Category Archives: preparation

Bad Habits Stick to You Like Leeches

“A change in bad habits leads to a change in life.”

Jenny Craig

My wife recently worked for several hours in the weedy and muddy part of our lake. When she finally came back to the house to clean up, she found a leech attached to her hand. She had not noticed it at first because it blended in with the other dirt and debris. Only when she washed her hands did she realize that a leech had dug in. She had no idea how long it was there but it left a mark when she pulled it off.

When we are out in the wild and woolly world living life, we come into contact with many people and many unique situations. We see how people handle stress and problems, how they treat other people, how they handle success. Gradually over time and without even realizing it, we sometimes begin to adopt a few of the things we have seen others do into the way we live our lives.

Often times these experiences provide us with a more balanced approach to living life. They help us navigate through issues previously unencountered. Sometimes however, we pick up a few bad habits along the way that also cling to us. They can contort themselves and seem to be absorbed right in to our very fabric. We do not notice them at first. They just quietly fit right into our lifestyles. Then one day we stand in the presence of someone we really respect, and we observe the manner in which they handle a situation, and all of a sudden this bad habit that has been silently making itself a new home in our person, stands out like a sore thumb. We are embarrassed. We are in disbelief. We are shocked. We know we need to change.

I think it is wise counsel to figuratively, wash our hands ever now and then…to be in the presence of someone we hold in high esteem and be aware of their character traits in an effort to do a self inventory or evaluation. We may find that there is a crafty little leech in the form of a bad habit that has attached itself to us. Getting rid of it may leave a small mark but leaving it uncontrolled may leave something much worse.

HighFive Your Life Principle

Check for bad habits like you would for leeches

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There’s Smoking and There’s Mm…Mm…Smokin’!

“When I figured out to work my grill, it was quite a moment. I discovered that summer is a completely different experience when you know how to grill”
Taylor Swift

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Well…of course every man is born knowing how to grill. Telling him that he should take a lesson to learn more about it is somehow akin to plucking out his chest hairs one by one.

I have grilled most of my adult life at countless backyard get-togethers. I love it. Recently, I became reacquainted with a high school friend, Jeff Johnston, whom I had not seen in over thirty years. He told me that he had started a business that he has dreamed about and has become a professional grill master including manufacturing his own rub and BBQ sauce (9C Brand). I was so excited for him.

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A few weeks went by and my oldest son and family came to visit us in Florida. For some reason, I decided that it was time for me to actually learn how to smoke something on my new smoker/grill combo. I called up Jeff and he was more than anxious to share some insights with me. We met one afternoon and I could not take notes fast enough. He brought items with him that would help me including a couple of bottles of his special sauce. I learned the difference between types of coal. I learned about fruit woods and what a chip and a chunk are. I learned when to spritz the meat with apple juice and when to apply the rubs. I was overwhelmed with all of the information and so glad I was not cooking for a paying customer!

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I got prepared and did my shopping and a few days later began the process. I prepared the chicken the night before. Once I lit the coals, I must have referred to my notes thirty times. I had to work to get the temperature correct. It finally started coming together and I was able to put the chicken thighs on the grill.

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The result was that I actually smoked some pretty dang good chicken that everyone loved. It was amazing. Next on the agenda is to learn how to smoke ribs and then pork butts and brisket.

It takes a little longer to actually do it correctly but I found that when I took the time to actually learn how to do it, I did not lose a single chest hair in the process. In fact, the 9C sauce may have put a few hairs on my chest! I highly recommend that every guy out there take some time this spring to really learn how to use their grill.

It’s nice to have a smokin’ wife and it’s nice to have a smokin’ truck but when your grill is smokin’, you could wax every chest hair off and still stand tall as a man’s man. Get grilled on how to use your grill and take your weekend BBQs to the next level. Mm…Mm…Smokin’!

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Just say Know!

