The True Rockstar…

We improvised with a tissue box.  I ravaged the room and found a half-used tissue box.  I borrowed a pair of scissors and made a quick incision in the side of the box slightly smaller than my smart phone.  And quickly inserted it into the hole.

I remember it like it was last night.  I flew into Detroit Metro Airport.  And waited patiently as my mom and I drove through the slush and fresh snow that lined the streets.  The drive to the Hospice facility where my Grandma laid having the best care felt surreal.  Even though I was unsure of what to expect, I remember preparing myself for what was to come.

Two words that resonate to me to this day are strength and rejoice.  I realize it might be difficult to include a word like rejoice in a time like this.  But, nonetheless, I knew I had to be strong for myself, Grandma and those close to me.

Grandma lived an amazing life.  She was an unlikely person used in a series of unlikely events and mission throughout her life.  She lived through times of greatest of challenge, but more, she lived in times of greatest triumph.  She stood up for movements in her city on the school board and lived through challenges in our family and upbringing.  There is not a day that passes that I fail to think of how her strength has affected my life and the lives in her path.

I arrived to the Hospice at 12:28 am.  The parking lot was filled with snow and the lights were dim and quickly defining what was to come.  As I walked through the front doors, I knew I would look back on this moment for the rest of my life.  Not for the sake of others but for the legacy that lives on in me.

As the elevator doors opened, I quickly met family I hadn’t seen in a while.  Emotions were dormant yet full of life waiting to let loose at any given moment.  The air was thick and heavy yet calm at the same time.  It was a moment that could only be felt by being there.

I remember seeing my grandmother laying there helpless yet having the people she loved most by her side.  It was a beautiful picture to watch as her entire life flashed before my eyes.  It was bittersweet yet felt warming to know [confidently] that her life would live on forever.  I miss her everyday.  And I knew how I reacted in that moment would define how I look at her life for the rest of my life.

As a few of us listened to some of Grandma’s favorite songs, we sang to her.  I can only imagine her as she waved her arms and hands and hummed to her favorite songs in her head.  We took the make-shift speaker constructed from a half-used tissue box and filled the room with our voices.  It gives me chills even to this day.  It is one of the greatest and lasting memories of my Grandma during her last days in this place.

On this day of Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for a tissue box.  I’m thankful for a smart phone filled with music.  I’m thankful for an attitude of gratefulness and the ability to take a dim and dark moment and allow joy to surface and fill those close to me with a few minutes of joy and comfort as we lost my Grandma just hours later.

Even in the midst of chaos, tragedy and the unknown, there is always room for joy.  And I activated it using an old Kleenex tissue box and a few unlikely people in a unlikely situation.  I believe we sent Grandma off with a grand entourage and not to mention a chuckle by the display of our broken voices.  This is true strength and even more what I am thankful for on this day of Thanksgiving.

Today this is her birthday – 87!  I would bet a hundred thousand dollars that she would say, “I’m so thankful to have you as my grandson.”  But, Grandma… I’m the one that is thankful.  Thank you to all that YOU have instilled into my life and my future that has not even been written.  You’re the true rockstar.  Happy Birthday Granny!

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Listen… The Fat Lady is Singing…

I will admit it. She has shown up at my doorstep far too many times in my life. She came when I least expect yet couldn’t come soon enough… call it ideal timing.

She doesn’t tend to have a name. To think of it, I don’t even think she really exists. Instead, she’s really just a figment of our imagination. You might recognize her as she calls herself the fat lady.

In my mind, the old analogy marks an end to something. But the more I go through trials in my life I realize it’s more of a victory and a bridge from one chapter to the next.

As the old saying goes, “It ain’t over until the fat lady has sung.” But the truth be told, she’s just getting started.

As I was sitting at the bank last week attempting to refinance my Jeep to get a better rate and a better payment, I found I had to take care of some things prior to filing the paperwork.

I say this to say that it’s never “over”. The fat lady might have sung but the process is always ongoing.

Paying my debt off felt like a complete thought and represented an end of a trying season in my life that I’d rather not ever repeat. But after hearing her sing, I’ve come to realize it’s far from complete. Sure, my debt is gone but the paying of the debt is just part of a bigger story. A bigger mission.

