A One Take Wonder

imagesMy last birthday was a total bust. My gift was fever, shakes, pukes, body aches and diarrhea at 30,000 feet in the air on a transatlantic flight from hell. Barfing into an airplane toilet takes “gross” to a whole new level…

The next three days were a blur where reality and dreams blended like a thick cloud hovering over my sweaty sheets. I felt incredibly sorry for myself and my poor family could do nothing right and it didn’t seem like they were doing enough to save my life (which, to me, was clearly hanging in the balance…)

My sweet daughter came up with a brilliant idea to try and make amends: she bought our family tickets to a Ben Rector concert hoping to redeem the birthday that had gone down the toilet (pun intended).

After waiting in line for two hours at the concert venue, we were finally able to race to our “spots” on the floor and landed a coveted position in the “second row” (if there IS such a thing as rows in a mosh-pit). This was a standing-up kind of concert where old people like me should have known better and paid the extra hundred bucks for a seat. But I wanted to be cool like my daughters and all the other millennials so I insisted I’d have no problem standing up for 7 hours straight and wouldn’t be bothered in the least to have multiple 20-year old drunk guys rubbing up against me.

Rather than bury my head in my phone while we waited (like the millennials), I chose to people watch. I got an interesting little life lesson from the two girls in front of us. After all, we were so close I could have licked their necks if I’d wanted to. So you can’t really call it eavesdropping, I just wasn’t closing my ears.

The girls began their wait by taking a selfie. I get it. That’s what we all do in these GRAND situations – we let the world know how GRAND our life is. We did it, too. Of course I wanted all my middle-aged friends to see how cool I was – at a Ben Rector concert – standing-freakin’-up –surrounded by drunk millennials!!!
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But the two girls encroaching my personal space didn’t take just ONE selfie, they took at least 50. No joke. They took one from every angle, then switched p, then fixed their hair and took some more, then took their cool flannel shirts off and tied them around their waists and took some more.

 

What happened next is the part I’ll never forget: the editing.

 

With their new phones and latest apps, they whitened their teeth, trimmed their inner-thighs and lightened their hair. They brightened the yellow in their shirts and softened the grey. They smoothed down the fly-aways in their hair and made their skin look silky. One said their teeth looked unnaturally white, so they dialed that back a little. Then they switched it back again. On and on and on this went – perfecting perfection. Believe me – I had nothing else to do but watch the two of them as I waited for my man, Ben.

And it all made me long for the days when we put ACTUAL FILM in our cameras and simply took ONE PICTURE in a grand situation and then prayed that when we brought the film to the local Walgreens to be developed we wouldn’t all have our heads cut off or red-devil eyes.

I think by now everyone knows that social media can’t be trusted. It’s actually quite a lie, isn’t it? The carefully curated images and the subtly blissful-nuanced stories we share on social media – simply because we can edit – are not the true us. When we only post a picture that took us 50 tries to get a “good one” and only post the content that makes us look thin, rich, fun, smart, courageous, exploring, and ridiculously busy, then we’re not sharing the REAL us.

 

You know it. I know it.

 

But we all keep doing it anyway. It’s a serious cultural problem and it’s filling up my psych hospital with all kinds of people feeling “less-than” and suicidal.

And I don’t think anyone really knows what to do about it.

If an old school film-camera took a snap-shot of our lives I’m betting it would look more like a morning fight with the spouse over the credit card bill, a child getting a detention for forgetting her French horn for the twelfth time, sitting with a loved one receiving chemo at the cancer center, a broken washing machine during a season with three kids in sports, a friend who’s drifting away, family feuds over where your mother with dementia should live, or burning dinner for the fifth night in a row.

So why don’t we see or hear more of these stories?

When we edit every part of our lives to be lovely and perfect – even if it is primarily to impress others – it feels like real life is no longer allowed to exist. Those of us stuck in “real life” soon feel like failures.

I’m not suggesting bearing our souls on social media is going to fix this, but I do believe that more often than not, it IS okay to share your burdens with a few TRUSTED souls. Not only is it okay, I believe it’s necessary. Maybe we NEED to hear that our kids aren’t the only ones who are bullied. Maybe I NEED to see your chunky inner thighs. Maybe you NEED to see that I burn dinner almost every night.

