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Laundry Days

Wed, 2016-03-30 02:47
Photo: Hemera I know what you are thinking. How could laundry ever be enjoyable?

Yes, I have been there too. In fact, I used to dread doing the laundry. It was like a giant monster that grew larger every day. How could we possibly use that many clothes in one day?

So, I made it a point to learn how to make the job more efficient and less of a chore. Here are some pointers you may not have thought of:

Rule #1: If it does not smell and doesn’t look dirty, it is clean. Reinforce this motto into your children’s (and hubby’s) heads until they too chant the rule as they undress before bedtime. My children have been known to put their still folded clean clothes into the dirty clothes hamper. I was not a happy momma.

Rule #2: Hang towels to dry after showering. Reuse and wash once a week.

Rule #3: Fold socks up together when taking them off at night. Thus avoiding the phrase, “I know the washing machine eats them!”

Rule #4: Treat stains as soon as possible with a good stain remover such as Shout ®. or Spray'n Wash ®. You will be thankful later.

Rule #5: Never wash crayons with your clothes. This will keep them out of the dryer. I almost had a heart attack the first time I did this! Melted wax all over a whole load of clothes is not good. Quick Fix: Add 1 cup baking soda and your detergent to the washer and use hottest water possible.

Rule #6: Always check pockets before placing clothes in the washer. This almost goes without saying. If I had always done this I wouldn’t have known how to remove the crayons from the clothing.

Rule #7: Hang up dress shirts, slacks, and other garments as soon as the dryer stops and you won’t need to iron. Also, you could try and hang your clothes in the closest when you take them off!

Rule #8: Have your children put their own clothing away. This only works if you follow up to make sure it was done right.

Rule #9: Do one to two loads a day and you will stay on top of the game. This is a task that should be begun first thing in the morning. In between your other chores, place wet clothes in dryer and then fold.

Rule #10: Fold clothes as soon as the dryer stops. Then, put them away – immediately! So maybe doing the laundry will never be on your Top Ten List of Fun Activities... but at least it will get done easier!

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By Melissa Ringstaff, Director of www.virtuouswoman.org. Copyright © 2006 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

Family Worship Times

Tue, 2016-03-29 03:17
Photo: Sanja Gjenero “Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.” Psalm 29:2

“Daddy, is it time yet?”

“Yes, sweetie. You may bring the special worship time box to the family room and call everyone.”

Whether it’s morning or evening (or both, if possible) having a family time of worship to God is a blessing for everyone involved. If you think you just don’t have the time, consider it an investment in family bonding, character development and relaxation therapy. It doesn’t have to be long; the length of time can vary according to your family’s needs. Just be regular and sincere in your efforts. Here are a few ideas to get you going (or to perk up your family worship times if you’re already in the habit).

Choose a specific place and specific times to gather your family together. This will help you be consistent. If you attend a church, take advantage of the materials they may give out for Bible study at home. Older children can read the lessons for themselves while a parent helps the younger ones. Sometimes our family acts out charades or everyone draws pictures of a particular story.

Reading a book aloud together is also great. Try some of the many inspiring mission stories or biographies available. It helps if you have a special box with cloth books and other quiet activities that younger children can play with during this time. On the weekends when more time may be available try playing a board game such as Bible Trivia ™. 

Active Involvement

Human beings learn and remember best through stimulation of their senses. Playing instruments or singing together is fun. There is a wide variety of appropriate music available including hymns, praise songs and Scripture songs. In the winter we often build a fire in the fireplace and get out the felt box. The kids like to arrange the felt figures to depict Bible stories. (These can be purchased at Christian bookstores or online.) Family worship is also a good time to light candles and give back rubs or foot massages.

There is much truth in the statement that the families who pray together stay together. Nothing I know of bonds people together like kneeling down before God, joining hands and praying for each other and others. To keep prayer times from becoming stagnant through repetitious phrases like “bless everyone” we rotate through family prayer cards (in categories) listing names of extended family members, friends and organizations for which we can specifically pray. Once a week we repeat together the Lord’s Prayer.

By choosing to bring your family together daily to worship as did Abraham the patriarch, you can honor God’s name on this earth and prepare your heart and the hearts of your family members for an eternity of praising God in heaven. “I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonders” (Psalm 9:1).

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By Brenda Dickerson. Copyright © 2006 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®.

Budget Vacations

Tue, 2016-03-29 03:09
Photo: Oliver Delgado Want to get away and relax together but can’t afford a fancy vacation? By planning ahead and focusing on what’s most important to you about a vacation, families can enjoy quality experiences together.

The three main expenses of most vacations are travel, activities and food. Have a family meeting to pick the area that ranks highest for you. Then minimize expenses in the others.

To reduce travel costs consider destinations closer to home. If possible, stay overnight with friends or relatives. Or, if you really want a family bonding experience, try camping! You might also enjoy spending your vacation time making day trips from your own home. Check out new and interesting places to visit every day and come home to your own bed at night. Watch for coupons that give discounted prices at local attractions.

Many families like to visit museums and zoos because they are both entertaining and educational. Look for ones that operate on a “donations welcome” basis or have one day a week when entrance fees are waived or reduced. The internet is a great resource for finding this information. You can also purchase tickets in advance on-line for some activities. Then you’ll know your exact cost—no surprises.

How to Save

If you’re thinking about taking a package deal vacation, plan to go off-season when rates are substantially reduced. Consider vacationing with another family to share costs – but only if you know them well and have a strong friendship.

As for food, the least expensive way is to pack your own cooler before you leave home. If your trip is lengthy, stop at grocery stores along the way to restock your supply of fresh produce and ice. Also, look for hotels that include breakfast in their prices. At places which allow, bring a shoulder pack with favorite sandwiches and snacks and your own bottled water or fruit juice. Sometimes buying a meal for the family can cost as much as the activity you came for.

