I Acknowledge! – Part Four

I Acknowledge! – Part Four

JohnSmidPensiveB&W#1I Acknowledge:

Through the LIA program, our teaching, and program activities, We established structure and rules that clients had to adhere to that promoted traditional gender roles and society’s assumptions.

We held them accountable regarding how men and women express themselves through their appearance. We also brought exposure to hobbies and activities that were traditionally male or female. Our structure and teaching stifled individuality and authenticity.

I felt Defensive!

When I began to look at this aspect of our program and the ministry focus I felt defensive and attempted to push back from this critique. I taught sessions on the variety of people, personalities, and expression. I got defensive because I thought certainly I believed that people had to have the freedom to express themselves. I knew there were conservative people, artistic people, uniquely gifted people and that there was a continuum of style that people utilized to express themselves. I didn’t believe I was stifling individuality!

I had one topic I called “Masculinity and Femininity” where I explored the intrinsic differences between men and women as well as the broader aspect of how culture puts us into boxes that we cannot live in. So, I felt confident that I covered this issue in a balanced way.

What I taught and the program structure were at odds with each other.

But, as I looked at the bigger picture of our ministry I had not considered the rules and structure of the program that held people to gender stereotypes. Women were led to purses and dresses in their specialized counseling agendas, men were taught masculine experiences like sports and held to short hair cuts and no facial hair as part of their programs.

Our motives were to encourage them to try out things that might be challenging, or even scary to try. In some cases these counseling practices were very effective, but in others they were harmful. I believe we were unable to see the harm when it occurred because underneath there was a cultural stereotype that we hoped would be achieved. It was an underlying goal to neutralize and to move towards a subjection to conservative living in the eyes of the Christian culture.

I have learned that for many gay men and women, forcing a traditional gender expectation can produce tremendous anxiety and bring about even greater shame. Honestly, I understand the anxiety that can come about through forcing these types of things. But, I had spent a lot of energy pushing this anxiety away and hid it underneath my own life. I always thought I was an advocate for the men and women who had come to the program but honestly, I wasn’t confident in my own experiences and really wasn’t what I thought I was.

“You” Should Carry a Purse!  -  But “You” Shouldn’t!

I remember Cheryl who didn’t carry a purse and wore a very short hair cut was taken for a makeover and shopped for her first purse. There was a lot of attention given and wonderful ladies were very loving through the process with her. They took her shopping, to the nail salon, and affirmed her for the new look. Cheryl loved the attention and was thankful for the relationships but in the end she was confused, and not welcoming of these new things.

I remember commenting on her purse and her look trying to help her see how much more fitting it was to the Christian culture. In the end, she said over and over she was uncomfortable carrying a purse and her hair quickly returned to the shorter style.

I feel sad today that I was so pursuant of her changes and not allowing her to discover her own tastes and believe in her own ability to find what she liked and didn’t like. I was more interested in her fitting in, than I was finding her own individual expression.

So, as I continue to revue these things I fully recognize that I had my own divided thinking. I taught one thing but in the structure of the program another message came through loud and clear, conform to society! ” Neutralize your look, appearance, so that others will be more accepting of you.”

We all know that we get some of our most creative geniuses from those in the gay community! Why would we want to stifle them, or corral them into a neutralized box! Art, music, food, decor, we are all blessed by the unique gifts that come from the more creative types.  Something else that we often forget, those who are gay are also often those who are more sensitive to relationships, caring, and mercy.  Stifling their wonderfully and amazingly gifted personalities removes the heart and soul from our communities.

The damage that can occur from attempting to stereotype people into “comfortable” boxes is very costly to them and brings a huge loss in our own life experience.

I know it wasn’t all bad.

Oh, sure, there were men who discovered they loved sports, and women who discovered they loved getting their nails done. People were brought to face some of their fears and moved forward.  Some people found different careers that were satisfying for them to discover. Moving towards college, or changes in life choices brought some to far improved lives.  I know it wasn’t all bad.

But, what I am feeling responsible for is the lack of freedom for people to discover these things for themselves and to listen more intently to those who didn’t find a desire to do so.

