The Hard Work of Telling the Truth:

D.R. Ransdell is a writer and musician. She spent five years in Mexico teaching English and learning folk songs. Now, she plays with a mariachi group and writes a murder mystery series about mariachi bandleader Andy Veracruz. She also teaches writing at the University of Arizona.  Here’s her take on The Hard Work of Telling the Truth: Moving from Fiction to Non-Fiction.

At Bouchercon last September, Catriona McPherson explained that she had graduated with high honors from the University of MSU—Make Stuff Up. Evidently I was a classmate! I too love to make stuff up. As an only child until I was nine, I was forced to create my own worlds. I remember running around the basement with my little sheriff badge and gun holster while chasing bad guys, and flapping my arms while pretending I was Peter Pan. When I’m writing, I love to create scenes, invent dialogues—design my fictional world according to my preferences. Hence when I took on the challenge of writing non-fiction, the task was monumental!

For years I’ve played mariachi music. Experiences in the band led me to create Andy Veracruz, a mariachi violinist who stars in his own mystery series. But when I tried to write about my true-life experiences, I stumbled.

At first I suffered simple resistance. A friend kept saying, “You should write all this stuff down.” She was enthralled with my stories of mariachi gigs gone bad, bad mariachi players, bad guest singers—the kinds of normal experiences you have when playing five nights a week in a folk music group. Every few months Cookie would ask if I’d started writing yet. Then one day I was inspired after hearing Gioia De Cari talk about her experiences as one of the few females in M.I.T.’s graduate math program. As I left the theatre I knew two things: I was awfully glad I hadn’t studied math, and I needed to find a way to share my musical adventures.

That night I started writing. Cookie had told me to write everything down—and I did! Big mistake. After eight months of hard work, I’d written 112,000 words! That was only a first draft, so I honed it down, and the result was a mere 105,000. Not bad for years of mariachi playing, right? After two more drafts, I passed off the results to two trusted beta readers.

They told me the manuscript was boring.                            Gilbert Velez, D.R. & Cookie


My biggest mistake? I tried to stick to the facts. I recorded the events in chronological order and included every detail. I was true to my experience! But that was much too much for any reader besides Cookie.

For a long time I was at a standstill. I was caught in hyperspace between the total fiction I was used to writing and the absolute truth I had drafted. And so the manuscript sat. And sat. Two summers later I was in Italy writing a travel piece when I realized: Oh. You tell the truth, kinda sorta. You write with the reader in mind, not the writer. You throw away details. You forget about “real time.” Instead you concentrate on cohesion so that the stories make sense in relationship to one another.

A Herculean task. It took me another three versions to get close to right, but this time my beta readers agreed: The manuscript was fun. It flowed. The stories were complete within themselves. Thus I had made big progress. But I still hadn’t finished. My beta readers complained that here and there I had been harsh—very harsh—about things I was still mad about. Those flashes of anger made me seem shallow without improving the memoir as a whole. Painfully I removed or softened those sections. I’m still mad about some recent events, but holding onto anger won’t change the past or help the future, so why dwell on negativity?

Now that Secrets of a Mariachi Violinist has been published, I’m delighted to return to a fictional world where I’m in control of every action, setting, and thought. Eventually my dance with non-fiction will continue with more travel pieces, but for the moment I feel right at home. I’m back at MSU where anything can and does happen just the way I want it to!

What have been your own experiences going back and forth from fiction to non-fiction? Which do you find easier? Which kind of writing do you prefer and why?

Leave a comment, even if you don’t play in a Mariachi band.   Thanks.

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A Time for Renewal

Today’s guest is award-winning author Lena Nelson Dooley.  With more than 875,000 copies of her books sold, she has been on the ECPA and CBA Bestseller lists, Publisher’s Weekly Bestseller list, and several Amazon Bestseller lists. She’s won the Will Rogers Medallion Awards, the Selah Award, the Reader’s Choice book award among other honors.  Lena hosts “The Lena Nelson Dooley Show” on the Along Came a Writer blog radio network.  Lena will be giving a copy of her November book to one of those who leave a comment.

I love Christmas. Who doesn’t? The holiday season from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day is my favorite time of the year. Why?

Family and friends!