By planning ahead and making informed choices your family can enjoy a low-stress vacation doing things you really like without damaging your finances. And remember to take a few photos of your family playing and relaxing so you can reminisce together about your great vacation!

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By Brenda Dickerson. Copyright © 2006 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

Show Them Your Love

Fri, 2016-03-04 03:23
Photo: Lisa Zanchi Ever feel like your love life, family life, and community life are in the doldrums? Here are some easy tips that will lift your spirits and show others you care:   1. Greet your husband at the door with a big smile, a big hug and a fifteen-second kiss, and tell him how happy you are that he is home.

2. Find ways to laugh with your husband – not at him.

3. If you have “let yourself go” since tying the knot, work on your appearance. Does your husband like your hair long? Does he like a particular perfume? Make a point to freshen your face, wear clean clothes, and brush your hair before he arrives home.

4. Surprise your husband with a spontaneous foot rub.

5. Once every week or so place little love notes in various places he will find them: in his briefcase, in his lunch, in his coat pocket, or in his Bible. Vary the day and place so it is always a surprise. Write a love note in red lipstick on the bathroom mirror and make a date for that evening.

6. Do not nag your husband.

7. Compliment your husband to others – especially when he is present.

8. Pray for your husband and children. Sometimes it is nice for them to hear your prayers.

9. Send lunch love notes to your kids on important days, such as test days, field trip days, etc. Or just send them for fun.

10. Have a special snack ready for your children when they walk in the door from school. Or have supper ready at an early hour so no one goes hungry.

11. Have story time everyday with your children. Snuggle under a comfy blanket and have some laughs.

12. Teach your children how to love others by working with them to reach out to the hurting in your community.

13. Invite a new family over for supper and board games.

14. Take your children door to door and collect cans to donate to your church food basket program or to a local food bank.

Sometimes life gets so busy we just forget to show our love, but the blessings are tremendous! Remember the words of Jesus, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

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By Melissa Ringstaff. Copyright © 2006 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW KING JAMES VERSION © 1982.

Growing in Faith

Tue, 2015-09-01 14:00
Photo: iStock Before my car accident this past December I loved to stay busy. I had a full time job plus I had a couple side jobs that I made some money on here and there. I depended on myself to make money, pay the bills, put money away in savings, and have a little extra for spending. My whole world changed when I learned I wouldn't be able to go back to work until the middle of April. That would mean I would be without a job and income for four months!

The first few weeks were stressful and I was full of anxiety. I didn’t know how I would make it through this. I prayed and prayed and I heard God tell me to trust in him. From then on I knew that God would take care of me and my wife so I didn’t worry about my financial situation any more.

I came to realize that my faith in the Lord was not as strong as it should be and that God allowed me to face a situation where my faith could grow stronger. And my faith has grown tremendously in these last few weeks. God is opening up new doors for me.

Unexpected Wake-Up Call

You may think you are doing things right and walking the way Christians are supposed to walk. Then one day you get a wake up call. It might not be pleasant, but God uses these situations to mold us into stronger Christians.

Jesus had the perfect personality. Though we will never be perfect like Him, we can strive to be like Him. Sometimes we will find ourselves in situations that are out of our comfort zone. But what we do in these situations is what will enable us to become more mature in our Christian walk.

Look to God for guidance in everything you do. Paul tells us that “my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). Do not despair. You will make it through the hard times and become stronger and more faithful. Keep your trust in Jesus.

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By David Wolstenholm. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®.

Old Dogs Do Learn

Tue, 2015-09-01 14:00
Photo: Mark Barner I wasn’t a very strict Mom. I had my rules, but if my kids played their cards right, they could often find a way around me.

I got so tired of asking my son to make his bed that I got him a sleeping bag. Somehow that didn’t seem as disorderly when it wasn’t made up. He also got out of having to take piano lessons – I couldn’t stand his whining.

I used to threaten my children that if they left their lunch or homework at home one more day that they would have to go without, but I always ended up bailing them out by delivering their books or lunch to school. And if they ran out of allowance, I was always good for a loan.

But on the topic of college, I was a rock. If it took them 10 years, they were going to finish. One of my daughter’s boyfriends described me as an over-achiever and he was probably right. I always felt like I had something to prove and blamed a lot of my insecurity on not finishing college.

At the time I was offered a M.R.S. in place of a B.S., I was thrilled. I hated school and was pretty awful at it. I think when I finished my third year at Columbia Union College, I may have had a whopping 2.0 grade point average. High school hadn’t been much better. Throughout the years since 1968, I had thought about finishing and had even taken a few college classes along the way. I loved the process of finding out more about a subject and actually retaining some of what I learned, but I didn’t finish my degree.

Then about three years ago, I got a bulk e-mail about online degrees and decided to give it a try. I found a college that would offer me something other than business and computers, a caring adviser helped get me a student loan(s), discovered I had enough credits to begin my junior year – and I was off. And I can’t describe how fantastic it felt.

My classwork consisted of a college course begun and completed every six weeks. I was considered a full-time student, all the while holding down a full-time job and taking some freelance writing jobs along the way, plus authoring a devotional with my daughter for 2006. It hasn’t been easy, but in one month, I graduate with a B.S. in Interdisciplinary Studies with an emphasis in English and Psychology and a GPA of 3.7. Its been expensive, time consuming and at times exhausting. Would I do it again? You bet. My sense of accomplishment is at an all-time high.

