Me too.

The card was kind of dumb if you ask me; it read: “Name the animal you most identified with before getting help for your problem.”

What are we, 12? I thought, but then again, I’d chosen this exercise for our discussion group, I really had no one to blame but myself.

“Come on Miss Rachel, you have to pick another one, that one doesn’t work for people whose problems are more about their cars breaking down than anything else.”

I wasn’t hurt, I understood where he was coming from, but I also knew he was wrong.

I hesitated. “I umm…well…I have had bigger problems than that.”

“Oh yeah, tell us then; if we have to share, you have to share.”

That’s fair.

To be honest, I’d never really been intentional in withholding any of my past struggles with substance abuse from my residents. I mean, there are obvious boundary issues that I am very aware of and remained steadfast in even in my sharing, but in that moment, my gut told me that my opening up, even if just a little, was worth the risk.

And what I experienced in those moments confirmed that feeling. As I shared and answered questions I noticed a wave a relief and empowerment lightly graze the group.  I didn’t fully grasp it until one gentleman stated, “This may be the first time I’ve been able to say ‘me too’ to someone who wasn’t also in my shoes. I mean, Miss Rachel, you’re kinda giving me hope right now.”

Me too. I’ve always stood by the notion that those two words are arguably the most powerful words in the English Language. Who of us hasn’t felt relief when hearing the stories of someone who has been where we are and has made it out the other side? I can think of several relationships I have that would have quite possibly never been had we not bonded over a shared experience or struggle. There is power in those two little words and yet I so often hoard my stories, my experiences for fear of giving away too much or ruining my perfect image. (Because up until now you all thought I was perfect, right? RIGHT?!)

The group ended but not before I made it clear that my story is my own and theirs are theirs. No two individuals are the same and even in my own struggles I cannot claim to understand each person’s pain. In fact, I shared with them how lucky I was (am) to have parents that relentlessly loved me and wouldn’t have given up on me if I begged them too and the monetary ability to ensure that they wouldn’t have to. I hesitated to share this, knowing that very few of them could say the same, but it’s true – I was lucky. Not better, not worse, just lucky.

I left the group a bit emotionally hungover, sharing your weaknesses shit is hard, you guys. But I also left lighter, encouraged and gob smacked that my story from years ago could directly impact the lives of the folks I care so much about today. So often I think my sharing is all about my healing, which is probably why I’d never talked about this stuff with them before, but in that group I was reminded that the power of vulnerability and storytelling goes both ways. And that day it was my honor to hear those two words muttered back to me by a group of men whose lives have looked very, very different than mine  and yet, “me too,” they replied. Continue reading

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Playing Favorites.

Ms. WB: Miss Rachel, you just turned 32? That’s a great year! I had my favorite child when I was 32.

Me: I thought mom’s weren’t supposed to have favorites?

Ms. WB: Uh-oh, if that’s what your mama told you then it means your brother is hers.

 

Well crap. (But let’s be honest, I always suspected this.)

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Miley Cyrus, an Ice Bucket and a Hipster Walk Into a Bar…

Alright, alright, alright, enough of you dear folks have written to me asking me my thoughts on Hannah Montana…err Miley Cyrus’ MTV VMA stunt on Sunday that I felt I really ought to address it. Truthfully, I have put it off all day, mainly due to the fact that I am about to defend Hannah…err Miley and that is not something I have ever wanted to do.

Sunday night, for those of you that missed it and/or are too lazy to click on the above link, Miley Cyrus, instead of personally accepting her MTV VMA award for her video Wrecking Ball, sent a 22-year-old (homeless? formerly homeless? this was never made clear) gentleman on stage to accept the award on her behalf and make a speech challenging viewers to join Miley in championing the cause to care for homeless youth in LA. On her Facebook page she encourages folks to donate with the incentive to enter a lottery in which there is a chance to win a trip to Rio with her.

miley-cyrus-vmas-homeless-4Truthfully, my first thoughts when seeing this and learning of the contest were, “oh brother, this was so clearly a publicity stunt, if anyone falls for the idea that this is coming from her heart they are a moron.” And you know what? I still kind of think that. (I’m sorry, I drank the Miley haterade after last year’s VMAs and that’s very hard high to come down from.)

