Imagination Runs Wild: Our Alaska Family Adventure

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Dawson and Dari GlacierWe spent a week in Alaska a couple of summers ago; my wife Danielle, the former Kenai Fjords National Park Ranger and Mendenhall Glacier Tour Guide, our nine-year-old-just-out-of-football-camp-and-Minecraft-loving son Dawson; our six-year old twin girls, Dari and Delaney, who adore horses and jumping on trampolines, and me, marveling at this place we once called home and filled with memories of days gone by as a worldwide river guide. On this trip, we overnighted in and discovered the hamlet of Gustavus, population 500, and Glacier Bay National Park.

Here is what I wrote one afternoon on this trip while sitting on the deck of our cabin, staring out at our kids as they disappeared into a field of fireweed as tall as corn stalks. “Imagination is now the mother of all invention. Necessity took a back seat a couple of decades ago. IPODs, softer airline seats, microwave diet food, and Camelback water system backpacks make this clear. Imagination drives creativity. Creativity drives invention. Inventions these days make life more comfortable, healthy, and fun. This indicates to me that imagination should run wild among our kids, which it does until they plug into their technology. Then, something happens. It is almost as if their imagination is taken care of by the game inventors, and they just go with the software engineer’s flow, largely restricted in their thinking by the confines of the game, the text, or the Instagram.”

This trip taught me a huge lesson. Let kids experience and explore all that they can, disconnected from electronic distractions that restrict feeling free and deflect here-and-now awareness. I also learned (relearned actually, for the umpteenth time) that when kids view their lives as safe, which is easy to do in a town of 500 that has no roads in or out, they explore hard and play long, and uncover new things. A few times on this trip as I watched them go for this and go for that I had to settle my nerves and still my heart as I realized my concept of safe was too narrow and can get in the way of kids feeling unbound joy, unlimited power, and unbridled reverie.

This trip revealed the power of imagination once again. Our son is now a professional wilderness and wildlife photographer. A month before this trip he found an old Canon camera that uses 35mm film. His imagination of what the photo will look like led him to shoot dozens of shots, without the instantaneous impression of a digital camera that tends to suck us all into looking at that image rather than the world unfolding around us. He wore that old camera around his neck all week and burned through film at the rate that Nathan Jones devours Coney Island hotdogs on July 4.

By the way, there is no place in Gustavus that sells film. For that matter, there is no place in Gustavus that sells organic blueberries or fresh habanero peppers. But you can pick berries just outside your door. And, you can borrow a can a pepper spray from your neighbor if you are going for a hike in grizzly country, which could be the land between you and your neighbor’s place. That my be one of the reasons I got a little nervous as my kids headed into the fireweed forest.

Our daughter, Dari, is now a boat captain. She got to sit in the wheel house, turning the big wood and metal wheel to keep the boat pointed ‘towards the end of that distant island covered in Sitka spruce,’ as the full-time captain requested of his freckle-faced first mate. She scanned the horizon near and far as she did on this entire adventure vacation, in search of more humpback as they scooped herring with their whale-sized mouths and then tail-slapped the water.

And Delaney, our other daughter, is now a hiking guide, imploring us to ‘come on’ to see what is just around the next corner in a thick rainforest rife with puddles, twisted logs, softball-sized mushrooms, ferns taller than she, and lichen pedestals. These made for platforms for her to show us how to outstretch our arms, tilt back our head, close our eyes, and feel the sun on our face and body that filters through to the forest floor. This is where you get more strength to keep walking and smiling, as she soaks it all in and turns it in to innocent energy. Turns out she is her mama’s daughter.

Do six and nine-year olds really know what they want to be ‘when they grow up?’  Probably not, and who really cares right now. It is even less important when their examples are a fifty-four year old dad who is still trying to figure it out for himself and their forty-five year old mom who is just having fun with her kids and half-time job, feeling like she is twenty-three (and looking like it too!).  We are just grateful this was not our first trip into the wilderness, nor our last. We are also thankful that imaginations grew in Alaska. I can’t even guess where we might end up next, and what my kids might imagine then.


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If we are so CONNECTED, then why are we so divided?

