Taking Off the Mask

I’m a big fan of Halloween. That’s putting it lightly, and any of my friends and family reading this will know the truth. From my childhood trick-or-treating years to current days of binge-watching Hocus Pocus, I absolutely adore this holiday – the costumes, the candy, the pumpkins—all of it. In preschool, I was able to pick out my costume for the very first time. Being the indecisive Disney-loving girl that I am, I choose a unique combo of Esmeralda from The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Princess Jasmine from Aladdin. Even after I passed age 3, I obsessed over potential outfit ideas when October 31st rolled around. A 50’s girl costume, a Karate Kid, and a homemade Glinda the Good Witch costume courtesy of my Grandma Jo (my all-time favorite, by the way) – so many options! Would the kids in my class like it? Should I have a backup plan in case things didn’t turn out right? What if someone else had the same idea?

Of course, with the passing of Halloween, another large event in the United States loomed on the dim, autumn horizon. This year brought around an election year, and a big one. Mere days after a joyful celebration and countless smiling children, Americans made the very serious decisions on the future leaders of this country. And as I watched countless debates leading up to November 8th, I couldn’t help but notice the scary similarities between Halloween and Election Day. No, I’m not talking about a pants-suit costume or frightening foreign policy. I’m talking about masks. They were everywhere this year. And I find this more haunting than any horror movie, zombie costume, or terrifying corn maze. I know I’m not alone in this observation. This year, the country lacked authentic, genuine candidates to stand behind on the national level. With the attack ads playing over the television on an hourly basis, values and character were brought into question constantly. Malicious words were exchanged. Vicious rumors were spread from all angles. In an election when we should have been celebrating two huge milestones on both sides—the first female presidential candidate and the first presidential candidate without a career in politics – the entire country was tearing each other apart. It was in the media and it was at your dinner table. People were obsessed with the identity of the two party nominees. And here’s the core of it all – did we truly even know who they were? With the chaos surrounding the election, did we learn anything truly real about their characters? All I saw were masks, left and right, hiding the truth from a country that deserves better. My heart hurts just thinking about the mess.

I promise this post will not get political. You don’t need to know who I voted for or what I thought about the results. What you do need to know, and what I think you already know, is that this country is in desperate need of authentic leaders. People who are willing to show up and be seen for who they truly are. People who are trustworthy, kind, and generous souls. People who are willing to admit when they have made a mistake, instead of pointing fingers. People who are willing to be vulnerable and authentic. People who are ready to get rid of the mask. I know they exist because I see them every day. They are my friends and my neighbors. They are my family members and my co-workers.  They are the men and women next to me in church. They are the people I saw walking out of the polls, smiling because they made an impact in the democratic process and they had hope. I see you. I know you are there. Thank you. My prayer is that you will continue these good deeds whole-heartedly in the future.

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Last year, I had a close friend recommend a book to me about taking off the masks. Scary Close by Donald Miller is a book that touched me deep down in my core. By reading this book, I learned to show up and be seen for who I truly am. I learned to drop my mask to the floor and let the curtain close on my act that I’ve been holding tight, using as a defense mechanism for nearly my entire life. I’ve passed this book onto others numerous times because it needs to be shared. It’s one of those change your life books. And I couldn’t think of a better time to encourage people to live authentically than the day after such a disturbing election. Miller opens his book with an Author’s Note and words that resonate and haunt me today. “Somebody once told me we will never feel loved until we drop the act, until we’re willing to show our true selves to the people around us” (xv).

While his writing unfolded, I discovered that although Donald Miller’s memoir is focused on his life-long struggle with empathy and fear, he has a message that truly resonates with every reader.

Your story is worth telling.

It may be easier to hide who you are, cloak yourself in a costume, or put on a mask every day. But I believe that each of us, by the grace of God, is loved and can be loved authentically. The very idea that Christ could redeem us speaks to the fact that you have a right to show up and be truly known. Of course, like two hands locked in prayer, that vulnerability brings shame and fear. Shame is probably one of the scariest words in the English language. It’s the reason I wear a mask or put on an act. In Chapter 3 of his story, Miller opens up about his own shame and the true root of where it began. Reading his words titled, “Everybody’s Got a Story and It’s Not the One They’re Telling”, I felt emotions begin to pour out of me when I remembered instances of shame and fear from my own childhood. It’s despairing to think about, that at a pivotal point in our lives, we were conditioned to believe that something about us was so inherently wrong that we needed to over-compensate.