But the reality is, whether from her heart or not (and I mean honestly, I have never met the little twerker, I have very little right to judge) thousands of people got a glimpse of this young man’s story and whether they chose to ignore it or not were challenged with his bold and powerful statement, “The music industry will make over $7 billion this year, and outside these doors are 54,000 human beings who have no place to call home,” which is very, very accurate and something worth considering when deciding where to put your dollar.

I don’t believe Miley executed this perfectly, it annoyed me that she sat on the ledge and cried into the camera, that felt a little gross, but if I’m being honest, I don’t believe that her actions at the VMA’s are all that different from yours or mine. In our most truthful moments we would all have to admit that we have done things that even if not our total intention, have been spurred on by our desire for praise — and heck, she raised a ton of money and spread awareness in her wake.

Truth be told, this concept is one that I worry about quite often. I am constantly in fear of writing about my experiences here on Skid Row for any benefit anything other than that of these folks I serve. I am afraid of crossing that fine line and exploiting people that I really care about and I am terrified of the idea that any person could ever read what I write and walk away thinking that I am showing off or get the impression that I am doing/saying any of this for applause. But then I hear stories from friends and readers, I get asked questions and dialogue begins and I am reminded that this is advocacy.

Yes, sometimes advocacy looks like humbly and quietly donating money to a cause you believe in- there is certainly a time for that. But other times advocacy needs to be a little louder, it needs to looks like running a marathon and begging your friends for cash. It needs to look like posting a facebook status standing up for what you believe in, even if met with opposition. It needs to look like speaking up to defend “the other,” even when it’s not favorably met. Sometimes it even needs to look like dumping ice water on your head, all in an effort to scream “I AM IN THIS WITH YOU.”

You will be met with opposition. People on the other side will be mad and argue that you’re wrong. But please my friends, please press on, we need you.

And in return, I promise to do my best to put aside the hipster cynicism that runs through my veins. The part of me that questions people’s intentions and balks at efforts that look different than mine. The part of me that thinks nothing popular could possibly be effective or the part that is simply arrogant enough to think that if it wasn’t my idea, it wasn’t a good one.

I think we still have a long way to go in this thing, but I believe that something good is happening.

So thank you Hannah Mon…dammit, Miley. (I will get this sooner or later.) Thank you for dumping the proverbial bucket of ice water on your head in the name of our homeless brothers and sisters. Run along now and grab yourself a towel before you meet up with your dad to twerk to Achy Breaky Heart.*

 

 

*Dear lord in heaven Miley, if you ever actually do this, please do not post a video of it, I simply will not be able to defend that.

 

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Filling the Bleachers.


“Rachel, guess what?!” I heard Linda yelling at me just before she came into eyesight and bounded into my office. “Guess where I’ve been… go on, guess…okay no, you don’t need to! I’ve been at a treatment center for three weeks and have been clean and sober for 13 days!”

“Thirteen days?! That is AMAZING! I am so proud of you!”

And it is.

And I am.

Because truthfully, the part of me that is not as polish and ready to advocate at a moment’s notice, the part that’s a bit uglier, as it questions the goodness of grace and doesn’t always believe that people can and will change, doubted this day would ever come.

Linda and I have known each other for coming up on two years now. Most days she’s incredibly sweet, but she has had a rough, rough life from the start. Many would look at her past timeline and assume that the choice is all hers and in some ways, it is. Linda has made plenty of decisions that have been less than an ideal, but she’s also made plenty that should be admired – even greater however, because of her struggles, she’s had many decision made for her, as others have move and manipulate her in a way that could confuse and damage any one of us.

But she’s still choosing to fight.

She’s choosing to make new choices, ones that will, by God’s grace, bring healing and peace.

But you know what? Even if tomorrow she decides to turn back to her to her demons and give up the fight for way of her vices, she will still have me and she’ll still have 13 days in the year 2014 where she fought her heart out and made healthy choices.

