8 Gifts that Keep on Giving – Top Picks for 2017

All over social media I see people asking what gifts they should give their kids this year. The options are overwhelming! I thought it might be nice to share some of the things our kids use regularly, day in and day out, that could be beneficial to your family as well!

 

 

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. This means if you purchase any of these recommendations from Amazon by linking through this blog post, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you for your support!

 

Monopoly. What can I say, this is a tried and true, classic board game that gives hours of fun (and sometimes tears of frustration). We’ve played this game for several years, our box has now seen better days, and it’s still the go-to game for a quiet afternoon.

 

Slack Line. Our family members gave this to us over the summer and it has been amazing! You string the line between two solid trees and the overhead line helps keep the kids from killing themselves while playing. It’s quite a challenge and tons of fun – and we haven’t had one injury on it to date. WINNING!

 

Osmo. This game requires an iPad to use, but is a fantastic take on interacting with technology while learning. Our kids love the coding game, and pizza game also really builds on math skills. For those of you who are Classical Conversations folks, the drawing game can be helpful in making your map tracing come to life… lots to love with this one! Shhh… don’t tell… but the Hot Wheels game is on our Wishlist for this year!

 

Heating pad animals. Who knew this would be the thing they’d fall in love with?! I saw these last year at Bed, Bath and Beyond on clearance and purchased them on a whim. Today, they are showing signs of wear from constant use and their lovies. At night before bed we heat them up, then send them to sleep with their warm friends. I think there may be something to the weight of the animal on their chest while they sleep… regardless, this was a hit for them!

 

Magnatiles. Will they end up all over the place? Yes they will. Will they destroy your feet if you step on them like.. ahem… Legos? NO THEY WILL NOT. Magnatiles are attractive and without boundaries for building. And they don’t sneak up on you with tiny sharp edges in the middle of the night. Good times.

 

Bristle Blocks. I’m back to the classics because, well, it’s a classic! I remember building with Bristle Blocks as a child and my kids have used and used and used these. I’d recommend not mixing them with Play Dough. But outside of that, it’s great fun!

 

FriXion Erasable Pens. I suspect you’re going to call out my nerdiness on this one, but these pens are AMAZING. We use them for our schoolwork and for doodling. The really, truly erase! The colors are great, the writing experience is smooth and they’re just awesome. You do have to order them from Japan to get the multicolored pack, but they are really, really good pens. I’d suggest springing for the 24 pack right away because if you’re like me you’ll be unsatisfied with the smaller pack and end up getting the larger pack eventually anyway.

 

BluTrack Starter Set Toy Racetrack. I was skeptical about this to start with but it came to heavily recommended in one of the fb groups I follow that I decided to try it out. What a neat toy! It takes practically no extra space and it used with the toy cars that already inhabit my son’s pants pockets regularly. We roadtripped with this and it was an amazing toy for the campsite while we were cooking… for all of the ages. The bending track makes for tons of fun.

 

Hopefully this will give you some ideas of gifts that have an actual, we use this, recommendation. I’d love to hear about the things you have found to be amazing – maybe your treasure will be our next winner!

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Copyright © StealingFaith.com 2010-2013 | All rights reserved

Kindness Elves for Christmas (and two other family traditions)

It’s that time of the year when we start thinking of traditions for the holidays. Our family celebrates Christmas, and we do our best to minimize the “ME, ME, ME” aspect of Christmas that can be so prevalent with children. Here are a few ways we’ve tried to simplify Christmas, make December manageable, and create a special Christmas Legacy with our children during this time of the year.

This post will contain Amazon affiliate links. This means if you purchase any of these recommendations f Amazon by linking through this blog post, I will receive a small commission. Thank you for your support!

 

Jesse Tree. Several years ago a childhood friend sent me a box of Christmas tree ornaments and a book. She told me this was the Jesse Tree, a special celebration of Christmas her family enjoyed. In a nutshell, the Christian redemption story is told in 24 segments beginning December 1 with the Genesis story of creation, and ending with the birth of Jesus Christ. Each event is represented by an ornament and every day you read the corresponding text from the Bible and hang the ornament on the Jesse tree. It’s a really sweet tradition that puts the Christ in Christmas!

