Life in a Nutshell

Edna Lister wrote these brief essays as parts of a syndicated newspaper column published in the 1930s and 1940s, in major cities throughout the United States. As you read her essays, discover how they answer your questions today.

Feeling powerless in the face of life is a miserable existence. When you follow her suggestions for vital living, you capture the joy of becoming a conquering creator, fully in charge of your own life.

Act As If

Do you believe that you can make a declaration, and it will be established for you? Do you know that it will be established? Do you act as if you had it now? Or does discouragement creep into your mind and heart to swamp all your lovely ideas and goals? Do you get tired of waiting and turn to another well-advertised method as a short-cut to accomplishment?

If a man had stood in line all night at a ticket window, but got tired and left when he was third from the window, you'd know that it would be the end of the line for him if he returned. He would forfeit all previous time spent waiting and standing. Yet, you do this to yourself, often when you are in sight of your goal.

Laws are laws, not suggestions, and cannot fail. You can finish what you start, if you hang on long enough. Since you can never tell when you are third next at the window of fulfillment, keep your place in line until you gain your desired goal.

Never let Old Man Discouragement get you down — hang on and know that persistence is the watchword and persistence always wins!

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A Firm Foundation

You cannot use yesterday's achievements as sofa cushions and feather beds for the future. A single tremendous effort may make you a world hero, but to rest on one performance for the remainder of your life will not maintain your hero's status.

Life always rudely awakens today's hero to face a cold fact: No one stays sold overnight.

You cannot afford to stop selling yourself for a single day or you lose with someone. If you forget to smile for an hour because of hurt feelings, someone calls you an old grouch. If you lose interest in others on the day they need it, they think you do not love them. They hunt greener pastures where they can find sympathy.

Married couples who lose that first rapturous exploration of interest called the honeymoon find themselves becoming bored and headed toward separation. Interest in others' affairs makes you an agreeable companion, one who is sought in spare moments.

Self-interest is interest turned within. Self-selling is interest turned outward.

What good is the past except to be used as a firm foundation upon which to build your future? Avoid bogging down in self-pity. Turn your interest outward toward others and life.

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An Ounce of Appreciation

Is appreciation the last thing your family or boss thinks of giving? Does it take all the natural joy from your work, and leave you feeling low and unnecessary?

Even work that you may love can grow stale under these outer conditions, if you allow yourself to think too much about not being appreciated for what you are doing. The way to cure this dullness in your own life is easy.

Start an appreciation campaign right where you work and live. Everyone responds to it. Everyone loves to be appreciated. Appreciation keeps this old world ticking. It is the spice of life to most folks and most folks will do most anything when others appreciate it. It doesn't cost a cent and gives the giver large returns.

You may not receive appreciation from those to whom you give it, but you will create bubbling joy within your own heart. Life will look rosy again and your outlook will return to normal.

Try it tomorrow wherever you find yourself. Use it on your family. Find something to praise and your smile may draw some praise to you. An ounce of appreciation will give many a pound of satisfaction.

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Anti-Fog Formula

Have you hungered for a formula that would dispel that foggy feeling that envelopes you some mornings, when you cannot seem to shake some weird spell of semi-consciousness?

One young woman found a formula that sent her to the top of a profession that chose her for its own. When her father died, leaving an invalid wife and small son, a friend found a position for the daughter, who was still in high school. She had only her nerve and the will to do.

So, she started saying, "Lord, don't let me miss an opportunity today." He never did. She prospered with only her midnight oil and by reading merchandising books from the library — after she fed everyone and did the house work — and advanced straight into an executive position as head of a firm.

Lord, don't let me miss an opportunity today — instead of crying because she had a family to care for and had to get up early to feed them before work. Lord, don't let me miss an opportunity today — instead of good times with the other young people, making good where she found herself chosen.

"Lord, don't let me miss an opportunity today. Let me use what I have, where I am now."

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A Simple Faith

Have they called you simple-minded because you enjoy simple pleasures? Did it disgruntle you or make you feel that perhaps you were silly?

