Worship Songwriting 101

Just read a great post from a songwriting friend of mine, Martin Reardon. He is a worship leader and songwriting in Atlanta, and was the main worship leader of the Vineyard Music release “1000 Generations.” Note, this is not my band, 1000 Generations! How’s that for confusing?! 😉 Regardless, he is extremely talented and has some great thoughts here…

Steven
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Worship Songwriting Part 1 – Content

From time to time I get requests from people asking for my advice on writing corporate worship music. Although I have written music for a while I do not by any means consider myself the best source. But I do try to help out as best as I can. These are a few of my short thoughts on the subject.

The first thing we have to start with is content. The biggest thing I would recommend is to treat each song like a sermon. I am not sure if you have ever preached or will preach in the future so if I am telling you something you already know feel free to disregard it. What I mean by that is spend as much time as possible researching scripture and texts and concordances for each song’s subject. I know when I prepare a sermon I will spend several hours the week before preparing and meditating and chewing on the text. And the odd thing is the shorter the sermon the more prep time is required because when we try to pack theology into a small suitcase (a song is a very small suitcase) we have to pack deliberately, intentionally and thoughtfully. So instead of grabbing a text like Psalm 34 and attempting to immediately comprehend the ‘fear of the Lord’ and throwing that idea into a song, spend some time asking the Lord what that actually means. Read books on the subject and search scripture for the meaning of things and how they apply to us so that when we pen a lyric it will not only express the emotion we feel as artists, but it will fulfill the greater mission of educating the worshipper about important theological truths. This is the greatest mistake of modern worship songwriting is that we think we only need to emote and that is only a small part of it.

Worship Songwriting Part 2 – The Curse of The Rhyme

No, its not the title of the latest Harry Potter book, but simply a few of my thoughts on “creating” rhymes and cliché lyric that do no one any good at all.

Why does modern worship music suffer? Rather, why do the lyrical content and the method in which it is conveyed cause the listeners to suffer? After giving this some thought and searching my own journal entries of potential songs, I think we can point the finger in several directions. But most of the guilt should lie with our lack of taking the call to educate through music seriously. Worship leading has gone the way of the buffet-style caterer and not the sober-minded educator. But in reality this is nothing new. The poorly-written song has been a legacy in Christian music. Don’t get me wrong, we could spend a great deal of time poking holes in the “poetry” of pop culture as well, but their job as writers is to simply emote and sell a record. Our job is a bit more difficult. We are entrusted with the task of making a song accessible in both composition and lyric while remaining theologically accurate as we walk the tightrope of creativity, which, by the way, is stretched over the abyss of cheese and cliché. And we all know what happens when we fall.

So, you have a wonderful idea inspired by scripture and you have studied and researched and meditated upon it for days and you know within the depth of your “knower” that this is a message that MUST be sung by the congregation, but how?! The first thing I will suggest is to get rid of the grand idea of rhyming everything. Rhyming is a great advantage in helping the average congregant remember a song, but it is not a requirement. Sure Bono is great at it, but you and I are not Bono. If things can naturally rhyme without sounding contrived or forced then go with it. But I have seen too many writers get hung up on a song or a line simply because they were plagued with the curse of trying rhyme. In a Cutting Edge article on corporate songwriting John Mortensen said that we should issue a moratorium on rhyming “adore you” with “before you”. I would like to add a few of my own pet peeves to the list. In the end, what makes a corporate worship song memorable is what people can take with them. Focus on the theology and message first and rhyming second.

The second recommendation I would make is to be careful in choosing words. Verbiage is crucial element in articulating a message. We should all stop trying to sound too deep and overly poetic. If there is any depth to the music we write let it come from truth and theology first and poetic language second. Shy away from the ‘thees’, ‘thous’ and ‘thines’ of the King James translation. And let us also do away with the “church-esque” lingo that has no bearing on the unchurched or non-believer. Instead, let us draw from life. The most powerful and potent poetry comes from writers who draw from the language of daily life. Now I love a hymn as much as the next guy, but we should try to not take too many of our queues from poetry written in another time and another language.

So, when it comes to writing a corporate worship song remember that we are not merely caterers, but educators.

