Quit Being So Grateful

She tacked it to the end of her story, like an apology. “I know I need to keep this all in perspective. It’s really not that bad.”

Not that bad. A lovely woman in my Bible study had just finished updating us on her home remodel horror story. After several months and thousands of dollars spent gutting and replacing every inch of her kitchen, a plumbing leak destroyed the whole thing and now it has to be entirely redone. She’s been living with deafening industrial dryers and packing her kids to stay at a hotel meanwhile.

A little stressful, maybe? Uh, yeah. But good Christian women are taught to have this “perspective” thing, which prevents us from fully acknowledging our heartache.

Quit being so grateful

It comes out in phrases like this.

But things could’ve been much worse.

Other people have bigger problems than mine.

I know I’m blessed. So I shouldn’t complain.

Yes, yes that’s true. The Bible does say “do everything without complaining” (Philippians 2:14), so you have no right to do that.

But you do have a right to speak truth. And sometimes the truth is we feel frustrated, mad, disappointed, or hurt.

God made us emotional beings, did he not? He designed us to feel.

Of course I’m not saying “trust your feelings” because “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). In fact, we’re called not to indulge the heart but to guard it. “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23).

But how? How do we guard something that is by nature a wild beast?

We don’t.

God does.

We just have to give him the key.

That means opening our heart-gates wide to the Lord, allowing him into every nook and cranny so he can examine, console, heal and restore. This is not a process reserved just for the “big problems” in life. It’s a daily surrender.

And it requires vulnerable conversations with the Lord.

“Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place. . . . Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:6, 10).

God desires truth in the inner parts, the heart. Consider maybe he allows some trials in our lives not so we would “perspective” them away, but so we would acknowledge the truth of the hurt or frustration. So we would feel it deeply enough to bring it to him.

What if we looked at our trials—big or small—as an invitation from God. He wants to hear from us. Are you going to talk?

Oh, that’s right. There’s nothing to talk about. Because you’re fine. You’re blessed. No complaints here.

Uh-huh.

God deserves more than a surface relationship with us. So do our close friends and sisters in Christ. If we brush authentic heartache under the rug and convince ourselves we’re not really bothered because we’re not “supposed” to be, we have cheated God of his divine right to fellowship with us, and we’ve lost an opportunity to connect on a deeper level with fellow believers.

So your beautiful new kitchen just caved in? Your kids have been throwing up all week? Your stylist turned your hair pink? Dang, girl. Do the ugly cry if you have to. God can take it. Your friends will hand you tissues. And yes, you are blessed, and God knows you know it. You’re mighty grateful for all the things going right in your life. You should be.

Just don’t let your gratitude suppress your honesty. That’s not being holy. That’s called denial—which is really a fancy word for lying.

When my friend’s kitchen is restored and the stress of it all is a distant memory, I’m sure we’ll sit around her countertop laughing about it. But not yet. Right now is a chance to walk that strange line between blessings and trials, gratitude and grief. It’s a lifelong tug-of-war, really. The more we learn to embrace both the joy and the sorrow, the closer we’ll grow to the God who grants us both. And to know God, well—that is by far the greatest blessing of all.

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

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When Mom Is on the Phone

It never fails. I pick up the phone and suddenly my children—who had been quiet as lambs ten seconds earlier—morph into wild, bleating sheep desperate for every ounce of my attention.

This is especially lovely on business calls.

When Mom Is on the Phone: The only tip you'll ever need when your children interrupt

“Eeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh!” A thud rattled the wall between my office and the living room, and a high-pitched wail rang through the house. My four-year-old came barreling down the hall holding her cheek in both hands.

“Mommy! I-I-I-I hurt myself!” She sputtered between gulps of air. Normally this is when I’d kneel beside my babe, wipe her rolling tears and gush out the motherly compassion. But I was on the line with a long-distance client, and we’d already spent three weeks trying to schedule the call. Terrible timing for personal injuries.

“Shhh, shh!” I cupped my palm over the receiver and held an index finger to my lips. My daughter only shrieked louder. Then her seven-year-old sister rushed in.

“We were dancing in the living room and she ran into the wall! It wasn’t my fault!”

I flailed my arms in maniac sign language. Please! Hush! Mom is on the phone! Can’t you SEE that?

And the answer is—no.

No, they cannot.

Oh sure, they see their mother, they see her holding an electronic gadget to her ear, and they might even hear the dear woman talking but all of this together means absolutely nothing in their “I’m hurt” or “I need a snack” world.

So what’s a mom to do?

Enter their world.

