at home, not at my home

The idea of ‘home’ has been on my mind lately. I love being at my house. I also love to travel and feel at home though I’m away. You see, to me, HOME is mostly a state of mind. It isn’t simply about being at my house, though my house is wonderful. Being at home’ is about being at rest, being able to settle in, if only for awhile for awhile, and being able to embrace my surroundings and the people I’m with.

Back when I was in Youth With A Mission (YWAM) I did some traveling. I went to Israel, Germany, and Mexico, as well as several cities and towns around the US (Chicago, Houston, New Orleans). I decided quite early on, probably in my trips to Mexico and Chicago as a high schooler, that wherever I went, I would be at home. I loved embracing the hospitality of our hosts. I loved exploring whatever city or town I found myself in.

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I’d put on my shoes and take a bit of money and maybe a subway pass and roam around pretending like I knew what I was doing. I loved that feeling of being immersed in something big and somewhat mysterious. I enjoyed discovering. We’d check out the various neighborhoods in Chicago- visiting Pakistan, Vietnam, and Greece just by moving across the city. Or in Jerusalem I’d take a stroll through the Muslim quarter, easy walking distance from our hostel, and barter with the guy at the sandal shop. I was broke, darn it, but I really wanted those sandals and could only pay 30 shekels or whatever it was. I would go back every day trying to wear the man down until he finally caved (in an amused kind of way) and sold them to me. I ‘settled in’, made the city my own. I got comfortable as quick as possible with the streets, the people, the atmosphere.

As I said, I also loved embracing the hospitality of our hosts. Sometimes we were in church basements or youth hostels, but sometimes in homes. In Germany our hosts made us feel as though we were their own children. They were eager to show us their culture- their homes, churches, land, and cities, their amazing food and drink… and they clearly hoped we would embrace them and their homeland. We did. We felt so very embraced and we embraced back. I allowed myself to settle in, to relax, to be in the moment, to see the beauty and embrace it, to simply BE with my team and hosts and embrace them… and when we visited Bergen-Belsen and when our one host shared with us his sorrow about the war, to open myself up to that experience as well.

You see, receiving hospitality is about receiving the people who offer it. Hospitality is about making space for each other- whether cleaned up or messy, same or different, comfortable or awkward.

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Another thought about being ‘at home': being at home is about contentment. Contentment is embracing and appreciating the goodness of our ‘now’, even when we may hope for something different or improvement to our current state. It is not complacency, which is more about the giving up of hope of progress or improvement.

When I travel now I still enjoy being at home wherever I go. Whether visiting family far away or having dinner at a friend’s house nearby, I like the idea of settling in, being comfortable and at rest with the people I’m with, and embracing my surroundings. However, it was easier at 19 to do this. I was far more carefree then. I had fewer worries and fewer responsibilities. Namely, I didn’t have kids. I also had a more peaceful mind in general since my anxiety didn’t fully manifest itself until I was about 22. As I’ve gotten older I find it tougher to live in the moment. If I’m away from my kids, I find it tempting to worry about them. If I’m with them, especially away from the house, I feel the need to keep a watchful eye on them, especially the baby, to make sure she isn’t trying to go down the stairs or making a splash park out of the toilet. I am also more easily caught up in my own mind, obsessing about irrational things or sometimes becoming self conscious about social interactions.

So feeling ‘at home’ has more hurdles to it these days. Challenges I’m working on, step by step, to address and manage, but still very real dynamics inside me.

Still, I find the ‘at home’ mindset to be a worthy aim. To be present in the moment. In familiar or new places. Content. Seeing and embracing the people and the good things all around. Giving and receiving hospitality. Making room for others, complete with their beauty and flaws. It results in pure gain: The embracing of more and more of this beautiful world and the amazing people that inhabit it, and realizing the ability to be at home among them.

I am also finding that being at home is about offering hospitality to my own self: my beauty and flaws, my struggles and hopes, my spirit, mind, heart and body. It’s about making space, extending myself an invitation to breathe, to trust my God, to dare to be at home in my own soul, wherever on earth my soul may be at the moment.

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photo by Liz Blick

The Supreme Court Ruling on Gay Marriage: An Invitation to the Church

Today the Supreme Court ruled that all 50 states have to recognize gay marriage. The day has come, though the writing has been on the wall for years.  My facebook feed immediately filled with emotion: rejoicing and lamenting, relief and frustration, joy and fear.

