Archives For singleness

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The quietest voice in my life this time last year was God’s. He was saying, “I have more for you in your singleness,” but I didn’t trust Him. There were louder voices, more immediate voices, more pressing ones—even my own voice, certain that if I did not get married on March 16, I would lose my chance for marriage forever.

See how nagging the voice of doubt?

The belief that God won’t come through. That He will leave me without the thing I want. That He will give me less than what I desire. That He hasn’t heard my specific prayers and requests. That He doesn’t care about my proclivities and inclinations and desires. That everything I love and desire is simply an idol, with nothing good in it. The belief that He has gotten it wrong.

Tim Keller said, “Worry is not believing God will get it right, and bitterness is believing God got it wrong.”

This is the creeping doubt that festered in my mind most of 2014. The voices around me seemed louder and more persistent than God’s voice and I felt myself sinking under their demands to be heard. I was the wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind, unstable in all my ways (James 1:6).

But the small voice persisted: I have more for you in this.

I feared that His “more for me” would be a life of begrudging singleness, alone, fearful, unloved, unseen. I feared His “more for me” would mean pretending to enjoy something that wasn’t enjoyable, and felt eternal and long. I feared He would call me to a life of celibacy and I wouldn’t be able to say with the Apostle Paul that it was better.

. . .

It has been a strange seeing that has happened this year. Singleness ceased becoming the lens through which I viewed life, and it became the thing that I have found myself most grateful for this past year. I fear even saying that because it may sound like I have resigned myself to a life I still would not choose for myself. But the truth is I have seen the great gift—and goodness—of my singlehood.

I may have said before that marriage was an equal blessing to singleness, but I struggled to believe that in my heart of hearts. How could having less ever be equal to having more?

. . .

This morning I was sorting through emails—requests for writing, speaking, interviews, job offers—and one persistent theme in them all is that I am a woman and I am single. I have never thought my womanhood not a gift, why would I think my singleness not a gift? Just as God in His sovereignty made me a woman, He made me single today. The same attention and care that went into knitting me together in my mother’s womb, with brown hair and blue eyes, this mind, this heart, all five foot one inch of me that I would someday become, He put that same attention and care into making me who I am today, February 19th, 2015, unmarried.

If that is true, that He is just as attentive to my womanhood as He is to my singlehood, then I have to see it as a gift. One unique thing I bring to my local church is my womanhood—and all the proclivities and oddities that make me me, but I also bring to my church my singlehood.

Yesterday I had a meeting with one of my lead pastors to talk about how we can do better in caring for women at our church and as the meeting was coming to an end, he asked a question about singles and if any of our blind spots in regard to women might be related to our blind spots in regard to singles. I left that meeting thinking, “What a blessing to be able to be a woman and a single today!”

. . .

Whatever it is you’re afraid of today, whatever you’re holding on to, despite God saying, “I have more for you in your lack than in your envisioned plenty,” consider letting it slip through your grasp. Sometimes less is more. God’s equations and equality cannot compare to ours—think of Christ, who of all men deserved to be exalted and yet did not count equality as something to be grasped, but became obedient to death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:6).

Singleness is not a cross to bear. The final cross has already been born and because of it, we have been set free to count all things as loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Him (Phil 4:8). Whatever He is asking you to trust him with—job loss, singleness, barrenness, moving, your life—count it as loss, one tear, one painful pull, one crashing moment of grief at a time.

Knowing Him surpasses it all.

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Someone asked me how to fall out of love with her ex-boyfriend. “You don’t,” I said. “The problem is not that you love him too much, it’s that you love everything else too little.”

What sets marriage apart from every other relationship is not the love between a man and a woman (although that love is a mystery, who can comprehend it?), it is merely covenant. Love waxes and wanes, ebbs and flows, and there are some days when we barely love ourselves let alone love others. Covenant binds the man and woman together when love seems an impossible venture.

So how do you fall out of love? What if your heart has been broken, your boyfriend didn’t love you back, your girlfriend couldn’t make her ardor match yours? What if you’re the one standing there, empty hearted while they make off with both theirs and yours? In the absence of covenant, how do you fall out of love then?

