Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Way We Worship Together: February 27, 2011

Welcome to a weekly overview of Union Center Christian Church's Sunday  morning service.  You’ll not only read a list of the songs we led following the Call To Worship, but also the readings and prayers from our liturgy.

You can find links to the set lists of this church and many other churches each week in the Worship Blog Carnival at And you can learn about some of the songs we sing at Union Center each week in advance of the Sunday service by reading my “Getting Ready For Sunday” post each Thursday.
Call To Worship
After greeting the congregation as those gathered by God, we greeted each other.  Then, Pastor Craig reprises the benediction from last week, following the the message from the account of Daniel and his friends.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Once we were not a people, but now we are the people of God; once we had not received mercy, but now we have received mercy.
Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.  Let us live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse us of doing wrong, they may see our good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
(I Pet. 2:9-12)
As we enter in worship this morning, we are reminded that our worship is adding to the worship that is already happening around the throne of God where worship never ends!
Song: O Praise Him! written by David Crowder. We have sung this familiar Crowder song only a few times during our Rated E services over the years and decided it was time to sing it together again.

Turn your ear to heaven and hear the noise inside,
The sound of angel's awe, the sound of angel's songs
And all this for a King
We could join and sing, all to Christ the King

Words and Prayers of Confession

(unfortunately, we've misplaced the Scripture readings for this week)
Song: In Christ Alone, words and music by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend.  We sang this as a confession of our dependence on the finished work of Christ:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.

Words of Assurance
(unfortunately, again, we did not record today's reading)
Song: Days of Elijah, written by Robin Mark.  This is an old favorite at Union Center that we took out of the "repetoire" for awhile so it could be revitalized at the right time.  We thought the account of the exiles of Israel returning home to rebuild the temple was the perfect week to sing it again!

These are the days of Ezekiel,
the dry bones becoming as flesh.

And these are the days of Your servant David,
rebuilding a temple of praise...

Prayer of Thanksgiving and Giving:
The appropriate response to our Creator and Redeemer is to give from all we have - heart, soul, mind, strength, gifts and resources.
Message:  This week The Story recounts the Return of the Israelites from exile to their homeland under the leadership of Ezra.  Once again, we see how God's intention to bless His people in order that they would be a blessing to all nations.

Song: We Fall Down written by Chris Tomlin. This week, we responded to the Word by sending out our first Ngasyak team since partnering with the village.  Earlier this year, worship leader Laura Howell spoke on the phone with Esther Penny in Senegal to learn the Wolof translation for this song.  No other worship songs currently exist in this language and we are excited to be able to learn even a few words in the language of our new friends.
Introducing the team
Prayer: Shepherdstown students raised money to donate candy for the Kids' Club in Ngasyak.  It was especially precious to have a student pray in each service to bless the candy and pray for the village kids who would be receiving it.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Friday is for new finds: The Long Surrender

The Long Surrender
Over the Rhine

If you've read this blog at all, you probably already know that Over the Rhine is a favorite, thus disqualifying the band itself to be considered the "new" in new finds.  Also, I never really intended these Friday posts to be solely about music.  It's just what's catching my attention these days, I guess.

However, with a release date of February 8, 2011, this is indeed a new find and I haven't been able to stop playing the music since I purchased a pre-release download right after Christmas.  Figuring I'm a day late in posting this anyway and so many fine, articulate people have already written about the album, I'm going to bullet-list this post.

Here we go, top 10 reasons I am loving The Long Surrender:

1.  Even though Karin and Linford Detweiler have been making records for like twenty  years, they chose to make this album with money donated by their fans.  A real "work of the people", if you will.  (by the way, my friend Brett is one the donors -- way to go, Brett!)

2.  Every song smokes.  I'm told this has something to with the collaboration of Joe Henry as co-writer and producers.

3.  Once again, OtR writes both brokenness and hope in exquisite music -- occasionally sassy, often sweet, but never, ever sappy.

4.  I heard the song Only God Can Save Us Now just after a perspective-transforming Christmas-caroling visit with my kids at a local nursing home.  From the very first words, I knew this song was inspired in similar surroundings and I was grateful to Karin and Linford from writing from a true an concrete place, not just abstract sentiment, about the tragedy of dying in old, often manic, bodies.