Football?  No Thank You

A personal life fear of mine has always been team sports.  When I was 19 years old I remember vividly talking with a close friend and “confiding” in him that I didn’t like football.  I had grown ti understand that being male, and liking football were synonymous. I felt tremendous anxiety thinking of verbalizing that I didn’t like football. Admitting this meant I was uncovering for someone else to see, that I was less masculine, or less male, due to my dislike of this sport.

I had a huge problem every year when the “Superbowl” would come around.  It was a time of the year when a tremendous amount of shame would come over my life and I tried to do the best I could to just numb myself out and stay hidden from others so they wouldn’t know I didn’t understand the sport, I didn’t know who was playing, and certainly didn’t watch the game. For me it was like saying I didn’t celebrate Christmas!

If someone had pushed me into watching the game I would have felt even more shameful.  It seemed that liking football and watching the Superbowl were expected norms of life and I wasn’t normal.

One Superbowl Sunday I was home and my wife was taking a nap. I saw a bunch of men on the balcony across the way with loud cheering and obviously celebrating the “holiday” of our culture.  I felt safely removed from the event and flipped the channels to come across the game.  It was the end of the game and the score was very close.  I found myself drawn to the competition. In the end I kind of enjoyed the rush of “who is going to win.” I was not pressured by anyone to watch the game. No one was there to make me feel stupid or ill equipped as a man.

After that event I felt safer to come to the next year and decided to host a Superbowl party.  I found that if I hosted it, I could focus on what I wanted to. We had games, great food, and people could watch, or not watch, the game. It was just a reason to get together.  I still don’t like football. I never know who’s playing, and don’t understand the structure of the sport.  I also don’t feel so embarrassed to speak this out loud. Liking football I discovered is NOT synonymous with being male.

I Wasn’t Honest With Myself

In all honesty, I think some of the reason for these structures and challenges come from my own personal fears. I have never fit into a traditional male form, and probably never will. I’ve always vacillated from conservative to expressive trying to find my own personal place in life. I have feared not fitting in if I were to be “different” so I conformed. This never really helped me to fit in any better because the issues were more internal than external. I still felt different.

I had a hard time accepting the uniqueness of my own life because I felt “less than” others, and certainly not like other men. I believed if I could find a more conforming life that I would feel better about myself and not so separated from the stereotype of what our culture deems “normal.”

My personal struggle was brought into the program that I had established. My own pursuit of overcoming my unique nature and personal compromise in order to gain the affirmation and acceptance of the world around me, affected the ministry I led. I feel personally responsible, and grieved that I could see this.

As I continue to find my natural place in life, I realize I didn’t consider the need for others to find their place. Hair styles, colors, career choices and special interests all play a role in people finding themselves and discovering their God given unique nature.

We used to call some of the outward choices “false images” and attempted to remove them. I now see that Cheryl’s purse was a false image for her and thankfully, she had enough courage to reject the purse because she knew it just didn’t fit her. A short hair cut for some men was also a false image for them. False images are those things that are not fitting with the true person inside. Rather than trying to help people find their unique nature, we actually tried to cover it up with what the culture deemed “normal.”

Discover Who You Are

Today I would encourage people to discover what is real for them. What fits them, is comfortable and natural to their personalities. When I look at modern programs like “American Idol” I find that I really enjoy the creative appearances of some of the contestants. It is those who are unique, and authentic that I find myself drawn to more than those who are trying to just fit in to win. God made us each unique. This can be uncomfortable for some, but what are the alternatives?  The loss of the soul of life.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. Ps. 139:13-16

I desire the freedom to continue to discover who I am and how God created me to be. I also desire to give others this freedom!


For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Gal. 3:27-29

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16 Responses to “I Acknowledge! – Part Four”

  1. Jeremy Marks says:

    Another compelling and searingly truthful moral inventory John – what an amazing testimony. Thanks so much for writing this. God bless you.

    Jeremy Marks

  2. Jason Thompson says:

    John, I’m curious why my comment was put on the site. Does it just take time to get reviewed?

  3. Randall says:

    There is Scripture that speaks to the issue of men dressing as women or women as men (Deuteronomy 22:5). Granted, it does not get specific about just what kind of clothing is acceptable, but this might make us pause about categorizing any expectations for what is male or female as simply “societal”.

