From Seeing My Worst in You to Seeing Hope for Both of Us

13

‘Cause I am done with my graceless heart
So tonight I’m gonna cut it out and then restart
‘Cause I like to keep my issues strong
It’s always darkest before the dawn.
-Florence and the Machine

You turned 13 years old this week, my beautiful daughter.

I can’t help but feel celebratory and hopeful when I look at you.

It hasn’t always been that way. For many years, I looked at you and saw the damage I’d done. I saw the traits I didn’t like in myself—ones I’d inadvertently passed down to you.

too impatient

too controlling

too worry wart

too task driven

too rushed

too independent

too overreacting

too secretive

too sensitive

too perfectionistic

too contentious

For many years, I was afraid the damage was done … and could not be redeemed.

But then I stood in front of an audience, baring my soul. You stood off to the side, away from the crowd. I wasn’t sure if you stood there in case you needed to make a fast getaway or because you didn’t want to miss a single word. I was nervous to see your reaction to my honest admissions. Yes, you’d experienced life with a critical, hurried, distracted, and spread-too-thin mother, but this would be the first time you heard my most difficult confessions spoken out loud.

My main concern was that the description you were about to hear about the “old me” – particularly the characteristics I was trying to soften and reign in – would sound an awful lot like you. I didn’t want you to think that just because I needed to make changes, you did too. I didn’t want you to think there was anything wrong with the way you were. One thing was for certain: keeping my struggles and triumphs to myself would not be helping anyone. I swallowed my fear and began to speak.

Five minutes in, you rested your head against a nearby bookshelf. It appeared you were planning to stay awhile. With encouragement in your eyes, you listened to me reveal my mistakes, along with the insight I’d gained from every stumble and fall. And then all at once, the most peaceful expression settled on your face. I couldn’t deny the overpowering love radiating from one spot off to my left, the spot where my brown-eyed girl stood, taking it all in.

B'ham book signing talk #handsfreemama

Watching me take my imperfections and mistakes and turn them into life-changing revelations offered you a reprieve, my mini high achiever. I saw the recognition on your face, the exhale of your chest. I felt as though I could read your mind. Perhaps the missteps of a messy, imperfect life weren’t shameful or bad; perhaps they were vital steps to becoming who you’re meant to be.

Watching you watch me was like seeing the sun come out after a long, hard rain.

Watching you watch me was like seeing the tightrope walker realize the ground was much closer and much softer than expected.

Watching you watch me was like seeing a worn bandage taken off to reveal healing pink skin underneath.

Watching you watch me was like seeing a flaming torch held up in a dark forest to light the way home.

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In that moment, your radiant face was a reflection of my own—peace with who I am and hope for who I am becoming. But there was more. Your eyes seemed to sparkle with a possibility you hadn’t considered before—maybe the phrase, “mistakes mean you’re learning and taking courageous risks,” wasn’t a lie spoken simply for comfort; maybe it was actually true.

This could be a turning point in your life, I thought to myself. With continued guidance and further displays of authenticity and humanness, I believed I could alleviate some of the future pressure you were bound to put on yourself.

And it that is exactly what I have tried to do. It’s been almost three years since I bore my scars on that platform while you silently cheered me on with your eyes. Some things have changed since then, but some things have stayed the same – gloriously the same:

You are as goal-oriented as ever, but your goals are achievable and realistic; they’re even flexible and adjustable if you realized you aimed a little too high.

You like to do things right the first time, but you see the value in effort and risk-taking, even if you aren’t able to perform the task as you’d hoped.

You like when things go according to plan, but you’ve come to believe that snags and detours often mean a greater plan is at work.

You are a worrier, but you are learning self-care tactics for alleviating your worries and falling asleep that will benefit you for a lifetime.

You care what others think, but you’re learning to create healthy boundaries and make sound decisions based on your heart and mind, not on other people’s opinions.

You are sensitive, but you use that sensitivity to touch hearts of people and animals in profound and meaningful ways.