“Ignorance is the curse of God; knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven.”
William Shakespeare

There has been a great debate among parents regarding the use of the word “No”. Some have said that it has such a negative connotation that the word should be avoided at all costs when dealing with small children. Others simply say that it is absurd that you shouldn’t use that word when your child is getting ready to touch a hot stove or shove another child to the ground.

As our children grow into their teenage years, their questions and actions become more significant (though granted, touching a hot stove is pretty significant). May I stay out late? May I have the car? May I go out with that guy that looks like a loser and is ten years older than me but really has a sweet personality?

Our first and often times correct response is “No” or the more thoughtful response, “When pigs grow wings”. We have learned through extensive media campaigns that when it comes to drugs, we should just say no. However, as they grow older, what worked when they were children, no longer seems to suffice. A much better choice is to just say “Know”.

Explaining the “why” of things gives you as a parent not only more credibility but also helps you (forces you) to ponder more deeply the “why” yourself. Why is it bad to do drugs or advisable to not have premarital sex? Why is it a bad idea to ask the thirty year old bar tender who tends bar at a local hotel to your senior prom? Why is a good idea to be home by midnight. Why does pornography take you down a lonely and desolate path? Why should you get good grades. Why should you learn how to work and earn your own money. Why should you be respectful? Why should you develop good grooming standards?

Our teenagers have so many good questions and are arriving at so many crossroads where a crucial decision must be made, that just saying no is a weak and debilitating answer. We certainly do not empower them to make the right decisions and may even push them towards the wrong choices.

Our choice is simple. Learn of the issues and prepare your answers. Live in the “Know” zone and not the “No” zone. I have always been amazed that my wife knew everything there was to know about my kid’s lives and even the lives of their friends. It was not uncommon for me to reintroduce myself to one of the their friends whom I had already met several times before but had forgotten. In contrast, my wife knew who was taking which subject in school and the name of that teacher and who was dating whom. She knew this not just for my kids but for their friends as well. She would cut up fruit and veggies and get them to hang out in the kitchen and chat with them like she was a coed.

Being in the “Know” zone makes all the difference in the world if we as parents want to help our teenagers maneuver their way through the hot stoves of adulthood. We empower ourselves to empower our children when we are current with a good working knowledge of the ills of society and the environment in which our kids live. Ignorance is not bliss…it is just a lazy way to say “yes…its okay… I don’t care”.

I am the only one that my wife says “no” to without any explanation required and I am old enough to “know” what that means…no pizza, no french toast, no nap…but I digress…our children need us to be in the “Know” zone so get there and get there before they have to learn all of the reasons why not to touch the hot stove by trial and error.

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A Plane, A Headset, and Sunglasses Do Not A Pilot Make

“This above all; to thine own self be true.”
William Shakespeare

Recently, I had the opportunity to go up in a small plane and learn to fly. It was exhilarating. I held the joystick on takeoff and controlled the plane for much of the time in the air. I took the plane in a gradual decent for the approach to the airport and landing. I wore a headset and sunglasses and if you would have seen me from afar, you would have thought I was a pilot.

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However, if you would have been seated in the cockpit with me you would have seen a totally different story. Instead of a relaxed grip on the joystick, my hands were white knuckled. Every muscle in my body was tense as I tried to control the flight of the plane. Between looking at the instruments and looking at my surroundings, it was easy to get disoriented and forget what I was supposed to be observing.

The headset provided a noise reduction device so the outside sound of the plane’s motor was muffled and we could hear each other talk. However, when it came to the control tower giving directions, I wanted nothing to do with it. It was in a different language as we were told which runway to take to get to the runway where we would take off. The letters and numbers and identifying directional signs for the plane and runway were said so quickly and then repeated back with such accuracy, I felt like if it has been left up to me I would have had the plane doing doughnuts in the grass until the plane ran out of gas and somebody hauled the plane back to the hanger and me to the hospital.

When we came in for our final approach to land, the wind started to buffet the plane. The trees below got closer and closer and my knuckles got whiter and whiter. I finally at about 500 feet, asked the flight instructor to take back the controls…I had zero confidence in my ability to keep us out of the 6:00 news headlines.