This video shows that we are more ALIKE than we might think. With this the case, then why are we accepting an election that further separates us? I scratch my brain to find good reasons to support someone who feeds off and fuels distrust, who sells himself at OUR expense, who doesn’t cultivate the idea of US.

I would love to hear your thoughts after you watch this video. Watch it full screen if you can.



Live What Matters

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Live what matters. Live a meaningful life. This is not just a cliche. It is important and an obligation to do this, especially for those like me who are fortunate to live in a time and place of unrestricted consciousness and abundant creature comforts. By filling your day with moments that are enlivening for you and those around you, you make the world a better place. When you have the choice–and sometimes you don’t given the demands of the day–choose to do what matters most. By selecting less impactful options (think watching television instead of playing catch with your child) the opportunity to lift yourself and those around you is missed.

As a reminder of this, I encourage you to watch this video that I envisioned and created with the help of the humbly magnificent Samantha Nienow of Red Zest Design. Please watch it with headphones or earbuds if you can.

Live what matters. Lead a fulfilling life, one that is “full filling” to you and those around you. This way, when your time comes, you will not regret not having done what you longed to do. Rather, you will reflect on all the beauty, joy, and kindness you experienced and shared, and perhaps wish you had a bit more time to feel even more.

The Top Ten Personal Characteristics of Successful Entrepreneurs

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Top Characteristics of Successful EntrepreneursWhat traits does one need in order to be a successful entrepreneur, to choreograph employees, bankers, consultants, customers and others? What personal characteristics are needed to build a business created of vision, heart, desire, and good old blood, sweat and tears?

In order for this list to make the most sense it is important to define exactly what an entrepreneur is. An entrepreneur is someone who identifies a need and fills it by starting and running a business in order to meet that need. This person is generally willing to take greater financial risks than a non-entrepreneur (think employee or corporate manager). According to Forbes Magazine, an entrepreneur’s largely unexplainable urge to fill a need “is primordial and is independent of product, service, industry, or market.”

The top ten traits of successful entrepreneurs are:

  1. Passion:  One successful entrepreneur after another will tell you that true heart-felt belief in what you are doing is as important to an entrepreneur as water is to the world and blood is to the body. If an entrepreneur lacks enthusiasm, hunger, moxie and yearning the best-laid plans will fall to pieces. From Richard Branson to Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey to Galileo, true entrepreneurs are inspired from within to build something bigger than them.
  2. Resilience:  “Inside of a ring or out, ain’t nothing wrong with going down. It’s staying down that’s wrong.” Being able to bounce back, having grit, is a critical trait of an entrepreneur. While sometimes the battle of business feels like a boxing match, it is not just the big punches that need to be overcome. Just ask one of the greatest entrepreneurs of our time, Muhammad Ali. Every day issues large and small—from roundhouse uppercuts to little jabs—can derail your efforts. A key to thriving as an entrepreneur is getting up, every time.
  3. Self-assurance:  This trait is not cockiness. It is not bravado. It is quiet confidence that allows you to lead effectively. In order to sell what an entrepreneur makes or provides, they have to believe in it. No one is going to champion an entrepreneur’s cause better than him or herself. In a staff meeting or on a sales call, knowing yourself and believing in the benefits that your business brings to the world are qualities that enable success.
  4. Decisiveness:  Employees often prefer to remain employees and entrepreneurs often prefer to become something other than employees because they are comfortable with and like to make decisions. Many a business was started by a frustrated employee who just wanted to get more done and felt constrained by the lack of decisiveness around him or her. This is the mother of direction. It takes knowing how and when to act to give things course and to make things happen.
  5. Courage: An entrepreneur must be inherently brave or learn to be courageous. While timidity has its place here and there, having the guts to make things happen even in the face of doubters or critics is vital for one to be a successful entrepreneur.
  6. Flexibility: Knowing when you don’t know what you should and being eager to learn or adjust is critical to being a successful entrepreneur. Being willing to listen, learn, and change based on conversations, data interpretation, new technologies, or other inputs allows successful entrepreneurs to adapt and grow rather than die adhering to old styles or ideas.
  7. Empathy: There is no greater tool for an entrepreneur to keep employees and clients happy than empathy. Hard driving, heartless and uncaring business owners will miss voices quiet or loud, voices that can make or break a business. Truly understanding others wants and needs helps businesses grow and prosper. Compassion manifests empathy. Empathy creates understanding. Understanding facilitates success.
  8. Drive: The ability to keep going because of or in spite of challenges, successes, setbacks and achievement is a cornerstone to building and growing a business. Simply, entrepreneurs cannot give up. Yet, often, the only one who tells an entrepreneur to push forward is the entrepreneur her or himself, with a “don’t stop now” voice that can waiver at times but on balance never stops.
  9. Financial Intelligence: Being naturally good with money is not a prerequisite to successful entrepreneurship. It helps but it is not critical. Becoming great at understanding money—the finances of a business, the grasping of market pulls, the awareness of economic strengths and weaknesses—is a critical skill to have in order to be a great business owner. People can learn how to be better with money. Financial intelligence can be grown. Flourishing entrepreneurs who are not naturally adept at this hire those who are, to learn from and prosper by. If the company does not financially prosper then the power of a dream, the purpose of a leader, and the good of a business is no more.
  10. Vision: All things start with a thought. The light bulb, Federal Express, Cheerios, and the internet were conceived in the mind and hatched through the heart. Good entrepreneurs are dreamers—visionaries—who put ideas into action. Great entrepreneurs are those who look into the guts of the idea and understand why it matters. The top entrepreneurs never stop imagining “what if” and “why not” and then implementing those ideas that change the world.
  11. Creativity: Are you surprised to see 11 items on a list of ten characteristics? Then I invite you to think like successful entrepreneurs think: outside the box. In fact, in this day and age, discard the box altogether as any relationship to it could  hamper creativity. Successful entrepreneurs are bold, bright, and creative as they make things, serve clients, and develop the best work culture possible. Great businesspeople think as if there is no box and render unique products and services, such as a top ten list with twelve items.
  12. Heart-Driven: The cornerstone to any successful business is this granddaddy of them all. When one combines passion with persistence, decisiveness with drive, and courage with creativity there is only one place this can all come from…the heart. Add to this empathy for those who surround them and you will find that the most sought after and successful businesses are run by people who lead with their heart, at play, at peace, and at the workplace.

Elect Kindness

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Planting a garden

I want my kids’ teachers to be positive and understanding. I want friends who are caring. I want my business partners to be considerate and collaborative. I want fellow community members to inspire hope and to lift others up. I want these same things of our president.

I want all children to know they are being led by a good person with a kind soul. I believe most people want this, too.

In this country, and increasingly throughout the world, bountiful creature comforts allow us to move past fear and distrust given that we largely have what we need to survive, and thrive. Today’s competition for necessities and turf is residue of ancient survival drivers. In our hearts, we know this. But ego and greed sadly reignite and inflame the thoughts of “someone taking mine,” until they become paranoias, as the head obtusely takes over the heart.

We have evolved well beyond fear and violence mongering. Let’s elect someone who espouses and lives with ideals that help lift us up, not beat us down.

Into the Fray?

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We Trust Us 2

The fear being spread in this presidential campaign is unreal (literally), unhealthy, disrespectful and distasteful. The “presidential hopefuls” (that’s an ironic phrase) are ignoring our common hopes and dreams only in effort to win votes, as they try to scare us to think differently than we actually do. They long for us to be swept into their frenzy and fray, which would fray relationships with good people who are inherently trustworthy.

We know better. Even with differences we may have person-to-person and community-to-community, we trust each other much more than they give us credit for. How do I know this? Because, I can be trusted, and so can you, and you, and you. You have a choice to listen to them or to listen to your heart and your friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Choose the latter.

Build a Bigger Table

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Build a Bigger Table v4Just imagine being at this table with people who have arrived from all over the place, many of whom you don’t know. The odds are that whoever you end up sitting next to will have the same dreams and concerns that you do: for loved ones to be healthy and safe; for pure water to drink, clean air to breathe and good food to eat; and for freedom to give everyone opportunities to thrive…

This says it all about the value of trust, the limitations of fear, the joys of shared wealth, and the importance of community. Fear causes decay. Trust brings growth. Please, come sit, and welcome your neighbor to the table.






