Beauty for Ashes

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Ashes mean the end of hope, when there is absolutely nothing left, not even profitable to be burned off! Ashes are a picture of the lowest we can go. Ashes were used in the past to show how sad a person was, how down their hearts felt, they would cover their clothes and head with ashes as a public testimony of their sadness and despair

We all have periods of ashes in our lives, when hope reaches its end, when there is no beauty to look for, no perspective. There are also many people in this world living in ashes for most of their lives, people being slaved, people suffering persecution, pain and sorrows, living inside war zones. Everything around them are ashes, ashes and more ashes. As grey and as opaque as they get, nothing to reflect light and shine.

The response of many is to look up and ask: Why? Or maybe to point their fingers at God and blame Him for all the evil happening in the world, or even to go as far as to deny His own existence, because they don't agree with the way He is running things. But regardless if we decide not to believe that there is a God, or to accuse God for the evil happening in the world, we still have to deal with our own ashes. They won't go away by denying God or by blaming God, they are still covering our clothes and our hearts.

What is the solution, then? There was a man named Job that suffered the loss of all his belongings, his children and his health. He was left with nothing, just ashes. However, God wanted to transform those ashes and bring beauty out of them, so God works on Job's heart one step at a time to transform his very inside. God asks Job some tough questions in the process, that could be asked to many today: "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know!... Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? He who rebukes God, let him answer it... Would you condemn Me that you may be justified? Have you an arm like God?" Job 38:4,5 40:2,8,9.

God was touching the very core of Job's heart to show that He is far beyond human understanding, becoming even ridiculous for us to point a finger at God: the very same finger He created! But remember that God was not trying to scare the life out of Job, He loved Job and wanted to move all the pride away to make place for something better, something more beautiful. Job reaches that state when he says "I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. ... I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." Job 42:2,5,6

Now my eye sees You!! There was so much that needed to be burned off and turned into ashes to open the way for Job to see God! To see His glory, His wisdom, His power, but also His love and grace. God, at the end of Job's trial, blesses him back with twice more than he had before. He has more 10 children and his daughters are the most beautiful women in all their land. It is indeed a happy ending.

Jesus Christ came to this earth to give beauty for ashes. The entire Bible is filled with stories of ashes transformed into beauty by God, but the most beautiful of these stories is when God transforms the murder of His son Jesus Christ, the worst ashes that this world could have ever produced, into the most beautiful beauty: the salvation of men. Jesus Christ was covered with ashes (Lam 3:16), He took upon Himself all of our ashes, all of our despair and ugliness and suffered for each one of them. And after His body had been dead, instead of returning to dust, He was resurrected, bringing hope to our own ashes.

God did not leave us alone to deal with our own ashes, and He is not allowing evil to happen because He does not care. He cares so much that Jesus Christ received upon His body every one of our ashes, and He did it because He loves you. There is no ash that cannot be transformed into beauty. If you truly believe that He died for you, that He brought a solution to all the evil in the world by suffering the judgement for it against His own heart, He can transform your own ashes into beauty.

Just be aware that if God came down here today to destroy all the evil in the world, He would have to destroy your heart and my heart because we are also part of the problem. But He didn't come as a Judge yet, He still offers a solution to the problem of evil in your heart.

Do you want to end evil in the world? Start with you own heart, let him change it, mold it to His shape of love. What about the ashes that may still come to our lives because we live in an evil world? Remember also that the end of our story is not when we die; eternity is awaiting with more than double, more than triple of blessings for those who accept His solution.

There are no ashes that can't be transformed into beauty, just hand them to Him.
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Free Book Online: A Fight for Life - Chapter Five (Part 1)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Not Afraid to Get Her Hands Dirty

Maria smiled. It was good to be back home, she thought, relieved that she would not have to face any more of these trips again. No one could possibly enjoy the uncomfortable bus seats that after a few hours felt like poking every bone and muscle of her back. Neither would she miss the hard wooden benches outside the doctor's offices, where hours felt like weeks. The only pleasant memory left behind was of her family of friends, as she was extremely thankful for having a place to stay while away, with money being so tight on her side to pay for hotel stays.