Never allow yourself to grow too complex about your enjoyments. If you do, you will lose something of your spontaneity of heart that can cause you many dull hours later in life. Never try to emulate another's ideas of enjoyment and never let anyone spoil yours.

So, take stock right now and decide just what is important. Then stick to your guns under all circumstances. Keep your list comprehensive enough to allow for added joys and uncomplicated enough so it won't ever grow burdensome.

Find out why and how your grandmothers could always sing, though burdened with work and few conveniences. Learn to be free of material things, neither possessing them unduly nor allowing them to possess you as they may have in the past. Use a simple-minded faith in a Supreme Ruler's care for you!

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At the Heart of Soul

Do you really want eternal youth? Do you want to pay the price necessary to regain all your lost ambition and forgotten ideas? Would you like to touch the flame of desire again?

Eternal youth comes from living at the heart of the soul. It comes from the very center of that divine spark that is your real identity. It comes from that ability to enjoy the days because they are full of life and because life itself is so very entrancing.

Eternal youth comes from a mature understanding of responsibility, from that experience of knowing, loving and calling everything Good as it comes. Eternal youth isn't afraid to suffer and grow, and counts all pain as gain. It has no tears to dry because it is too busy living to take time for crying.

You weave the life of eternal youth of stardust and moonbeams, held together by cobweb-fine strands that grief or sorrow would rend asunder. Eternal youth knows that it must hold fast to confidence and assurance. Eternal youth does not listen to anything that might disturb its delicate balance of joy in and about life. Eternal youth is as free as air and as delicate as a spider's web.

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Battles, Dragons and Life

Have you been afraid of life? Afraid to live? Hurt by the bit you've had? Are you afraid to try any more? Is your fondest dream to find a sheltered corner where you can rest? A sunny spot where life will pass you by?

Why spend time hunting a safe place to sit in the sun? Why spend time hunting an easy corner where nothing can ever happen? To hide isn't to be safe! To be safe isn't living, only existence. A jellyfish can do as much.

Life means growth, and growth brings pain. Lots of life always hurts. Just at first! Exactly as when an arm "goes to sleep." The returning circulation is painful, but it "feels better when it stops hurting."

Your trouble is not too much life, but too little. The lack of life hurts. Your idea has been to avoid having any more of it, since the tiny bit already yours hurt so badly.

Any soldier knows he must face and discount only so many things while marching. He must face the guns, hunger, cold and long marches. He accepts this, and discounts it. Meet life like a soldier! Hands up! Surrender to the fact you must face life, not evade it. Like a nettle, to be painless, you must grasp and love it.

Life is a foe you must meet and conquer with courage. Does a great dragon stand right in the line of your march? Something that overwhelms you to contemplate? Have you turned your back to it? Right about face! Steady! Aim! Fire! And pouf! It was only a bloated, puffy old bull-frog!

You may have run from the scene of battle instead of leading the charge. You may have been eager to leave the battleground instead of eager to stand.

To be trampled underfoot by the army is the fate of the one who turns back. To get into the thick of the smoke, into the midst of the battle — that is living. Charge! Face the guns! Let's go! [Published in the Business Enterprise, Edinburgh, Scotland. ]

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Believe to Receive

Life can be a stupid business when you grow up and lose you that first rapturous expectancy and belief in Fairy Godmothers and the tooth fairy. Of course, you'll be laughed at if you go around waving your magic wand, but then you'll be laughed at anyway for your ideals. So why not enjoy the pleasure of an expectant attitude and chase away the blues with your magic wand.

Children make wishes and never doubt that they will come true. We, who have grown up to be wise, often make our wishes, then turn about-face and open a campaign of "What I will do if the wish doesn't materialize." Perhaps you lack that simple faith in a Power great enough to back you all the way to success.

Holding fast to that first rapturous faith in your ability to succeed, planning to meet your Fairy Godmother right around the very next corner is the only asset you need, provided you build on expectancy.

You'll never receive more from life than you can believe in having. So why not believe, wish-work greatly and wave your magic wand joyously always? There's never a dull moment when you fully believe in a Fairy Godmother!