Since that time we have changed a little bit about how we celebrate. We purchased a spiral candle that we light as we read each day of the story, and use the felt ornaments pictured to go along with Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, A Family Celebration of Christmas. We just purchased this book, which includes ornaments and a 3D tree, to use this year – I’m really excited to use it!

 

The Christmas Express. Some of my favorite holiday memories as a child included viewing Christmas lights! Twinkle lights make everything seem so magical! A few years ago I ran across the idea of a Minivan Express on the blog Confessions of a Homeschooler. We edited the idea a little (we don’t drive a minivan!) and have thoroughly enjoyed this tradition!

One evening in December, without any warning at at, we send our kids to get ready for bed. When they arrive there they find a new pair of pajamas and a golden ticket for the Christmas Express. We gather in the kitchen, take a photo with our tickets for posterity, hand out a travel mug of hot chocolate and popcorn with M&M’s, and tour the town looking at Christmas Light displays while listening to Pentatonix or Straight No Chaser holiday albums. It’s amazing. They love the surprise of it all, and we love the opportunity to do something that’s practically free and fun for all involved.

 

Kindness Elves. This will be a new tradition for our family this year. I’ve never really gotten on board with the Elf on the Shelf idea for a few reasons: I’m not that creative, I don’t see why I want an imaginary elf making mischief I don’t want my kids to emulate, and there are too many ideas on Pinterest which scares me a lot! Ha!

However, this year I’ve stumbled across a wonderful idea from The Imagination Tree that sounds pretty phenomenal. It’s a Kindness Elf – where the elf still can be hidden but suggests practical ways to be kind to one another during this season that can often feel full of hectic selfishness. I love it! We purchased these Elf ornaments, inspired by traditional Swedish Tomte Santas, and I will be using these Kindness Elf Idea Cards to make our December more “others”-focussed. I can’t wait!

 

These are a few of the things that we do in December to set it apart as special. We’d love to hear more about your traditions!

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Jim Davis / Garfield Preschool Art Project

This coming year in Cycle 3 of Classical Conversations we will be studying influential American artists. One artist is Jim Davis, who created Garfield! We decided to experiment with an art project… Caught in the Cookie Jar. It’s actually a combination of a few different art projects, but so far it’s been approved by our 4, 7, 9, and 11 year olds.

 

First you start with the black and white of Garfield.

(Here’s a pdf file to print at home)

Davis_Garfield

Color

 

Fold carefully! In theory you should be able to fold in half and then line it up on the line marked on the side, but each printer is different so just make sure that the lines match up around the lips/nose area.

Viola! You have a sneak Garfield Caught in the Cookie Jar, inspired by Jim Davis!

 

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Things I’ve Googled Lately

My brain works like hummingbird wings. How about yours?!

In light of my browser tab issues, I’ve been trying to close tabs to make my computer feel good about it’s processing capacity again. I’ve been reintrigued with soooo many topics!

 

Here are a few of the highlights of the Google adventures lately (and yes, this is literally how my brain works. I can’t be the only one with questions zipping like hummingbirds through my brain – can I?!):

 

yellowstone with family

folding cotsCamping with Families

how to make rabbit tea

benefits of rabbit manure

Is MeWe a viable alternative to Facebook

taco bell menu

Will Smith Graham Norton Carlton

make a Bagpipe out of a garbage bag

Mexican Hot Chocolate Slow Cooker Recipe

What is patchouli used for

what is the subjunctive mood

you’re fired bugs life gif

glass luncheon plates

bump underside chin

mission tortillas on sale near me

wisdom and righteousness lapbooks

name of feather duster in beauty and the beast

dvorak serenade for strings 4th movement

where is prague

fly predators

when did marco polo live

what happened to barrabas after he was released

magic 8 ball answers

where is the book of the acts of solomon

what is vaguebooking

how to make an origami bunny from a dollar

april the giraffe animal adventure park

 

What have you been searching for lately?

 

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Too Many Tabs


My computer has been having a break down. It starts exhibiting the rainbow wheel of death and then huffing and puffing at me with its fan and generally giving me the idea that I have royally ticked it off in some mystical manner.