Maybe like me, you reached a new height in your finances. That’s good. Now continue on the path. And continue making good decisions. Because a good story never truly ends.

So, when the fat lady shows up at your doorstep, consider taking after the great intro to the television show, The Beverly Hillbillies. “Take your shoes off, stay a while.” And offer her a meal or a cup of coffee. And learn all you can.

The fat lady isn’t the symbol of beginning or end; she represents the transition from good to great to greater in the bigger picture [and mission].

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Monster Under My Bed…

Bill Cosby once said, [if you want something bad enough], “Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it.”

Fear is a viscous thing. It can torment us. It can scare us.  And it can fill us with uncertainty. But, the best part is it can also be the catalyst to push us into something great.

There was a time in my childhood when I thought there was a monster living under my bed. But I wasn’t the average child as I was more curious than afraid.

We all have fears. We all have insecurities. And we all have things that have held us back from reaching new heights in our lives.

Fear is an ugly thing. It’s a slow killer. But the thing we need to realize is its something we create in our heads. So it’s our choice to change the way we think. And use it to move forward and not hold us back.

As the monster under my bed was not real, so are the fears in our head.  They are made up and artificial just like that monster under my bed as a young child.

If you’re facing an obstacle in your current season, the obstacle you’re trying to overcome is you and not the fear itself.  Sometimes the greatest wisdom is not overcoming the fear itself but looking at the situation from a different perspective and knowing that you can overcome it versus being the conquered.

My advice is do like I did.  Get your parents and check under the bed together.  Face your fear. And end it at once.  In other words, grab a friend.  Grab your significant other and face your fear.  And stop being fearful about what doesn’t exist.  You aren’t in it alone.

Want it more than what you don’t.  And life will be grand.

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Hotel Keys and Benjamin’s

As I left the driveway of my last home in Ponte Vedra Beach, I knew the next few days would be nothing but new and uncharted territory. I swiped my hotel card at the third hotel room upon arriving in West Palm Beach and I knew the coming weeks would be nothing but foreign.

I still hold the last hotel card in my possession not as a reminder of the adventure but [rather] a symbol of my faith. While this adventure is still defining itself, I have realized uncertainty is better than comfort.

It’s no surprise to those close to me that I have spent many years trying to dig myself out of financial debt. I have learned a new level of creativity from selling personal belongings to delivering pizzas at night just to get out of that financial hole. Like Dave Ramsey says, “Live like no one else now, so you can live like no one else later.” That statement is true in my life then as it is now.

I experienced a defining moment recently after receiving the very money I had loaned to a friend just one week prior. He was in need. I borrowed it to him. But it wasn’t the initial exchange of hands that was defining for me. It was the return that got me. As I held the bank envelope in my hand, I realized that God has been at work in my life from the beginning. I realized how far I had come from two years ago going from being the borrower to the lender. It was at that moment I knew even the best had not come. And that’s why I got excited.

The hotel key is not a forecast for my future but for others in my future. It’s not about money or things or even bank envelopes. It’s about the impact of taking a step that affects more than my life. It’s about those people that still need to hear about God and all the great things he has done in my life. And to bless those in my life that need it more than myself.

Two weeks from now, my life will be an adventure once again. I say this not to spark excitement or provoke curiosity. I say it to encourage those reading that uncharted territory and hotel keys are around each corner for all of us. You just have to decide whether you want to side with comfort or uncertainty.

I choose uncertainty. Why? Because the payout is worth every swipe.

P.S. Live in the comfortable. Thrive and rise in the uncertain.

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“No Rules”

Sunday was a good day.  <insert appropiate emoticon here>

I finally feel like I found a church where I could be myself.  And if you know me, this is an extremely important component of my life.

I’ll say it again.  Sunday was a good day. <insert two happy emoticons here>

Fast forward two hours.  Friends gathered at my condo for lunch and I unexpectedly joked with one of the kids of a mom I had invited.

He had asked if he could have ice cream prior to finishing his lunch.  And I quickly and unexpectedly responded, “Sure because it’s a no rules day!”

Fast forward 1 hour.  The brother and sister duo continued to eat every snack item and drink I had in the house.

