Day 3: My #Woke Journey {for SheLoves–31 Days of #WOKE}

Last year, at the age of 37, in spite of living and working among other races for my entire life, I finally noticed the racial divide.

As a child of the 80s, I was taught that talking about race was impolite; it meant you noticed differences. We say, “We’re all the same, after all—on the inside. Isn’t it better to be ‘colorblind’?”

But ignoring race is like sidestepping the gigantic crack in the sidewalk of society and history. We try and tiptoe over it, or worse, we pretend it doesn’t even exist.

Of all whites, I should have known better, because I can’t think of a time when I didn’t have a person of color in my life.

The first boy I ever liked in kindergarten was black. I nearly followed him into the boys’ restroom one day. When I described him to my mom as having dark skin, she asked, “Is he black?”

“Of course not,” I said. “No one has black skin. He’s brown.”

In middle school, I rode the bus for an hour, either way, to attend school in the projects because our county in Tampa, Florida, was one of the last to integrate schools.

My midwest Christian college was majority white. Some black students were browsing in the bookstore once and the cops showed up. Someone assumed they were there to shoplift.

In college, I spent six months in Uganda and lived with an African family in a village. I often confounded their assumptions. “I didn’t think you people did things that way,” they’d say. To them, I was America. More than once, I was asked if I knew President Bush.

After college, my first teaching job was in the inner city of Chicago, in North Lawndale, at a 100% African-American school. I asked my students if any white kids ever attended there. “I think once … maybe,” they replied. I got so used to seeing black faces that I was shocked by my whiteness when I saw myself in the mirror during bathroom breaks.

I lived in China for five years. For the first three, I was one of three white faces in a city of 60,000. Many people wanted to be my friend. I understood it was because I was white. I humored them, telling myself I’d be more accepted if I learned Chinese. So I spent hours studying until I was fluent. But even then I wondered about my friends’ motives in spending time with me. I wished I could look Chinese.

After China, I taught at a small private Christian school in Chinatown in Chicago. Six out of eleven students were boys. Only one of those boys was black, the rest were Asian and white. One day all the other boys showed up at school with their backpacks full of clothes for a sleepover at one of the boy’s houses for his birthday. Guess which boy wasn’t invited …

To not notice race is to not notice the way clouds affect the shifting of light in the sky. It is to pretend you don’t feel the rain pelting the hood of your coat or soaking into the hole in your boots. It is to ignore reality.

And yet somehow I still believed we were living in a post-racial, inclusive, equal society.

Continue reading at SheLoves Magazine.

An Evening with Bryan Stevenson: Get Closer

The crowd leapt to their feet as Mr. Stevenson took the stage.  He hadn’t even opened his mouth, and had already received a standing ovation.

Why?

Because this man’s story opens blind eyes. 

In his book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, Bryan Stevenson shares about his experience working with men, women and children on death row. I have met more than one person who, after reading the book, looked down at their feet and, with tears in their eyes, whispered, “I didn’t know that African Americans are still treated this way. Until I read this, I didn’t realize.  But now what do I do?”

I had a similar response after reading Just Mercy this spring.  In fact, I was so moved by Mr. Stevenson’s story that I hauled my 12-day-old newborn across town to hear him speak a few weeks ago, frantically taking notes with one hand while nursing with the other.

The audience was made up of mainly white people over 50, though college students and a few people of color were present as well.  Across the aisle sat a man in his late 20’s with long hair, loose-fitting clothing and bare feet.  Beneath his chair was a cardboard box that was forced closed, leaving me wondering what was inside, though I forgot my curiosity as Mr. Stevenson began speaking.

He was as powerful a speaker as he is an author and he seamlessly wove stories, statistics and inspiration into a flag of justice that we almost felt strong enough to help wave as we exited the building at the end of the night.


He shared four things we could do to improve our capacity to change the world right where we are:

1. Get closer. 

“Get proximate to the problems instead of trying to solve them from a distance.” He expressed that we are too comfortable and do not see injustice because we are not close enough to see it.