That is one time that most of us take the opportunity to connect in a meaningful way with them—at home, at social gatherings, and at church special events like our church’s Carol and Candlelight service.

My husband and I don’t let the hustle and bustle of the holidays tire us out. We take it easy, get enough rest, then enjoy the festivities.

One tradition our family has is that I make Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas. James helps me, because our there are 17 members of our immediate family. This year, he decided that he didn’t want us to make the enchiladas. He posted on Facebook to the family that we weren’t making them.

All our grandchildren are adults now. Our youngest grandson, who in his late 20s and our youngest granddaughter, who is in her early 20s, both immediately commented that they would help, so did one daughter.

This was actually another get-together that we all enjoyed. We made them at our married granddaughter’s house.

I’m sure you have traditions for Christmas. What are your favorite holiday traditions?

Some people enter the new year stressed and tired. Because of building stronger relationships with our family and friends, James and I entered 2017 renewed and looking forward to what God has for us in this new year. I hope and pray you can welcome this month as the beginning of wonderful things God has for you, too.

2016 was a year where God moved in my writing life as never before. By the end of December, I’d had 9 books release, as well as audio editions for three of my books. Four of the books were both print and ebooks, and the other five were only Kindle books. Don’t worry. If you don’t have a Kindle, Amazon offers Kindle apps free for smart phones, tablets, and computers, so everyone can read them.

With the commercialization of Halloween and Christmas, I’ve felt that Thanksgiving is almost a forgotten holiday. Most people think of it as food and football when it’s so much more than that. My last November book was a novella collection written by four of my friends and me. Autumn Love is about five couples who find love in the heart of Thanksgiving.

I will give a copy of this ebook to one of those who leave comments.


My December book A Heart’s Gift is a book of my heart. The story stayed in my mind for a few years before I wrote it. This book is available on Amazon in print format and as an ebook, Here’s the back blurb for the book:

Because of an earlier betrayal, Franklin vows never to open his heart to another woman. But he desires an heir. When Lorinda is finally out from under the control of men who made all the decisions in her life, she promises herself she will never allow a man to control her again. But how can she provide for her infant son? Marriage seems like the perfect arrangement until two people from Franklin’s past endanger Lorinda. How can he save her? And how will this affect the way they feel about each other?

Be sure to leave a comment for a chance to win one of Lena’s books.  Even a short comment will qualify.  Thanks.


Blog: Http://

The Year of the Christmas Stick

Today, now that Christmas is in the rearview mirror, Elaine Faber Faber-2sreminds us that sometimes Christmas can be a very difficult time for some families. But there is hope that things will be getter.  Elaine is  member of Sisters in Crime, Inspire Christian Writers, and Cat Writers Association. She has published four novels and many short stories.  Personally, I want to say thanks to Elaine for bringing us this story.

In the early 1980’s, when my kids were young teenagers, we had to close our business, leaving us in debt. Collection agencies called almost daily. I had to pay my house payment on the Visa card. We gave up a 1972 Cadillac convertible to settle a business obligation. The IRS emptied our meager bank account (without notice) to pay the overdue California sales taxes, resulting in bounced checks all over town.

Christmas came and we were financially in a bad way. No way was there much money for Christmas, much less a Christmas tree.

faber-christmas-stickMy husband brought home a beautiful manzanita branch, mounted it on a base, sprayed it white and decorated it with red Christmas balls. Not the traditional Christmas tree, to be sure, but pretty. We set a few presents underneath; mostly sweaters and pajamas and sox.

Hubby and I were prepared to deal with the substitute tree, trusting that things would be better next year. The kids hated it. They called it The Christmas Stick and where humiliated when their more fortunate and affluent friends visited.

We muddled through that financial disaster, took a second mortgage on the house at 14% interest (true) and paid off all the debts. The next Christmas we were back on our feet and had a real Christmas tree.

I was thinking the other day that sometimes in our life, we should all have a Year of the Christmas Stick. A year when we can’t afford to buy the children expensive gifts that break before New Year’s Day. A season where we do without the typical luxuries we enjoy; Christmas trees, lights in the front yard, presents and expensive holiday outings. A year when we can truly commiserate with folks who are unemployed, suffering natural disaster or illness, many who are without a tree, without gifts, for that matter, maybe without a home with a chimney for Santa to slid down.