Miller pushes this idea even further in the very next chapter, “Why Some Animals Make Themselves Look Bigger Than They Are”, by recognizing that when each of us put on a mask, we are believing in shame. Deep down, something whispers, you are not good enough. As human beings, we have a reflex to distract others from who we are at our core. It’s like seeing a bear while you’re out hiking on a trail in the mountains. (Thankfully, I’ve never actually experienced this. However, one can imagine the scenario and bone-chilling fear.) The silence in is deafening. Even though you are thinking, oh my god I’m going to die today, you are supposed to puff out your chest like a big rooster. Double your size. Make that gigantic bear, or any antagonist for that matter, forget who you really are. We put on a mask because we think that is what makes us worth loving. Maybe then people won’t see that we aren’t good enough. Maybe then people won’t know who we are at the core. If someone hears about our job, our big move, our new car, our upcoming vacation, they won’t be able to find this inherently wrong thing that we carry. We use this theory like a social crutch and I often hear myself making the same mistakes. Validation is intoxicating, and it will always be easier to talk about success than failure, fear, or shame.

Hope still sustains me, though. As I think more about the chapters in Scary Close, the more they truly highlight be pain all around our world today. Just look at the two chapter titles I referenced above. They immediately bring to mind the national election that was so publicly broadcasted and paraded before us the entire year of 2016. But I’ve seen the work this book has done for others. I know I’ve witnesses the change this book has brought out in me. By taking a chance and recognizing the shame that I carry in my life, I’ve opened myself to a beautiful idea. If Christ could love me enough as I truly am, for my authentic and genuine and shameful self, the world might be able to do that, too. For revolutionary change, we need others to recognize this idea. In the future, I know that I am looking for leaders who will take off the masks, and I am praying that this day comes soon.

“I began to wonder what life would be like if I dropped the act and began to trust that being myself would be enough to get the love I needed” (35).

Cheers,

Taylor

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A Tree Called Life

How do you describe the heart of a place? The soul of a setting, the roots of your spirit, the foundations of who you are? I found myself wondering this as I walked into a new church, a new setting that reminded me so much of a place as dear to my heart as my childhood home. Many of you know I recently made a big life change. I am now a Colorado resident, no longer an official flatlander, but always a prairie girl, if I’m being totally honest. In this transition, I have made the decision to focus on my faith journey and try to grow in larger ways, bigger than just my own self. After my move settled down, I knew there would be opportunities for new exploration of my faith. But I never expected God to show me the connections from my past that will forever intertwine and grow into my future.

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A few weeks ago, I attended a traditional service at the Louisville United Methodist Church. For my directionally challenged friends, Louisville is northwest of Denver and about fifteen miles south of Boulder. My boyfriend, Jonathan, has called this church home for nearly three years. My trip this September was just the second time I had been inside with Jonathan. As we went through the service, I was excited to begin my official search for a home church now that I had finally settled into my move. But, more than anything, I felt a pang of memory and nostalgia for the small church in my hometown in Northwest Kansas. You see, last Sunday, Louisville was celebrating their 125th anniversary. They were celebrating new life and old life, beginnings and endings, celebrations and sorrows. All together, they joined their voices in prayer, heads bent toward the earth, like they had been doing for over a century. All together, they smiled and laughed and hugged when greeting each other. All together, they listened to the message, one of renewal rooted in tradition while moving a Methodist church forward in an age of millennials, technology, and lack of human empathy everywhere in the world. And, sitting there looking at the stained glass windows, I cried when we sang “Jesus Loves Me”, children trotting back into the isle towards their parents’ outstretched arms. Because that’s what we sang so often in my hometown church.