Margie struck Geneva with her baby doll
Barb knocked off the medcart comin' down the hall
Bob leads the congregation when he sings
How Now Brown Cow
Only God can save us now

Jean says Fuzzy wuzzy fuzzy wuzzy was a bear
Miss Cleve sings Hallelujah from the choir in her chair
Behind his busy apron Raymond's naked standing proud
Only God can save us now

Who will save me
From myself
In the night?

When my time has come and it may be comin' soon
Don't mind me if you come to find me howlin' at the moon
I'll need a busy apron and half-sedated crowd
Only God can save us now

A baby doll some chocolates and flowers made of silk
A clean room with a window and some Prozac in warm milk
And sneak us in some whiskey 'cause it's  prob'ly not allowed
Only God can save us now

5.  You can see the story behind this song as well as the answers to many other thoughtful questions in this interview.

6.  Another good review at Awaiting the Flood

7.  An extended interview on making the album at the band's website.  Every interview I've ever read with this duo is not only an  opportunity to understand their specific work in more depth, but also the disciplines of both art and faith in general.

8.  I heard the song All My Favorite People during a season of disillusionment with my church community.

All my favorite people are broken
Believe me
My heart should know

Some prayers are better left unspoken
I just wanna hold you
And let the rest go

All my friends are part saint and part sinner
We lean on each other
Try to rise above

We’re not afraid to admit we’re all still beginners
We’re all late bloomers
When it comes to love

All my favorite people are broken
Believe me
My heart should know

Orphaned believers, skeptical dreamers
Step forward
You can stay right here

You don’t have to go
Is each wound you’ve received
Just a burdensome gift?
It gets so hard to lift
Yourself up off the ground

But the poet says, We must praise the mutilated world
We’re all workin’ the graveyard shift
You might as well sing along

All my favorite people are broken
Believe me
My heart should know

(As for) your tender heart—
This world’s gonna rip it wide open
It ain’t gonna be pretty
But you’re not alone

‘Cause all my favorite people are broken
Believe me
My heart should know

9.  After listening to the album with me in the office one day my friend Margaret-the-musician described some of the sound as " a little bit juke joint".  And I said, I know. I'm really a honky-tonk woman at heart.  This was news to her.

10.  Over the Rhine is playing the Highline Ballroom in NYC at the end of March.  I'm turning 40 in March.  It makes the perfect birthday gift.

What new-found glories have you discovered lately?  I'm opening up the link-sharing on Fridays for all of your great finds.

Bloggers, use the Simply Linked function below to share the link from your post with us.  I'd be honored if you included a link back to me on your blog.  Not a blogger? Share with us through the comment feature!  Neither of these work for you?  I also accept carrier pigeons.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wednesday is for Words (& sometimes pictures): brennan manning

In this week meditating on the upside-down revelation of the true Messiah, I'm reminded of a book excerpt that I wrote into a prayer book for my family:

Jesus, You took the widow of Nain's face in Your hands and whispered, "Shhh - I know."  You wiped the tears from her eyes with Your thumbs, and then said, "Don't cry."  Jesus, You are the human face of God and at this moment -- and every  moment -- my family is being seen with the same gaze of infinite tenderness. Because our hearts are enveloped in the tenderness of God, please allow us to pass that tenderness around indiscriminately, making no distinction between the worthy and unworthy."  (Brennan Manning, The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus)
Praying together the last time my family was all together in one place.
Saying goodbye to Alex, January 2011.
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Tuesday is for Nesting: upside-down hospitality

Brian's been gone a couple days, visiting our boy in Washington.  As it would happen, Monday morning brought more inches of snow.  Mid-day a man knocked on our door.  Through the front window I could see his large, bundled, unfamiliar figure.  He was dressed for the weather -- sweats, stocking cap, dark blue unzipped coat.

After I unlocked the front door, I noticed the shovel he held in one hand.

"Do you need someone to shovel your driveway, ma'am?"