After being back for about a week, Maria's daily routine had already picked up back to the usual, life as she knew it: busy, crowed and happy. As she finished getting lunch ready, running around the kitchen, chopping, mixing and seasoning, she kept an eye on her younger son, now with his vision fully back, playing with his siblings. She was so glad for having him as her son and there was no question that he was just one of the reasons to keep going, keep pouring energy into these kids. She knew that to invest in human beings was worth all her time, as each one carried a potential, like a pearl, awaiting the right time to shine.

Her youngest was the proof of that. Once a frustrated child, living in a world of darkness, having trouble understanding the environment around him, now transformed into a happy little boy, with light back to his life. Maria cheered inside when she thought of his transformation and could not hide her excitement for his future, once uncertain, but now filled with hope. If she could, she would love to change the reality of all children afflicted with a difficult reality, but unfortunately there was not much she could do to stretch even more her time and energy among all the children.

Maria still had on the back of her mind the story of the boy in need of a new home. She knew that the case was well beyond her ability to handle, but something had to be done. The situation was unacceptable, and no excuse in the world was enough to spare her from the guilt of letting the boy suffer. If the child died, she would feel as responsible for it as the mother should, because she was now part of the problem. Therefore, she decided to act and get the address of the child with the employer at the general store, so she could go and pay a visit to the boy.

Next day, with the address on hand, Maria found the slum, and with some help asking around, she found the shack. Her heart was pounding fast as she approached it; she wasn't sure if she was ready to watch what was coming next. Maria had already been to other slums before, but this one was the worst for sure. Sewage running wild outside, attracting flies, rats and animals of the kind to its ugliness. The shacks were distributed in a disorganized way, adding to the feeling of chaos.

She stared at the shack where the child was supposed to be. Rotted wooden boards hammered together made up the structure of the shack, leaving many open gaps between the boards. She clapped her hands as there was no doorbell. A child came to the door, in worst conditions than the shack itself. Maria asked for his mother and he signed for her to follow him inside. The mother, still recovering from her last night of alcohol and who knows what else, sat on a corner, blowing cigarette smoke in the darkness. Maria froze inside. The stink reached her nose and she tried to hold her breakfast inside her stomach. The only light of the place was the one coming from the gaps in the wooden boards and as her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she saw the boy in the back of the shack, lying on a mattress on the floor.

His mattress was made of dried straw covered by a dirt piece of cloth. He looked like dead, with a rope tied to his leg, probably to keep him from leaving his bed. Maria felt like being inside a nightmare, and tried to find words to speak to the mother. She had never seen a child in such deplorable conditions before. During funerals, the dead looked better than this child.

The boy kept coughing, breaking the silence. Maria took a few steps towards him, but the mother started to scream, as she raised her body barely dressed from the corner. By her speech, it sounded as if she was still under the influence of alcohol, or something else. Maria tried to explain herself, but the women took something in her hand ready to throw and started to run after Maria. All that Maria could do was to get out of that shack and out of that slum, as fast as she could.

When feeling safe again, she could barely breathe as she recovered from the shock of what had just happened. During that night, Maria could not close her eyes either, as tears kept rolling down her cheeks just to think about the boy left behind in that shack. Her husband tried to comfort her but he had no idea how bad the whole experience had been to her, an open wound too deep to be closed in one night. And yet, behind the tears, Maria knew that crying was not the solution.

Next morning, still taken by emotions, Maria started to come up with a plan to rescue the boy. She called many people she knew, in one last hope. Maybe one family, somewhere, would give her some hope. Unfortunately, the response was the same everywhere she turned: very distant, vague, away from hope. The institutions she called were already overcrowded and had no place for a child with so many complications. There was nothing exciting about rescuing this boy; he was a picture of failure from top to bottom. So finally a question crossed her mind, "Why would anyone want a child that I am rejecting myself?" Hard as it was to act on it, she developed a strategy: if until the end of the week nobody had responded to her appeal, she would bring the boy to her own home.