‘Love wins the day!’
‘What is this nation coming to?!’
‘Equality at last!’
‘Only God can define marriage!’
‘I can finally get married to the person I love!’

Church, I think we need to receive this ruling as an invitation.

*Side note: I know there are many in the Church who believe in gay marriage. If that’s you, you are most welcome to read, but I am speaking here more to those who don’t.*

  
Anyways, as I said, there is an invitation here if we will hear it:

An invitation to reevaluate our relationship to politics and earthly kingdoms. Have we made an idol of power? Do we remember that we are strangers in a foreign land?

An invitation to take a break from focusing on the speck in our neighbor’s eye and look at our own eye to see if we are ignoring some planks. Really. Let’s take a thorough and humble look at ourselves. And let’s take seriously what He shows us.

An invitation to ask why the Church doesn’t inspire respect for our message and beliefs. Is it for all the right reasons (like the foolishness of the idea that the last shall be first or the idea that an all powerful King would let Himself be crucified) or for all the wrong reasons (like the fact that we SAY those things about the last being first and a crucified King and then go and act in the opposite spirit)?

An invitation to see our LGBT neighbors as infinitely valuable and dearly loved... instead of seeing them as threats. We do not love well when we view others through a lens of fear. These are people, image bearers of God, family, friends… precious, dear, beautiful. We must see that and live it.

An invitation to ask if we could love people better if we would stop trying to control them. Being ‘right’ doesn’t mean it’s the most loving thing to legislate our rightness. Maybe someday much of our culture will share our sexual ethic… but I don’t think it will be because we got a politician on our side who makes a new law.

An invitation to repent. Of where ever we have pride, hypocrisy, or hatred.

And lastly, an invitation to fear not. We are commanded over and over to not be afraid. I think He means it. Do not be afraid. And when fear strikes us, we need to go after the fear first so we can have clear minds and open hearts towards those we are in conflict with. Then and only then do we go and attempt to address the problem that stirred up our fear.

It’s a new day, Church. I think there is much He wants to crucify, transform, and resurrect in us. We must put down our swords and our rights… and our anger and fear. Let’s follow Him down the road towards Calvary where He will do some painful work in us, putting to death in us things that need to be put to death, and resurrecting something quite beautiful.

habits.

At the start of this year I decided it would be a year of developing some good habits. I know, that sounds boring as heck, right?

But seriously, I was thinking about this sentiment I hear a lot; that who we are -our character- is formed from our habits. I think there is a good deal of truth there. I also have heard this idea that habits take several weeks of intentional consistency to really take root. So without being too crazy about it, I decided I would start developing a new habit every month. I wanted to get up early, start teaching the girls some Bible verses, work on the many books I’ve been meaning to read… and some other stuff that isn’t even at the tip of my mind right now. So I’ve slowly and imperfectly been adding some new disciplines into my life and I’m pretty pleased. It’s not been overwhelming and they are all things that add to the quality of my and my family’s lives.

Going to bed a bit earlier and waking a lot earlier has given me some kid free time to read, pray, and get myself ready for the day by drinking at least a cup of coffee before having to interact with any people.

Teaching the girls Psalm 23 has been great… to see their minds absorb such a life giving passage is it’s own reward much less whatever benefit it is to them down the road. I heard my cousins’s daughter recite much of the Christmas story from Luke 2 back in December and became quite inspired by how doable it is to teach little kids to memorize scripture or really anything.

I’ve finished almost 4 books: The Lost World of Genesis One (John Walton), Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals (a book on Biblical interpretation by William Webb), A Churchless Faith (Alan Jamison), and I’m closing in on the end of The Integrated Church (Tracey Lewis-Giggetts). All were great books on topics that interest me…

However…
Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. -Albert Einstein 

And we can’t have lazy thinking. :)

Really though, I’m quite passionate about clear and honest thinking and I love to use my brain. Maybe too much, depends who you ask.

