Tag Archives: patience

Dear Newborn (Christian) Lydia

Dear Newborn Christian Lydia,

Well, this is it: your eighth anniversary of following Jesus, probably almost to the exact day. Eight years ago, someone who cared about asked you about your relationship with God, and you told the truth. Because eight years ago, you were tired of the ruthless cycle of sin, guilt, and shame, and trying to make it all better on your own; tired of pretending to be someone you were not, of trying to feel things you didn’t feel, and believe things you didn’t believe. Eight years ago, you were simultaneously set free and wrecked with these simple words, by this simple concept: “Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine” (Isaiah 43:1) – by a God who knows you, loves you, and calls you by your name in spite of the tremendous mess that you are. And eight years ago, you were undeniably and irrevocably changed.

In honor of eight years following Jesus, I want to share eight things you will learn in the coming weeks, months, and years. I know, I know: if you could be here in all of your nineteen-year-old glory, you would scoff. After all, writing letters to your younger self really doesn’t do any good – it’s not going to change anything. And you’re partly right: it’s not going to change anything … for us. But maybe – just maybe – it will change something for someone else. Even if it doesn’t, it’s good to remind myself.

So without further ado, here are the eight things I wish somebody would have told you about following Jesus.

You will be depressed – even suicidal – again. I know it’s hard to imagine, in the sheer elation of freedom you’re feeling right now – in the newness, that you will ever feel that bad again, but … you will. It’s going to take a wrecking ball to your philosophy that depression is spiritual or even something emotional that can be overcome if you only put your mind to it, and you’re eventually going accept that your depression is physiological, a special inherited brand, and that you have to treat it like any other sickness. You’ll realize that even times when you feel really good are a part of your disease, and you’ll get to a place where you distrust those times as much as the low points. And that’s a good thing, because you’ll learn to depend more on God to lead you in what to do than how you’re feeling on any given day. It’s still isolating, this disease, and though you’ll cry out for it to go away many times, you’ll learn to carry it with a clumsy sort of grace.

You will date non-Christian guys again. Look, I know you’re still devastated about that boy you were seeing behind Dad and Mom’s back. I know you think you would have avoided heartbreak if you had just followed their rules for boys. I know that in the next several years, this devastation will lead you to make a number of lists, and that must follow Jesus will top each one. So I know you’re not going to be happy with me about this. Here’s the thing: even now, there’s a guy entering your life quietly, and he’s following Jesus. You won’t notice him for a few months, because you’re still healing, but when you do finally notice him, you’re not going to have eyes for any other guy for years. But even now – for the past year, really – a situation has been entering your life quietly, and it’s going to make this guy impossible to have. After a series of sizeable mistakes on your part, you’re going to read Captivating and you’re going to make it right, but Lydia, this situation is too big for him, and absolutely nothing you do is going to change that. Once you realize that, you’ll get over him, and you’ll be okay for a while. For a while. Then, you’re going to get seriously pissed off, because you made effort upon effort, you made so much room for him, and he couldn’t be bothered to match that. You get jaded about Christian guys, always expecting you to make way for them, to serve them, to be less so they can be more, and you find non-Christian guys generally respect and support your womanhood and independence. Non-Christian guys, of course, would like you to be less Christian, and you learn you can’t be less of that, either, so I think it’s safe to say you’ll quite likely be single for the rest of your life, and you’ll generally be okay with that because more than anything, you just want to be who you were created to be. Still, you’ll be more comfortable cultivating friendships with guys outside of the Church than those within it. (Sorry, kid.)

You’re going to learn that forgiveness is not forgetting, nor is it the absence of pain. Leading up to this life-changing moment, you’ve … had some bad things done to you. And because of something a Bible camp counselor said to you after you shared some things with her when you were thirteen, you’re going to think remembrance and pain are equal to bitterness, and you’re going to do your level best to forget and not feel a damn thing. You’ll hear in counseling in a few years that forgiving is neither forgetting nor the absence of pain, because remembrance and feelings are not choices. After a series of scandals within the homeschool community, you’ll work through a shit ton of anger, and you’ll learn that forgiveness is merely to release the person who hurt you and not let them dictate how you operate going forward. And even though you’ll know all of this in your head, it’s still working its way to your heart.

