Soybeans, sunflowers and salvation: from dirt we came

I had breakfast in a soybean field this week.  I was in Milan, Tennessee to attend the celebrated Milan “No Till” agricultural festival.  Milan, by the way, is the hometown of two notable past Presidents of the University of Tennessee- Dr. Andy Holt and Eli Fly.  Not too shabby for a town with a population of 7,800 folks.

No Till is an farming method that doesn’t disturb the soil as much as traditional methods- among other things it allows great moisture retention. The event draws hundreds of people from across the state and region to witness advancements in agricultural technology and demonstrate the latest improvements in farming methods.

I attend many events like this each year- but this one is special.  It’s a celebration of an agricultural culture.  A celebration of the soil and the fruit, vegetables and crops that come forth from it.  It’s also a celebration of people- farmers and their families.  Good, hard-working, intelligent and honest folks.

Cycles are inevitable in agriculture.  There is a time, a season and a reason for everything.  Planning, planting, feeding and harvesting are all vitally important to the farming process.

And to me- this trip back home to West Tennessee was a reminder of the temporary nature of our own lives.  Our earthly bodies, like the plants of the field, aren’t built for immortality.  We know that God formed us from the dust of the ground.

…the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.  Genesis 2:7

We are also reminded that our bodies will eventually return to the earth.

By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.  Genesis 3:19

Our earthly life is a cycle.  We are born, grow, and work.  We age and eventually pass away.  But just as our friends lay great plans for their crops of the fields, our Heavenly Father has a plan for us.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.  When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.  All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.  Psalm 139:13-16

Our time on earth is limited, but we have a purpose.  We need to be fruitful and work to realize God’s will for the cycle of our temporary, earthly life.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.  Colossians 3:23

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.  I Corinthians 10:31

Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.  Proverbs 16:3

Let’s make our limited days on earth productive and eventually experience the full blessing of the harvest.  God needs workers.

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”  Matthew 9:37-38

While crops take time to grow and harvest- our work with our neighbors (near and far) does not have a time table.  It is immediate.

It’s time for all of us to get our hands dirty.  We need to encourage one another to do good in order to glorify God’s most Holy name while on earth.

But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it.  He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.  Matthew 13:21

Let’s hit the fields together.

God bless.

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Gators, darkness and the ultimate flashlight

I believe that heat and humidity come to die in South Carolina each July. I have been working in the Palmetto State for the past two days. It’s a beautiful place, especially the coast. But the air is so thick you could cut it with a knife.

I had to be at a breakfast meeting today at 6:45 am. I had decided to get in a quick run around the hotel before breakfast, so I headed out of my room around 5:00 am. I was taken aback at the humidity even at this early hour, but I was even more surprised by the darkness. Pitch black. There wasn’t a hint of sunrise as I started my run, but I eventually found the pathway that circled the hotel complex and began to plod down the trail.

It was dark. There were very few lights along the trail, so each step was taken with caution and a bit of trepidation. The hotel had placed small guide lights along the trail about every 1/8 of a mile, so my strategy was to simply run- carefully- from light to light.

About a ½ mile into my run I spotted a sign that warned visitors to watch for alligators crossing the path. This was a bit unnerving- as I was now painfully aware of the opportunity to run upon a reptile in the darkness.

It was a dark world this morning. There were numerous obstacles along the pathway…fallen limbs from yesterday’s winds, large pools of water from an overnight downpour, and the threat of angry, hungry reptiles. It probably wasn’t smart for me to venture out into the darkness, but I went anyway.

I was reminded about the larger, greater darkness we encounter in this world each day. Stress, strife and sin can cloud our judgment and keep us from seeing (and thinking) clearly about our purpose and our daily walk with Christ.

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. Psalm 119:105

The Bible. God’s own word. We’ve been given this ultimate guidebook to navigating our way through life. We have the ultimate light to help us focus on how to live our lives, how to treat people and how to persevere through tough times. It’s up to us to seek this wisdom. The more we read and study- the more clear our path will be.

Let’s encourage one another to read and reflect on the wisdom of the Bible. It’s the ultimate illumination device.

