Challenge, Encouragement, History, Identity

How Do You Handle Failure?

Harland was five years old when his father passed away. When he reached the ripe old age of 14, Harland dropped out of school. He was first a farmhand, then a streetcar conductor but fired from both jobs. He lied about his age and joined the army at 16. Being pushed out of military service early he moved to Alabama and attempted blacksmithing.*

This job didn’t last either and he landed a position of locomotive fireman. Harland fell in love, married and the day he lost this job his wife announced her pregnancy. In fear of the future, his wife left him and returned home to her parents. 

The Great Depression hit and Harland decided to study law. He was licensed and soon thereafter lost his cool, got into a fist fight with his client in the courtroom and was chased from that career. He then was managing a gas station but lost that job when he decided to shoot his competitor while arguing over a sign.

Finding himself in Corbin, Kentucky, he landed a job as chief cook and bottle washer. He found success there but the plan for a new highway bypassing the town caused him to sell the restaurant for a small portion of its actual worth. Now at age 65 he was once again starting over.

Harland signed up for Social Security and his first check arrived. It was a grand total of $105.00. Having failed or struggled most of his life, he took that check and deposited it into the bank. He would eventually start a new venture with his savings.

The new adventure caused Harland to have one of the most successful food chains in U.S. history. You remember this man by the name Colonel Harland Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken. That idea started with $105.00 and became so “finger lickin’ good” that today there are 20,000 restaurants in 125 countries generating over $23 billion.

Is there failure beyond having hope? Have you ever felt like giving in and giving up? Honestly, no failure is a final failure. Maybe it’s finding out what doesn’t work or perhaps it’s a lesson toward the next venture. Never give up; never quit! Harland didn’t.

*Adapted from the book Amazing Stories

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Challenge, Children, Encouragement, Issues of the Day, Leadership, Small Groups

Choosing Obedience

Maggie is a fornicator. And yet, she has never been acquainted with sin. Some tell me she is not really responsible for her actions. After all, I am told, “It’s only natural.” It is a funny thing, though. She does not even claim to be a victim—a victim of her parents, her younger years, her friends, her boyfriend, her family, her environment, or any of the cards that have been dealt to her in this life. I have never heard her blame anyone for what happened. In fact, I have never heard her blame anyone for anything that has come her way in the last 56 years. 

Maggie was our 8-year-old yellow Labrador retriever (that’s 56 people years)! While my friends have encouraged me that Maggie was just being a dog, I am not convinced. Since six weeks of age, she has resided with our family. She has been trained to not stray into the neighboring yards. No matter how many children are playing and having a riotous time down the street, she knows it is “off limits” for her. Maggie was given boundaries to follow. She chose not to follow those boundaries. The lure of playful attention was too much for her—she chose to cross the line.

When I set a limit for one of my children, it was because I loved him or her and had their best interests in mind. Does God set limits for us because He desires to control us or because He loves us? His love for us is not in question; our love for Him is what is in question. Do you love Him enough to obey Him or, when the limit is “uncomfortable” for you, do you desire to rewrite the already written Word of God? This is the most crucial issue when dealing with obedience.

In today’s world, the scripture, “I am the Lord, I change not” is viewed more like, “I am an understanding, benevolent, vacillating God who may or may not be upset with you and your sin.” Has God lowered His standards because His creation cannot maintain a standard of holiness? 

One goal of a healthy, mature Christian is to obey God readily on the outside while our hearts are resting in a trust of God’s concern for our welfare on the inside. Our love for God, as well as knowing God’s love for us, draws us to obedience. That is our motivational factor. However, there are some negative forces motivating us to obey God.

Unhealthy fear: Fear is a great motivator, for sure. But our God chooses to motivate out of love. I do not walk in an unhealthy fear of my heavenly Father because I know His unconditional love. Fear of punishment is an inappropriate reason for obeying God. 

The difference between a healthy fear and an unhealthy fear is clear. A healthy fear recognizes God’s love for us and is life-giving. “The fear of the Lord leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble” (Proverbs 19:23). An unhealthy fear is connected to punishment. While we may deserve God’s wrath and punishment for our sin, He placed it upon our crucified Savior. (See Romans 5:6-11.) 

Legalistic rules and regulation: We choose to obey God out of having a healthy relationship with God and not because He maintains a little black book. In the midst of the regulations of the Old Testament, it was Samuel who told King Saul, “Obedience is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22). Sacrifice came out of regulation; obedience comes out of love. Obedience is doing all God wants me to do, while sacrifice is doing what I want to do for God in my way. Paul stated it so succinctly when he wrote about the law and obedience in Romans 2:13, “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.”