And that is something to celebrate.bleachers

Because the reality is, just like any change we make in life, most people who get clean and sober after years and years of substance abuse do so cyclically – it’s rarely a one-time deal, to choose sobriety and never look back. Studies show that the majority of people who go to treatment do so several times before they are actually able to maintain sobriety. But each step forward is a step to celebrate. Each healthy decision didn’t have to be so and choosing to cheer these decisions on instead of chastising the past screams “I love you and I believe in you” to its recipient.

I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of friend/counselor/sister/human I want to be. I want to be someone who believes in change and is willing to walk and fight alongside those embarking on it, no matter what the circumstances may be. Because at the end of the day, I am not different, I am not better and I too need the bleachers filled with a cheering section from time to time, reminding me that I can do it and I am worth it.

Let’s love well celebrate with each other today, ok?

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I Am Not the Voice of the Voiceless.

I am not the voice of the voiceless. (And neither are you.)

I’m sorry if that doesn’t sit well with some of you, but it needs to be said.

The “voice of the voiceless”… I keep hearing this expression. It seems have taken on legs and now walks around inflating the egos of the privileged and often self-appointed voice boxes- drawing attention to those “fighting for justice,” and stealing attention away from those they claim to serve.

Okay, perhaps if you work for PETA or ASPCA I could get behind said moniker… because unlike humans, animals cannot speak. But humans can indeed – people are not voiceless. Each human has a voice, but sadly, many who would love to use theirs have been silenced.

Silenced by broken systems, abuse, and oppression.

Silenced by the way they have been dismissed and overlooked because of the color of their skin, their gender, their social class, or some other less than desirable characteristic shunned by society at large.

Silenced by fear.

Silenced by exhaustion as some simply got tired of their desperate pleas falling on deaf ears of the elected.

But they are not voiceless.

I spend a good portion of my life walking beside homeless and formerly homeless people and yes, I do speak out on their behalf, because whatever the different reasons may be (accessibility, vague understanding of both worlds, college-bred ability to articulate my words onto paper), my voice is heard louder. But the reality is, everything I am saying I learned from my friends who have been there or are there now.

I have never been homeless, in fact, I’ve never even come close. I know far more what it’s like to live in affluent neighborhoods than I do on the street or in my car. But I listen and take notes and do my best to hear what I am being told and then yes, I speak out. And I am proud and honored to do so.

I absolutely love writing about this community that I have been lucky enough to be invited into, and I love, love, love hearing others’ stories of truth and justice in return. But, in the same way that I am not your voice, I am not theirs either — they are. I am simply groomed (err, sorta) and have been trained by the world as to what my place is…and so have they. The difference is, many marginalized and disenfranchised people have been conditioned to believe that their voice is less powerful, less worthy, or less pleasing.

Please know, I am guilty of this too. I am not pointing the finger here without knowing full well that one (or several) are pointing back at me. I devour books about poverty written by those who don’t know it, and I fall all over myself when I brush shoulders with my literary and activist heroes; only to turn around and dismiss the man in line at the store who is taking forever and rambling on and on and on, wasting my oh-so-precious time.

I’m in a hurry.

Does he not know that I am in a hurry?

He is not voiceless – but perhaps I am listenless.

This is not some self-righteous plea asking you to stop reading my words or writing your own, in fact, I hope you don’t. There is power in storytelling and hearing different accounts from different lenses and there is absolutely a time and place for advocacy and that is my heart’s desire; to speak up for my friends, not as their voice, but rather be my voice on their behalf, as they learn to reclaim their own.

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Hit On By the Homeless…Dog.

I never really anticipated being the Crazy Dog Lady – I mean, it was never my intention at least. For 5 years I had been the obsessed owner of a sweet (albeit terrified of her own shadow) pit-bull, Bella and she was enough. But that changed the day my friend and co-worker Erin called and told me she had a mission for us.

A little wary and a lot busy, I was cautious when I asked her what this mission would be, but instead of telling me, up popped a picture of two cute little pups who were absolutely filthy and way too skinny. “We have to save these dogs, Rach, they are living outside the mission and don’t have any food or water. I can’t take it anymore.”