God bless.

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Hey doc, I’ve got this plank in my eye…

Have you ever been tempted to make a quick, unchecked judgement on someone?  I’m guilty.  Maybe it’s their speech, appearance or even a bias about them “not being from around here.”

The Bible gives us great instruction about passing judgment on others…that is, how we look at other’s actions as unfavorable or wrong.

Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  Matthew 7: 1-2

We are asked to not be hypocritical or self-righteous when dealing with others.  Instead of making snap judgements- let’s choose in engage in another way.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.   Matthew 7: 3-5

We are all sinners.  Broken.  As Christians we should desire to edify one another.  Support one another.  In order to best help someone else, we need to take an honest assessment of our own lives.  Where do we need help?  Where are the “planks” in our lives?  I can think of several areas in my own life…and I’m certain that you could tell me of others!

And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”  John 8: 7

There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy.  But who are you to judge your neighbor?  James 4:12

It’s easy to make a snap judgment on someone without knowing their complete story. Their background. Beliefs. Work ethic. Heart.  We serve a God of justice, but also a God of love. We need to reflect that spirit of love first when interacting and approaching others in need.

Let us lift one another up.

God bless you.

 

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Prodigal Son? Not LeBron…

IMG_2680My boys have been fascinated with the LeBron James saga this week.  We’ve been on vacation- but at every opportunity they tuned in to ESPN to get the latest.  It was an interesting story…as four years ago LeBron spurned his home state of Ohio to go to “greener pastures” (and more talent) in Miami.  You remember what happened next.  LeBron jerseys were burned all over Cleveland and northeast Ohio.  People called him traitor.  His image was removed from buildings and local endorsement deals.  Even his family was not immune- as his mother had to endure all sorts of hostility and threats.

Four Finals appearances and two NBA championship rings later- he decides he’s ready to return home.  The 2010 decision was a thing of the past.  All is forgiven in an instant.  An internet article described it as the “Prodigal Son Returns.”

This is a reach.  I don’t think that LeBron’s situation can be described a prodigal.  You all remember the story from the book of Luke, which truly describes the story of the prodigal son.

Luke 15:11-32 (ESV) And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs.

We know what happens next.  The son returns home and is forgiven by his father.  Riches, followed by unrighteous living, a downfall, and then a return to the comfort of his family.

While LeBron’s decision can’t truly be compared to the account in Luke, I can certainly relate from my own life.  There have been times when I have behaved, acted or just thought in ways that provided a departure- or at least a temporary distraction- from the way that God wants me to live.  Career, self-interest and pride have often blinded me from God’s will for my life.

1 John 2:1-29 (ESV) My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him:

Thank the Lord that we have an advocate for us when we go astray. Our heavenly Father provides us with unconditional love, and through the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus on the cross we have grace and forgiveness from our actions.  We just need to repent and change course- not an easy thing to do for prideful people, like myself.

Philippians 2:12-16 (ESV)  Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

I am thankful for the forgiveness that is offered when I wander astray as the prodigal son.

God bless.

 

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Who’s in charge here?

IMG_2665We’ve been at the beach this week. It’s been great to have all five of us together with some interrupted family time. No meetings, schoolwork, teleconferences, trips, scrimmages or practices. I have had a wonderful opportunity to recharge with the family.

Today there was a young couple sitting near us on the beach. They had a little girl that must have been about three years old. Seeing her enjoy the beach and the ocean brought back great memories of our daughter’s first trips to the beach years ago. It’s hard to believe that Carson will be a sophomore in high school this fall. It only seems like yesterday that we were carrying her into the water in our arms, helping her build sandcastles and applying sunscreen in generous amounts to her small arms and legs.

It hit me. According to my calendar, that means that she’ll be with us 148 more weeks before heading off to college. 1,038 days. That’s going to pass by quickly. Where has the time gone? I’ll admit it. I’m worried about it.

Where will she go to school? What career path will she choose? Who will she choose as friends? Where will she settle down? Yeah. I worry about all of that. I guess that in my eyes- Carson is still that three year old on the beach.