And that was when the phone rang, dispersing her latest thoughts, and she wondered if it was her husband calling from the supermarket, with questions about the list of groceries that she had handled to him before. However, her husband was not the one on the other side of the telephone line. The call was, in fact, very different than most of the calls she had ever received, because this call changed so much, it changed a life, it changed my family, it changed who I am.

That call offered that boy a chance to live, and to my family, a chance to learn how to live.
Maria could not hold her excitement as my father told her that my family was interested in adopting the boy. She was speechless, extremely happy, but a little worried too. What if she had pushed the subject too much on them, and made them feel guilty? Forced them to adopt? It had never been her plan to push them to adopt anyone. She had just shared the story hoping that they would know someone interested in adopting a child. She did not want my parents to do it out of guilt.

However, once she heard my father share about the months my family spent praying for a child, she was filled with peace. She understood she had been just the messenger, and my family was more than ready to take on the challenge, as we had waited for this child and put a lot of thought into it; this boy was definitively supposed to join my family. Maria promised to help with all the paperwork necessary to fulfill the adoption. She had experience with the process and would not mind doing it for my parents.

My parents also knew they still had to be approved by the State to receive the child, as the adoption process had some restrictions to protect children from being given in adoption to people with the intent of abusing, slavering or even using them for organ trafficking.

Being aware of the many steps to be taken to accomplish an adoption, Maria started the process that same day. However, the judge, responsible for such cases, had his schedule already full with other hearings. There was no way she would be able to get a hearing in the next weeks. Because she personally knew the judge, she reached his secretary to explain that the life of a child was in jeopardy. But after many messages left, she still did not hear back from him, so she kept calling. Finally, the secretary was able to speak to the judge but he did not open any exceptions for the case and stated that she would have to wait at least a month for an available date.

A month would be an eternity for that boy! Under such deploring circumstances he would be lucky if he was still alive next week. His situation was very serious, undernourished, suffering of a chronic cough and without any responsible care. He could not wait for the judge's schedule and Maria was not going to sit around and just hope for the best.

Maria knew that there was only one more thing that she could do. So she went back to the slum. This time she would be in charge, she would not run away from the mother, she was going to rescue that child even if she had to fight the mother. No one would stop her from doing what was right.

As she arrived at the shack, she was surprised to find the mother sober, with a different attitude towards her.  The mother agreed that Maria could take the boy; in fact she was happy to give him away and would have given her other son as well, if possible. This time, Maria saw the mother under a different light, as a human being oppressed by her own history of poverty and abuse. A grown up child, lost inside the ugly world of alcohol and prostitution.

Maria carried the boy out of the shack in her arms, as far as possible from such reality. She made a promised to herself, that no matter what, even if the judge did not agree with what she had done, she would never bring the boy back to that shack. Even if she had to abduct him!

From the slum, she went straight to the judge's office with the boy in her arms. She ran through the corridors towards his office, her steps loudly pounding against the floor. Without asking for it, she opened the door to his office, looked into the judge's eyes and showing the boy, asked "Your Honor, this boy cannot wait for an entire month to be adopted, could he?" The judge stared petrified. The picture he witnessed that day is probably still imprinted in his mind, as in all of the ones that were inside that room.

The paperwork was simplified, the case was prioritized and taken care with urgency. On that same day Maria got a written permission to keep the boy until all the adoption documents were ready for my parents to sign. The paperwork, however, was not the problem now, but to pour some life back into the boy's body.

Maria decided first to take the boy to her own home, as his body smelled like overdue garbage. Once at home, she opened all the windows so that his smell would not make her throw up. She had never smelled something so repugnant coming out of a person, it seemed like his body was decomposing from inside out while still alive. Maria could not grasp how his mother could have gotten used to live under such non humane conditions to the point of not minding the smell at all.

After hydrating him with a homemade electrolyte drinkable solution, and feeding him some food, she bathed him with warm and clean water, scrubbing off with a gentle soap all his history of dirt. The water came out dark, soaked with dirt, and she kept washing him until his skin was truly clean. She had a hard time washing his curly hair with shampoo as there were so many knots tangled together that she decided to get a pair of scissors and just chop everything off, carefully. She was aware his head was probably covered with lice and she did not want to spread them around her home.