Still, this basically brings me to my next habit. Writing. Writing is a fabulous way to use your brain. Personally, I don’t choose to write because I love writing itself. I am choosing to write because I love learning and teaching and growing my mind. My preferred method of doing this is conversational. I love to informally discuss things with people over a drink. I love to have facebook conversations*. However, writing is tougher and can push me a bit more. Dennis Prager, the one talk radio guy I used to really enjoy listening to, would say that if you want to know if you are thinking clearly then you should write… because then you will be able to better assess if you are actually thinking coherently.

Well, I want to develop my thinking and learning and teaching skills more… So my new habit will be to begin to write at least once a week. It doesn’t matter so much if anyone reads it, though of course I do hope to write things people are interested to read and that are beneficial.

The real challenge here is finding a kid free block of time every week, because I don’t write well or do anything I need full brain engagement for when the little ones are requiring attention. However, I’m (crossing my fingers) gonna make it happen. Right now I’m able to write because Luke is home with the girls while I enjoy a delicious frappe at the cafe.

So, for anyone who happens to read this who feels like sharing, do you have habits you are trying to develop? Any advice to offer me in forming the habit of writing?

*’facebook conversations’ meaning respectful conversations between honestly curious people, not virtual shouting matches between people who already know they are right about ev.er.y.thing. and that their opponent is the devil incarnate.

It’s Not Black and White

Ferguson. At the moment there is not a more polarizing topic. My newsfeed has been loaded, LOADED, with people sharing their opinion on the topic. Opinion might be too light a word actually, as it seems many people are convinced their perspective is THE truthful perspective. The other side is too emotional-racist-angry-oblivious-entitled-biased-politicallycorrect-opportunist-priviledged to have a valid perspective… but WE see the full truth of the matter and often feel the need to make others take off their faulty spectacles see the ‘truth’ through our obviously clear lens. We are sure we are 100% right and if you disagree that makes you 100% wrong.

But I have a suspicion: ALL our spectacles are a bit tinted. All of us see through a certain lens: a lens shaped by our ideology, our experiences, our emotions (yes, even you, conservatives- EMOTIONS :D ).

But let’s go back to the experiences part.
If you’ve seen white cops provoke and pick on black men, it is darn easy to believe Darren Wilson provoked Michael Brown.
If you’ve seen police corruption, it’s easy to believe that’s what happened in Ferguson.
And if you are black and have experienced racism from white people, you have no trouble believing racism is alive and well.
But,
If you’ve seen cops be helpful and heroic it’s easy to assume Darren Wilson had the best of intentions and was just doing his job.
If you’ve seen the justice system work it’s easy to believe it normally works.
If you’ve seen people cry ‘racism’ like the little boy falsely called ‘wolf’, it’s easy to get skeptical of cries of racism in general.
And if you are white and have experienced racism from black people, you have no trouble believing racism is alive and well…. but from the OTHER side.

These are the two dominant paradigms and they like to shout at each other about how wrong the other is over a nice high wall called a computer screen, seemingly certain that they are 100% right and the other guy is 100% wrong. And it’s hard to pause long enough to consider the other point of view… because that would mean possibly conceding our rightness.

Anyways, back to the tinted spectacles. We all have them, and they affect the way we receive ‘the facts’. By the way, yes, the facts of the case matter. But they aren’t the only thing that matters, because the conversation that is happening, the rioting, the frustration, the anger, the indignation- it’s about the larger picture of race relations in America, not just about Ferguson.

So how on earth can we ever make progress on this race thing? How do we shed light and find more clarity on this issue?
More lenses, believe it or not. Did you know that when you shine 3 flashlights, one with red light, one with blue, and one with green, on a wall you will get clear white light? You probably either knew that or you are bored with my science analogy already. Stay with me.
indexSeriously though, do you see where I’m going? Your experience, your lens, is real. It is legit… and it’s part of the picture. And if I want, I can go through life insisting that my blue lens is legit and assuming your red lens isn’t. And we will get nowhere if we all do that.

But… what if we start sharing lens and combining our colors? What if I try on your blue lens and you try on her green one? What if we affirm the truth of other people’s experiences? What if we try using all the lenses? Something crazy will happen: we will start to see more light, more colors. It will mess us up a little, because everything won’t be ‘clearly’ blue anymore. It will both complicate and clarify… and will move us closer to the truth than a simple blue lens. Because the truth has more shades than blue.

