Life in the Margin

Write to the Edge

I forgive you.

Sometimes God chases us down and blasts billboard messages at us to get our attention, you know?  I’ve had a week like that.  Every single devotion in my First 5 app has been about forgiveness and restoration.  My Bible reading plan has highlighted God’s desire to forgive and heal.  My favorite blog covered forgiveness this week.  And, to top it off, the women’s study I attend on Sunday mornings spent a good amount of time talking about forgiveness, too.

So…what’s that mean for me?

Because I’m stuck.

Anytime I’m aware that I’ve offended or hurt, I seek forgiveness.  And, I’m quick to offer forgiveness to those around me.  I’m not too proud to seek it out or broach the subject.

So, why am I stuck?

Because…what do I do when the ones I need to forgive the most don’t think they’ve done anything wrong?

Or have asked me to never speak to them again?

Or aren’t aware that they’ve hurt me?

If God offers forgiveness to people who don’t care, don’t see, and don’t know, shouldn’t I?  If it’s my desire to reflect Him, I’ve got to trust Him to bring the closure that will be missing in these now non-existent relationships.

So, I’m doing it.  Letting go of the need for closure or reconciliation.  Walking away from the bitterness and anger that stems from loss and grief.  Choosing to grab God’s outstretched hand when I’m flailing.

He doesn’t live with even scales; He’s always more gracious and giving and loving than we’ll ever be.  I can’t expect to live a Christ-life that looks different.  I want to offer grace and peace even when they’re not accepted or wanted.

So.  I forgive.  Clean slate.  And, in the future, if I cross paths with someone who I’ve forgiven, yet have never been able to speak to, I’ll offer peace and grace.  Not because it’s easy, but because that’s what He does.

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You’re Not Wanted

canvas“There’s no room for you in my life.”

“You’re not the right fit for this job.”

“There’s not a spot for you in our restructuring.”

“Your gifts just don’t match what we’re looking for in this position.”

“My schedule is just too full.”

“I don’t see why you think we have to be friends.”

“I don’t need your encouraging texts and prayers.”

“You’re terminated.”

“This just isn’t going to work.”

No matter how you hear it, “You’re not wanted” is never easy.  It hurts.  I’ve seen this happen way too many times in the past several months.  And, honestly, most of the “terminations” of relationships or positions have come from Christian people TO Christian people.  And, in addition, most have come with no explanation whatsoever.

Which, to me, may be the hardest part to swallow.

Why?  Why am I not worth the time?  Why am I not worth a difficult conversation?

We live in a disposable culture.  When we’re finished with something, we toss it.  Cups, plates, clothes, books…

People.

It would be easy to close up shop and not let anyone else in.  In fact, I found myself retreating during the past several months.  Emails have gone unanswered, invitations left unheeded, voice mail and cards left unopened.  I’ve hugged less, encouraged less, and risked less – all because it hurt so badly to be set aside that I didn’t want to open myself up for more hurt.  My husband commented on my lack of joy – he was angry that someone would steal “his Teresa” – I just wasn’t myself.

Been there?

So, how do we, as Christians, handle that hurt?  Especially when that hurt comes at the hands of other Christians?  One of my loved ones asked me point blank, “How have you been in ministry for so long and not grown bitter toward the church?”  The church – the world – is full of people.  People sin. People hurt.  So, how can I honor God in my response?

Rely on the unchanging character of God.  No matter what people say or what people do, God’s character doesn’t change.  His Word tells us that He is loving, kind, patient, just, gracious, holy… And He always will be. When kind people turn mean, when loving people turn hateful, when patient people walk away…God is still there.  He still loves us, He still wants us, and He still desires the best for us.

Treat them the way you’d like to be treated.    When our family was told we were no longer welcome in our friends’ lives, we hurt.  We prayed.  We cried. We asked questions.  We asked God to help us forgive.  We asked God to guide us in healing.  We didn’t slander their names, retaliate with mean words, or spread malicious gossip about them.  Why?  Because we are called to reflect Jesus.  Plain and simple: I can’t reflect Him if I’m choosing actions contrary to His will.