You’ve got an idea of how things should be, and that’s not how they’re going to be. You may not realize this yet, Lydia, because the people who’ve known you the longest say you’re negative, but … you’re an optimist. You still believe that by going to college and getting your degree, you’ll have a glamorous and high-powered career as a film executive. You still believe you’ll work for a few years, meet the man of your dreams (who is a movie director you met on the set of a film you produced), and be married at twenty-five, after which you’ll adopt a brood of children who will be extremely well-adjusted because you’ll be their mother, and you’re going to be a brilliant mother. The man of your dreams will change first, as you enter your most golden era with the Church (which you won’t think is golden while you’re in it, because you are focused on all of the wrong things, but trust me,…), and he looks like – well, you’ll know soon enough who he looks like. In your coursework in college, you’ll discover you’re better suited to live television production than to anything in film, and upon graduation, you’ll discover you can’t live off part-time production assistant gigs (you know, to get your foot in the door, because you didn’t really expect to start off at the top … or maybe you did). So you’ll do what you did all the way through college: you work hard, two – sometimes, three – jobs. As for marriage, you discover you have other goals – moving to Seattle and writing, for instance. Again and again, what relationships you have will unravel, because people and situations are not who and what you would like them to be. It will be several years before it sinks in that you are the one who needs to operate differently – not in losing your natural optimism or vision, but in saving unrealistic expectations for your fiction writing, and remembering that neither the world nor the Church fit a neat narrative structure. And eventually, you will understand that you were not cut out for some of the things you want for yourself now, and you’ll be grateful many of them didn’t happen.

You are being grown to last and produce things of lasting value, and that takes time. This is why you can’t give up your optimism and vision: you are being grown into something great. And, Lydia, that takes time. It will take time for you to understand that it takes time, and that’s when it really begins, you know? You are still hearing Dad say you take the easy way out and you still don’t understand because he still hasn’t explained that given two options, you choose the easier one. You still don’t see what you’re missing when you choose the easier. And you won’t fully for a long time – I don’t know if I fully understand yet – but sometimes, you will get glimpses. You will learn the patience and faith to wait, to see things through, because you will not know what all of this will grow into, but for the first time in your life, you will want to know what it can be if you just let it.

Don’t try and force significance. There are no small things. As you turn twenty-five, you will go through a period of mourning that you haven’t done anything significant with your life – because of those unrealistic expectations and impatience. And you will try to force it many times by having something to offer, usually by way of your writing and doctrinal prowess. You will learn you are significant, not because of what you do, but by reason of having been created in the image of God. You will learn it is less about what you do, and more about how you do it. There are things that you will do that will feel so mundane and meaningless because you don’t even have to think about them, but they will mean the world to someone else. People will not care that you are a writer, or what you know about T.U.L.I.P.; they will care that you relate to them in ways that mean something to them.

It’s okay to pray for what you want. This thing that’s been coming into your life? This thing that will come to rest and overshadow much of the next several years? You will pray what you think you should pray, not what you want to pray. For three years, you will pray that way before you give up because you will no longer have any personal investment in the matter. Finally, one December, you’ll be reading in John, and you’ll hear Jesus say, “Whatever you ask the Father in My Name, I will do,” and you’ll throw your hands up and cry, “I have asked. For three years, I have asked.” God will ask you, “When?” and you’ll think about it and realize … you have not, actually, ever asked for what you really want in this situation. And you will, and what you want will transform. You will learn to trust God so much more simply by being totally honest with Him; You will learn that He wants to give you good things, and just how gentle He is in transforming you when you ask for things that aren’t right for you.

Grace. You will learn that God is good, and He will give you everything you need for everything you are supposed to be. You will learn that grasping and clawing in your spirit is a sign you are trying to be something you are not supposed to be, trying to get something you are not supposed to have, trying not to be something you are supposed to be, trying to block something you are supposed to have – a lack of grace, if you will. You will learn that when God wants you to be someone, He will get you there, and Lydia, He does not need your help. When He wants anyone to be someone! And you will realize that you have missed so much grace in your grasping and clawing and pushing and shoving – the grace to let Him be God and to just be His child, to grow in His time and even yours (because, Lydia, He knows what is going to take you time before you do), to let things and people be, to know He’s got your back so you don’t have to have your own back, to be yourself confidently. You will always be learning this.