Paul and I once left a church we loved dearly because it felt like we were the only ones in the whole congregation who messed up the gift of sex. We felt so isolated in our pain. We had confessed and been forgiven by both God and each other, but we never dared to share our story at church – it just seemed like no one there could have possibly understood. They all seemed so perfect. No one ever talked about issues or problems at that church, so our (wrong) assumption was they didn’t have any.

Maybe, as much as anything, we need to feel safe to share when we’ve screwed up. Maybe, if we knew our messes would be met with the knowing nod of our friends and neighbors saying to us, “Yes, my dear, I hear you and I see you. And just like God, I forgive you, too. Let it go and let me share with you my own broken story, my dear…” maybe then we’d be more likely to share.

 

Because in real life, you don’t get to edit.

In real life, you only get one take.

Six Critical Life Lessons Learned from a Hacker

I was furiously typing away – hoping to complete another chapter of my book in the two hours I’d managed to wrangle free. Suddenly, a warning popped up on my screen, “CAUTION! You have a virus attacking your computer! Stop immediately and call Apple: 555-5555” (the title of this blog should let you know why I’m not sharing the actual number…)

I’ve heard of these scams. I wasn’t born yesterday or over fifty years ago (okay – a tiny white lie with that one…). But I did know enough to be skeptical. I tried to exit out of the pop-up. No luck – it wouldn’t close. I tried to close all my windows and the Apple wheel of death appeared refusing to budge. So I decided to just shut my computer down (my go-to solution for techy issues). But the computer had totally froze and when I hit the off key it started screaming at me – an unearthly, loud and high-pitched alarm. I frantically tried to stop it by pushing every key on the keypad. Nothing. Totally frozen keyboard and a shrieking computer that hurt my ears.

It felt like satan himself was communicating to me from my computer. (Hmmm…. Now there’s a thought!)

I asked my daughter to quickly access her own device and ask Google if this was a legitimate warning and if I should call the “Rescue” number flashing across my screen. Google isn’t so smart after all: the first thing to appear in her search was an affirmative – Yes, indeed, sometimes Apple will alert you to viruses that are attacking in real time.

So I hurriedly called the number and talked to Rashid. (I know, I know. I know what you’re thinking… the fact that Rashid could barely speak English should have, possibly, been my first clue….) But at first, Rashid was super sweet and helpful. He calmly walked me through the steps necessary to stop the screaming alarm. Then he explained a few more steps that would allow him to interface with my computer, which, he said, was necessary to diagnose the problem. I watched, helplessly, as he navigated the cursor on my screen and moved quickly in and out of windows and in and out of my settings. Then he confirmed my computer had, indeed, been attacked by a wicked virus. The very worst, he said. He pulled up graphs on my screen depicting the damage and just how much of my data had been infiltrated. He said to remove all the infectious material would take about 24 hours and all I had to do was pay $79 and he would fix the whole darn thing.

What a doll, that Rachid.

I may look old and stupid, but I tell you what, once in a while, when the thing is wretchedly stinky, I’m able to smell a rat.

I hung up on Rachid as fast as you can say “India” and slammed my computer shut. I set it in the corner like a bad child and didn’t open it again for 24 hours. The truly honest and genius boy-child at my local computer store fixed everything the next morning in mere minutes. He felt pity for such an old, helpless lady like me to be taken so badly by a hacker that he didn’t even charge me for his services.

Once I calmed down from the debacle, I realized I was actually thankful for everything I learned from Rachid:

1.  We are not in control of squat. As I watched Rachid guiding my cursor all over the screen and clicking away to “convince” me of my desperate need of his services, I felt incredibly helpless. I didn’t know if I should trust him or not – all I knew is this: “I have no control anymore.” It reminded me of how often that is true in life. We want to believe we can control things – but when our child rebels and runs away from home, or our best friend betrays our trust, or we lose our job, or we get the “cancer” call, or we lay our parents down for their eternal rest, or we find out we have a stupid lung disease that’s robbing us of steady breathing and a long life – well, all those moments serve to remind us that we don’t control SQUAT. We are wasting our time and energy trying to control that which we were never meant to have reign over.