Process through your feelings with someone who lives in God’s Word.  It’s important to talk through your feelings.  Choose someone wise.  Someone who filters their actions through the lens of God’s Word.  When I did this, I heard people telling me that this pain was probably God’s protection.  They saw unhealthy things that I didn’t see.  They were separate enough from the relationship that they could look with unbiased eyes at both parties.  And, a wise friend will help you learn from your own mistakes and hold you accountable in not making those same mistakes again.

I’m not going to lie; this friendship was terminated several months ago, and I still find myself hurting from it. Not daily. Not weekly.  Just sometimes. When I see someone else hurting, or hear of someone else being told they’re not wanted.  Not being given an opportunity to speak into the “break” is hard.  Having assumptions made about my character hurts.  Knowing my name was slandered and misrepresented stings like crazy.

So, for those of you who have felt the sting of broken relationships, know this:  You ARE wanted!  God pursues you valiantly and chases after you relentlessly.  Isaiah 49:16 tells us that He has “inscribed you on the palm of [His] hands.”  For eternity.  He won’t turn His back on you.  He won’t leave you.  Deuteronomy 31:6 tells us “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Never.  You’ll never be alone.

You ARE wanted.  With a fierce love.  Rest in this knowledge and let Him heal you from earthly hurt.  He is the ultimate heart-healer and longs to hold you close.

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Friendship Lessons Learned – the Hard Way

For any of you who know me well, you know that I rarely open up all the way to someone…I’m pretty guarded and have learned to play it safe with new relationships. However, I didn’t follow my normal rules this time, and, well, I’m learning some pretty significant lessons. And, what is my natural bent when I learn something new? Yep…I like to share it with the hope that someone can be encouraged – or saved from looking like a complete and utter idiot.

The Background:

My family recently connected with an absolutely incredible family. These people are truly gifted in making others feel valued. They hugged us the first time we met, they listened, laughed, encouraged, and showed interest in us. In us! I’m not even exciting, yet there were questions and affirmations… I was hooked. Seriously.
The next few times we got together, I was encouraged – as was my family – as I haven’t been in quite awhile. Here was someone who showed interest in me; she was genuinely interested in what I loved, in what I did, in what I enjoyed. It was super refreshing. My family left each get together talking about how this family felt like FAMILY – not just friends, but FAMILY. We’ve never lived near our families…so finding friends who feel like family is an extra treasure.
I felt invited into their circle…to encourage, invest, and walk alongside. It’s the first time in a long time I thought it was safe to risk opening myself up to someone new.

The Lessons:

1. Clarify the expectations.

Just because I FEEL like I’m being invited to jump in with both feet (and share funny anecdotes and experiences and ask for advice and ask for prayer) doesn’t mean I AM being invited to jump in with both feet. Sometimes jumping in with both feet can feel suffocating. I loved it when she showed interest in me. But, at some point, my sharing and interest became too much for her.

2. Ask before you support.

When I learned of some of the weight my friend was carrying, I immediately wanted to help her shoulder it; through kind words, prayers, check-ins. But, at some point, my reminders that I was praying for her made her feel like I thought she was lacking. In no way did I ever mean that. I love knowing that people are praying for me. I even have one friend who types out her prayers and sends them to me in text-form. SUPER encouraging for me. But, for my friend, it was an added weight.

3. Get clear permission before attempting to speak into the lives of her kids.

My husband and I have long been believers in the philosophy that our children need many godly people speaking into their lives. If we tell them something, they may not listen, but another godly adult could say the same thing and, for some reason, it may fall on their hearts and soak in. But, just because I’m comfortable with that philosophy, that doesn’t mean that all my friends will be. In fact, my new friend saw my involvement in her kid’s life as creepy and overboard.

4. When she asks for space, give it to her.

I was too much. Too many interruptions. Too much intensity in my desire to share and support. She felt suffocated and told me that she will still be my friend, but “not like this.” Ouch. Did I question my value? Oh yes. Did I ask myself, “What’s wrong with me?” Definitely. Did I cry? You betcha.
But, if I truly love her – and I do – then I will give her what she needs…even if it’s not on my wish list.