To earn favor from God: We don’t fool God. After all, He knows our hearts. He knows what we’re really thinking. He is not a politician running for office. He doesn’t care if you vote for Him or not. He is Grace. You do not need to somehow get into His “good grace.” You may fool some people with whom you relate, but you’ll never fake out God. You cannot earn God’s favor. You already have God’s favor, if you are a believer. We cannot earn something that has already been given to us!

There was an unnamed woman in Luke eleven who blurted out some words about Jesus when He was teaching one day. She said of Him, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you” (verse 27). Was this a reason to follow and obey the Savior? Jesus’ response was interesting: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (verse 28). 

Obedience is connected to love. How do I know my children truly love me? It is by their obedience to me. How does God know we truly love Him? It is by our obedience to Him. 

This is love for God: to obey his commands (1 John 5:3). And this is love that we walk in obedience to his commands (2 John 6). If you love me [Jesus said], you will obey what I command (John 14:15). Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me (John 14:21). 

Note: The above was adapted from the book, In Pursuit of Obedience, by Steve Prokopchak and can be ordered at this link: https://www.amazon.com/Pursuit-Obedience-Deepening-Love-Through/dp/1886973644/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=the+pursuit+of+obedience+prokopchak&qid=1634649430&qsid=140-0506088-5706866&sr=8-1&sres=1886973644&srpt=ABIS_BOOK

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Challenge, Encouragement, History, Issues of the Day

Sigmund Missed It When It Came to Faith

Sigmund Freud is said to have detested people, but longed to be seen as some sort of savior to mankind. He was born into a Jewish family, but ceased to believe in God very early in his life. He went as far as to say that religion was a “neurosis,” a “poison,” an “illusion.” He pushed a new religion he called “the religion of science” and said that an intelligent “scientific” person would toss religious faith.

Based on no evidence he stated that children were sexual beings from birth. He worked hard to separate sex from love and promoted sex as nothing but the union of the reproductive organs. 

While he did a great deal of harm to faith, he could never destroy it. The real poison was his toxic beliefs spread to his generation and infecting generations to follow. Today, most know him as a cocaine addicted person obsessed with his own sexuality.

The Pew Research Center published their findings about “religious people” around the world and their happiness. Some of those findings are written about in a January 2019 article by Joey Marshall. Pew’s research discovered several important findings:

  1. Actively religious people are more likely to describe themselves as “very happy” compared to the less-religious.
  2. The actively religious are less likely to smoke and drink, creating a higher level of health.
  3. Religious people are more than likely to join other organizations like charities and clubs, even if the organizations are non-religious.
  4. Religious persons are more likely to vote, caring about their civic duty.

Pew’s analysis over all was that, “People who are active in religious congregations tend to be happier and more civically engaged than either religiously unaffiliated adults or inactive members of religious groups…” Sigmund missed it by a mile on that account.

For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.

God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’  (Acts 17:23-28)

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Challenge, Encouragement, Healing, Insecurity, Issues of the Day, Leadership, Marriage, Men, Postmarital, Premarital, Women

Help! I’m Married to Someone Who is Opposite of Me!

Do you see yourself as different or opposite from your spouse? Welcome to everyone’s world!

Let me provide for you a window into our early marriage.

Steve, loved to go to bed late. Mary, loved to go to bed early.

Steve, loved to have a devotional time in the evening. Mary, loved to have a devotional time in the morning.

Steve’s into trying new things. Mary, sticking with what works.

Mary, no debt is good debt. Steve, good debt is investment.

Mary, loves to give. Steve, loves to save.

Steve, embracing change. Mary, change comes more slowly, purposefully.

Steve, face the conflict. Mary, conflict is to be avoided.

Mary, everyone is a friend. Steve, friends are selected through trust over time.

You get the picture; we’re different. But here’s the thing about that difference, neither way is necessarily wrong. What is wrong is when we attempt to change our spouse to be more like ourselves because we’re “right.”

Social scientists tell us it takes five to seven years for a marriage to “settle.” I would define settling as becoming mature enough to no longer try to change my spouse but rather to embrace them for who they are and for how God created them. 

You see, maturity helps us to understand we need that difference in our lives.  Yes, we fight and argue about it initially (immaturity), but when the revelation hits us, we soon discover that we are far more powerful, far more rounded, far more complete together than separate, embracing our differences. 