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Bite Your Tongue

Anyone can get tired and quit, bluster and grow angry, be critical and condemning — it takes only a brain cell-and-a-half! The single-celled creature can do as much, so don't be proud of it! Self-mastery requires using real brains with alertness and unwavering persistence.

It takes less strength of character to bite your tongue in self-control than it does to conquer all desire to lash out and burn another with hasty words unwisely spoken. However, biting your tongue is the first step toward conquering self. This eventually leads to complete self-mastery, which is more than half the battle toward any goal.

The higher your vision, the longer it takes to bring it forth into the outer where others can be see it. It takes longer to build a cathedral than it does a five-room house.

If your vision is cathedral-size, others may finish their dreams before your foundation is complete. Waste no time watching them, for it will take more time and effort of labor to build yours from foundation to roof.

To be unhampered by emotional jags, you must use great discrimination in choosing your attitudes toward life, then follow them with perseverance and courage under all conditions.

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Cat Lessons

The cat embodies six creative ideas: Perfect independence, perfect adjustment to life, perfect determination, perfect relaxation, perfect balance, and a perfect sense of direction and control. You can never lessen a cat's individuality or independence. It never "knuckles down," but always commands respect.

The cat symbolizes perfect adjustment, since it never worries or carries a burden because it knows how to accept. It hunts alone and always rustles up a meal, which represents perfect adjustment to life.

The cat represents determination because of its ability to concentrate perfectly on one idea. A cat will single-mindedly howl at the door until you either let it in or let it out, and it will wait for a mouse by the hour in complete silence.

The cat symbolizes relaxation. It works, then rests, plays, then rests in perfect relaxation. And it has sense enough to breathe itself into its body after sleep with a good, long stretch.

The cat represents perfect freedom in balance and always lands on its feet. Finally, because the cat has a perfect sense of direction and control, it never gets lost, but always finds its way home.

If you find that you're not the perfect embodiment of these principles, don't worry. Open a new account in God's Universal Reserve Bank, and wait at the door until you receive.

"I open this account with enlarged ideas and huge declarations. I deposit what I desire to draw out, and must make my deposits every day. If I deposit fear, doubt, delay ideas, irritation or criticism, that's what I will draw out!"

Deposit all cat virtues, and let go of all cat detriments, such as laziness, selfishness, and fault-finding words that scratch like claws. Always preen before your mirror to see if your joy-face is on straight!

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Chickens Come Home to Roost

It sounds pretty complicated when we talk about what mind will do for you when harnessed and used with direction and control. Yet science aids us to gain a better understanding.

Radio, television and satellites prove that there is an unseen substance that does move into the ethers and reassemble in another spot as sound and picture. It carries through any thickness of concrete and there is no barrier through which it cannot penetrate.

Have you applied this principle to your words and thoughts? Every thought you think, you send into the atmosphere as a vibration that has a definite form. Every time you picture something it builds a form in another grade of substance. Every time you send forth emotion, it does the same thing.

Three grades of substance make a composite form in the invisible. These may be soft little white doves or sturdy black crows, but return to you they must.

Our grandmothers knew this, for they always said that your "chickens come home to roost." Each thought, emotion and picture returns to you. You must direct and control your imagination, thinking and desires for good results!

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Classes, Exams and Grades

Expecting a second-grader to make perfect marks on a high school exam would be the height of folly. From birth to death, life is graded into individual classes, each important to the one who is in it.

No two are in the same class, studying the same lesson, so how can we be alike in what we are doing? How can we all give the same answers to lessons when our lessons are all different?

You have no reason to feel self-important about passing with high grades, because your old high marks will do you no good in next year's class. You must have the stamina to dig out the new answers.

Learning rapidly gives you no authority to gloat over another's slowness. Your growth slows and stops when you wrap yourself in a mantle of exaggerated ideas of your ability.

If another wants to make his stand on one step and never move higher, leave him alone to enjoy himself. The "I can't understand" and the "I can't see why" classes are full, and vain speculation about why others stand still easily grows into a feeling of superiority. This may feel good at the time but you could flunk your next exam unless you stay busy — and that would be just too bad, wouldn't it?

