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Freedom

FreedomversepicSo if the Son sets you free, you are truly free” (John 8:36).

Imagine living your entire life as a slave. What would you give for freedom? What would that freedom feel like once it came? And how long, once freed, would it take to shake off your slave mentality?

We don’t think about slavery much these days; I’m not sure we can ever fully grasp what life is like for those living as someone’s property, spending every moment doing someone else’s bidding. To dream of, long for–ache for–freedom. But to believe it is far from your grasp, so far, you begin to give up hope. You stop dreaming and settle into a life of barely existing.

Yesterday the Associated Press posted an article about a Burmese slave who spent 22 years in captivity. Oh, how he longed for freedom, but the one time he asked, he was beaten so severely, he nearly died. And so, he spent the next 14 years resigned to his fate. And yes, that desire, that deep, inner hunger for liberty and the ability to reconnect with those he loved, would not be stilled. Over time, it grew, and grew, until his desire to be free, truly free, overrode his fear of being beat. And so, he asked again. And again, and again, and each time, his owners beat him down.

One day, after his “owner” cracked his skull with a helmet, he ran away, determined to see his family once again… only to land right back into slavery. But his thirst for freedom would not be quenched, so after being chained to a fishing boat for three days, he managed to break free, and this time he ran with every ounce of energy and determination he possessed.

Oh, to be free, truly free! (You can read Myint’s entire story HERE.)

Last Sunday, our family pastor, Robert Conn asked us two questions: Who are you, and, what breaks your heart? You can watch this powerful sermon here:

The answer jumped to mind immediately–I’m redeemed, restored, and made whole by Christ, and I’m utterly devastated to see others in emotional and spiritual bondage. But the good news is, I know the route to freedom! And that is through Jesus Christ, God’s only Son.

May everything I do and say point to that truth, because without Christ, man is and will remain in bondage. For eternity.

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! How would you answer Robert’s questions: Who are you, and what breaks your heart? More importantly, what might God be asking you to do about it? Who can you point to freedom? Share your thoughts here in the comments below or at living by grace on Facebook.

Speaking of freedom, have I sent the Sweet Freedom series? You get them free when you sign up for my (and 7 other authors’) free quarterly newsletter. Although really, we should probably call it an e-zine because it’s much more than news. In truth, it contains very little news, but a SF Front Coverwhole lot of other stuff, life serial story segments, recipes, devotions… Check out our last issue HERE.

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Photo by ClkerFreeVectorImages taken from pixabay.com

Life is full of uncertainties, and though I’m pretty sure, while waiting for something important, we wish God would come through right now! But it’s in the waiting, the following along God’s detours and reroutes, that our faith grows strongest and we are most alert to God’s hand.

Today prolific and hugely talented author, Shannon Taylor Vannatter, shares her signingexperience with waiting, rerouting, followed by more waiting.

And as an added bonus, she’s doing a special, multi-blog give-away to commemorate the Heartsong Presents line since it’s ending this month! How fun is that?

Baseball Memory Board

Comment to enter the drawing for a copy of Rodeo Reunion. Ten copies will be split among names drawn during the blog tour from June 1st – July 1st. One winner will receive a baseball themed memory board personally crafted by the author. Winners will be revealed on Shannon’s blog on July 22nd.

Trusting in the God of Hope by Shannon Taylor Vannatter

Any time I’ve been down about my writing career, God gives me hope. Back before I was published and began to wonder if I ever would be, He’d give me encouragement by allowing me to place in a writing contest or an editor taking the time to write a positive note on a rejection letter. Those little fuzzy moments kept me going. He still does that.

Back in November, I learned the line I write for Heartsong Presents is ending. I was contracted for one more rodeo book and a new series of three books. With the end of Heartsong Presents, those four books were destined to never see the light of day. But I’d been through this before.

After my fourth book was published when Barbour owned the line, they decided to end Heartsong Presents. Even though I had two more books contracted. I cried and railed and mourned my books and my career. But a few months later, I attended the ACFW conference and my new editor told me to go ahead and write the next book in my series because another publisher was buying the line.