Too often the thought is, “We’re just too different to continue this marriage.” The fact is, God brings to you the person who is not like you so that you can grow and change and then discover how you are to love, respect and accept this person.

Unfortunately, too many persons, husbands and wives, think that power and control can force change for the better. Power and control will never provoke change for the right reasons because a spirit of power and control will also need the threat of negative consequences. The spouse who threatens causes more anger in the relationship.

Love and acceptance sees the difference as a good challenge. Then it sounds something like this: Mary is Steve and Steve is Mary because Steve and Mary need the differences the other brings to the relationship. 

This perspective will cause us to focus on the strengths in our spouse’s life rather than the weaknesses. This perspective will help us to walk in humility knowing we need what our spouse brings to the marriage. This perspective also helps us to not see our spouse as the one who holds us back but rather the one who provides the appropriate caution or pause. And this perspective is going to bring a healthy balance and sometimes compromise to who we are and to who we are becoming.

Today, almost 48 years later, things look a little different.

Steve likes to go to bed early and so does Mary.

Mary loves early morning devotions and so does Steve.

Steve and Mary embrace change together.

Mary’s love of giving has won over Steve.

Mary embraces investment even with some risk and Steve smiles.

Everyone loves Mary more than Steve because Mary is still everyone’s friend.

Steve is more selective about addressing conflict and Mary still dislikes it.

But the greatest of these is love.

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Challenge, Encouragement, Identity, Prayer

It’s An Unfair Advantage!

As believers, we have an unfair advantage! 

God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. 30 Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the people of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. I Kings 4:29, 30

Proverbs 2:1-6 – My son, if you accept my words
    and store up my commands within you,
turning your ear to wisdom
    and applying your heart to understanding—
indeed, if you call out for insight
    and cry aloud for understanding,
and if you look for it as for silver
    and search for it as for hidden treasure,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
    and find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
    from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

With God on our side, watching our backs, going before us, behind us and beside us, we have an unfair advantage as believers. The Holy Spirit is always working on our behalf in us and through us. Jesus loves us, saves us and heals us. He goes before the Father in intercession for us. 

We live in a world of favor, mercy and blessing. Our minds, controlled by the Spirit, always have the potential to think His thoughts, have His insights and walk in His wisdom. We are never without His presence, His going before us and His protection of us. We walk throughout life in an unfair advantage.

We serve and have daily access to the best lawyer, banker, mortgage agent, doctor, dentist, counselor, scientist, financial manager, retirement planner, head hunter and boss. He opens doors before us and closes those which we are not to enter. He has the answer to every question and insight into every problem. He is the inventor, innovator and creator. All wisdom and all insight reside within Him and He freely shares this wisdom with us as He did with Daniel, David, Moses, Solomon and Esther.

We are never alone, never without hope and never without a friend. He is our safe place, our comforter and our lover. We are never without an answer to a question; we have a fulltime advocate and we walk with the Teacher of teachers. We clearly have an advantage in serving Him, loving Him, placing Him first in our lives and pursuing Him with all of our heart. 

This unfair advantage is given to us freely but we must take hold of it. We must call upon Him first and foremost. We look to Him before anything or anyone. He is our source and our explanation. He is the Good News and He longs to give every one of us this advantage. 

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Challenge, Encouragement, Issues of the Day, Leadership, Marriage, Training

Have You Surrendered?

Surrender. It’s an interesting word. In western culture, it can be a negative word because it means to give up rights, to yield, to relinquish control or comfort. These are all things we hold onto tightly, often for self-preservation.

To give up control for some is terrifying. We cling onto power and control in order to have some sense of oneself having legal standing, political standing, religious standing or just human rights standing. 

To be in total control of our lives literally means to perceive oneself as knowing better than God. To walk through life in this way is to worship the idol of self. The Commandments told us to worship no other gods but the Lord God and yet we often persist in demanding our rights, e.g., it’s my body, it’s my life, what I do behind closed doors is my business, etc. To be in total control of one’s life is a scary place to reside. How so?

  1. You can only trust you. 
  2. You dare not surrender your rights to anyone for anything.
  3. You are pressed to ultimately decide your own fate.
  4. You must hold back emotions so as to not be out of control.
  5. You must be suspect of any input.
  6. You must control or avoid any life-changing decisions and the persons initiating or provoking those changes.