Still Growing

Now that I’ve proved I can learn, have my insecurities vanished? Mostly yes, but that had nothing to do with GPA or degrees or the amount of my student loans, it had to do with coming to terms with what makes me worth anything. It’s God’s love and it’s always been there waiting for me to recognize its power. The following verse, with some added personalization, sums it up for me, and it didn’t take a college degree to understand it. "Nothing can ever separate me from His love. Death can't, and life can't. The angels can't, and the demons can't. My fears for today, my worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can't keep God's love away. Whether I am high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate me from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus my Lord" (Romans 8:38).

So, don’t give up on your dreams. Fulfilling them can give you a lot of pleasure and don’t worry about being too old to start. At 58, I figure I’ll die before I pay off my student loans. So keep achieving, but do it because it pleases you. And if it pleases you, you know that the One who will never let you be separated from His love will also be pleased.

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By Dee Litton Reed. Copyright © 2006 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from  the NEW LIVING TRANSLATION©.

Use Your Personality

Tue, 2015-09-01 14:00
Photo: iStock When you look around at other people you readily notice that everyone has a different personality. One person may love to be the center of attention; that person talks a lot, enjoys other people, and has a bubbly personality. Another person seems to be bossy, makes quick correct judgments, and desires to be in control of everything. Another person likes to keep things organized, wants things done correctly, analyzes things, and is always setting goals. Still another person may go to great lengths to avoid a conflict, keep peace. They lack decisiveness and enthusiasm, but have a pleasing personality, and a dry sense of humor. You may fall into one or more of these categories, as I do.

Researchers and scientists devote their whole lives plus millions of dollars trying to figure out how personalities work, where they come from, and predicting what a person will do in a certain situation. They often ask, why are people different and why do people do the things they do? Many theories have been made from these questions. But does it really mean anything?

Why do we all need to be different anyway? Let’s take a look at what the Bible has to say. Paul gives a list of spiritual gifts including wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy and more (1 Corinthians 12:8-11). Paul then goes on to explain that there are different parts of the church body that require members to do different things (1 Corinthians 12:12-31). God made us different in order to perform the whole workings of the church. One person can't do everything. But when the people are brought together in the body of the church, all things can be done.

You Are Special

Don’t be discouraged when you see one person doing great things for the Lord that you can never see yourself doing. God made you specifically to do something special. Use what you know you are good at instead of dwelling on what you are not good at. Paul thought of himself as a timid man (2 Corinthians 10:1) and not a good public speaker (2 Corinthians 11:6). Yet the Lord still made him great and used his personality strengths to the fullest.

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By David Wolstenholm. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

Cheap Vacations

Sat, 2015-08-29 14:00
Photo: Studiomill Does your family desperately need a vacation? Is your bank account squeaking? You don’t need a key to Fort Knox to enjoy time with your loved ones. While many “all-inclusive” vacations can run into thousands of dollars, options that are big on family fun and easy on the pocketbook exist as well. Here are a number of ways to save money on your next family trip:
  • Do your homework. If you’re planning a vacation, make sure that you know where you are going, how you’re going to get there, and your itinerary along the vacation route. Forethought can help you stay on budget.
     
  • Look for the deals. The Internet is jam-packed with travel sites that offer low prices, incredible deals, and family-friendly fares on everything from hotels to restaurants, and airfare if needed.
     
  • Choose alternative accommodations on portions of your trip. Broaden your horizons, squeeze your spending, and have a great time by staying overnight in a tent or bunking at a hostel. (For more information about hostels, go to www.hostels.com). These low-priced alternatives can save your family plenty and help create great memories!
     
  • Eat on the cheap. With proper planning, you can enjoy great food along the way at a fraction of normal vacation cuisine cost. Decide ahead of time to keep convenience store purchases to a minimum, and buy plenty of fresh fruits like apples, bananas and oranges at grocery stores along the way. If you plan to eat in a restaurant, choose a time when menu prices are less expensive (breakfast and lunch) and eat light during the dinner hour. If each traveler has a water bottle, choose to purchase your water by the gallon and refill them. Buying new individual bottled waters can really add up.
     
  • Go on a series of day trips. Wherever you happen to live, there is a good chance that you are within driving distance of an enjoyable family outing. Museums and national parks are inexpensive and in abundance. Your family can enjoy all the amenities that delight tourists visiting the same area, and best of all, you get to sleep in your own bed. For more information on attractions near you, check out www.fodors.com and have a peek at a well-researched guidebook for your area.
Remember, the journey is just as important as the destination. Quality time with family is what memories are made of…no matter where you go. Seek togetherness, and you’ll discover a world of possibilities!

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By Michael Temple. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

Our Last Argument

Sat, 2015-08-29 14:00

Photo: iStock

Not long after we were wed, my wife, Sue, and I had a terrible fight. Providentially, what could have destroyed our marriage ended up strengthening it.

Sue and I were getting ready to attend a church party that we had been looking forward to for some time. I drew the water for my bath and then stepped into our bedroom to get some clean clothing. While I was gone, my pretty little wife decided she would play a joke on me. She slipped into the bathroom, locked the door, and took a bath in the water I had drawn.

When Sue had finished bathing, she went into the bedroom to dress, and I headed to the bathroom to take my bath. Much to my surprise, I discovered that Sue had not drained the water she had bathed in. I suggested to her that, since she had taken a bath in my water, she should drain it and draw me some fresh water. Sue was in a playful mood. She giggled and said, “Oh, I wasn’t very dirty. Just take a bath in my water.”

I saw no humor in her remark and responded in a gruff, demanding voice, “No way. Now get yourself in here and draw me some fresh bath water.”

Sue flashed her prettiest smile and teased me. “I really wasn’t very dirty. Go ahead and use my water.”

Without really meaning to threaten her, I said, “If you don’t get yourself in here and draw me some fresh bath water, I’ll throw you in the tub, clothes and all.”

Sue’s smile faded, and she said, “You wouldn’t dare do that to me . . . would you?”

