During my spiritual direction practicum work almost ten years ago (I still can’t believe how quickly time passes as we age, can you?), I was introduced to St. Ignation (1491-1556) and the Prayer of Examen as a daily spiritual exercise. I first learned of this practice in a Companions for Christ study series but had not embraced the practice as my own discipline.
Now a decade later, I find my day is almost incomplete without this daily ritual. Why, you ask? Like no other spiritual practice, it invites me to notice God’s activity - in all aspects of my life. By pausing and taking a few moments at the end of each day to reflect and notice those moments I’ve either felt near or far from God, some patterns begin to emerge. Ignition spirituality invites us to notice both consolation (when we feel drawn toward God, inspired, connected, fulfilled) and desolation (when we feel far away from God, drained, disconnected, turned inward).
As I look back in my planner (where I log in just a few words my daily reflections), I begin to notice themes. I notice those “close to God” moments often become repetitive. For instance, “I felt close to God today while leading yoga & meditation class” or “in nature walking with my spouse” or “during a soul talk with a friend” that day. I may have felt far away from God when I “failed to be present with a friend” or was “juggling too many hats” or “overwhelmed by caregiving” that day.
This ancient practice is one that St. Ignatius encouraged the Jesuits to practice twice daily (both at noon and at the end of the day). While I have found that once a day (at the end of the day) works best for my life, you may wish to explore it more often as done historically or even simply once a week. Below, I’ll share my own “once a day” method for examining my life with God and an additional step I've added to the ancient practice.
This example is how the Prayer of Examen has manifested in my own life. I’ve made it a simple practice by using symbols in my planner and write only words or phrases. I find that if I have expectations for myself of journaling long paragraphs, I do not follow through with this practice on a regular basis. Some people reflect with these questions in silent prayer only without writing it down. However, I find that reflecting on paper allows me to notice patterns and themes in my life with God. The concept is simple, no matter how it’s structured. Ignatius invites us to become aware of God’s presence, review our day with gratitude, and commune with God as we look ahead to each new day of noticing our near and far away moments. I’ve added a step to this prayer practice to remind me that spirituality is an embodied journey. So, I also name one way in which I’ve cared for my body and soul to draw nearer to God that day - on purpose. The last step has become a vital one to help me move beyond spirituality as a concept in my mind and embody it with my whole self.
My practice looks like this:
Embodied Examen Prayer
Up Arrow: When did I feel close to God today (a moment of consolation)?
Down Arrow: When did I feel far away from God today (a moment of desolation)?
Smiley Face: What moment am I most grateful for today?
Heart: What is the prayer of my heart, for what would I like to pray to God about from today? (Note: this may be something already named from the day, or something entirely different)
Stick Person: What did I do to care for my body and soul to draw nearer to God on purpose today?
As I write this to share with you during Holy Week, I’m reminded of the emotional highs and lows of journeying with Christ. Ignation spirituality invites us into an ancient practice of noticing - the highs and the lows. This practice is as powerful today as it was hundreds of years ago for the Jesuits. If you’re intrigued with this ancient practice, why not explore this prayer during Holy Week? If you want to read more on Ignitian Spirituality, I’ve linked a couple of books from some of my favorite teachers. The second book offers wonderful insight on sharing this practice with others - including the children in your life. This practice is easily adaptable to be shared with small groups or around the dinner table with your family. How will you practice the Examen?
Inner Compass by Margaret Silf
Sleeping with Bread by the Linns
May you discover God in the consolation and desolation and be reminded of God's nearness this Holy Week!
Write A Poem
by Whitney R. Simpson
Write a poem
to free your spirit
and not be led astray
Listening from within
is the only way
to discover the wisdom
of God today
It isn't found in scrolling
or opinion or polls
God whispers through creation
into your soul
What do you see, hear, feel, notice
around you today?
Let go of the external stimulation
drawing you away
Lean in and listen
only God makes you whole
What's that whisper deep inside
inviting you to stay?
Write a poem
to free your spirit
and not be led astray
I have a confession to make. Lately, I may have been stalking you. No, not really...I'm not outside your bedroom window and there is no reason to call the local authorities. My stalking has been perfectly legal, it's actually a pretty well-worn path. I did not give up social media for lent. I gave up chocolate-covered almonds.