While washing him, he kept fighting against the water, resisting something that probably he was not familiar with. Maria had two of her older children helping to hold his body, as he screamed shouts of disapproval, producing scared looks in the faces of the kids. Maria could see that he was really terrified of the water; he would cover both of his ears with his hands, and splash water around as he kicked his legs. Even her soft voice and calming words could not calm him down, but she knew that he had to be cleaned first before she could even take him to see a doctor.

She then dried his skin slowly with a soft towel, trying to observe all his body. Maria noticed that he had some unusual repetitive movements, in a pattern. One of them was to rub one hand against the other under his chin, something that reminded her of autistic kids. She spread some lotion across his body, massaging his skin and trying to relax him. After that, she dressed him with a diaper and clean clothes she took from her kids' closet, as his old traps were already in the garbage.

Maria kept offering him more electrolyte solution and then some warm liquid soup. He looked very hungry and thirsty, but because he kept coughing so often, all the food had to be given slowly, one spoon at a time, to keep him from throwing up.

Deep inside, Maria knew that this experience was not only changing him, it was changing herself, and it was changing her own kids. There was not anything more fulfilling than to bring a child from the before to the after, while at the same time being an example to her own children about how to care for other people. Some of them had been adopted from traumatic conditions, but none from such terrible state. None of her speeches could have been more powerful to her children than the one they watched on that day.

After offering the boy a first care, Maria knew that this was how far she could go by herself as she was not a specialized health care professional. She knew that the next step would be to take him to the urgent care clinic as her city did not have a proper hospital, being a small town. If they thought that his case needed extra help, they could transfer him to a big hospital. As far as she could tell, the initial help he needed could probably be accomplished in the clinic, and any specialized treatments could be done once my parents received him.

At the urgent care clinic, she had to wait a few hours to be seen, as the public health care clinic was overwhelmed with more patients than enough professionals to attend them. When she finally made it to the doctor, he prescribed intravenous saline with some medicines and then an oral solution with vitamins and minerals to be given at home. He also encouraged Maria to keep feeding him every two hours, with soups, mashed fruits and cream of cereal, and lots of liquid. The only restriction was milk; she should wait a few days before offering milk to him, making sure his body would accept it, without upsetting his digestive tract.

Maria did not have that many days to extend the treatment, as the adoption paperwork became available and he was healthy enough to survive an airplane trip and be brought to my family. A long bus trip was out of question, as he deserved, once in his life, to be treated with dignity. The dignity every child in the world deserves.

Book: A fight for Life
CHAPTER 5 (Part 2)
CHAPTER 6 (Part 1) coming soon...
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Free Book Online: A Fight for Life - Chapter Four (Part 2)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Dear Diary,

During my nostalgic crisis going through old pictures, I took aside a very special one and hung it on my wall to keep the memory alive. I have seen this picture many times before, but I had never noticed the details, the facial expressions and their meaning. The picture was taken one year after my brother's adoption.

I am staring again at the picture, and I can see myself there, cozy in my bed under a red flowery duvet, lying next to my two brothers, Pedro and Lucas. Pedro is very close to me and we both smile with contentment. Lucas shows signs of being sleepy, probably wishing for a good night of sleep. It looks like a winter night as we have warm pajamas on and enjoy the closeness. I just wish my hair was not so messy!

I was probably reaching seven years old at the time of the picture, having started first grade at a public school, three blocks away from our apartment. I was still getting used to the idea of attending such a big school away from home. My previous experience with schools had been going to a small kindergarten, across the street from our building, where there were probably not more than 10 kids in my class, and only one other girl besides me. So indeed, it was a big adjustment.

As I stare at the picture, I hear a thousand words, captured with a click. These were some good childhood times, with a safe distance from adulthood, away from many worries. My main responsibility was to do well at school and show good behavior.