    The Scriptures do give us God’s perspective that men will struggle with what being a man means and must not yield to feminizing themselves and vice versa for women. God knows that this is one of the most vulnerable parts of our psyches. I could feel less masculine because I can’t remodel my house the way you can, or choose to feel better about myself because you don’t like football and I do, but neither of these, as you said, is the standard of masculinity.

    But there are standards of masculinity and femininity, and one of the major standards is how we express ourselves sexually, and how we represent ourselves to others in our dress.

  4. Michael Cooley says:


    Your football story is great.

    Similarly, I have a baseball story. (Baseball as something which on the surface may appear incredibly boring.) But, in Marin, in LIA, under your watch, I was encouraged to pursue it. My interest grew. I discovered something very complex about the sport. A kind of human chess. It was, all of a sudden, quite fascinating. I kept talking about my favorite player, Matt Williams, Third Baseman, who played for the San Francisco Giants. Then a lot of guys started getting baseball fever. We kept running off to the games at Candlestick. The rest is history.

    Why did the Marin experiences prove unsatisfactory for some? Why did the structure of the program not afford a sense of safety for some? I understand pain. I understand suffering. We all do. But almost anything in life can be a trigger for those terrible feelings. I still find myself unsure about the negative reactions toward Exodus in general and LIA in particular.

    But, I entered LIA very broken in a relational sense–and a very judgmental Episcopalian–and would not trade away the changes that came about for me. And, clearly, a distinction should be made between psychological healing and spiritual healing, as I’ve said before. Chastity being very different than mere celibacy. The personal relationship with my own father was restored. It took over a year of sorting out how to best approach him, how to best disclose things to him. And I had to release my built-up judgment of the charismatic-pentecostal wing of the church. A hardened heart becoming a heart of flesh at one of the Lord’s Land retreats, a lot of tears, as a guy was sharing about the Holy Spirit in his life.

    In the spirit of the longer conversation that must take place, shouldn’t the question of cause and occasion be brought up? The program, as we always referred to it, being not the cause but the occasion for negative reaction. There is a lot of freedom in life. Why do we have to blame others? Why do we have to take on responsibility for the way others feel? I’m not talking about disregarding others.

    But there seems to be a lot of blame going around. I heard the audio of the GCN panel discussion, and read about the resulting controversy and outrage. Then I read some of the negative comments. Apparently, it’s a link that isn’t easily accessed any longer. But where is rational thought in all of this? I even wonder if the longer conversation is possible. That’s my Episcopal history getting the best of me.

    But here’s to the longer conversation!


    P.S. Enjoy the game!

  5. John Smid says:

    As always, you are a very deep and provocative thinker! Thank you.

    I find the issue of shame in people’s lives comes out in many forms, and is healed in a variety of ways. I am in my own discovery of life, shame, and healing. I am finding areas of my life that I had denied, ignored, or just frankly didn’t understand. And now, alas, it appears that God’s perfect timing for me is now, 2012!

    I is like being raised in a family of many children. Each child has his or her own life experience. At times, even the memories are different as they compare stories. Thankfully, God knows all of the details and uses many things to bring each of us further down the road of life.


  6. Jason Thompson says:

    It’s really an eye opener to hear your reflections as a leader of LIA. And it makes sense that there are so many that were hurt from the ministry – in the way you led it. I too, as a leader, would have regrets if I looked back and led in these legalistic ways that you are now acknowledging.

    It really is unfortunate that there was not better leadership to guide you and correct you during those years. My hope is that Exodus will become a ministry that confronts legalism from some of it’s leaders and is able to train their leaders so that participants will experience grace and ,as they desire, godly discipline.

    Jason Thompson

  7. John Smid says:

    Jason, this is all very sad which is why I find it so important to be as honest as I can about this.

    Part of the issue is that Love In Action was an intensive residential program which is vastly different than a support group ministry. However I have known of support group ministries that have exhibited their own extensive legalistic ways as well. Running a residential program brought along a tremendous need to be protective of all who attended which caused a lot of rules and standards that were extreme for that very reason. With those who are gay, this exacerbated the issues and created a seedbed for further shame.

