NovelSisters

watching, reading, and writing stories

Response to Evil

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Our world constantly bombards us with sin and its effects. Shootings, riots, murders, natural disasters, hate, racism, prejudice, envy, cynicism, pride, selfishness and so much more. Sometimes it can be overwhelming. A lot of times I don’t know what to say, how to react, or what I should do in response to these things I know are wrong.

On the one hand, I want to speak up against the evil, say it’s wrong, and point people to do what’s right. I’ve seen a lot of this type of reaction on social media in the aftermath of Charlottesville. And I agree that staying silent is not the answer, trying to pretend these problems don’t exist is not a Christ-like response. Jesus entered into our pain and problems, into this sin-filled world and He chose to love.

The more I’ve been reading in God’s word, the more I see Jesus not only pointing out sin and it’s root: our hearts. But I also see Him choosing to love the people who are sinning. Along with standing up against evil and saying this is wrong, I think us Christians also need to speak in humility and love and pray for people. Without Christ, this is where we’re all headed; to selfishness, pride, sin, and hurting the people around us.

I could have been one of those people rioting except by the grace of God, I could be a murderer, except by the grace of God. I am no better than the racists, murderers, and judgmental hypocrites. My only hope is Christ, and this world’s only hope is Christ. We cannot make ourselves be good, we cannot make ourselves care for other people, we cannot make ourselves live the way we should. God has to change us at the root of the problem: our hearts.

We have to realize that we can’t beat sin on our own, not in our culture or politics or classrooms, or neighborhoods. We have to let Christ remove sin in our own hearts, and pray, asking Him to do the same in our friends, relatives, congressmen, neighbors, and even in the racists and hypocrites.

And we do not have to despair about what is happening in our country, because we know that this is not our home. Although we can try to make it the best it can be, this place will never be perfect. But one day Jesus will return and He will set up His perfect Kingdom where there will be no more slaves, no more marginalized, no more poor, no more racists, and no more selfish sinners. He has promised His followers this perfect future, and we must believe Him and put our hope in Him. And while we are living here, we must live for His eternal Kingdom and point our world to the only hope there is.

So anyway, that’s how I want to respond to this most recent violence. I’m stumbling and fumbling along to do it Jesus’s way, to love, forgive, pray and seek opportunities to speak truth in love. And even though I fail again and again, He has changed me and He is continuing to transform me. And one day I know He’ll take me home. So I hope this post encourages you today to not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21).

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Gifted and Relationships

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Last night I rented the movie Gifted from Redbox and oh my gosh it is such a good movie! Ever since Chris Evans started playing Captain America, I’ve liked him as an actor and I was very interested to see him play a character in a father-like role. I was not disappointed. He did a great job playing a man caring for his niece and trying to help her enjoy life and learn to connect with people, not just pursue her interest in math. This movie did a great job of showing how life is more than just success, fame, and accomplishing a goal. Being smart is not everything and having a gift doesn’t mean you’re different from everyone else. We all need family, connection and relationships.

Our society puts a lot of worth in what you can do, if you’re really good at math, or sports, or some other niche we’re told to pursue that. But this movie reinforced that human interaction and relationships are just as important. The girl, Mary, learned how to defend others, have compassion, forgive, and take a break to enjoy a sunset with a loved one, not just solve math problems. Life is so much more than work, success, and getting ahead. And I loved that this movie reinforced that.

God made us to live in community, to have relationships with people and with Him. And without that, our lives are empty, even with all the success. Just as Solomon wrote “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11). Though this is not a Christian movie and this message is not clearly expressed, there is a very interesting conversation between Frank (Chris Evans) and Mary (Mckenna Grace) about the bigger questions in life, like God and faith. I may not agree with everything said, but it was all very sincere and showed the importance of something beyond success.