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Beautiful daughter, I know you’ve heard me refer your little sister as a Firefly because of the inner light she possesses. Well, you have a special light too. Yours is more like a blazing torch—one that is held up in the darkness to light the path ahead.

I realized this the other day when you were leading Olympic Camp for children in our neighborhood. Most newly minted teenagers would decide their birthday week was a good time to relax and celebrate—but not you. You decided your birthday week was a good time to share your God-given gifts of connecting with children, planning fun activities, being creative, and sharing your knowledge. You chose the Olympic theme because of the upcoming summer Olympics. I loved watching to you teach the children about foreign countries, geography, sportsmanship, determination, and Olympic sports.

camp 2

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camp
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DSC_0759When I suggested you leave a little time in the schedule for the children to play with the six kittens we are fostering, you became protective of the daily schedule you’d worked so hard on. I should have known you’d have each minute of the day thoroughly planned out. I let the idea go, knowing that stepping back is love to you.

About three hours into Day One of camp, I came downstairs to find the children sitting in an orderly line. You were telling them about each kitten. You were explaining how to hold them securely and describing the unique personalities of each one. That’s when I saw it—that beautiful torch of hope you possess—your radiant light that illuminates the unknown for others. That’s exactly the moment I saw myself. I saw myself in the way you talked to the children and held the kittens. It was just like when you get on the starting block before a swim meet, and I see myself in your determination and steely focus. I see myself in you when you ask permission to give a little of your money to a homeless person and when you write notes to Pricilla your sponsored child. I see myself in you when you cry at musicians singing powerful anthems to beautiful children in hospital beds. “That’s me,” I say when I see you run with your hair flying in the wind … or when you laugh with your mouth open wide … or organize a closet in record time … or come up with a master plan.

As you held those kittens out so lovingly in hopes that one of the children would go home and ask their parents to adopt one, I realized it was time. It was time to permanently shift my focus from the damage I’ve done to the positives and the passions I’ve passed on to you. It’s time to shift my focus to your unique strengths, talents, and gifts that make me feel so proud. It’s time to focus on who you’re becoming, and who I am becoming too.

You are 13; it’s officially time to look ahead, not back.

Thank you for passing me the torch, dear daughter on this 13th birthday of yours. I will hold it up triumphantly to light the path ahead. I’m bound to stumble and fall; we all do from time to time. But I will simply take one look at you and remember this: Today matters more than yesterday.

You are my radiant light of hope, reminding there is much goodness to be found

in you

and in me.

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Recommended Resource:

My friends, if you have not heard of Dr. Shefali Tsabary, I would encourage you to get to know her. As I read her most recently released book, I felt convinced I’d never read a more hopeful book for anyone seeking to create close and connected relationships within their family. No matter how much damage or how many mistakes have occurred, change and connection is possible. The Awakened Family shows you how to cultivate a relationship that allows the one you love to thrive while igniting positive growth within yourself. Raising children “the conscious way” means turning the spotlight away from fixing them and working on raising ourselves to the highest level of consciousness possible. On page 2 of her new book, Dr. Shefali writes, “In an awakened family, parents are aware that every relationship in their family exists to help each person grow.” Dr. Shefali’s life-changing guide gently walks readers through a revolutionary new way of parenting, providing an explanation of how we got here and clear direction on how we can change our family for the better. Dr. Shefali uses common, everyday examples that are applicable to our own families. What I love most about Dr. Shefali is that she truly believes it is never too late to lead your family on this journey of transformative growth, peace, and connection. As you begin to read her book, you will believe it too.

A portion of today’s blog post can be found in my second book, HANDS FREE LIFE. Using truthful storytelling and doable strategies, I reveal nine daily habits that bring more peace, presence, and positivity into your home and heart. Thank you for being part of The Hands Free Revolution.  I am grateful for each and every one of you! 

Taking Off the Ticking Clock

 

taking off the ticking clock #handsfreemama.com

It was while watching my daughter eat a sno-cone on a summer trip to the beach that I experienced a life-changing epiphany.