Sensing that I was being challenged, I responded by restating what now really did become a threat, “If you don’t draw me some fresh bath water, I will. I’ll throw you in, clothes and all!”

Shocked, Sue said, her voice rising, “You wouldn’t dare do that!”

“I’m not kidding!” I shouted as I headed toward her, picked her up, and carried her into the bathroom.

As I held Sue over the tub, I thought to myself, “I love this dear lady, and I really don’t want to drop her in this water.” Looking for a way out without damaging my pride, once again I asked her if she would draw me some fresh bath water.

Out of Control

She looked me in the eye and said, in what seemed to me a defiant tone, “No way!”

So I did a very foolish thing. I dropped her, clothes and all, into the tub.

Sue came up wet and angry.

Then I said some things I shouldn’t have said, and Sue withdrew. She didn’t speak to me for four days. And she didn’t do any cooking or cleaning. My selfishness and bad temper almost cost me my marriage!

This incident happened more than 35 years ago. It was our last fight. We chose not to argue again.

Don’t misunderstand. Our opinions differ at times, but we don’t fight about them. We’ve learned a better way. We’ve learned to allow some give and take, to be considerate, patient, loving, kind, and gentle with each other. We’ve also learned to compromise. We love each other so much that we don’t want to hurt each other. So we discipline ourselves to do and say only those things that will build up the other’s self-esteem.

We have learned that spouses can avoid fights by:

1. loving enough to sacrifice for each other
2. learning to discuss differences calmly. (Don’t shout!)
3. learning to compromise.
4. learning to be unselfish. (You don’t always have to be right or to have your own way.)
5. asking God for His help. (We asked, and He helped.)

Thirty-five years without an argument or fight. It’s a great way to live!

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By Joe Seay. Reprinted with persmission from Signs of the Times, April 2006. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

Over the Fence

Sat, 2015-08-29 14:00
  Photo: Jeremy Menking I grew up on a farm in north‑central Minnesota in a community where we got along very well with the neighbors. That is, with one exception. Our back pasture bordered the property of a neighbor I’ll call Alfred.

We had pretty good fences, but even the best fences can have some weaknesses if livestock have a notion that the grass is greener on the other side. Alfred had a field of ripening corn that some of our cattle must have felt it was just something too tempting to pass up. At any rate, our cattle got across that fence. To say they made a feast of the neighbor’s corn field would be an understatement.

It took us a while, but with the help of some other neighbors, we got the cows back on our side of the fence. 

 “This is going to cost you, Joe,” Alfred told my father in no uncertain terms. “Your cows did a lot of damage to my corn.” 

 “How much do we owe you?” my father asked.

 “I haven’t figured it out yet. When I do, I’ll send you a bill.

My father nodded. I was at a loss for words. But I wasn’t when we got the bill. “No way!” I told my father. “He’s charging way too much for his corn!

My father shrugged, “What choice do we have? Take it to court? That’s not a good idea between neighbors.

The following year was very dry. On Alfred’s land there were no ponds; he watered his cattle from a well. We had a well for the cattle, too, but we also had several ponds on our land. The soil surrounding the ponds had moisture so that grass could grow.

One late-summer morning, Alfred’s cows suddenly seemed to think that the grass was lot greener on our side of the fence. Alfred’s cows were in our pasture; on our side of the fence. At first I was upset. But then I thought, Ah, the shoe is on the other foot now.

Sharing Pastures

 “What do I owe you?” Alfred asked sheepishly. My father waved him off, “We’ll talk about that later. First, let’s get these cows back across.

When we got back to our house, I anxiously asked my father what he was going to charge Alfred for this little incident.

My father answered, “Why, we’re not going to charge him a penny.”

I gasped, “You must be joking, Dad!”

“Look,” he said, “all they did was eat a little bit of hay.

“But he charged a lot for the damage to his corn last year!” I protested.

"That’s in the past,” my father said. “I know Alfred doesn’t have much money. In fact, I have an idea that will prevent something like this from ever happening again.”

His reasoning was this: We would share pastures. “It’s always a good idea to rotate pastures if you can,” he said. “Early in the summer, before it gets too dry, we can run the cattle on Alfred’s land. When it gets dry, the cows can come into our pasture with the ponds.” After talking it over with Alfred, we put a gate between our properties.

Soon I recognized the wisdom of my father’s thinking. Fences are necessary on a farm. They separate what needs to be kept apart. But gates connect—both pastures and people.

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By Tom Kovach. Excerpts reprinted with persmission from Signs of the Times, April 2005. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

Being Robbed Twice

Tue, 2015-08-25 14:00
Photo: Gaston Thauvin Nancy cried as we unpacked our household goods. I seethed with anger. We’d just moved across the country, and when we unpacked we found dozens of broken items scattered through the boxes: the ornate ceramic cross a friend gave us several Easters before, the framed painting of Jesus, a wooden crèche, a copper jewelry box that held a miniature Bible. We also discovered our gold coin collection was missing along with more than two hundred CDs.

The damage looked deliberate. None of the broken items had been wrapped in protective paper. The movers simply tossed them among other unwrapped items, such as books and metal pans—almost as if they wanted them to break.

“It isn’t fair,” Nancy said later that evening as we ate our supper. I knew what she meant. We’re a military family, and we’ve crossed the country seven times in seventeen years. We’ve left family and said goodbye to church friends, knowing it might be years—if ever—before we would see them again. But we make these sacrifices because we love our country and want to do all we can to protect it. That’s why it hurts all the more when people we serve do what they did.

Two months later, while I stood at a CD rack in a local music store, I spotted a title we’d owned before the move. As I read the cover, a sudden lust for vengeance washed over me. Maybe I could contact the right people and cause the moving company to lose its contract with the military because they hired scoundrels.

