Trials of Various Kinds

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Something To Talk About

Mental illness has played a big role in my life, yet the amount of recognition I give to it is quite small. Lately, mental illness, at least the struggle with it, has been on my mind a lot. Over the past six months I have known three people within different Christian circles who have committed suicide. This has reminded me that some people have deep and dark internal struggles, struggles that only by grace God has given me the resources to have success fighting against, otherwise I would have likely done the same. As I see the conversation of suicide and mental illness addressed by those in Christianity one things is clear, there seems to be little understanding of the trial, almost to the point of ignorance. It is shameful how the struggle of mental illness has been stigmatized by believers, which goes to show, people would rather turn against the unknown, than to learn about and understand it. What I want to share in this post and to hopefully gently educate those who read it on (the last few sentences will be as stern of a tone as I go) are a few points on the struggle of mental illness, especially how I see it as a believer. Along with this, my goal is also to provide some tips to understand and respond  to those whose struggle is mental illness.

The Struggle is Real

Mental illness is a trial, a struggle, or whatever Christianese term you want to use, that many are faced with. The Bible clearly shows that believers are not exempt from trials. James 1:2-3 says “2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” Notice that James statement says “when” not “if” regarding meeting trials of various kinds. I submit to you that trials, struggles, hard circumstances, these can be just as much internal as they can external. For some people the “trials of various kinds” happens to be mental illness. There is nothing in the Bible that says trials strictly have to be circumstantial or external, the trials of many come not just from outside, but within. James says trials of “various kinds” not one kind. Even broader, the Bible does not provide us with a criteria of what trials specifically look like, we have their reality, that they exist, but not a list of what these may or may not be. This this is not a bad thing, both Romans 5 and 1 Peter 4 talk about the purpose of trials is growth for those of faith. Again, we are not given details of the trials, but their purpose, meaning, they can look different for anyone and can be many things. Just as trials outside of ourselves are instruments of growth, so are those from within. All of us have some trial in our lives we deal with, inside and out, they may not look the same,but that does not negate their legitimacy. What is important when relating and ministering to people with mental illness is not viewing mental illness differently from other trials. Yes, what one person is struggling with may be different from that which I am personally, we still have the common ground that we both struggle. Seeing struggles with mental illness as another one of the trials human beings are thrown at in life helps create the bond that we are all imperfect, yet God is using struggles and trials as a process of refinement.

Ignorance May Be Bliss, But It Is Still Ignorant

Education, comprehension, and understanding can go a long way. According to Newsweek 42.5 million American adults, which is 18.5 percent of the United States population, meaning 1 in 5 people, suffer from some form of mental illness. It is a big enough issue, a common enough trial, that we as believers should be doing all we can to understand it. My amazement never ceases when I mention Bi-Polar disorder how little people know about it, and what terrible misconceptions, not to mention stigmas, are present in their knowledge of the topic. Absolutely, some people use mental illness as an excuse, and yes sin issues as well as spiritual oppression can cause irrational behavior in people, but for a lot of folks something is physically happening inside of them. We do not look down on people receiving medical treatment for heart issues, diabetes, or cancer, yet when it comes to mental illness many ignorantly believe it is a matter of will power, that there is no physical issue. I take lithium for Bi-Polar Disorder, and just as anybody with any affliction takes medication to help them function in a healthy manner, the same has to be done for me. Like anybody else, I still have to depend on the Lord and maintain disciplines for a strong spiritual life, the medicine does not do that for me, it helps, but intentionality is still a strong need. Do some research, pursue understanding, because I can guarantee that whether it is yourself, a family member, or a friend, mental illness is something you have come in contact with. Oh, and for all of you nouthetic counselors and believers in the world, get a life. I absolutely believe that Christ can heal people from their afflictions, but at the same time when He does not, the reason probably is not lack of faith, but Him wanting to teach us something. In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul talks about how he is still weak, all the trials God has allowed in his life, and how he still has a “thorn in his flesh”, I am not saying this is mental illness, but there were some struggles the Lord left in Paul’s life, and he was stronger because of them. Whether internal or external, God is not after changing our trials, He wants to change us through them.