2. Change the narratives that sustain inequality and injustice. 

“Fear and anger are the essential ingredients of oppression.”  He gave the example of calling drug addicts “criminals” and alcoholics people with a “disease.”  He said that these narratives are what imprison the downtrodden and empower the privileged.

3. Stay hopeful.

“Hopelessness is the enemy of justice.”  In spite of all the dire examples of vast injustice in the world, Mr. Stevenson also shared many inspiring stories of hope as he has worked toward change.
 
4. Be willing to do uncomfortable things.

“We have to judge ourselves by how we care for the poor.”  He said that this action point requires intentionality because our default is that we choose to be comfortable, but perhaps we need to move more into discomfort.  

He also spoke about how he has come to the realization that as we acknowledge that we ourselves are broken people, we will find that we have much more in common with the poor than we once thought. 

***


After his talk, Mr. Stevenson took questions from the crowd.  I was surprised when the man across the aisle from me padded up to the front with his cardboard box, setting it down by his bare feet as he waited patiently for his turn at the microphone.  When Mr. Stevenson turned to him, the man announced that he had gotten out of jail a week prior and that he wanted Mr. Stevenson’s help in going to the Supreme Court to fight for laws that would allow him to sleep outdoors.  He talked for a long time and I could tell that the crowd was getting fidgety.  He was taking up precious time for other more relevant questions.  I half expected an usher to quietly stand next to him and give him the signal that he was talking too long.

But instead of ridiculing him or rushing through his answer, Mr. Stevenson responded with humility, grace and respect.  He listened to this man’s story and said that he was absolutely willing to represent him.  While the rest of us were inwardly scoffing, Mr. Stevenson practiced what he had just preached and offered the man something the rest of us weren’t willing to give: dignity.

I was humbled and convicted.

In myself, I saw the Pharisees of Bible times, urging Jesus to move on and not stop for the lepers calling out His name, the woman kneeling to touch his cloak or the children hugging his knees. I saw myself looking for the high profile poor instead of noticing the needy right in front of me.

It is easy to say that we want justice for the poor as long as it is convenient and comfortable for us.  But when we become aware of our own powerlessness, judgment and prejudice, we want to hide away in our safe suburbs and write a check from a distance.

How far do you live from the poor, homeless, sick or oppressed?  What would it take for you to move out of your comfort zone into proximity of those you say you would like to help?

As a person who feels very insignificant in this season of life as far as world-changing goes, I walked out of that auditorium with a greater desire to not just notice injustice, but make practical moves towards the oppressed.  When we make decisions over the next few years about where we will buy a house and which schools we will choose to send our children to, I hope that we will not continue to hide away under the umbrella of “safety” or “good schools.”  Instead, I hope for the courage to live in such proximity to my suffering neighbor that I cannot ignore their cry any longer, because they will be right in my backyard.

***

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Surviving the Culture Shock of Motherhood

Peering out of the airplane window at orange dirt, bright green fields and spirals of smoke rising up from the waking villages, I wiped away tears with my shirt sleeve. I was finally in Africa.   

In my first weeks in Uganda, every sight and sound in its exotic newness was titillating and welcome. I was immediately captivated by the unusual food, danceable music, lyrical language, brightly colored clothing, funny store signs and friendly faces. My school-girl crush had become a reality and I was in love.