Double Jeopardy

But just as suddenly as my anger had flared, it froze, for a new thought crossed my mind: The men robbed you once. Why let them rob you again?

I knew exactly who asked the question, and what He meant by it. A subtle, nearly imperceptible change had occurred in me during those weeks after our move. The pleasure I once received while reading the Bible had nearly dried up. My prayers had become superficial and rote and I had difficulty concentrating on the pastor’s sermons at church. My anger was robbing me of something far more valuable than what we’d lost to the movers.

This was one of those “A-ha!” moments. Light exploded in my mind, breaking through the confusion. God was telling me that in just a few weeks I’d become example number one of His warning about roots of bitterness

Forgiveness has never been easy for me. But at that moment I realized that my willingness to forgive was crucial to my continued spiritual growth. If Jesus forgave those who crucified Him, can I do less when someone steals from me?

Forgiveness frees me to be at peace with God. It frees me to hear from Him, move with Him, to imitate Him. Yet even as I write this, I’m not sure I have forgiven the movers. Perhaps I’ve only fooled myself into thinking I’ve forgiven them, when in reality I’ve simply chosen not to hold a grudge.

I admit that’s not the same as forgiveness, but it’s a step in the right direction. And I can only pray that my ability to really forgive is the next step in my journey toward becoming more like Christ.

Being robbed once is bad enough. I won’t be robbed twice.

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By Richard Maffeo. Reprinted with permission from Signs of the Times September 2005. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

An Unlikely Answer

Tue, 2015-08-25 14:00
Photo: iStock A Mother's prayer is answered with jail!

Cheryl told me the story of her oldest son, Brian.

He had grown up a great kid, in fact he had urged the family to go to church when he was twelve. They did. And they didn’t stop, but somewhere along the way he made the wrong friends and got into drugs. Innocent at first, a little pot, but eventually it turned into a hard habit of meth.

Cheryl prayed: “God I need your help. Save my son.”

The answer came. Brian was picked up for possession and ended up in jail. It was so hard for this mother to have her son be in jail. This had to be the worst experience of his life and it was embarrassing to her as a parent, but perhaps God was working.

Imprisoned Yet Free!

He was. Brian came to his bottom. He cried out to God and demanded that He show His face to him that night in jail or he’d give up on Him forever. That night God showed up. Brian said He showed His face to him. He hasn’t been able to explain it, but ever since, Brian has been committed to God. He has continually worn the simple wooden cross around his neck that he was wearing that night. It is a visible reminder that God heard his prayer and He answered.

Jesus did tell us: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:9,10).

He’s telling us that for things to happen we need to ask. Cheryl did. Brian did. Do we when we face the impossible? Do we when we face the possible?Today Brian is doing much better. He continues to struggle at times with poor choices and bad habits, but he is always talking about God and to Him. They are close. He’s been seen at church throwing a kiss to God for His love for him. What else can a mother ask for?

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By Chad McComas. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®.

Camping Together

Tue, 2015-08-25 14:00
Photo: Ben C Beuford Camping is an inexpensive way to vacation with your family, if you remember to keep your focus on the purpose.
 

I’m cold. It’s 2:00 a.m. I’m supposed to be asleep, but the blow-up mattress underneath me has lost some of its “blow-up.” My wife is huddled in a ball trying to keep warm. Squinting through the darkness I notice in our tent my other children sleeping quietly. I recall their optimism, “Daddy, camping in April will be so much fun! There will be hardly anyone at the campground and…” And it will be cold.

After crawling out from under my sleeping bag, I don a few clothes and step outside for a moment. I stop awestruck. The star-studded sky brilliantly twinkles like a billion Christmas lights overhead. A raccoon darts across the grounds. A few coals still glow silently in the fire pit.

When I slip back into our tent, I search for a few extra jackets to lay over my sleeping cherubs to make sure they stay warm. Children look so innocent when they are asleep. What are they dreaming about? Hiking around the lake? Catching frogs and turtles? Collecting pinecones? Fishing off the dock? Eating a steaming bowl of oatmeal in the cool morning sunshine at the picnic table?

Investing In Memories

I pull on a sweatshirt, toss a coat over my sleeping wife and crawl back into my sleeping bag. As I lay there, I think to myself, “Why am I so slow to learn?”

Earlier in the week I remember thinking, “Camping? In a tent? Those days are gone. I want a motor home! Besides, the kids won’t have much fun. It will probably rain or be cold.” But the excitement and thrill of surviving seemed to create a joy all by itself!

A teacher in college once told me as I sat on his old living room couch, “We’ve decided to invest in memories instead of things.” How true it is! My children don’t want my “things,” they want me. Just being together in our hectic society is a miracle for many families to accomplish.

No, camping isn’t always fun. There are still bee stings and burnt hot dogs. Sometimes it does rain. But who does it bother the most? (Me.) My kids don’t seem to mind as much as I do. They are happily sleeping on the other side of our Wal-Mart “on-sale” tent.

I give the mattress a few puffs of air to keep us from hitting bottom and then wander into dreamland myself thinking, “It takes so little to be happy.”

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By Curtis Rittenour. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

A New Marriage

Sat, 2015-08-22 14:00
Photo: iStock A little over a year ago, my husband and I entered the Empty Nest phase of our lives together. For a while, the "Nest" had become a refueling station. However, I believe that Empty is what we are currently experiencing with both children married and living in their own homes. I am still adjusting to purchasing fewer groceries, washing fewer loads of clothes, and having more hours in a quiet house. How would I describe this part of our lives?