You probably think I’m a serious buzzkill, even sounding like Dad and Mom in places, but in these early days, you’re so much like a marsh reed, you know? Blown every which way, by every which thing. If I could go back and have a conversation with you – eight years ago, on this day – I’d want to tell you how to stand stronger. Then again, you probably wouldn’t listen: you have a tendency to want to figure these things out on your own. (Oh, well. I tried.)

As to the future, all I know is you will be following Jesus the rest of your life. And it’s going to be great.

 

 

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The Unplanter

The Unplanter

By Lydia Evelyn Thomas

(Copyright: Lydia Thomas 2016)

Once upon a time, there was woman who loved to plant seeds. Early each spring, she would rush to the market to carefully select the seeds she wanted to plant in the little garden behind her house. She especially loved looking at the pictures on the seed packets and imagining what her garden could be. Every year, after she had purchased them, she would hurry home to plant the different seeds in her garden, singing and skipping the entire way.

Like any good seed-planter, every year, she cleared the little plot of rocks and weeds and broke up the soil before painstakingly marking the rows where the seeds would go. Then she dropped the seeds into the dirt, one by one, and lovingly covered them with dirt.

In the days that followed, every year, she added fertilizer and water to the soil to make sure the seeds were getting the food and drink they needed. If it got too cold, she would cover the ground with blankets so the cold air couldn’t get to the seeds. And she always kept an eye out for weeds that might be trying to steal food and water from the seeds, or rocks that might be trying to keep the seeds from growing, or anything that might hurt the seeds.

She waited and waited, every year, for a week, at least, to see if anything would happen, and nothing ever did. She worried: were the seeds getting enough to eat and drink? Were the seeds getting too much to eat and drink? Were the seeds staying warm enough? Were they too warm? Was something hurting the seeds that she couldn’t see?

And so, every year, a few days after planting them, she dug up the seeds and returned them to the market.

“These seeds didn’t grow into anything,” she would say, spreading them out on the counter. “I’d like my money back, please.”

The man who sold her the seeds would frown, and every year, he told her this: “There is an old gardening term called staying.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that things have to stay planted in order to grow.”

The woman didn’t believe him, and so she continued planting seeds and digging them up for many years.

One year, early in the spring, the woman came to the market, excited as she always was to choose seeds that would make a beautiful garden.

“I’d like to see your seeds, please.”

The man who sold her seeds shook his head. “I’m not going to sell you any seeds this year.”

“Why not?”

The man shrugged. “It’s wasteful. You plant them, only to dig them up again. They can’t be used ever again after that.”

“I won’t dig them up this year, I promise. Please let me buy some seeds.

The man shook his head. He didn’t believe her. “We sell some plants in pots that have already been grown, if you’d like to buy some of those, but I cannot sell you any more seeds.”

The woman bought some pots in plants at his suggestion, but this year, unlike all the other years, she was not happy walking home from the market. She didn’t want plants that had already been grown. She very badly wanted to grow something of her own, from a seed.

Still, she set the plants on her front porch, and made sure to take care of them, every bit as well as she had taken care of seeds when she’d had them. One day, as she watered the plants, a man strolled by.

“Beautiful plants,” he said. “Did you grow them yourself?”

The woman sighed. “No. I bought them already grown. The market won’t sell me seeds anymore.”

“Why not?”

“When seeds don’t grow, I dig them up.”

“How long do you wait before digging them up?”

The woman put her hands on her hips. “I’ve waited as long as a week before.”

“Only a week? That’s not long enough!” The man smiled. “Seeds have to stay planted in order to grow.”

“That’s what the man at the market told me,” the woman said, “but what if something is wrong with the seeds? How will I know if I can’t see them?”

“Do you give the seeds food and water?” the man asked.

“Yes.”

“Do you keep weeds and rocks away from the seeds?”

“Yes.”

“Do you protect the seeds when it might get too cold or too hot for them?”

“Yes!” the woman exclaimed. “I do everything I’m supposed to do.”

“Everything except for letting the seeds stay planted,” the man said. “That’s the most important part.”

“But”- the woman protested.

“Seeds grow,” the man said. “It’s what they do. They just have to stay planted. I wish you could see it.”