It was easy to flashback to a very hot day last summer, when my own hometown church in Palco, Kansas celebrated its 125th anniversary. An anniversary that, like Louisville UMC’s, also focused on renewal and tradition. An anniversary that focused on outstretched branches and roots. An anniversary about my setting, my spirit, my foundations. I walked into the glass doors of a brick building that had been a constant feature in my life. Some of my earliest memories come from the Palco United Methodist Church. Before you even walk inside, there is a small slope that seemed so much larger throughout my childhood. My sisters and I would race down the hill, rolling and smearing our Sunday dresses with grass. I can see the ribbons and bows flying out behind us. Further up the hill, along the footing of the church, you’ll see rocks and attempts of shrubbery that desperately try to shoot through despite drought. Here I filled balloons with water for Vacation Bible School, the anticipation of cold water and squealing children made me laugh. When you walk inside there are two rooms of fruit on your left—affectionately called the Watermelon Room and the Apple Room. A daycare was once held inside, but the toys from those days still remain, stained and well-loved. A kitchen and fellowship hall stands at the right. Dining collections, mugs, and silverware in the kitchen are mismatched from generations of potluck dishes left behind.

Further inside, you reach the core of this home, a sanctuary. It’s not a revolutionary place. In this church, someone once decided that evergreen carpet would make a statement. The pews have a bleached look to the wood, devoid of color that instead is given to the stained wooden boards of the arched ceiling. If you lay on your back in the pew, like I did when I was a child, you can watch the shadows dance through the stained glass windows. Brick lines the ceiling and sounds bounce off it, every which way. The organ fills the space loudly as an echo in a cavern, while a piano gives a more soft and delicate noise, finding its way like water slipping through crags of rock. And when the people sing, it fills the space with a beautiful sound, a noise that makes you feel part of something larger just your own self.

This is a place as familiar to me as my mother and father, a constant. I was baptized here and confirmed here, promising to live my life full of faith and service. It’s only natural that I was surrounded by my family the day we celebrated 125 years of this church during this past summer. The number was unfathomable to me the moment I walked into the door. As I have written about my hometown in the past, many of you may know the struggles that this rural community faces. With job security and development issues, the number on a road-side population sign continues to dwindle. In such a place, that a community of faith could maintain its strength so long, was nothing short of a miracle in my opinion.

One of my favorite parts about the service in Palco (and even in Louisville, as they did this same act in the form of a letter) was hearing from pastors who had previously served in the church. These leaders had each shaped and had been shaped by the congregation, and I thought it was incredibly moving to hear about their experiences. One pastor in Palco had baptized each of my sisters and knew me throughout my childhood. I straightened up taller in my metal chair as she began to deliver the message for that 125th Anniversary Sunday. As she spoke on her favorite memories from our church, she didn’t talk about our fellowship hall, the Watermelon Room, or the sound of the organ in the sanctuary. She spoke of a specific tree—a stark piece of life, springing up from the earth to heavens, interrupting the horizon. This particular tree was special and different, and she described it in a way that I don’t think is possible for me to attempt to repeat. The youth of the church at the time had gone on a mission trip together, building homes and communities, and a photograph from this time captured the children in this big tree. They lined the large timber, small knots on an ancient piece of landscape. Eventually, like all missions abroad, the trip came to an end and the group returned home. Like all children, people grew and aged, left and went on to live different lives. But that tree and those memories were carried by so many different individuals, and not necessarily in just a photograph. People continued to carry that tree and that moment on with them for the rest of their lives. And even though this tree really didn’t belong in the church yard, didn’t belong in the small community of Palco, and didn’t belong even in Kansas, the church also carried the tree forever.

I think of that tree often, even though I haven’t seen it myself. I love trees—tall Cottonwoods from my childhood that leave trails of white floating on the air in June, the sprawling wide limbs of Sycamores from my collegiate days, and the new Colorado Pines that now take up space in my heart. And I especially thought about these trees the Sunday I visited Louisville UMC, as I’ve been looking for find a place where I can grow in faith and community. For, like a tree, my home church of Palco United Methodist Church is rooted in me. It’s the soul of my childhood setting, the roots of my spirit, the foundations of who I am. Though at times I was worn and beaten down, struck by fierce desert storms, God provided just like he does all around us, and I survived. While so much has continued to change about my hometown and continues to, as time develops, I know that my time in the United Methodist Church with family, friends, and faith has impacted my soul so deeply. And maybe the numbers may dwindle. And maybe my grandmother doesn’t climb the backstairs to the choir loft every Sunday morning. And maybe I’m not there to worship with that small congregation, my voice joining in a song that’s bigger than myself. But I carry that church with me everywhere I go. It’s my home. As I move on and search for new homes, I know my branches might tangle occasionally. However, they still are outstretched and impacting the world around me. I’m so very excited to continue growing in my faith, of where my roots were furrowed deeply and where my branches continue to touch and graze.