But within a few weeks into my six month stay I was crying less joyous tears on a daily basis. Alone, I felt misunderstood, annoyed, purposeless and overwhelmed by the amount of energy it took to try and adapt to a culture that was so different from my own. All that had once been quirky or fascinating was now aggravating. I was in culture shock.

~~~

Fast forward fifteen years and I now find myself adapting to another new culture: motherhood and staying home with teeny children. I was in a school setting as a student or teacher full-time for nearly thirty years, so quitting work after my first baby and not living in the vice of the education structure felt amazing–at first. Although I had a grueling labor with my first child (didn’t we all?), I was elated to have a son and felt like I was on a love drug in those hours and days after giving birth. The honeymoon stage of motherhood lasted a year or more for me.

Its been nearly four years since my last day of work as a teacher and the magic mommy tonic has worn off. What used to be quirky and darling—even funny—has now become frustrating. I find I am transported back to my Africa days of feeling misunderstood, annoyed, purposeless and overwhelmed. I am in the culture shock of motherhood. But perhaps some of the ways I learned to combat culture shock abroad can also apply to adapting to this culture of motherhood.

Be a Learner
The best advice I received before traveling abroad was to go into a new culture with the attitude of a learner. It’s easy as a mother to see our children as blank slates to be filled. We feel are all-knowing and our job is to teach our children how to be human beings.

Yesterday I sat in a lawn chair in the backyard watching my kids playing in the sprinkler for the first time this season. Slipping and laughing, they went through a range of emotions as they tried to fill toys with water only to be splashed by the moving water. As I watched, I envied their ability to play without a care or worry in the world. And I thought about how Jesus tells us to be like little children. 

Surviving the Culture Shock of Motherhood~ "...perhaps some of the ways I learned to combat culture shock abroad can also apply to adapting to this culture of motherhood."


If we become students of our children, we will learn how to live the way Jesus wants us to live—loving, curious, emotional, dependent, silly, playful, trusting, excited about the little things, and without worry or shame. Children are much like the lilies of the field and the ravens of the air that Jesus spoke of in Luke 12—completely unaware of the cares of the world, but confident that their needs will be met. Instead of always looking for ways to change them, sometimes I need to become their student.  

Sense of Humor
Another way to fight against culture shock is to maintain a sense of humor. I could cry about having to locate the two resident cockroaches in the outhouse I had to use everyday in Africa, or I could greet them by name before doing my business. Every day seemed to offer plenty of opportunities to either have a mental break down or break down laughing. Motherhood is much the same.
 

Last week I had one of those epic grocery store trips. The kids were in the shopping cart cars that I have a love-hate relationship with, “driving” along cutely until my almost two-year-old daughter bit my three-year old son. Screaming ensued, so I strapped my daughter in the front part of the cart so I could console my son. When I turned after putting him back in the toy car, cherry tomatoes were scattered all over the aisle and my daughter grinned with tomato seeds dripping down her chin. A sympathetic woman helped me pick them up and I hustled to the check-out to put an end to my misery, my daugher taking off her sandals and dropping them several times before getting there. I took my son out of the car part so the cashier could more easily get our groceries and he began howling again. I wanted to join him.  

But then I caught the compassionate eye of a mom in the next aisle and instead I laughed. I feel like there is a level of disastrous events that eventually tips the scale to the ridiculous and truly the only thing to do is to acknowledge the hilarity and laugh.

Take a Break

Sometimes you just need to escape for a little while. I lived with a family in a village in Uganda, but I had several opportunities during my time there to get away with another American friend for the weekend. Getting out of the routine and just remembering who I was again was enough to help me get through to the next period of time. Similarly, as moms we don’t need to feel guilty about escaping for some time away. Whether it is a couple of hours at a coffee shop, a weekend away with girl friends or a day in a cabin for a personal retreat, we need time away from our children to center us and give us space to regroup and remember our identity apart from being a mom. 


Being vs. doing
The last stages of culture shock involve finally adapting and gaining some semblance of independence in your new culture. In order to this, you need to develop relationships, learn the language and shed some aspects of your old culture in order to assimilate to your new culture. In motherhood, this can look like making new friends, really listening to our children, meeting their needs and accepting that sometimes “being” has more value than “doing” in this new culture.

In Uganda, my job in the slums was to file records and proofread documents. I felt useless, ignorant and angry that my qualifications were going unused. On rough days with my kids, it’s easy for me to focus on all the ways my skills and education are being wasted while I roll a hundred play dough snakes, read books, change diapers, sit through library story times and fold tiny clothes. I didn’t get my masters for this, I think.

But one of the greatest lessons I learned living abroad is the value of being over doing. I eventually developed strong friendships with Ugandans that made living there not only bearable, but meaningful. Most other cultures value relationships over tasks. In the culture of motherhood, presence trumps productivity. Sometimes my children need me to stop doing and just be with them.