In an avoidance of surrender, you must control all input, all process and all output from your life. It is an exhausting way to live. Mentally you are forced to stay ahead of everyone, you are continually second guessing those around you, perfection becomes your go-to process in order to avoid the loss of control and your rights must, at all cost, remain front and center. We see this exemplified all around us in our culture today. 

Enter Jesus. Jesus, the Savior who asks you to give up control. Jesus, the One who says to relinquish control to Him–all control. It’s no longer your money, your will, your sexuality, your political side or your self-gratification. Jesus requires surrender. 

For me to say, “I give up my rights to __________” goes against everything my flesh desires. But isn’t that what Jesus did on the cross for you and me? He gave up every right as the Son of God, Creator of heaven and earth, Creator of you and me in order to surrender His life willingly. He didn’t surrender to get something, He surrendered to give something–salvation to all of mankind. We surrender our lives to Him in order to give our lives to His kingdom. 

When we surrender our passions, our careers, our bank accounts, our pain, our lust, our children, our marriage, our employment and our sin to our Savior we are not losing control, we are gaining freedom from control. 

Do you desire true faith? Surrender.

Do you desire liberty? Surrender.

Do you desire freedom from sin? Surrender.

Do you desire freedom from yourself and your own control? Surrender.

When we surrender to Jesus, not just as our Savior, but as our Lord, we are saying that we are done with all of our self-efforts of power and control. We are finished with self-preservation. We are through with addictive behaviors leading us. We are done becoming angry over those who we perceive as annoyingly different from us. When we surrender control, we can let go of controlling and manipulating others to be who we thought we needed them to be. 

When we fully surrender control, we will find an intimacy with the Father like never before. The more we surrender, the more freedom we’ll experience. 

Marriages in which both partners stop trying to control the other are happy and fulfilling marriages. Relationships minus control are liberating and peace-filled. 

Are you willing to die to control so that you can experience the freedom that comes from trusting God?

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Challenge, Children, Encouragement, Marriage, Men, Parents, Women

Cracks in Your Foundation

Foundations hold buildings upright. Foundations go deep into the soil below frost lines. Foundations are necessary in buildings, in family relationships, in work places, in communities and in marriages.

Good foundations keep the forces of nature from creating catastrophic damages to structures and those structures keep people safe. Foundations help set direction and establish capacities. You need a strong foundation for your marriage and your family. 

Marriages that begin on faulty foundations like living together, lying about former relationships, hiding sin or hiding debt will most assuredly face major challenges in the early years. 

What is one practical, real-life item that will keep your marriage and family foundation strong? 

                                                                    INTEGRITY

Integrity helps build a high capacity, low stress and highly successful relationship foundation to marriage. One lie, one close to the truth statement or one compromise can begin to cause cracks in your foundation. Once a crack begins, it tends to become worse and eventually compromises the whole foundation. You can place temporary fixes on the cracks, but they will ultimately weaken.

To see all that God has for you and your relationship, each and every crack must be thoroughly repaired to a noncompromising state. In order to enjoy the blessings of God upon your family, you’ll need honest confessions and then forms of care for healing.

Good foundations in marriage allow for the growth of integrity, the forgiveness of when we do it wrong and the hope for a better future. Maintaining a good foundation means maintaining one’s integrity in all things without compromise. 

Tell the truth, confess your fault, stay humble, forsake pride and walk in honesty before your God and life mate.

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Challenge, Encouragement, Issues of the Day

Promises for the New Year – 2022

Mary, my wife, and I spent some time away evaluating our year, giving thanks to God and then taking an extended time of dreaming toward the future. Why? We have so much to be thankful for, we want to learn from our mistakes and we know that we always have a future and a hope through our relationship with our heavenly Father and the love we share for each another. 

We realize that magnitude, intensity and nature of our problems do not matter as long as we have our faith and trust in God intact. We also realize that God has a redemptive purpose behind every life difficulty and He then uses situations to develop character in each of us. As character is built so is grace, patience and honesty.

It’s an exercise of letting go of the prior year with each and every blessing or problem we faced behind us and embracing a brand-new year, a fresh start, a new beginning. One thing we love to do is find scripture that helps us in our faith and gives us hope for the year forthcoming. 

We thought we would share some of those hope-filled, life-giving scriptures for your new year. You can pray, memorize or just regularly read over them for a faith building exercise. 

With that, we bless you and give God thanks for you in this brand-new year 2022!