It’s been over forty years since the Year of the Christmas Stick. On Christmas faber-christmas-treeDay, as our family stumbles from the table loaded down with turkey and all the fixings and we gaze at our ten-foot- tall Christmas tree with gifts piled underneath, invariably someone mentions the Year of The Christmas Stick. And we contemplate its message.

We are grateful for our families, our health, and our faith, all gifts from God. We remember to share our bounty with folks who would feel blessed to have a few gifts for the kids beneath a Christmas Stick.

I remember how hard things were when we closed the business and struggled to make ends meet, wondering how we could make pay off our business debts, keep our home and feed our kids. We struggled and persevered and made do with a manzanita branch for a Christmas tree. Looking back, I remember and thank God for the Year of the Christmas Stick. We all learned lessons I hope we will never forget.

You can find out more about Elaine and her books at:

If you have a special story where adversity was overcome, please share it with us in a comment.  Thanks.  Jim


Tasmania – A Float Plane to the Interior

Before we go to Tasmania, here’s today’s paraprosdokian:  He who laughs last thinks slowest.

Quick, before I forget what I was going to say —

Before we stepped off the plane in Hobart, all we knew about Tasmania tasmanizwas that the Tasmanian Devil made its home there.

Tasmania is located about 150 miles across the Bass Strait from Melbourne, Australia. To its west is the Indian Ocean and to its east is the Pacific Ocean. It is about 225 miles from north to south and generally about 190 miles from east to west, and has a population of just over half a million.

The British settled it in 1803 and in the first 50 years, over 75,000 convicts were transported to Taz. One of the first places we visited was Port Arthur, just 35 miles from Hobart, and site of one of the most famous prisons in Australia.

floatplaneWe then headed into the interior, a thinly populated, but gorgeous area. (Another day, we’ll talk about Devils and mailboxes.) We made our way to Strahan on the west coast and made arrangements to take a float plane into the wilderness of the southwest part of Tasmania. Over one third of the entire island of Tasmania lies in reserves here, and there are no roads or settlements in this area.

Earlene and I and the pilot took off and circledtasmaniz-wilderness out over large fish farms in the Indian Ocean. Then we headed in-land. It is truly a pristine wilderness, with inspiring, untouched forests, and the white water Franklin River. After awhile, we were tracking another magnificent river, cutting between mist-covered mountains and dense rain-forest. We began to descend into the thousand-foot deep Gordon River Gorge and slowly settled down on the river.

tas-waterfallAs the pilot taxied over to the bank, a small dock came into view. He hopped out and tied the plane up and we deplaned. A short walk through the rain-forest took us to a magnificent waterfall. The only noise was the falling water. No boom-boxes, no cars, no people. Enchanting. Eventually, we walked back to the dock, got in the plane, and the pilot – standing on the dock, untied the plane. The swift current quickly began to sweep the plane away from the dock. What would we do if the pilot didn’t manage to get in before we drifted away from the dock? Earlene could fly the floatplane-on-riverplane, but could she take off from a rushing river? But, he managed to catch a strut, swing on to the pontoon and climb into the cockpit. Obviously, he’d done this before. It was a magical trip.

Our entire Tasmania visit was captivating.   If you get to Australia, allot ample time for Tasmania. We spent a week there, and would have enjoyed a month.tasmania-river


The Vanishing Horse

For some convoluted reason, Netfirms closed this site for a few days this past week.  So, I’m going to leave my Christmas story about the disappearing horse up this week.  And here is a very sincere wish that you and your family have a very happy holiday season, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year’s.  But first, my thought for the day —

Some people hear voices. Some see invisible people. Others have no imagination whatsoever.

My second Christmas in Connecticut promised to be special. I had bought the house on Great Hill Road just a hundred feet from a quiet lake with maple, birch and spruce trees growing almost to the water line. The kids had ten free days to enjoy The Dolphin, a small row boat which they had helped refinish and paint, and which they could easily manage. If it turned cold enough and the lake froze, the ice skates would come out. And, though they didn’t know it, they were going to have a spectacular gift.

