Knowing the truth sets me free

This Independence Day morning as I sit by the Big Thompson River in Estes Park, CO, my heart is a mix of emotions for a day typically marked by family cookouts and fireworks. As a white female, I find that I am feeling the tension of deep gratitude and bitter lament for my country. I am so grateful to be in a place with such strength, imagination, individuality and hope. I also grieve that strength has often become dominance, imagination wasn’t enough to combat prejudice, individuality has forgotten community, and hope has not been shared by all.

Our hearts ache, but we always have joy…I Corinthians 6:10

The truth is all these joys and sorrows can share space. They can dwell with each other in my heart and mind. And for my white friends and neighbors, I dare challenge that joy in our freedom can share space with the whole story of how we got here today. We can dwell with each other in the history. We can listen. We can recognize that Independence Day is not the same celebration of freedom for all.

Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn…— Frederick Douglass, ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’ (Rochester, New York, July 5, 1852)

We can hear the glorious and brave stories again and learn the malicious and destructive stories that have been veiled and ignored. We can genuinely care that in our retelling of a nation being born, there are also stories that have flowed down through the generations from a place of pain, suffering and oppression. We can acknowledge that sacrifice and domination made the birth of our nation possible. We can be willing to sit alongside the discomfort that brings like a devoted friend. We can draw near to it and to one another so we can truly embrace a future together..

And we can open up space for the goodness and gratitude some of us feel to be shared by those who have never or rarely felt it. Here’s the thing, though: in order for someone else to be able to take it up as their joy, I must be willing to lay it down. I must be willing to give up an identity that though has proven beneficial to me, has caused others great pain.

Greater love has no one that this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:13

There is no greater love I can show to my neighbor than to lay down that which has been so life giving to me so he can live more fully. And I am finding that in laying down the partial story of my nation that I hold so dear, I trade fear for true freedom when I am willing to know the whole story.

And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. John 8:32

It is my hope and prayer on this July 4 holiday that the strain of COVID-19 on our communities, the struggle to reach a cultural and systemic norm where Black lives truly matter, the awakening to how indigenous peoples and immigrants and descendants of those who came from non-Western European nations still feel the destructive pain of white culture taking over, would be the truth and fullness of our shared story that really set us free to be more than platitudes of freedom could ever achieve.

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Will I Cross the Road?

There is a sentence later in these thoughts that will be hard to read. It has heavy, shocking words that our minds might initially reject because 1) we can’t imagine the problem is as horrific as the stories being told and 2) we might feel the words are pointing right at us and accusing us. But stay with me for a few more sentences. Maybe we feel accused and can’t imagine because we have never been proximate to the stories we are hearing or the people crying out for justice and change. Maybe we don’t know what we don’t know. But, the Black community is trying to help us know.

It’s like the story of the Good Samaritan. As he traveled along a common trade route known for perilous bends in the road where travelers were vulnerable to attack, he wasn’t expecting to come upon a man beaten half to death. He did nothing to cause the man harm. He didn’t know him, but the Samaritan did recognize that this victim one was from the community he had been taught not to trust.

The Samaritan may have never been this close to someone so different from him in belief and life experience. He may have thought that any other day in a different situation, they would avoid each other altogether and not wade into the differences. But this day, if he doesn’t wade into the deep end of their differences, the wounded man will die.

So he wades in. He crosses the road. He chooses to get close and get involved. It requires him to talk to the man and offer words of comfort. He realizes the victim needs more than just a few minutes of a stranger taking note of his injuries on his way to somewhere else. The Samaritan must change his plans. His priorities have to shift. His well-organized life and structure have been interrupted by the intentional harm and abuse inflicted by someone who came before him. But if he passes by, he becomes a part of the harm and abuse. He must use his resources to get the man medical help and give him safe space for restoration to health and flourishing. He must see the victim as his neighbor–someone who matters to God, and who matters to him.

Now here come the sentences I warned might be hard to read: Over the past several weeks, we have heard a litany of stories emerging where Black men and women have lost their lives at the hands of White individuals who abused their authority & position with stunning brutality. In all these cases, the person in authority was also a law enforcement officer or had strong connections to law enforcement. Just to read this may feel like one group is being pitted against each other. But please don’t shy away from the discomfort.

That discomfort is knowing deep down that something is very broken in our communities. Our nation is waking up to a pattern of abuse and injustice by individuals misusing the power entrusted to them and by old systems built to oppress that still perpetuate obstacles to the Black community. If that truth sounds foreign, it’s because many of us have never experienced or been close to such a reality. But even if we haven’t seen it ourselves, the undeniable stories must be heard and finally recognized.