Six months later, I learned Harlequin had purchased Heartsong Presents. My final two books in my contract saw the light of day and I soon had another contract for six books. Fast forward four years and Harlequin made the same decision regarding the line. This time, I knew no one would buy it because there aren’t any other publishers who distribute category length romance.

But I didn’t rail and I didn’t cry. By this time, I knew God’s got this. A few weeks later, my agent called with a possible publisherkeyboard-690066_1280 to take on my four remaining books. All I had to do was add word count and tweak the books to fit their line. We went back and forth for several months trying to make my submission perfect.

A month later, the editor contacted my agent. What I’d done still didn’t fit the imprint, but she gave very specific instructions to make my books fit. And even went as far as calling me on the phone. That doesn’t happen often. Hope bloomed.

I tweaked the proposal again and sent it off. We’re going on seven weeks now. The editor apologized when my agent checked with her, saying she’s behind on everything and hasn’t even had the time to read my proposal. I was hoping to have a positive answer by the time my blog tour for my final Heartsong came around. Which is now. But I still don’t know what will become of my four books.

In the meantime, I wrote a long book I’ve wanted to write for a long time. It’s polished and almost ready to send to my agent so she can try to find a home for it. But the market is rough in publishing in general. As time drags, I’m getting discouraged.

Last weekend, I went to an annual writers’ retreat with ten women from my local group. We had a great time, visited, ate, ate some more, learned, and got some writing time in.

I’m the only traditionally published one in the group simply because my journey fell into place before theirs. I’m their encouragement—proof that getting published can happen. But my career is at a standstill. It kind of got to me.

Double RainbowOn the way home, I was praying and whining a little. I rounded a curve and the trees revealed an expanse of open sky. I saw a cloud with a silver lining. Then another. Pretty much a sky full of clouds with silver linings. Bordering all those clouds was a double rainbow. I take that as God saying He’s got this. I quit whining.

For the rest of my trip home, I enjoyed the canvas God painted just for me. And I know He’ll follow through on all those silver linings.

Award winning, central Arkansas author, Shannon Taylor Vannatter is a stay-at-home mom/pastor’s wife. She lives in a town with a population of around 100, if you count a few cows, and she once climbed a mountain wearing gold wedge-heeled sandals which became known as her hiking boots.

She has eleven published titles and is contracted for four more. Her books are available at christianbook.com, barnesandnoble.com, amazon.com, harlequin.com, and barbourbooks.com. Learn more about Shannon and her books at ShannonVannatter.com and check out her Real Life Romance blog.

Connect with her on Facebook, Goodreads, Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/stvannatter/, and Twitter: @stvauthor.

About her novel, Rodeo Reunion:

RAQUEL MARRIS NEEDS A MAN WHO’LL STAY PUT

And Slade Walker’s not a likely candidate. Even if the former major league pitcher just agreed to coach her son’s little league team. The single mom can’t risk everything on a bronc-riding chaplain who’s only passing through Raquel’s small Texas town.

Slade is taking a hiatus from the rodeo circuit to meet the sister he never knew he had. But the pretty widowed nurse next door is making him think twice about hitting the road again. He can’t turn his back on the cowboys who need him, but Raquel and her boy need him, too. Can Slade fulfill his calling and finally find a place to hang his hat?

Buy it:

At Christian Book Distributers or on Amazon

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! Are you in a waiting period? What might God be showing or teaching you? Have you ever felt as if you’d slammed into a closed door only to find God had something else amazing waiting? Share your thoughts here in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook.

 

SaraiLabelShe was beautiful, most likely came from a wealthy family, and would one day become the mother of an entire nation. The matriarch of a faith that would completely change the world, revealing God’s plan of redemption and ultimately, leading to the fulfillment of prophesies given since the beginning of time.

But when we meet her in Genesis 11, one label defines her: barren. At a time and in a culture when barrenness was a huge deal. Children were seen as a blessing, a sign of favor, and for these women who were often easily discarded, a promise of stability.

Infertility in any culture can lead to an incredible emptiness and sorrow, but in her day and age, it was downright shameful. In the ancient Middle East, most women didn’t work. They weren’t scholars, didn’t impress others with their deep and lofty thoughts on politics. Nope. They were valued for one thing–their ability to produce an heir.