Earlier in the month, after considerable research, I traveled into central Connecticut to look at horses. The selection process proved to be horse-angrycomplicated. A horse named Trouble pawed the ground, snorted, and would have bitten me had I not been considerably quicker than I am now. A second horse, Lightning, slept through the interview, barely managing to put two feet ahead of the other two. He failed to make the cut. The next candidate, Cara, passed with flying colors—until price entered the picture. Grace, a lovely sorrel, had two—no, make that four—left feet.

Eventually, I found a beautiful, if not young, roan with a gentle, if occasionally obstinate, disposition named Cheyenne. After a brief ride, I purchased Cheyenne.

Marvin Whittle, who was employed at the research lab where I worked, owned a stable right in town, not far from our house on Great Hill. We came to an agreement and I made arrangements to have Cheyenne transported from central Connecticut to the Whittle Farm.

Never in my life had I bought a saddle, but now I shopped and evaluated. What did I know about such things? There were western saddles and eastern saddles, but no southern saddles. Curious. I discovered that Western meant big and comfortable while eastern meant small and uncomfortable. Just like the states. I opted for a Texas style, not so big that the girls could not handle it, and with the proper leather smell.

Then came a bridle, blankets, and a source for hay.  Wouldn’t a dog have been simpler?

A week before Christmas, I had the present—Cheyenne and all the necessary items to outfit him, house him, and even feed him for the first month. Early on Christmas eve, I moved Cheyenne from the Whittle Farm to a neighbor’s near-by home. Things moved along as smooth as a well used halter.

christmas-tree-3The children were nestled all snug in their beds, with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads. I slipped out, sneaked down a quarter mile to the neighbor’s house, and on tip-toes, lead Cheyenne to our place, and tied him securely to a bush outside the front of the house.

The land bordering on this part of Great Hill sloped down to the beautiful lake. Most houses, and ours was no exception, faced the lake. The main floor of the house, while at ground level on the side nearest the road, projected out eight feet above the ground on the lake side. Positioning Cheyenne in front of the house kept him well below the sight lines from bedrooms and the living room where the tree twinkled and presents waited impatiently to be unwrapped.

As was tradition, the kids arose before the sun, leaping from deep sleep to hyper-active as quick as a sneeze, clamoring to see what Santa had deposited in our living room. (They never expected to find only a lump of coal. In fairness, I guess they never deserved such.)

Christmas and presents, even if meager, generate excitement, screams of joy, and only occasionally envy. This Christmas was little different, if somewhat subdued. In truth, Santa had not been as generous as had been his habit in years past. Even those holidays when I was in graduate school looked somewhat fatter than this year. So, while it is not fair to say they were disappointed, well—it didn’t take long to open Santa’s leavings.

After a slight delay, wanting them to enjoy the non-horse items, I invited them to follow me outside. This produced a few groans, and actually made the Christmas offerings look a lot better and difficult to leave. But since I knew how excited they would be over the horse, I persisted. We exited the back and with a sly grin on my face I led them around to the front of the house.

Triumphantly, we turned the corner to find—nothing. No Christmas horse. No Cheyenne. No saddle. No blanket. No bridle.

To say I was stunned is to say the Sahara is a sand pile. Horse thieves in Connecticut? The kids, not knowing what to expect, just looked at me … expectantly. What was the big surprise? I knew what my surprise was. No Cheyenne.

Pulling myself together, not wanting to look too lost in front of the kids, I surveyed the area. Not only was the horse missing, the large bush he had been tied to was gone as well. Why would rustlers take my bush?

I mumbled some nonsense and sent the kids back inside to play with their meager cache. Slowly, I became a cunning tracker. Before long, I was picking out signs, some of which I will not describe, with the skill of an Indian brave trainee. After only a quarter mile, I heard the sound I had expected earlier: excited children. Rounding a clump of cedars, there was Cheyenne—as well as two young kids thrilled with the newfound present Santa had left for them.

I eased up, saying some soothing, cheerful things to the young boy and girl as I endeavored to take the reins. They clutched the leather tighter, accusing me of trying to steal their Christmas present. I bent low, hoping not to look like a towering monster, and spoke softly with an angelic smile on my face. Logic had always been a strong point for me, so I explained to them, in child-like terms, what had happened.

I remained the evil Grinch.