When I think of faith and growth, I’m often reminded of an E.E. Cumming’s poem, [i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]. I’ve listed the words below, the words that continue to remind me of my tree of life. It’s faith that I carry in times of uncertainty, new moves, and big changes. It’s faith that reminds me to help those who need it more than we could ever imagine. It’s faith that brings me home and keeps me moving forward.

here is the deepest secret nobody knows

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud

and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows

higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)

and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

 

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

Cheers,

Taylor

Cultivate

With a sudden push of bright blue skies and the pungent scent of pear tree blossoms in the air, spring has officially arrived. I love watching seasons transition. There is something, maybe slightly cliché, about the promise of a new day, hope literally springing forth from the ground in the form of a tiny little resilient bloom that takes my breath away. In all this beauty and glory, there are moments to be constantly celebrating. An official first day of spring brings the taste of strawberries in season, being able to play outside in fresh grass, the knowledge that Easter is coming again, and sight of beautiful flowers decorating the earth.

But, if I’m honest, there are moments during this season that I pity the flowers. All they want to do is bloom, and yet sometimes a sudden rush of cold refuses to allow it. March can be a strange month, allowing for all this eternal promise of new things, and then deciding to surprise us with a little snow storm. Gray light transforms the sky and all we can focus on is the darkness that seems to envelop everything, returning us to winter once again. Yesterday, I watched flakes slowly drift past and exhaust visibly pouring into the air from cars. Children pulled up bright hoods over their ears in an attempt to stay warm, all while I watched from my indoor shelter, bringing hot coffee to my lips. Where are spring and hope and fresh blooms in these moments? I craved the sunshine, and I couldn’t help but shiver as my eyes met the sight of cold everywhere.

I mentioned in my most recent blog post that I am quickly approaching a personal season of transition and change. While it would be the easiest thing to tell you that I view this as a personal “spring” for myself, that would be a lie. Friends, I have moments where I feel like a flower in the middle of a sudden snow storm in March, choking and trying to seek out warmth in every possible way. There are moments when I focus on my limitations and inadequacies and anxiety about the future. It freezes my judgement and haunts me most when I am at my weakest point. At times, it’s as though I am just a passenger in a car I can’t control, with no destination in mind—trapped and filled with fear when all I want to do is be outside, on my own two feet, and know exactly which road to take.

Change is hard. Transition is difficult. My life has been crying out for a roadmap, some sort of GPS system to just show me the way. And I’ll admit, sometimes I pray to God to just give me a sign. If he could only tell me where I should go, what to do with my life, maybe that would make driving this car easier. My words usually formulate in the request of visible choices, some sort of flashing road sign, complete with bright orange cones, that says “YES, OVER HERE” and “THIS WAY, TAYLOR”. Instead of praying for peace and patience during this time, I have prayed that the answer will fall directly in front of my eyes. At the very heart of who I am, I feel ashamed of these thoughts. Mostly, because at the heart of who I am, I understand that God does not always work in obvious ways. And this limited, inadequate, anxious control freak that I try to keep hidden from the world has a very hard time understanding that notion.

Lately, I have been fixated on the word “cultivate”. I see it everywhere. Maybe it is the season of spring in my own life that has the notion catching my eye. The very definition from Merriam-Webster is the ability “to grow or raise under conditions you can control”. When I first was thinking about this post, I really loved the last part of that definition, the idea of control. But when I think of the greatest gardeners or farmers that I know and love, they have a deep, almost spiritual connection to God and the earth. They understand that things aren’t always in our control. There are years of bountiful production, when we all smile up to the sky and thank God for the rain. And then there are years of drought, when ponds dry up and dust flies up into the air for weeks. Sometimes, you just have to know with faith in your heart that things are going to happen and that there is a plan, a roadmap, that we may never have access to. It may take going through years of good rains or years of drought. But God is always there, and I’m ready to understand that notion and just let go.

