore it already is more understood than the brain.

“The brain is involved in everything you do. How you think, how you feel, how you act, and how well you get along with other people has to do with moment-by-moment functioning of your brain.

When your brain works right, you tend to be effective, thoughtful, creative, and energetic.

Your brain has only so much reserve.”

Dr. Daniel Amen

The vast work Dr. Daniel Amen has done to research the brain has grown in popularity over time as he discovers more and more about how it functions and how it may not if it has been damaged, neglected, or overworked for too long. For all we do not know or cannot always change, the hope he offers is that we can change habits that get in the way of it being at the best possible no matter what our age.

We tend to think about minds that are overworked in connection with students at every level and many jobs and professions that require intense high-capacity thinking, but there is more that can put our brains in overload. We can be overloaded with decisions and demands that we feel no match for such as times of facing a major health crisis (our own or someone else’s), times when we have a chronic situation over which we have little control that wears us down little-by-little, chronic pain many suffer from, and more.

“When left unchecked, clutter happens. Your mind is no different. It can hold an inconceivable amount of information. It is also able to fill, sort, and arrange information effectively. The life-changing power of tidying up your mind starts with letting go of those thoughts that are not producing a positive effect on your life.”

Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD

It isn’t only our eating and exercise habits we need to work on. We need to recognize the habits of our thoughts and minds that developed somewhat haphazardly over time need to change as well and that won’t be easy for any one of us. Even so, we need mental rest, and we need to recognize it is a value we must courageously pursue.

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What are some of the evidences of a need for mental rest Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD, has identified?

  • Feeling like we can’t keep up with our mental “to do” list
  • Experiencing irritation or frustration when thinking about your day
  • Choosing to avoid some things because you are afraid you will make an error
  • Feeling like you are in a mental fog or drowsy during the day
  • Snapping at family members or coworkers about insignificant things
  • Spending most of your day on things you find overwhelming

1995 was a time when I was experiencing a deficit of rest in multiple areas and certainly physically and mentally. I was working in a private practice 30 minutes from home and my husband was working for a counseling agency 45 minutes in the opposite direction when my dad developed pneumonia that did not respond to outpatient antibiotic treatment. He had always been an active healthy man (even at 84), but out of nowhere he was in the hospital and soon in ICU on a ventilator. My mother who at 79 had several chronic health issues was hospitalized soon after as well.

Even though they lived just a few miles from us things became very complicated quickly. My brother lived with them and had various developmental delays and emotional and mental issues and could not live alone. Suddenly he needed to live at our house while I navigated making all the decisions for each parent and handle his needs as well and still work as much as I could. My dad would die after remaining in the hospital for five and a half weeks. My mother would be in and out of the hospital twice during that time and the death of my father ended 55 years of marriage for them and even more demands. My mother then died 3 months to the date of my father’s death, and I became my brother’s legal guardian. Some seasons can be like that for us. Yours may be different. Yours may not have come yet, but life hands us hard seasons with no reprieve.

Changing your thought life to improve regular better mental rest will take time. Your journey in that will need God as your partner.

“As you deal with changing your thought life, you will need to depend on God’s power to help you. Furthermore, change will only come about if you agree to change. God does not force change on uncooperative participants.”

Dr. Archibald Hart

“The most valuable thing you can do for your sanity is to let your mind rest and allow room for regeneration of what’s being depleted every day.”

Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD

Our efforts will never be enough. It starts with humbly calling on the One who knows us best and loves us most – God. He is the one who knows the path we take, our strengths and weaknesses, our challenge with resolve and more.

“You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!”

Isaiah 26:3 (NLT)
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I’m So Tired

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“I’m so tired!”

How often have we heard (or said) that comment? The pandemic has resulted in hearing it even more often as people struggle with the aftermath of the virus or dealing with all the ways life has changed for them. The list of adjustments and changes in our lives over the past two years seems to be endless and has no definite end in sight. We were easy prey for feeling tired because of the fast-paced lives we were already living, but when did that all start?