Trampoline

You probably have phone etiquette guidelines in your house. We do, too. Be quiet when Mom is talking. Do not interject with questions about my conversation. Do not beg for chocolate. Do not turn up the TV in annoying attempts to compete with my volume.

So we train. We correct. We start all over again the next time the phone rings. This is good. This is necessary. Someday the phone etiquette will sink in, just in time for our children to birth their own children and experience the joy of poetic justice.

But I’d like to suggest we moms look beyond the rules for a minute. Beyond the frustration, the embarrassment, or the feelings of isolation when it seems we can’t even talk to human beings outside our own walls, aaaaaahhh!

What do our kids want when we’re on the phone or focused on some other grown-up business? Do they want our help? Our sympathy? Another popsicle?

Yes, yes, and of course. But I think it’s even simpler than that.

They want our availability.

“But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it’” (Luke 18:16–17).

If we were truly like little children, we’d be vying for our Father’s presence constantly. We’d want to sit in his lap, hang on his words, ask question after question and beg him for blessings like candy. But God has a big job, people. He tends to every soul in the universe. He holds together the details of this world. He’s a busy guy, get it? God is always on the phone!

Yet he doesn’t shoo us away.

He invites us in.

God the Father is always available.

Legos

What if, instead of getting annoyed at our kids for tugging on our sleeves at the most inconvenience moments, we knelt down and hugged them? There’s time later to reinforce the rules, and you’d better believe I’m going to. But in the moment, fighting with our children will only further disturb our business and hurt their hearts. So why not take it as an opportunity to reinforce their security instead.

Because our kingdom is their kingdom, too.

“Girls, is everyone okay now?” I met them in the living room after I’d hung up the phone. My four-year-old sat on the couch with a stuffed animal pressed to her cheek, watching her sister play a math game on my iPad.

“Sorry we bothered you, Mommy.”

“You can always come to me when you’re hurt,” I said, and kissed her on the forehead.

“What about when we want marshmallows?”

Uhhh. . . about that phone etiquette training. Let us begin again.

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Stop, Pray, Obey

My four-year-old sucks her thumb. She’s been doing it since her bitty babe days. At first her dad and I thought it was sweet, and we appreciated the thumb’s magical soothing properties. But now we’re staring down a fortune in orthodontist bills and, well, that thumb has got to go.

My daughter knows this.

And she doesn’t like it.

Stop, Pray, Obey

“Momma, can I suck my thumb? I’m kind of tired.” She looped an arm around my leg, looked up at my face and batted her puppy eyes. I blew a deep sigh. Because I hear this exact request about a dozen times a day.

Funny how she knows she’s not supposed to suck her thumb, so rather than sneaking around or openly defying my expectations, she simply asks permission. Heck, I figure that’s half the battle won.

Maybe I’m a softie, but I truly believe that telling my daughter to give up her thumb is like asking a smoker to quit cold turkey. So right now I’m offering her a transition period, like a nicotine patch, where she’s allowed to suck her thumb only when she’s going to sleep.

Therefore, the question is always, “MommacanIsuckmythumbImkindoftired.”

When I say no, she throws fits. Naturally.

When I cave and say okay fine—usually in moments of frustration for the sake of my own sanity, and yes I know that’s weak and ineffective but work with me here, people—she smiles and curls into a ball on the sofa, quiet and content. Temporarily. Because even she knows she is delaying the inevitable.

The thumb is no good anymore. The longer we let it go on, the more damage it will do. It’s just so hard to break the habit.

Sound familiar?

I wonder—what if we stopped to ask God for permission? Anytime we’re tempted to do something he disapproves, to engage in old habits—what if we turned our eyes to the sky and begged?

God, can I snap at my husband? I’m kind of tired.

Lord, can I hurry my kids and ignore their hearts? I’m kind of on a schedule here.

Heavenly Father, would you mind if I worried incessantly about that thing I cannot change? I know you’ve got it covered, but, right now I’m kind of freaking out. You understand.

What do you think God would say?

Oh, there are plenty of Bible verses granting us clear direction on certain behaviors and attitudes. But I’ve started responding to my daughter with one simple question of my own. And I wonder if God would do the same.

“What do you think?”

“’I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.” (1 Corinthians 10:23–24).

God gave us free will. Knowing right from wrong and lost from found is an important first step in using that free will wisely. But what if we went beyond the “rules” and considered how our choices affect not just us but other people? How would that change our decisions?

Yes, I might be tired. But that’s not my husband’s fault. He doesn’t deserve my snappishness.

I’m busy and distracted again, yep. But it’s not all about me. I owe my kids my presence.

Here I am, buried in my fears and what if’s. But you, Lord, are working within them and through them and above them for some purpose I cannot see. I know it’s the right choice to trust you. Will you help me?