You don’t.

Oh, there will be some sorting that needs to happen, some grasping and understanding. You will need to be able to discern what about your relationship was idolatrous or lustful and what was good and holy and right and true. You will need to be able to repent for loving the wrong things too much and the right things too little. But you will also need to be able to understand the nature of real love, biblical love, means you cannot stop loving another person, not ever.

The problem is not that we love them too much, but that we love others too little. We do not extend to them the same grace or walk with the same long-suffering. We are perhaps guilty of objectifying or only loving the way someone made us feel—and this is not love, but a cheap counterfeit, flimsy and fleeting, and we ought to fall out of that.

Falling out of love is an anti-Christian idea. Christians must love all the more—even and especially the ones who deserve it the least.

If you are standing somewhere, nursing a broken and bleeding heart, know this: God is willing and working His goodness in that brokenness. But also know this, the way through this is to love others with the same fervor and intensity and selflessness that you brought to your relationship. Nurture them, encourage them, delight in them, enjoy them. As your capacity to love grows, you will find that former flame no longer burning higher than all the others, but a mere light along the path that brought you into the most full and robust love there is. The love of God.

“I think God wants us to love Him more, not to love creatures (even animals) less. We love everything in one way too much (i.e. at the expense of our love for Him) but in another way we love everything too little….No person, animal, flower, or even pebble, has ever been loved too much—i.e. more than every one of God’s works deserve.” C.S. Lewis

“To be feminine is to nurture, not merely respond.”

I read this quote in a book and was warmed by its presence. In a complementarian culture it can be tempting to tout the party line, “Men initiate, women respond,” as though the complexities of human nature and God-ordained orders can be summed up in pithy four word statements.

What about all the women we see in scripture who initiated and the men who responded? “Yes, but order!” the dogmatic pounds his fist and says with the full authority of Paul and the early church behind him. But what about Eve, the mother of all living, the nurturer of life (Gen 3:20)? Adam may have planted the seed, but it was Eve who did all the work. Isn’t this the nature of nurturing? And isn’t that also an initiating, sustaining work?

The real work of a woman is to be long-suffering. To see what is—but also what can be, and then to nurture it every step along the way (Prov 31). This is an initiating work if there is one because all around us the message is to stop when the going gets tough, make time for me, to treat ourselves, to omit or abort what is inconvenient. The real work of the feminine woman is to work and to keep and to tend and to pioneer forward in the face of risk and uncertainty and what is frightening (I Pet 3:6).

The real work of the feminine woman is to initiate kingdom work on earthly soil, to sleep by the seeds deep under the dirt, and to burst with anticipation and then at last joy when her work is born (Rom 8:22).

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Galatians 6:9

This past week an article from the New York Times made the rounds on my social media feed. I thought it was great and wanted to develop the idea a bit for Christians. If you’re interested, here’s the original article and my piece published at Christianity Today.

To Fall in Love, Do This: Mandy Len Catron
We all have a narrative of ourselves that we offer up to strangers and acquaintances, but Dr. Aron’s questions make it impossible to rely on that narrative. Ours was the kind of accelerated intimacy I remembered from summer camp, staying up all night with a new friend, exchanging the details of our short lives. At 13, away from home for the first time, it felt natural to get to know someone quickly. But rarely does adult life present us with such circumstances.

Dating by Q & A: Lore Ferguson
Friendship forces us to see another person as more than what they can offer for us. Friendship grows not by asking questions to gain answers for self, but by saying to one another by virtue of the questions, “I see you and I want to see more of you.”

We don’t seek the answers to protect ourselves or build an arsenal of weapons for future use against one another, but to curate a museum of memorabilia to delight and reflect upon—to be able to say, “Remember when?” and “Look how far we’ve come!” and “Your hopes and dreams have come true!” This friendship as a foundation for marriage can only be, I imagine, a more rich and tender and long-lasting type than any checklist man or woman might deliver. Keep reading…

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In recent months I’ve been convicted about the little foxes that ruin the vineyard of my heart. I have a bit of a tender constitution to some things I see on media, or hear about from others, but I realized my propensity to mindlessly watch popular shows containing nudity was growing in the past year. I wasn’t watching them for the nudity, but I was still complicit in their popularity. I like smart writing and good character development and there are a few movies I enjoyed this year that contained brief scenes that would be better left out of both the film and and my heart.