My good friend, Cameron Lawrence, put it so well when he stated that we should, “write poetically in today’s language, within certain bounds. Poetry at the expense of clarity is bad. And the other way around, clarity instead of poetry, isn’t bad per say. But it leaves something to be desired…so, as we pour ourselves into theology, to become better educators, we need also to become more literary — reading poetry, prayers, fiction or whatever else”. I could not agree more with his take on the matter.

Worship Songwriting Part 3 – Composition & Audience

“Who Is The Audience”

I have two main thoughts when it comes to adding composition to lyric: “Who is the audience”? and “Does the composition compliment the lyric”?

The first key to composing worship music is knowing your “audience” or congregation. What is palatable? What is not? What is the median style and preferred taste of the worshippers? What is the median style and preferred taste of the leaders and musicians? If you are unsure of the answers to these questions then you need to go on a fact finding mission. Or you can write songs and try them out repeatedly and see what the results are. But bear in mind that a fact finding mission can save you time and credibility.

All you need to do is simply ask people if they prefer The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. If only it were that simple.

Once you know your audience and you have the idea for your song follow these steps:

1 – Forget about the congregation’s style preferences. After all you are the worship star…I mean, you are the songwriter. Seriously though, take a minute and forget about what everyone else likes and make sure that before you serve a dish to someone that it is something you would eat. Write a song you would listen to.

2 – Now compare your new song to what you know to be true about your congregation’s style preference. Is there a big difference? Is there no difference at all?

3 – Fix it. Fix the song so that it will be palatable. BUT please do not dumb it down to the lowest common denominator. When we do this as writers we lose the tension that is essential in leading worship. We need to find ways to remain in the tension of being accessible and challenging at the same time.

4 – Get honest feedback from people you respect and listen to it. We see the result of the contrary when we watch American Idol auditions. It would seem that no one gives most of the would-be contestants honest feedback. That, or they simply ignore the what people are telling them. Either way the results are the same.

5 – Be willing to kill a song or re-write it. If you love it and your peers love it, but its just not working in your congregation…kill it and start over.

“Does the composition compliment the lyric”

Andy Park’s “In The Secret” does not match up lyrically and musically. I think he actually pointed that out himself to my good friend Billy Somerville. Finding the proper tension is kind of like a good balsamic vinaigrette; it tastes good, but only when we work to keep the “parts” together.

I once saw an interview with Winton Marsalis (I think it was him) and in it he said his father would tell him to stand in the corner and play one note until he could play it through every emotion. Whether my memory is correct or not I really like that idea and try to incorporate that into my writing and playing. Too often we try to make up for lack of emotion in music with more pedals or software and while those tools can be helpful they can never replace the simplicity of a note played with passion. Listen to B.B King for example. He never plays anything complicated…no delay, no reverb, no overdriven amp…just simple notes played with feeling. Its as if his notes cost $1,000 each and he spends them wisely. Try to take the same approach to your writing and playing. Strum a G chord until you can strum it and pick it and pluck it through every human emotion. Let the listener feel what the music and lyrics are saying.

Ke$ha sells more than the Beatles…

So I was reading a fellow musician’s blog tonight. He posted some startling stats about record sales. I found them interesting and thought you might too.

1. Creed has sold more records in the US than Jimi Hendrix.

2. Led Zeppelin, REM, and Depeche Mode have never had a number one single, Rihanna has 10.

3. Ke$ha’sTik-Tok” sold more copies than ANY Beatles single.

4. Flo Rida’s “Low” has sold 8 million copies – the same as The Beatles’ “Hey Jude.”

5. The Black Eyed Peas‘ “I Gotta Feeling” is more popular than any Elvis or Simon & Garfunkel song.

6. Celine Dion’s “Falling Into You” sold more copies than any Queen, Nirvana, or Bruce Springsteen record.

7. Same with Shania Twain’s “Come On Over.”

8. Katy Perry holds the same record as Michael Jackson for most number one singles from an album.

9. Barbra Streisand has sold more records (140 million) than Pearl Jam, Johnny Cash, and Tom Petty combined.

10. People actually bought Billy Ray Cyrus‘ album “Some Gave All…” 20 million people. More than any Bob Marley album.

11. The cast of “Glee” has had more songs chart than The Beatles.

Read more: http://bobbyowsinski.blogspot.com/2011/11/11-disappointing-things-about-popular.html#ixzz1cnXPzUtB

It’s ALIVE!! (post 4 of 4)

(a continuation from the previous blog post on Rebuilding An Arcade Game)

It works!