To do this though requires something a bit out of the ordinary for many of us: genuine relationship with people from other experiences. It requires diversity of friendships. And this is so hard to do online. It is far better to do over a coffee or a beer. Face to face, where I can’t forget I am speaking to a real person, where my friend can tell me to shut up and try actually listening to them, where I can’t deny the very real experience of another person.

Loving Relationship. Very anti-climactic, I realize. It’s small, it’s slow, it’s not fancy… but for anyone familiar with Jesus’ teachings, we will realize that that is often how it works. Mundane, messy, scary love… it’s how He is fixing the world.

From a Critic: An Open Letter to Mark Driscoll

Dear Mark,
I write this as a (fairly) quiet critic. QUIET because 1. I have beloved family members who attend Mars Hill and would never want them to feel that I’m taking aim at them, and 2. because I haven’t found angst driven public criticism of fellow Christians to do any good in the realms of Christian unity, edification, or in drawing anyone closer to Jesus. CRITIC for most of the usual reasons people are critical of you- attitude, leadership style, and the fact that I strongly disagree with you on most secondary doctrinal issues.
That said, my reason for writing is to let you know that my thoughts and prayers are with you and especially with Grace and your kids during what has to be an incredibly difficult time. Some people worry that any type of concern for you is at the expense of those you’ve wounded, but frankly, I think that’s bull shit. I’m quite certain that if Jesus calls us to love friends and enemies alike (from Mother Theresa to ISIS), He was including a call to love Mark Driscoll somewhere in there. Now of course, as I already know you agree, love isn’t always fluffy and nice. Love seeks the good of those it cares for. So sometimes Love can be harsh. There are times when Love calls people out on their crap. Love often speaks out on behalf of the marginalized. There are times Love disciplines. Of course, I’m not the one in the position to discipline a mega church pastor who lives on the other side of the county and I don’t particularly feel called to add my voice to the chorus of people calling you out. There was/is a place for that, but it is not for me right now- others have that task covered and I have nothing much to add to that end of the conversation. As far as you are concerned, I think my only job is to recognize that you are an image bearer of God. A son who He loves. A person with unsurpassable worth whose value was NEVER dependent on your successes or failures.
So Mark, when I see you trending on Facebook and Twitter I am trying to remind myself to simply say a blessing for you, your family, Mars Hill, and those you have wounded. May our Healer bind up ALL wounds. May He bring deep brokenness, transparency, and surrender. May He restore. May He bring a most genuine and honest reconciliation of relationships. May there be true repentance and forgiveness where there were wrongs. May you and your family be sheltered from harm. May your children experience the peace of God in a most powerful way. May Mars Hill be EVERYTHING Jesus has created it to be. May all that is hay and stubble be cleared out. May those who have been hurt experience healing and wholeness and peace in their inmost being. And so may you.
Your Sister in Jesus,
Laura Johnson

A prayer for a fractured Church.

God, help us just… stop.
Help us just stop a moment and listen.

Help us quiet our hearts,
Beckon us to come to Your feet, together.
Speak to us, together.
Earthly fathers might ask us to tell them what all the trouble is,
But perhaps You might do something better.
You might ask us to turn toward each other,
To look beyond the agitated faces and furrowed brows and harsh tones,
And see what is going on in each other’s hearts.

Perhaps, if you helped us, we would see the heartfelt concerns,
The aching spirits, and the genuine convictions
Of our brothers and sisters sitting across from us.
Could You help us see each other’s hearts?

Could you help us to remember that our war is never really with these people?
And could you show us your hands? Show us the place where your scars are.
Remind us of the unfathomably deep love you have for your people.
Perhaps if we felt a bit more aware of the immense value you placed on them,
Then maybe we could stop imagining they are faceless enemies,
And start remembering that they are brothers.

Could you quiet us? Could you remind us what’s important?
I won’t pretend that I know what you would say,
Because I think what you would say would likely surprise each of us.
I think Your words would hit each of our hearts like firey darts.
I think Your words would bring conviction to every soul,
They would humble us if we would receive them.

So would you quiet us?
Would you call us to Your side?
Could you help us- help ME- hush up and listen for a bit?