In the land in which Sarai lived, failure to do so was considered grounds for divorce.

Can you imagine her shame? Despite her wealth and beauty, I envision her walking through the streets of Ur with her head bowed and her heart heavy. Watching the other women with swollen bellies, or infants held to their breast. Listening to mothers talk about how strong and capable their sons are.

Feeling completely isolated and alone. Held in bondage by this one label thrust on her by her peers: barren.

But God saw her differently. To Him, she was His princess, which is what her name (both versions) means. And He’d spend the next six chapters helping her live like His princess, to wear with pride and conviction the label He Himself gave her.

We all have labels: Unwanted. Unlovable. Failure. Tainted.Redeemedpic

Those labels, when latched on to, hinder our walk with Christ. Some, like Sarai’s, are negative. Hurtful, thrust upon us by others, relentlessly whispering to our wounded hearts, “You’re not good enough.” If not diligently fought against, those labels can cling to us long after we’ve been redeemed. And they begin to influence our actions and reactions.

But we, like Sarai, are princesses (or princes, fellas), daughters of the King! Let’s live like the royalty we are. No one can tag a label on to us unless we let them.

Not even us, ourselves.

Ah, so now we’ve come to the root of. Those labels wouldn’t stick unless we believed them–owned them. So how do we resist them? How do we learn to walk like the royalty we, redeemed and cherished children of Christ, are?

We replace our distorted view with truth and focus on who we are in Christ. That’s the only label we should cling to. That’s the only label we should nurture and live out.

Starting next week, a group of Facebook friends and I are going to follow Sarai/Sarah’s journey, inviting God to lead us on a similar trek–that of embracing and living in our true, defining label–daughters of the King. And I invite you to join us.

Speaking of labels, Tuesday I visited Internet Cafe Devotions to talk about those insidious lies we allow to weasel their way into our hearts, wearing us down and keeping us from the incredible joy available through Christ in an article entitled The Battle You Must Win. Read it HERE.

Let’s talk about this. We all, every one of us, have labels we carry around, some we’ve held on to so long, we’ve forgotten they’re even there. The only way, I believe, to shuck those self-defeating labels is to fill our hearts and minds with truth. This week, prayerfully ask God to show you what lies you’ve allowed yourself to hold on to. Ask Him to show you how He sees you, then ask Him to help you view yourself in the same light.

LivingbyGracepicIs there a certain label that jumped out at you when you read today’s post? Has God perhaps already helped you tear off a label from your past? If so, what was it, and how did God help you toss it? Share your thoughts here in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook. 

Do you feel average? Unnoticed? Like the easiest thing for you to do would be to blend in with the masses? Get up, go to work, go home, eat, go to bed, repeat. Like millions of Americans do each day. Settling for the plainness of mediocracy, never revealing their true, glorious, Christ-revealing beauty.

Colorado May 2015 009Today my guest Janet K. Brown, author of Worth Her Weight shares an insightful lesson God showed her through a seemingly plain creature.

The Unordinary Oriole

By Janet K. Brown

A beautiful oriole ministered to me on our recent visit to Aurora, Colorado. Our daughter’s house, like most in that area, sprawls the foothills of the Rockies, and hiking trails wind up and down, linking one trail after another. If I had the strength, I could hike for many miles. I stick with the two mile loop nearby.

While hiking, I noticed one shaggy pine that appeared to be home to a bird that I didn’t recognize. My husband researched and discovered it was an orchard oriole. Orioles hide in trees and feed on fruits and insects.

I noticed when the oriole perched in the tree, I could barely see it. The top of its head, body, and wings were black and blended with the trunk of the pine. Even when my husband or daughter said it was in the tree, I could search and search and not spot it. When the bird took flight, however, my eyes lifted and watched the graceful swoop.

“How beautiful,” I said. The bird’s breast and the bottom of its wings were brilliant orange, but without the flight, I couldn’t seebranch-386907_1280 its hidden beauty.

Are we not the same as the ordinary oriole?