1. Time for Change—bad and good

For some couples this is a time of basking in much-needed attention without anyone else crawling into bed in the middle of the night, or interrupting each conversation. Yet Empty Nesting can also mean that couples are no longer interested in protecting their marriage “for the sake of the children.” And as parents die, couples no longer have to spare their parents from distress. Some couples enter this phase with some fear and anxiety—am I still a priority to my partner? Is he bored with me? Can we find anything in common other than the children? A variety of insecurities and temptations can emerge. Individual developmental stages sometimes seem to work against the achievement of a thriving marriage. While some women struggle with their changing status, others seem eager to explore their independence. Men may entertain romantic ideas or “soften” as they age. Husbands and wives often struggle with their own changing physical conditions.

2. Time for Evaluation/Making New Memories

One of our first projects together was a healthy lifestyle adjustment as we re-discovered making and eating nutritious meals. We take daily walks together as often as possible. While learning about enhancing our later years in life, we know that our brains and souls need continuing social connections and intellectual refreshment. We are trying some new recipes, mentoring a young couple, planning to learn Spanish, and hoping to take a cruise. We have also taken stock of some house repairs, explored options for finances, and re-energized a career.

3. Time for Another Wedding

Now it is just the three of us, and I do not mean two people and the dog. The third member of our home is our marriage. Just as our children have developed through various stages, so has our marriage. Maintaining marriage during the active parenting years seemed at times as though hanging on by God’s grace. We now have another marriage that can thrive with nurture and investment.

I am reminded of what Mary Pipher, Ph.D., says in her book, The Shelter of Each Other (p. 237):

"In our rapidly changing world, people who stay married for fifty years really have multiple marriages to the same mate. They have a romantic relationship, a child-rearing relationship, and later one strong in commitment and caretaking. One marriage ceremony at the beginning is not enough to hold such a marriage in place. Couples need new ceremonies and rites of passage, second honeymoons and even third and fourth ones. It's good to renew vows and write new vows every few years."

Recently I read that rather than taking marriages for granted we should take infidelity for granted—that seems to be the status quo on this earth. Marriage is teased, tempted and triumphs on a daily basis. As I recommit myself to my relationship with Christ each day, I am encouraged to make a daily choice for our marriage and to love.

The realization that multiple marriages exist between the same two people can change expectations, encourage forgiveness, and help establish new goals and understanding.

When children have launched or careers have changed, it is the best time to share renewal vows, moments of prayer and blessing, besides planning special adventures.

4. Time for Added Support

Friends, family and the church can acknowledge and support marriages with a renewal service or a party. Waiting until a 40th or 50th anniversary may be too late for many couples. Spiritual, emotional, financial and physical challenges exist every day. Now is the time to “rally the troops” and dedicate a new marriage.

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By Karen Spruill, M.A. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

Pipher, Mary. The Shelter of Each Other; rebuilding our families. 1996, Grosset/Putnam, N.Y., N.Y.

Taming the Tiger

Sat, 2015-08-22 14:00
Photo: iStock Child [A] begins yelling angrily, “He started it!” Child [B] starts grabbing at his brother, “Did not!”

If this scenario sounds all too familiar the following tips may help you in dealing with sibling rivalry in your home.

As far as possible, let each child have his own physical space. If siblings must share bedrooms, improvise some sort of divider so they clearly know where their space ends and the other person’s begins. Enforce the “ask permission” rule where children must ask and receive the owner’s approval to be in his space or borrow his things.

Encourage each child to have an interest of his own in which he can excel. If big brother Johnny studies the violin, encourage Joey to play the trumpet, guitar, or whatever instrument interests him. If sister Suzy is a soccer star, sign Sarah up for swimming, tennis, etc. This will help to minimize the competition between siblings.

Resist the temptation to compare. What comes easily for one child (like a straight A report card) may be impossible for another to achieve. Recognize and affirm the value of each child for who s/he is – a blessing from God.

Sharing Together

Choose an activity that all the children in the home can enjoy and capitalize on it. For our family, that has been building with LEGOs while listening to recordings of dramatized stories. Our children have passed many pleasant hours together, happily constructing huge castles and mansions and equipping all the rooms with furniture and accessories. When they finish a project we take pictures for the family photo album.

If, despite all your efforts, your offspring persist in squabbling, tell them that from now on whenever there is conflict each child will have to be alone. Instead of trying to figure out “whose fault it is” send them all to separate rooms where they must stay until they are ready to get along with others. If you do this consistently they will tire of isolation and try harder to keep the peace.

“How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133:1).

When brothers and sisters develop strong ties as they are growing up they can support each other in difficult times and enjoy the blessing of life-long friendships. 

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By Brenda Dickerson. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®.

Amazing Race Grace

Sat, 2015-08-22 14:00
Photo: iStock It was Tuesday night and time for my favorite television program, The Amazing Race. But instead of a dozen teams of two people each, the teams were made up of four members of a family. A few of the teams had a mother, father and two small children – which was a liability in this game of strategy and sometimes strength as they negotiate their way around the country. Some of the teams were siblings and a couple of the teams had one parent with three children.

During the weeks of the show, there’s an opportunity to get to know the contestants and choose favorites that you hope will win. It’s also easy to spot the ones you hope don’t win.
Early on, I began to notice the Weaver family from Florida. There was Mom, Rebecca (19), Rachel (16) and Rolly (14). The father had been killed during an accident at the Daytona International Speedway two years before. My heart went out to them during the contest when it landed them at motor speedways. Their tears of grief were hard to ignore. Something else made them stand out. They talked often about their faith and the fact they were Christians. It’s always great to hear that during secular programming. But it wasn’t long before I hoped they’d stop waving their faith banner. They became an embarrassment. And I wasn’t the only Christian feeling that way.