Truth be told, it was our second trip to The Sno-Cone Shack in three days. (Believe me, these were not your average sno-cones.) On this particular visit, Avery got a scoop of wedding cake and a scoop of cherry. I don’t think I will ever forget how delicious that unlikely combination of flavors tasted when  my daughter gave me the very last bite.

Because I didn’t hurry her.

Because I said, “Take your time, baby. We don’t have to rush.”

Because that big ol’ ticking clock that I wore around my neck during my impatient Hurry Up Years had been left behind. Without the squeeze of that ticking clock around my throat, I could breathe; my child could breathe. I was all there with my daughter on that unforgettable day.

stopped saying 'hurry up' #handsfreemama

I ended up writing about the sno-cone experience and provided a painful glimpse of what life was like when I pushed and prodded that same little girl through her day. I had no idea millions of people would eventually read those painful truths—but even if I had known, I still would’ve written it—for the people walking around with the heavy clocks around their necks.

I had the chance to edit the story before The Huffington Post published it. I remember looking at the live preview thinking I should probably add something like:  “While it is important to have unhurried moments in life, it is equally important to instill a sense of responsibility and promptness in our children.” After all, I was a teacher for ten years. I know full well the importance of promptness and dependability.

But I didn’t change one word of that story. Not one. I knew I would take some heat, but I was okay with that. I was writing to The Clock Wearers of the World—the ones functioning at one speed and one speed only … the ones “hurry upping” their loved ones through life even when it wasn’t necessary … the ones who’d lost sight of what really mattered by living in constant state of urgency. I knew breathing was becoming labored for those wearing the ticking clocks heavy on their chests. I knew because that is how I lived for so long.

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That Moment When Your Flaws & Failings Don’t Matter

eyes HFMI see the whole world in your eyes
It’s like I’ve known you all my life
We just feel so right
So I pour my heart into your hands
It’s like you really understand
You love the way I am.”
-Rachel Platten, Better Place

On Monday night, my nine-year-old daughter announced she was going to practice one last time for the upcoming third grade talent show. The following day, she’d be performing “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten, which we both knew would be crowd pleaser among her young classmates.

As she began to play, I closed my eyes, imagining for a moment what the children’s faces would look like as she began to strum and sing. Most of her classmates had never heard this girl sing, let alone play guitar. As she shared her musical gift in that spotlight moment, I knew it would be hard for her to contain her smile.

But I would not know for sure because I would not be there to witness it.

“Parents aren’t allow to come to the third grade talent show, Mom,” she’d said matter-of-factly two weeks ago, breaking my heart right in half.

“What? You must be mistaken,” I said feeling inappropriately emotional about this news.

“Nope. No parents. It’s just for kids,” she said doing nothing to soften the blow … that is, until she saw the look on my face. Patting my hand gently, she said, “Don’t worry, Mom. I’ll be fine.”

I knew she would be fine. I’d watched her confidence blossom over the past year. I knew she would take the stage by storm. Selfishly, I wanted to be there to see it. Standing in an auditorium or classroom with shining eyes as my child reads a story she wrote, recites a line in a play, or sings alone or with a group, is my moment of redemption. My child scans the crowd until she finds me, and I look at her with all the love in my heart. In that moment, guilt cannot touch me. Regret leaves the premises. Mistakes of the past completely vanish. All that’s left is proof I have loved; it is written all over her face.

Three years ago I grasped this redemptive gift for the very first time. I immediately knew it was not exclusive to me, nor was it mine to keep. So I wrote it down. Today, it is yours … word for word. May these words be the reminder you need this very moment. May your flaws and failings fall away so all you are left with is hope …

last pic HFM

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Breaking a Common Barrier to Better Myself & Expand My Child’s Future

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“I didn’t know I was lonely ’til I saw your face.”
Bleachers, I Wanna Get Better

“Instead of riding the bus today, could we go to breakfast and then could you drop me off at school?” my almost thirteen-year-old daughter unexpectedly asked me on a recent Friday morning.