Only by darkness can we see the light. Only by Christ’s death on the cross are we saved. Only by a moment of suffering are we promised a life of eternity. Only by surviving a winter can we witness the most beautiful blooms. After all, my favorite flowers are those that come from being resilient over time, ones that can still bloom despite a sudden, unexpected moment of snow.

This is my story. This is my song.

I will allow God to cultivate in me a spirit that is peaceful and patient. This is where I am in life. And I vow to use every precious moment, every second, and not waste it. How blessed am I to have a good and loving God with great plans for my body, heart, and soul! And I know He’s there. And I know He’s listening, and even though I don’t see his roadmap for me, I am deeply excited to let it unfold in due time.

While I know that my times recently have been filled with a few snow storms here and there, I have realized that nearly everyone struggles through these as well. If your heart is anxious, if you worry for your future, or if you face moments of doubt, my hope is that you can find a sense of calm. Recently, I have discovered the author Shauna Niequist. Never have I connected to an author on such a deeply spiritual level. Her words from her books Bittersweet and Cold Tangerines have truly inspired me to question myself and understand that my fears of change are completely normal. I highly recommend that you consider picking up one of her books which are filled with short essays and snapshots of everyday life, celebrating God in the sun and snowstorms. Her quote below is a loving reminder to focus on the time, be willing to let go, and seek out resilient blooms within our own selves.

“I believe that if we cultivate a true attention, a deep ability to see what has been there all along, we will find worlds within us and between us, dreams and stories and memories spilling over. The nuances and shades and secrets and intimations of love and friendship and marriage and parenting are action-packed and multicolored, if you know where to look.” – Shauna Niequist (Cold Tangerines, 17)

So, I am focusing on these moments. I am letting go. This is my story. This is my song. I will find blooms in the snow storms, and I hope you will, too.

Bloom

Cheers,

Taylor

Vulnerability and the Necessity of Failure

Through suffering and hardship, a resilient and beautiful soul can be born. This idea is extremely hard for me to comprehend at times. We are taught to seek out the very best in life from an early age. Winning is what makes us different, unique, and successful. And to make us feel better when we fail, children are given participation ribbons at events with the encouraging words, “Try, try, try again.” The phrase is beaten into our brains repeatedly throughout life, so we might as well get used to it. Rainbow ribbons are so often stuffed into tiny denim pockets with memories that will take a while to fade away. Failure is intimidating and painful.

Somewhere between being rewarded for simply putting out an effort, I started to shy away from any form of misstep on the tightrope that has become my life. I’m not sure where it started, but I’ve finally noticed in the past few months that it has made me into a rigid and stiff individual. Perhaps it stemmed from failure in past relationships, or from the mere idea of getting my hopes up only to have them crushed. All I know is that in the past few years, I have been afraid of making a wrong move, toppling off into the abyss.

A very dear person in my life reminded me last week of the importance of “vulnerability”. By very definition, the act requires one to be capable and open to being hurt. That is so frightening to me. Nothing is more wounding than putting yourself out there and facing rejection. So, as woman, I have conditioned myself to avoid these “missteps” in life, work, and especially in relationships. It is easy to take the final chapter of Proverbs, The Wife of Noble Character, and misinterpret the words to fit my need to remain strong. I say it to myself often. “She is clothed with strength and dignity.” But I think this is a mistake because that verse is incomplete without the counterpart– “And laughs without fear of the future”.  The full verse of Proverbs 31:25 sends a very clear message. It takes a certain openness and courage to find strength. At moments when I have seen women who are my role models, like my mother, be their strongest, is when I see them vulnerable and willing to embrace a weakness. It’s beautiful, to watch someone turn from a moment of pain to strength. The importance of experiencing pain cannot be overlooked, and I think I have been trying to divert weakness for quite some time in my life.

In the past few months, I’ve experienced more failure in my life than I ever have before. You have to know that in your first job, there are going to be plenty of mistakes. But I think the key is learning from them.  The verse from Isaiah 49:11—“And I will turn all my mountains into a road.” – really speaks to my feelings on vulnerability at this time in my life. I must be willing to take failure as it comes and embrace the idea of defeat in order to continue on my journey. Even though it can be so frightening, I’m ready to be open and take a step, even if it the wrong one.