Lately, as a professional, there are so many more decisions on my hands, some that I will probably regret of taking later on. I know that what I am going through now, the fact that I will have to admit in my unit a child with a disease that is still unknown, is a decision from which I can't hide or run away. But I have decided to take on the challenge and face what may follow. This morning, I could sense the weight on my team's thoughts as they were getting ready for the new patient. All of us have already received a quick training from the specialists and learned some information about the disease; we also have the special isolated room ready to go. But there are still many unanswered questions.

I called all of my team to a special meeting as we had to choose the main people that were going to oversee the case. I did not want to force anyone to start with the direct care, but felt like leaving to those that felt more comfortable taking on the challenge. Some had come to talk to me privately sharing their concern of risking their lives while they have families at home to support. However, one experienced person in our team told me that he would like to take on the case, so I will leave the case to him at first.

We are vulnerable but we also know that we have many protective barriers to be used. The isolated bedroom is specially built to keep the inside air from coming outside, paired with a system of filters to decrease contamination, besides all the individual masks and body surface covers.

It will surely not be the best humanized care, as the patient is being cared by people covered from head to toe, that look more like astronauts than real human beings. A barrier of gowns, glasses, masks, gloves will make it difficult for any emotional exchange during care. But there is no other way; it is our goal to stop the spreading of something that could take away many lives. On the bright side, the isolated bedroom contains many children's art painted on its walls creating a space of hope and beauty to overcome the sadness. I wish the ceiling was also covered with art, as most of the time the sick children have the ceiling as their only horizon.

Later on this morning, I got a call informing that the child will be on her way to our hospital tomorrow; a special ambulance will be responsible for the transfer and they will arrive early on my shift. The child is a little girl that has been under observation in her hometown hospital since she started to show some specific symptoms of this disease. However, they don't have the appropriate settings to prevent contamination, so it was decided that she needed to be transferred to our more equipped setting. Her case has not yet been confirmed with 100% surety to be the unknown disease, because a big part of the diagnosis depends on the symptoms, but we are going to take care of her with the precautions as if she was already a confirmed case.

The unit seems to be under regressive counting. We all know that if the case is confirmed we could be the first ones to treat such disease in our country and our team could even enter history as the heroes that gave their lives to save humanity. Maybe my name will be quoted next to Florence Nightingale or Ana Néri, as a nurse that made a difference. Or maybe, after having given our lives, we may just be forgotten. One way or another, I know that nursing is more than just a call; it is also a profession like many others where you have to study a lot and be qualified. Compassion, emotions and emphatic feelings are very important but it is not all about that, there is also professionalism and competence.

Once in a while, while in school, to break free from so much technical knowledge, I enjoyed reading poetry, and also writing some. I once read an article that stated that the unconscious is able to open up through poetry. The article got me thinking, so I tried to write poetry using only my unconscious side (or at least that is how I like to think), not bringing up any conscious thoughts, but just letting the mind run free and writing down whatever words came out, following a rhythm.

At first, I was not successful, but after some practice I was surprised by the results of such activity. Distant words gathered together and brought up beautiful meaning. After all, I guess the article was right, the unconscious really opens up when we allow it, and inside its content there is much more than I ever imagined. Or that or I am gifted with this unusual art and should find a way to turn it into profit!

After practicing with a few "unconscious" poems, I decided to find out what was inside my unconscious brain about nursing. I dedicated the poem "To the Florence Nightingales" and started to work on it. (If you are unfamiliar with Florence Nightingale, I suggest that you look up her name, as learning about her life will help you to understand better the content of the poem) The words first came out confusing, however, after finishing it and reading it, I realized that there was some meaning and beauty about the history of nursing inside my unconscious!

To the Florence Nightingales

Whitewashed figures around spaces,
Forming fractions of performance,
Interdict each burst of terror,
Fear, anguish and longing.

Handling injured aspects,
Confused with the fatal scenario,
Delivering trapped sweetness,
In chest captive smiles.

Feelings being spread, hungry,
For the desire of pure care,
Facilitated by the emphatic forms,
Fitted with a winged character.

The touch of high heels in motion,
Evoke powerful spells,
Capable of socializing weepings,
Constrained to the bed mourning.