And though your beginning was small, your latter days will be very great. (Job 8: 7)

You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance. (Psalm 65: 11)

The LORD’S loving kindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3: 22-23)

The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. (Deuteronomy 31: 8)

He will love you, bless you, and multiply you. He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock, in the land that he swore to your fathers to give you. (Deuteronomy 7: 13)

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43: 18-19)

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29: 11)

Look at the nations and watch— and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. (Habakkuk 1: 5)

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. (Philippians 4: 6)

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1: 17)

Certainly there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off. (Proverbs 23: 18)

A man’s heart plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps. (Proverbs 16:9)

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3: 5-6)

But the LORD your God refused to listen to Balaam. He turned the intended curse into a blessing because the LORD your God loves you. (Deuteronomy 23: 5)

So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. (Psalm 90: 12)

May He send you help from the sanctuary, And support you from Zion! (Psalm 20: 2) May he grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans! (Psalm 20: 4)

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Challenge, Children, Encouragement, Men, Parents

Your Father’s Faith and Christmas

Did you have a father that passed on his faith to you? If so, you were one of the blessed ones. There is no perfect dad, but if you had a dad that shared the Christian faith with you, taught you to pray, taught you God’s word and walked his talk, you were blessed beyond measure. 

Dad’s want to see their children smile and laugh as they open their well thought out Christmas gifts. Perhaps they saved all year in order to purchase that bike or doll house. Maybe they sacrificed and went without something for themselves just so their son or daughter could be blessed with the gift of their dreams. Dads and moms want to bring joy to their children, especially at Christmas time. 

Christmas is also a time to remember those who are less fortunate. Perhaps you filled one of those Christmas boxes as my wife did and were excited about Samaritan’s Purse distributing it to a needy child. Or maybe you are going caroling with your small group to the elderly neighbor who has few visitors. Perhaps you bake cookies and give them to your friends and neighbors, letting them know how much you appreciate them.

Whatever the season brings, it’s a time to think of others who are going through a difficult period. Did you ever hear this story from Senator John McCain’s book, “Faith of My Fathers”?

On Christmas Day, we were always treated to a better-than-usual dinner. We were also allowed to stand outside our cells for five minutes to exercise or to just look at the trees in the sky. One Christmas, a few months after the gun guard had inexplicably come to my assistance during my long night in the interrogation room, I was standing in the dirt courtyard when I saw him approach me. He walked up and stood silently next to me. Again he didn’t smile or look at me. He just stared at the ground in front of us. After a few moments had passed he rather nonchalantly used his sandaled foot to draw a cross in the dirt. We both stood wordlessly looking at the cross until, after a minute or two, he rubbed it out and walked away. I saw my good Samaritan often after the Christmas when we venerated the cross together. But he never said a word to me nor gave the slightest signal that he acknowledged my humanity.

We have so much to be grateful for. Remember those who protect you and keep you safe, those who deliver your mail, those who remove your trash, those who teach your children and those spiritual leaders who pray for you. It is a season of giving because God gave His Son to you. 

Draw a cross in the dirt (or the snow) and let your light shine.

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Encouragement, History, Identity, Leadership

I’ll Be Turning Fifty!

Those of you who know me also know I personally reached that age some time ago. This month, a little closer to Christmas, it will be 50 years since I made Jesus Lord of my life.  

Fifty. That’s half a century of doing my best to live life in a way that would honor God. Fifty seems like a lifetime of learning, growing, changing, forgiving, repenting and transitioning. 

I have discovered that I cannot change history, but history has changed me. I discovered that failure is almost certain in areas that are not surrendered to my heavenly Father. And, I realize that if I want to hear “well done” in heaven, I need to say “yes, Lord” on earth.

Maybe you’re beyond 50 or nowhere near that number. Either way, faithfulness is the key. Remain faithful to your King; He never disappoints. He will never leave you and He will provide for your every need, even some wants. Be committed to love Him with all of your heart, mind and soul. Know that He has your best interest in mind. Pray about all things and continually thank Him, for a grateful heart is a full heart.

Never compare yourself with others; it’s unwise, Corinthians says (II Corinthians 10:12). There are two end results to comparison: insignificance or pride. Continually work toward a pure heart and mind, forsake sin and forgive quickly.

My life verse has been Galatians 2:20 which says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” That verse says it all for me. 

Fifty years. I haven’t accomplished all I desire to, but there’s plenty of time left for that. 

Merry Christmas!

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