Five Easy Ways to Build a Brighter Business Culture

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Five Easy Ways to Build a Brighter Business CultureEmployees want what you want: to be treated kindly, to be given opportunities to flourish, to feel appreciated, to be connected to something that matters, to be happy and have some fun at work, and to be part of a culture that enables rather than limits excellence. Like all of us on personal and community levels, workers want to know that their hearts are safe.

Gone are the days when fear- and ego-driven work cultures were the most productive. Fear perpetuates and intensifies decay. Trust encourages and enables growth. Knowing this, why not strive to build the brightest business culture possible? Here are five easy ways to do this:

  1. Use your ears, then your mind, then your voice. I serve as a consultant to some of the most successful entrepreneurs on earth, including Fortune 500 billionaires. While there are several common traits these folks have, one stands out: they listen. Intently. The want to know what is working and what is not. They then synthesize this information, sometimes on the spot and sometimes later. After this, they share their thoughts, hoping to hear more feedback before crafting a final solution or change. In other words, once they absorb the information that their employees, advisors, friends—whomever—have shared, they process it and then give themselves opportunities to listen some more, as they ask for feedback on what they have come up with by processing the first round of information. Bottom line: Using your ears never hurt anyone.

  3. Pay compliments when thoughts of gratitude cross your mind. Every time. The idea that a positive thought is not expressed to the person or people you have it about is almost preposterous to me. When was the last time someone you praised felt crappy because you did that?!? With today’s instantaneous communication options, it is easy to say the positive things you are thinking. And, if you are “too busy” to do it on the spot, then send a pre-fabricated text or email that says to the recipient: “Remind me to share the great thought I just had about you.” Think about how even that message will positively impact whoever gets it. Then, when you have more time, express why you are grateful. And, here is the kicker: it is impossible to be negative and grateful at the same time. So, as you express your appreciation, your mood is elevated too. Bottom line: Saying nice things helps everyone feel and do better.

  5. Provide good news sources to your employees. You know what harms the heart and dents morale?  Listening to or reading the news from traditional media. Why do we support information sources that validate the credo “No news is good news.”? There are so many great, positive news sources that reflect the good in humans, which buoys people rather than crush them.  Check out websites like Buy subscriptions for your employees.  It is possible to change how we view the world, to shift from fear to trust, simply by changing what we choose to see or hear. If we feel more positive about the world around us, we want to support others rather than shirk from them. Bottom line: Good news lifts spirits.

  7. Schedule regular employee events that have nothing to do with work. Want to create camaraderie among your staff? Want to build a team dedicated to a common cause? Want everyone at your workplace to focus on doing right by their employer? Then give folks a chance to escape, together, from work at work. This does not have to be a company picnic or softball team. It can be much simpler and effective than that:
    Gather everyone to watch a funny or touching video on YouTube;

    Sit down in a group room and listen to 20 minutes of great new music while drinking smoothies;

    Round folks up for a quick game of domino falling. Split up into teams to see which group can create the best fall trick;

    Invite everyone to close their eyes with their feet up on their desks for a few minutes, either playing their favorite music on headphones or just enjoying  peace and quiet, while you silently pass out different gift cards. After the feet-up session they need to give away a card twice to different people before getting one that they get to keep;

    Put very obtuse caricature drawings you had done of each person in a funny outfit around the place and then you ask people to move around to guess who is who.
     The intent here is to create events that bring people together without focusing on business or bringing people together. Bottom line: Unintentional gatherings create synergy when it is needed.     .

  9. Always put your heart into business decisions and relationships. In other words, in all things entrepreneurial never put your heart on the shelf. For that matter, when would this ever be acceptable? The phrase “just business” should only mean “fair, equitable, and ethical” and never “discount what you know is right in order to gain financially”. By keeping your heart engaged you engender trust among those around you. When your employees see that others’ best interests are incorporated into your behavior, they will consciously and subconsciously grow in trust and away from any concerns they may have stored up from previous employers who did not understand the consequences of ego- or fear-based work environments. Bottom line:  Leading with your heart helps others flourish.