I noticed he was missing several teeth on one side of his mouth.  He seemed a little bit tottery there on the porch, shovel dangling mid-air.

"No, thank you."  I told him. "I have a nineteen-year-old son I'm trying to motivate to do it."  Emphasis on nineteen-year-old.  In the house with me right now.

He replied a courteous comment, teetered out the door, down the unshoveled walk.  Swinging the door closed, I remembered I had some cash in my wallet.  And that I'd just the other day lifted a half-hearted prayer for ideas of how to bless our reclusive neighbors.

Back through the front door, then the porch door, calling to his retreating figure, "How much do you charge?"

"Whatever you can afford, ma'am."

"OK, I'd like you to shovel."

"I'll go all the way back, then."  And he set to it.

Inside the house again, I paced a bit, watching through the dining room window the top of his hat bobbing up and down with the scraping of the shovel.  Then Edith Schaeffer came to me.  Not her exactly, more her words in The Art of Homemaking:
"There was a railroad running through town, Grove City, where Fran was a pastor after he graduated from Seminary.  Often hobos or tramps - rather derelict-looking older men, unshaven and ragged of clothing, who travelled by riding on the bottom of freight cars...came to our back door, asking, 'Cup of coffee, ma'am, and maybe some bread?'...I would get out a tray, put the kettle on, and look in the fridge for some left-over soup. Into a small pan would go the soup, with the gas on under it. I would cut bread, enough for two big sandwiches (not too thin, he'll be hungry_ and wonder what sort of a home he had when we he was a little boy -- and wonder who he is, or whether maybe he is an angel in disguise!
There are many people whom you may care for in a variety of ways. But as we are speaking about food, let us remember to prepare it beautifully for each person...among friends and guests of all sorts; but also for strangers, who can do nothing in return for you, who seem truly to be 'the least of these'."
We no longer have the opportunity to entertain railway hobos, do we?  Today, at least, I have this toothless guy shoveling in my driveway.  And a batch of my sister-in-law's moist banana-nut muffins, a half a cup of hot coffee left in the pot. And, miracle of miracles, a bit of cash left in my wallet.

I sent Drew out with the offering.  Maybe feeling compassion, maybe feeling convicted, my son told him he'd get the rest of the driveway.  The stocking-capped shoveler promised to return the coffee-mug. That he was off to buy himself some "cancer sticks".

I hope I made Mrs. Schaeffer proud. While I'd been placing a muffin in a zippered baggie, trying to talk myself into this plan, I had the clear thought:  Jesus is standing out there in your driveway. Give him two. I really don't understand the theology of this.  It certainly felt a bit risky to show welcome to a tottering foreigner (Russian, Drew wondered?) While he and I conferenced our plan of hospitality in the kitchen, I asked him, How often do we have the opportunity to bless the stranger?  How can we pass this up?

This is a curious lesson in hospitality I've learned over the years.  Sometimes the art of hospitality requires a willingness to be the receiver rather than the giver. We learned this truth in the devastating summer of 2006, when neighbor and stranger welcomed us into their flood-strewn homes to help muck out.  The humility it took for them to allow us into their personal belongings scattered and mud-covered.  Their ability to welcome help, a grand act of upside-down hospitality.  I'll never forget the woman unable to enter her front door, choosing instead to sit, staring blankly through the windshield of her car, seemingly paralyzed.  We bent through the window, asking her to welcome us into the mess of her home.  She was ashamed and could not do it.  My own home was not damaged, but I recognized that shame all the same.

May we be humble enough to welcome hospitality in all its forms.

May it be so.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Monday Mix Tape: [upside-down-truth edition]

Eighth week of Epiphany and everything's pointing toward our need for life in death.  In the Scriptural narrative, the Messiah begins to reveal himself to those who know him best.  I think they kind of knew all along, but the hard truth He gives them is that He's not going to rescue them the way they'd always hoped.  Vindication for suffering must wait.  Death comes before life.  Cross before resurrection.  Winter before spring.  Hurt before healing.  Peter prophesies the true identity of the One who'd been promised, and later eats his words.  Kindness before repentence.