“Momma, can I suck my thumb? I’m kind of tired.” My daughter lifted her hand to her mouth and waited for my reply.

“What do you think, sweetheart?”

She stood motionless, with her thumb suspended in mid-air, and stared at me for three seconds.

“I’m gonna do it. Thanks, Mom!” And off she ran to the couch, where she curled into her usual snuggle ball and sucked away.

What was I saying about free will? It may take my daughter some growing-up years to really get the hang of putting other people’s needs first—i.e., her parents’ savings account, which would prefer not to go broke for braces. But then I’m 40 years old and I still haven’t completely figured out how to put other people’s needs first, either. Have you?

Ask God for permission. Now that’s a clever place to start. Because, unlike my daughter’s thumb habit, stopping to talk with the Lord Almighty before making a dumb move could very well prevent the dumb move from happening. Who wants to disappoint God, right?

Stop.

Pray.

Obey.

What a simple formula for Christian living. It just might change the world.

Will you join me?

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For the Family: The Gospel According to Mucinex

When your body is sick, you take cold medicine. When your soul suffers, you take . . . nothing, really. You can handle it on your own, right?

The Gospel According to Mucinex

Today on For the Family, we’re talking about the remedy for a range of everyday symptoms—from laundry piles to work deadlines, diaper accidents to homework help, and much, much more. Join me there!

“On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners’”  (Mark 2:17).

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What Will They Remember?

My daughters had a blue bouncy seat. When they were babies, I’d strap them in it when I took a shower, folded laundry, or chopped vegetables for dinner. As they grew older, the seat converted to a rocking chair. I hold vivid memories of my firstborn kicking back in that chair with a stack of board books on the floor beside her, turning page after page of Brown Bear and The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

She loved that chair.

What will our kids remember about their childhood?

Which is why I was kind of surprised when she asked me last week, “Mom, did my sister have a bouncy seat when she was little?”

“Yes, sweetheart.” I crinkled my eyebrows. “You both did.”

“What color was it?”

“Blue. Don’t you remember?”

“No.”

Huh. Of course she hadn’t seen the seat in a couple years at least, since we donated it beyond our household. But still, my heart sank a little. Because I realized that a memory so deeply ingrained in my mind was blank in hers.

And it dawned on me—there must be others. How many memories do I hold dear, which my children do not share? Of course they don’t remember their own baby days. They might only vaguely recall toddlerhood. In a few years, they may not remember today.

Ouch. Day after day, my daughters and I are shaping the puzzle pieces of their childhood, yet they will never assemble the full picture the way I can. It seems like somebody gets cheated in this deal, right? Either my kids—because they won’t fathom their younger selves the way I do. Or me—because, well, what’s the point? If my girls won’t recall all the mommy sweat I invest in them—the lunch box notes, the UNO games, the dinosaur-shaped toast—does my daily effort really matter?

Of course.

So what if our kids won’t see it.

They will feel it.

And they will know it.

Sidewalk chalk

These memories, which to me construct the whole of my experience as a parent, are to my children not so much mental images as a general understanding of what it means to be loved. To feel secure. Special. Cherished.

I see a pony ride at Disney World. They will remember how their parents carved time and attention and desired to bring them joy.

I see a monkey-face chocolate birthday cake with grandparents seated around the table. My kids will remember how family was a priority, and birthdays were marked as blessings from God.

I see a growing girl twisting friendship bracelets and fumbling novice fingers through a knitting loom. She will remember how her mother encouraged creativity, affirmed her interests, and granted freedom to make mistakes.

What about you? What do you see? All these memories we hold close, whether precious or ordinary, orchestrated or unplanned—they all have one thing in common.

They make an impact.

“But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children—with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts” (Psalm 103:17–18).

Ten or twenty years from now, our children may not recall the details. But they will possess the virtues we poured into them along the way. They’ll know without a doubt how we loved them. And, God willing, they will remember and share our love for Jesus—thanks to all those years we showed them how to love Jesus, too.

Girls holding hands

“Mom, are you sure the chair was blue?” My seven-year-old cocked her head toward me. “I thought my sister had a yellow bouncy seat.”

Huh? I rewound a few years. Oh, yeah . . .

“You’re right, lovey.” I nodded slowly. “Your seat was blue. Hers was yellow. We bought a new bouncy chair for your sister because you were still using yours when she was born. You are absolutely right. How did I forget that?”

My daughter giggled. “It’s okay, Mom. Lucky for you, I have a good memory.”

Lucky me.

I get to stock that memory with faith, hope, and love.

Because I’m a mom; therefore, I matter.

And so do you.