The experience was one that I will never forget and one day I hope to go back and get additional flight instructions to see if it is something that I could enjoy. One thing for sure, just because I’m in a plane and dressed like a pilot, it does not make me a pilot.

This concept applies in almost every aspect of our lives

* Just because I have a son, does not make me a father.
* Just because I have a wife, does not make me a husband.
* Just because I was born a male, does not make me a man.
* Just because I can say Amen, doesn’t make me a believer.
* Just because I do good things does not make me a good man.
* Just because I am alive does not mean I am living.

For every title you can wear, there is a deeper role to learn and earn. Just like the pilot who needs to practice and practice and study to fly safely, we need to learn our duty in the area of our responsibilities and perform it well every day.

I understand that the number one cause of plane crashes is pilot error. Live your life so that the titles you carry mean more than just a group of letters that make up words. You are in charge. Make sure that pilot error is not in your life’s flight plan.

Eight Tips for Making Your Next Family Photo a “Do it Yourselfie”

“When a writer becomes a reader of his or her own work, a lot can go wrong. It’s like do-it-yourself dentistry.”
William Collins

We had not taken a family photo in over six years because, as a family, we were never together. Finally, the now grown kids were home and my wife and I were determined to get that moment in time preserved. That decision was the easiest part of the whole affair.

We did not want to spend a fortune and also wanted control over all of our photos so we decided to take our family picture ourselves. Perhaps my professional photography friends will say I am a dummy, knucklehead or worse and that I got what I paid for and they may be correct. Our picture was not perfect but it did not cost anything and we are happy with it. What could have been a disaster, in the end, worked out okay.

Here are a few tips on how you, with a little luck and a lot of preparation, can make the family photo happen for nothing next time your whole family is together.

Tip One
The family photo should be a democratic affair with a lot of family input from everyone…until the day of the event.

It can be a lot of fun for everyone to share their input on what should be worn and where in the house, yard or community you should take the picture. Let everybody participate in the days leading up to the actual photo taking moment. At some point before everyone starts gathering, however, you need to take charge. The democratic process is over and you are the King or Queen. Make decisions and keep the crowd informed and moving.

Tip Two
Practice

Take a few pictures the day before of several sites and let your family comment on which location they like the best. Take the pictures at about the same time of day that you are taking the real picture so that you can look at the light. One of the biggest challenges is to get the light correct and without the help of a professional photographer and equipment you are going to just have to pay attention to it.

In the pictures below you can see that getting the light correct was going to be a big problem for us and sure enough it was. We overcame it somewhat by moving the person taking the picture closer to the family, using a flash and enhancing the picture with a software program.

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Tip Three
Get some advice from someone who knows more than you

Find an artistic friend who can give you some advice on which location would be best. Choosing the backdrop and how to center your picture can make or break any photo shoot. I offered eight different locations in our yard with different backdrops and after discussion, we narrowed it down to two locations.
I would have placed the big oak in the practice picture above in the middle but my friend offered her advice on how to balance the picture better so we shifted it to one side.

Tip Four
Consider the older people

It is hard for some to get around. In an outdoor photo, be aware that bugs and humidity are going to take its toll. Have everything in place before you bring out the old folks. Once you have everybody there, keep things moving. Have the younger people prepared ahead of time to assist the older generation with sitting, standing and moving around.

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Tip Five
Use a good camera…or two

If you don’t have one, someone you know does. It is important to have a good camera even if you just know the basics. In addition, a Smart Phone with a good camera in it may be used as a backup. I asked two people (non-professionals) to take the picture…one used the camera and the other used my phone. It was not a true”selfie” in the sense that I held the camera while still somehow maintaining my position in the picture, but it was still a do it yourself effort…The only problem with two cameras is that many of our pictures had people looking at different cameras. If you use two, remember to take charge and tell everyone which camera to look at. Of course, if the people taking the picture are standing right next to each other you should be fine.