Description Not Definition

Like any trial, circumstance, struggle, or affliction, mental illness does not define a person. I have never been a fan of referring to people by what they struggle with. For example, I am not Bi-Polar, I struggle with Bi Polar disorder, but I am not defined by it. This is something we commonly do to people and it is toxic, especially for believers trying to live in positional truth. A believers afflictions, internal or external, even their actions, do not define who they are, only Christ does. 2 Corinthians 5 contains an excellent statement of positional truth, Paul says “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Anybody who is a believer should not be defined by anything other than their position in Christ. That means they are not anorexic, a cancer patient, bi-polar, an addict, or any of those labels we put ourselves and others in bondage to, for those who are in Christ, their definition is in Him alone. Sure, those words may describe what people do, but it does not define who they are. Our struggles and trials are meant to refine not define us.

Here are a few practical steps from this post.

  1. Realize that not everyone struggles with the same thing,  trials are different for each person. We may not always be able to relate specifically to each other, but there is the common ground that life can be hard, and while our obstacles may be vary, being a Christian is a journey all believers walk together. Everybody has trials, that is a good enough starting point for connecting with others.
  2. Seek understanding, educate yourself on mental illness. I know that we are human and would rather write off the unknown than understand it, but we cannot, that is stupid, such behavior is for Philistines, and nobody wants to be a Philistine. I do not know, maybe you do, but for the rest of us, we should take a few minutes to research on Google or whatever your preferred method, to gain a better understanding of what others are going through.
  3. Build deeper relationships with people. Regardless the circumstances, going beyond shallow pleasantries and having deeper conversations can do a lot to help someone. Our goal should be to try to understand, to go deeper in the lives of people, and direct them to resources for professional help if they need it. Human beings hide things, symptoms, sadness, depression, struggles, that is why transparency is so important not just for us to project, but to pursue. There are also times where it is very obvious that people are not doing well, reach out to them, even strangers. Our culture likes to think it is deep, but it is all style with no substance. Talk to people, learn about someone else, and show some vulnerability, have a conversation that matters, you never know who it will help.
  4. Enough with the labels. We should not define anybody by their strengths or weaknesses, this goes double for those who are believers. God has made us individual people, not to be summed up by what we do, but defined by who we are. Unbelievers are lost creations of God who need Christ, and believers are people defined by Him, nothing else is meant to be a human beings definition. As we see people this way it becomes a great motivator, for the lost to bring truth to them, and those who believe edification, even reminding them of their position. Be intentional with how you think of people, the next time you see a person as anything other than in Christ or not, remind yourself of who they are, stop the thoughts.

 

We are all in this together. The more I live the Christian life it continues to become apparent that things are rarely so cut and dry, life can be messy, but it is also brilliant. I wish it were all as black and white as what some people try to describe it as, fortunately God has given us colors. Mental illnesses are not going away, if Christians cannot be an example of understanding and effectively responding to these afflictions, no one can. All the same, think about these things, because even a little understanding can make a big difference.

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More Life Lessons From Bilbo Baggins

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    One fact I have found to be very true about life is that our greatest lessons are often learned from our worst adventures.

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Identity Crisis

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That Thing Called Life

Life is very rarely straightforward. This is especially true in those moments where my mind thinks I have it all figured out. Here is a handy hint, the second you think you have everything figured out, usually is when you are the furthest from it. I used three “you’s” to make one point. This may seem redundant, but it further illustrates the idea of how self-centered, we, and especially I, can be.

When Life Is Not Pretty Use A Not So Pretty Illustration

Recently, a lot has happened, and crap has hit the fan in about a billion directions. It is as if someone has brought in an industrial size fan, turned it on high, and blown crap in every possible place imaginable. If I am being completely honest, and cutting through the crap, if you will, that someone was myself. Often when it comes to crapping into fans, it is not other people doing  the crapping on us, we are doing it to ourselves. This is called taking responsibility for our actions, something I am not great at doing, but continue to learn what exactly it means to do so. My illustration, it is not pretty, then again our flesh and the issues caused by it never is.