The list kept growing as did the sight of a growing stomach ache that was instigated by 10 popsicles, 2 cookies, 3 cans of soda and a bag of Skittles.  I didn’t think kids could actually bounce off the walls but [trust me] it’s possible.

[We will come back to this later]

In twenty-four hours, it will mark 5 months of me living in West Palm Beach.  But even more historic, it will mark 8 years of living in Florida and making that bold decision to challenge my future and calling in life forever.

It has been a crazy ride so far.  I have built some great relationships through my [first] local church. I have participated in some great mission work in Jacksonville and beyond.  And I have grown immensely in my relationship with God in that time.

[Now let’s combine the two;)]

Kids are innocent at heart.  But seeing them make decisions recklessly without truly knowing the consequence can provide insight and even provide leverage into how we make decisions as adults.

I would like to think 8 years ago, I made a “reckless” decision to move to Jacksonville without thinking about the rules.  And the consequences had it not worked.  But just like the kids, I didn’t care.  Because I look back [today] and can confidently say it was the best decision I ever made.  Stomache ache or not.

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Faith Beyond a $15 Gift Card

I love a good restaurant gift card.  Completely FREE.  Completely up to me.  No strings attached.  It’s between me and the food.  It gives me the courage to order whatever I want.

As I was sitting in the restaurant booth at the Chili’s near my house, I was looking over the menu fighting the urge to order one of everything on the menu.  The appetizer.  No, the flat bread pizza.  Maybe the chili and salad.  Or the steak and potatoes.  I had the ability to order ANYTHING I wanted; it was great!  Truth be told, I only had $15 on a gift card BUT my eyes were on a feast for a few versus a small lunch for one.

After looking over the menu, I finally decided what to order.  I placed the order, enjoyed my lunch and waited for the bill.  After my gift card was applied, I owed a measly $2 plus tip.  Not bad for a nice lunch!

Have you ever been so gung-ho about something that you forgot about the limitations of your situation, i.e. your eyes were focused on the feast?  It happens to me everyday but I’m constantly stuck within the limits of my finances.  The limits of my own understanding.  The limits of a $15 gift card.

The Bible says, ”

“Because you’re not yet taking God seriously,” said Jesus. “The simple truth is that if you had a mere kernel of faith, a poppy seed, say, you would tell this mountain, ‘Move!’ and it would move. There is nothing you wouldn’t be able to tackle.” (Matthew 17:20 MSG)

The truth is we are not confined to our understanding.  We are not limited to our own finances.  We are not limited to a $15 gift card.  We are only limited to what we say we are limited.

For the last 10 months, I have been working hard (and I mean hard) on a “project” that will not only help push me to new levels in my personal life but in my career as well.   And, in the last 45 days, I have been casting vision for the next 7 years of my life.  It’s nothing short of exciting.

Faith is not about the ability to stand up for yourself; it’s about having the courage to push all of life’s baggage aside and rise above it and have that “order everything on the menu” courage and not look back.

Like the scripture says, “…you would tell this mountain, Move! and it would move.” — I have told my situation to “move” and it has in big ways.  Don’t lose faith now.  Order what you want from the menu.  And don’t look back.

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Apple Pie and Chicken Dinners

The house smelled absolutely amazing. An apple pie sat in the oven baking almost ready for devouring. As I walked in I could smell the spices and crust as it was almost ready. It was one of those moments that took you back to your childhood and yet I was a child. Everything was just aligned with the stars. The pie made everything good.

And then she said four words that sounded like a train wreck in a snow storm, “It’s not for you.” Much to my surprise, I immediately responded with, “why?”. The pie was strictly props and she knew exactly what she was doing. Later, I would be impressed but at the moment I wanted that pie.

I had little to no idea of what Grandma was doing to impress upon the family that would soon buy her house on Stricker. After drooling over the pie through that little window of the oven for a few minutes, she told me to follow her upstairs to show me what she had done. Upon reaching the top of the stairs, we entered the first of three bedrooms. I was overwhelmed by fresh linens on the bed, enough toys to make a small child happy for a long time and a little lamp glowing on the night stand.