With some subterfuge, I got one end of the reins, and shielded it from the now screaming girl. But my gain amounted to little, as the boy instantly clamped his tiny hands around the stirrup. The boy’s cries now echoed hers and people on the other side of the lake came out on porches to see what malfeasance had come to Rainbow Lake.angry-woman2

Trouble was closer at hand. An angry mother burst out of the nearby house, ready to kill the miscreant trying to kidnap, or otherwise harm, her children. She was followed by a big, burly man, surely seven feet tall, who’s eyes did not exhibit the Christmas spirit.

paul-bunyonThe woman ran to her children, shielding them from scoundrel me, questioning them as to what I had done. The man, his Paul Bunyan legs requiring few steps to traverse the distance, grilled me. I quickly recognized he was a seven foot interrogator for the CIA.

At long last, logic arrived on the scene, tardy as usual in such situations. The children finally managed to sob that I was taking their horse. Santa had left their present outside, since it was too big to go down the chimney. They had found it, and now, Scrooge was trying to steal it.

With the aid of the one rein still attached to the bush, I described how Cheyenne uprooted his hitching post and wandered down to their yard.

The mother’s translation did not cheer the children. But they were somewhat mollified when I promised to bring Cheyenne down and let them ride him later in the day.

horse-1a           Needless to say, when I once more enticed my children outside to meet Cheyenne, Christmas became a lot brighter. He was an instant star, and continued to be their favorite even when, a year later, a younger, more beautiful buckskin named Major joined Cheyenne in the family circus.

James R. Callan

      A Silver Medallion, 2016

Cover - A Silver Medallion


Traveling and Writing–a good Mix


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Today, Carole Brown talks about the benefits of travel to a writer, giving examples of how it has helped her in many books.  She and her husband live in SE Ohio, but they have traveled extensively throughout the U.S. and … Continue reading

The Christmas Cat

But first, the paraprosdokian for this season –

Hospitality is the art of making guests feel like they’re at home when you wish they were.

Since we are nearing Christmas, I am reminded of —

The Christmas Cat

It was decided, by whom I have no idea, that the kids would get a cat from Santa. I, who had never had a cat and did not like cats, who was, after all, a “dog” person – who had happily gotten the dog about whom Jamie said, “I think we’ll call him Charlie,” and as far as I knew Jamie had never known anybody named Charlie, and possibly never even heard the name before — was sent to pick up the cat.

The house, no address, turned out to be a clandestine hideout for a member of the FBI or CIA. I was fingerprinted, subjected to search, and interrogated for three hours in a 2×2 room under hot lights, with lie-detector attached, questions being asked over a speaker hidden in the wall above the one-way mirror. No Dr Peppers. Suddenly, the voice stopped, the lights went cold and I sat in darkness. My life, short as it had been at that time, passed before my eyes, though without the lights, I only got a few glimpses of the brighter spots.

Finally, the door opened. I didn’t know what to expect, and was ready for it. Instead, blank sheets attesting to what I had no clue, were thrust under my nose (or perhaps my hand, I am no longer sure) and I was ordered to sign each and initial the back of the first one next to the initials of my interrogator, though his were in invisible ink and I might have actually put mine initials on top of his.

cat-eyeAnd then, the cat was released into my custody.

Little did I know, it was actually a suicide feline, barely out of commando training, who had never been in a car before. With the cat safely inside the car, I had backed up no more than ten feet when Kamikaze Kat was racing around the car, flinging itself against the glass, tearing at the seats and slashing at the driver.

In one of the most incongruous scenes ever video taped by the Agency,cat-2 the cat-unfriendly driver can be seen trying every seducing, soothing, baby-talking line known to mankind in the futile effort to calm down the run-away cat. Finally, by the end of the first block of a 5,000 block trip, the killer kitten settled down, still scared, but feeling somewhat secure by anchoring its claws into the top of the driver’s head. And it remained there for the remainder of the trip


Christmas morning, the terrorist-cat had transmogrified into a small, tame kitten. The kids were thrilled.