I also loved seeing Frank dealing with the conflict with his mother in a mature way. Many dramas tend to overdo the tension between family members in this sort of story, but while there was tension, you could still see that they were family and loved each other. Also, Frank expressed well the normal fears that all parents have, wondering if they’re doing the right thing and wanting to do what’s best for their child. In the end he realizes that he really can take care of Mary and is the best person for the job. One of my favorite scenes is when he realizes her cat Fred was taken to the pound and he races over to save it from getting put down. It was such a heartwarming conclusion and then he goes even further and takes the two other cats that were going to be put down that same day.

There are a few inappropriate scenes, hence the PG 13 rating. But I’m willing to look past them for the heart of the story, and now that it is released on DVD, those scenes are easy enough to fast forward through if you find that it’s an issue.

I don’t want to give away the whole plot, I’ve probably already given away too much, but I just loved this movie so much. It’s sweet, heartwarming, funny, and well it made me shed a few tears as well. I hope it gets nominated for an Oscar because it’s honestly one of the best movies I’ve seen this year.

Plus Chris is friends with Mckenna in real life. Here’s a video of them answering some questions together so you can get a taste of what you’ll get if you watch the movie.

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I Love to Laugh

I’ve been reading the Brotherband Series by John Flanagan recently and I was struck by one character’s action. The whole group or brotherband as they are known were worried about one of their group who was injured and left behind to recover and also missing the constant bickering that usually came from that member’s presence. So this character, Thorn, decides to create some bickering with another crewmate’s help and soon everyone is laughing and enjoying themselves again.

I’ve also been rewatching a lot of Marvel movies with my sister, and each of these movies intentionally adds a lot of comedic scenes and moments into their plots. I think this is part of the reason that they are so well liked.

We all like to laugh, to smile, to experience joy. It’s part of our human nature. Now laughter may not always be the appropriate response, it could be seen as offensive or hurtful in certain situations. Just as Solomon writes there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3:4a). Sometimes it is not a time to laugh. But laughter is important. Whether it’s laughing with friends at an inside joke, or a funny line in a movie, or book, or just at a punny situation, laughter is part of life. And often, it’s the best medicine.

Laughter breaks up boredom, releases tension, heightens enjoyment and has many other physical benefits.

So I’m thankful for all the people that make me laugh: my family, friends, and even the comedians online or on TV. I hope you have a good laugh today. Remember to enjoy life, laugh at the awkward situations you find yourself in, and don’t take yourself too seriously. Sometimes all someone needs to brighten their day is a little laughter.

So here’s a clip to help you laugh a little today. Enjoy!

 

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Mission Trips

It’s summer time and many people are going on short term mission trips. Often it’s students, sometimes it’s adults, but there always seems to be some sort of mission trip going on. In the past year I’ve seen more and more articles about why people should not go on short term mission trips. When I first read them, I thought a lot of their reasoning seemed valid. It costs a lot of money to travel and if that money was sent to the local missionaries instead of paying for a plane ticket it could really help them out.

But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I feel like I disagree. Mission trips, even short ones can be very good and useful in God’s Kingdom. I agree with a lot of what is said in these articles. I can definitely see how these trips can turn into tourist vacations, and hurt rather than help a local community of Christians. But I think the articles are overlooking something important.

Why do we even go on mission trips? What is the purpose? If the purpose is only to make yourself feel good about helping others, I can definitely see their point of being able to do that in your own community and not needing to raise a lot of support money to travel. But what we do as Christians is a lot bigger than just human plans, and helping people. We’re following Jesus’s plan and building His Kingdom. I don’t know why He chooses to do things the way He does, but I don’t doubt that His is the best plan.

Before I’ve gone on any mission trip, I’ve done a lot of praying, asking Jesus if He wants me to go. Because at the end of the day, people’s opinions about your trip whether they think it’s great, or a waste of money, doesn’t matter. What matters is if you are obeying Jesus. Money is no problem for Him, it all belongs to Him anyway. If He wants to take you half way around the world, He will provide a way, and if He wants you to stay where you are and reach out to the people around you, He can help you be bold and live differently. So ultimately, it’s not about us and what we think, it’s about Jesus and what He wants. This is His kingdom after all, not ours.