In my singleness I have let my heart grow cold in this area, telling myself that because I didn’t have a man’s heart to protect while viewing, it was okay to just gloss over the scenes. I was watching it for the story after all.

Like those who read Playboy for the articles?

Recently I heard John Piper speak on watching nudity of any kind in any media. He gives twelve reasons why we should be “radically bold, sacrificially loving, God-besotted freaks, aliens—saying no to the world for the sake of the world.” The world doesn’t need more copies of itself.

I’m sharing his twelve points here and I hope you’ll take a few minutes to listen to him and commit to not watch nudity of any kind. It’s nearly impossible if you watch any popular show or movie, but it’s a sacrifice our hearts desperately need and one Christ asks for.

1. Jesus died to purify me and his people. It is a travesty of the cross to think he only forgave us for the sin of watching nudity, but did not purify us for the power not to watch it. Titus 2:14

2. There is in the bible a radical call for holiness of mind and heart and life. Nudity in photos and movies is not holy and does not advance our holiness. I Peter 1:15, II Corinthians 7:1

3. Jesus said everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with his heart. Seeing naked women and men causes men and women to sin with their minds and desires, and often with their bodies. If Jesus told us to guard our hearts by gouging out our eyes to prevent sin, how much more would he say “Don’t watch it.”

4. Life in Christ is not mainly the avoidance of evil, but mainly the passionate to pursue good. My life is not a constrained life, it is a free life. We were called to freedom, don’t use freedom as opportunity for flesh. Philippians 4

5. I want to see and know God as fully as possible. Watching nudity is a huge hinderance to that pursuit. Matthew 5:8 says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, they shall see God.” The defilement of the mind by watching nudity dulls the heart’s ability to enjoy God

6. God calls women to adorn themselves to adorn themselves with modesty. When we pursue, receive, or embrace nudity, we are implicitly endorsing the men and women who sell themselves this way. I Timothy 2:9

7. Most Christians are hypocrites in watching nudity because they say watching it okay, but they know deep down they wouldn’t want daughter or wife to be playing this role.

8. Nudity is not like murder and violence on the screen, that’s make-believe, nobody gets killed, but nudity is not make-believe. These actors are really naked in front of the camera and millions of people.

9. Sexual relations is a beautiful thing; God created it and called it good. It is not a spectator sport. It is a holy joy, sacred, in its secure place. Men and women who want to be watched in their nudity are in the category with exhibitionists.

10. There is no great film that needs nudity to add to its greatness. There are creative ways to be true to the story without turning sex into a spectator sport and putting people in morally compromising situations on the set. It’s not art that puts nudity in, it’s the appeal of what sells.

11. Christians do not watch nudity with a view to maximize holiness. What keeps Christians coming back is the fear that if they took Christ at his word, and made holiness as seriously as I’m saying it is, they would be viewed as freakish.

12. There is one biblical guideline that makes life simple: Roman 14:23. “But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” If you doubt, don’t. This would alter the viewing habits of millions and oh how sweetly they would sleep with their conscience at rest.

Note: if you struggle with a pornography habit and are actively seeking freedom from that, I pray this post doesn’t condemn you further, but that it lessens the appeal of porn and gives you greater things to look toward. The way to fight sin is to replace it with what is better, holier, and far more satisfying. Christ is better. He is.

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This article isn’t actually directed toward singles, but married folks, so if you’re tempted to skip because you think it doesn’t apply—it’s actually JUST for you!

I can barely navigate a few real-life dating prospects, let alone imagine constructing pithy profiles and smartly angled selfies to snag myself a guy. While others check out their options online—the percentage of American adults using dating apps and websites has tripled in the past three years—I’m tempted to go the other direction, deleting my Facebook and Twitter accounts, making my online self less accessible (or perhaps more mysterious?) to the male mass.