Back to the idea I was beginning to unpack at the start of this post, life is not easy, and in all honesty, nine times out of ten we make it harder on ourselves by allowing our flesh to have its way. This is the theme for much of what has happened to me lately.

When Ministry Becomes Your Identity

Over the past three months I was given, not just the opportunity, but the privilege, to teach at a Bible school that was the catalyst for me finding a passion for theology. This job was one I fought to obtain for over a year. Everything I wanted to do in ministry had finally been given to me. My time within the institution involved teaching, preaching, and discipling, fully using all the abilities God has developed in me. While this was going  well, something had happened to me within, something I could not see, it was no longer Christ, but the ministry that became my identity. As walking in the flesh does, things began to go downhill in certain areas. Like an old man driving who should have had his license taken away years ago, blind spots developed due to my skewed focus, and eventually,  the inevitable happened, I crashed. Sure, my time in the classroom was fantastic, the messages I spoke above average, and relationships with students on a deeper level kept happening, but all this became what motivated me, not knowing God or growing in my heavenly identity. No matter how pure or positive a thing may be, anything put in the place of Christ as our identity can end in only one way, terribly. This is not to say I did not try, my effort was one hundred and ten percent, nor can it not be said lots of good happen while there, but my motive in doing so was not what it should have been.

I was finding my identity in teaching and speaking, leading me to live inconsistently. Outside of the classroom I lacked discernment, saying things and acting in ways that were immature, that were not like  a teacher, but a student. Never being in a position like this before or having authority in this capacity it got to my head, the ministry had become my motivation, my identity. Exhorting  students in class each day to see themselves as nothing other than in Christ and making knowing God the motivation for their lives, I was not taking my own advice. How I saw myself was completely dependent on ministry.

The day before my demise I said in one of my classes that at any moment we can lose our ministry, not realizing the next day my ministry would be taken away from me. That is the thing about making something other than Christ your identity, one day whatever you replaced Him with will be taken away leaving emptiness. While other elements and people were involved with the circumstances, all I can do is take responsibility for my actions. There were things I did wrong and a lot that can be learned from the events, so now it is time to own it, and for what was messed up on my part repent. It is easy to blame others when we make mistakes, and even if I was not fully at fault there are still lessons can be learned in order to in the future not make them. Yes, I will make all sorts of new and exciting mistakes in the days to come, that fact is an unavoidable one, but with every blunder comes more opportunities for God’s grace to teach us.

Pony Rides In October Rain Fall

Right now I am homeless, jobless, and with really no idea of what to do next. I have been at the bottom before, and may one day be again. Every time God has allowed me to be torn down in myself, I have always been built back up again in Him, and that makes it all worth it. Even if I have nothing on this Earth, I still have everything in Christ. Nothing, apart from Him, as our identity will bring fulfillment, trust me, I continue to learn this the hard way. Truthfully though, I know these truths, but do not always feel them.  I guess that this where faith comes in to play, knowing something, and even if you are not feeling it, moving forward anyway. To some extent I have handled things about as gracefully as an elephant ice skating, but He teaches me even when my response is executed poorly. So what, I lost one opportunity for ministry, that does know mean God is through using me.

Life is an adventure. One of my axioms is that the best stories often come from the worst adventures. This will one day be another page in the book of my life. In The Hobbit, a book I quote a lot, at one point during the story rain continues to pour down soaking the main characters. Bilbo, who is the stories protagonist, says in the midst of this, “Adventures are not always pony rides in May sunshine.” His journey was hard, but it changed him for the better, just as our journeys do for us if we let them. What is hard and what is worth it often are the same thing. If you are going to try authentically walking with the Lord, the rains, hardships, and dragons are going to come, whether from outside or within. God will not withhold problems, we have to choice to either let them be a catalyst for growth or to stop us. We have problems, but God has given us a cure.

In Second Corinthians four and five there are a lot of wonderful truths, truths that have been encouraging me during these hardships. These claims held to by Paul through understanding of his position are just as true for me as they are of you. This is not an exposition or exegesis of these verses, just some reminders from God, through Paul, in Christ, for us. I am afflicted in every way, but not crushed. I am perplexed, but not driven to despair. I am persecuted, but not forsaken. I am struck down, but not destroyed. I am no longer regarded by the flesh, I am in Christ a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come. My identity is in Christ, not a ministry, nor abilities, or relationships,  but in Him, walking in this position is the only way to find true fulfillment.