If you’re looking to have a little bit more information on vulnerability, I highly recommend checking out the TED talk by Brene Brown titled “The power of vulnerability”. It is truly eye opening to consider the amount of compassion and connection that can stem from opening yourself, letting go of any armor, and simply allowing vulnerability to radiate in every aspect of your life. You can find more information here: https://www.ted.com/speakers/brene_brown.

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Cheers!

Taylor

To Be Content

“Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.” – Jim Elliot.

Yesterday, I found myself wrapping up my first semester of travel with my job in a very ironic way. As I stepped foot into one of my schools, I had the realization that it was the very first school I had entered earlier in the fall. Walking inside, it all came back to me—the nerves, the fast talking, the sweating through my blazer (not just because of August heat in Kansas), and the general awkwardness. I had to laugh a little bit because I’ve definitely learned so much this fall that makes me much more at ease within my job. I’ve learned to embrace my quirkiness and just own it, even in front of high school students. I’ve learned to relax and take time to build the relationships because that’s what makes life so sweet. It isn’t that I’m doing things perfectly because I know I constantly need to improve. I have a desire to be self-aware. Without it, I think there can be no growth. It just hit me in that moment how content I am with my life and how happy I am that I have felt a great deal of growth in the last six months.

So, I wanted to take a moment to address a topic that I think many of my friends and peers continue to struggle with today. I see a large amount of individuals my age struggle with the fact that they don’t know what to do after graduation, after the four (or five, or six) years of working towards the finish line. We each have had that amazing, pivotal collegiate experience that makes us think “there can be nothing better than this”. I can honestly say that I attended the best university in the nation (and how lucky am I to share that experience with others on a daily basis!).  But to my generation, the “millennials”, it is incredibly hard to lose this part of our identity that is so associated with the classroom and learning. In the past 20 years, it is who we were made to be. If you got a liberal arts degree, an engineering degree, or a business degree, you were made to learn by the end of college. And then the dreaded question all of the sudden becomes “So what’s next?” from teachers, family members, even friends who just want to wish you well.

I’m thankful for where I am in my life because I have the opportunity to experience growth, to always keep learning. But I know myself, and I know that I won’t always know the answer to the “what’s next” question. Similarly, I continue to see a lot of soul searching from my peers. I see a lot of individuals who struggle to find an identity. I see friends who return back home. I see friends who travel far away and start a new job. It’s so hard to make a transition, answer that next-step question at the age of 22 when the possibilities are endless. We are a generation of passion, of chasing dreams, and decisions are frustrating. Thus, I have made the goal to be content, like Jim Elliot said to “be all there”. Do I know what may be five years away? Not exactly, but I know where I want to be right now and I am so happy to continue in this endeavor.

Recently, I attended church and caught the tail-end of a message that I found to be very inspiring. It provoked me to think about the idea of contentment. The message was about how each individual possesses their own SHAPE. Much like a fingerprint, SHAPE is unique to each person and can sustain you through the rest of your life if you use it well. I’d like to share the acronym below.

S—Spiritual Gifts. These are much more than a talent and are closer to your calling. Sometimes, it takes a while before these can be revealed, and I’m sure that as my own life goes on more might be revealed to me.

H—Heart. This is where your passion lies. I love when I’m talking to someone and I can see them just light up or are “geeking out”.

A—Abilities. These are natural gifts that can be applied at different times during your life. For example, I have a couple of friends who have a strong ability for organizing and they are great at administrative work. My abilities tend to lie more in the relationship building categories.

P—Personality. This can be what makes you tick or go about your day-to-day life. Think about how extraverts vs. introverts operate in the world, for instance.

E—Experience. Everyone has different events that occur in their life that affect where you are and who you become. There will be bad and good experiences in every life, but it is where you find yourself with them later that matters.

I view being content as finding fulfillment and not necessarily having to look towards the future for that happiness. It is not settling. Instead, it is finding a silver-lining, remaining optimistic about your life today. SHAPE is what makes you unique and can help as you are soul-searching, no matter where you are in your life. So, whether you are looking for that next-step or settling into the first six months of professional life like myself, I hope that you find the drive to be content.

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Cheers,

Taylor