And I've been stalking you simply by scrolling - with not one single chocolate almond nearby (although there was that one bag of chocolate covered mangos that jumped into my grocery cart, realizing this may have been a slip of judgement). I've not shared and interacted a whole lot on social media lately but I have been reading your posts, even amidst my longing to purposefully slow down and experience God's joy and delight since releasing my devotional book in January.
When I clearly heard God ask me to step back from some commitments recently, I was not sure what was to come. And, I'm still not. God has offered a ton of grace for what this season looks like. Yet I have filled it with more than my share of...scrolling.
My lenten disciplines and a renewed commitment to honoring my body have kept me away from reaching for those chocolate covered almonds. So lately, I've realized my unintentional avoidance of some things [anything, really...the laundry, the writing time, the bills, the yoga practice, the dishes, meditation] has led to me hopping online to see what you're doing. And, I love seeing what you're doing. You're doing some good things! You, my friends, are: writing amazing books, fighting for social justice, empowering others to love their bodies, sharing the word of God for all to hear, raising families, caring for the elderly and the sick, facing things that scare you, chasing slow moments, and living life fully. You are doing good, deep things on this journey.
Diving deep with God involves risk. And one of those risks includes the thrills and the dangers of discovering a less traveled path on this spiritual formation journey. For me, that means a healthier relationship with this helpful and useful tool known as the Internet. Enter, my friend Esther and her new book, What Falls from the Sky.
I was instantly intrigued by her book because I know how she lives her life - as a homesteader. What I didn't know were the details of what led her and her family to where they are now (and don't worry, you don't have to live in a yurt after you read the book - although I'm seriously considering this for the future myself - I love yurts!). Esther went a year without the Internet. A YEAR. That's a path less-traveled. When I go my entire Sunday Sabbath without "accidentally" logging in, I am so proud of myself. Anyone else?
Just to be clear - Esther went a year without her cell phone, texting, surfing, clicking. Her story arrived in my mailbox recently, and now my sleep patterns are off because I've been reading beyond my bedtime. Guess what? She sent me a book to share with you! So, not that I want to mess with your sleep, but I'm fairly certain your scrolling will be interrupted because #whatfallsfromthesky is a phenomenal story of one woman's willingness to dive deep with God.
Holy Week is such an appropriate time to finish Esther's memoir and share it with you too - it seems a perfect time to admit my weakness, my struggles, my doubts, my joys, and celebrate the good things the promise of Easter offers each of us.
What are your struggles? Do those get in your way of living fully? Could you go a year without digital conveniences? Would you be willing to give it a try? What does the less-traveled path look like, and is it accessible to you?
Contemplate and share your thoughts below if you'd like. I would love to hear from you. You don't have to comment for your "chance" to get this book in your hands, but be sure to complete the form with your email address because I would love to send this gift from Esther to you!
Esther Emery was a successful playwright and theater director, wife and mother, and loving it all - until, suddenly, she wasn’t. When a personal and professional crisis of spectacular extent leaves her reeling, Esther is left empty, alone in her marriage, and grasping for identity that does not define itself by busyness and a breakneck pace of life. Something had to be done.
What Falls from the Sky is Esther’s fiercely honest, piercingly poetic account of a year without Internet - 365 days away from the good, the bad, and the ugly of our digital lives - in one woman’s desperate attempt at a reset. Esther faces her addiction to electronica, her illusion of self-importance, and her longing to return to simpler days, but then the unexpected happens. Her experiment in analog is hijacked by a spiritual awakening, and Esther finds herself suddenly, inexplicably drawn to the faith she had rejected for so long.
Ultimately, Esther’s unplugged pilgrimage brings her to a place where she finally finds the peace - and the God who created it - she has been searching for all along.
What Falls from the Sky offers a path for you to do the same. For all the ways the Internet makes you feel enriched and depleted, genuinely connected and wildly insufficient, What Falls from the Sky reveals a new way to look up from your screens and live with palms wide open in a world brimming with the good gifts of God.