But I can also see a few advantages to mission trips, that are harder to recreate if you simply stay at home. One is your level of comfort. You can definitely find ways of being uncomfortable in your own city, but leaving your country is a big step. And God does some of His best work when we have to rely on Him. It’s easy to try to handle all the little problems of life yourself, when you’re at home, but when you’re in a foreign country, can’t speak much of the language, and don’t have all of the things and people you normally rely on, it forces you to seek God more consistently and desperately.

Also, there’s something special about traveling with a group of people. Because you spend all of your time together, on planes, buses, and walking through foreign streets, you really develop close relationships which is harder to do at home. Because you’ve all committed to go together, you learn to rely on each other, open up to each other and disciple each other. You can do the same things at home, but it really helps when you’re cut off from your normal routines and forced to actually spend time with people. Traveling also tends to limit your use of certain technologies like text messages and phone calls, so that you can focus more on where you are and what you’re doing at that moment with the people around you.

And lastly, going on a mission trip opens up the opportunity for you to meet people you otherwise would have never met and develop lasting relationships and a deeper interest and care in their ministry. It’s one thing to read a newsletter from a missionary you support, it’s a whole other thing to spend the day with them; seeing what they do on a day to day basis, who they interact with, what situations they face, and how you can better support, encourage, and pray for them. I have developed several close relationships with missionaries and I care more about what they’re doing because I’ve seen them doing it. I might never have supported them and continued to care for them, if I hadn’t gone on a mission trip to where they are serving.

So, I guess what I want to say is, even if you have reservations about a mission trip, or someone else’s mission trip, remember that it’s easy to judge, it’s harder to obey, then pray and ask God what He’s doing and ask if He wants you to be a part of it.

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John Flanagan or Rick Riordan

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I was thinking about what my favorite book series are and that got me thinking about two authors that I have enjoyed a lot in the past few years: John Flanagan and Rick Riordan. I was introduced to Riordan’s books first by a 6th grader who was reading The Lightning Thief. It was an awesome book with lots of humor, very good descriptions, an intriguing story and great characters. I read the whole Percy Jackson series that summer and loved it. Then I eagerly awaited each new book in his Heroes of Olympus series. So when someone has asked me who my favorite author is in the past, I’ve often said Rick Riordan.

But more recently I’ve started reading John Flanagan’s Brotherband Series. I got into his Ranger’s Apprentice books several years ago but I was always hesitant to try this new series. Often with authors, I find that I like stories with certain characters but once they bridge off to new stories with new characters, I don’t like them as much. But I was surprised as I started reading Brotherband. Even though I had seen none of these characters before, except for brief mentions of Erak, I fell in love with the characters. Each book has been interesting and has an intriguing plot. It made me wonder why I hadn’t tried this series sooner.

Then I had a realization. Even though I love the Percy Jackson series by Riordan, I haven’t loved his other series. I never could get into the Egyptian one, the Norse one sounded interesting, but I never started and even though I’ve been trying to read the one about Apollo I’ve found it hard to get into. It’s like I’m forcing myself to read it, instead of getting sucked in. There are still some good characters and plenty of humor and references to modern culture, but it’s missing something. And I think that something is a connection to the characters and a desire to see them succeed. In Apollo’s series, his character is so full of himself that it’s hard for me to care if he complete’s his mission or not. Plus Riordan’s thing is to write all about other gods and that is sometimes hard for me to read as a Christian. He has also started adding more and more non-traditional relationships in his stories and that just make it harder for me to enjoy.

John Flanagan on the other hand, has a way of creating an intriguing story with diverse characters that you can still relate to. Even though I love Halt and Will from the Ranger’s Apprentice Series, I’ve found that I love Hal and his friends just as much in this new series. There’s even a girl character with my name so that makes it even better.

So even though I’ve said Rick Riordan was my favorite author in the past, I don’t think I can say that anymore. I’ve definitely enjoyed some of his books, but I can’t say that for everything he’s written. But from all that I’ve read from John Flanagan, I can say that.