~~~

I now look back on my time in Uganda with “yearbook eyes,” remembering the sights, sounds and friends that caused me to fall in love in the first place. I’m sure this period of time with little ones at home will be much the same. But in the meantime, I’m asking for Jesus to strengthen me and give me the ability to be a learner, laugh, know when to get away, and celebrate being over doing. If you’re a struggling mama, I pray the same for you today.

~~~

Can you relate? Please share in the comments! I’d love to hear your story. 

~~~

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Surviving the Culture Shock of Motherhood~ "...perhaps some of the ways I learned to combat culture shock abroad can also apply to adapting to this culture of motherhood."

Surviving the Culture Shock of Motherhood~ "...perhaps some of the ways I learned to combat culture shock abroad can also apply to adapting to this culture of motherhood."

White People Are Boring

Though I am as white as they come, most of the time I wish I didn't live in America--or at least didn't live surrounded by other white people.

Though Im as white as they come, most of the time I wish I lived in another country–or at least didn’t live surrounded by other white people.  Having traveled to multiple countries, I find other cultures, ethnicities, exotic foods and customs fascinating.  I especially love collectivist cultures in South America, Africa and Asia where spontaneous visits, eating off the same plates, invitations to family meals and sitting around chatting for hours are the norm, not the exception.  People are not seen as individuals, but draw their identity through being a part of the whole.  Because of this, the church instinctively knows how to move as one unit with more fluidity than we do in the west.

In China, I was close to a young Chinese couple that led a small house church.  When a couple in their group started having martial problems, they didn’t just refer them to a book to read or a counselor to go to, they MOVED IN WITH THEM.  Literally, moved into their house for several weeks to help them work through some of their issues.  Can you imagine something like that happening in western countries?

In Uganda, friends would go out on weekends and visit friend’s homes unannounced.  I remember meeting an African family studying in America at my college and they complained that they just didn’t know how to make friends in a culture that didn’t just “drop in” on each other, but had to plan everything weeks in advance.  In China, it took me weeks of being stood up to realize that I was planning too far in advance (one week).  When I asked my Chinese students when you should ask someone to dinner if you wanted to go on a Saturday, most said Friday–the day before.

Since returning from living in China five years ago, I’ve definitely struggled with some of my motives in wanting to live overseas.  Yes, I felt that God had “called” me overseas and to this day, I am in tears when I hear missionaries share in church or if I see videos meant to inspire people to go.  Just this Sunday a man stood up in church and shared about a short term trip to Ecuador and every part of me wanted to jump on a plane in July–with or without my family–and be there.  But I have also had to wrestle with the fact that I liked being viewed as different, special and radical–both in my own culture and in other cultures.  And I am addicted to adventure, the exotic and the Next Thing.  I live in the tension, wondering if I’m “called” or if I’m just eager for change.  

So instead of looking for ways to go abroad, I’m struggling to be content where I am.  And that means loving the people right here in my city in Colorado, which happen to be 92% white.  But so far many of those boring white people have certainly shocked me.

My first friend after we moved last year is a woman I met at the park.  We connected and since our kids were the same genders and ages, agreed to meet up again sometime.  Though colorful tattoos decorated her arms and back, I didn’t think she was too different from the other women I had seen around.  She mentioned that she and her husband own a martial arts academy, so naturally I googled it and her as soon as I got home.  Turns out before kids she was not only an instructor, but a world champion martial arts competitor.  

One of our neighbors is a stay-at-home dad who is in a band on the side.  A woman at church mentioned she takes snuff when she goes to her in-laws.  Out of a Bible study of 20 women I’m in, over half have lived abroad.  A woman we had over from church yesterday told us about her daughter who is a professional synchronized swimmer.  And I mentioned to two women at a moms’ group that I started a blog and both of them happen to be writers as well.

As I wrote last week about trying to notice people all around me, part of this is realizing that I am making unfair assumptions about people as “boring,” writing them off before I even have a chance to know them.  But what I’m really doing is not building a wall around others, but around myself.  Because I can’t know others well unless I also allow myself to be known.  

“If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also”  (1 John 4:20-21).  

We are called to a life of loving others, no matter their outer appearance.  

So I’m praying for open eyes to see people without prejudice or prejudgement.  I’m striving to be content where I am.   And I’m asking that God help me to see people as He sees them and love them as He does.  Because, truly, no matter what country, culture, race or custom, those who know Jesus are my brothers and sisters, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus…There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26, 28). 