My Type-A, plan-happy brain initially resisted this spontaneous invitation. While my brain began to list the reasons I couldn’t, my eyes saw something else. Standing in front of me was a not-so-little girl in stylish tribal print pants that were just a little long for her small physique. They wouldn’t be too long forever, I knew. She would grow into them; it wouldn’t be long.

“Okay,” I said, suddenly grateful to have an hour alone with this beautiful, growing girl.

After having a nice visit over chicken biscuits, we ran into a nearby store for a piece of poster board. As we stood in the checkout line, a woman pulled her cart up behind us. Standing in the back was a little girl who appeared to be three or four years old.

“Mama, can I get out?” the little girl asked.

No response.

“Mama, can I get out?” she repeated—this time a little louder.

Still no response.

“Mama, please can I get out?” the child politely asked as the woman used her pointer finger to scroll down the screen of her phone, happily smiling to herself.

As the little girl continued to ask the same question, her left leg inched higher and higher over the grocery cart until it appeared she was going to get out herself. My daughter, sensing the little girl was about to fall, quickly stepped next to the cart, preparing to catch her.

The little girl looked at my daughter and put her leg back in the cart. She began asking the same question once again, in hopes her mother might respond to her pleas.

We hadn’t even made it to the car when I saw tears forming in my daughter’s eyes. As she shut the door, she quietly said, “That made me really sad.”

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Here, You Can Breathe … Here, You Are Enough

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Hold tight; you’re slowly coming back to life.
I’ll be keeping your head up.
Let go of all your haunted dreams tonight.
I’ll be keeping your head up.
Birdy

*name has been changed for privacy reasons

Six weeks ago, I was feeling unsteady, depleted, and far away from myself. I was finding it difficult to do my job … to respond or communicate … to do laundry … look presentable … and leave the house. I knew my fragility was a result of extending myself beyond reasonable limits and neglecting to give myself proper time and care after multiple surgeries and an intense book-writing period.

It went against every fiber of my conscientious, people-pleasing nature, but I began declining or flat out ignoring the many requests of my time and energy that kept pouring in despite my vow to create some breathing room. The world is not going to give me permission to stop; I reminded myself. I am the only one who can give myself a reprieve. I decided my family and my emotional wellbeing were going to be my focus during this restoration period I called ‘coming back to life’ … my life … as opposed to accepting a depleted life lived according to other people’s demands and expectations.

I knew it was no coincidence that around the same time I created breathing room to reconnect with my heart and the heart of my family, two volunteer opportunities fell into my lap. Even more convincing was they were on my daughters’ “wish list” when we moved to our new state almost two years ago. To be a volunteer at an animal shelter was Natalie’s wish. To “adopt a cute, elderly person” was Avery’s wish. In the busyness of life over the past two years, I’d nearly forgotten my daughters had once expressed the desire to have these particular opportunities.

And now here they were.

At the same time.

When I was trying to create breathing room.

As you can probably guess, my initial reaction to these opportunities was irritation. Really? I am having trouble getting my own cat’s liter box clean right now. How am I supposed to garner the energy to leave the house and clean twelve of them?

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Words We Cannot Afford to Keep From Our Children

lifeline #hfm

“When I need to get home,
you’re my guiding light,
you’re my guiding light.”
Foy Vance

It was almost one o’clock a.m. when my plane landed. I felt anxious. It was only my second time flying back to my new “home”, a city that contained one of the busiest airports in America. I reminded myself that the hosts of the speaking event I just attended were aware of my travel anxieties and poor sense of direction. They kindly arranged a transportation company to retrieve me from the airport and take me home. I managed the airport shuttle without trouble and felt certain I was getting off at the right stop. But when I went to the top of the escalators, my ride was not there. I felt my chest tighten, my pulse quicken. I looked around and saw a vast hallway quickly emptying as people hurried off to their destinations.

I fumbled for my phone. I called the transportation company and said I could not find my ride. They instructed me to find the Delta terminal, walk outside, go down a ramp, and look for the area where cars were idling. I told them I did not see any Delta signs and was not familiar with the airport. “Could the driver please come to me instead?” I asked, trying to keep my emotions in check. They put me in touch with him. The way he spoke to me was rude, condescending, and not helpful at all.