I can recall asking Grandma why she had done all of this. She then said, “c’mon”. And we walked thru the next bedroom and found the same setup with fresh linens, slightly used yet shiny toys and the lamp. And the next bedroom had small dolls with their hair combed nice, fresh quilts and yet another lamp glowing on the night stand. And I said once again, “Who is this for?” She said it was for the family that was visiting that evening and soon after buy her house.

I asked her why she was so confident that they would buy her house that night. I remember her response like she said it yesterday. She said, “they would be silly not to.” She knew the family had loved the home so much [from their first visit] that she could convince them by making it feel like home. The apple pie was to speak welcome. The fresh linens and toys on the bed were to help bring comfort to the children which were two twin boys and a little girl.

Grandma used thirty year old linens, old toys an apple pie to sell her house that night. The pastor asked me during a meeting at the funeral home whether that family had bought the home that evening. I laughed and responded with the simple word, “absolutely”. She met the family where they were at and catered to their immediate needs. And that is what I love about Grandma. She met you where you were at with what she could give at that moment and did it with such grace.

Meeting people at their level is one of the most fun things I enjoy doing. It brings me a sense of unexplainable joy to be able to bless someone knowing it is going to hit their mark. While sitting with Grandma’s friend Mary the night following Grandma’s funeral service, she was struggling to fake the fact her dinner was anything close to good. She tried her best but ended saying she must have gotten the wrong end of the chicken. And that here chocolate cake was far from delicious as well.

So, I made a phone call after having thought about it for a few days. And it was done. I made arrangements for a special delivery on Christmas morning of a delicious chicken dinner and chocolate cupcakes for Ms. Mary. It was one of the most touching experiences I had orchestrated in some time. And Ms. Mary was so excited because I had remembered her crummy chicken dinner the week prior enough to have one sent a better rendition to her from the nearby grocery store. And it made an impact from what I heard.

Meeting people where they are at does not require a degree in rocket science. It simply requires you to listen to those around you and react to them in the simplest manner you know. A lot of my responses have not required any money or physical items. Just last month, I sporadically decided to gather every cart from my grocery store parking lot and had brought them to the front door on Thanksgiving Eve. It is simple, listen well and react confidently. It will go a long way.

And to not keep you on your seats, I never got any pie. Sad ending I know. I’m sorry.

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Embracing Change.

The cold air hit me like a ton of bricks. It was one of those times where I am certain I would have liked to see the look on my face as I reacted to what had just happened. It was warm one day and cold the next. The weather in Florida is great but it can change from one extreme to another without warning. The scorching sun will be shining one moment and the sky can be filled with storm clouds and raining the next.

Most of my friends look forward to the winter in Jacksonville. They take refuge in knowing they will have a short window of cooler temperatures before the hot summer repeats itself once again. I am not against the cooler temperatures in the winter rather the rate of how fast it changes during this transition from one season to the next. It gets me every year without doubt.

I can confidently attest that I am not the biggest advocate when it comes to change. Heck I would argue nobody really likes change. But what I have learned is that change is inevitable and if you embrace it, you will grow.

Change requires us to adapt. Change requires us to make a choice. And change requires us to grow. Change is a positive thing even if outside of our control. Soon after my grandmother’s passing, I made the decision that I would deal with the change directly rather than bury it deep inside like I had my dad. Even though it was an unfortunate occurrence, I have come to the realization this will make me stronger.

Strength does not grow itself. Strength comes from trials. It is grown from challenging times. The truth is I sorely miss my Grandma, Twice now, I have picked up the phone to call her and tell her a funny story or see how she was feeling. It was painful but knowing what she went through to get where she was in her life is motivation enough to see through this trial of losing her from mine.

Too many times, we wait till the last minute to adapt to the changes occuring in our own lives. We wait till that defining moment to make the shift from one scenario to another. Although it is never too late to make the shift, the longer we wait causes more agony and pain to both ourselves and the people directly involved with the change.

As I sat their with Grandma in her last few hours of life, I told her stories. I told her about what was new at church. I told her about new projects I was starting at work. I knew change was coming. And I did my best to adapt to the sitation as I knew fit. I went with it.