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Confusion or Clarity

Can you do any number of tasks simultaneously, and do them all well? Or does being called on to do more than one assignment at a time throw you into a state of confusion?

If you have a "single track" mind, are proud of it and do not want to change — be satisfied and go your way. However, if you would like to be able to act as an executive, who can grasp many details at once, acting upon them at once having given previous orders while making new decisions, then begin a new campaign of self-discipline now.

You have millions of undeveloped cells of brain capacity waiting, and all you need to do is to call that unused capacity into service. Crossed lines of communication cause confusion.

Several exposures on one negative create a confused image. Pictures taken one at a time, one exposure right after the other, will produce as many clear images as you need. You can use a dozen phones at once, if each connection is clear.

Keep each set of negatives clear in your mind. Never allow them to overlap or blur each other. Turn completely from one idea to the next keeping each wire clear and distinct — all you need is practice. Remember, one picture at a time, and hold each line free.

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Conquering Life

Either you conquer life or life conquers you. One choice doesn't cover the whole of life, nor does sitting and waiting cause life's good things to fall into your lap like overripe fruit. Every new problem requires a new answer and every experience a new choice. Unless you choose wisely, you will continually lose.

You do not build life's highway, but you can learn to watch for the signs, keep to the right and give everyone else plenty of room. You can sit alertly in the driver's seat and be ready for either curve or barrier. You can take advantage of every opening in the traffic and surmount the obstacles.

Life is like a stubborn horse that is always ready to take the bit in its teeth and run away. It will, especially if you allow it to wear the spurs and carry the whip! You must choose which is to be master, life or you? Being your own master means you must wear the spurs, carry the whip and be ready to use them when you tire and lag behind.

Life may throw you repeatedly, but you can always climb back into the saddle. Your everlasting effort at plodding is sure to take you somewhere. The effort will keep you from standing still at least. Who knows, you might find a wonderful opportunity ahead!

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Courage in Action

What you need is a personal right so great that you are ready to die for it. You cannot buy courage in the dime store, or for millions. No invisible mantle will supply it — you have it or you don't.

The courage to stand comes from an inner conviction that what you are doing is this great right, and bravery is its inevitable outer expression. No following false gods on the outside or loudly voiced opinions can manufacture courage, for such substitutes fail when called on under fire.

A right goal with the inner courage that never gives way or backs down, showing a brave front to all enemies, does not come from choosing between two evils, even the lesser one. It comes from choosing the one right, and this is always the way of sacrifice for individual or nation.

Straight down the middle of the right road runs your choice, from evil and darkness into the light, Winning comes only from using sacrifice and success as synonymous terms, backed by deathless courage.

Your choice of some "death" rather than to lose your ideals, and facing that death gladly, will open the gates of life to all others forever.

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Have you just paid out all the money you had saved for a vacation with the family this year for an illness, roof repair or that kitchen remodeling? Does everyone take it for granted that you won't mind or be hurt over the scuttling of your ship?

Well, this is another important crossroads in your life and your next decision may determine your whole future. One way will complete the drying up of the milk of human kindness within you, but the other will break open an old encasing shell and set you free.

Have you felt this old shell pressing in on you lately?

Occasionally you reach the limit of your present environment and find you've outgrown the old ideas, actions, emotions and people. This means a new cycle of endeavor, if you take your discounts and plan something new instead of silently boiling over inside with resentment. It means space to stretch your sails and run before the wind.

What does it matter about the clouds and the storm today? What if it does turn to a gale? Storms come, but they always go, too. Patch up your old ship, caulk the old seams or build a new one!

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Spring announces itself with the greening of branch and opening of buds. Nature's life looks up and pushes up to its capacity during the summer season of growth. Winter announces its campaign with turning leaves in autumn. Falling leaves foretell that nature's life is sinking into a rest that simulates a little death.

The compelling urge behind the seasons springs from the same life, and differs only in the direction it takes.