I, not God, am actually the one making the distinctions and declarations, because God Himself looks at us all and simply sees His beloved children.  And I long to see people of all colors (including my own) as He does–full of beauty, life, creativity and His very characteristics.


Do you ever feel like white people are boring?  Do you have any stories of people who have surprised you?

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Though I am as white as they come, most of the time I wish I didn't live in America--or at least didn't live surrounded by other white people.

Eden & Vulnerability: Nakey, No Shame

My children like to do "nakey dances."  And there is very little that brings me as much joy in life as watching my two little people dance around in their birthday suits completely uninhibited, shaking their tiny bottoms and slapping their protruding bellies.  Naked, and with zero shame.     So when I think of untainted, shameless Eden, what first comes to my mind is that Adam and Eve must have been the first to perfect the nakey dance.

My children like to do “nakey dances.”  And there is very little that brings me as much joy in life as watching my two little people dance around in their birthday suits completely uninhibited, shaking their tiny bottoms and slapping their protruding bellies.  Naked, and with zero shame.  

So when I think of untainted, shameless Eden, what first comes to my mind is that Adam and Eve must have been the first to perfect the nakey dance.

I finally picked up a Brene Brown book recently to find out what all the fuss is about.  If you haven’t heard of her, she became famous after giving this TED talk on vulnerability and has since written several books.  She skirts around many Christian themes, but doesn’t seem to have an overtly spiritual message, yet applied to spiritual life, I think many of her concepts could revolutionize the community of the church.  Here are a few quotes from Daring Greatly:

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.  Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world…”

“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”

“There are many tenets of Wholeheartedness, but at its very core is vulnerability and unworthiness; facing uncertainty, exposure and emotional risks, and knowing that I am enough.”

Adam and Eve felt no shame before sin entered the world, so really there was no need for vulnerability.  But after the fall, vulnerability is a ticket back to Eden because we must put everything on the line for Christ.  And it is through this risk that we find we are loved utterly and completely.  He looks at us as if looking at Himself, because we are made in His image.  He took our shame on Himself so that we can experience delicious freedom.  

While I accept this at an intellectual level and sometimes grasp it at a heart level, I also know that vulnerability does not end with me submitting myself to Jesus for salvation.  It also applies to my marriage, my parenting, my friendships and the way I use my work and gifts to serve others.  “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Mat. 16:25).

Where is vulnerability transforming my life from a life of fear into a life of power and freedom?

In my marriage, my husband’s devotion to me makes it easy for me to be vulnerable with him. I know from experience that if I were with a different sort of man, my tendency would be to close up, protect and retreat.  But even so, it is still easy to keep the deepest corners of my soul locked away, waiting for my husband to “happen” to stumble upon them.  But that is not realistic.  Most men do not naturally ask soul-searching questions of their wives, so I need to be willing to lay out a few treasures that are reserved for him alone.  

In my parenting, fear of loving too much prevents me from being vulnerable.  What if I pour myself into my role as a mother–love them TOO much–and something happens to one of my children?  How would I survive?  

In friendships, there is the fear that if I am vulnerable with someone, they will not reciprocate by pouring out their heart to me.  Or even worse, they will never call me again.  And yet Mike Mason says in Practicing the Presence of People, “Flaws form the best glue for friendship.  Indeed a friendship without many shared failures will remain stilted and lame.  We connect with others not primarily through our strengths, but through our weaknesses” (pg. 240).  We cannot have true friendships without vulnerability.

In August of 2015, I began blogging.  It was terrifying and I felt like I was standing naked in front of my friends and family to be judged and ridiculed.  But instead of feeling defeated, I felt brave.  Instead of feeling weak, I felt strong.  I felt courageous in a way I have never felt before.  And just as in marriage the nakedness gets easier the more you find you are loved and accepted not in spite of your imperfections, but because of them, being accepted for who I am as a writer has empowered me to keep writing.

Where is God calling you to be vulnerable this year?  In a relationship?  A new venture?  A job change with less pay?  A creative gift that you have shelved?