With the cab repainted, everything completely cleaned, and the control panel rebuilt, there were only a few things left to do! First, the marquee lighting wasn’t working, so I replaced the fluorescent bulb. That didn’t work so next I swapped out the old FS-2 starter with a new one. That did it.

Then I ordered a very nice 19″ LCD monitor to replace my screen burned CRT. The LCD is incredibly light compared to the CRT, and didn’t take much to hang (I just cut 2 pieces of wood to stretch across the cabinet).

I plugged in the screen to the game’s PCB to make sure things worked. To my delight, it did! It was so incredible seeing Pacman come up on the screen. I knew that no matter what happened from here on out, at least the game would power up!

Beautiful original glass

I wanted the cabinet to really shine so I went online and found the best looking original Centipede marquis and glass screen bezel I could find. They looked better than I could have hoped for (though admitting, cost more than I had hoped too).

Now came the part that took me the longest: wiring. Though I bought a wiring harness online, I needed to strip many of the 40+ wires at both ends. Then, I needed to make sure that all the wires were attached tightly to the inside of the cabinet. If the wires were loose inside, they could cause all sorts of problems.

Wiring up the control panel was very rewarding. Unfortunately, the trackball didn’t work when I wired it up. I couldn’t understand. I rebuilt the entire thing! What was wrong?! I couldn’t find ANYTHING on the internet saying what could be wrong.

Don't use the green...

get the red.

I want to be the first one (at least that I’ve seen) to post why an original Atari trackball WILL NOT work with the iCade 60-in-1 PCB: it’s the green PCBs in the trackball. For some reason, they just flat won’t work with the iCade. SO, I had to buy a new Happ red PCB (I realize this is tech-talk, but for anyone else out there who might be rebuilding one of these, I want to relate how to get it done). Once this came in the mail and I wired it up, everything worked great. Get the new red PCBs for the Atari trackball if you’re rebuilding — you can buy it here.

In the process of all this wiring, I’ve learned how to use a soldering iron pretty well! That was cool for me, as I hadn’t had much experience with one before.

Power for monitor

The last piece of wiring that I wanted to do was get the power supply for the monitor to plug into the power supply so I’d only have to have 1 power cord coming out the back of the cabinet. A little scary for me considering that I was working with a full 120v. Yikes! After a quick stop at Home Depot, I had all the tools I needed to wire it up. After I double-checked the voltage rating with my new multimeter (another new tool I’ve acquired in the process of rebuilding this game), I plugged in the monitor and……success!

All finished. I closed the back up and switched it on. Everything works flawless & the cabinet looks great! I’m really proud of myself as I’m not one that is usually all that good with this sort of thing. I’ve also ALWAYS wanted to 1) learn how these old games actually worked, and 2) actually own an arcade game! On the downside, my initial $20 investment inflated rather quickly, but I’m glad I did it. What a great 2 weeks for me. I can’t wait to invite the guy who originally sold me the game to come over and play! He’s gonna kick himself. 😉

All in all, I spent around 45 hours on the game. Not bad. Below I’m including a bunch of images of the finished game in my garage. If you’re ever in the area, drop me a line and let’s play it out. I’m getting quite good at Burgertime, Centipede, and Donkey Kong (1, 2, & 3)! Thanks for reading! I’ve really enjoyed sharing the process with you.

With love,
Steven

Before..

After


Before...

After

Before...

After

Before... (old CRT)

After (new LCD)

Control Issues (post 3 of 4)

(a continuation from the previous blog post on Rebuilding An Arcade Game)

After everything that could be repainted got repainted, things were really starting to look good!

Wonderboy 2 control panel

The next step for me was to completely replace the existing Wonderboy 2 control panel (the part with the joystick and buttons) with an original Centipede one. 2 problems with this though:

  1. They don’t make Centipede control panels anymore. I’d have to try to find a used one to fix up.
  2. Centipede only has 3 buttons (1p, 2p, and fire) and a trackball (no joystick). If I’m going to put in all the classic games (Pacman, Galaga, Dig Dug, etc…) along with Centipede, I’d need to have a joystick and 2 more buttons. You’ll see in a minute.

My Centi panel. A beauty huh?!