The power is not limited to the contained,
In the powder, liquid or instrument,
But to the fine manners, to the respect,
For the other, being, subject.

Rewards, excluded of gains,
Summarized by the look, by the satisfaction,
From faces illuminated by the spirit,
Of the givers of contentment.

My poetry phase has already ended, but I learned that maybe I could use this same resource with my patients. To restore from their unconscious, treasures that could free them from the pain their conscious is feeling, opening their perception so they can hear what they are telling themselves.

Good night,
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Perfect Beauty

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Beauty is the word of the day. If you get your body in a certain shape, if you get your hair in a certain style and if you get your skin to glow in a certain way, you are set for success. That is the message, aim for perfection, nothing less. Work as hard as you can, and one day, some day, you may get there. Get where  the models have gotten, where the professional sports players have gotten, where the Hollywood stars have gotten: to the land of the beautiful and in shape.

And if your work can't get you there, don't worry, just give your money away to the specialists and they will fix you up. Just don't give up, because perfection is just around the corner. Depressing message, anyone? How about a different message, the one where you don't have to aim for becoming a perfect creature but seeking the perfect creator?

Saint Augustine once wrote, "Beauty is indeed a good gift of God; but that the good may not think it a great good, God dispenses it even to the wicked." Wise King Solomon said, "Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing." Prob. 31:30.

Once upon a time there was a man, and "there was not a more handsome person than he among the children of Israel. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people." 1 Sam. 9:2. He was the chosen one to be the first king of Israel because the people of Israel did not want to be reigned "only" by God, they wanted to be like the nations around them. So God, even knowing that they would be in a worst situation having a king, allowed them to have just what they wanted: Saul, the perfect-looking king.

However, their perfect looking king did not follow God's order right from the start of his reign and even got to the point of disobeying God's straight command to go and destroy the enemy king of the Amalekites and all that he had. As a result, God rejects him as a king and chooses instead a young and not as manly looking man called David, because: "The Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." 1 Sam. 16:7.

Many and many years later, once upon a time, there was an orphan young lady, Esther, who was in fact a relative to the previous king Saul. She was now living with the people of Israel under the bondage of a foreign king, in a foreign land, and it did not matter anymore if king Saul had once been a king, or that she was part of the same family as his.

Now the king of this kingdom was looking for a wife and searched everywhere for a beautiful lady to be the queen. Esther was chosen among the ladies because "she was lovely and beautiful", and "Esther was taken to King Ahsuerus, into his royal palace ... and the king loved Esther more than all the other women, and she obtained grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins: so he set the royal crown upon her head." Esther 2:16-17.

She was chosen by the king because of her beauty, but she was chosen by God because she had a special mission to accomplish. She at one point had to stand up against Haman (believed to be a descendant of that same king of the Amalekites that Saul spared), to save her people. And to accomplish that, she had to take a difficult position: "And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!" Esther 4:16. She was ready to die for her people, she was a true queen at heart!!

Esther had become the queen of a kingdom that went from India to Ethiopia, and she could have hidden her identity and watched the people of her heritage suffer, while enjoying the luxuries of being loved by such a powerful king. However, she chose not only to be beautiful, but to be wise and follow God's purpose for her life saving her people.

God gives people beauty, but He reminds us that, "A woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands and let her own works praise her in the gates." Prob. 31:30. Esther let her own works praise her in the gates, not her beauty. A holiday was started in her memory, called Purim, celebrated by the people of Israel. Saul's works did not stand up to his beauty and he died a tragic death, missing the purpose he could have fulfilled as a king.

"And thus beauty, which is indeed God’s handiwork, but only a temporal, carnal, and lower kind of good, is not fitly loved in preference to God, the eternal, spiritual, and unchangeable good." Saint Augustine.

What kind of beauty are you looking for, a beautiful body that will last a few years and nothing more, or a beautiful heart, that reflects the beauty of God, in Christ?

"For He shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground:
He has no form or comeliness;
and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.

He is despised, and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief:
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised; and we did not esteem Him.

Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities;
the chastisement for our peace was upon him; and by His stripes we are healed."
Isaías 53:2-5
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