“I wish I could see it, too,” the woman said, “but where will I get seeds? The market won’t sell them to me anymore.”

“I might have just the thing.” The man pulled a seed packet out of his pocket and held it out to the woman.

The woman looked down at it and frowned. “It doesn’t show what it will

be.”

“It doesn’t,” the man said, “but it’s the only seed I have.”

“There’s only one seed?” the woman asked, eyes wide.

The man smiled. “Only one, but legend has it that when it’s grown, it gives more seeds.” The woman just stared at him. “Plant it. You’ll see.”

“I guess it never hurts to try,” the woman said, taking the seed packet.

“Just remember,” the man said. “It will only grow if it stays planted.”

The very next morning, the woman went back to her garden. As she always did, she pulled up the weeds, picked out the rocks, and broke up the ground. Then she thought about where to plant the one seed. Should she plant it on the edge? Near a corner? In the middle? In the middle, she decided, and dug a small hole. Pulling the seed packet out of her sweater, she took a deep breath, and crouched to the ground. She shook the little seed out into the hole. It was so small and dark, she could barely see it. Slowly, she covered it with dirt, before standing and brushing off her knees.

The next day, the woman went to her garden again.  As she had done with the other seeds, she gave them food and water, working it into the soil with her trowel around where she knew the seed was planted. That night, when the air became colder, she covered the garden with blankets.

And, day after day, she watched for something to show her the seed was growing. A week went by, and then a month, and still she could see nothing above the dirt. She grew restless, and began running her hands through the dirt near where the seed was planted. Remembering the man’s words when he had given her the seed – “It will grow if it stays planted” – she stood up, brushed off her knees, and went inside.

Months went by, and still the woman cared for the garden, waiting. One day, after the dead autumn leaves had fallen and blown away, as the woman spread mulch over the soil for the winter months, she saw a small green chute where she had planted the seed so long ago.

“Well, that will never last the winter,” she said, hands on her hips.

She thought about digging it up, but again, she remembered, “It will grow if it stays planted.

“I don’t see how,” she muttered, but she spread mulch around the chute, and left it where it was.

The air became so cold and the ground froze so that the woman could no longer work in her garden. In fact, snow began to fall and fall until it was too high for her to even leave her house. She was certain the chute would die in the cold, and it made her sad.

At last, the air grew warmer, the snow melted, and the ground thawed, the woman went out to visit her garden.

The green chute was gone!

In its place was the tiniest of saplings, barely a foot tall.

The woman clapped her hands and bounced up and down. She was growing a tree! A tree!

“I’m glad I listened to that man and didn’t dig up the seed.”

She was so delighted that she went to the market to buy more seeds now that she had learned the secret to growing them, but the man who sold seeds laughed at her.

“You’re the woman who digs up seeds,” he said.

“I’m not anymore,” the woman said. “Last year, a man gave me a seed.”

“Who would give you a seed?” the man who sold seeds asked.

“I don’t know,” the woman said. “He was just passing by, but he told me to keep it planted, and I did. Now it’s going to be a tree.”

Again, the man who sold seeds laughed. “I don’t believe you.”

“Come and see,” the woman said and led him home to her garden. She pointed to the tiny sapling at the center.

The man who sold seeds squinted at it. “That looks like nothing more than an overgrown weed.”

“It’s a tree,” the woman insisted. “I know it’s a tree.”

“You don’t have the patience for a tree,” the man who sold seeds said, turning and walking away.

“I do now,” the woman said. “Please, sell me some seeds. I’ll show you.”

“I will never sell you seeds again.”

The woman was very sad, because she loved to plant seeds, and now that she’d seen how they could grow, she wanted to see it again and again. How could she, though, if she couldn’t buy seeds?

Suddenly, she brightened. The man who  had given her the seed had said something about it making more seeds. A legend, he had said, so maybe it wasn’t true at all, but the idea gave the woman hope.

Throughout the spring and summer, the woman tended her garden as usual, watching the sapling for signs of seeds.  Then the air began to cool, and she prepared her garden for the winter. There were no seeds, but perhaps, like everything else, it just took time for them to come.