After scouring the web for a while, I found the best Centipede control panel I could for the best price. $45 bought me the control panel you see to the left. Yikes.

So, obviously I needed to completely refinish, mod, and then rebuild this thing. I took all the buttons out. They barely pushed down! The trackball wouldn’t budge. No rolling. That’s okay though as I had a plan. 😉

I took the original overlay off much easier than I had expected. I used “Goo-Gone” and within 30 minutes, the entire panel was scraped off using a paint scraper. Now I needed to take off 30 years worth of rust.

For this I used a simple brush wheel attached to my cordless drill.

Again, it came off pretty easy. Cool!

Next up, I sanded off all the gooey glue that remained from the overlay. I used simple 120 and 240 grit sandpaper.

Anything can clean up real good with a bit of TLC.

Then I repainted the whole thing with flat black Rustoleum. It turned out great!

The next night I went out to the store and bought a drill bit for the 1 and 1/4″ holes that needed to be drilled (one for the joystick, and two for the additional buttons). I foolishly tried to do this with my cordless drill only to realize there was NO WAY I was getting through this incredibly thick steel with my drill (not to mention I later found out that I had accidentally bought a wood drill bit, not a steel one — oops). I needed a drill press.

Just before we finished drilling the 2 button holes on the right.

Thanks to my neighbor next door, I got back on the right track and had the holes drilled in no time. I was really astounded at how nicely this was turning out! With the right tools, the job can be done.

After applying the new overlay I had bought (I got a New Old Stock overlay on eBay for a great deal!), it looked great! Now to start adding the pieces back on.

I turned my attention first to the trackball. You have NO clue how disgusting it is at the bottom of a spinning ball that people have rubbed for 30 years. NASTY. Like I said, the ball didn’t even spin, so I knew I’d need to buy some new parts. Upon opening the unit, I saw that the bearings inside were completely rusted through. I found the right replacements (www.arcadeshop.com), along with a new trackball, and went to work.

The original unit with ball removed

Can you tell which bearings are new?

Again, which is new?

Shiny and new

I added a new joystick and three new buttons before cleaning up the original Atari LED lights that select 1 or 2 players.

Unfortunately, the lights in those LEDs were not labelled so I had no idea how much power to feed them. I tried +5v, and unfortunately, that turned out to be too much (now I know that LEDs run at +1.2v). I burned them up and I couldn’t get them to come back on. They still work great, but no light comes from them. I may replace them down the road, but I think it looks fine and these are REALLY hard to find online. When you do find them, they usually cost over $20 a piece!

I’m really pleased with the outcome of this part of the project. Next week, I’ll show you how I hung the new monitor, wired everything up, and actually got the thing turned on for the first time!! It’s ALIVE! 🙂

BEFORE

AFTER

The internal wiring

30 Years of Dust (post 2 of 4)

(a continuation from the previous blog post on Rebuilding An Arcade Game)

First things first, I needed to take EVERYTHING out of the cabinet so that we could clean and refurbish. The marquee, the TV, the glass and plastic bezels, the control panel, the coin box, the original power supply, the switching power supply, etc…

I don't think the original owner knows about "Spring Cleaning"

As you can see from the picture on the right, 30 years of dust can really tarnish things. This is the original Centipede power transformer (albeit with a few modifications to bring it up to current spec to work with a switching power supply). Everything looked like this so a thorough cleaning was necessary (not just to make it look good, but dirt and dust can impede electrical flow as well).

Almost everything is held in with simple carriage bolts.

I took out everything of the cabinet with 1 exception: the CRT TV. I don’t know much about tube televisions, but I do know that they have capacitors that can store lethal amounts of electricity. I’d heard a few stories about people getting pummeled with enough voltage to bring some serious pain. I also know that CRTs can be quite heavy and if dropped will actually IMPLODE causing shards of glass to spit out up 6′ away. Yeah, I was a little intimidated.

I went online and found a great site on rebuilding old arcade games (www.arcaderepairtips.com). There, they showed me how to properly “discharge” a CRT TV. Wasn’t very hard, but quite scary for me. I actually had my wife Amanda stand close by wearing rubber gloves, ready to shove me away from the current if I got electrocuted. 😉

Screen Burn on an old PacMan. Click to see closer.