Nothing can prepare us for the gradual or abrupt changes in our lives. Whether we are expecting them or they hit us like a ton of bricks, we have a choice. I have learned when change is at my doorstep, I embrace it rather than avoid it. Embracing change can allow for a sense of comfort. And it can also allow for a time of closure and transition from one season to the next.

I can vaguely recall the first few days and weeks of living in Florida. I was struggling to embrace change. I knew there was purpose in my moving, but it did not give me comfort. From that season change, I learned comfort was not an immediate result of embracing the change rather a by-product of it. In other words, the comfort came later, and in my case, much later. You hve to be willing to walk through the change before you can grow.

Losing my grandmother has been tough. Since the passing, I have had good days and then days where I feel like I am walking in a fog. But I am confident that I will see comfort in this change of season because I have seen what can come if you just accept the change.

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Didn’t We Have a Good Time?

Much has happened since arriving in Detroit almost one week ago.  The feelings of happiness, sadness, and joy were all waiting for me as I touched down late Tuesday night.  I thought I was prepared for the emotions that were soon to follow.  But soon after arriving at her bedside, I came to the realization that I was not nearly as prepared for my Grandma’s passing as I had anticipated.

After leaving the funeral home tonight following her service, I took the remaining flowers to the hospice where my grandmother had spent the last month of her life.  I wanted to know so much.  The funeral service had met my expectations but I felt there was more to be revealed.  I decided to spend a few minutes with one of Grandma’s friends across the hall.  The timing could not have been more perfect as she was eating dinner in the common area.  I began to ask her about Grandma.  I asked her if she could share any stories.  I even asked her what best described Grandma in the short time she knew her.

I resisted the urge of having good manners and sat right down beside Ms. Mary.  A short exchange of words turned into a full conversation and few minutes soon turned into almost an hour of listening to what this woman had known of Grandma.  And the next thing you know, nurses and medical assistants began gathering around the dinner table sharing stories, telling me about Grandma and what she meant to them.  The idea that she had impacted lives even into the most trying time in her life had blown my mind.

Mary shared a specific story and said from that point on, as she said it, “We became instant friends.”  And without stalling or any hesitation, she described her as “conscientious”.  Before I could turn around in time, the nurse spoke of structure and confidence in everything about Grandma.  In pain and suffering, Grandma still showed true to whom she was and demonstrated strength enough to make a strong impression on these hospice care providers.  I was in awe.

Over the last few days leading up to her passing, I have found myself writing about stories, emotions and other memories at her bedside.  I may feel led to share these over time and I may keep them close, but regardless, what I know is that I wanted to know everything I could leading up to this most defining moment in her life.  She had shared so experienced so much in 82 years but I wanted to capture her lasting days because I truly felt there was something to take away to learn.

Many look at death as a somber experience.  And I would be lying if I said it was not painful or a sad time for me or the rest of my family, but what I most remember her for is not the pain and suffering but for what she meant to others and how she influenced others even into the toughest days of her life.  And tonight I learned this firsthand.

Talking with Mary meant closure.  It allowed me to have experienced the influence she had over the people that were there with her in the last few weeks of her life.  That to me is powerful.  I gave Mary and her nurse a hug and thanked them for all they had done to make her feel welcome because I know that is what she would have wanted.

I am moved by her drive to make such an impact on Mary, the nurses and medical assistants even though she was suffering.  I assumed Mary was one of the only ones (other than family) my Grandma had confided in during her last days but I should have known better.  Grandma always had more up her sleeve than we all thought.  And I am honored to have had the opportunity to realize this tonight.

After her passing, I asked to be alone with Grandma.  And in less than two minutes, I put my hand on hers and said, “Didn’t we have a good time?”  It has been an honor to know a woman of integrity, character and most of all, strength.  I will never lose the wisdom she has instilled in me.  And I would not be the person I am today without her.

Thank you “Granny”.  You are one crazy lady.

(Thank you all for your prayers and support. I would appreciate all comments of “thoughts and prayers” be held back for now till I see or talk to you.  No hard feelings.  It has just been a challenge to post this as is.  Hope that’s cool.)