 

I approached my resident computer expert, Lizard. Explained the situation. He happily walked over to my computer. Took a look. Reeled back from the computer as though it were a snake about to strike, and said, in a voice laden with accusation and incredulity, “Just how many tabs do you actually need open at one time?!”

 

I don’t have an answer for that because in this arena, need is a relative term. What I can say is that Pinterest was made for me when I believed it was a simple way to just keep track of interesting items or research topics. But now the super-cool folks have taken it over and when I visit Pinterest it’s always an attempt to learn how to do something in a way that’s way more creative than I can manage on my own or as a mental tool to confirm how woefully lacking I am as a mother/human being. Pinterest and I are really not friends.

 

So my next plan of attack is to right-click open all things. It works wonderfully! See a link you want to explore more later? Right click open a new tab. Researching for that road trip? Create a tab for each leg of the journey with a new tab. The possibilities are endless!

 

Then I began to notice a slight slowing of the loading speed of my web pages and thought, “Self, perhaps having 30+ tabs open in one browser window is confusing. You can’t really see the headings of the pages. This makes it difficult to navigate. Perhaps this is the reason the pages are loading slowly. Let us create a browser window for each topic of inquiry of the world wide webs.” And thus it was accomplished and for a time all things continued with purpose and speed.

 

Which leads me to my current issue. After Lizard acted so shocked, I decided to take stock of my computer habits. I currently have six browser windows up on my computer, and they have no less than five tabs open each (some… um…. significantly more…). It appears I’m going to have to channel my avenues of inquiry or face the disgruntled noises of my computer forever. Sigh.

 

How do you manage your computer tabs? Any hints for me?

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Top 10 Games for Family Nights

The best free dinner game ever! http://beautyandbedlam.com/conversation-starter-questions/

This morning I’ve already been exploring blogs on how people quit television time cold turkey. We tend to watch Netflixs or Amazon on a daily basis around here. Granted, the shows are typically educational but even so I am fully aware of the research being done that shows the negative impact of tv time. In fact, we’ve started telling the kids that the tv is making their brains rot and when they ask for more, we sniff their ears and holler, “Ewww! Stinky rotting brain!” just to make an impression.

 

One of the most consistent recommendations I’m seeing from folks that have quit tv is to replace it with something else, like Board Game Night or Family Walk or Bowling Night, etc. I’m trying to practically fit these ideas into our life.

 

We do have games to play and we enjoy them. But they aren’t all easy to do with the span of ages we have in our home – almost-5, 7, 9, 11 and eh-hem 40×2. Here are some favorites that are working for us right now… but do you have any recommendations? (All of these links are affiliate links, which means if you purchase them from this blog post, you’ll be supporting me with a fraction of the purchase price – at no cost to you! Thank you!)

1. Tenzi. Oh man, this is a winning game for us! We’ve been able to play it for the last year, so we can vouch it’s pretty good for ages 4 and up.

2. Monopoly. The tried and true classic – still a winner around here. The girls have been playing it for about two years, which means it’s good for probably ages 5 and up. Bubby is still bored out of his skull and not at all interested in playing.


3. Suspend. This game is fun for all of the kids, and it has the bonus benefit of being able to be used as a review game for Classical Conversations (just assign the colored tips a subject and then when they roll it, ask a review question they have to get right before they place the piece.)

 

4. Timeline. OK, OK, the kids are kind of stinky at this game. But they’re not bad thanks to the history component of their schoolwork. The parents, though, we LOVE this game!

 

5. Kerplunk. Bubby (the 4 year old) loves this game. So much so that he steals the marbles and hides them in his pockets and then I find them in the washing machine later and shake my hands in the air.

6. Apples to Apples Big Picture. This game has brought us many evenings of laughter! The photos are so funny and the kids are expanding their vocabulary as they go.

 

7. Battleship. Tried and true. Really only our older girls are liking it, and I kind of groan when it comes out because all of those pegs never seem to make it bad in their entirety to the box. But it’s fun enough.