I hope what I am learning can be an encouragement to all you readers as your continue on your journeys

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Thirty At Thirty

Thirty Things I Have Learned As I Turn Thirty

 

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At first turning thirty was kind of depressing, but as I have thought and reflected on it, the whole idea really does not seem so bad. Age is just a number right?

Douglas Adams always has a swell way of describing things, he said “you live and you learn, at any rate you live.” This marks my thirtieth birthday, and while I have done a lot of living, there are a few things I have learned along the way also. Today, I want to share with your thirty of those things.

  1. Grace really is an amazing thing, I guess that is why John Newton wrote the song, and we would be hard pressed to find a better word to describe it. As amazing as grace is, experiencing it is that much more so, and giving it more than that. A lot of grace has been sent my way, and I have realized that if we want to convince other people of God’s grace, it is vital that we recognize and embrace that grace for ourselves. At the same time you can never have too much grace. As humans I think our natural leaning is judgment and punishment, so to have too much grace, in my mind, it just does not seem possible. God has had a lot of grace with me, A LOT, so why should I not have the same when it comes to other people?
  2. Throwing vinyl albums out a window in the midst of a storm is a very bad idea.
  3. Bad days often seem to outnumber the good days, but that just makes the good days even more valuable. The world did not end yesterday, and chances are it will not today either. Life could always been worse. I live in a first world country, my needs are constantly met, God has given me ministry, provided awesome friends, I have a college degree, am reasonable healthy and most importantly my soul is saved, life is not that awful in terms of everything! At the very least I did not wake up in Hell this morning that is enough of a reason to give thanks!
  4. The biological family I lack sure as heck is made up for by the spiritual family I have. My friends are my family, and one of the best parts of being me. Each one of them God has used in my life, and what we all have in common is Christ. There have been many laughs, tears, and moments of growth with my friends, I am so thankful for each and every one of them.
  5. Dogs are not all bad after all, sometimes all it takes is to meet the right Golden Retriever in the right context to change your mind on the species. Once upon a time I was taking a stroll on a lovely winter’s evening when a hell hound straight out of Baskerville attacked me viciously. Needless to say I fought him away, but I had lost my dignity, or what little that still remained. Since, I had seen dogs as the enemy, but that very nice Golden Retriever redeemed them for me.
  6. Ministry does not fulfill you. Back when in moments when I was homeless, or not really doing much in life, I believed that once I had ministry, opportunities to speak, to teach, to disciple, life would be good, and I would be serving God the way He wanted me. That is a lie. Spending the past couple years preaching, teaching and discipling, has been a very draining business, and if you are doing it for the right reasons, there is not a lot of glory to come from doing so. Even the past seven months I have been speaking somewhere every week, and while I love serving God in this capacity, I would not have stuck with it if I were doing so for the wrong reasons.
  7. Nothing apart from Christ fulfills you. Blah, blah, blah, stupid Christian buzz words, common believer’s clichés, and why I hate to say it, I know the statement is all to true. Relationships, they will not fulfill you. Listen, I have dated, I have been in relationships with the opposite sex, and you feel just as empty with them as you do without them, if Christ is not the source of fulfillment. You are probably saying “yeah right” or “Christ will be my focus”, but often it is being put to the test that shows hard bad we can fail. One of the greatest lessons I ever learned was from dating somebody where the relationship did not stay focused on Christ. She was cute, and really dug me, so I figured why not? None of those are never good reasons when considering someone to date, they are reasons, but I would not say good ones. Anyway, the lesson, I learned by the end of it that it was better to be alone with Christ than with somebody without Him. It was there that I ended it, unfortunately I came to this conclusion the night of my school’s Christmas banquet, so maybe choose better time, but since then what I learned has been true, and even though at times I get lonely, in the end it is something I hold onto.
  8. Never give a girl you are dating nicknames such as jumbo tron, bulldog, scofflaw, Trunchbowl, captain fussy trousers from the ninth quadrant of the annoying galaxy, clay face, just plain woman, or place Darth before their first name. You think this would be an easy one, but I learn the hard way.