Proverbs 27:6 “Wounds from a friend can be trusted…”

Lessons learned. Will I jump in as readily next time? No. But, I am trusting God to mend and heal, and I know that next time I will do my best to be courageous enough to ask first – and gracious enough to listen.

Grace.

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Open…to what?

Our family accepted the challenge to pray about A WORD that would become our filter for the year.  I knew almost immediately what God was asking of me.

Obedience when He asks – even when I don’t understand why.

Openness to His leading – even when I can’t see the end.

Awareness of other people and the needs they may have – even if I don’t feel like I have time.

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Courage to follow – even when I am nervous.

So…my word is…Open.

I’m praying for my heart to be open to God-opportunities on a daily basis.  How many times do I quick-quick walk down the school hall, the grocery aisle, the sidewalk without noticing the hearts of those around me?  Am I so focused on my to-do list (and I do love checking things off my list!) that I miss God’s to-do list for me that day?

And, I’m praying that I’ll notice and obey uncomfortable God-opportunities that may be out of my comfort zone.  If He orchestrates an opportunity for me to love others, shine Him, or use the gifts He’s given, shouldn’t I trust Him enough to accept the challenge?  No matter how scary or new?

And, I’m praying that I’ll be open to deepening friendships.  This one is HARD for me.  I’ve been told “no” so many times.  Seriously.  I really do wonder what’s wrong with me.  People have told me they don’t know why I think it’s important that we’re friends.  Someone else told me that they couldn’t be the friend I need.  Others are just super busy and don’t have time.  So…how do I go about deepening friendships when I’m not so sure I even know how to be a good friend?  Or, that maybe I’m not someone that people want to be good friends with?  And, how do I tear down the protective walls I’ve erected around me to ward off further hurt?

By being open.  To His voice.  To His leading.  To His gentle prodding and calling and positioning.

If He orchestrates it, who am I to question it?

(Swallow…breathe…)

Philippians 2:14 encourages us to “shine like stars in the universe as we hold out the gift of Life.”  Father God, open my heart to your leading – even if it’s new and scary – and show me how to shine You.

And, if someone calls you for coffee…or sends you a text…or asks if they can pray with you…know that you’re an answer to prayer, and you’re deeply loved by a Father who opens doors and orchestrates opportunities.

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Who am I, anyway?

I think I’m having an identity crisis. Now, hear me out…I’m not losing my mind, or feeling sorry for myself, or looking for accolades. And, well, maybe it’s not really a “crisis” per se. Maybe just an identity confusion.

Here’s the jist:

I am married to a pastor – who’s official title is not “pastor” – which makes his role difficult to explain to people. I’m mother to a miracle biological child (who’s now in high school!) and a beautiful adopted daughter (who is growing up way to quickly). (Experiencing both of these paths to motherhood has greatly affected how I see life.) I teach elementary music part time at a public school. I find myself creating new things for my classroom all the time; songs, instrument arrangements, etc. My students and colleagues are daily gifts; I want to encourage and lead well. I teach piano/voice to private students after school. I was invited to direct a children’s choir in our city. I accompany different musical programs in our community. I love being a part of our worship team at church. I like to sing, but they don’t need more singers, and I don’t think my voice is what they’re looking for. I get to play the piano at church, and I LOVE doing that. It’s a joy, for sure. I lead a small group of high school girls for our student ministry. I’m part of an adult life group. I’m praying that I know how to follow God’s lead in new relationships He’s opening my eyes to. I’m learning how to be a good friend. I like to write. In fact, I’ve got a Bible Study curriculum in the works. (Not sure when/who I’d sell it to…but, hey…) I love arranging and playing my own piano pieces and hymn arrangements. Recorded an album this summer. Sold a total of 7. (This makes me grin…so…maybe it wasn’t really that great, right?) I spent 12 years in a leadership position with a dual marketing company. I learned soooo much about people and myself, and this has definitely changed how I approach people and tasks.
In addition, I’m not afraid to work to create a comfortable, simple, and attractive home. I’ve been painting doors, trim, and walls on the weekends. This summer? I planted flowers, shrubs, vegetables, trees, and dug new flower beds. 40 lb bags of dirt? No problem.
And, the biggest two focuses: Loving my husband and daughters in a way that honors and reflects God. Discipling my girls and ministering to my husband. Living a life that shines Christ.