Tip Six
Plan who is sitting or standing next to whom, before you get started

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In our family, we had both older people and a baby to consider. We also had divorced parents both of whom are very involved in our family and we wanted them in our picture. Many people will overcome family issues to preserve the memory for the greater good. Be smart at positioning them so that you do not make stressful situations worse. However, don’t hesitate to try to get everyone there. Take charge.

Tip Seven
Work in individual shots

It takes nothing to work in a few individual shots in between the big shots. Just demand it and take charge. In our case we just passed the baby around and got the shots we wanted.

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Tip Eight
Have fun if possible

When Sally’s chair sunk in the dirt and about tipped over backwards we all had a good laugh. Comic relief always helps so try to keep it as light as possible. You need to go in to this photo-op with seriousness on the preparation and organization side of it. Once you start snapping those pictures you need to also keep things moving. However, remember the reason you are doing all this is to keep the memories of your family frozen for a moment in time. Make sure that there is ample room for smiling and laughter mixed into that moment.

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All in all, once we started clicking pictures, we took almost 300 pictures in about twenty minutes. Most of them had something wrong but a few of them actually turned out good enough for us. We finished before everyone was sweating or tempers began flaring. Even the baby seemed to enjoy the outing.

If you want to “do it yourself”, it is possible. It takes a little bit of luck and a lot of preparation. I suppose as the family grows it will get harder and harder to get it done on our own but I have a half of a decade to worry about it. In the meantime, the area above my fireplace will hold the moment in time that we captured ourselves in 2014 and will do so proudly.

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The Larson Family August 2014

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“The Power of “I Don’t Know”

“It is what we learn after we know it all that really counts”

John Wooden

 

I attended a meeting with a high ranking leader in my church when he opened the floor for questions. Somebody raised their hand and asked a tough doctrinal question and the rest of us waited for his response. He said with confidence “I don’t know” and went on to the next question.

Some thirty plus years later I am still impressed with his answer. Wouldn’t it be a breath of fresh air if our politicians decided to employ with confidence the important truth of “I don’t know”?  Instead, we are taken on a journey of distortions and half-truths that leave us just as confused if not more than before the question was asked. That is because it is generally taken as a sign of weakness when you do not know how to answer a question.

Don’t get me wrong…there is a place where knowing the right answer should be expected. When we go through school or drivers education or balancing our check book, we need to know the right answers. But life is full of many situations where lines are fuzzy and instead of black  and white we see grey. Often there are no answers that seem to be good or easy.

Spoken from an honest heart, “I don’t know” is powerful. It portrays a sense of humility and humanity. It places the person in a position where their mind is open to learning. It allows a person to accept that not all things are understandable. It allows a person to cherish the ability to ponder and think deep and know that some answers are slow to arrive and may never be as clear as one plus one equals two.

The next time you are asked a life question that seems to be too difficult to answer do not be afraid to say “I don’t know”. Be confident in your response and then add “maybe we should ponder it together”. If the people in leadership positions in our world would just do that more often, we would be amazed at the progress and goodwill that we would enjoy.

It works at the grass-roots level too. It works in your families and in your relationships. Whether discussing deep doctrines or why you did not take out the garbage, “I don’t know”, is not a sign of weakness. Okay… in answering why you did not take out the garbage it might not work as well as there is no good answer to that question. However,  the deeper the question the more acceptable it is as an answer.

HighFive Your Life Principle: When dealing with life’s difficult questions do not be afraid to say  “I don’t know”.

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Seven Treasures Worth Saving for Your Future Wife (a note to my sons)

“The word ‘romance,’ according to the dictionary, means excitement, adventure, and something extremely real. Romance should last a lifetime.”
Billy Graham

My sons…you have reached an age when the prospect of finding and marrying the woman of your dreams is very real. What a great time of life! If you choose wisely…if you measure up and if you are worthy to be chosen in return, you will experience a depth of love that you can’t even imagine. You have been taught most of your life by society to associate romance with short-term events…to imagine the starry nights alone with your sweetheart wrapped in each other’s warm embrace.