You may say, “I have not done anything intentional to harm the Black community.” You may argue that we can’t live in the past, slavery isn’t a construct anymore. You may feel like the challenging words on tv and at rallies are directed right at you and now you are on the defensive. But the Good Samaritan teaches us that the first two individuals who came upon the wounded man passed by. They were not willing to find out more and really understand what happened to the victim. They were not willing to give up their priorities in order to get proximate. The place and privilege they enjoyed was their excuse for not offering compassion. They didn’t think they owed the stranger anything. It wasn’t a problem they created. And since they weren’t there, maybe this man brought it upon himself…

The question asked by the story of the Good Samaritan is “Will I be a neighbor?” Will I wade in as God nudges me to? Will I cross the road of indifference and distance to be close and proximate before I dismiss it as “not my problem?” Am I willing to have hard conversations and listen so I understand how we got to this place and how it has left so many lying on the side of the road without hope of change and healing? Will I give more than just a few minutes of taking note of the situation before going on my way and putting the uncomfortable images out of mind? Will I change my plans and give up privileges I enjoy for no other reason than the color of my skin so that someone who needs what I easily enjoy can flourish? Will I work alongside others who can help to set things right so these violent tragedies and repeating oppressions no longer have systematic oxygen to keep fires of injustice burning? Will I realize, that if I just pass by this moment in our history and do nothing, if I don’t try to get closer and understand and do something– anything, I become a part of the harm and abuse?

Will I cross the road and move closer to them to see what needs to be done so that no one else dies? Do I understand that justice is so much more than payment for wrongdoing? It is giving what is needed to restore people to each other in right relationship. Will I take this sacred opportunity to be a neighbor so that the people crying out for justice know their lives indeed matter to me?

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Good Friday Stories

Throughout Lent, we have been on a journey with Jesus toward the cross. It’s a journey that he knew was coming. Jesus intentionally chooses this destiny in Mark 10 when he “sets out for Jerusalem”; a decision that will cost him everything.

Today is our invitation to be present in this story. We don’t just want to read the narrative again. We want to live it alongside Jesus and his disciples. Come along with Mary and Peter, as they experience the loss, the questions, the confusion of those who didn’t understand what was happening on the Thursday and Friday of Holy Week.

At the same time, hear the story as if you don’t know its ending and wrestle with why Jesus, God’s Son, would allow himself to be taken. Why would he risk all he had accomplished to move closer to a terrible end? What could possibly be motivating his actions?

MARY’S STORY:  Mark 14:22-26

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art by Courtney Burk

I am both bewildered and mesmerized by Jesus in this moment. I see him so clearly as a man, a friend, a skilled wood worker, and as my son. But tonight, like many nights before, and like the night he was born, there is more. So much more. There is an unmistakeable “otherness” about him. It makes all who are around him yearn for God’s presence. It even makes us feel that God is certainly as close as the sound of Jesus’ voice.

And now, he is tearing bread apart and saying things like “this is my body” which sounds strange—and yet it makes so much sense even though I can’t explain it. He has held up a cup of wine and shared that “this is my blood” which is even stranger. Yet, I find a pulse of life in those words, and an enveloping peace that I will understand the God-infused mysteries of my eldest child very soon. It is both a knowledge I have carried, and a heartache I have felt but not fully known for his entire life. As I receive my passover bread and wine, I say a prayer, asking Yahweh to help me in this moment, to hold it and remember it.

PETER’S STORY:  Mark 14:27-31, 53-72

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art by Tami Roach

I have never wanted to turn back time as much as I desperately want to rewind the last hour of this day. I would trade a lifetime of happiness if I could take back the words I’ve said, fears that gripped me and pride that blinded me.

Jesus warned me. Gave me the specifics of this failure. But I thought it was impossible. He told me exactly what would happen and I didn’t believe him. He looked at me with the deepest compassion and said that before a rooster crowed not once, but twice, I would deny knowing him three times. When I protested his prediction, I had no idea that an evening spent celebrating the Passover with our friends would turn into a violent upheaval of all I’d devoted myself to for three years.

It all happened so fast and none of it makes sense. I mean, I know Jesus is not exactly buddies with the Jewish leaders, but the people love him and he has never invited the wrath of the Roman officials. Everyone’s talking treason and the last time I caught a glimpse of him, his face was bloody and swollen, and he had been beaten.