The TV came out and was in fact, quite heavy. Good news is I didn’t drop it. Bad news is that once it was out, I could see that it had quite a bit of “screen burn.” Too much to be salvaged (unless I wanted to read “1200 points for extra life” across every game).

So I went online and started researching arcade monitors. Turns out that they stopped making new CRTs years ago. They are now quite expensive because they’re either used or New Old Stock (NOS). I also was concerned about the electricity thing, and the weight. Whatever goes in there has to be properly mounted again as the screen actually goes vertical on those old games. It was mounted horizontally on my “reconfigured” Centipede/Wonderboy cab. This concerned me.

I also noticed that all the new arcade games (from like 2000-on) used new LCD technology that looked way better. LCD monitors are brighter, lighter, crisper, and use WAY less electricity (read power consumption and heat). Oh yeah and they’re cheaper too. The only downside is that it doesn’t have quite that same “crappy” CRT look that we just accepted in the 80s (which I actually kind of wanted because it’s all about nostalgia for me. I want everything to be as authentic as possible).

After...(with new LCD)

Before... (old CRT)

After much deliberation, I decided to go with the LCD (and now that I’m almost finished with rebuilding, I am SO glad I did). I knew that it would end up looking much better and have way less problems if I went this route. CRTs have so many complications and just the sheer weight to ship one was pretty ridiculous. By the way, I did find out that although you and I may have used CRTs in our homes back in the day (and use LCDs today), the ones in arcade games are a little different both in mounting and also quality (after all, an arcade game is on for like 14 hours every, single day).

Before...

After...

Back to the actual cabinet: it was actually in quite good shape, but definitely needed a little TLC. Amanda and I cleaned the sides up from any skid marks and dirt over the years. We did this with ammonia, soap, and water. We also wanted to get the black “black” again.

As you can see in the pic on the right, the bottom of the cabinet had taken quite a few shoe kicks, probably from stealing quarters here and there. We wanted that looking new so with slapped a fresh coat of paint on it. We did this to all the areas that were black.

Before...

After...

The entire cabinet is also surrounded by plastic t-molding on the edges. This had also taken a beating so I ripped it all off. I ordered some new t-molding from arcadeshop.com and installed that once we started putting everything back together.

After...

Before...

With the cabinet starting to shine up, we looked to where we should focus our efforts next. There was still so much to do! The control panel…

Rebuilding An Arcade Game (post 1 of 4)

Remember these guys?!

I have ALWAYS wanted a stand-up arcade game in my home. You remember Chuck E. Cheese’s or Aladdin’s Castle? Man, I spent SOOOO many quarters at those places. I always thought it be so awesome to have one of my own.

In junior high, I even attempted to build my own. My thought was if I could just build the cabinet, I could put a TV in there with my Nintendo. I drew up plans and daydreamed about it during school. Alas, I’ve never been very good with a saw, hammer, and nails.

So yesterday I’m running for exercise with my daughter Stevie and I see this guy hauling an old Atari Centipede arcade game (circa 1980 — the year I was born) to the curb. I ask him if he’s getting rid of it and he tells me, “I bought this forever ago thinking that I would make a project out of it, but it’s just sat in the garage and now the wife says that it’s gotta go.” My reply, “I’m all over this like a cheap suit!!”

Finally in the garage - day 1

Getting it home was no easy task. Not only is the cabinet extremely awkward to carry, it also weighs close to 400 pounds! We wiggle the thing into the back of the 1000 Generations van and I drove a few blocks to my house. I wasn’t sure if Amanda was going to go for this, but to my joy, she loved the idea (she did know that I’ve really wanted something like this for a while)!

Once I had it in the garage, I was able to take a closer look at the thing. While the artwork on the sides was in relatively amazing shape, I noticed that the marquee sign was not “Centipede,” but “Wonderboy 2.” Wonderboy? What the heck is that? Click here for info on the Wonderboy series, but I wouldn’t waste my time…

Then I noticed that the control panel was totally different. No trackball, but a joystick surrounded by some really lame looking overlay. A few other observations: the glass bezel in front of the screen was not quite right, having been painted over at the bottom, and the CRT TV inside was placed horizontally, not vertically like it was supposed to be.