An article written about Amazing Race 8 Family Edition had this to say about the Weavers: “Once the Weavers showed up, roughly 16 million Christians of all denominations, when questioned about their faith, paused, looked awkward, and said ‘Ummm... I just converted to …’”

Of course, it wasn’t that bad, but there was certainly nothing to be proud about. Sure they prayed -- sometimes to have their teammates fail, but most of the time that they would win the race. They lied, they cheated, they made fun of fellow teammates and then when they were shunned by the other members of the race who had felt their unkindness, they said it was because they were Christians and they were being persecuted. I wanted to reach into the television and give their Mom a little shake.

Healthy Trees--Good Apples

Jesus knew some Christians just like this and talked about them in Luke 6, the same chapter that contains the Golden Rule. He said, “You don't get wormy apples off a healthy tree, nor good apples off a diseased tree. The health of the apple tells the health of the tree. You must begin with your own life-giving lives. It's who you are, not what you say and do, that counts. Your true being brims over into true words and deeds.”

OK, I’ll be the first one to admit that I’ve done everything that the Weavers did – of course, not on national television. So what am I fussing about? The whole thing gave me a wake-up call. As disgusted as I was at the Weavers for announcing they were Christians and then ending up being “wormy apples,” I’m wondering if my coworkers, friends and family think I’m a little wormy, too? Instead of focusing on this poor family from Florida, I’m taking a look inward. I’m not naturally honest, long-suffering and kind. In fact, I could probably give the Weavers a run for their money in the nasty department.

There’s only one way I can run a clean race and it’s through God’s grace. A good definition of grace is “God's life, power and righteousness coming to us, the undeserving, as a gift.”

It is through grace that God works effective change in our hearts and lives. God's laws don’t have the power to make us what we should be. It takes God Himself, working in our lives, to make us what we ought to be. I want to run that race. I don’t even have to be the first one across the finish line, but I do want to be in the running and through my example, I want to be running the race with people who have seen God in me by His grace. It’s God's grace that gives us the right words and the right way to communicate those words. It’s God's grace that actually spreads through us to work in those that are hearing and receiving the gospel.

“Every detail works to your advantage and to God's glory: more and more grace, more and more people, more and more praise" (2 Corinthians 4:15).

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By Dee Reed. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from THE MESSAGE ®.

Birds, Bees, and Purity

Tue, 2015-08-18 14:00
Photo: iStock It started out like any other school day. You know, where you’re running around wondering why your gym clothes aren’t clean and your hair has that funny sticky-up thing going on, and you just remembered you had a history paper due. One of those kinds of days.

As the mother of a 15-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son, I was glad I was not the one having to prepare for a day at school; instead, I was the chauffeur – a job I was going to give up as soon as my daughter Joelle got her driver’s license. We piled into the car; Joelle in front next to me and Scott slouched in the back trying to catch a few more Zs on the way to school. Joelle usually carried on a one-sided conversation during the a.m. commutes having a naturally sunny morning disposition. Scott and I, on the other hand, tended to wake up a bit more slowly.

She chatted on and I was lulled into making monosyllabic responses until I heard the word “sex.” Hey, wait! What was I missing? “Could you repeat that again?” I asked. “Must have been thinking about something else.”

What Did You Say?

“I just said that Jennifer and I decided that we won’t take drugs or have sex with boys because we don’t need to,” she repeated. “We feel too good about ourselves so why should we do something that could hurt us? Plus, it’s not what God has in mind for us before we get married.”

I stuttered a bit and actually started sweating, although the morning air was quite cold. If you ever want to see your parents sweat, just start talking about sex. “Do you and your friends talk much about sex and drugs?” I asked.

“Yeah, sometimes we do. One of the girls in our class is pregnant and so it’s kind of a popular subject now,” Joelle responded.

“Did you know that she was having sex?” I asked.

“Some of us thought so,” said Joelle. “She’s been having a hard time at home and has stopped being involved in after-school programs. I tried talking to her and invited her to be on our worship team, but she said she really wasn’t interested, so I didn’t know what else to do.”

As I pulled into the school parking lot – much too soon for our conversation to end – I struggled with something to say. Scott woke up and both kids piled out of the car shouting quick good byes. I just sat there letting the car idle as I thought about her classmate’s parents and what they must be feeling and about the young mother-to-be and prayed that Joelle would always feel too good about herself.

Of course, I’d had THE SEX talk with her many years ago, as did Scott’s dad with him, but I had only dealt with the negatives about having sex outside of marriage: the possibility of pregnancy and disease. I hadn’t stressed how good it feels to be doing the will of God when caring for your body, mostly because at 15, I had learned the opposite side of it. It was a long time ago, but the memories came flooding back of how lost I had felt and how far it seemed I was separated from God. Nothing seemed to be going right.

Feeling Pressure

My parents and I weren’t getting along, I was failing some of my classes and my boyfriend – the only person in the whole world that I thought really loved me – was pressing me to have sex with him. And why shouldn’t I? No one really cared – not even God who had these impossibly high standards set for me that only caused me to fail and fail. Since I was already so bad, what’s one more thing?

Two 15-year-olds. Two different Gods? No. The difference was in the message that the two 15-year-olds received ABOUT God – the two different messages they heard. I heard the legalities and the rules and Joelle had heard the freedom of believing in a God that had her best interest in mind. I grew up with the “Wages of sin is death,” and she grew up understanding Ephesians 3:18-19 (NLT): "And may you have the power to understand, as all God's people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love really is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully understand it. Then you will be filled with the fullness of life and power that comes from God."

Sure both of those are legitimate Bible texts. The one I heard and believed dealt with how God feels about sin. The one Joelle heard dealt with how God feels about his children. Imagine believing that God loves us so much that we’ll be filled with life and power? The power to make the right choices knowing that no matter what we do, we’ll be loved. Fantastic!