But the cat was about to get a comeuppance, or a comeapartness. At last, Kristi (after all, the youngest is always last) got her chance to hold the kitten. Being no more experienced than I was, she grabbed it, got the kitten’s neck in the crook of her arm and locked her hands to her chest. The kitten, hanging down, but firmly secured by its head, immediately yelled for help. Older and more experienced sister Kelly came to the aid of the kittencat-3a-in-distress. She tried to take the kitten. Kristi was not about to have her turn commuted to such a short time. She held tightly. Kelly pulled mightily.   The kitten got longer. Only when an adult (who knew a thing or two about kittens and just how long they could be stretched) came to negotiate, did the kitten get off the rack.

Giraffe, Stretch, Longfellow, and The Cat in the Rack were names proposed by the adults. I don’t recall what the kitten was actually named by the kids.

The kids loved the kitten and learned to take special care of it as it grew into a cat. This was definitely a Christmas to remember. And to the day he/she died, I’m sure the kitten remembered it also.

James R. Callan, 2016

The Silver Medallion, A Crystal Moore Suspense
Cover - A Silver Medallion

Unplanned Kindness


Behind every great man is a woman – rolling her eyes.

Unplanned Kindness

Several years ago, we visited Chile. We stayed in Santiago and Vina del Mar for a couple of weeks, then headed south. We wanted to go as far as possible and still have roads back to Santiago.

The flight was in a small plane – one seat on each side of the aisle, maybesmall-plane-1 a sixteen passenger capacity. It delivered newspapers to every small town along the way, so it was up and down continually. Two young girls sat across from my wife and me. They were moving to Puerto Montt. Their father was already there and would meet them at the airport.

On final approach, the older girl, probably twelve, got sick. As the wheels touched down, she threw up. In the terminal, my wife took her to the restroom to help her clean up. The younger girl found her father. I went to rent a car.chile-map

Unplanned best describes our mode of travel. We fly into a city, rent a car, then look for a place to stay. No reservations. Though a bit risky, it always works out and quite often provides more interesting adventures than if we had planned things carefully.

I found Earlene talking with the father. I said there was only one car available and they wanted $250 per day. I was hesitant. The girls’ father said, “If you can wait until tomorrow, I can get you a much less expensive car. Where are you going?”

I said we had planned on going to Puerto Varas (about twenty miles away), but we could certainly stay here tonight.

“I’m going to Puerto Varas. I can take you.”

As we drove toward Puerto Varas, he asked, “Where do you have reservations?”

“We don’t have a reservation, but I’m sure we can find something when we get there,” I said.

“I can help you.”

Thirty minutes later, we were at a lovely lakeside B & B.

“Do you have plans for dinner,” he asked.

“No,” I said. “We’ll walk into the village and find a restaurant.”

“We’re going to Llanguihue for dinner. Why don’t you join us? I can pick you up in forty minutes.”

clake-clearAn hour later we’re in a beautiful tourist village on the shore of a crystal clear lake. He invited us to join his extended family for dinner. We didn’t want to intrude, so we found a different table. After dinner, we told him we were in no rush whatsoever but would wait outside near his car.

“Nonsense. There are very interesting shops along the shore. Wander through them. I’ll find you.”

We did find the shops and the surrounding area interesting. About thirty minutes later, he appeared behind us. As we drove back to our B&B, he gave us many interesting facts about Chile. We felt very fortunate to have joined this man and his daughters.

The next morning, during breakfast, the B&B owner entered and handed me a telephone. Who would be calling me in Chile? The caller wanted to bring a car over for us for our inspection. It a very nice car and only $80 USD per day. We took

The father of the two girls went out of his way to be very friendly to a couple of foreigners he did not know. He could not have been more helpful if he had been a life-long friend.

Indeed, there are so many nice, kind, friendly people in the world, if only we are open to see them.

James R. Callan, 2016

Why not leave a comment and tell us about an Unplanned Kindness that happened to you.  It will make all of us feel better.  Thanks.


A Legacy


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Today’s guest is Jodie Wolfe.  She has been a semi-finalist in various writing contests.  Her second book, Love in the Seams, was released just three weeks ago.  She and her husband live in Pennsylvania.  Today, she asks what kind of … Continue reading

Christmas is Coming…


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Lillian Duncan is a multi-published writer with several Amazon bestsellers, including The Christmas Stalking and Betrayed. Lillian writes the types of books she loves to read—fast-paced suspense with a touch or two of romance that demonstrates God’s love for all … Continue reading