You are a thinking, choosing, feeling, conscious being, and you may choose your direction, either up into greater increase or down into a rest that ends all growth. You need not wait for spring's gentle urge to be up and doing, although you must follow the logic behind the seasons in pursuing your plans.

You must plow, harrow, plant and cherish your ideas, if you are to create anything new. Yet your ideas can die from lack of nourishment.

It's so simple — you may contact the same Power that propels the seasons in their endless cycles, and you may appropriate as much life for your enterprises as does the tree for its growth. Yet you need not wait blindly for the fulfillment of your destiny.

All you need is one flaming desire, one definite choice, added to enough persistence to hold your mind on one point long enough to win.

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Determination Is the Pipeline

How many hours each day do you spend feeling sorry for poor little me? How many criticizing the government, the weather, the other things that you dislike?

If you have no power over the things that you dislike, why waste time and energy finding faults with them? The chances are that they will all be going on for some time, but so what? If you feel that your paycheck is too small for your services, your work too hard, your hours too long, your troubles too great — why, go ahead and cry.

Someday you'll discover that no one else really cares much, and criticism is a pretty cheap claim to fame, although you are an expert at it. Criticism is a shoddy way to use your will power.

Can you make up your mind and stick to it? If you can, nothing is impossible for you to accomplish, but if you can't, you are only digging your present rut deeper. If everyone you meet can unmake your mind for you, you won't even reach the bottom rung.

Make up your mind, keep it made up, take one step at time toward your ideal, and someday it will show on the outside. The speed of your results may surprise you when you hold up your head and smile at life. Determination is the pipeline from your will power to your future.

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Do One Thing at a Time

You don't live your life just once, but many times every day. If you have a task to do after work, you do it dozens of times during the day. If you sell on commission, you sell not once but repeatedly, before, during and after the call.

You carry the office home and live in it instead of with your family. You take your family to the office and live with them all day instead of waiting till you are home. You hold up the office chair daily, the bed at night, and even try to carry the elevator up instead of resting to your floor. So you are always tired, your heart, eyes and back are wearing out.

Why not worry about just one thing at a time — if you must worry. Why not concentrate on the immediate task? Everything ends, one way or another. So look up, take a deep breath and let go. Give God the fear.

The sun continues to shine above the temporary dark clouds. Live above the clouds in the sunshine instead of the gloom underneath. Think yourself to sleep on a starlit cloud instead of holding up the bed. Let bed and chair, elevator and life, uphold you.

Do one thing at a time with all you have and when you rest, rest on a cloud of Light.

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DO Something

Did some disappointment cause you to wrap all your dreams and put them away in moth balls years ago? Or have you put them in cold storage so nothing could happen to them? If you have, get them out right now, unwrap them, warm them up and air them.

Have you thought it your family's fault that you are not a doctor, a lawyer, an artist, a musician or a teacher? Don't excuse yourself another day with such silly soothing syrup for your lack of push and drive!

How do you know that you could have been these things? You can't know, if you've never done anything about it, and you never will unless you do something now.

Someone may have kept you from it while you were very young, but after that it was up to you. If you had really wanted it, no one could have kept you from it. Night schools and books cover everything anyone can want. Nothing on earth can stop one who is determined to do something.

Find out now what your dreams really mean, one at a time. If you still feel cheated, start one project. If after three weeks you develop a passion for it, continue. If it bores you, drop it and forget it.

That deathless desire within you can do anything. Move your dreams from the talk-about-it class and do something!

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Dreams: Idle or Planned

Are you still waiting for your ship of dreams? Do you wonder where it is and why it hasn't returned to you? Are you sure that you loaded it with a cargo you want?

Sometime ago you launched this ship loaded with your old desires, the pictures you've built and the thinking you've done, good, bad and indifferent. Most of this cargo must be spoiled and moldy by now. Are you certain that you could use all the rubbish of the past when it comes?

Wouldn't you prefer a new ship with an up-to-date cargo? If you look, you might see that old ship anchored right offshore near you. Then you could start unloading that old cargo of unwanted things and rebuild your ship into a fast runner.