I have to admit that it sounds pretty good to me too but why limit your romance to a few hours on the beach or a candle light dinner? Why not live your life now so that your entire life with your wife will be romantic…romantic in its purest form…a romance that lasts for decades instead of hours…a romance that is filled with adventure, excitement, heartache and triumphs? Yours can be a true love story. It can be done. This long-term romantic life with your wife will be the backbone for the creation and raising of your own family. That is the prize…that is the fight that is worth winning. Prepare yourself for her now, perhaps before you have even met her. You can do it but like most things good, it does not come easy.

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The prize is your future family.

There are many things that I think are worth saving for your future wife but I will only write of seven of them today. They are special gifts…some of them are gifts that only you can create and only you can give. They are all personal gifts that are made by saving certain things so that you can be in a position to give them to the right person at the right time. They are treasures. I want you to ponder the personal sacrifices that you are capable of making to ensure that the gifts of yourself for her constitute the most spectacular romantic framework a marriage could have.

I would like you to look me in the eyes as I am talking to you but since you are reading this just take your time and know that this is coming from my heart to yours.

Treasure One
Save Your Innocence

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We knew you as children and remember with sincere joy the magical moments of the holidays and vacations…of watching the Wizard of Oz, Star Wars and Nemo. As you have grown older you have been exposed to the darker side of life…to wars and crime and poverty. Be aware and prepare yourself to be part of the solutions of life but don’t bring to your bride a heavy sided pessimism. Save the innocence of childhood, albeit tainted with the realities of life, so that you can provide a yellow brick road for her and your children…a believer that better days are possible…a hero of hope.

A light-hearted man does not make him less of a man…it just makes him and everyone around him a little bit happier. Bring your innocence to the table even if your shoes are muddy and dirty with the crud of the world…just take them off at the door. Save that part of your upbringing and it will help make for a happy home…and happy homes that survive the ups and downs of life are romantic homes.

Treasure Two
Save your Money

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You have learned to work since you were small kids. You learned to clean up the yard and feed the animals. You weren’t always the most willing participants but work is not always about having fun. You have earned some money along the way. Add to it and save it. There are so many temptations to spend your money. Some tend to think that there is always going to be more where that came from…don’t be fooled. You need to be building a nest egg to enable you to provide a home for your bride and family. You need to save your money so that you can be free from debt if possible and free from dependency on anyone.

Treat your money as if each dollar has a future purpose for your family. Treat it as if you are spending her money even if you have not even met her yet. She will not marry you for your money but it will give her a sense of security, especially if she knows that you saved it for the two of you. A man who has shown the discipline to save his money for the purpose of supporting a woman that he perhaps has not even met yet is indeed creating a treasure that will be worth more than just money.

Treasure Three
Save Yourself

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I remember our talks regarding the birds and the bees. As awkward as that was, it was necessary to understand the beauty and magnificence of our procreative powers and our ability to have a family. What an incredible miracle that is!

Unfortunately there is a prevailing thought that men should be like Johnny Appleseed if possible, planting their seeds wherever and whenever possible. I may be a little old-fashioned but perhaps the best treasure you can give your future wife is your fidelity and purity. That’s right…save yourself for marriage. It will require discipline, work, planning and being smart but it is possible.

It is the one gift that you can give of yourself that nobody else can give for you. It is a maximum effort that many in this generation might find prudish and disappointing. Remember however that you are not preparing yourself for “the many”…you are preparing yourself for one women who will appreciate the effort and sacrifice you have made in her behalf. If you have not made the effort thus far I recommend that you start today. It is never too late. Your fidelity to her before your marriage will pay dividends in your lives together because of the remarkable power of trust that you each will share.

Make a plan for yourself to achieve this. A bond with your parents or with your church is generally not strong enough to achieve the result you desire. It must be a gift that you want to give your wife that comes deep from within your heart. If you save yourself for her, a lifetime of trust will exist and trust is one of the main ingredients for long-term romance.