 

Birth control, Caesar, and Christian run businesses

‘Christian Businesses’ has been quite a theme in the news lately. There is a lot of debate about whether a ‘business’ counts as a person as far as religious liberties are concerned and about how the ‘secular’ and ‘religious’ spheres interact. One big topic at the moment is this healthcare mandate. Businesses of a certain size (I believe 50 or more employees) are required to provide their full-time employees with insurance that covers specific types of care, including contraception.

There are multiple businesses suing the government right now, saying that to provide the coverage for contraception violates the consciences of the business owners. In other words, the business owners believe birth control (or at least certain forms of it) to be immoral, and therefore are unable to put money into a health insurance ‘pool’ from which some funds would come out to pay for those services.

There are multiple tangents we could go on here: what government should dictate to businesses to begin with, the morality of birth control, and more, I’m sure. But I’m mainly focused on this question of ‘Is it immoral/unBiblical to contribute money to a fund where some of the fund is used for immoral purposes.’

Some might say the answer is an obvious yes.

But what I got to thinking about was when Jesus was asked if the Jews should pay taxes to Caesar. You know the story. They come to Jesus and ask Him to give His opinion on whether it is right to pay the tax or not. He answers in His usual wise way, getting right to the heart of the matter, saying that they should ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.’

This passage can be studied to no end, I suppose, but my point here is pretty specific. Those taxes that Jesus told them to pay (and Paul also affirmed the paying of taxes in Romans 13)… those taxes were used for all manner of immoral things: unjust wars, corruption, oppression, and cruel torture and executions. Jesus (and Paul) told the people to not resist the government’s demands to give money to a fund from which some of the money would get used to pay for immoral activity.

So my question: Is paying taxes to Caesar any different from paying money into these government mandated health insurance plans? If the answer is ‘yes, it is different!’, then I would really love to hear your thoughts about HOW it is different.

Now, of course we live in a democratic society where we can lobby and vote for better mandates or no mandates… and that is all well and good… but if you lose the battle for better/no mandates, what then? Does conscience in fact dictate you resist paying? At this point, I think no.

The baby’s bottle

“I kinda feel guilty every time we make her a bottle.”

This is what I said to Luke as he was getting ready to give Karina a bottle the other night.

I normally breastfeed her, but every other day or so she gets a bottle of formula. We did this with Clara too. (Don’t even ask about Leyna, as if I can remember a whole four years ago.) It’s mostly intentional- having her used to getting a bottle makes it easy for me to be gone for the evening and not have to worry about her needing to eat.

It also was a way for me to get a bit of reprieve during that first month of absolutely horribly painful nursing. I don’t know exactly what it is with me and breastfeeding, but it’s never come easy. This last time I was *this* close to switching over to a bottle completely. Thanks to a good balance of encouragement, a great lactation consultant, and the grace of God, I was able to finally make it work. But good heavens, I feel like no amount of PG rated language could POSSIBLY express the pain I was in.

Anyways, to bring that tangent full circle, I felt a kind of duty to make breastfeeding work. A sense of duty that tipped into unhealthy territory, I must say. The kind of duty that makes me feel bad for giving her any formula at all. The kind of duty that also makes me feel bad for letting other people care for her so I can eat or shower or read or sleep.

Here is what goes on in my Mama psyche: I somehow think I should be e.ver.y.thing to my baby. Newsflash: I can’t… and I shouldn’t try. I am not God, ok? I mean, I might occasionally make the mistake of thinking I am, but I’m oh so definitely not.

You see, it’s easy for me to play the martyr. To take the thing on, whatever the thing is, and get my sense of worth from succeeding at the thing if it freaking kills me. So, when my baby gets a bottle and therefore it isn’t me doing the whole thing, I feel like I’m failing.

This is insane, ok?
To quote the very quotable Mark Driscoll, “Who do you think you are!?” Who do I think I am that I need to be everything to my child? Who do I think I am that I shouldn’t need help- be it in mothering or in any other endeavor? Who do I think I am that I should be trying to get my sense of value from being a martyr or a super-mom?

It’s like I want the satisfaction of being able to say ‘yeah, I did all of that, no help, just me, because I’m just that awesome.’ Time to get over it, folks. Because it will never be the case, and even if I thought it was the case, I would be wrong. I can not take credit for the growth of my child any more than I can take credit for holding the universe together. One person gets the credit, and His name isn’t Laura.