Years passed, and every year, the woman cared for her garden, and every year, the tree grew taller and wider around, until it far surpassed the woman’s height and width. It was majestic, with many branches, and green needles that never lost their color nor fell to the ground, no matter how cold the air became. Year after year, there were no seeds, and the woman began to think the legend surrounding the tree was just a story. Still, she was quite proud of her tree.

One year, small brown cones sprouted on the branches in the spring and fell to the ground in the crisp autumn air. The woman went through her garden plucking them up into a bucket, thinking they would decorate her house nicely, when she found a cone that had split open during its fall.

The woman knelt down to look closer at the split cone and gasped. Seeds of all shapes and sizes were spilling out of it! Seeds! The woman pulled a cone out of her bucket and pried it open. There were seeds inside of it, too!

“Those seeds aren’t good enough to use yet.”

The woman turned to see who was speaking to her. It was the man who had given her the seed.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“The tree isn’t fully mature yet,” the man said, “so any seeds it produces aren’t ready to be planted. If you put those in the ground, they’ll just rot.”

The woman’s lip quivered. “How long will it be until they’re ready?”

The man gazed at the seeds, picking some of them and holding them in his hands. “I’d say, about … five years.”

“Five years?” the woman whispered, eyes wide.

The man nodded.

The woman pointed to the seeds. “So these aren’t good for anything?”

The man smiled. “Actually, they’re quite delicious roasted with butter and spices.”

“You want me to eat them?” the woman asked.

“You don’t have to,” the man said. “It’s just a thought.”

After that, the man went on his way, and the woman continued preparing her garden for winter.

Once inside, she roasted the seeds as the man had suggested. He was right: they were tasty prepared this way. As she ate them, the woman thought that five years wasn’t so long with such good food on her table and such a beautiful tree in her garden.

Even so, the next spring, the woman had a heavy heart as she went to clear the weeds and rocks and break up the soil in her garden. Where it had always been something she loved doing, now it was hard. She took many breaks, and thought often of leaving the work altogether. The only thing that kept her working was knowing that she needed to keep the ground ready for when the seeds were ready.

It wasn’t much, but it held the woman  until, at last, the spring of the fifth year came. With a thrill, she hurried out to her garden. This fall, the seeds in the cones would be ready, and next spring, she would plant them. Throughout the summer, she watched the cones eagerly. Finally, autumn came, and the cones began to fall, slowly at first, then all at once. Out the woman went to her garden with her bucket to gather them. She soon found that one bucket was not enough for all of the cones, and gathered bucket after bucket until not one cone was left on her garden floor.

As the snow fell that year, the woman went to work opening the cones, emptying the seeds onto her table, and sorting them into packets. She sorted and packaged so many seeds she thought she might need a bigger garden. She wondered what all of the seeds would grow up to be – would they all be trees? She would have to wait and see.

When she finished, leaving just a handful of seeds to roast, the woman stored the seeds in a warm, dry cupboard until spring. Then, as she swept up the remaining seeds from the table to put them in the roasting pan, one in particular caught her attention. It was small and dark, just like the one the man had given her to plant so many years ago.

Excited, the woman ran to get one more seed packet, thinking how lovely her garden would eventually be with two such trees. She paused: maybe someone else needed this seed, like she had all those years ago. And so, the woman decided not to plant it, but to set it aside and get it to someone who needed it, instead.

It seemed like no time at all passed until the woman was looking over her garden the following summer.  Now, instead of just the tree, flowers, plants, and small bushes populated the garden. There were blooms and bulbs and fruits and vegetables of all kinds forming almost everywhere. There were still some areas where there were no signs of anything growing, but the woman knew there would be someday.

“It’s a beautiful garden.”

The woman didn’t need to turn to know it was the man who had given her the seed.

She smiled as he came to stand at her side. “It took long enough for it to come together.”

“The strongest, most beautiful things need that time,” the man said.

The woman pulled a seed packet out of her pocket.

“What’s this?”

The woman pointed at the tree. “A seed. Thought you might come across someone who needs it.”

The man smiled. “Actually, I think you’ll come across someone who needs it.”

“When?”

The man winked. “Soon.”

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Remain Open

I don’t think I’ve ever changed my mind so much as I did this morning.  I’m pretty sure my brain is fried.

Here’s the story.