Treasure Four
Save Your Thoughts

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I waited many years to find your mom. At some point I began to collect my pocket change and put it in jars. Occasionally I would write a note to my future wife and add it to the jar. Over time the money piled up and the notes were buried. As the years passed the number of jars began to add up and I eventually put them in a safe deposit box. Milk jugs and apple cider bottles were filled with coins, dollar bills and notes all the way to the top.

A few days before your mother and I were married I presented her with these multiple jars. Soon it was apparent that she cared very little about the money which was sometimes hard to even get back out of the containers. She wanted the notes and worked to get the money out of the way so she could get to them. We later added up about $5000 in cash and coin, which as a newly married couple we really needed. But it was the notes and the thought of the notes that was the real wealth that I passed on to her.

Write down your thoughts to your future wife now. Dream of her and save your dreams in your journal or in a safe place even if a jar is your treasure chest. Be a romantic. Look forward to the day when she will be on your arm and you will be standing before an altar. Know that she is out there somewhere and hope that she is preparing herself for you. When you actually experience her reading these notes you will know that I was right. Your thoughts are a treasure and will help you have the energy, resolve and motivation to save everything else for her.

Treasure Five
Save Your Faith

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Faith is a sensitive and very personal topic. At the same time it is a very important and universal issue. Your relationship with deity is yours to discover and develop. Do not be intimidated by those that would appear to know it all or those that would appear to dismiss it all. Your faith can not be “outfaithed” by others, neither can it be destroyed by others. Spiritual journeys are personal and important, the result of which should create in you a more tolerant, loving and kind disposition.

Let your doubts deepen your faith instead of undermining it. Not having all of the answers does not make you stupid or naive…it makes you human and humble and open to discovery. Your faith should be inclusive not exclusive and should be a gift and a blessing to your future wife even if her faith is not the same as yours. This gift is a treasure for both of you.

Treasure Six
Save Your Mom

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Your mom still worries about you. Did you make your beds? Are you cleaning your rooms? Are you studying hard? Are you being gentlemen? Save your mom from all of these concerns by putting into practice the two decades of teaching that she has given you at great personal sacrifice to herself. She has had countless sleepless nights filled with worry and concern… unlimited hours driving you to and from events and activities…numerous hours sitting and talking with you in her bed or on the phone.

She has imparted to you a lifetime of teachings on both how to treat a woman and how to be a great husband and father. Implement her teachings and you save your mom. Don’t mistake being a mama’s boys with being a good man well-trained by a loving mother. The two are not the same. This will be a gift of sweet consideration to your future wife if you are man enough to do it. A clean and considerate home with a clean and considerate man is a treasure. Get there.

Treasure Seven
Save Your Excuses

You are not marrying me or proving anything to me. My dream has already come true and I want yours to come true also. I do not want to hear any excuses why you cannot make this happen for you. Your mom and I have not had a perfect life…that is not the promise or reason for saving yourself in the ways I described above. Life is meant to be hard.

You will most likely not be 100% successful in all of these goals but don’t be a man of excuses. Give her the gift of a noble man but remember that a noble man is not a perfect man…he is just working his heart out to be one.

If you are the “knight in shining armor” you are not a gift to your future wife because your armor is shining. In fact your armor will be dented and scarred and weathered from intense battle. You will be a prize simply because you are still on your horse and still wearing your armor and still fighting the fight. Only your future wife will get you off the horse and get you to hang up your armor.

The fight for you to prepare for that day is going on now. Envision it. The question to answer is simple: How valuable can I make myself become as a gift for my future wife? You have been a gift to your mother and me. We have prepared you the best we could. Follow the example of your older brother who has found the love of his life. Follow the example of other good men around you that you respect and admire.

Our hope and prayer is that you will accept the challenge and continue to prepare your life so that you are ready to make your relationship with your wife a long-term romantic love story. We love you. Remember the prize. Give her the treasure of a noble man. Take charge of this process and make it happen.

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The prize is your future family…always keep that in mind
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