My mother had a saying, “He puts his pants on one leg at a time, just like me.” I have two legs, two arms, and average intelligence. There’s nothing special about me. When I keep quiet and don’t strive for excellence, I blend with other woman around me. Like the oriole, I hide in my tree. When I weighed two hundred and fifty pounds, and my self esteem was as low as our North Texas red dirt, I wanted to hide.

God healed me emotionally and showed me the meaning of this verse:

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7 KJV).

With this hope, I spread my wings and wrote my books and taught my classes, and showed the beautiful orange side of me that God created.

The oriole is ordinary until it flies.

So, are we.

***

Janet K. Brown lives in Wichita Falls, Texas with her husband, Charles. Writing became her second career after retiring from medical coding.

Worth Her Weight is the author’s first inspirational women’s fiction, but it makes a perfect companion to her previously released, Divine Dining: 365 Devotions to Guide You to Healthier Weight and Abundant Wellness. Both books encompass her passion for diet, fitness, and God’s Word. Worth Her Weight marks Brown’s third book. Who knew she had a penchant for teens and ghosts? She released her debut novel, an inspirational young adult, Victoria and the Ghost, in July, 2012.

Janet and her husband love to travel with their RV, work in their church, and visit their three daughters, two sons-in-law and three perfect grandchildren. She teaches workshops on writing, weight loss, and the historical settings of her teen books.

Visit her online at http:/ /www.janetkbrown.com, on Twitter at https://twitter.com/janetkbrowntx, or on Facebook, and contact her by E-mail at: Janet(dot)hope(at)att(dot)net

Worth Her Weight:

How can a woman who gives to everyone but herself accept God’s love and healing when she believes she’s fat, unworthy, and unfixable? Can she be Worth Her Weight?

Lacey Chandler helps her mother, her sister, her friend, and then she binges on food and wonders is there really a God? Betty Chandler hates being handicapped and useless, so she lashes out at the daughter that helps, and the God who doesn’t seem to care. Toby Wheeler loves being police chief in Wharton Rock, but when the devil invades the small town, he can’t release control.

Is God enough in Wharton Rock?

Buy it HERE!  Also available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, & at your local bookstore.

LivingbyGracepicLet’s talk about this!

 

Are you in hiding? Avoiding risks or certain opportunities to spread your wings and fly? That first step can be excruciatingly terrifying, but oh, the freedom we experience when we finally experience the beauty of full flight–of full surrender. Pause to prayerfully consider in what ways you’re hiding right now. Perhaps it’s relationally. Maybe you’ve been hurt so many times in the past, you’ve begun to hide behind your defenses. Or maybe it’s in your career, or in ministry. But like Janet says, we have not been given a spirit of fear, and our beauty, or rather, God’s beauty, is best displayed when we step out of hiding, spread our wings, and fly.

Share your thoughts in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook.

Photo by imagerymajestic taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by imagerymajestic taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Has your obedience become conditional? Your view of God distorted? Do you draw near when life is great or you need aid but run and hide when reveals His God’s coaching-training side?

Romans 12:1 calls us to worship God with our whole selves, which means laying all we are on the altar, as a living sacrifice. The problem with living sacrifices is, they have a tendency to crawl off when things get too hot. I thought of this analogy, spoken by a pastor over a decade ago, when I read author Anita Higman’s devotion. As you read her thoughts on what is necessary to obtain a healthy Christian life, prayerfully consider the areas you’re tempted to withhold from God’s sovereign hand. Ask Him to help you release everything, your fears, struggles, anxieties, pride–whatever is getting in His way, so He can mold you into His beautiful masterpiece.

Tasting Real Joy by Anita Higman, author of Summer’s List

I’m a tea fan supreme, and a lover of chocolate, but when I discovered chocolate tea I have to admit I was not inspired. I’m either in the mood for tea, or I have a craving for chocolate. We humans have a way of compartmentalizing our lives.

I’m sure in my spiritual journey I’ve done a more profound version of that same partitioning. I keep God near when I’m in the mood for His healing touch, His blessings, His tender mercies in my life, and yet I want to disconnect from Him when He’s offering a growth experience that might be painful or when He’s showing me a transgression that requires nothing less than repentance. It’s hard for me to mingle these two seemingly incongruent attributes of God or to even acknowledge them. But I also know that His ways are not our ways.