What is hardest for me to believe is that I could betray my faithful friend so abruptly. One minute I announce to everyone that he will always be my leader, and moments later, I am so afraid his fate will become mine, that I turn my back on him to protect myself. I don’t know how he will ever trust me again. I don’t know how I can live with the guilt of failing him when he needed me most. I don’t know how to bear the crow of a rooster ever again.

JESUS’ STORY:  Mark 15:15-37

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Today we mourn. 

For promises unfulfilled

for wholeness unrealized

for brokenness still afflicting.

Today there is only darkness.

Our hopes are buried

our longings shrouded

our desires entombed.

Today the grave engulfs us.

We walk in hell

empty, stripped of life

no light only darkness.

Today God seems to have failed.

Yet here we find freedom

Between death and resurrection

This is the night which empties us

and makes us whole.

~Thomas Merton

Let’s try for the next 48 hours, to be aware, even uncomfortable with the confusion, fear and anguish of these moments. This is our story, even though centuries removed from the historical events, we can find our place as the mother, friend and follower who is trying to make sense of what’s happening in front of us and how much it hurts to see everything unfold. Until Sunday.

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Not alone

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It’s taken me days to write even a handful of words to describe how I am feeling about the events of the past weeks and months. For all of us, there is a shared unease to the COVID-19 virus and the exponential quickness of its spread. There is a communal loss in not seeing friends, co-workers and even some family because of social distancing. And everyone can speak to the financial stress of it all. Within the layers of our collective trauma are the personal stories we must also share with each other.

My dad fell and broke his hip on February 15, 2020. The robust man in the picture above from a 60th wedding anniversary in 2018 had already been slowly losing strength in his legs and endurance in his lungs. His longest walk became a slow stroll across the living room with a walker. We also noticed that his 81 years of exuberance and effusive conversations were fading into a more subdued daily persona.

Within hours of his hip replacement surgery, doctors and nurses quickly realized things were more serious than just a broken hip. Dad had medical issues that seemed to converge and snowball into a delicate balance of getting his extremely low sodium and hemoglobin levels up while reducing the severe edema in his extremities.  Suddenly, our work, family and activity schedules flexed so we could be at the hospital to help keep him talking, moving his legs and give Mom a chance to go home for a shower since she was sleeping at the hospital.

For almost three weeks, the hospital staff worked to address those life-threatening concerns and help him start moving again with very weak, very heavy and very swollen legs. They were amazing. And their collaboration worked to get him physically stable enough to go to rehab.

He had improved enough to be released, but he could not yet stand or take a step. He also was not remembering or communicating the same as before. The hospitalist shared with us that going under anesthesia at dad’s age can potentially affect those things. Since surgery, he doesn’t always remember when someone visits him, food holds less interest for him and he can’t stay with a conversation much longer than a few short sentences.

One week ago, I would have said that his situation was better, but still fragile. There have been many conversations with my mom and siblings over the last month about next steps needed to get Dad home. The obstacles facing him were intimidating, but we were hopeful.

Then comes the last seven days of realizing the sober reality of COVID-19. Dad’s rehabilitation facility officially closed to all visitors at noon on Thursday March 19. We had continued the practice of taking turns visiting him every day in order to keep him alert, practice talking, exercise his legs and encourage the man who has always loved sharing a meal with people to please just eat a little more. But at 11:30 Thursday morning, I looked into his bright green eyes for as long as I could hold his gaze, told him I loved him and that I would be back to see him as soon as everything settled down.

The helpless feeling of not knowing what’s going to happen to him without his family there to cheer on his recovery has wrecked me because he is so fragile and is in a care facility that like all other convalescent homes, is most vulnerable to the spread of the virus. We have come to terms with the reality of a limited recovery, but the idea that he won’t have us there at all is a new trauma. Knowing my mom goes home alone at a time in our nation when she cannot just get out and shop for distraction or grab coffee with a friend for support is so hard. Dad truly is the love of her life and trying to navigate his care, financial decisions, and their new normal isolated from their community on top of this cultural crisis has been heartbreaking for her. The timing for all this couldn’t have been worse.

Our family is holding on to each other and figuring out what to do each new day. It is the best of family dynamics in communication, taking turns and being in this together. As siblings, we have enfolded Mom into our family meals and grandkids have gone over to hang out with her. There are lots of texts, phone calls and video chats. Dad has an iPad so we can try to FaceTime him and say hi. There is a lot of checking in on each other. There have been so many tears. But there is also so much love.