 

8. Uno Attack. Regular Uno is fun, but Uno Explode adds an element of surprise to the adventure that can’t be replicated. We’ve ended up taking all of our Uno cards from various games and putting them in the Attack.

9. Telestrations. This one is really for grown ups and works best in a group. We did it at a homeschooling retreat where no one knew each other exceedingly well and it was hilariously fun.

10. Story Cubes. These suckers stay in my purse for when we go to restaurants. It’s really fun – the kids usually only roll three die at a time when we are at restaurants, then make up their stories from there. (Just one set is what I carry in my purse, but this link shows you all six sets available in a bundle… and mixing and matching is allowed!)

Bonus: Probably our favorite pastime during dinner is the Jar of Questions. We received this as a Christmas gift from a good friend three years ago and still love it to bits now. You can make your own easily – and here is the blog with links to the questions and template so you can print it for yourself for free: Family Conversation Starters. Really… this one is amazing!

 

What are the games you play in your family? Have you successfully quit television? How did you do it? I’d love your advice and feedback!

 

** Just as an update, believe it or not, that soccer team I wrote about last time that had never even won a game… won the entire tournament yesterday! Unbelievable and super exciting for them! I think it will be really interesting to see how their “I’m just not competitive” attitude withstands the experience of actually winning and coming in on top? I’ll keep you posted!

 

 

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Copyright © StealingFaith.com 2010-2013 | All rights reserved

Soccer Resilience

It’s a late night over here as we just arrived home from a soccer tournament. During the drive home I literally began to envision the taillights of the cars in front of me as Minnie Mouse heads with red bows around the ears.

 

That’s the way my brain works.

 

Lizard has been coaching a club team for soccer this year, which means that once a month we travel to a tournament. His team has great kiddos on it, but, bless their hearts, they just aren’t that competitive. Like… hm… if the team attitude were to be a simile, the kids are like a dog that rolls over and offers easy access to the jugular upon meeting anyone new.

 

For Lizard, who tends to be significantly competitive, this has been a coaching challenge. He recognizes that he can’t play the game for them, and that he has to just keep casting the vision and look for the victories that occur with a great pass or strong defense and pretty much ignore the final score of the game. In all of their games this year, they have never won and mostly they have been trounced.

 

Until today.

 

The early game was a tie and then, my friends, the evening game was a win!

 

Everyone was super excited for the players but then afterward we learned that for some of these kids, it was their first win… ever. They all have been playing soccer for a number of years before they ended up on this club team. But they had never, ever won a game.

 

This knowledge puts a whole different spin on the idea of team soccer for me. To be honest, if I spent years attending practices, dragging my family to tournaments, etc. and we never, ever won, I would quit. I would say, “Enough is enough!” and make comments about discretion being the better part of valor and take my soccer shoes and shin guards home to hide in the dark recesses of my closet.

 

However, these kids have figured out life a little better than I have so far. Day in and day out they chose to live with the defeat but still show up the next day to practice, still make the commitment to appear and put in effort.

 

It puts a new facet on the word resilience for me. Yes, the kids are fairly non-competitive in personality, but my esteem for them has raised even higher today as I recognized how resilient they are to keep on keepin’ on. There’s such beauty in being willing to do something even if you’re not the best person who’s ever tried to do that thing.

 

Our team is resilient. That knowledge makes the good time even sweeter.

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Copyright © StealingFaith.com 2010-2013 | All rights reserved

The Dead Stuff is Disappearing

This has changed my life forever.

My heavens, friends… Let me share something that has changed my life.

 

Swiffer Dusters.

 

Really.

 

I’ve never been a fan of dusting. It seems like the whole purpose of dusting is just to suck joy out of your life one dust mote at a time. As a kid I remember dusting sporadically, and it caused me to sneeze, which wasn’t enjoyable because one thing I inherited from my dad was the ability to sneeze at volume similar to a sonic boom (and it’s literally thrown my back out before during allergy season).

 

To make matters worse, as an adult I learned that the majority of dust in your house is actually dead skin cells just floating through the air. Ewww! After learning that, dusting seemed like a way to have a close encounter with a dead essence and so I’ve felt pretty secure in my decision to avoid dusting until there’s enough built up to actually create mud when dampened. (Lets not even talk about the layer of nastiness that exists on the ceiling fans. I’m pretty sure crickets could use the dust babies on the fan blades as a snowboarding play area.)