So anyway, if you’re looking for a good book series to read this summer, I’d suggest Ranger’s Apprentice, Brotherband, or Percy Jackson if you’ve never read it.

Happy Reading!

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Going to Church

Recently I’ve been thinking about why so many people don’t go to church anymore. There can be many reasons for it: getting scheduled to work on a Sunday, moving to a new town and not connecting with any of the churches there, being hurt by someone at a church, or having a baby and not having the energy to go. I don’t know everyone’s reasons for not going but I’ve noticed several of my friends and acquaintances struggling to make it to church on Sunday. It seems to be a widely spread phenomenon. So, I just wanted to share a few reasons why I think going to church is important for believers and if you’ve been struggling to go to church, or have a friend that is struggling, maybe this can help in some small way.

1. It’s important because God’s Word says it is important.

In one of the early letters written to the Hebrew church, the author writes “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another- and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Jesus also says “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20) He doesn’t tell us to follow Him by ourselves, but with other people. In fact He even says “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35) People should be able to recognize us as followers of Jesus by how we love other believers. But that doesn’t work so well if you cut yourself off from gathering with fellow believers at church.

2. It’s important because the Church is a body that supports each member.

As Paul writes, “so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Romans 12:5) We all need help. Even if life is going well for you now, eventually something will happen. It could be losing a job, a loved one, getting sick or depressed, or a number of other things. When you have a tight knit community around you, there are people to support you emotionally, financially, or in whatever way you need. And if it’s not you who needs help right now, it could be someone else in the church community who needs your help, encouragement, or expertise. But if you’re not there, the whole church loses out.

I’m sure there are many other reasons to go to church, many other passages in Scripture to support going but ultimately, each person has to make their own decision. I can’t force anyone to go to church. But in my own life, I can’t imagine trying to follow Jesus without the help, support, encouragement and guidance of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I really do feel like they are my family. They know me better than some of my relatives in my blood family. But feeling a part of the family means investing in relationships, it means going to church consistently and getting involved in groups outside of Sunday. It takes a lot of time and effort, but it is worth it in the end.

So if you’re still looking for that community, keep looking. If you have a church, keep going. And if you have friends that don’t come, keep inviting. Don’t give up.

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Why you should go to the Library this Summer

It’s officially summer now and I have a bit more free time on my hands so I’ve been going to the library more regularly. I don’t know why, but for a good portion of my life I didn’t take advantage of our public library system here in Texas. But now that I’ve started, I can’t imagine not having it. So if you’re hitting those summer dog days and needing something to do, check out your local library.

Here are my three reasons why you should check it out.

1. Books! Whether it’s rereading one of your favorites or getting into a new series or even getting audio books for those long road trips, you can’t beat the library’s policy of three weeks rental for free. This summer I started reading the Guardians of Ga’hoole Series. I saw the movie years ago and always thought the series sounded interesting, but I finally got around to it with the help of my local library. And I’m currently starting John Flanagan’s Brotherband Series. I loved his Ranger’s Apprentice series and this one is starting off just as exciting.

2. Movies! Did you know you can rent movies at the library? They even have some Blu-ray movies! No download time, no fees, no quick return to the Redbox. You pick your movie for free and can keep it for 3 weeks! There’s no other place that can compete with that. I’ve been finding quite a few movies I’ve always meant to watch and never have. And since Blockbuster is out of business and Netflix has limited options, this seems like the best way to finally watch those old films. They even have newer releases. Although it might be a bit of a wait, so if you really want to see something, you might want to still use Redbox or another movie watching option. And you should always check the DVD’s before you check out, some have smudges and scratches and I’ve had trouble with a few. But for the most part, this is an excellent way to get some summer entertainment.

3. Programs! Now I don’t really get involved with these, I’d rather just get my books and movies and be gone. But libraries always have cool things going on, like Summer Reading Challenges where you can earn a free book, or events for kids and parents. So if you need some free entertainment, check it out.