I have to remind myself that while Hollianne and I have great responsibilities placed on us as parents, there is someone else- much more powerful than us- concerned with our children.

Therefore I tell you, be not anxious about your life, what you will eat, or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? Matthew 6: 25-27

Our Lord is already there. He knows our future- and the futures of those we love. We can’t worry about it. While we need to do our jobs as parents, we also need to trust and know that He is there and will provide for us.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11

I need to remember that I’m not in control.  While I need to be concerned, I do not have to worry.

For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:18

God bless you.

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Lost sheep

peachtree

It’s been a wonderful July 4th holiday, as all of Hollianne’s family gathered in Atlanta for our annual family reunion.  Four siblings, their spouses, 10 nieces and nephews and Hollianne’s mother were in attendance for the celebration.  We always gather in Atlanta so we can run the annual Peachtree 10k (with 60,000 of our closest friends).  The run is a wonderful activity for Hollianne’s family.  All the siblings, their spouses and seven of the kids were scheduled to participate in the race this year.  The house is always filled with great stories about races from previous years and estimates on who will win the family “trophy” each year (it’s normally no surprise…as my sister-in-law, Susan, crushed us with her stamina, endurance and deft feet!).

While the race is the culminating event, the weekend truly focuses on family.  We cook, eat, laugh and hug all weekend. I’m so grateful to be a part of this loving family.

This year’s event was a little different- and stressful. Our daughter, Carson, had been away on a mission trip to inner-city New York and was set to fly in and join us late Thursday night.  Hurricane Arthur changed that plan- as it cancelled her flight and postponed her travel by 48 hours.  We couldn’t get her out of New York City for two whole days because of cancelled flights and booked planes.  While we were able to make adjustments for her and knew she would be safe, it was unsettling to Hollianne and me to have her so far away in a strange city.  What a beautiful reunion it was yesterday to finally get her in the same city.  We just felt better being able to have her in our presence….to be able to hug and talk to her in person.  We had a great reunion weekend, but there was an underlying uneasiness for us until we could get our child home.

Last night I reflected on the experience surrounding our daughter’s delayed plans.  While we were worried and anxious until Carson could join us, I just cannot fathom the depth and breadth of how much our heavenly Father is concerned for us.  He loves us beyond our own comprehension- and wants all of us to be with Him eternally.  Our earthly families are important, but as Christians we should realize that our broader, eternal family is the focus of our loving God- even with our flaws and imperfections.

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders  and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.  Luke 15: 3-7

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?  Matthew 18:12

We are loved, thank God.  Even with a world population of over 7 billion people, our Father cares for us INDIVIDUALLY…and loves us despite our actions and behaviors.  How comforting is it that God is concerned for us in a way that is unparalleled by any earthly relationship.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  John 3:16

While Hollianne and I could not rest and relax until Carson returned to us, the Lord is infinitely more concerned with our souls and our eternal destination.  God is a loving God, even giving up His son to bear the pain of our sin so that we can live with Him forever.

Thank. God.

I hope that your July 4th holiday was filled with family, fun, food and laughter.  I also hope that you were able to reflect on the love that our heavenly Father has for us.

God bless you.

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Independence Day

America’s birthday! It’s a glorious celebration of our nation’s independence.

On July 4, 1776 our great nation officially separated from Great Britain to form a new republic. What a sense of pride and thanksgiving must have been felt by our nation’s people who had witnessed the oppression and bloodshed necessary for freedom. Freedom comes with a price and responsibility. I enjoy the 4th of July holiday the same way each year. We gather with Hollianne’s family in Atlanta to participate in the Peachtree Road Race 10k. It’s a great tradition, as Hollianne’s three brothers, their spouses and a host of nieces and nephews run this race together. It’s an incredible experience, as we run with 60,000 of our closest friends. Red, White and Blue is seen everywhere along the route. It’s a steady stream of visual reminders of what makes our country great- and what it means to be free. What a great honor it is as God’s people to experience the freedom of Christ. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 2 Corinthians 3:17 The death of Jesus on the cross has enabled us to live in freedom. We are free from the burden of sin because of His death, burial and resurrection. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. 1 Peter 2:16 We have a responsibility, however. We are urged to be an example for Christ while living on this imperfect earth. We need to share the good news of Jesus and of His love for us. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.Romans 6:22 Because of Jesus Christ, every day is Independence Day. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:1-4 May you enjoy this great celebration of independence, both of our country…and of your own freedom from sin and death. He lives- and because of that we are free. IMG_2466God bless.