Lately, I've been hearing God remind me with a gentle whisper, "take me with you" in all you do. Take me with you to the bank. Take me with you to the store. Take me with you in rush hour traffic. Take me with you in long lines. Take me with you, not simply when you show up to teach, lead a retreat, or facilitate a yoga class. Take me with you always, God whispers. No, the whisper is not audible. Yet the whisper is clear. Take me with you, God says.
As a kid who grew up in church, we went to church to meet God every Sunday and Wednesday. I knew God was with me (on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday) in my head - I had been taught good theology. But, I don't think I fully understood God's longing and desire for me to embrace this fact all the time - and in all places. For most of my life, I did not grasp that I could indeed take God with me. And, most importantly, that God longed for this invitation - to be taken along.
On the yoga mat, was one of the first "outside the box" places I truly began to take God along with me. I discovered the power of breath and the depth of God's spirit within me through each breath. My mat soon became an altar, a place to meet with God. Eventually, I began sharing this passion and offered others the chance to roll out a mat and meet their creator, God, in body and breath too.
Discovering God all around me is something I relish - not simply in church or on a yoga mat but in the trees, clouds, meals, relationships, experiences, travels, music, scents, and even the crises and challenges of life. Some days are better than others. Where are you God?
I am here. Take me with you.
Today I was renewing the tag for my car (a week in advance of the expiration I might add - celebrating the fact that I only procrastinated this long - not until the very last minute). The kind person receiving my fees for this postponed chore was wearing a diffuser necklace - containing her favorite essential oils. We quickly began a conversation regarding some of our favorite oils and she mentioned the browser tab on her computer was open to explore herb and essential oil sales from one of her favorite sources when she had a break. I smiled and thought - we have something in common - we could be friends.
The line was building behind me. I glanced down as I handed her my check and noticed a rock under her computer monitor. The word PEACE was inscribed on the rock. A reminder for her in some special way. And a reminder for me too. Take me with you, God said.
My favorite word, peace, brought a smile to my face as I considered the commonalities. Under my arm, in my purse I held my favorite essential oils - anchors for my soul. Reminders of God's presence with me through the gift of aromatherapy. I never leave home without them. They remind me of God. The scents along with her word peace (my word too) resonated. When I feel far away, overloaded with tasks and chores, I whisper the word peace. The oils and the word resonated in this moment - as I experienced God's presence - in the line for my license plate renewal. I take you with me, I said.
I offered a smile of thanks to the woman assisting me in daily ordinary tasks. She offered me a reminder of how I take God with me. And, she reminded me how I share God with those at whom I smile.
Take me with you, God whispered with a grin. Through words, through images, through scents, through strangers, through smiles.
I acknowledge the joy of this privilege and invitation - of taking God with me - everywhere I go. I exited past the long line into the sunshine of a suddenly less crowded day.
I do, I said.
This image (of me!) leaves me in awe of God. The awe is not simply because I am standing on my head.
This is me in awe of a healing journey. If this life were only viewed through my lens, this moment would not have been possible.
Instead, there is an invitation for me (and for you) to view this world through God's lens. A lens that loves and believes. A lens that heals and gives hope. God sees beauty in ashes.
Maybe when you look at this image you simply see me standing on my head amidst stone architecture. Honestly, I shy away from sharing this (or others like it) for a few reasons. We'll get to that in a bit. First, what do you see?
Maybe you see shadow and light.
Maybe you see victory and wholeness.
Maybe you see brick and motor.
Maybe you see fear and instability.
Maybe you see strength and courage.
Maybe you see healing and hope.
Images such as this one are often shared by slender, young, popular yogis and yoginis who practice their asanas at the beach or on mountaintops. This space is not a scenic destination and I am not young, slender, or popular by Instagram standards. The ground is uneven and the traffic was constant. My friend (with her camera) and I snuck into this corner during a recent retreat as I told her it would be really empowering for me to "try" a headstand on the uneven surface of this sanctuary. My feet floated to the sky on the cool uneven stone that day as I protected the sensitive spots on my head from touching the earth.
This is ordinary me doing something extraordinary - for me, for God.
It's not comfortable for me look at or share images of myself. Which is an interesting turn of events since at one point in my youth, I aspired to be Katie Couric...on screen and clearly in public view. Today it's uncomfortable for me to "see me" in images or on screen and I was not sure why until I saw this image.