It's still winter here, several inches of new snow falling in the last two days.  Unfortunately, our hearts are already fully intent on spring, having spent Friday soaking in the sunny mid-sixties temperatures.   I want to be the kind of person, though, who is present to the truth, not daydreaming an ideal.  After all, being present to winter, to suffering, to disappointment, to the reality of death is the only place to stand when hoping for new life.

So, we hope for spring.  We hope for all things to be made new.  We hope for a truth that makes a difference, bringing change to our disappointing, even desperate, reality.

Standalone player

For this week's mixtape, I was thinking about truth.  The kind with power to change, heal, resurrect.  We were born with a desire for truth wired into our innermost selves.  We were made so intricately, even the tiniest infraction of falsity throws off our balance.  I was thinking about the ways our ideals deafen us, blind us to the goodness of God in the land of the living.  The way we perpetuate falsehood with our hopes of triumph, comfort, cost-free living.  Cross-less lives.

The true Messiah does not offer this life, but we keep trying to change His mind, don't we?  I'll be meditating on this all week, praying, writing.  Please do join in the conversation whenever you think of what you want to add.  I'll keep the comments and link sharing options open for just that reason.  


One of my friends needed to see John Mellencamp in concert to complete her twenty-year-long "bucket list" of concerts.  Saturday he played at Radio City Music Hall.  We went.  The man is fifty-nine  years old and, didn't he and his band play their guts out for over two hours straight?!?  This really has nothing to do with the mixtape.  Hope you enjoy anyway! 

Lori and Stacey dreaming about the show.
Music that inspires truth:  what's your favorite?   Feel free to add to my theme or share what's playing in your ears right now...

Bloggers, use the Simply Linked function below to share the link from your post with us.  I'd be honored if you included a link back to me on your blog.  Not a blogger? Share with us through the comment feature!  Neither of these work for you?  I also accept carrier pigeons.

Linking up today with L.L.
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Friday, February 18, 2011

Friday is for new finds: Mumford & Sons

If you've spent much time here at all, you probably have noticed a certain affinity for the music of a UK quartet, Mumford & Sons. My 15-year-old daughter introduced me to the group, whose first album Sigh No More debuted in 2009.  

I first listened to the band because it was rock and bluegrass (which I call newgrass, but am not sure if that's a real term or not; instead I've heard new folk) and I'm really a honkey-tonk woman at heart.  I got the song Awake My Soul enough to know that I loved every. single. thing. about it.  Then we took the album with us on a recent road trip to D.C. and I became a true fan.  

It was lyrics like this that threw me into the full-fledged-fan column:

Serve God love me and men / This is not the end / Live unbruised we are friends / And I'm sorry / I'm sorry
 (Sigh No More)
And this:

Love that will not betray you, / dismay or enslave you, / It will set you free / Be more like the man / you were made to be. / There is a design, / An alignment to cry, / At my heart you see, / The beauty of love  / as it was made to be (Sigh No More)

I mean I could have told you from their sound alone that these guys were young and passionate and unashamed.  What I hadn't realized until I had time to listen straight through and cranked up was that their sound is an authentic accompaniment to their unabashed exuberance for friendship, life, spirit and hope.  Find me another band right now making the kind of unique sound with the same level of intelligent, poetic, unapologetic sense of hope, well I'll psot about them next week.

This is not to say that every song focuses on the good things in life only: 

Spare me your judgements and spare me your dreams / Cause recently mine have been tearing my seams / I sit alone in this winter clarity which clouds my mind / Alone in the wind and the rain you left me / It's getting dark darling, too dark to see / And I'm on my knees, and your faith in shreds, it seems

Still, the insistence of hope:

But plant your hope with good seeds / Don't cover yourself with thistle and weeds / Rain down, rain down on me
Look over your hills and be still / The sky above us shoots to kill / Rain down, rain down on me / But I will hold on /
I will hold on hope 
                                                                  (Thistle and Weeds)

When I finally got my head in the game and started researching the group of men making this music, I was not surprised (but still relieved) to learn the friendship and unaffected love of music that binds them together: 