A little bit of wheeling and dealing later…okay fine, we actually bought the dogs off the homeless people who were “tending” to them (please don’t tell my boss)…we had two dogs on our hands in lots of need. Within 24 hours we’d washed, dried, fed (and fed and fed), gotten check-ups, shots, de-wormed (oh my gosh barf) and made appointments for our little homeless girls to get spayed and microchipped, all with the intention of adopting them out once we knew they were healthy.photo (6)photo (4)

As it turns out however, you have to be really, really strong to do that and oh my gosh, you can’t name them and if you do name them, you can’t pick the name you have always loved, Scout to pay homage to your favorite book, because that’s just dumb and you will obviously become attached.

And as you can probably guess, that was the week I became a 2-dog owner. (And Erin became a new dog owner.)

Whoops.

The thing is, this little girl is special. I’ve rescued quite a few dogs in my day (once while on a date. I know, I know, WEIRDO), but she was different. As I assume you all know, ‘cause duh I write this blog, I tend to root for the underdog. (get it?) My heart aches when I see someone or something with a need that I can fill and this little 4 legged creature was no different. In my heart, she is a survivor. She’s not all that big, but managed to take on the streets of Skid Row for the first year of her life and lived – that’s no small feat. I’m fairly certain I couldn’t say the same for myself if ever in that position. I couldn’t resist her, so she settled in to live with me and in fact, for the first few months, things were great. That is, until they weren’t.photo (2)

It started kind of subtly, my two pups would get in riffs here and there, but whatever, they’re dogs, YOLO, right? But one thing led to another to another and now here I am, looking for a new home for my little girl. A home where she is the only pup, as it turns out (thanks to lots of hours and money training her), although she loooooves the attention of people, her life on the streets left her little heart scarred and scared, which leads her to want to defend herself when she feels threatened by other k-9’s.

My heart is broken.

In a million pieces.

Who knew 20 pounds could take me out like this?

Honestly though, I don’t think she is much different than me. I too, have a tendency to want to lash out when I am scared and vulnerable, only usually mine comes out more in cutting words and emotional actions and less by showing my teeth, growling and scrapping. Maybe there’s a case study there for you, sociologists.scout3

So today, as I continue to house homeless people by day, I search, hunt and cry for a home for this little lady. A home where she will be loved and adored, where she will inevitably, in return, love and adore her owners. A home where she can be free to relax, cuddle and play, instead of looking over her shoulder in fear of other Benji wannabe’s.

If you think you might be or know someone who might be the keeper of this home, send them my way, wouldja? I can promise you a couple things if you do; I will be eternally grateful, I may show up at your doorstep on more than one occasion and you will be super loved by a sweet little ball of fur with a ridiculous waddle.scout 1Processed with VSCOcam with m3 preset
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You’ve Got to be Joking Me.

Mr. Luis: Hey Miss Rachel, I learned a new joke, wanna hear it?

Me: Sure! I love jokes.

Mr Luis: Does your face hurt?

Me: Yes, as a matter a fact, it does. I just got my wisdom teeth pulled and…

Mr Luis: Gahhhh!! You ruined everything! You were supposed to say “no” and then I would say “well it’s killing me!” Uggggh.

Me: Well I’m sorry, but my face really does hurt, so what, you want me to lie? I thought you’d appreciate my honesty.

Mr. Luis: You are going to be a crazy mom one day.

Me: Hmm, okay. I’m not sure I follow the correlation, but fair enough.

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A Cry for Peace.

Full disclosure: the last couple weeks have been ugly. I’ve been ugly. The internet’s been ugly. Everything has seemingly to take on the face of a monster and I’ve completely lost it. Twice. (Okay more like 6 times, but there were two really big breakdowns…uhh, both in public settings. Good grief.)

Between some crazy happenings here on Skid Row and the controversy regarding World Vision, at one point I really believed I might lose my sanity for good and with it my desire to keep going on this mission of reconciliation among those living in the margins.

Because honestly, I am tired. I am tired of fighting and I am tired of caring. Caring just seems to hurt.