    A lot of legalism was carried down through the years from the inception of LiA and the ex-gay movement. As we compared our residential program to other programs there were great similarities so it seemed like it was a good structure. We were taught, mentored, and led by professionals whom we believed knew what they were doing.

    Also, regarding the youth ministry that we led so wrongly certainly involved parents manipulation to get their kids to the program. As recently as the last Exodus conference I attended, there were plenty of youth that had been coerced into coming to the national conference for the youth track. Ex-gay ministry has come some way into a more balanced perspective on this, but there is a long way to go.

    I also recognize there are some really balanced support groups that do allow for a freedom of process and life choices. One, that is no longer an Exodus ministry, is Where Grace Abounds in Denver. All through the years there was a tremendous disagreement within Exodus leadership with WGA’s liberal practice, but today, I see it quite differently. I can truly see the “grace” that is present at WGA for people to be who they are and still find supportive community and help.

  8. StraightGrandmother says:

    I’m so grateful to you John for doing this. I really feel sorry for the people who went through Love In Action and still came out gay, which has got to be almost all of them. Things are different today, things are better today, why? Why? The internet. Young people today do not remember a time in their lives where they could not go to the internet and find any piece of information they wanted. The internet is the great leveler.

    Before we had to go to our elders, Ministers, teachers etc. to help us find answers to questions, their answers to us obviously contained their biases. Young people nowadays can go to the internet and find answers, and do to the nature of the internet, Google is going to return all answers to the query, answers from both sides. Young people nowadays are better off because of the internet.

    John the world is changing and YOU are helping it change. Take heart in knowing that even though you did harm a lot of people in the past, these words you are putting out on the internet will be read by a youth who is struggling and will help him. It was to late to help this young man John, his is a very very sad story, a young man who was gay whose death is on the hands of his Evangelical parents who would NOT accept their gay son.


    John, you are not ready yet, but you can start thinking about it. You should do an It Gets Better video. Think outside the box ask for suggestions, take the kernel of an idea that you start with and make it meaningful, make it so that people literally can’t turn their heads away. Here is one from Madison Wisconsin that I really liked ( I don’t think this would work for you but just sharing a video I like)I remember I was number 374 to view it.


  9. Jason Thompson says:

    Yes, I’ve seen and heard, even recently, leaders who meet with youth brought in by parents. This is another example of training needed. We don’t do everything right at Portland Fellowship, but we are very intentional about not meeting with youth that don’t want to be there. we require that the youth (and adults) make their own appointment and even then, we spend time making sure they are the ones desiring to be there and not being forced by parents. (Same is needed for the Exodus Conference).

    The balance is knowing that there are many youth who do not want the type of discipleship offered by Portland Fellowship verses knowing who desperately desire it, such as myself, when I 19 years old.

    Your legalistic experiences have opened your eyes to hurtful leading, and that is so very good! Yet, your pendulum seems to be in full swing the other way. Discipleship, surrender, and hope in a transformed life, are still available with grace/love/discipline and not law/legalism/shame. I pray we all grow in this balance – all for the glory of God.


  10. Michael Cooley says:

    “Things are different today, things are better today.”

    I want to include the above statement because when we’re talking about kids and the potential for real problems it doesn’t help to view the internet as the last best hope.

    But I do agree it’s the great leveler!

    Just when you thought all of the sexual identity labels were safe to believe in–science always gets dragged in for what the gay think tanks of this country are trying to enforce–along comes Cynthia Nixon of “Sex In The City” to stir things up.

    Camille Paglia couldn’t have done it better.

    The attractiveness of same-sex desire is a potential for anybody. The early church knew this. But we think we’re smarter today.

    We’ve got science. We’ve got sexual identity politics. We’ve got gay Christians. We’ve got Lady Gaga–an icon of death and destruction–singing to everybody to believe that they were born that way. Obviously, I’m a Gaga detractor. I don’t think she’s helping young people.

    But we’ve also got a lot of confused kids who are being dumped on with these “It Gets Better” campaigns. Today, with the digital age, you’re supposed to believe in slogans.

    So who should be blamed now?

  11. StraightGrandmother says:

    I don’t want to get into a he said/she said but I object to your statement:

    “The attractiveness of same-sex desire is a potential for anybody.”