I have walked alongside people in their pain and loss during 25+ years of ministry, yet there really is nothing that prepares any of us to feel less stress or anguish when the pain becomes our own. In reading this, you have most likely already thought of your story and the pain that no one can help you avoid. That’s what we share. A spiritual and emotional fragility that is not unlike my dad’s vulnerable physical condition. And for me, two truths are carrying me through this, albeit with my feet dragging on the ground– believing that God’s mercies renew with each sunrise and that he is always with us.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall. God will help her at break of day. ~Psalm 46:1-5

In reading Psalm 46 again this morning, I am reminded that this is true for my dad as well, even as he is separated from us. With the faint color of each dawn, God reminds my dad of his care and protection even in the blurriness of his internal thoughts. And I will do my best to trust that Dad is experiencing the very real presence of God and his strong peace in that 12′ x 12′ rehab room.

I am acutely aware that my story is in the wading pool of the deep suffering waters for many people. It is just my hope that with this glimpse into my moments of worried tears, hopeful conversations, mental and emotional weariness, anxiety for what has often felt like an impossible situation, and a constant reminder to draw near to the God and people I love without explaining away my sadness and doubts, will do it’s small part in helping someone hear these words, “You are not alone.”

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Journeying Toward Easter

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Easter is always good news, but it can be so much richer when we step into the story that leads to the cross and resurrection. Join us for Ash Wednesday, March 6 at 6:30pm as we reflect, pray, worship, and begin the journey to Easter together.

Redeemer Church

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A Rick Fraley Reflections of Christmas

This Sunday, December 9, at 6:30 pm, my friend Rick Fraley will sit down at the piano and gift his unique and beautiful gift of music. His Reflections of Christmas concert has been going for over 20 years. It’s a wonderful holiday experience to sit, listen, wonder and take a deep spiritual breath through his music! I will be there! If you are in Tulsa, come sit with me!

We also sat down and chatted with Rick on our first every worship podcast. In the 2nd half of the podcast, Rick shares the story of how Reflections of Christmas came to be. The first segment is our little trio singing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and sharing what the Presence of God means to us in our lives and during Christmas. Enjoy!

Redeemer Worship Podcast Episode #1

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The Gift of Slow

IMG_4447I don’t really have a natural mode to go slow. My two speeds tend to be go and stop. The guy who has been my boss and mentor for much of two decades told me once that he didn’t have any complaints about my creativity and productivity–only that he wished I’d slow down and give the things I created a chance to work before tossing them out!

Most of the time I don’t mind my two speeds because my “go” really is a beautiful mixture of passion for meaningful living and ADD. Truly. I am wired to pursue more good things than one might think could be crammed into a 24-hour time slot. And at the same time, ADD kicks in and supplies the energy to juggle my attention between multiple competing endeavors without breaking a sweat!

But even passionate ADD people tire out. That’s when my “stop” mode kicks in. My typical life drill is go, go, go until I stop. I do love to cram my days with all that I can possibly fit in, while grinning triumphantly at doubters who ask, “And when are you going to get that done?” Once I have started multiple fires to tend, and proudly silenced the naysayers, I do hit a point of just needing to stop and do nothing of any material or spiritual value for a short interval. Then, I get up and go again.

I embrace my wiring, even encouraging ADD kids who’ve been categorized with a life sentence of attention deficit that they have the unique ability to energetically tackle more challenges than most people around them. But, I am once again at a nuanced life experience where I cannot ignore “slow” even though it is very difficult for me. Today is day five after a surgery that restricts my activity for several weeks: no driving for at least a week, no lifting ten pounds or more for six weeks, rest often, walk–don’t run for a while, and basically take it easy on my body until the doctor releases me. But I can only sit so long and at some point too many naps give me a headache. So what am I to do when I can’t go, go, go, but also am weary of all the stopping?

Go slow. I know it may sound obvious to you, but I don’t naturally think that way. And frankly, “slow” is much easier for me to accomplish when it’s not optional. There are gifts to this speed that cannot be experienced at a feverish pace. I have encountered them in each of the seasons where I had no choice but to go slow. When I moved to Tulsa between my junior and senior year of high school, I knew no one and had no venue where I could really get to know other high school students for a few months. My memories of that time were of reading several books, exploring my new city, spending some good time with my family, receiving and responding to handwritten letters from cherished friends in Colorado and Wyoming, and getting a great tan at the neighborhood pool! It was a summer of deep breaths before a whirlwind senior year at a completely new school of almost 2000 eleventh and twelfth graders.

The last time it happened was more dramatic. I actually had a bi-lateral pulmonary embolism (blood clot in each lung) about four years ago and that crisis made me go slow and heal so that my body could actually breathe again. The details are in another blog entry, but the point here is that in the midst of slowing down for several months so my body could heal, I discovered some much needed spiritual and emotional healing.