I’m tired of feeling like I am the only one who stays up at night thinking about the things of this world that are amiss and the ways in which we are failing so many of our brothers and sisters. (I am not actually the only one, by the way.) I’m tired of watching people be battered and bruised and I’m tired feeling like all I do is scream about injustice all day long.

But somewhere along the lines I learned this; I don’t know how to not care. I don’t know how to sorta feel anything.

If you give me a topic, two differing viewpoints and 3 ½ minutes, I will come up with a stance that I am so passionate about you’d think I’d have devoted my whole life to it. Although this can be a positive catalyst, it also threatens to kill me.

Last week, during one of my two mental-breakdown-cryfests (while WALKING DOWN THE STREET talking into my headphones. I am an embarrassment.) I was talking to a friend and I stated through sobs “I just can’t, I can’t care anymore. I am done. This is the end of me. I have nothing left in me.” (No, I am not dramatic, stop judging me.)

In that moment I felt incredibly overwhelmed and like perhaps God had in fact simply forgotten what he’d set out to do in me. I was starting to resign myself to the idea that maybe He just wanted me to be miserable after all. Because that’s how I often feel when I look around at how many people are being hurt at the hands of the privileged; just miserable.

My dear, patient friend however, instead of jumping down the swirling sink with me, gently reminded me of the narrative in the Bible about the Israelites. In this story, God chose to carry his people out of exile by taking them through the desert for 40 years. (Am I the only one who easily forgets that, that is a long freaking time?)

While in the desert the Israelites wandered and cried (sounds familiar), often submitting themselves to the idea that perhaps they should just turn around and go back into oppression. WHAT THE WHAT?

Why would anyone willingly go back into slavery? Because they were scared. They’d hit a snag, freak out and begin to doubt that God had ever called them to such a crazy journey.

Maybe we read the signs wrong, maybe the miracles and proverbial open doors were just a coincidence. Maybe we were never meant for this life after all.

As anyone who has read Exodus knows, the Israelites did eventually make it to the Promised Land, finding freedom for their people for generations to come – but not without hardship, it wasn’t handed to them. Lives were lost, families were split, hearts were broken.

But in the end, the people of Israel were free.

Am I willing to endure the wandering, the heartache and the mess that comes with restoration, reconciliation and justice?

Yep, I am. But Lord help me because I am tired, teary and feeling awfully human these days.

So what does this mean? Where do I go from here? This crazed passion is embedded in my make-up. If I am to live into who I believe God has designed me to be, for Him, now is not the time to give up.

But perhaps now is the time pause, catch my breath, regroup and remember why I am here and WHO sent me – because if I don’t I’ll never make it. I will spit and sputter and eventually burnout. This is a marathon, not a sprint – I want to finish this race, not collapse somewhere in the chaos.

I want…no, I need to take some time to pray. I need to pray for the things that break my heart, not merely write, tweet and scream about them. Prayer has all too often become my last resort, not my first. This should never be.

I want to figure out how to use my voice to elicit only positive change. It often feels like everything I read whether on blogs, twitter, facebook or other social outlets, stems from some sort of anger or rebuttal.

I regularly find myself reading scathing or snarky words (sometimes my own) used to describe others as unkind, unjust or unbiblical, with words that are written with such a strong venom and condescension that they are not only muting the point, they’re tearing everyone down in their wake.

I want to be someone who stands up for what I believe in, not just for what I don’t. I want to extend grace in order to seek reconciliationrestoration and unity, even when I am angry and struggling to see the other side.

I don’t believe it’s wrong to be angry, but it’s what we do with that anger that will decide if we move toward peace or if we move toward destruction.

I want to defend the marginalized human, but not by way of destroying another human. I want to meet at the cross. I want to be kind and speak when I have something productive to say, while staying quiet when my words will only wound.

I want to join hands and pray for reconciliation and shalom together.

Will you join me?

 

If you are interested in writing out a prayer of your own for this site, with the purpose of ushering in reconciliation and justice, drop me a line on twitter, facebook or by email. (hitonbythehomeless@gmail.com)

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March Against Excess: Day #31

Guys, we did it. Can you hear it? The cheers, the sighs of relief, the empty sounds of hollow closets. (That last one actually not true in my case, I still have a lot of crap to let go of before we’ll get anything close to an echo…baby steps, y’all.)