    I totally disagree. For those of us who are heterosexual there is NO potential AT ALL that we could have same-sex desire. For a few women maybe, but 99.99% of we 100% heterosexuals have absolutely NO *potential* to ever have same sex desires. If you have scientific evidence that indicates otherwise I will go check it out. Or, are you just talking out of your *ss? I hope John doesn’t censer my comment, it is valid. Just as the 100% homosexual knows what pond he/she swims in, so do we 100% heterosexuals. The people with “potential” are NOT 100% heterosexual. End of discussion.

  12. tim warner says:

    Dear John and others, I wrote this this morning in response to a friend who presented a talk in her church yesterday on solitude and loneliness. I think it is apropos to your ongoing exposition here, so I am submitting it to you. It explains the problem I and others have with the mainline denominational churches.

    Dear L,
    Thanks for sending along the notes. I am reading them early this morning as I wake up. I think that the thing which you emphasized and which sort of jumps out at me is the admonition through scripture to draw near to the throne of grace, boldly and with confidence to seek God’s grace to help us in our time of need.

    I am interested in what kind of feedback you received from those who were there with you last evening. Your thoughts and words dovetail with something I have been thinking about for a few weeks. The Church (at least in those segmented local bodies to which I have been exposed over the last couple of years) seems to focus upon husbands, wives and children, i.e. the family.

    I have been a member of many men’s groups over the past few years and I am the single guy among all the married men. What I see in scripture however especially in terms of those who are called to be disciples, is a strong and definite indication towards singleness as well as marriage. The single man or woman is better able to focus on serving the Lord according to Paul.

    However, and this is my point, the church today doesn’t seem to have a strong emphasis on encouraging and supporting single men and women. I have gone to a couple of “singles groups” in two churches and they strike me as a club or a place in which single people end up by default and not by choice; for those either coming out of a relationship, looking for a relationship, or for the pathetic souls who because of their personal oddities will never have a relationship. I always fit into that last category.

    The issue however is that the Church doesn’t seem to put single people on par with married or engaged to be married people. Now combine that with those who have a homosexual constitution or those who struggle with gender identity and the accompanying issues with which transgender people deal, and you have a whole group of Christians who need encouragement, support, fellowship, sense of belonging, spiritual input, a place in which to exercise their gifts as Christians and so forth, exactly like any other “people group” within the church.

    However, the deep needs of the LBGT folks within the church, true Born-again Christians, are neglected for several reasons. The main reason, which I have experienced here in Memphis, is that the small percentage of LBGT people who attend mainline denominational churches are only fully embraced if they are thought to be on the “ex-gay” path. But for those who are LBGT and who are looking for a deeper relationship with God and a way to serve GOD, and who choose singleness, celibacy, chastity, and who accept their (different and minority) sexuality, there is no forum for the kinds of support granted to families.

    And protestantism does not afford the option of monastic life for those called to celibacy, chastity, singleness and service to God from a position of a solitary life. There is no direct and supportive ministry for solitary Christians. I think this discouraged me greatly when I came to the point a few years ago of 1) admitting that I was truly not “ex-gay” but rather as filled with the elements of my homosexual desires and attractions as ever, and 2) being so deeply fatigued in spirit and body because of the energy required to maintain an artificial posture within my circles of fellowship. In other words, I was known and I presented myself as Tim, the ex-gay servant of God.

    I started living alone again about 5 years ago after 15 years of total communal life (Christian centered.) It was and is in this solitude that the masks came off, the efforts were no longer required to maintain an artificiality and my deep homo-sexual constitution naturally and organically emerged. With that however, I know that I still choose celibacy, whether a “calling” or not, and I desire to be chaste. Unfortunately, as I mentioned to you, I began to explore my options of sexual expression and have now ended up with a habit of using internet porn and solo-sexuality. I can’t justify this, but I haven’t given it up either. I think I need to,but even with something like this, where can I go within the church to admit what I succumb to, and find the grace to help in time of need within the local body of Christ?

    That is a big part of my frustration. What is amazing to me is that for fifteen years prior to 2010 porn and masturbation were not a part of my life at all. Because of living in community, I had been able to live in abstinence, and chastity. However, the price I paid for the opportunity of community was to bury my true self deeply, which, like a bottle of carbonated liquid when shaken, blows the cork and pours out without being able to be contained. My sexuality was bound to explode, again….