And lastly, since I’m talking about libraries, I want to give a quick announcement. As many of you know, I have published 2 youth adventure books in my Finding Home Series: The Orphan’s Journey and The Lost Brother. This week La Vernia Public Library will be getting a copy of each of these books for people to check out. I hope whoever lives near La Vernia enjoys the addition to the library and gets a chance to check out the books.

Well that’s it for now, enjoy the summer and take advantage of your local library.

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Worth Waiting For Cars 3

If you read my blog posts you know I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of Cars 3. If you do decide to read this, be aware that I will share some of the story plot points. So if you don’t want to be spoiled on anything, you can wait till after you’ve seen the movie to read my review. But if you don’t mind a general overview, go ahead and read.

Before I get to the review, though, I want to share something else. You see this past weekend, when Cars 3 came out, my church had organized a youth retreat for our students. I was helping teach at the retreat and our focus was on God’s Kingdom and living for it instead of yourself. I found my desire to see Cars 3 as a perfect illustration at the retreat, so I thought I’d share it here as well.

Although I love movies and get excited to see ones I’ve been waiting for, living for them is not fulfilling. At the end of the day, a movie is just a movie. Two hours and it’s over, maybe you liked it, maybe you didn’t, but it’s not as important as other things in life. When I committed to teaching at this retreat, I was showing by my actions that I value the Kingdom of God more than getting what I want. Even though I would have loved to see Cars 3 on opening night, living for God and His kingdom is so much more important to me and more valuable in the long run. His Kingdom doesn’t end, like movies do, and He satisfies us with His presence, love, peace and truth in a way that nothing else can.

So anyway, I just wanted to share that before I give my review. I think putting things into perspective helped me enjoy this movie more. I wasn’t looking for a perfect movie to satisfy all of my desires, but instead got to just enjoy it for what it is. Plus I got to see it with two of my closest friends and laugh with them during the whole thing, which makes any movie experience ten times better.

If you couldn’t tell from the above comments, I loved this movie. It was just what the original story needed as it’s sequel. There were tons of funny parts. I especially liked seeing McQueen’s interactions with his fellow racers and then with the new character Cruz. One of my favorite scenes was when Cruz tells Lightning he has to name all of his tires and he responds with the most sarcastic and hilarious response: “Lefty, Righty, Backy and Backy Jr.” It’s fun to see them learning from each other and although I was hoping for Lightning to have a big comeback, seeing him become a mentor to Cruz was ultimately much more satisfying.

All of our favorite characters are back, even Chick Hicks, and their interactions match their personalities perfectly. This film stays true to the original Cars feel, and shows the value of community and relationships over just winning. And it also dives deeper into the background for Doc’s character and shows how much Lightning changed him as well.

All in all this is a very heartwarming story and it was well worth the wait. So good job with the sequel Pixar! I hope you do this with all future sequels.

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Why I’m excited for Cars 3

As many of you know, I love kids movies. It’s not that I don’t enjoy a good adult film, there are many that I do. But honestly, I love the kids movies. They’re funny, heartwarming, and I don’t have to worry about crude language or inappropriate scenes. Plus, I’ve found that many kids movies have compelling stories and characters that I just fall in love with.

One of my favorite movies from when I was growing up is Cars. I know there are some out there who didn’t like it, or thought it was not as original as other movies. But I loved it: the music, the animation, the plot. I especially loved seeing how the main character Lightning McQueen matured through the movie, made real friends, and started to care more for others than himself. And I was shocked, but in a good way, when he didn’t win the big Piston Cup at the end of the movie but chose to help an injured car finish the race instead. That scene really highlighted how much Lightning had changed.

Cars 2 was a bit of a disappointment to me. It revolved more around Mater than Lightning and the story just wasn’t as compelling or interesting. And what do you know, we still don’t get to see Lightning win a big race. It’s canceled due to espionage.