If my own personal history tends to repeat itself, there must be some gifts I can glean from this most recent activity quarantine. Yes, my body needs to heal, but this time it’s not a health crisis or drastic life change. There is no trauma or drama to unpack. The gifts this time it seems are a few activities that require more deliberate thought and reflection than my typical pace can sustain. I am reminded that I skim too often and don’t do enough deep reading. I am sitting on my couch at 5:30 a.m. writing my first blog since springtime because I am fully rested from all the naps! I love to write, but I cannot do it well in a flurry of activity. Instead of just quickly praying and considering a scripture passage in a morning rush before work, I have experienced sacred space where quiet lasts longer than a few minutes.

The reality is I won’t be able to maintain this gift of slow in my regular routine much past the next week. Things will speed up. I will say yes to more than a sane person should agree to. But my goal now is to find days and times to enjoy the gift of slow more by choice. In between the go, go gos and the abrupt stops, I’d like to slow my time down at the intersection of these graces often enough to better contemplate my “humanness” and experience God’s goodness.

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Good and lasting change

Good and lasting change.  Those are the words of a prayer for Oklahoma schools that I heard yesterday as our staff gathered for our weekly meeting. I can’t think of a better challenge for our state leaders than that.  We need good and lasting change in our education system.  However it gets done, the people of Oklahoma are speaking loud and clear that it needs to happen.

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They are speaking at the capital, with protest crowds of teachers, parents and students growing in numbers.  Buses leave every morning to take people from the districts to join in the demonstration.  Those going in our district are paying to cover the transportation costs. They are meeting with their legislators as often as allowed and reminding them that we have cut education funding in our state annually for too long. I know the teachers going on behalf of my own kids have had a pivotal role in their lives, but many of them face daily obstacles in helping students flourish because of lack of funding.  They are advocating for support staff who make such a huge difference every day in school transportation, lunchrooms, differentiated learning opportunities and school offices to name a few. Many of these roles do not pay a reasonable living wage.

They are speaking in communities by filling the gaps. I see churches, organizations and businesses all over Tulsa stepping up to help feed and care for students who are out of school. Last week, our church partnered with at least 7 other organizations to host a day camp for over 100 students in an under-resourced neighborhood.  The volunteer work included feeding students breakfast and lunch, providing early care for working parents, a daily program of hip hop, percussion, vocal music, recreation, arts and crafts and ukulele classes. They put it together in a matter of days and it has continued into this week. And that’s the incredible effort being put forth in just one part of our city.  It’s happening everywhere.

As I follow the details of the teacher walkout that began April 2, I have varying opinions about how that can get done. Some bills that are being considered or debated I agree with the idea.  Some I’d rather see a different funding source considered.  But I will support good and lasting change! Here’s the deal–most teachers I know became educators because they wanted to make good and lasting change in students’ lives!  But, we must see a visible difference in how our legislature responds to education needs to believe that they too, want good and lasting change for our students and for the system charged with this amazing privilege to teach. Friends in the legislature, there are ideas coming your way every day on how to reverse course. Everyone in our state is speaking loud and clear.  You are officially empowered to get it done.

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You are there, and there, and there…

An excerpt from my Labor Day sermon on Psalm 139.  This section is talking about verses 7-12:

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

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My summary of verses 7-12:
You’re there. You’re there. And there. Over there. Still there. And, yes, even there.

When I decided in 2nd grade that I wanted to follow Jesus and really had no idea what that meant, he was there.

When I was starting my senior year at my 3rd high school, he was there.

When I met Gary McKinney and knew I liked him, but refused to admit for quite some time, he was there.

When I mourned my 1st and 2nd miscarriage, he was there.

When I held Lanie and Garrison for the first time, he was most definitely there.

When I visited my 100 year old grandma for the last time and she kept asking, “now who are you?”, he was there.

When I make a remarkable mess of my life, he is there.

When I led the funeral for a 6 week old little girl who was born with 1/2 a heart, he was there.

And in the midst of the last 3 years of my life, which have been the hardest for a couple of of reasons, God has been there.

Jer 31:3 reminds us “I have loved you with an everlasting love.”

David Benner in The Gift of Being Yourself boldly announces that he is “convinced that God loves each and every one of us with depth, persistence and intensity beyond imagination.”

Oh, if we could leave this place today believing that no matter where we go, God is in it with us….

 

 

New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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Always Fear the Porta Potty

Friends, here is a short running story I shared with Oklahoma Sport and Fitness for their September/October publication.  Enjoy!

Always Fear the Porta Potty

 

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