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I Hate Pickles

A college professor repeatedly told me, “Nathan, you never know when you’re going to get hit by a pickle truck.” At the time, I was participating in a college project of which I had control over much of the finances, decisions and important documents. Upon taking the project work home with me as I used to do, he would always strongly urge me to leave it at school as I might get hit by a “pickle truck” on the short commute back to my college apartment. His point… that the documents would be lost in existence somewhere between school and the five minute drive home.

I tell this story because we should always be prepared for the pickle trucks in our lives. I always thought he was going crazy and wondered if pickle trucks truly existed even to this day. After doing some research, I have learned that there are thousands of varieties of pickles in our worldy cuisine today. Some are sweet. Some are sour. And some are even spicy. But as I began reading more, I learned more about pickles than I ever wanted to know.

Did you know… that it takes a minumum of 24 hours for a cucumber to become a pickle? And, the longer you leave a pickle to “pickle”, the more sour it actually becomes. And finally, the most random ingredients are used to make the most delicious pickles. Ingredients such as vinegar, sugar, kosher salt, mustard seed, tumeric and celery seed are used and are intentional for the end product – the desired pickle.

Why all this talk about pickles? Well, we can relate much of our life and trials to that of a pickle. Trials come in different varieties and shapes and sizes. And if pickle trucks really existed, we would surely be caught off guard if hit by one similar to how we are occasionally caught off guard by various trials in our lives.

Follow me here.

Sometimes trials require us to go through a process in order to reach a final product (or result).
We have to be willing to submit our authority to God first and foremost. From experience, I can attest to being discouraged by people who tell me to remain patient and obedient to God. Sometimes, it’s the single most difficult thing we can endure as a Christian. Sometimes I simply want to smack that person after they say that to me (just being honest). But the goal is not to endure the trial itself but endure God and knowing he is in control in the midst of your chaos. We could very easily remove the lid 2 hours into the process but the pickle would be still be hard and bitter. It takes on its flavor and “character” if you will when it has time to pickle and sit patiently in the ingredients it has been placed into to reach that particular flavor and final taste. There you go – intentional.

The longer you leave the pickle to “pickle”… the more sour your pickle will be!
Straight and to the point. The longer you leave a pickle to pickle, the more sour it WILL become. I capitalized the word “will” because it has been proven over the last hundred years. And like our trials, the longer we sit in our own pride and stubborness, the more sour we WILL become. Surround yourself with friends that will pray over you, encourage you and challenge you to not get caught in the rut but to rise up and get out of that rut and seek out to that final outcome.

Choose your ingredients wisely for they are NOT random but intentional.
What ingredients are you placing yourself in when going through a trial? Are you posting it on Facebook for the whole world to see? Are you going through your entire phone book and sending a mass text and hoping to feel pity over your situation by the very responses you receive in return? Just like a pickle, it requires specific ingredients to reach a desired taste and outcome. Similary, why would you just go and dump a bunch of additional ingredients in the jar knowing it would ruin the finished product anyway. Case in point, be selective with who you include and who you share your trials and challenges with in these seasons. It WILL determine your finished product — what you take-away, how much dominion you give the enemy and the ability for God to speak to you. There are a wide array of people in your life right now as we speak that have been intentionally placed to speak over your specific situations. It’s not a game, seek the people out. And request their commitment. If I have gotten good at one thing, it is this. Knowing who and how involved that person will be involved in my business. It WILL determine the outcome of your product. Guaranteed.

A close friend of mine shared this crucial point with me last night, “The devil has control over our past through the use of fear and our future by way of worry. This is why we should only focus on the present by way of our faith. It’s all we’ve got to survive in a broken world.” The truth is we WILL all go through trials in our lives. It’s not a matter of if rather a matter of when. Like there are many variety of pickles, there are a vast array of trials in life. Some are small and some are big. Some will take a little more faith to overcome and others will blow over quickly. The trick is not just to simply “focus on God” but to be intentional with how you focus on God. Think about the ingredients. Think about the timing. And focus on the present by faith. The more you dwell on the past and the future… the bigger chance you will be blind-sided by a pickle truck and wonder what happen.

Ride the process out. Choose your ingredients. Take action in the present. And avoid the pickle truck.

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