But now Cars 3 is about to come out and I’m so excited. From the previews this story clearly revolves around Lightning once again. Only now, he is the older car, like Doc was in the first film. And even though he’s racing against faster and younger cars, he is determined to win one last race. I’m hoping that finally, we’ll get to see Lightning win a race at the end of this movie and learn more good lessons along the way.

Pixar hasn’t been afraid to deal with tragedy in the past, such as Ellie dying in Up or Coral dying in Finding Nemo. So I’m excited to see how they will treat this crash that Lightning will experience.

So if you’re not excited yet, here’s a preview. And I hope we all get the Cars sequel we’ve been waiting 10 years for.

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Texas Road Trip

Over this past weekend, I got to take a road trip across a portion of the great state of Texas with my family. We drove over 1000 miles in our little gold minivan and visited some amazing places that I had never seen before. I thought I’d share some of the highlights on this blog in case anyone out there is thinking of going to West Texas sometime soon.

View from the top of Enchanted Rock

We started our trip by stopping at one of my favorite State Parks: Enchanted Rock. This natural large slab of Granite is a sight to behold, even though climbing it can be a bit strenuous and boy if you wear a hat, you better hold on to it tight, because it gets super windy up on top of the stone. But the view is great and there’s nothing like the feeling of conquering a small mountain. Plus, since it is near Fredericksburg, you can plan on picking up some fresh peaches or maybe even some peach ice cream.

Then we drove on to Balmorhea State Park to spend the night. It’s this cool little town in the middle of the desert that has natural springs that flow year round. It’s like an oasis in the hot dry land. They have turned the springs into a swimming pool for visitors of the state park. There were all sorts of fish and clear cool water to dive in and swim around. I even got to see rare Head Water Catfish that are all black and have blue eyes. My brother said it reminded him of Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon. Since there’s water, there is also a lot of wildlife in this area, in particular we saw many birds. I even got to see a hummingbird’s nest for the first time in my life. They make them out of spiderwebs. I would highly recommend stopping at this State Park, and I hope to go back sometime this winter.

Head Water Catfish that look like Toothless

From Balmorhea, we drove to Fort Davis, specifically to the Davis Mountains State Park. The McDonald Observatory is a short drive from the park and our first night there, we got to go to a star party and enjoy seeing the constellations, several planets, a galaxy and star clusters through the multiple telescopes provided. It was so much fun, and for the rest of the trip, I loved looking up at the night sky to see what I could remember from the tour. The stars in West Texas are just gorgeous, I can see so many more without the light pollution of a city and especially if you get up on a mountain, your view isn’t blocked by trees. This is one of my favorite things we did on this trip, and if you ever get the chance, I highly recommend it.

At McDonald Observatory

There were several hiking trails and a great bird watching area in the state park, and Fort Davis National Park was also a short drive away. I wish we had more time to explore the historic structures, but the Fort closes at 5 pm everyday, so plan ahead if you decide to go. In Fort Davis itself, we found several cool little shops to explore, like an old-timey soda fountain, and an ice cream shop built into a train’s caboose. There was even a Rattlesnake museum. I was fine seeing the scaly creatures behind glass but I’m glad we didn’t run into any on our hikes. Speaking of hikes, we stopped at this random picnic sight on the drive between Fort Davis and the State Park and found an excellent place to boulder (or climb big rocks without the aid of ropes). It provided a great view of the area and was a lot of fun.

Hiking in the Davis Mountains

At Fort Davis National Park

Ice Cream from a Caboose

Bouldering

Lastly, we drove to Marfa to see if we could spot any of the mysterious lights that come out in the evenings. It would have been fun to explore Marfa itself a bit more, but most of our time was spent waiting at the observation area for the sun to set. It was a wonderful place to watch the sunset and I took a lot of pictures, but all the lights we saw in the distance were clearly car lights, so not sure if I’m a believer in the “Marfa Lights.” But it was still a fun place to go, and the sunset made it all worth it to me.

Sunset in Marfa

Well I hope you enjoyed the pictures and a glimpse into what’s out there in West Texas.

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