 

However, it’s come to my attention that Grown Ups Dust Their Homes. (At least a little.) And though I’ve found that most things grown up seem to be not nearly so much fun as I thought they would be when I was a kid (except eating. I find that the best part of being a grown up is getting to choose what food I eat, when, and where…) I do attempt to act with maturity on occasion.

 

Which brings me to the dusting conundrum.

 

We have dust. Lots of it. And I want to live in a clean house. At least a little.

 

I did some research on the dusting problem and the Google took me to blogs that told me that dusting really doesn’t have to be a swishing of dirt from one locale to another accompanied with sneezes that could shake the rafters. They told me that Swiffer Dusters are statically treated and actually trap the dust on the cloth.

 

I didn’t believe them. This is crazy talk. But when I saw them at my local bulk warehouse I decided the initial financial investment was small enough to at least give it an attempt, even if it ended up a total failure.

 

Oh. My. Heavens. {I need a moment to compose myself before I go on. Don’t worry, give me a minute and I’ll just breath through the emotion.}

 

They work. These little suckers work. They trap the dust, keep it out of my nose and from falling to the floor. They work!

 

I’ve dusted the computer. The printer. Every picture frame, the window sills, the venetian blinds, the front of my cabinets in the little ridge that looks pretty from a distance but kind of gross from far away… I’ve dusted the light fixtures, the top of the mantle, and the wrought iron ivy leaf wall hanging that hasn’t been cleaned since it was hung. I dusted the potted plant leaves and then, feeling terribly courageous… I dusted the ceiling fans.

 

It worked!

 

This has literally changed my life. Now granted, the fluffing up of the swiffer deal and sticking it on the handle did make me feel a little like I was getting inappropriate with Babette from Beauty and the Beast, but I got over my inhibitions once I saw the glorious cleanliness emerging behind the fluffy wonderfulness.

 

It was so exciting I called my mother. She was suitably impressed that I was willingly dusting for the first time in my life and seems to feel like she might like visiting our house a little more, now that there aren’t floating dead skin cells all over the place.

 

So there you have it. My current obsession and victory. If you want to be like me, feel free to scoot on over, order this sucker, and try it for yourself.

Swiffer Dusters Handle and Refills Unscented, 24 Count

 

And that’s all I have to say about that.

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Copyright © StealingFaith.com 2010-2013 | All rights reserved

“Yet Not With a Whole Heart”

I’m very, very slowly making my way through reading the Bible in its entirety. I’ve been on a “read through the Bible in a Year” plan for, well… almost two years. I’m 49% through as of today. However, as long as I keep doing it and moving forward I’m not going to let timelines get in my way. Slow and steady wins the race, right?!

 

This morning my reading took me to 2 Chronicles 25 where the reign of King Amaziah is recorded. In verse 2 it reads: “And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord,  yet not with a whole heart.” (emphasis mine) 

2 Chronicles 25:2
2 Chronicles 25:2

 

Chapter 25 goes on to talk about the wonderful things Amaziah accomplished, how he was faithful to the laws, he “took courage” in the Lord, and then… he just… changed. It records that he set up the idols of other peoples in his own land. He stopped listening, to the prophet, to other leaders, and to God. His heart changed.

 

I’ve been pretty entranced with this concept of whole-hearted living for a little while now. It started with a secular researcher named Brene Brown and her book the Gift of Imperfection. She has an amazing TED talk on the power of vulnerability you can find here. Within Brown’s work, she has learned that being “whole-hearted” rather than “half-hearted” is one of the main indicators of satisfaction with life.

 

When I put this into a Biblical perspective, filter it through the lens of Truth, I find that God hope is for us to turn to Him with whole-hearted living. That our lives would be filled with satisfaction in the ways that bring glory to Him. When I came across 2 Chronicles 25:2 this morning, I stopped in my tracks. How many areas am I living in a “YET not with a whole heart” mentality?