Pray for the strength to be vulnerable.  Never accept vulnerability as weakness, because moving forward and risking exposure takes amazing bravery and courage.  

If you want to return to Eden, ask that God remove your shame through Jesus so that you can dance the freedom of the nakey dance in every sphere of your life.  It is a dance that is full of joy and delight in being accepted for who you are.  Believe that you are a beloved child of God, extravagantly loved.  Excessively loved.  Be free, my dear.  And put some new part of yourself on the line this year, something that requires just a bit of courage.

In what area of your life is God calling you to be more vulnerable?

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My children like to do "nakey dances."  And there is very little that brings me as much joy in life as watching my two little people dance around in their birthday suits completely uninhibited, shaking their tiny bottoms and slapping their protruding bellies.  Naked, and with zero shame.     So when I think of untainted, shameless Eden, what first comes to my mind is that Adam and Eve must have been the first to perfect the nakey dance.

Living the Sticky Life

We spent three days preparing, ignored our children all day the day of the party to get ready, spent more money than we expected, have enough left-over food to have party number two tonight if we wanted to, stayed up about four hours later than we usually do, and I, being an extrovert, couldn't sleep when it was all over and done because I was so wound up.  And now every floor in our house is sticky.

It turns out pink punch is a lot like the spot in The Cat and the Hat Comes Back that just wouldn’t go away.  After our first Christmas party in our new home, in which children were welcome, there is now sticky pink punch in every room of my house.  And the pink cream cheese mints?  I just realized I’m sitting on a smear and am looking at another blob on the coffee table.

We spent three days preparing, ignored our children all day the day of the party to get ready, spent more money than we expected, have enough left-over food to have party number two tonight if we wanted to, stayed up about four hours later than we usually do, and I, being an extrovert, couldn’t sleep when it was all over and done because I was so wound up.  And now every floor in our house is sticky.

So was it worth it?

Was it worth our neighbors coming over who we have talked to only once in seven months, who suggested we do a babysitting swap as they left?  Or two carpenter friends who didn’t know each other before discussing their passion for woodwork?  Was my college friend meeting my friend who just moved here from Chicago, two beautiful lovers of Jesus who didn’t know each other before, finding that they have certain people and places in common a waste of time?

Or my three-year-old son, watching a movie with the “big” boys (the oldest who is about 8), trying to put his arm around a six-year-old from our church–my son, who is not physically affectionate and will only sit in our laps about twice a week?

Or my friends who have taken in their troubled teen-aged niece, who secretly indulged my one-year-old daughter all night with chocolates, punch and cookies, delighting in holding her and drinking in her baby-love cuddles?  Or the couple that came by after all the families with kids had left that we got to talk to on a heart-level until late into the night?

We could have skipped the mess, saved money, spent a quiet Saturday as a family, and gotten more sleep, but in avoiding the inconveniences, we would have missed out on real, sticky, tired, rewarding life.

It is always easier to do nothing.  Don’t have the party, or whatever the party stands for in my life:  joining something new, taking a step of faith, or choosing to engage in a new relationship that may not have the promise of longevity.  But what might I miss? 

And the spilled punch acts as a litmus test for what I worship.  Do I care more about relationships with real people or about having nice things?  Do I want a home that is immaculate, or a home that is used and truly lived in? Do I want a place where people can gather to laugh, connect, and share their lives, or a quiet home that insulates the people that live there?

Fear of losing control keeps me from throwing the party (whatever that party may be).  I can’t control every person at every time and that scares me.  If it were just my kids and my family, they know we don’t eat in the living room, so we don’t have pink smears on the couch.  But as soon as I let new people into my home–into my life–who don’t abide by my rules, I may find my house sticky with pink punch, toys rearranged or broken and everything just slightly askew. 

But God is calling me to do life and to do it with people.  And that means stickiness–not just in some rooms of the house–but in every room of the house.  It means engaging with people even though I would rather not because of selfish reasons.  And it means giving up control because I don’t know who God will bring or what He will do, but He guarantees that people are worth the mess because they are made like Him.  And it is in the stickiness that we find life, because that is where Jesus lived, too. 

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