I stood in the middle of the massive airport deciding if I should walk outside in the darkness, unsure of where I was going, or stay put. With shaky hands, I wiped the tears falling from my eyes. I didn’t know what to do.

“I see you are troubled. Can I help you?” a uniformed driver waiting for his client said in a beautiful accent.

When I explained what happened, he offered to talk to the driver. As he waited for the man to answer his phone, he reassuringly said, “Don’t worry, I will help you.”

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When You Want to Pull the Blanket Over Your Head, Do This Instead

hospital #HFMThe smell of hospitals in winter
And the feeling that it’s all a lot of oysters, but no pearls
All at once you look across a crowded room
To see the way that light attaches to a girl.
–Counting Crows,  A Long December

A few days ago I went to the hospital for a CT scan of my abdomen and pelvis. When the technician shut the door so I could undress, I was alone with my nerves, heart rate monitors, and a pair of oversized scrubs. I nervously looked around the room.

I was looking for warm blankets.

There weren’t any, but I had faith there would be some. I vowed to keep my eyes open as I peeled off my clothes with shaky hands. About an hour later, I found what I was looking for … and maybe it is what you are looking for today. This is my story, may it bring hope where it is needed today …

When I had two kidney surgeries five months ago, they were at two different hospitals, two weeks apart. At the first hospital, my teeth chattered a lot. Before the surgery and after the surgery, my teeth constantly rattled. My kind nurse said, “Oh honey. We need to get you a warm blanket.”

She walked off briskly and came back with a clean white blanket that had been warmed to a perfect temperature. I could not believe it. It was such an unexpected kindness … an absolute luxury … a going-the-extra-mile action that I didn’t think people did anymore. My teeth stopped chattering almost instantly.

“Thank you. Thank you,” I said for this perfect gift I could hold both figuratively and literally in my time of fear.

I ended up asking for warm blankets more than pain meds during my stay. I was pretty sure they had healing powers.
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Life-Saving Reminders for a Child

"If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain; If I can ease one life the aching, Or cool one pain, Or help one fainting robin Unto his nest again, I shall not live in vain." -Emily Dickinson

“If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.” -Emily Dickinson

The term cyber-bullying sounds so futuristic … so foreign … and so far-off.  When I heard the word about a year ago, I thought I had plenty of time before this type of threat could touch my family. Part of me wanted to believe we could avoid it altogether—that it was something that happened to “other people”.

But now I know that kind of thinking is just foolish and naïve. I know this because cyber-bullying has been getting frighteningly close to home. Family friends and loyal readers of my blog are telling me just how easily it happens … just how damaging it feels to the victim … just how helpless it feels to the parent … and in some case, just how devastating it feels to be the bully who never intended for things to take a tragic turn.

I’ve made a conscious effort to protect my children from the dangers of the online world by installing filtering and accountability software. I have established an open line of communication with them and am involved in their online activities. But despite having these external protections in place, cyber-bullying (and good-old fashioned face-to-face bullying) can still happen and is happening. In many instances, these attacks are coming from trusted friends and classmates within a child’s social circle. [source]

At times, I’m tempted to banish technology from our lives—but I know that is not a realistic solution. Electronic devices are becoming an integral part of the education system. For my older daughter, these devices have quickly become tools that are required to complete daily schoolwork. I watch in awe as she uses technology to create, navigate, and acquire important skills for the future.

It is imperative that I continue to provide external protection for my child in the digital world, but that is not enough. I must also provide internal protection—protection of her heart, mind, spirit, and emotional wellbeing. I must provide affirming words and beliefs that she can use as armor if and when she is attacked.

A very brave mother spurred this action in me. Her beautiful and vibrant daughter, Rebecca, took her life after being a victim of cyber-bullying. As I read the significant actions that Rebecca’s mother, Tricia Norman, took to protect her daughter and remove her from the toxic environment, I couldn’t help but weep knowing the outcome. The mother noted that she thought things were going better for Rebecca at her new school, but the child kept her distress from her family. “Maybe she thought she could handle it on her own,” Ms. Norman said.