So, what’s the problem?

Well…if someone asks what I do, how do I answer? If I have to speak from my area of strength, what is that? I’m not super-amazing at ANYTHING, but I’m willing to try and work hard at a lot. And, well, to be totally honest, none of these things I’m good at pays a lot of money. I’m not trying to be shallow, just honest.

So, what’s my next step? Seeking God’s face daily and listening well to His Spirit’s leading. Disciplining myself to listen in the midst of crazy schedules. And, speaking of crazy schedules, a commitment to not endangering the margin we’ve built into our family’s life. AND, fighting against Satan’s very loud voice that I’m not really important, and that I don’t REALLY have anything of value to add. He’s been screaming at me lately. Is it true that he gets louder when God is orchestrating something for His glory?

God is our Mighty Creator. He sustains and builds and leads and equips. He chooses who gets what gifts and how we get to use them. So, He’s offered me a potpourri of interesting things…how will I reflect Him in them? If I get down because I’m not AMAZING at something, what am I teaching my daughters? If I give up because I don’t see results, what message am I sharing with my family?

I know that spending time doing one thing means I’m spending time away from another. Umm..so far, for me, that thing I’ve been NOT doing is working out regularly. Oops. I’m eating healthy…does that count? And, no tv. And, less sleep. Right now, I can’t decide what I want to let slip. There are people in every arena that need encouraged. If I can be God’s light, shouldn’t I embrace the opportunity?

So…I’m still not unsure about what to do with a lot of these areas of passion/desire/skill… maybe some need to go bye-bye, and others need to be honed a bit more. I’m praying for wisdom and discipline and God’s voice to be clear and louder than anything else that this world throws at me. And, I’m realizing that success isn’t always what the world says it is…often, success is being who God needs me to be at the moment He asks me to be . . .
Have you ever been here? How’d you handle it? What did you learn?

Thankful He’s patient and omniscient!

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I want, I want, I want…

flower-galleryplayerIt began a few months before Christmas. My youngest started giving us hints on things she’d like to find under the tree on Christmas morning. As she added to the list, and we began our gift-purchasing, I grew discouraged. Her list kept growing. She’s not greedy, by nature. She’s generous, encouraging, and loving. She just saw so many amazing things that she couldn’t help but let us know she’d really like to have them.
Christmas morning dawned…I was a little concerned that she’d be disappointed; afterall, there was no way she was going to find EVERYTHING underneath the tree. She rejoiced in her gifts, and in the time we spent together as a family. However, the next day, she let me know that she still had a couple things she’d like, and could I add those to the list for MY family’s Christmas get together? Sure.
Fast forward a bit. She got a couple of THE things she’d asked for from my side of the family, And, then she asked if we could go and get ANOTHER doll that goes WITH the ones she received as gifts. AGH!!!!!!!
Yes. I finally blew.
How do you get a nine year old to understand the feelings you have when you give and give – and make sacrifices to give what they really want – and it still never seems like it’s enough?
And, then it hit me…I do the same thing to MY Father in Heaven.
It may not be stuff…
But, I have been wrestling lately with wishing I had gifts that my friends possess. I wish I had the gift of hospitality like Marie,* or the cooking skills of Sue. What about the fact that Darlene brings life and fun to every gathering? It would be nice to be as organized as Lynn, as well-liked as Joy, and as talented as Marlene. I sure would like to be as good at budgeting as my friend, Jennifer, and as good about staying active and healthy as Casey. Ugh, and while we’re at it, I often wish I had the money and house that Laurie has, and could take vacations like Terri does.
But, if you asked me if God has given ME gifts, I’d answer a resounding Yes! Am I thankful for them? Of course! Do I use them for Him? Have I done my best to use them to the best of my abilities? Yes, most of the time. 🙂 Would I want to trade any of those gifts away for the ones my friends have?
Ouch.
No.
I just…want…more.
Ugh.
It brought me to my knees…this realization that I was behaving just like my little one. Lavished with love and gifts and opportunities, but still wishing for what I don’t have.
My heart hurts for the hurt I brought on my Father. He’s opened my eyes to the fact that we most often compare our worst to someone else’s best. It’s unfair to both parties. It impairs the relationship…with my friends, and with my God.
I’m a work in progress, for sure. I’m thankful for that “aha!” moment, and am praying that the thousands of blessings He offers daily will not be overshadowed by what I don’t have, but rather, appreciated more because He chose them just for me.