2.  Satan is real. A while ago a well-meaning friend told me I look for satan under every bush. She was suggesting that perhaps I give the enemy of our souls more credence than I should. I don’t know, maybe I do. Sometimes I think I just watched too many horror movies in junior high…

But what I know for sure is this: That old Liar roams to and fro looking for ways to steal our joy and wreck our faith in Christ – but the sooner we recognize his schemes the sooner we can put a stop to it! Don’t be afraid to ascribe evil to he who authors it!

3.  We never make good decisions when in the midst of a crisis. When we find ourselves in a crisis, we need to, if possible, BACK AWAY! Give the thing time to simmer down. We need to give ourselves some space to slow our breathing, gain composure, pray, and THEN process the crisis thoughtfully. Only then can we gingerly step forward into finding a solution.

4.  Real, authentic, caring help truly does exist in this world. Go seek it.

5.  Never think too highly of yourself. I was devastated thinking that while Rachid had access to my computer for those 24 hours he was probably reading and stealing all of my information on my computer. My wise, gentle hubby had to (carefully) remind me that I’m not THAT special. We don’t work for the government, we’re not made of millions, and we’re not famous – so what could a hacker really “steal” from my computer that would matter? A blog on how we renovated a crack house??? The little circular I wrote on how to deal with menopause??? The poem I wrote for my dying dad??? Did I really think some hacker from India would steal my Christian memoir book and somehow get publishers to do what I have been unable to do and publish my book under his pseudonym??? Rachid becomes Rachelle and suddenly he is the next Anne Lamott???

 I had to admit, Paul had a point…

6.  If you have nothing to hide, it doesn’t matter who looks at your stuff. Without a single incriminating photo, without essays bashing high-profile people, without massive wealth, and without anything to share except the gospel of Jesus Christ, I should have had NO FEAR of someone stealing my content. In fact, I should have HOPED they would!

My prayer for us today is to not fear the hacker – or anything or anyone set on destroying us. May we be a people unafraid or unashamed of someone looking at our computer content or our browsing history. May we recognize those who are bent on causing pain, hurt and chaos in our lives and STEP AWAY from them whenever possible. And may we not think so much of ourselves or our work that our computer carries more importance than it should.

And may we never forget that when a TRUE crisis arises (and they will, brothers and sisters, they ALWAYS do….) help is only a shout away:

“Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.” Psalm 61:1-8

 

On Dying Slowly

IMG_4907.jpgOne of the lowest, crappiest things well-intentioned people say to you when they find out you have a terminal illness is this: “Well, you know, we’re all dying really.”

Of course we are. Nobody believes these bodies will last forever. But sometimes it just stinks to be me because someone gave me a TIME LINE. I feel like I have an expiration date written on my forehead of which healthy people know nothing about. When we’re healthy (I still remember those days fondly) we don’t really think about dying. In fact, we live as if we’re immortal. While disease free, I’m not sure it’s even possible to wrap our minds around the fact that someday IT will happen to ME…

At least I didn’t. I was living like I’d live forever. Eating shit. Wasting time. Worrying about stupid stuff. Having petty fights. Chasing things. Praying only when life got hard.

These were all things I was going to work on, “Someday”.

“Someday” came crashing down hard on me when “Someone” gave me that lifetime-timeline with an “approximate” end-date. Of course, no one knows EXACTLY when that end-date will be. But, more than likely, my life will be truncated dramatically by this stupid disease.

 

HOWEVER….

 

(In any story worth telling, there should always be a big HOWEVER, right?)

HOWEVER…. With only a few years since my diagnosis and the subsequent slowing down of my life, I’ve learned about a million new things that I wouldn’t have known otherwise.

 

1) Dying slowly provides opportunities to do some life editing.

When people die suddenly (at least those who are past their prime) we humans like to console one another and say stupid stuff like: “Well, at least he didn’t have to suffer”, or “What a wonderful way to go –one moment on earth, the next moment with Jesus.”

I get why they say that stuff. Truth is, no one knows what to say to the dying or the grieving. We all just clamor for a few words and they always come out sounding stupid.

What I do know from my own experience is that when you find out your life may be cut short by an illness, but not immediately, you are left with a lot of time to think.