Since they formed in December 2007, the members of Mumford & Sons have shared a common purpose: to make music that matters, without taking themselves too seriously. Four young men from West London in their early twenties, they have fire in their bellies, romance in their hearts, and rapture in their masterful, melancholy voices. They are staunch friends - Marcus Mumford, Country Winston, Ben Lovett, and Ted Dwane - who bring their music to us with the passion and pride of an old-fashioned, much-cherished, family business. They create a gutsy, old-time sound that marries the magic of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young with the might of Kings Of Leon, and their incredible energy draws us in quickly to their circle of songs, to the warmth of their stories, and to their magical community of misty-eyed men.

That write-up on their website plus Marcus' blog posts urging his fans to read G.K. Chesteron and I'm a googly-eyed groupie. 

I spend a good deal of energy trying to convince my musician friends who have an ear for good music, but kind of stopped developing it about the time Purple Rain was topping the charts, that banjo makes rock even better.  And fiddles.  And, oh my Lord, even Jimmy Page would acknowledge that the accordian is the new double-neck guitar.  Mostly, I keep gushing on the music of Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens and - now - Mumford & Sons and they keep reminiscing about Van Halen.  

No matter.  I'm going to keep listening and loving every minute.  I hope if I keep preaching the newgrass gospel, a few converts will come along with me.  How about you?

What new-found glories have you discovered lately?  I'm opening up the link-sharing on Fridays for all of your great finds.

Bloggers, use the Simply Linked function below to share the link from your post with us.  I'd be honored if you included a link back to me on your blog.  Not a blogger? Share with us through the comment feature!  Neither of these work for you?  I also accept carrier pigeons.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

imperfect prose: a year later, light

One year ago this week (Valentine's Day, to be exact), I made the fateful decision to leave Brian behind for the weekend and take the kids to Philadelphia to visit our adorable nieces and nephews (plus their parents, of course).  I did not realize, of course, that while the women in my family were baking pink and chocolate cupcakes and while the kids were sledding in the backyard, I'd go into a full-blown gall bladder attack.  And by the next morning, I'd be in surgery.  

So many people loved me through the process and through the recovery.  I could have been relaxing in the love of friends and family; instead, the luxury of receiving unmerited kindness was almost killing me.  I'm not sure why I never posted this entry -- it's been sitting in my draft file all year.

I think it's now ready for the light of day.

sister and sister-in-law making the Valentine's cake I never ate

February 28, 2010 Journal Entry

I can't even believe how overwhelmed I am with life. I feel like I'm going to die. I have digressed to the place where I feel like every person is my Enemy. That everyone is lying to me and unable to tell me the truth or love me for more that their own gain. I am so damaged.   Even kindness feels like a slap in the face. Actually that should read: Especially kindness feels like a slap in the face.

In so much of my experience, kindness was the 1 in a 1-2 punch. It makes me nervous all this kindness. All these words of care and well-wishing. All these phone calls "just checking on you."  My experience tells me this is a bunch of b.s.

I don't believe a word of it.

I hear: Aren't you better yet?  When are you going to get off your lazy ass and start producing again?  When are you going to stop lapping up all this good will like a baby and start being a good-will dispenser again?

The kicker is that I thought I'd moved past this, had outgrown this kind of paranoid paralysis. but maybe I've just been reinventing a more sophisticated mask.

I don't know, but I'm not sure how I'm going to get out of it this time.  I feel like I've already used up my 9 lives of second chances at emotional health.  When do I finally get disqualified for normal living in community and ministry? For that matter, when do I finally get diagnosed as mentally unstable?  Because these are not sane thoughts.

I feel angry that people tell me I should be patient with this recovery but, it seems true to me that when I don't meet their expectations, I'll be called out.  So I'm having a hard time believing this advice.  This includes my own children.  I'm wondering what kind of wounding is happening to them now while I'ms so physically and emotionally absent.  What episodes am I going to hear about one month, one year, ten years from now?  These are not questions pulled out of thin air.  I have proof.  Lists of evidence of those who have shown kindness with one hand and followed it up with violation with the other.  I have shameful tales of violation that can not be told in this space.