  9. Making a red head angry, especially one from the south, is not wise. The kick, punch, bruise, and inflict pretty much ever force of darkness the can possibly muster up upon you. Upsetting the children of a red head, especially one from the south, is doubly unadvised.
  10. We can know something and not feel it. C.S. Lewis said “Faith is the are of holding onto what your reason once accepted in spite of your changing moods.” Emotion is not the cause of our faith, but it can be manifestation of it. I do not always feel truth, but I know it, and that realization makes all the difference.
  11. God’s provision is never going to cease, He has provided a billion times before, and He will provide a million times again, this is something I all too easily forget. It has been a privilege to see the Lord meet my needs in so many ways, from pants, to toothbrushes, to cars, and financially. He has never and will never stop.
  12. A lifetime of pain is worth it when you have to hope of an eternity without it, and I definitely have the hope of a pain free eternity. Not a day goes by that I do not read Revelation 21 to remind me of this. Whatever happens to us now is made a little better knowing that in eternity it will all be okay.
  13. Writers of comic strips say more in four panels than what many do in four books. Comics, like Peanuts or Calvin and Hobbes authentically illustrate life, the experiences, and the emotions that anybody who is a human can relate to, as those who are writing them use the medium to express their worldview
  14. You can go a longer way making friends with children than you can enemies. While it is funny to annoy little kids, it is a great deal more fun when you have their affection.
  15. It takes around thirty five minutes to learn how to take a screen shot. For those of you who do not know, just how the power and volume up button on your phone at the same time. This will do it.
  16. Wes Anderson’s films are more than just movies, they are art. Before being introduced to Wes Anderson my idea of a good film was Space Jam and then I saw The Royal Tenenbaums, with this the game changed. His movies are as heartfelt as they are unique. Wes writes, directs, does music design, and even picks out the color schemes. My personal favorite is Rushmore, but they are all good in their own ways, give his films a go, you might thing the same! In a world full of superhero films, remakes, movies based on books or television shows, prequels, sequels, or whatever else, Wes Anderson is a breath of fresh air.
  17. Singleness does not have to be a curse and in many ways is a blessing. Sure, I would love to get married, but that cannot be what my life is about. I always say if I get married, not when. Being a Christian does not automatically guarantee you a spouse, and it is hard to be content with that, I struggle with on a regular basis in fact. Christianity fiercely pushes the idea of relationships, making it seem as if you are of less value when single. Every Bible college or camp I have ever gone to there is always that moronic joke where “Bible” is changed to “Bridal”. The fact is, we are just as important and valuable single as we are married. Both Paul and Jesus were single and look at their ministries! Sure, they were killed in the end, but that is just a minor detail. Paul wrote a while freaking passage on how those who are single can serve just as well as those who are married! This is not to say God will not provide us with spouses, but He very well might, for me though there is still a lot of contentment to be learned, and whether I do or not have one should not be how my walked with God is determined.
  18. God may not always give us what we want, but He always provides us with what we need. Sure, I am not where I want to be, doing all the things I want to be doing, but God is providing, and each day His provision becomes more evident in a multitude of ways.
  19. Stephen King said “if you love something, it should not be a burden to do it” and I am becoming more convinced of this every day. Whether it is writing, speaking, studying the Bible, or even just being a Christian in general, if I say that I love doing something, there really should be no trouble to do it.
  20. We do have have to fight for freedom, Christ made us  free, we just have to live in our freedom.
  21. That one of the best life goals is to just get through today, if I can just get through today that is good enough for me. We are not promised tomorrow, even the next minute, so when it comes to life worrying about what is next, being consumed by what is to come, is a good way to ruin it.
  22. Long term plans change a lot, more often than not. When I was nineteen my plan was to finish New Tribes in two years, be married in three, be at MTC in four, have a child and have a place full time on the mission field in five. So far none of that has happened, and my life is better for it, because His plans are better than mine. I have found a lot of security in know that what He has planned for me is far greater than anything I could have planned for myself.
  23. While people can be very predictable, they are still capable of many surprises.