Those two 15-year-olds certainly took two different paths. Can they possibly end up at the same place? Certainly! It’s just that one path is less painful and less harmful. Why wallow in the mud if you can just step over the mud puddle? Because God loves us so much, he has promises for those of us who don’t always do what’s best for our minds and our bodies. “Where is the god who can compare with you--wiping the slate clean of guilt, turning a blind eye, a deaf ear, to the past sins of your purged and precious people? You don't nurse your anger and don't stay angry long, for mercy is your specialty. That's what you love most. And compassion is on its way to us. You'll stamp out our wrongdoing. You'll sink our sins to the bottom of the ocean” (Micah 7:18-19, The Message).

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By Dee Reed. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from THE MESSAGE ® and the NEW LIVING TRANSLATION ©.

A Father's Love

Tue, 2015-08-18 14:00
Photo: Mohamed Riffath After years of trying to have a baby, Mark and Amy were finally blessed with a baby boy. They named the child after his father. Amy was in school but took some time off to spend with her newborn. She never went anywhere without little Mark. Mark and Amy loved spending time playing with, feeding, and loving him. Little Mark’s giggle brightened up their lives.

Six months after little Mark was born, Amy decided to return to school. She would be to taking night classes so Mark could be at home with the baby. Amy was extremely nervous. She had not been away from her baby yet. She knew that Mark could take care of him but she also knew she would miss him. Amy hoped her thoughts of little Mark would not distract her from her school work.

Mark was also nervous about Amy going back to school but he did not show it. He often fed and changed little Mark when Amy was at home. But this wouldn't be different because he would be all alone with little Mark. Mark reassured Amy that everything would be just fine and she had nothing to worry about. But on the inside he wondered how he was going to deal with it.

Solo Night

The dreaded night finally came and Amy wiped the tears from her eyes as she kissed little Mark goodbye. Mark and his son had a great time together while Amy was at school. They laughed and giggled almost the whole time. But just before it was time for Amy to come home, little Mark started crying. Mark checked his diaper, but that wasn’t the problem. He tried feeding and holding him but that didn’t help either. Mark was disappointed when nothing he did seemed to comfort his son.

Our Father in heaven loves us even more than Mark loves his little son. When we suffer, God suffers. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38, 39).

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By David Wolstenholm. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®.

Marriage Healing

Tue, 2015-08-18 14:00
Photo: Brenda Lamothe Coulomme I sat in the counselor’s office talking about marriage problems. Not just my own, but the whole historic issues that men and women face. We theorized and philosophized, but there were no easy answers as to why men and women struggle, until he shared one statement that made all the sense in the world.

He said: “There can be no healing in a marriage until each person owns his or her own stuff.”

That was it. Such an easy answer, but such a hard thing to do.

If both partners in a relationship can own up to what they do right and wrong it will stop most of the problems and pain. It is hard to be angry and frustrated at someone who is admitting his or her part of “dance.”

Most couples stay in constant trouble because one or both are not willing to “own” what he or she contributes to the mix of marriage.

All of a sudden James’ instruction for healing makes sense. Not just for a person with a physical illness, but for a couple with a marriage illness. He said: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).

Confess…that’s “Owning One’s Own Stuff.” According to James when we “Own Our Stuff” we can be healed.

True Confession

Confession works. I recently talked with someone who had been abused by his father so badly when he was a boy that he had to run away to save his life. He had terrible memories of beatings, bruises and blood. Yet, he said that if his father ever comes to him and apologizes he will forgive him. That’s the amazing healing power of “Owning Our Own Stuff.”

And praying. James says we are to confess to each other and pray for each other. How many couples do that when they have a disagreement? It’s very hard for a couple to stay angry with each other when they are praying together. Try it.

But, unfortunately many couples choose rather to remain angry and hold resentments. They hold on to each other’s “stuff” and forget to own their own “stuff.”

So, perhaps the first prayer we all need to pray is asking God for the grace and courage to “fess up” and “own up” so we can “heal up.”

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By Chad McComas. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®.

Been There, Done That

Sat, 2015-08-15 14:00
Photo: iStock “An effort made for the happiness of others lifts us above ourselves.” –Lydia M. Child

Some people have been married, divorced, and single, married again, divorced again, and single again. So as I said in the title, been there, done that, and I would do it again.

Why? Because we learn as we go. It’s unfortunate that it took a few of us 30, 40 or 50 years to figure out how to live the way we were meant live.

All little girls dream of silk wedding gowns, romantic honeymoons and living happily ever after in a cottage in the country surrounded by a white picket fence; a dog, a cat, and a few children giggling as they chase each other around the house.

What goes wrong? We’re human and often have unrealistic expectations when we’re young (and sometimes when we’re older too). We expect our mate to be perfect, to fulfill our every need, to care for us the way we fantasized it would be in our childish dreams.

Authentic love

I read somewhere that women marry men for who they can change them to be, and men marry women for who they are. Women out there, put aside your pride. It’s ok to learn from men sometimes. Having a healthy relationship starts with honesty and openness. Slip daily communication into the menu with loving your partner for who s/he is and not who you hope or expect them to become.

As Joan Crawford once said “Love is a fire. But whether it is going to warm your hearth or burn down your house, you can never tell.”

Marriage, just like any good relationship requires a lot of compromise. It requires two people willing to listen for what the other person needs from them. A successful marriage isn’t about finding the right mate; it’s about being the right mate. Neither is marriage about being perfect or expecting the other person to be perfect; it’s all about recognizing and being aware of your differences and similarities, accepting them and matching those pieces together perfectly.

You can’t fail when you hold hands while disagreeing, agree to be friends, and mix in a hefty dose of humor. Traveling together hand in hand into the sunset is the way every good relationship movie ends. It’s the only way to travel with your partner.

So make the decision today from this day forward to put out the fires of destruction, and keep your hearth warm with the fire of love and acceptance.

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By Denise Taylor, pseudonym. Copyright © 2015 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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