*All names have been changed. 🙂

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Bubble Wrap or Bandaid?

I have a dear friend who’s youngest recently experienced a softball injury. After we lamented with her about the broken nose, the scary trip to the ER, and the mommy-heart-hurt, she commented that she’d like to wrap her in bubble wrap to prevent any further hurts.

Wow. I’ve been feeling like that concerning my kiddos, too.

Only, it hasn’t been because of an errant softball, or a bicycle crash, or a playground booboo.

It’s been because of mean words and hurtful actions.

My youngest is in elementary school. We talked about “her bully” every single day this year. Conversations centered around how to deflect mean words, how to interpret glances, how to redirect gossip, how to deal with being talked about or left out.

Honestly? My mommy-heart wanted to shake down the little bully and fight for my child.

Then, there’s my teenager. She’s experienced the sorrow that comes from spiteful words. I remember how hurtful the jr high hallways can be; I still remember being called a dog, hearing that no one would ever love me, that I was a goody-goody, nerd, preacher’s kid – RUN!!! When I heard that she was dealing with much of the same thing, I ached for her and wanted to do whatever I could to help her. I wanted to cancel Instagram and Ask.fm, and protect her from anymore darts and flaming arrows.

I wanted to wrap both of my girls in bubble wrap and keep them away from any more mean people or hurtful situations or opportunities for ugliness.

But, that’s not really what’s best for them, is it? My level-headed husband reminded me that working through these situations is what develops their character. It’s our job to guide them in how they handle it – not hide them away from everything.

And, when I think about it, I know that my trials and valleys are what God’s used to shape me, grow me, and stretch me into a deeper relationship with Him. If I bubble wrap my kids to protect them from the world’s meanness, I’ll hinder those growth opportunities with air-filled-plastic. Is that true living?

So, I’m praying for wisdom in applying bandaids. Not the kind that you put on a boo-boo and hope the kid doesn’t remember that he/she had a scrape. But, the kind that holds healing ointment that will soothe and speed up healing while covering the scrape and protecting it from unnecessary re-injury.

As my girls develop the art of asking God for help and looking to Him for confidence and acceptance, their need for bubble wrap will diminish. They’ve both already taught me much as they’ve responded to hurt. My youngest told me that even bullies need to be loved. My oldest reminded me that she gets her worth from God, not from what other people say. My heart cries with them and rejoices at the same time. What wondrous gifts God has given.

They don’t need to be bubble wrapped – they are wrapped in God’s arms.

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Just trying to fit in.

Just trying to fit in..

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Just trying to fit in.

I saw a lot of interesting people yesterday. We were at a water park. Yep – if you’ve been to a large water park, you know that it is an amazing family place to visit. Seriously…who can beat all-you-can-drink fountain drinks? We laughed, screamed, sweated, climbed steps, carried inner-tubes, gripped hand rails, and deepened relationships with our small group and family. AND, we saw a LOT of interesting people. I can honestly say I saw more cleavage, tattoos and too-small-swimsuits than I wanted to see. Nothing’s wrong with cleavage – ahem, I kind of wish I had some… (Did I just say that out loud?) Tattoos – I think it’s personal preference. And, there is a proper place and time for a swimsuit that doesn’t cover much. (I’m thinking Honeymoon?)

But, my eyes (and the eyes of my kiddos and hubby) saw more than we needed to see yesterday. I didn’t comment much during the day. I was mostly focused on keeping the conversation and the gazes focused elsewhere. But, once we collapsed in our seats on the way home, I asked my closest friends what they thought about some of the more interesting people we’d witnessed. We laughed about some of the body art we saw, we questioned the necessity of showing so much of one’s body in public. And, then the Holy Spirit began to deal with me in the quietness following our conversation.