  24. Clothes and outward appearances are not important, but it is nice when they feel right, to develop your own sense of style. As I have matured my wardrobe has as well. At one point all I would wear was sport coats with track jackets and Converse All Stars, whereas now I adorn myself in Oxford shirts, bowties, and leather shoes. Clothing should not define us, but it many ways it describes us, so I see them as an opportunity to provide further definition of the person within.
  25. The transforming power of Christ is real, and just as I have been transformed in many ways, and innumerable amount of people have experienced the same. Change as people is good. God has brought me a long way from where I began, it all started in Tennessee, now of all places Iowa is where my life has taken me. Along the way it has been hard and the challenges have been many, but it has all served in my process of sanctification, salvation was only the beginning and glorification is the end, I am glad Christ has changed me from who I used to be. The Hobbit is a story of transformation. Over course of the plot Bilbo goes from being a hobbit to lives for comfort to one who sees life is about something far great. He was transformed, he valued what mattered, and became disillusioned by what did not. At the end of the journey Gandalf says “you are not the hobbit you once were”, will the same be said of me and you? Not that we are not the hobbit, but that we are not the people we used to be. At the end of our life we will have allowed Christ to drastically change us from who we used to be, or will our lives look no different?
  26. Each year it becomes more apparent that the more I learn it seems the less I know. Which is good the day I become deluded and believe I know everything, that is probably the time to call it quits. Usually, it is the people who believe they have it all figured out that are usually the furthest from it. There is so much more to learn on this short journey called life, and even more to realize I do not and will likely never know as well.
  27. Some battles are just not worth fighting any longer. I remember at one time in my life I believe it was impossible to co-exist anyone who theologically disagreed with me. Oh, how dumb I was, I mean I still am dumb, but my younger self was a little more so. The only requirement for being a believer is belief in fundamental truths of the Gospel, not agreeance with issues of theology and philosophy. Obviously, I am not talking about heresy or false teaching, but in the context of relationships with other Christians. Looking in my life now, I have several friends and people I have partnered in ministry in whom I disagree with on some issues, and them me, but being in Christ, He makes it possible for peace, for us to serve together even if on some things we do not agree. The war has gone on for too long, and I am tired of fighting battles that are not worth fighting. If Paul told the people at Corinth to get along because of theological differences, I can do the same regarding people in which I have disagreements.
  28. I hate lists, they are slightly tedious to make.
  29. Read good literature, watch important films, and listen to well-made music, because when it comes down to it there are not a lot in these categories, most of them are old, a lot of what is truly great has already been done, but there are a few new to be discovered if you want to.
  30. Each day is a new page in the story of my life, I can choose what to write. I have no idea what is next, what things may be in store, all I know is that walking with God, right here, right now, is all that I am accountable for.

 

Here is to thirty years, I am thankful for all the people I have met and  the many wonderful experiences! May the rubber of my theology always hit the road of life!

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Philippians 3:12-16

 

Three Keys For Living A Deeper Christian Life

Here is a, expository sermon I did last weekend at a church in Platteville, Wisconsin, on Philippians 3:12-16. In this message there are three things I believe Paul holds onto as a result of living his Christian life. First is his salvation, Paul took ownership of the grace that was given to him through faith. Secondly, the Apostle did not just stop his Christian life at salvation, he pursued sanctification. For Paul salvation was not the pinnacle of his Christian life, it was the beginning, as such he pursued being sanctified, to be made further life Christ. Lastly, Paul’s motivation was glorification, taking what he knew about his eternal destination, allowing that to dictate how he responded to present situations. Just as Paul used these things to grow in his Christian life, so should we to make Christ the center of our lives. I hope this message is an encouragement and that God would challenge you through it just as He has me.

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Under Construction

I am in the process of changing and updating my blog, stick with me as I attempt to do so.

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Nonfiction

kerm

In real life frogs are not princes, there is a reason why prince charming is only found in fiction. People are flawed, most men will continue to be frogs no matter how many times you kiss them.

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