Maybe she thought she could handle it on her own.

After reading that particular sentence several times, my role as a parent of a child growing up in the 21st century became crystal clear. I want to be sure my child knows she doesn’t have to go it alone.

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The Vacation Moments of Everyday Life You Might Be Missing

what is necessary #HFM

I didn’t realize how poorly I’d been sleeping.

I didn’t realize how long that medical test kit had been sitting on my dresser waiting for my attention.

I didn’t realize how tight my shoulders were or how dark the circles under my eyes had become.

I didn’t realize how much I’d missed the sound of certain people’s voices, as texting had become my usual mode of communication.

I didn’t realize how much I needed to immerse myself in silence …

Until I did.

Today I come off a two-week blogging break. It was a terrible time to go quiet. My new book was just picked up by Target. It was being “tested” in stores nationwide to see how well it did last week. When I should have been tweeting, posting, and encouraging people to buy my book, I was getting my nails done by a 9-year-old with little manicure experience and carving scary faces on pumpkins.

what is necessary #HFM

what is necessary #HFM

My book had just gained serious momentum, I knew going quiet—no interviews, no viral posts, no podcasts, and no email—would certainly not keep things going. Going quiet meant the glorious momentum would drop off. I could have pushed myself. After all, I have an impressive track record when it comes to powering through the exhaustion … ignoring the warning signs of burnout … and making excuses as to why I cannot slow down. “Someday, I’ll have time to do that, ” slides off my lips quite well—at least it used to.

But ‘someday’ is nowhere to live your life. This I have learned.

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An Open Window to a Bravely Lived Life

windows #HFM
“Let your words be anything but empty
Why don’t you tell them the truth?
Say what you wanna say,
And let the words fall out.
Honestly, I wanna see you be brave.”
–Sara Bareilles

It was late, but for some reason I decided to clean the pantry. A friend had been weighing on my heart. I picked up the phone and called her while I arranged cans of beans and tossed near-empty boxes of old pasta.

It quickly became apparent why I’d called her. She was experiencing some tough revelations. Was it a mid-life crisis? She wondered out loud. “You’re going to hate me when I tell you my truths,” she said.

I assured her that nothing she could say or do would change my love and respect for her.

“You are kind, compassionate—you are a good person. Nothing you say will change that,” I said.

My friend took a deep breath and shared thoughts, feelings, and questions that were hard to admit to herself, let alone speak out loud. But she said no truth that any one of us hasn’t had or could have at some point in our lives. She was just brave enough to admit it.

“Do you hate me? You probably aren’t going to talk to me anymore,” she said worriedly. I could practically see her cringing through the phone.

“My opinion of you has not changed. I love you. I am here to support you as you try to figure out exactly who you are and what you need to be the truest and happiest version of yourself,” I said confidently. “It would make me sad if you were to live an unauthentic life for the next 40 years,” I added.

Unbeknownst to me, my 12-year-old daughter had come up from watching a football game with her dad. She’d been listening with open ears and wide eyes. This is my wise-beyond-her-years child. She is my question asker … my leave-no-stone-unturned child … the one who’s been drawn to the world’s sufferings since age three. I predicted the questions would be coming.

“Is everything okay?” she asked as soon as I said goodbye to my friend.

“Well, my friend suffered a lot of trauma in her childhood and now she is dealing with a lot of things she has not allowed herself to deal with. She is trying to figure who she really us—not who the world expects her to be. And she chose me to share her truths,” I explained.

“And she was afraid you wouldn’t like her anymore—the real her?” she asked, following along quite maturely.

That’s when I knew. I knew I was being given a beautiful opportunity right then and there. With my pantry in disarray and this brown-eyed beauty donned in her Indianapolis Colts jersey staring back at me, I had the chance to highlight this moment in time. What I was about to say would be stored away in this child’s mind for years, maybe decades, and referred to often. I chose my words carefully.

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