About a year-and-a-half ago, I began asking God to open a very specific door for me.  After a few months, the door opened, and I was poised to walk through it.  The week the door opened, I had a dream that I really believe was a vision from God for my life.  One morning, I was reflecting about this door and this vision, and God told me, “You can have this if you really want it, but I have better for you if you just wait for Me.”  I made a choice to trust God that morning, and little by little the vision for what God wants for me has become sharper and sharper.

Doors upon doors have been closed for me.  This week, though, I was faced with yet another open door.   A door that made perfect sense, except as I prayed about it, I had no peace about walking through it.  I felt like God was saying, “This isn’t it.  Keep walking.”

And that’s what I had every intention of doing.  I got to where I was going this morning and I found myself reasoning, “Well, it’s not like this is a bad opportunity.”

Then I’d come back with, “It is if it keeps me from what God wants for me.”

“How can God not want this for me?”

It would be easier than more waiting, more walking.  The feeling that it’s not quite right is easy enough to bury given enough busy-ness or the justification that it’s a good thing.  I mean, technically, since God is prompting me to say now, it’s sin, but it’s … a good thing.

But I can’t do it.  I have to keep going just to see what God has in store, because I can’t see two feet in front of me right now. I have to believe He has told me “no” for a good reason, just like He did thirteen months ago. So I’m going to keep walking and remain open for whatever God has in store for me, even if it’s just more of what I’m doing right now.   He’ll bring that vision about if and when He wants.

I just have to trust and obey.  And remain open for the right opportunities.

And write a bajillion more blogs about waiting and waiting on God and transience and interim seasons and endurance and patience and faith and obedience and things that don’t make sense and all that good stuff God is teaching me through this.

Yup.

 

 

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Feast, Perfectly Adequate Meal, Snack Crackers: (More) Thoughts On Waiting

(I was cooking again today).

Let’s say you’re about to make yourself a sandwich with a side of apple slices and a tall glass of water.

“Wait,” says your mom, “I’m making your very favorite meal in just a little bit.”

So you put all of the stuff for your sandwich away, because it’s your mom and you believe her, and you’d rather wait for your favorite meal anyway.

Several hours pass, and you’re getting hungry again.  Well, to be honest, you never stopped being hungry to begin with, you were just distracted by the prospect of something better.  Your mom is nowhere to be found, even though she said she was going to make your favorite meal in the world.  You’re starting to doubt whether she’ll make a meal at all, let alone your favorite.

Finally, you get tired of waiting, and you decide to make that sandwich anyway, except you open the refrigerator and discover that your little sister has used up all of the sandwich fixings on her own sandwich.  You’re a little bit angry at her, even though you reason with yourself that you shouldn’t be: after all, you’re the one who didn’t capitalize on that sandwich opportunity.  After all, what’s wrong with a sandwich? Your little sister certainly couldn’t tell you.

As you turn these hard, cold facts over in your mind, you spy a box of  crackers in the pantry.

Hmm.

You don’t particularly like crackers, and ugh, these ones happen to be filled with peanut butter of all things.  And if there is one thing you can’t abide, it’s peanut butter…on your crackers.

But there isn’t anything else.  It’s not like you can eat a sandwich.  It’s too late for that.  You just want something.

In the back of your head, however, there is this annoying thought that won’t go away: there is absolutely no nutritional value in these crackers.  They might satisfy your hunger temporarily, but they will do nothing for you, except maybe make you less hungry for your favorite meal that you’ve been promised.

You storm out of the pantry feeling jaded.  If you had known your mom was going to take this long, you would have eaten the sandwich.  No thanks to her, that option isn’t available to you anymore.

The thought occurs to you that you could make your own meal, but you know you’re not quite the cook your mom is, and it just won’t be the same.

Although your mom and the promised meal are nowhere in sight, the best thing to do is to wait for your mom to make and serve your favorite meal.  None of the other options are quite as right as that one, none will bring you the same level of satisfaction.  And you know it.

That’s why you didn’t eat the sandwich.

And that’s why you continue to hold out for that favorite meal.

And until your mom makes that meal, you have to keep reminding yourself of that.

Because, really, would your mom let you starve? Would she wittingly turn you away from something good, if she didn’t want to give you something better?

Depends on your mom, I guess… 😉

Fortunately, we’re not talking about your mom, or sandwiches, or snack crackers.

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