Fear and Trust in the Operating Room: A Cancer Surgeon’s Story

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Surgery Photo“It was magical. Everyone one in that operating room peacefully did their jobs and we felt love for the patient and one another,” recalled Dr. Peter Johnson about a Christmas Eve surgery on an elderly cancer patient. “She brought us cookies to thank us for being there for her on Christmas, which set such a harmonious tone. Here was a very, very sick woman who wanted to us to know how grateful she was, who showered us with love as she suffered. No one in her company that day missed that irony. From that point, that foundation of love, the operating room was a place of hope and serenity, with a spirit like none I had ever felt before.”

Dr. Johnson is the medical director of gynecologic oncology at Aurora Medical Group in Wisconsin, and one of the top cancer surgeons in the nation. He was one of the first in the country to use state of the art robotic-assisted surgery to treat gynecologic cancer. He pioneered many patient care techniques and has authored and been featured in numerous studies about successfully treating cancer and enabling reproduction. He has helped thousands of women not only to survive cancer but also to go on to become loving mothers, by treating their cancer with sensitive approaches that allowed them to have children. He has been licensed to practice in five states for nearly two decades. Today, Dr. Johnson helps train medical students as a clinical professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, one of the top physician training institutions in the U.S. He has been married for 25 years, is the father of a grown son, and may someday be a grandfather.

Peter Johnson was, by his own admission, a jerk. About a year before the Christmas miracle surgery he had a claim filed against him for being an emotionally abusive mentor to resident doctors under his watch at the teaching hospital. Resident doctors are typically in their mid-20’s or older, have obtained their medical degree, and are continuing their education with formal specialized training under an experienced supervising doctor. Dr. Johnson was in charge of a team of residents. The complaint against him capped years of behavior that alienated colleagues and brought future doctors to tears and to their knees as he berated them during their education and training. At the same time, he helped female patients to realize their dreams, to lead rich lives, and to bear children after they had been told by other physicians to not expect much more than a few more months to live. With one hand Dr. Johnson was crushing souls and with the other he was saving them.

“I did not know any better,” reflected Dr. Johnson. “I was trained by physicians who were abusive, exacting, and unforgiving. The theory was this: if you were trained under fire, then when it comes time to perform on your own and something goes wrong in the operating room, you have the wits and calm to keep it together and fix the problem.” This approach to medical care and to surgery in particular has long run through the halls of the finest medical schools and training hospitals in the U.S. It has for decades been common practice to demand interns and young doctors to perform under extreme stress by creating overwhelmingly stressful training situations. “The problem is that I never told any of my students why I was so harsh on them. I never communicated that I cared about them and about all those they would heal in the future. Young men and women under my tutelage unnecessarily suffered, tragically suffered, because I did not voice my concern, love, and respect for them. I was teaching behaviors that made people ugly human beings.”

“I also was a hypocrite. I would enter a patient’s room and turn into a sensitive doctor who understood my patient’s pain. I was kind to patients and medical students and harsh on residents. And, even with patients my approach was less effective than it could have been. My voice was saying ‘a’ and my energy was saying ‘b,’ and patients picked up on that. Residents and others saw this Jekyll and Hyde routine and were dumbstruck by it.”

The complaint culminated years of Dr. Johnson’s belittling behavior toward those under his sway. Ultimately he was accused of hitting a resident in the operating room. “I did not hit anyone. However, I had created such a negative environment that the perception that I could hit someone was legitimate. I cussed, I yelled, I put people down, so it was natural to think I could have hit someone.” His reputation led to the charge that left Dr. Johnson’s superior no other choice: he had to undergo a thorough review of his behaviors and would be fired if he had another complaint filed against him. At that point, Peter realized he had gone too far.

He had also gone too far at home. The night before his son took his driver’s license exam, Peter used the same approach he had with interns and residents at the hospital. He created a practice environment so harsh that the actual driving test would seem like a walk in the park. He yelled at his son, deriding him for mistakes made in practice turns and backups, rendering an atmosphere of pure fear and sadness. “Now I see why the residents hate you!” yelled his son as he climbed out of the car. “I never told him I did that because I loved him and wanted him to succeed,” said Peter.