Some people, upon learning their days are numbered, might run out and get busy, busy, busy – doing all the things they’ve always wanted to do and seeing all the people they’ve ever known. Not me. I’ve SLOWED way down. I’m sleeping more (a holy activity, if you ask me), I’m praying more, watching nature more, sitting quietly on my porch and just thinking more, and doing LESS of the things that people generally ascribe importance to in their lives: work, entertainment, social engagements, etc.

Some days, every breath feels so incredibly holy that I just want to sit in silence and savor it. I want to thank God for every inhale and exhale and I don’t want to miss that opportunity by being busy. Dying has put God right in my face and being busy makes me feel like a shmuck because I can so easily ignore Him.

And so I think God gave me the opportunity to die slowly in order to ditch some baggage and edit my life down to a quieter, slower, better version of myself.

 

2) Dying slowly gave me new eyes to see things I’d previously overlook.

The tree outside my office window (the reclaimed crack-room) had small buds for leaves one day, and on the VERY NEXT DAY they grew an INCH! Yes, I measured!!! An INCH, my friends, in less than 24 hours!!! Do not tell me there is no God.

Squirrels can actually mate on the run. It’s true. I watch them do it on the regular from my little crack-room-office.

Whenever Yulisa is excited or has exciting news to share with me her right eyebrow pops up just a little higher than her left one. If her emotion is better described as happiness, then her eyebrows stay even.

There is a very disheveled man who meanders through the parking ramp of my downtown market every Tuesday and begs people for money. Only on Tuesdays. And he smells like homelessness and his shoes have holes in them. The first time I stopped, looked him in the eye, and told him I’d buy him some bread and apples, he looked directly back and me and said, “Thank-you. And Thank-you for noticing me.”

 

3) Dying slowly gives you time to say all the things you’ve meant to say, or should have said, or simply haven’t said well in the past, to all the people you love the most. 

I’ve got some work to do on this yet – but I’m glad I still have more time to do it. I’ve tried to reach out to all the people I knew I had hurt or at least fell short on my end of the relationship responsibilities and I’ve asked for forgiveness. I know there’s more out there, and I hope I can talk to them all eventually.

My sister Heidi had 13 months from diagnosis ‘til heaven – and she was very sick and battling fiercely the entire time. She was robbed of the chance to leave much of a written “love letter” for her family regarding their futures. I’m still mad at God for that. So I’m trying to write down all the things I’d most likely say to my kids when I’m in my 60’s, 70’s, 80’s – just in case I don’t see those decades. I also want to address my future sons-in-law and future grandchildren in case I never get to meet them.

 

 

I think if I spent a little more time on my porch quietly thinking I could expand this list to at least 25 things – because OF COURSE there are more than THREE things that dying slowly has taught me. But they say blogs should never be more than 1000 words…. Whoever “they” are must know that you, the reader, are losing interest right about now….

I’ll just say this: Dying sucks always. Dying immediately like my cousin Zac at 23 in a tragic car accident, or my friend’s father by heart attack, or the lady down the street who’s husband passed in his sleep leaving her with 10 kids – those situations suck WAY worse than mine. I have found some solace in dying slowly and I’m trying to make the most of it. 

Do not feel sorry for me. But instead, thank God for all the ways He uses evil in this world to draw others toward HIM!!! I am.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is it possible that snow in April, stupid lung diseases, and other atrocities could be good for us?

IMG_3843.jpgWe lived in the most glorious, sunny, mountainous and palm-treed locations both times that we lived abroad. Aix-en-Provence, France and Casablanca, Morocco are two dreamy places to have once been called “home”.

While living abroad, we met people from all over the states, as well as from around the world. Then we all moved on and returned to our “homeland” which means we now have friends scattered around the globe.

Visiting some of our friends in Southern California for the first time changed everything for me and my “Best Places In the World to Live” list. To be honest, my first thought when I encountered the beauty of southern California was not that I wished to live there, but one of feeling sorry for my Californian friends. Let me explain:

To me, the south of France and Morocco were these magical, breathtakingly beautiful holy sites where God revealed Himself to me. I cried the first time I saw the French Alps, the Mediterranean Sea, the palm-tree lined streets of Casablanca, and the Sahara Desert (to be fair, I do cry a lot…) Every time I encountered new beauty my Michigan-eyes had never known, I was left speechless, breathless, and entered a holy state of worship for a God who could (and would) create such beauty. My Michigan-eyes had beheld a LOT of glorious things in our mitten state, but just nothing like mountains, ocean, desert, palm trees, oh – and that elusive SUNSHINE!!! (Today, on April 11, it snowed in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Need I say more???)