It's hard to see myself through God's lens.
Yet I'm learning to see as God sees - all around me. So, that includes me. I share this in hopes that you may see through a God lens too. When I see this photo as God would see me, I see a woman of 40 who has overcome many physical health obstacles. I see a woman who mourns because she was told she shouldn't attempt pregnancy again. I see a women who has beat the odds of cancer, stroke, and brain surgery. I see a woman who loves God so very much...in spite of all that. I see a woman who believes each person is unique and beautiful and important yet sometimes struggles to believe this for herself. I see a woman who attempted things she never thought possible - physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Sometimes you look at yourself and don't recognize who you are, how far you've come, or especially how far you have to go. This image helps me appreciate each.
In 2005, I could barely consider standing on my own two feet, and definitely never considered standing on my head. The months that followed included a walker and a cane. I even traveled around SuperCenters in motorized carts. I was scoffed at a time or two for what appeared to be a joy ride by some who saw no physical scars or struggles of paralysis.
In those dark days, I knew I could praise God again (somehow) and thank him for this journey. But, I did not expect it to be my feet I raised in thanksgiving. The feet that have held me up now pull me closer each day. I never fathomed I would lift these feet to the God who made me.
But, that's what happened.
Nearly ten years of taking the next step. A step to find the right physical therapist or yoga class. A step to meet with a spiritual director and counselor. A step to finish 13.1 miles. A step to learn. A step to lead. A step to listen. A step to heal. A step to slowing down. A step to lean in. A step to savor motherhood, family, and friendships. A step to embrace losses and missed steps. A step to living in to the person God created me to be - imperfections and all.
Steps of faithfulness have included lots of boundaries and disappointments. They also included saying yes to God over and over again and being amazed by faithfulness.
The gift I received when my life was turned upside down, indeed took my feet out from under me.
In a sanctuary of stone I realized this...when your life is turned upside down, it really can be beautiful, even if you're the last one to notice it.
Look through God's lens.
"The most powerful weapon on earth, is the human soul on fire.”
The world we live in challenges us now more than ever to discover and embrace Soul Care. After my own crisis and burnout, I quickly discovered that while my life had been quite full, my soul was actually quite empty. I knew God but I had a new longing to be with God. That longing for a life with God took over and I began training as a spiritual director and later as a yoga and meditation instructor. Both offer individuals an opportunity to practice being in the presence of God - literally.
Unfortunately, we can easily be so busy planning or "doing" ministry that the needs of our own soul become distant and lost. This is true for most individuals in ministry, whatever the ministry may look like. Without a real concentrated effort on care of the soul, we can easily lose sight of our calling and face discouragement and burnout. As a spiritual director, I meet with overworked pastors, stay-at-home parents, and exhausted care givers. There is one common trait for each, God longs for us to spend time with him and to care for the person he created us to be, no matter the demands of our daily life.
Quite often I hear that soul care seems selfish or overrated and is the first to fall away when the demands of everyone else top our lists. But, put simply soul care is a mandatory part of being a servant of God. When your soul is on fire, you can not help but live a life with God. So, how do we kindle the fire in our soul?
Dallas Willard says, "the secret for caring for our souls is Practicing the Presence” of God. So how do we not only teach practicing presence but fully live into it? How do we ignite this fire within us and keep it burning? How do we not let the stressors and realities of every day life extinguish the flame?
Soul Care does not mean we cease from activity. It means we care for the very part of us that God created so that we can continue to be his hands and feet in this world. It means that we find greater joy in the tasks of ministry. It means we know God even more intimately and ourselves more deeply. It means we find both our passion and our rest in God. It means we truly are servants of God and our souls are on fire.
Recently, we shared a meal with new friends. It was one of those fruitful times of conversation that linked lunch to dinner. By the time we got up from the table, we were due another meal. That is meeting at the table - literally.
In the past couple of weeks, "lay it all out on the table” conversations have popped up with other friends in my life. And several of them expressed how challenging and lonely this world feels at times. It is ironic that in a society that is "connected" more than ever, many of us experience feelings of loneliness or isolation that often lead to depression. These feelings are more real than rare.