Wonderboy: It's like Zelda, but with horrible graphics, annoying sounds, and terrible gameplay

I plugged in the game and it fired right up. Unfortunately, it fired up to Wonder boy 2. LAME. I then discovered that while this is an authentic original 1980 Centipede cabinet, it had been converted some time ago (probably around 1989) to this horizontal scroller.

Well, I’m not interested in having a Wonderboy game, but I am VERY interested in having Centipede or something else super-vintage like that (Pac-Man, 1942, Tempest, whatever…). So, what do I do now?

Honestly, I couldn’t have been more excited about all this. If I would have plugged it in and Centipede came on perfectly, I would have thought it was cool. But the chance to actually completely rebuild this thing and learn firsthand about how it works? I was THRILLED!

This is how big the board is for Centipede. Today, you can fit about 35,000 of these on a flash card.

I searched around on the net to find original parts and was really pleased to see that while they haven’t been made in years, they aren’t totally scarce yet either.

Then I invited some friends over. They told me that you can now buy a specialized board that has Centipede plus 59 other classic games on it! Pac-Man, 1942, Dig Dug, Super Breakout, Donkey Kong, Mappy, Arkanoid, Galaga 1, 2, 3, 4….

This presented a bit of a dilemma. I really wanted to rebuild an authentic Centipede, but as I researched I found that not only would it cost me almost double to just get that 1 game, but in the end, I’d only have 1 game. So what I’ve decided to do is this: I’m going to refurbish the cabinet to be a beautifully restored Centipede cabinet with original artwork on the sides, control panel, marquee, backglass, bezels, etc… But inside I’m going to put the 60-in-1 board (to see where I bought this board, click here).

This was not going to be an easy task! I’d need to find either original parts or at least New Old Stock to make it authentic. Because the inside of the cabinet was also completely redone, I knew I’d need to do some serious woodwork as well.

Halo doesn't hold a candle to this...

I just started in on this project and want to keep updating you on it. Maybe you’re like me and always thought about doing something like this. Maybe you think I’m crazy when I could just download all 60 of these games on an iPhone for probably $4. Regardless, I’m having a BLAST and I truly feel like the end product is going to be something to be proud of. Heck, I’d love for you to come over and play me in Dig Dug or something!

I’ll keep you posted as it comes along. Expect updates every few days or so. I’m working on this every night after my little girl goes to bed (and often after Amanda does too). I’m knee-deep in this thing now and I’m having a nostalgic blast!

Overcoming…

My brother just came out of something really painful. What’s weird about it is that I pretty much went through the exact same thing several years before he did. What’s weirder still is that as we talked about his situation, he had no clue that I had been through a similar event. You see, I had never told him.

It wasn’t because I didn’t want him to know. Sure, I was feeling bad about it, but it wasn’t that I didn’t want him to know. It wasn’t even that he wasn’t around, as we lived in the same house at the time!! I had just done a bad job of being transparent and sharing my life. I wasn’t telling my stories.

Revelation 12:11 says, “And they (being us, as believers) overcame him (the devil and his wiles) by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.” This Scripture says that we overcome by 2 things: the blood of Christ, and the word of our testimony. Read: we overcome partly by SHARING OUR STORY.

This is fascinating. We will have victory in our lives not by pretending to have it all together or by living in cloistered closets, but by sharing the good and the bad of our lives with others. The ups and the downs; the highs and lows; the hills and valleys. Everything that is our story.

As a worship leader, I hear from folks often who really think that I have it all together. I guess they just assume that since I’m elevated off the ground by 12-24″ and have a microphone with a cord going into some speakers that I’m somehow different! When I hear stuff like this I wonder if I’m doing a bad job of being real. Truly, I believe that it is by being transparent and sharing our stories (both the testimonies of God’s faithfulness and the disappointments of life in a fallen world) helps people OVERCOME.

Jesus cried in front of His disciples. Sure, there were plenty of stories to share about God’s faithfulness, but there were moments of tears too. He wasn’t afraid to show His sorrows as well as His joys.

The truth is, if I hadn’t gone through that painful season of my life, I would not have the countless blessings that I now have. I’m on the other side now! It was great sharing from this side, but I learned a bit today that I need to share “the word of my testimony” at all times, in all seasons. And because I went through that season of life, I’m able to give encouragement and comfort to someone who feels a bit disillusioned. I’m able to help someone overcome.

Steven

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