We may never need to endure the blending of two dissimilar culinary flavors as tea and chocolate, but a mingling and

Photo by holohololand taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by holohololand taken from freedigitalphotos.net

embracing of all of God’s powers is required for a healthy Christian life. It’s the only way for us to taste real and lasting joy. It’s the only way to live the kind of life that really matters spiritually—so that when our great hour comes we can hear those precious words that we long to hear from our Savior, “Well done, my faithful servant.”

His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant!…  Matthew 25: 21 (NIV)

Lord, may I always welcome not just your attributes that I am comfortable with, but the parts of you that love justice and truth and a pure heart.

***

5_016Best-selling and award-winning author, Anita Higman, has forty books published. She’s been a Barnes & Noble “Author of the Month” for Houston and has a BA in the combined fields of speech communication, psychology, and art. Anita loves good movies, traveling to exotic places, and brunch with her friends.

Please check out Anita’s latest novel, Summer’s List, through Moody Publishers. Feel free to drop by her website at www.anitahigman.com or connect with her on her Facebook Reader Page at http://www.facebook.com/AuthorAnitaHigman. She would love to hear from you!

Summer’s List:

A dying wish alters the course of a young woman’s life.Summer's List front cover

Life hadn’t been easy for Summer Snow. In acts of selflessness-caring for her ailing parents and running her grandmother’s bookstore-she had forfeited her youth and dreams for the needs of others. And the only tries she had at love… didn’t turn out. She had the bookstore, she had her beloved granny, but she was missing something-or someone.

Opportunity strikes when Granny sends Summer on an unexpected adventure with one Martin Langtree, a kind but gangly young man from Summer’s past. A childhood friendship is rekindled, a romance is sparked, and mysteries are solved in one magical Texas summer. Will Summer strike out on love again, or will things finally go her way?

With lovable characters and surprising twists, Summer’s List is a simple delight.

livingbygracepic.jpJoin us at Living by Grace as we talk about releasing our expectations, resisting compartmentalized worship, and surrendering our whole selves to Christ as He molds us into His masterpieces. How do you tend to react when in a period of molding, stretching, waiting or teaching? What are some ways you work to keep your heart pliable? Share your thoughts here in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook.

In other news… for my local friends:

Join me on June 21st as I talk about living with an open hand and the life-changing power of grace.

Missiontohomelessjpg-page-001

Then (this one’s for my writing friends) join me at the downtown Omaha Public Library, on Thursday evening, June 25th as I talk about ways to build your platform and advance your God-given calling. Find out more HERE!

And while we’re talking writing, consider spending a few days with me this summer in Atlanta where I’ll be teaching and speaking at the Christian Authors Guild Atlanta Conference. Best part? Shannon Taylor Vannatter and Edie Melson will be there! Yay! I hear Jennifer Hallmark will, too. Find out more and register HERE!

If you’d like me to come speak at your missions or women’s or mother’s group event, or if you’d like to learn more about Takin’ it to the Streets, an Omaha Metro ministry serving the working poor and homeless, contact me at jenniferaslattery (at) gmail(dot)com.

Oh, and I almost forgot, there’s still time to get entered into the Amazon give-away to win one of four copies of my debut novel, Beyond I Do! Find out more and enter HERE! Read a free, 36-page excerpt HERE!

Happy Monday! If that phrase grates on your sleepy, Monday morning ears, let me see if I can make your day a tad brighter. Or at least, maybe I can add some fun to your day.

Do you like contests? Not stand on your head, jump up and down, and see who can yell the loudest type contests. (Can you tell I was in the preschool classroom at church yesterday?) For this contest, all you have to do is click, and follow.

The prize? One of four copies of my debut novel, Beyond I Do. Already read it? Enter anyway, and tuck it away in your gift-giving closet. (Just please don’t use it as a white elephant gift. On second thought, go ahead.)

To find out more and to enter the contest, go HERE!

To learn more about the novel…

f3292-jennifer2bbeyond2bi2bdoWill seeing beyond the present unite them or tear them further apart?