* * * * * * * *


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For the Family: Please Don’t Judge My Rattlesnake

Ever have one of those days? You know, when your resistance poops out and you just can’t muster the energy to combat your child’s begging or whining or tantrums. I have them, too. I call them my snake days.

Please Don't Judge My Rattlesnake

Huh?

Why snake days?

The explanation involves a bounce house, a sweaty child, and one very understanding sister-in-law. It’s an embarrassing story, really, but not without a purpose—to encourage you, and to beg your grace. My goodness, how we moms need grace.

Ready to read more? Hop on over to For the Family for today’s special message! I’ll meet you there!

 

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Make Christmas Matter: Your Gift to Jesus

Make Christmas MatterChristmas is a time for exchanging presents. Jesus gives us the gift of himself. This year, consider giving him a birthday present in return. Not because we need to repay him for what he’s done (we could never afford to), but simply because we love him. And we want to teach our kids that Christmas is not just about getting but giving as well—especially giving to Jesus.

Here’s one idea how.

Have everyone in your family choose one “gift” to give to Jesus. Ask them to write their gift on a slip of paper. Your gift could be:

  • An action or virtue (for example, “I’ll be kinder to my sister”)
  • A worry (your job anxieties, health concerns, your fear of heights—whatever traps you; entrust it to Jesus)
  • A personal sacrifice (maybe an unhealthy habit or idol)
  • A pursuit or dream (your hopes for a baby, a goal to start a business or run a marathon, etc.)

You get the idea. Choose a meaningful gift and give it to the Lord. Then place these slips of paper in your stockings as your Christmas offering to Jesus. It’s a symbolic way to commit this Christmas—and all year long—to our Savior.

Merry Christmas, everyone!


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We Are the Memory Makers

We have a sweet neighbor lady, I’d guess in her 60s. She lives alone but visits her husband daily at a care facility for people with Alzheimer’s. One day I stopped to chat, and she shared some honest struggles about what it’s like to be married to someone altered by dementia.

My heart ached for her. And you know what she told me?

Enjoy your children.

We Are the Memory Makers

Huh. I confess normally when a grandmother scolds me to “enjoy every minute” in the mom trenches, I assume she is the one affected by memory loss. These days are precious, yes, but they’re also hectic and hard. Don’t these women remember?

But I get it now.

They do.

They just choose to remember fondly. To view the parenting years for what they truly are, above the din of tantrums and homework and hot dogs for dinner. My neighbor lady has the advantage of seeing my life through a wisdom filter of decades gone by.

And she knows something I forget.

These years of raising a family are fleeting. Right now, you and I are living the todays that will one day become our fondest yesterdays.

How are we spending them?

Crabby? Impatient? Exhausted? Of course. But can we halt the cranky default long enough to speak softly to the people we love best?

Are we wishing ahead—to the day the baby finally cuts those teeth, ditches those diapers, speaks in full sentences, or spends a whole day in school so at last the house will be quiet? Someday we’ll miss the noise.

And how many of us spend our family hours glued to a laptop, an iPhone, a to-do list. Distractions will never cease. Are we strong enough to shut them down, to look directly into our child’s eyes and memorize that beautiful face before it grows another day older?

Before the kids are no longer kids.

We are the moms, the memory makers. How are you building yours?

Last week I saw this video from Apple. Maybe you’ve seen it, too. It punched me in the heart and reminded me that this mommy season will one day be in the past. Take a minute to watch it, and you’ll see what I mean. (Subscribers, if you can’t see this video via e-mail, click here to watch it on the blog.)

Tissues, anybody?

Right now, we are living our future memories. Let’s make them beautiful, amen?

Merry Christmas, friends. May you spend this week building sweet memories with the people you love best.

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(This isn’t a promo for Apple; I have no affiliation with them. I just really love this video and thought you would, too.)


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Make Christmas Matter: Birthday Cake for Jesus

Make Christmas MatterIn our house, Christmas is a birthday party. And you know what that means.

Cake!

Every year, our family bakes a birthday cake for Jesus. This helps us keep our focus on the true reason for Christmas, plus it adds an extra bit of fun to the festivities. Here are a few ways to make your birthday cake activity extra special, and to stretch the value of that cake for all it’s worth.

1. Bake together. In our family, we don’t just eat the cake; we make the baking process a party in itself. First, my girls get to decide what flavor cake and frosting they want, as well as what shape—9×13 pan, two-tiered round, or cupcakes. They help with mixing and measuring and making a mess. Then once our cake is baked and cooled, my kiddos get the honor of decorating it. That means I frost and they sprinkle—and sprinkle and sprinkle and sprinkle. Besides church, this is their favorite activity on Christmas Eve.