Every year, between Christmas and Valentine’s Day, online dating registrations soar. There are a myriad of reasons for this: the difficulty of holidays spent single; New Year resolutions; desire to not be by themselves in dark, winter nights; pressure from family; and more.

One thing is clear, it is written on the heart of every man and woman that it is not good for them to be alone.

Continue reading at Christianity Today.

If you’d like to hear a followup I did regarding this article, WORDFM interviewed me today. It begins at the 13:00 minute mark and perhaps my heart will come through a little more clearly if anyone is interested.

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I’ve been in Israel for the past ten days with hardly even a moment to jot down notes about my time there. In the meantime, all sorts of people were publishing words and phrases I put together anyway. The show runs fine without me. What a relief, right?

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If you’re a Christianity Today subscriber, you can read my short piece from the magazine online:

For most of us today, the endgame is simply to survive. Survive the family dynamics, the financial constraints, the season, and then sweep up the wads of wrapping paper, tear down the tree, and sit down with a glass of wine and declare Christmas “Finished!”

I was interviewed by the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood on singleness in the church:

It isn’t that he’s given the gift of marriage to others, and I’m the giftless kid in the corner. Today my gift is singleness. There’s a rhetoric in Church culture that assumes every single is waiting to be married, which may be true in some respects, but it doesn’t help us to treasure these days as the gift they are. In order for us to know these days are a gift, though, we have to see singles being utilized as they are, not waiting for a future version of them to materialize through marriage.

The Gospel Coalition reprinted this on ways to encourage your pastors (and families):

Not only will you never hear me say anything bad about one of my pastors (a single honor), I labor to speak well of them and to them every chance I get (a double honor). I want them to know I appreciate their investment in me, our church, the Word, and gospel initiatives.

. . .

Hope something from one of them encourages you. After this week I plan to land at home for the foreseeable future (this fall has had me gone more than I’ve been home), and hopefully that means I’ll be writing with more regularity (or at least better quality…).

 

Religious leaders (including Russel Moore, N.T. Wright, and Rick Warren) are at the Vatican City this week for Humanum. Here’s the first of a six part piece on The Complementarity of Men and Women. Don’t miss it.

Also, if you’re interested, here is Russel Moore’s address (which opens with Wendell Berry, so you know it’s good).

Coffee with a friend this morning. She’s a bold and beautiful Bostonian wife, confident, kindred, and a blessing to my soul. We talked about the complicated question of attraction—how much it matters and how little. We unravel insights and decide that it still matters—like good Yankees, as though we are the final arbiters on the issue.

We hear often, “Confidence is the most attractive quality in women,” and I envision a thousand women twisting themselves into pretzels trying to eek out the appearance of confidence, because actual confidence is a nearly impossible feat. My pastor taught this past week on hurdles for women (as part of a series on design and intention for the sexes). Our great hurdles? Perfectionism and Comparison. A thousand women were not turning themselves into pretzels in our sanctuary hearing that—they were melting off the defenses because, yes.

The attractiveness of confidence has become, in some circles, just as damaging to a woman as the unattainable perfection of her legs or breasts—a mere commodity intended to woo and win the affection of a man. A man, who will, ironically, find that once married, her veneer of confidence falls to reveal mountains of insecurity and valleys of poor character. Beauty or confidence, it matters not which, if the use of them is to acquire legions of male attention—or even only one male’s attention—the span will be short.

We love to talk about love, the necessity of romance and the viability of attraction. You’ll find singles paging to Song of Solomon often for our defense on what is important in finding a spouse (conveniently contextualizing for our day: The curves of your thighs are like jewels—but better have a thigh gap; Your navel is a rounded goblet—located beneath tight abs; Your waist is a heap of wheat—with no extra to spare, please, etc.), but we forget the lament of Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes:

When you get old,
the light from the sun, moon, and stars will grow dark;
the rain clouds will never seem to go away.
At that time your arms will shake
and your legs will become weak.
Your teeth will fall out so you cannot chew,
and your eyes will not see clearly.
Your ears will be deaf to the noise in the streets,
and you will barely hear the millstone grinding grain.
You’ll wake up when a bird starts singing,
but you will barely hear singing.
You will fear high places
and will be afraid to go for a walk.
Your hair will become white like the flowers on an almond tree.
You will limp along like a grasshopper when you walk.
Your appetite will be gone.
Then you will go to your everlasting home,
and people will go to your funeral.