My own periods of depression have stemmed from various chronic health conditions. The first of which began when I was 18 years old. I had Graves Disease, a thyroid disorder. To treat an overactive thyroid (one that made my heart and my head race) my thyroid was literally zapped. Today I no longer have a functioning thyroid. A little colorful pill awaits me every single morning. But those levels can be hard to regulate and fatigue and depression take center stage. And while these side effects that have come and gone over the last 20 years are real, this post is not about my health struggles.
This is an invitation to come to the table with your struggles and hard work, to embrace God's activity in your story. Meeting at the table means you pull up a chair and tell that story. Meeting at the table means speaking truth. Meeting at the table means inviting others to join you there because you are not alone and they feel less alone in the process.
Here is the thing, we all have something in our life that requires our hard work. My body just happens to need a lot of care and regular "maintenance." Any person with chronic health problems or autoimmune disorders will understand that statement. It requires commitment and sacrifices. And if you review our family’s budget, you’ll notice we spend far more on vitamins and vegetables than we do on cable or clothes.
But let’s say your health is stellar and you don’t have to follow a regimen other than caring for the basics: you move, breathe, sleep, and eat. You don't need a crisis, everybody has something and you have a story to tell! Yep, you sure do. I think that’s where we miss out sometimes. We know God is in the sunsets, the miracles, the sounds of the ocean, and the birth of a new child and we're happy to talk about those. Yet we struggle to see God in the crises, the catastrophes, the losses, and even the hard work of every day life. Once we do recognize God in those places, we often don't want to talk about them. And when we don't talk about them (with God or with community), we're opting to journey alone. This life was not designed to be journeyed solo.
Friends, we are not alone. God is amidst every single day, the hard ones and the less hard ones. Even the mundane ones. Anyone ever have a mundane day? If not, you can come do my laundry because there are baskets surrounding me most days. Laundry is mundane. There is a shirt in my dirty laundry that says "life is good" and I would agree with that statement but it is not easy.
Both counseling and spiritual direction have helped me cope (with others, with myself, and with God) during very tough times on this journey. Meeting at the table means we are not alone. We are invited to no longer simply cope with life challenges but to truly acknowledge God's activity there.
We EACH have a place at the table as we encourage and support one another on this journey. Start with being honest with yourself. Uncover your story, friends. Tell it. And while you're at it, listen to another story in the process. That is community.
Will you meet me at the table? Pull up a chair. Bring your baggage and your junk, you're definitely not alone.
Our family recently moved to a new home. During our transition I have come to better understand what a life of abundance we live. We have bags, shoes, and jackets for every member of the family and every season that comes our way. We have an abundance of books, treasured photographs, and other important memories. The abundance is flowing out of my laundry room and into our new (to us at least) garage.
Our "new" home also has an abundance of surprises. So far we have flower bulbs popping up all over the yard. Every time I turn around, I notice an abundance of new greenery popping through the previously frozen ground. While not all blooms have appeared, there are hints of purple and white as the elegance of our newly discovered irises begin to come into bloom. I couldn’t have fathomed that our home would have such treasure awaiting us when it was purchased (amidst freezing temperatures and without a bloom in site).
And while the abundance of our treasured materials and the abundance of my new favorite flower blooms, we celebrate the abundance of the other side of Easter. A time as Christians to feel the endless love of God in our lives as a fresh and new reminder. We are to continue living like Easter people. Like those blooming flowers, I’m reminded we only get a glimpse of all that Jesus has done for us in our lives while on this earth. As I prepared my new home to welcome those who will enter for times of private spiritual direction, I trimmed the dying monkey grass that abundantly lined our walkway. Yet it was not a dreaded chore. It was a reminder of the letting go of the old, the dying away of what has been, making room for what is to come this ongoing Easter season.
Recently, a friend made a statement that I have continued to ponder. We were talking about old testament times and she asked a question “Can you imagine living in those times of Noah, without hope?" Just think, really imagine it, what it would have been like to live to be 900 years old and not have the abundant love and hope of what Easter promises us?
The promise of Easter is abundantly more than we could hope for and far more than we can imagine. The promises God has made for us are actually unfathomable in abundance. They stack high above the boxes of my old photographs and they are far more beautiful than a new backyard full of blooms. God’s love, hope, and promises are true abundance.