So when on my inaugural trip to California I discovered identical beauty – mountains, ocean, desert, palm trees, sunshine (which can all be seen AT THE SAME TIME, for heavens sake!) – I realized that there was NO WAY my Californian friends could have felt the same depth, love, and appreciation that I did while we all lived in France and Morocco. There is no way that they woke up every day and said, “Lord have mercy! Another sunny day!” (as I did). There is no way they took endless pictures of palm trees (as I did). There is no way they walked the beaches every day and said, “God in heaven, help me to carry this moment with me forever – even into the polar vortex that is bound to hit in the middle of my future Michigan winters” (as I did).

I was CAPTIVATED by the weather and the landscape of those two countries – but only because I come from a backdrop of cold, snowy, and relatively flat Michigan. My California friends who also lived in France and Morocco with us must have greeted each new day with “Just another day in paradise.”

And that difference in our two experiences is such a CRUCIAL thing for us to remember when life gets hard, ugly, disappointing or blizzard-y.

A light shines brighter against a backdrop of darkness.

Comfort is only as comfortable to the degree of discomfort it relieves.

Joy is only as joyful as the sorrow from which it rescues.

Pain relief is only helpful to the degree of suffering it relieves.

God is only as good as to the depth of which we recognize our sin and need of a Savior.

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When we meet people who (seem) to come from a very “charmed” life – who basically seem to escape all suffering in this life (they are smart, rich, thin, never struggled with teenage acne, their kids all make good choices, no cancer, disease, or disorders, no bad hair days, and their dog never poops on the living room rug… Kind of like the sun is always shining in their lives. You know the type…) well, it is tempting for us to wish we were them. It seems like THAT would be the life we all want and should strive (pray) for.

But I wonder…. I wonder if we’d be missing out on some very important things God wants to show us if our lives were void of the pain, the messy, the heartache (the snow?) I wonder if there are actually parts of GOD we would not know if we never knew pain, suffering, hurt and loss.

Why are we given so many different names for God if we’d never need them? If we all pursued and achieved the “charmed” life without any pain and suffering, certainly there are attributes of God we would never know.

 

How can we know God as our DELIVERER if we’re never in a horrible place from which we need delivering?

How can we know God as our COMFORTER if we’ve never been uncomfortable?

How can we know God as our HEALER and GREAT PHYSICIAN if we’ve never known illness or disease or suffered emotional/spiritual brokenness?

How can we know God as our PROVIDER if we’ve never ached for provision?

How can we know our God, the PRINCE OF PEACE if we’ve spent our whole lives avoiding conflict, running from adversity, never challenged?

How can we know our God, the SANCTUARY, if we’ve never been in a place of needing protection?

How can we know God as a REFUGE FROM THE STORM if our lives are always “sunny”?

How can we know God as the BREATH OF LIFE if we never recognize our desperate need for Him in ALL things?

How can we know God as our SHEPHERD if we never see ourselves as lowly sheep?

 

I’m not in any way suggesting we shouldn’t live in California! Nor am I saying God gives suffering – I believe HE IS PERFECT and would never author pain, loss, and suffering. But I do believe, with all my heart, that through the suffering we discover a God we hadn’t previously known – and we come to experience Him and love Him more fully, deeper and truer.

And, after all, isn’t that what He wants most from us???

 

 

The Tale of Two Porches

The Impressive White Wrap-Around Porch:

I was thrilled when I was dreamed into life. Every component of the home knows there are two of us that carry the most weight and significance: the kitchen table – where our people gather to share, grow, and learn to love; and the front porch – where our people interact and love on the world around them.

Being an exceptionally beautiful, deep, wrap-around porch, I had some serious expectations from my family. Since they had four children, I envisioned them using me for playing games on summer evenings, for catching fireflies, for playing guitar and singing songs, and rocking their babies to sleep on my rocking chairs. But they never did any of those things.