I know I write often in these places of fleeting beauty and the wasting of our bodies, but I think it is because it is so important that we remember this: Solomon opened this passage with, “Remember your creator while you are young.”

I imagine Solomon delighting in the buxom pleasures of his bride and then finding a quiet place, away from her delights, and pacing back and forth, again and again, reminding himself of the fleeting time and the Maker of all that is good: “Remember your creator, Solomon, remember Him.” He has to discipline the remembrance of his God into his head and heart because the godessness of his wife is before his eyes, unintentionally enticing him to worship her over his Creator. He has to discipline his eyes, not before the beauty of all the women around him, but to turn again and again to the Maker of the beauty around Him. “Remember, Solomon, remember who truly lasts.”

Confidence in a woman—and a man—is a beautifully attractive quality, but not for its own sake, no. The most endearing beauty of confidence is one that remembers her creator, remembers his dust-likeness, remembers her fragility, remembers his frailty. It is a confidence that comes through discipline and active recalling, “I am not my own, I was bought for the ultimate price, and for that I present my body as a living sacrifice to Christ.”

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I told someone recently it is my nature to trust easily, but, like Mr. Darcy, “My good opinion, once lost, is lost forever.” That is not the posture of a disciple of Christ, this I know, and I work hard on this aspect of my nature. Forgiveness is not the problem, trust is.

The bible doesn’t command us (ever) to trust people. We’re called to trust the Lord, and to honor others, to, as much as it’s possible, be at peace with all men. But trust them? Trust is nothing less than a miracle, astounding wherever it rises.

In the discussion on marriage, homosexuality, and the gospel happening at the ERLC Conference, it occurs to me how the rhetoric the two sides of these subjects use are so often similar: take off your masks, live transparently, be who you are. In some ways we are fighting for the same thing, but instead of using the words to administer healing, we have flung mud-clods at one another.

I think about the blind man, blind through no sin of his own, but for the sake of God’s glory. Jesus knelt, spit on the ground, and placed mud on his eyes. Who of us trusts mud will do anything other than soil us further? Especially a blind man, who lived on the same dirt that would heal him?

We are all a little bit like Mr. Darcy, aren’t we? Hoping all things, but losing our good opinion once we’ve been on the receiving end of a particularly wicked clod of dirt. How do you have a conversation, though, with someone you cannot trust?

We are mud-dwellers, like the blind man. All of us. Doing our best with our portion, our history, our nature, our blindness, our prejudices, our limited scope of the dirt in which we live. It can be tempting for all of us to place the blame of our circumstances on so many things—but, Christ, sweet Christ, the second Adam—made of dust—takes the blame off of all that, points to His Father and says, “For Him. For His sake.”

And then he kneels, mixes spit from his mouth with dust from the earth, and does the unlikely thing: presses it to the blind man’s eyes. He makes what is dark, even darker. Makes what is dirty, even more dirty. Covers what is closed, even more closed. Good hope, once lost, now seemingly lost forever.

Darkness.

And then.

Light.

It can be tempting when we speak about polarizing subjects to use mud as a weapon instead of a healing agent. To use rhetoric and lost trust to increase the divide instead of close it. But Christ is a reconciling agent and nothing is beyond his ability to change and heal.

Let us be healing handlers of mud.

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I’m disciplining myself today to not click on a trending Twitter hashtag. The hashtag is #ERLC2014 and the irony is I’m using it myself. Some of you might have muted me already. I understand. I would have muted me. I wish the mute function worked as well in the world as it works on Twitter.