God, it does not feel like your grace is sufficient for me.  Why do I believe it to be for everyone else and not for me? Help me Father, Jesus, Spirit.

And help comes in the question:  Am I suspicious about the same issues in other people?

Yes. I think I am.  So the mix-up is in me.  The anger I'm feeling from the offerings of good gifts is not about the givers at all, it's pointed toward me. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

I am a wounded wounder.  I want to be a wounded healer.

gorgeous get-well flowers from a friend

And the Word makes me new one more time.
I Peter 3:13 - 21:  13. Now who will want to harm you if you are eager to do good?
HA!  Is this a rhetorical question?  Do you really want a list?  My experience tells me that the more good I purpose to do the more people will want to harm me.
14.  But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don't worry or be afraid of their threats.
I look up commentary. I need help.   Wesley says about verse 14, "But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye; and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled.  The very words of the Septuagint, "Let not that fear be in you which the wicked feel."  Fear ye not their fear.
Isaiah 8:12,13:  Don't call everything a conspiracy, like they do, and don't live in a dread of what frightens them. Make the LORD of Heaven's Armies holy in your life.  He is the one you should fear. He is the one who should make you tremble.
Looking through the various translations, I stop short with the NASB: It is the Lord of hosts whom you should regard as holy. And he shall be your fear, and he shall be your dread.
15. Instead you must worship Christ as Lord of your life and if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.  16.  But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ.
Wesley admonishes about verse 15 (maybe it's not admonishment but I always picture him delivering words with a stern frown on his face) that we have a filial fear of offending God and a suspicion about ourselves lest we speak amiss.  Ironically, it seems, a true fear of God lets the rest of us off the hook in the fear and suspicion of each other department.
17. Remember it is better to suffer for doing good if that is what God wants than to suffer for doing wrong.
Why does this statement from Peter feel patronizing?  Out of all people, he should know about suffering for both good and wrong, shouldn't he?  The problem is that I feel like it is impossible to know if I am wrong or right about anything.  Who has that kind of confidence?  Again I can produce a list, times I fought for what I thought was right only to discover I was wrong.  I have layers of shame leftover from these times.  So how can I know if I'm suffering for doing good or wrong?? How can anyone know?? Even if our deeds are purely good and adequate and competent and timely (and, really, how often is that?) what about our motives?  As soon as I'm aware that I'm doing good, pride kicks in -- along with self-righteousness and pretty soon someone or something will be sent to humble me.  So is that suffering for doing what is right? I'm not sure I've ever done anything good, ever.

It occurs to me now that most of my life is spent feeling the same thing about other people.  Questioning their motives, scorning their attempts at doing good.  And I'm not just talking about individual people, but whole movements of people.  Like the Baptists, for example.

Epilogue, February 2011
I never finished the post.  That's where it stopped.  Apparently, I became so convicted about judging the good Baptist folk, I couldn't go on?  Maybe I was ashamed gushing the violent feelings attached to relatively minor surgery.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

I'm grateful to say that I've grown a lot in this past year.  Gotten off my sick-bed of self-hatred, bitterness, fear, self-righteousness and have begun to walk into a new day of relational and emotional and physical health.  It sure feels good to be breathing the free air again.

It's God's kindness that leads to repentance.  In this experience, recovering from surgery, I think God showed his kindness as bubbling-warm casseroles, jewel-soft flower arrangements, timid voices questioning "how are you doing?" on the other side of the phone.  God used all those good deeds in my life to speak to me, a living word, a good-intentioned scalpel to slit into the festering places rotting up my soul.

 I bless the Christ of God;
I rest on love divine;

And with unfaltering lip and heart,

I call this Savior mine.

His cross dispels each doubt,
I bury in His tomb
My unbelief,
And all my fear, 
Each lingering shade of gloom.

I praise the God of grace,

I trust His truth and might
He calls me His, I call Him mine,
My God, my joy, my light
’Tis He Who saveth me,
And freely pardon gives
I love because
He loveth me,
I live because He lives!

Linking up with Em this Thursday.

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