Oh, He lets me participate, even gives me responsibility and some say so. But without Him, none of this works. Without Him, I don’t take my next breath. Without Him holding the universe in existence, the whole thing disintegrates.

So maybe it’s time to lay off the self importance. Maybe it’s time to stop getting so much of my identity from what I think I do or how needed I think I am. Ultimate value has already been placed on me, regardless of any actions. Maybe it’s time to rest in being a recipient of God’s sustaining grace instead of trying to pretend I can do it all myself.

Ken Ham and The Science Guy

So tomorrow night ‘faith’ will debate ‘science’. I fear this is one of those debates where everyone loses in the end.

The topic of the debate is ‘is creation a viable model of origins?’
On one hand you have Ken Ham, a ‘young earth creationist’ who believes it is of utmost importance that we take the first chapters of Genesis literally. He believes Christian faith is incompatible with biological evolution and that evolutionary theory is a source of great trouble in our world. He will defend the belief that young earth creationism is a scientifically valid theory.

On the other hand you have Bill Nye, a scientist who believes the theory of evolution and believes young earth creationism to be scientifically baseless. Bill Nye is an agnostic in matters of faith, but he believes denying biological evolution is a source of great trouble in our country. He will defend the idea that creation (presumably Ham’s version) is not a viable model of origins.

The problems here are legion, but I’ll stick to the BIG 2.

1) Ken Ham, bless his heart, is not someone who I want people to look at and say ‘oh, that’s what Christians are like’. To all my friends who like him, forgive me, but he comes across as arrogant. I’m not even taking about WHAT he believes here, but about how he communicates. I don’t know the guy and can’t comment on his heart. I can only comment on what he portrays, and what he portrays is not how I think Jesus wants us to represent Him. I want the world to see Christians who speak and act with kindness and humility, regardless of what they believe about evolutionary theory.

2) This debate, as I mentioned, appears to pit faith against modern science. The message one gets from the Ken Hams of the world is that ‘if you want to be true to God, you must reject evolution.’ The message one gets from many (not all) scientists is that ‘if you want to be true to science, you must reject belief in the God of the Bible.’ Honestly, I never got the impression Bill Nye is engaged in a real war on faith in general, but there certainly are some hardcore anti-faith scientists out there who are waging that battle.

Either way, the message that is that evolution and Christianity exclude each other. It’s as if anti-faith scientists look are our origins and see a circle, and the young earth creationists look at our origins and see a triangle. Triangles and circles are totally different. A circle can not be a triangle and a triangle can not be circle. So it is with these two points of view.

And that would be where I would leave it, needing to choose between a circle and a triangle, evolution and faith… Except we don’t have to do this. There is a third way. What if the circle and the triangle are not mutually exclusive after all?

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What if, given a different perspective, we can consider that both evolutionary science and God’s story as told by the Bible both speak truth about our origins? It’s worth considering that maybe we don’t need to be doing battle over the circle and the triangle.

Now I don’t advocate you believe both without examining them. One should arrive at beliefs on important matters (particularly the decision to follow Jesus) because you genuinely think there is good reason to believe it. I’m simply saying I don’t believe we have to chose between one or the other. I think both can be looked at on their own merit. Unfortunately, I fear this perspective will be absent from tomorrow’s debate. I just hope that whatever happens won’t do more damage to the already messy relationship between Christians and scientists.

For more info on science and faith in harmony, check out Biologos.

These are the days… February 2014

These are the days,
Of late night and early morning feedings,
Of juice and milk and PB&J,
Of crumbs and smeared faces,
Of poopy diapers and dirty laundry,
Of snot and spit-up on Mama’s shirt.

These are the days,
Of bubble baths and tea parties,
Of stories and nap time,
Of puzzles and PBS,
Of snuggling and dancing,
Of tears and of questions… so many questions.

These are the days,
Of feeling exhaustion and wonder,
Frustration and contentment,
Fear and hope,
And discouragement and joy,
All within the space of a few hours.

These are the days,
Of trying to live in the moment,
Of letting go bit by bit,
And of allowing motherhood to do it’s work in ME-
To tame me like a wild young horse,
So I can be a bit more pliable in the Potter’s hands.

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