I don’t think our conversation was meant to belittle or mock…we just honestly had to laugh – and question…maybe as a way to process. But, the more we spoke, the more I heard God’s quiet voice reminding me that each individual is created in His image…made to know Him…made to reflect Him…and each is searching for joy and fulfillment in a broken and fallen world.

Ouch.

Just like me.

Ouch again.

Don’t I do the same things to try to fit in? Or stand out? Or convince someone I’m important or special? Haven’t I dressed in a way to catch the eye of someone? Or to melt into the background and not be noticed? Haven’t I purchased, processed, and promised in order to feel pretty and pursued and popular? Haven’t I tattooed things on my heart that don’t belong? Haven’t I shown parts of myself that don’t reflect Jesus?

Because I’ve grown up and stayed involved in the local church, my tattoos look more like badges – how many ways can I serve? My desire to fit in is still just that…a desire to fit in. I want to be accepted. I want to be pursued and enjoyed. I want to be sought after and seen as intelligent. Those are some of the things that I’ve often convinced myself will give me significance.

Isn’t this the exact same thing I witnessed in the myriads of people at the water park? We choose different methods and techniques, but we’re all searching for significance in a broken world. It may seem to come to some through the addition of body art or piercings. It may seem to have arrived for some when that special someone pursues them. Some think they’ve found significance in success or riches or stature in business. We’re the same.

Broken. Searching. Loved. Cherished. Treasured. God’s handiwork.

Thank you, Holy Spirit, for reminding me and redirecting me. May I daily recognize my own shortcomings and give grace to those around me who are walking the same path.

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Am I a failure?

I don’t daf5bnce at weddings…I’d be too embarrassed that someone would notice my total lack of moves.  I don’t work out at a gym…someone might notice my jiggling jiggles.  I don’t volunteer in the preschool area at church…because I know it would not be a happy experience for anyone involved.  All of these prove one thing…I don’t want people to see me failing.  But, as much as I have tried to keep my shortcomings from being noticed, people have still caught on.

One of my favorite conversations happened a few years ago when a woman who attended my church came as a guest to a business function I was leading.  Afterward, she approached me and said, “I’m so glad I came tonight.  I always watched you at church, and you seemed to have it all together.  Now I know you really don’t!”  I laughed with her and wondered if that was a compliment or an insult..but I took it as a gift.  She was happy to know that I didn’t have everything lined up perfectly.

In spite of my precautions, I’ve failed.  A lot.  Loads of times. Big.  In view of others.  In front of my kids.

I failed so big and so often for what seemed like such a long time that God finally got my attention and I began listening to His direction and His desires instead of my own.

And, you know what I found?  Peace. 

Not fear.

We’ve talked about fear a lot in my circle of friends lately.  Last week’s sermon was on fear.  Our small group study focused on fear.  When asked to name our biggest fear, most of us mentioned fear of failing at something.  Failing at our job, relationships, “success.”  We often find ourselves living in “go-mode” at a breakneck pace in order to keep from losing, falling, failing.  What happens if we fail?  What next?

But, God has given me a gift post-failure.  He’s given me courage and confidence.

What?  Yep.

Because, here’s the deal:  If you fail often enough  – and run to Him in your pain, – you may begin to discover that your worth and identity don’t really depend on what you achieve.

This all became clear to me last month when I tackled a pretty big project at my job.  My colleague kept praising me for my willingness to tackle something so big during my first year – especially when there was no guarantee of success.  I thought for a moment, and was able to honestly reply, “Well, I’ve failed at enough things that I am not afraid to do something new and and potentially fail.  I know that I will be able to learn from it and improve.  And, my identity and worth will not be wrapped up in the outcome of that project.”

God amazes me.  2 Timothy 1:7 reminds us that “God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self discipline.”  I John tells us that “perfect love drives out fear.” Failing has made me more aware of His blessings, His movement, and His generosity.  And, knowing He’s carrying me and leading me gives me the courage and strength to step forward…

…and who knows?  Maybe I’ll even dance in public…

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