Some might wonder if it began long before adult responsibilities, hobbies, ministries and more. Childhood used to have more time spent at home playing and learning adult tasks, creating our own games with some half hour family-friendly TV shows for the whole family in the evening. Over time as people’s education and jobs changed and we left the more rural lifestyle that even existed in many suburbs, activities of all sorts were added as options for our children and now people had incomes to afford them. That added carpooling to church youth activities, soccer, band, choir, dance, and a long list of other things not only to use up time outside of school for the children, but also to add to the demands on parents who were trying to accommodate all that while juggling their own work schedules.

I am not suggesting one is bad and one is good, but they are different and instead of an average 10-year-old lounging reading a comic book after chores and schoolwork they have learned early the fast-paced life that a better economic income level allows many families. When do they participate in more restful periods for creative thinking, dreaming, or visioning when they are “plugged in” to one device or another when not on the go?

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“Most of the day we simply plow through a myriad of diverse tasks, checking boxes, ‘getting things done.’ It frazzles the soul, so we look to all our “comforters” to calm us down. But I know my salvation is not in a frappuccino nor the fudge.”

John Eldredge

We have come a long way from taking a Sunday afternoon drive to visit someone for an hour or two on the front porch sipping lemonade and drinking iced tea.

Some of these very things gave us a sense of rest and when we were tired it was more often from hard physical work instead of simply being on the go with a plethora of things we need to do and activities we are committed to do.

Sometimes the busyness cannot be helped or reduced much, but far too often it doesn’t stop once the crisis or season we are in has passed. Deciding to make rest a priority again will be difficult for many of us. We know because we have tried it and “busy creep” overtook us again.

“People-pleasing, workaholic go-getters don’t excel at rest without an internal battle. Rest requires submission of the soul, and the soul wants what the soul wants. It fights back against rest by holding up all the pretty fruit busyness is producing. It never gives you time to cut inside that same fruit to see the rot and decay at the core, decay that will inevitably surface when you’re ready to take a bite into the busy life you’ve created.”

Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD

The first step to improving our odds in the battle for rest and a life we are able to enjoy to the fullest is to consider what kind of tired we are and what type of rest will replenish it.

“Your body needs physical. mental, emotional, spiritual, social, sensory, and creative rest. Omit any one of these, and you will feel the consequences of the resulting rest deficit.”

Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD
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Since most of us are not doing the hard physical work of farming and similar daily tasks, how do we know if it is physical rest we most need if we are not ill or recovering from illness or not adjusting to an aging body?

Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD, identifies these things that suggest you might be suffering from a physical rest deficit:

  • Lack of energy required to do all the physical tasks on your “to do” list
  • Feeling tired but having difficulty falling asleep
  • A weak immune system with frequent colds and illnesses
  • Frequent muscle pain and soreness
  • Dependence on substances like caffeine, energy bars, and sugar to give you more energy
  • Possible dependence on substances like alcohol, pills, or comfort foods to give you more rest

Maybe the first step if any of these are us is to recognize what we have been and are still doing to our bodies day after day and recognize God designed our bodies to need rest to replenish brain cells, get rid of toxic waste, repair cells and restore energy that releases hormones and proteins, help nerve cells communicate and reorganize.

Many of us (maybe most of us) have learned to tune out the signals our bodies were designed to give us to let us know we need to rest. So, the first ‘not so easy step’ will be to learn to listen to our bodies again and learn what it means to take a healthy time-out. I say it’s hard because I have had to try to as well (even in retirement). I have had many seasons where I was pushing to reach a specific good goal or be productive and habits adopted during those times didn’t go away afterward.

One example was when I was teaching full-time in mid-life, involved with some ministry activities, while being a mother of two, a wife, daughter, friend, and more and chose to enter graduate school at the same time when I sensed God calling me to change directions in my professional life. That period lasted 4 years and the habits took twice that long to recognize they were still resulting in decisions to keep my calendar overly full.

“Whether you are a prayer warrior, love warrior, hope warrior, peace warrior, or a just-trying-to-make-it-through-the- day warrior, all warriors must know what weapons they have at their disposal. Rest is a time-tested weapon that can help you be victorious in battle.

Life is not all about the doing; it’s about the being. the seeing, the knowing, and the experiencing.”

Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD
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