The Ethics & Religious Liberties Commission conference is meeting this week in a Nashville Opryland ballroom. The subject? “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage.” You might understand now why I’m hesitating to click on the trending hashtag. Partially I don’t want the trolls and travelers to interrupt my mojo (live blogging/tweeting the conference), but partially this subject is a heated one and I don’t like conflict.

The writer of Hebrews cautioned their readers to “Pay careful attention to what they had been taught, lest they drift away.” I remember this short line often because I want to be a listener, a hearer—not only to the word of God, but to the people its truths aim to flourish. It is important to not only listen to what is being said, but to remember what has been said before—Scripture, historical movements, early church writings, even recent history. We all need to be better listeners, better hearers. Not just the conservative Baptists in this room, but all Christians, including those who identify as gays and lesbians.

The causality of the the same-sex marriage movement is the past—biblical, historical, and, yes, personal. More and more we are talking past one another on both sides of the issues on the table, forgetting what men and women gave their lives to for thousands of years, forgetting what men and women are laying down today in an effort to follow the gospel, and forgetting how painful the cost is either way.

Twitter is a tool, but it can also be the mouthpiece of tyrants.

I’ll be writing a few pieces over the next few days from the press table of ERLC and I’m asking the Lord to help me hear the nuance, the gaps, the places where we’re not hearing or not listening—both in scripture and in life.

And I’m not clicking on that hashtag.

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Somewhere in my mid-twenties virginity became a source of embarrassment for me, and I wasn’t surprised. I was one of few in my community (married or single) who had maintained that single shred of chastity. My married friends were procreating often enough that it was no secret who was having lots of sex. My single friends were confessing across coffee or at my kitchen table that they were sleeping with their significant others. Or rather, there was no sleeping happening, since there is no rest for the wicked (Isaiah 48:22). These girls and guys were eaten up with guilt. I honestly believe it was a combination of God’s grace and fear of guilt that kept my body covered. It’s not dignified, or admirable, but it’s the truth.

Keep reading here.

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After asking the questions (for research), “Can guys and girls be friends?” and then “Is it ever appropriate for the girl to initiate a date (or relationship)?” on social media, I wasn’t surprised at the barrage of opinions. We had PhDs discussing ancient Near-Eastern culture, husbands saying, “If my wife hadn’t initiated, we wouldn’t be married,” and wives saying, “We were friends for three years before I asked him to clarify—now we’re married.”

I’m going to save my main argument for later (so suspicious, I know), but in the meantime, I wanted to share this page from The Meaning of Marriage, by Tim and Kathy Keller. And also say this, I have utmost respect for the Kellers, not just as individuals, teachers, shepherds, but as a couple who is so obviously best friends with one another. They spar, they laugh, they interrupt, they cheer, they agree, they challenge. It’s a partnership of two great minds—and for a girl who is more often valued for her mind than anything I’d rather be valued for, their marriage is an encouragement to me.

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So if you’re a guy and you’re afraid of being friends with a girl because the following conversation might happen: let it happen. It’s good for the girl, and it’s even better for you, maybe considering her as more than a friend could result in a great marriage. All friendship is intrinsically based on attraction (even same gender friendships), so “I’m not attracted” is just the excuse you give when what you really mean is, “I can’t envision having sex with her.” So maybe get better vision. (That’s simplistic, I know. I promise I have seven gazillion google docs floating around right now with that unpacked a bit more.)

And if you’re a girl and you keep hanging around, hoping and hoping he’ll get the hint (because it’s so obvious to everyone else but him), have this conversation, or something like it. I’ve done it more than once and have no regrets. Sometimes it meant the end of our friendship, sometimes it meant we were able to get past The Question and become better friends, but maybe someday it will mean I’m the girl who is sharing the story about being friends and then being married. I hope so.

The page:

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As promised, here is the link to the full interviews for the singles in leadership series. Please feel free to share this with anyone you think may be encouraged by these interviews. Thank you so much to Sam Allberry, Katelyn Beaty, Andy Herbek, Melissa Wade, Paul Matthies, and Bethany Jenkins (whose interview is going up tomorrow).

Click here to view the PDF or click on the image below.

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