 

Over and over in Chronicles I’ve been reading of kings who did what was right to start with, but then became bored or distracted, or prideful or envious and… they changed. They lost their focus. It’s becoming evident that the real challenge of living a God-centered life is not in the decision to make a right choice, but in the consistent, boring, tedious repetition of making right choices with a whole heart over the course of an entire life time.

 

I have found myself praying about difficult situations, “God, I have followed your direction, I have responded to the best of my ability in this thing – why are you making it so hard! I’ve proven myself to be faithful, can you just let up for a little while already?!” I have felt like my past performance ought to give me a free pass by present and future difficulties. I’m tired of making the right choice. I’m tired of the struggle. I’m tired.

 

And YET. Prayerfully, I’m not done with my life for a good while. I don’t want to lose track of the goal of an entire life lived well with the distraction of a portion of a life lived well. I have to make continual decisions to live whole-heartedly for Christ no matter how tired, distracted, etc. I become.

 

Even though these Old Testament books aren’t my favorite to read, the names are difficult to track, the stories are hard to follow, I’m really happy I’ve been able to get Truth out of their readings. So now I’m off to begin a day that will hopefully be filled with one whole hearted choice after another.

 

Pssstt… I have really loved the She Reads Truth app for my Bible reading plan. They offer both paid and free Bible Studies, Bible text, and beautiful screensavers. Each day there is the plan, then you can comment about what you’ve learned or noticed with the She Reads Truth community. There’s just something I find extremely pleasing about the interface! Check it out!

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Copyright © StealingFaith.com 2010-2013 | All rights reserved

Providence vs. Coincidence

Coincidence Fate ConversationProvidence vs. Coincidence: To recognize that our circumstances do not exist by chance but instead by intention for our good. (Ephesians 2:10)

The word Providence has not been a regular part of my vocabulary. Last year when we listened to an audiobook about the Pilgrims I realized that the Pilgrims attributed everything to Providence and I thought that was proof that they had an almost mystical perception of God’s activity in their lives but I didn’t see how that applied to me.

Up until now I have absolutely preferred the word “Coincidence.” Inexplicable things happen as a coincidence all the time and if you use the word coincidence you have very little chance of offending someone of a different belief structure. Coincidence is a safer word that (I have believed) still covering the sentiment put forth by that old-fashioned and dreary word, Providence.

These word choices came back to me this morning as I came across the idea of Providence again in my quiet time. I did a google search for word definitions and the first thing search result  for Coincidence was the dictionary definition: “a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection. from the Latin coincidere, which means to coincide or agree.”

In contrast, I had to scroll WAY down the page past blurbs about Providence, RI before I found the definition for Providence: “divine guidance or care, God conceived as the power sustaining and guiding human destiny. From the Latin providentia, which means to provide or care for.”

While both Coincidence and Providence offer a glimmer of the mysterious and inexplicable, after looking at these two definitions, I realized there is no way I should be supplanting Providence with Coincidence in my daily word choices. They mean totally different things! Additionally, if I apply the differences in the definitions to my every day, my perspective shifts.

For example, if it was simply a coincidental meeting of egg and sperm that just happened to develop into my daughter, then I can consider her personality, growth patterns, and being a chance of nature – she just happened to be the luck of the draw that encounter and I get to deal with the results.

However, if I consider that that fertilization was PROVIDENCE it means that my daughter is not in any way chance, that her personality, growth patters, etc., are all designed specifically for my life, my family, and our stewardship of the child/parent relationship. She is specifically fitted for our circumstances and blessing right this moment. (Reminds me of C.S. Lewis writing these are not “mere humans” we work with in our schooling!)

Removing “coincidence” and replacing it with “providence” changes everything about the heart of how I parent.

Further, if I stop believing that things are happening in my life by coincidence and chance, but instead embrace everything I face as providence – whether it’s a challenge or a victory – then I begin to see that what I do right this minute has significance and purpose. My family, my profession, my community – they are all in my life by providential design. How cool is that to consider when I’m loading the dishes or folding the 20th load of laundry this week during our laundry marathon?!

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If you like this post, feel free to share it (with attribution).
Copyright © StealingFaith.com 2010-2013 | All rights reserved

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