“Fear consumed me. Every decision I made could be life ending. Every student I taught was entering this same world, where the result of a job well done or poorly done is life or death. I feared complications from surgery. I feared professional humiliation. I feared losing my practice. I feared being broke. I feared that I was going to miss something that could kill someone.”

Doctors generally function from a deficit based mentality: they focus on what is wrong. They constantly look for a problem, for what ails patients. Sickness is something no one wants; doctors are always seeking to find and to eliminate what is causing illness. This clinical approach serves patients well – as the focus is on finding and fixing a problem – but it does not work well in other parts of your life. When constant fear and looking for what is wrong spills over into your relationships with others, the world around you suffers. This clinical approach to life leads to unhappiness and a lack of true fulfillment.

“It took almost losing my job to wake up. A mentor and colleague, Dr Jim Katz, told me the world had changed, and I needed to polish myself. I needed to make better eye contact with people. I needed to change the way I spoke to people. I needed to discuss potential issues with people before I blew up at them. Another friend gave me books by Thich Nhat Hanh who shared pearls of wisdom about peace and acceptance. In this time period I really questioned who I was and how I was. The final “aha” moments came at the Abundant Living Retreat where for four straight days I worked on understanding what drove me and how my behavior impacted others. I continue that work today, every day.”

“I remembered that early in my career I was told by a mentor that, ‘When I quit screaming at you, you better worry, because that means I don’t care about you anymore. I want to stress you out so you are tough and ready for the worst.’ When I compare that thought with the serenity in the operating room last Christmas Eve, I realize how ludicrous it is.” Dr. Johnson came to know that care is not best voiced in a scream. It is best voiced in a caress.

“I needed to teach the art of medicine and not the science of it. Anyone can learn to be a clinician. But if you have a cold heart and dispassion for mistakes you are not a healer. The art of medicine is magical. Authentically and openly communicating with patients and colleagues that you truly trust and care about them, and giving positive support to every member of a team lifts the entire state of a hospital and a community. I see that everywhere I look. We all saw and felt it on Christmas Eve.”

The importance of trust, understanding, and kindness is not taught in medical school. There are no surgery classes in the world entitled “Compassion, Serenity, and Peace as the Ultimate Healing Tool.” But Dr. Johnson knows firsthand the difference operating –literally and metaphorically – in this state makes. He has traveled a long road to loving himself and those around him. “I am on a committee that is analyzing the efficiency of our surgical services. We have 30,000 employees and 2,000 physicians. Our studies so far reveal that our most cost effective doctor is a 58-year old orthopedic surgeon. I asked him why he thought he was so successful. He told me he operates his practice as a team. There is no overbearing captain. They all work together. They cross the lines of each other’s jobs and do what needs to be done. Nothing is beneath him, or anyone else on the team. Their culture is trusting, loving, kind, and supportive. They work well together because they care for each other.”

“I don’t want to be mocked as this ‘new agey’ doctor who went to a retreat and found what matters, where I tell people how to love each other to make the world a beautiful place. Instead, I lead by example. I now tell people how they handled a situation beautifully, how they showed tremendous compassion and leadership. I have come to be a much better person because I acknowledge and embrace my fears; I don’t hide from them or let them drive me to anger or collapse. I now show others it is okay to do the same – to share their fears – by sharing mine. I kindly but honestly tell people what I feel and let people know they are valued and appreciated. I realize that one person – even the person who may have been suffering the most, like our Christmas Eve patient – living in a state of trust, love, and compassion has the power to elevate the state of the world.”

Teens Lifting Their Community

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jeffbannerSparrow Clubs change the lives of the givers and receivers. I am honored to have written about Jeff Leeland, the founder, and his son, Michael, the present director of this organization, in The Gift of Courage. Their story is a model of courage, caring, and giving.

The Sparrow Clubs’ school community approach empowers teens to help people truly in need. A school adopts a child in their town-their “sparrow”-who has serious medical challenges. The students provide services and raise money for the family of the sick child in order to reduce financial and other burdens facing the family. By lifting one person and one family in their hometown, the entire community is raised. Watching this video should lift you up as well:–Stand-up-for-Elijah–284949601.html?mobile=y


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