2. Purchase a store-bought cake. If you like the idea of a birthday cake for Jesus but you don’t want yet another to-do on your list, buy one. Why? Because it’s a wonderful witness. I once had a Bible study leader who ordered her cake from the grocery store bakery every year simply because it opened the door to share Jesus with others. The bakery staff would remark, what a sweet idea. Other shoppers saw her wheeling a huge bakery box in her cart with “Happy Birthday, Jesus” scrolled in red icing. For some of those people, it was the only moment throughout the season in which they made the connection between Christmas and Jesus.

3. Let them eat cake—for breakfast! Who says Santa is the only reason kids get giddy about Christmas morning? As soon as the presents are ripped open and our bellies start rumbling, we Kopitzkes—Mom and Dad included—light those birthday candles and sink our forks into some gooey birthday cake for breakfast. No lie, my girls get just as excited over the cake as they do about the gifts under the tree. Birthday cake for breakfast is a highlight of our Christmas.

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Now for a special bonus, I thought I’d share with you my very favorite chocolate cake recipe—the easiest, most fail-proof, moist and delicious cake on the planet—recipe compliments of our dear family friend, Mom Judy. Seriously, you can’t mess up this cake. Plus it’s egg-free so the kids can lick the spoon!

Mom Judy’s Jiffy Cake

3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
6 Tblsp. cocoa
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla
2 Tblsp. vinegar
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 cups cold water

Mix flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a 9×13 inch baking pan. (Yes, right in the pan—by hand.) Make three wells in the dry ingredients mixture and pour vanilla, vinegar, and water over all. Mix well. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Note: You can mix everything in a mixing bowl first if you prefer. I often use this recipe to make cupcakes. Bake them for 18 minutes. Enjoy!


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When Your Kid Is the Naughty One

Nobody likes a bully.

Except, of course, the bully’s mother.

When your kid is the naughty one

Recently my daughter brought a note home from school suggesting she’d become a little too “energetic” in the classroom. No big deal, kids learn as they go. But because her seven-year-old perception of the situation was somewhat sketchy, I decided to talk straight with her teacher.

And that’s when I heard the hard truth.

My child is not perfect.

Of course, I knew that already. But I assumed my daughter’s sometimes devilish behavior was reserved for home—for the natural resistance to Mom and Dad’s cruel demands to brush your hair and eat your broccoli. She might poke her sister in the head with a pencil, yeah, but surely she’d never do that to a classmate.

Right?

Let me assure you we handled it—swiftly. In our family, my husband and I place a huge emphasis on kindness, and our daughter knows that. She just needed to be reminded. Don’t we all?

But here’s my fear.

Nobody likes the naughty kid. You know, the kid who elicits raised eyebrows from other parents and sends the teacher digging for Excedrin in the bottom of her purse.

So what if your kid is that kid? Does that mean you failed?

“To discipline a child produces wisdom, but a mother is disgraced by an undisciplined child” (Proverbs 29:15, NLT).

Contrary to popular belief, children are not born innocent. They’re born sinners. Proverbs 22:15 says, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.” That means naughty behavior is congenital. We shouldn’t be surprised when it flares up from time to time.

Yet it’s our job as parents to spoon-feed the remedy.

How?

We love them. We pray for them. Day in and day out, we teach and train and discipline. We model what it means to show kindness, grace, forgiveness and self-control. When they slip up, we remind them, again and again and again. When we slip up, we confess and apologize—again and again and again.

And through it all, we point our kids to Jesus—the only person who can ultimately free them from the junk inside and fill them with a lasting power to combat the naughtiness.

If you’re doing that, then you are not failing. You’re succeeding.

“No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way” (Hebrews 12:11, NLT).

Cross-legged stuffed animals

You know when I said nobody likes the naughty kid? That’s not actually true. Because God loves that kid. He is crazy over that kid just as much as he cherishes you and me and our sometimes-but-not-really-angelic sons and daughters. God sees all his children as a beautiful work in progress, and he detects the potential within us.

More than that—he has the power to realize our potential. And as parents, we get the privilege of joining him in the task.

So let’s all offer up a little more grace for each other, amen? For the mom struggling with a headstrong child. For the kid who tripped your kid at recess. For the little girl in every classroom who thought it would be funny to call her friend a booger head.

Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.

And it’s up to us to teach them. We parents really do have the power to change the world—one precious child at a time.

Are you with me?

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If this post encouraged you, please share it. You might also like What Your Child’s Behavior Says About You, Redefine Your Child’s “Bad” Qualities, and Because We All Get Sent to the Principal’s Office Sometimes

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