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Angel in West Memphis

It was a cold, rainy night in November, just a few days before Thanksgiving in 2010. I was working in Memphis on an interim appointment, while Hollianne and the kids stayed at our home in Martin. I usually spent Monday-Thursday in Memphis, traveling back to Martin for long weekends.

I left the office around 8:30 p.m. and remembered that I needed a couple of items for my apartment. It was dark, and I recall a real chill in the air that night as I walked to my truck. The rain intensified as I drove to the West Memphis (AR) Wal-Mart. The Hernando Desoto bridge was so covered in thick fog that I struggled to see the cars in front of me. I was miserable. It had been a long day, I missed my family, and the weather was unbearable.

The parking lot of the Wal-Mart was approximately 25% full and I was grateful to find a parking spot near the front door. I wasn’t surprised…as no one wanted to be out in this weather.

As I walked toward the entrance I had the feeling that someone was following me. I looked over my shoulder and saw that someone was…a heavy-set man in a grey hooded sweatshirt and khaki pants. We made eye contact and then he quickly darted out of sight behind a line of parked cars. I didn’t give it much thought.

I put this sight out of my mind as I entered the store. WIthin 10 minutes I had made my purchases and was walking back out to the parking lot. It was there that I saw him again. Grey sweatshirt, khaki pants, thick glasses that framed his face. He looked like 10,000 people that I’d seen that month. Just a normal guy. Like me.

I said “good evening” as we approached one another. He said something in response and kept walking toward the store. As we passed in the parking lot I noticed that he was soaking wet and had about two days of stubble on his face. His wet hair was plastered on this head beneath the hood of his sweatshirt. He didn’t make eye contact when I spoke.

I walked on to my truck and started the engine. I turned on the wipers and defroster to try and clear my windshield. I became distracted while waiting for my truck to warm up and started a quick text message to Hollianne before leaving the parking lot. Suddenly I felt a presence and I looked up….and saw the man standing right in front of my truck. His eyes were lit up from the reflection of my headlights into his glasses. Startled, I wondered what I should do. He didn’t move once I looked up…he wanted to talk.

“I’m not wanting to hurt you….please let me talk with you,” he shouted over my running engine.

I didn’t know what to do. He walked over to my window and asked me to listen to him. My first impluse was to drive away. He was no longer in front of me and I could have just pulled away from him. Something held me there. While nervous, I wasn’t afraid. I decided to talk with him.

His name was Carl. He lived in Florida and had been traveling to visit family in Missouri when his car broke down in West Memphis. He was stranded there for several days as he waited for someone, anyone in Florida to send him some money to have his car repaired. His car was at Sunrise Pontiac….just a few miles away in Memphis. He had a job- but explained that he was living paycheck to paycheck after a divorce and had no savings or emergency fund to help with his car repair. He had spoken to his boss and knew that his job was safe, but that he would not get paid for the days of work he was missing. He hoped to have some money wired to him tomorrow and be back on the road to Florida by the late afternoon.

That’s when I saw her. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a young girl who couldn’t have been much older than my daughter, Carson. I turned to look at her and he explained that she was his daughter. She was traveling with him. She was cold, shivering- and wouldn’t look at either of us while we were talking. She had a blank stare and was focusing on the falling rain that was steadily pounding the parking lot.

I remember asking what he needed. He told me that he barely had enough money for a room in a nearby motel. He also said that he planned on being able to pay for his car repair with some money that would arrive tomorrow. They simply needed food. They were hungry. He then told me that his name was Carl.