Ainsley Meadows, raised by a hedonist mother, who cycles through jobs and relationships like wrapping paper on Christmas morning, falls into a predictable and safe relationship with Richard, a self-absorbed socialite psychiatrist. But as her wedding nears, a battered woman and her child spark a long-forgotten dream and ignites a hidden passion. One that threatens to change everything, including her fiancé. To embrace God’s best and find true love, this security-seeking bride must follow God with reckless abandon and realize that marriage goes Beyond I Do.

Read the first 36 pages for free HERE.

Aaaaannnnd… as long as we’re talking about romance, make sure to pop by FaithFriendsandChocolate tomorrow to read my post on Cultivating Romance.

Photo by Marcolm taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by Marcolm taken from freedigitalphotos.net

There are numerous articles expounding on all that’s wrong with the church. They’re trying to be too contemporary, too relevant. They’re behind the times. They’re full of hypocrites, ran by hypocrites. They’re too judgmental, or too lenient, or too rigid, or to laxed…

I could go on, but I choose not to.

I’d rather remind us all that WE are the church. We are the ones whom Christ sent out, to help the poor, love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, to die to ourselves and “to find common ground with everyone, doing everything [we] can to save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22b).

Because let’s face it, our pastors are outnumbered. In a congregation of 500, in a given week, you’ll have those who are sick and in need of visitation, those who are struggling financially and in need of aid, single moms who are lonely and in need of a friend, and I could go on. And on. And on.

Sadly, there will likely always be more needs than resources to meet them. That benevolence fund created to help families in need eventually runs dry, and needs you and I to contribute to it. Because the funds for ministries aimed at showing Christ’s love and helping our communities come from you and I.

As I type this, I’m thinking of Jesus’ advice in Matthew 7:3-5

“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye” (NLT).

The hypocrite, it seems, is the one who criticizes others without taking the time to evaluate themselves, without taking the time to zero in on and remove the plank that’s distorting their vision.

When I do this, when I focus on my vision-distorting plank, I suddenly remember all the times I chose to buy a latte rather than giving to a need. Or when I avoided that which was inconvenient or awkward–the reaching out to a new neighbor, or watching the children of a single mother, or cleaning the house of a shut-in–to do that which was most pleasurable.

Each day, I make selfish, non-loving choices. Each day, I get caught up in my agenda, or my schedule, or even the 5,000 thoughts swirling through my popcorn-kernelling brain. Leaving those I love and want to love hurt in my wake.

And each day, I must confess this selfish side of me to Christ, asking Him to help me do better, to love better, and to better Lovewithactionversereflect who He is.

So let’s drop our pointing fingers, set aside our debates, roll up our sleeves and get to work. Because there’s a big, hurting world out there, a world of incredible needs, and it’s going to take all of us, working together, to meet them. To love them. And to reach this generation for Christ.

Unity of the gospel is a powerful thing.

LivingbyGracepicLet’s talk about this! How do you feel about the points raised in this post? (If you disagree, that’s totally OK! :) ) When have you been tempted to focus on another’s faults or weaknesses, either personally or in relation to their ministry? How did God bring you back to a place of unity? Why do you think people are often quick to point fingers at the church? What are the dangers in doing so?

Share your thoughts with me in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook.

And before you go, I wanted to introduce you to our newest addition to the Living by Grace team: Susan Aken! My regularly readers are probably fairly familiar with Susan and her writing by now, as I’ve had her on here numerous times. She has such a heart for Christ and such a sweet, humble way of presenting thought provoking truth. She’ll be hosting on Mondays. In the meantime, visit her blog (HERE) and tell her hello!

And, if you haven’t done so, I encourage you to sign up for my (our) free quarterly newsletter. When you do, not only will you receive great content (serial story segments, devotions, recipes, and more!), but you’ll also receive free e-copies of my two compilations: Sweet Freedom With a Slice of Peach Cobbler and Sweet Freedom Ala Mode. So sign up now! :) (If you’ve already signed up but didn’t receive your free copy yet, please let me know! I’ve had some emails bounce back on me.)

 

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