    So the whole point of this is, where does a Christian solitary go? Where is the group for folks such as I? That’s my question and also my quest at this juncture.

    … I am not laying this on you for any answers, but rather just to share where I am right now….

    Again, this all seems to be an ongoing dialogue for which I am grateful to the Lord for bringing to me. Thank you.

    your brother and friend always,


    (Again, I hope that this is a worthy contribution to the conversation here….Thanks always John, for being a servant of God and expanding the borders for a more honest discussion.)

  13. Karen McNeil says:

    One thing has become clear to me as I’ve considered all I’ve seen and learned over the last years of observing and interacting with those who identify as “gay” or “homosexual” or “heterosexual” for that matter. That is, we are all created as unique human beings. We wrongly put ourselves in a box when we say there is NO potential, NO WAY for heterosexuals to have “same sex attraction” or for homosexuals to have no control over their lives.

    Our culture is so completely sexualized that I’m certain anyone can be attracted to anything and it become an addiction or lifestyle. We broad brush and stereotype and then turn right around and put people in equations they just don’t fit into…you know, “this + this = a homosexual.” I believe the variables are so complicated and diverse, there really is no explanation that completely explains it.

    Historically, homosexuality hasn’t been openly embraced by cultures with Judeo Christian foundations. And I feel there are good reasons for that. Looking at what is best for the culture as a whole….for the traditional family, for children. These concerns MUST be put before the rights of individuals. Radical change in a culture always has fallout and I, for one, am not willing to risk negative fallout that no one can predict.

    To be sure, these are my own observations and I find myself trying to understand as best I can.

    John, I’ve been fond of you for many years. I believe you know that. I truly believe this searching you are doing is sincere and I respect it. Your blog is challenging me to look deeply and no longer accept cliches and even conventional “church” wisdom. Thanks for the forum!


  14. Karen McNeil says:


    I have been seeking out testimonies of people who claim they have “changed” and have lived heterosexually for many years. Some married with children, some remaining single. They claim true change….surely you can’t say for sure they are mistaken. Some of these claims are from people in your own ministry.

    I can’t help but wonder if the methods you used at LIA is what you are sorry about and not the message.

    How do you answer those who have experienced change?


  15. John Smid says:

    I try very hard not to make assumptions about someone’s life experience. I know some people who have experienced homosexuality who have gotten married and have families. Some of them have told me that they are satisfactorily attracted to their spouse and yet they still experience same sex attractions and lust.

    I don’t want to overwork the dough here, but I find a careful line must be considered when we use the words “became heterosexual” vs. living a heterosexual life. Living a heterosexual “life” is certainly possible, but have they become heterosexual?

    And, as I have attempted to say in numerous ways, there is also a continuum of sexuality with regards to attractions. One may find themselves more bi-sexual and therefore have a heterosexual marriage experience that is fully functional and satisfying.

    I also know people who are married and struggle greatly with all of the facets of their homosexuality.

    Who can be the judge other then the people themselves. In NO way do I want to demean, or minimize someone’s personal life experience.

    I am aware, however, of people who are trapped inside a struggle with being gay and need desperately to find a place with God, and reconciled with being gay.

    I wonder how many people you have talked with who have found peace in being gay from having experienced God’s abundant grace? I have now met a number of people who lived promiscuous, addicted and emotionally unhealthy lives prior to finding God’s grace, and peace with Him regarding being gay. It was through experiencing His grace that they found freedom from the unhealthiness.

    Like you have said, each life has it’s own unique journey personally, and with God. It for freedom that He has set us free.

  16. Karen McNeil says:

    Unless I’m reading you wrong, what I believe you are saying is that your experience shows that people can live a successful heterosexual life if they want to if they “take all thoughts captive through Christ.” I know that may sound simplistic and I can imagine the feelings and lusts still remain. The sexualized culture in which we live would make it difficult to completely control those desires, I would imagine. However, I don’t think that is much different from what we all experience in this life. I know, for me, it is a constant battle in my flesh to keep my sinful proclivities at bay.

    John, once again, let me remind you of my personality and style of communicating :) I hope you are sifting “me” through my words.

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