Tears poured down his face as he explained that he had never asked for assistance like this. He and his daughter were proud people, but this one piece of bad luck had a domino effect on their lives over the past two days. They had temporary shelter, but needed food. He was obviously troubled by being reduced to begging in a parking lot.

He explained that they had been in the parking lot for the past 6 hours. It took him a while to finally be able to swallow his pride and ask for help. Unfortunately, bad weather and an early sunset made it difficult for him to engage anyone. He said that I was the only person who had made eye contact with him all evening- and he thought he would engage me.

I walked back inside the store with this man and his daughter. She sat down on a bench inside the store near the front entrance. Carl and I walked through the grocery section. I wondered how much he would try to get me to buy. I pushed a buggy as we went down the aisles. Peanut butter, jelly, white bread, mustard, plastic forks and knives, canned beans, bananas, apples and bottled water. It was a small load of groceries- and I admit that I was surprised at how little he gathered. I asked Carl if he wanted more food. He told me that this shopping trip would provide them with a good dinner and breakfast in the morning, plus more meals for the ride home. The peanut butter didn’t need to be refrigerated, so they could carry it in their car to minimize their expenses. I was ashamed for thinking otherwise.

As we walked to the checkout I asked Carl if he needed any money for gas. He told me that he had 1/2 a tank, but that he thought he might be able to make it home with the small amount he’d have left over after his money arrived tomorrow. Hopefully. Perhaps. He didn’t know.

I decided to buy him a gas card. Carl didn’t see it until the cashier rang it up. He started to object but quickly caught his own words and said “thank you.”

We walked out into the parking lot and joined his daughter near the entrance. She was smiling now, and for the first time she made eye contact with me. Carl collected the two small bags out of the cart and handed them to his daughter. He then asked me for my address so he could send me some money for the groceries once “he got out of this hole.” I told him that it was my pleasure to help in some small way, and wished him well on the rest of his journey. He asked me for my address one last time- and when I again refused- he simply thanked me and walked away. They were talking like any father and daughter might do…excited about their food and for a slight “break” in their run of bad luck.

I watched Carl and his daughter walk toward a bank of nameless motels near the parking lot. I stood and watched them until the darkness reduced them to a couple of shadows in the distance. I turned and walked to my truck, still processing what had just happened.

Once I cranked my truck I started shaking. I was overwhelmed with emotion and sadness. What if that were me? What if that were my daughter? What a tough journey this family had been through over the past two days…and I couldn’t imagine what was still in store as they awaited the loan and would try to make it home.

Why didn’t I do more? Why didn’t I offer to cover their motel bill? Couldn’t I have helped with their car repair? I had simply done what Carl had asked. He needed food- nothing more. It had happend so quickly that I really didn’t have time to process what was happening- or how else I could help.

I needed to find Carl. I wanted to check on him and his daughter. I drove the street in front of the store and couldn’t find them. It was raining harder now, and I was certain that they had made their way into their (hopefully) dry, warm room. But which hotel? How could I find them? I didn’t even have a last name.

I hit my steering wheel out of frustration. Why hadn’t I asked more questions? What else could I have done? I knew that friends from church and work would have helped this man pay for his car repair. I had missed an opportunity.

My encounter with Carl stayed with me through the Thanksgiving holiday. I wondered how Carl and his daughter got home. I thought about his Thanksgiving day. Would there be a happy gathering with family, or would he be back at work- trying desperately to repay his loan for the car repair? I thought about him often…as the days between Thanksgiving and the Christmas holiday are filled with happy times for most people, but I anticipated heartache and struggles for Carl and his daughter. I thought about them most when I would leave the office at night. As the air got colder and the days grew shorter, my mind would drift back to our encounter in the parking lot.

Hebrews 13:1-3 reads “Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering (ESV).” I thought about this passage often over the next several months. While I won’t suggest that Carl and his daughter were angels, I do think that this experience taught me that I need to be more aware of those in need and try to help when the opportunity arises.

I failed in this case, but the lesson was not lost on me. I pray that I am mature and aware enough to respond as I should the next time a “Carl” crosses my path.

God bless you, Carl- wherever you are.

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