Unload it now and start loading a new cargo of every lovely and beautiful thing you can conceive of or use. Give it a shove, launch it again, then know that it will return to you speedily in fulfillment of your dreams.

This dream is as real as if you built it with your hands. Believe in it, plan and watch for its return, because it surely will. Idle dreams mean wasted time, active, but planned dreams mean fulfillment.

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End of an Era

Change means advance if you so declare it. Civilization doesn't stand still, but we don't notice the changes until we're almost within a new cycle of expression.

The change always creeps up on us because the keynote of the Western world is activity and we're too busy "doing" to be "seeing" simultaneously. So, one day we are shocked into a realization that something new has happened, which throws us into a state of confusion and bewilderment that seems to leave us helpless.

We flounder around trying to doctor and patch the old, but it doesn't work. We find that we must seek new ways that will incorporate the best of the old with the needed new.

We can't throw out all the old. All we need is to cut off all the dead limbs and twigs, do a bit of grafting, and cultivate the soil.

The difficulty is that so much of the old clings to the trunk tenaciously. The world has developed so many ways to graft and take from people that it is hard to convince many that this era is finished. It is ended and we need to adjust to it, believe in it and work together now, for a new era makes right the one might.

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Eternally Young

We have grown up with the idea that old age is necessary. The three great life periods spoken of as emergence, maturity and decline may have you stymied before you are able to think for yourself.

Some people really begin to live at seventy by acting as if they were youthful and doing all those things left behind with youth. It is possible for you to renew an old body by acting as if you have it.

What holds you back from accepting this as your portion? Psychology has this answer.

You must renew the mind before you can renew the body. First you must discard all your great-grandmothers' patterns for bodies. You must rid yourself of the idea that you shall "decline" with the added years.

Eternal youth is born in the mind and heart first, and only then can you express it in the outer world.

When you combine the use of proper diet and exercise, feeling and thinking into a coordinated whole, you can and shall have bodies that are youthful. You shall be mentally alert, with imaginations that build only those things you decide.

Why plan to live only fifty or sixty years when the cells can renew themselves for a thousand vigorous and healthy years?

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Face That Dragon Now

Does something that looks like a great red dragon block your path? Has it dried up your courage, leaving you cold with fear and dread? Helpless?

Then stop, look and listen. Nothing is as bad as it looks from a distance, and hope and an answer exists for every problem life can present. Take your eyes off that dragon and start looking within yourself. Exercise does your will power muscle good, and now is the time to start exercising.

Be too proud to turn your back under fire. Every soldier knows to face front, discount cold, hunger, long marches and discomfort — to forget everything else and serve.

Eyes front and start marching straight at that dragon. It will shrink as you advance. Stare it down. If you are convinced that you can pass it, you can. It will shrink to the size of a bloated old bullfrog.

Fear always makes things look larger than life, many times their real size. Life is your friend — meet it, love it, march right into it and live. Charge the problem and be convinced of victory!

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Faith, the Builder

The substance of faith is as much a part of inanimate creation as it is a part of your life. One phase of faith is unconscious and the other is conscious. In the animal, tree and too often in man, it is an unconscious faith. In all the children of earth who reason and think, it becomes a conscious use of that one faith.

Paul said, "Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen." Evidence is the substance of the unseen hoped for, and the hope is faith. That substance is all about you, in the air you breathe, the food you eat.

You cannot get more substance or destroy what is here. You can only tear down old forms and rebuild with the same substance. Recycling metals proves this. Metal is unconscious substance, unconscious of being used.

Science and religion begin at the same point: "Let there be Light" — this is the one substance, seen or unseen, conscious and unconscious. To rebuild your body and your life, you must consciously use this faith to tear down the old unconscious substance and consciously remold it into a form nearer to your heart's desire.

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Edna Miriam Lister
The original Pioneering Mystic
minister, teacher, and author

Edna Lister

This collection of essays is published by The Society of the Universal Living Christ, and © 2017 by Linda Mihalic, following substantial revision. All Rights Reserved.

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