As we continue life on this side of Easter, let us remember that God’s love is abundant. It is all around us. Let us accept the call to simply notice it, receive it, and help others soak it up as well.
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine… Ephesians 3:20 NRSV
Today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the season of lent. It's a perfect time to journey toward wholeness as we journey toward Easter. My friend, Jen, and I have a gift for your journey. We're offering some spiritual food for your Body & Soul. We have put together scripture, thoughts, and activities for the next 40 days and we'd be honored for you to join us. Below is an introduction and a link to get started as we seek wholeness together.
"People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” - Matthew 4:4
Welcome on this lenten journey.
You might be surprised as you dive into this devotional journey. Yes, we are passionate about physical wellness but we’re not focusing on what you may be used to hearing in regards to healing or wholeness. We both believe that food is medicine and that movement and exercise are life-giving for our bodies. Yet, this devotional isn’t specifically about the food you eat or the number on your heart rate monitor (although we may allude to those in our reflections). Consider this weekly devotional as a dose of spiritual food during the season of lent.
We’re so excited for the answers you will find here and yet there are no answers for this journey. There is simply no predictable answer key for what God may be offering you during this season. To be honest, there are zero promises of healing and wholeness after downloading and reading this devotional guide during the 40 days of lent. What we do promise is that our own wholeness and healing has been found in our savior, Jesus. And, this season of lent gives us each the perfect opportunity to be awakened to God’s love through his son, Jesus. That is where we find all the answers.
So, what is lent? Lent is the Christian tradition of preparing our hearts and minds for the celebration of Easter. The lenten season begins on Ash Wednesday (this year that is March 5, 2014) and concludes on Easter Sunday (April 20, 2014). During lent, some Christians fast from specific activities or food items. Others may add a specific spiritual discipline for the 40 days of lent. Not all Christians observe lent with such traditions. We both grew up in traditions that did not place an emphasis on the days leading up to Easter. However, as adults, we have begun to understand that the lenten journey is parallel to the journey of life. We see lent as a wonderful opportunity to connect and re-connect with our faith and our God.
And so we’re inviting you to join us this season. Each week during lent, visit www.zoneconditioning.com to download your free short devotional and guide that includes scripture and activities for reflection. Our hopes are simply that your spirit will be renewed and refreshed this season. We look forward to this journey toward Easter together.
Jen and Whitney
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 Message:
May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it!
Click here to bookmark the 40-day site and download your weekly devotional guide.
If you've known me for more than a few minutes, you likely know that in 2005 I had a stroke followed by brain surgery. When you lose function of an entire side of your body, it impacts your life...drastically. Through that story, I've been called to share, encourage, and give hope to others amidst health crisis. And, I can't help but be thankful and in awe of how God has allowed me to get back on my feet. However, I must be clear. It was no accident that I got back on my feet. It was hard work and (not surprisingly) I tried to quit more than once. There were some hard and dark times for my mind, body, and spirit. And yet, God has led me and guided me out of that darkness. Yes, my body is not perfect, I do still have limitations. But friends, NONE of our bodies are perfect. We all have limitations. And yet, I have found so much healing on my yoga mat and continue to grow in this process, surprising even myself.
I've been asked a lot lately, "can I do yoga?" The question is quickly followed with "because I'm too uncoordinated" or I'm "too fat" or I'm "too old" or I'm "too young" or I'm "too............" You fill in the blank. I keep saying "YES!" but my gaze is often met with another that still isn't sure and doesn't believe me or maybe it is themselves they don't believe. A "no" would be so much easier to believe.
Then a friend sent me this transformation that was too powerful not to share. Arthur's story is inspirinig beyond words. I don't know Arthur, I don't know his teacher, I don't know any more to this story than the 9 minutes I'm told in this video. But, I believe that this man was transformed in more than one way. He set his mind to something he was told was impossible and he believed it was indeed possible.
Ready? Can't stand on your own? Can't touch your toes? Here you go. Take 10 minutes and grab a sturdy chair. Breathe and believe in yourself. I believe in you.
May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together - spirit, soul, and body - and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ.
Whitney R. Simpson
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Whitney R. Simpson,
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