The Mrs. decorated me for every season and for every holiday. I was a stunner. She spared no expense. I didn’t mind – but it’s not what I was made for. It was like being all dressed up with nowhere to go. With each passing year, I hoped the family would slow down enough to enjoy me. I hoped they would see how vital it is to be out in the front of the home, to wave to cars passing by, to chat with the neighbors, and to just sit for a spell and enjoy each other. But they never did.

My Mr. and Mrs. were busy people. Their cars flew up and down the driveway many, many times a day. I never understood what they were so busy chasing, but they were chasing something for sure. I thought the kids looked tired, but Mr. and Mrs. kept a fast pace nevertheless. I never knew where the kids were much of the time – but I often saw the Mr. and Mrs. working hard in their yard. They mowed that huge lawn every few days – hours and hours and hours of mowing. They were always vacuuming the pool, tending the landscaping, washing cars, waxing the boat, etc. The kids had four-wheelers, bikes, golf carts, motorcycles – basically anything they asked for. But to me, it just seemed like the more things they bought, the more they had to take care of and the less time they had to relax and enjoy me. I thought they’d eventually exhaust themselves and sit on my rockers for a moment with a cold lemonade or beer. But they never did.

My owners lived in my big white house for nine years and I don’t ever remember them enjoying my beautiful view and just relaxing with me. Not ever. Not once.

One day, an old college friend stopped by to see my Mr. and Mrs. Immediately upon exiting his car, he condescendingly said, “Wow, now that’s an impressive home!” The Mrs., completely oblivious to his patronizing tone, said, “It is pretty, isn’t it?”

Suddenly I knew. She didn’t get it. She never did. The Mrs. never wanted a big wrap-around porch like me for the vital role I’m supposed to play in the home. She wanted me because I’d be impressive. That, I suppose, I did fairly well, too.

 

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The Old Rickety Porch:

I am over a hundred years old and I am tired. I am sagging on one end and many of the brick pavers of my floor are missing. The siding around my front door is peeled back and flaps in the wind. But I do not care about any of that and I will not complain – because I am a porch and I am doing the thing I was created for! I am the bridge between the inside of the home and the world outside. My owners LOVE to spend time out on their porch rockers and watch the world – the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic world of the west side of Grand Rapids. It’s like they’ve never had a porch before – they can’t get enough of me! Even though they’re incredibly busy with careers and kids and aging parents and sickness and death, they come out here almost every evening, weather permitting.

Being a porch, I am privy to many interesting conversations. My Mr. and Mrs. have chatted out here with people from all over the world, discussing everything from immigration to gun violence to Jesus to the best wine. They must have lived in different countries, too, because they also talk about how stubborn they must be that in order to truly understand that people are more important than things God had to yank them half-way around the globe. They talk about how they used to live compared to how they live now and how they’ll never go back, even though they could easily afford it. I’ve overheard their remorseful accounts of all the years they wasted mowing lawns, vacuuming pools, washing cars and cleaning boats. I don’t know what they’re talking about – because they don’t do any of those things now.

Their kids – the marrieds and the singles – love to hang out with me, too. Sometimes, they’ll all reminisce about the “old days” when they had a great big wrap-around porch they never used. They’re able to laugh about it now. I’ve heard the Mr. and Mrs. thank God that their kids didn’t give up on them. I’ve heard them say how grateful they are to have learned before it was too late that spending time with their kids was more important than giving them stuff.

As soon as the snow disappeared, my Mr. and Mrs. were back out on my rocking chairs. Some evenings, the laughter from the high-spirited rugby game in the park across the street beckons them outside (even though they clearly cannot figure out rugby rules to save their lives). They love to talk to ALL the passersby – to pet the dogs, talk to the babies in strollers, or just offer a friendly “Hello – Have a great day!” They’ve befriended the college kids up the street, the older, slower gentleman who collects empty pop cans so he can buy Legos, the politician on the corner, and the homeless guy on his bike. They love to sit out here and talk to other neighbors sitting out on their porches; and because our homes are so close, it’s like we’re one big block-long porch anyway.

I’m thankful my Mr. and Mrs. get it. They understand the two most important parts of any home are the table for gathering the family to teach it how to grow in love; and the front porch, where the family extends that love to the world.

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