We made it through the March Against Excess. Thirty-one days of giving, complete.

Personally, I feel a sense of relief, new-found freedom and like I will be wading through piles of stuff for the next three months in an attempt to get them into just the right hands.

I originally set out to cease all spending that was not necessary (absolutely no clothes, which was only hard when I saw a really cute sweater on sale) and give away three of my belongings per day for the month of March, but THEN because I was so nervous that I couldn’t do it, switched it to two items per day. This decision evidently invited that pesky LOUD voice in my head that began to nag and nag until I finally gave in and settled back to three items.

The final purge verdict; 144 of my possessions have been removed and are in the process of being given to those in need. As it turns out, I had a lot more things that needed new homes than I’d originally thought.

In an attempt at transparency and full disclosure, I give you the itemized list:

31 pairs of shoes (umm, WHAT? Also, I still have way too many, especially given I more or less rotate between two pairs of boots and flip-flops.)
18 sweatshirts/jackets
13 bags
1 computer
18 scarves (Yeah, I know I live in L.A. and it’s not “cold” to the rest of you, but whatever I evidently hoard scarves.)
4 beanies
9 pairs of jeans/pants
13 tops
11 tank tops
10 dresses/skirts
8 sweaters
7 pieces of jewelry
1 lamp

Please hear this loud and clear; the number of belongings I am giving away is not something I am proud of, in fact I am totally embarrassed by it. I didn’t want to write about it at all. I should not have that many things that I don’t need, when so many are living without basic necessities. But I am learning and trying to change, with the plan to continue utilizing these principles as way of life, not merely a month-long project.

I can honestly say that have come to find complete joy in releasing the tight grip that I once employed in an attempt to hold onto my earthly belongings. I pray that I never lose sight of this again, that my life would paint a different picture; one that gives extravagantly in an effort to meet both physical and emotional needs.

At present time, my belongings are categorized into two piles; a pile of clothing that will be taken to the “store” that my parents church has set up, where homeless men and women can come pick out things that they need, free of charge. The other pile is comprised of specifically chosen clothing that are perhaps not practical for a woman living on the street (ie; jewelry, high heels, dresses, etc.) that will be donated to young single moms who have transitioned out of homelessness, but may not have the finances to buy themselves extra treats.

I am so in love with the idea of giving to these women in the in-between; the often forgotten women who are just regaining their footing. Perhaps these women have a job interview or a date they want to put on jewelry or heels for, but don’t have the means to gussy up, as their paychecks are spent before they’re received in an effort to keep the lights burning and food on the table. I want these women to walk with confidence, knowing that they are remembered and that they are special.

It’s pretty crazy to think that it’s only been a month since this project began. One month ago I was dragging my feet, begging God to let me off the hook on this one and He just wouldn’t let up. Thirty-one days later I can state with conviction that although I am not as far as I long to go, I have been changed, not simply by my own personal experience, but by the experiences of others that have shared in this journey and encouraged me with their words and inspiration.

Twenty-six friends agreed to take part in this movement, in some form or fashion. That’s twenty-six stories that have spoken loudly and poignantly, pressing me at times to give just a little bit more. In several moments I found myself in the throes of my closet holding something I love, facing the question to keep or give – remembering that army behind me pushed me to open my hand with extravagance over mediocrity.

So thank you. Thank you for being a part of this challenge. Thank you to each of you who asked questions, shared stories and sent encouraging words. I am not always the quickest when it comes to processing, so there very well could be more shared reflections to come (and quite possibly some more pictures and/or a video! Eek!). Please, please, please, keep sharing your stories and pictures with me, it makes my heart sing.

So much love. My heart is full.

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March Against Excess: Day #Uggs

One of my residents complained that her feet were cold this morning and because it seems I now fancy myself the poor version of Oprah (“You get a sweater! You get a necklace! You get some boots!”) I ran down to my car and brought her back the pair of Uggs that I’d begged for, for Christmas a few years back (and wore roughly 4 times).

She responded by saying, “Oooo, my granddaughter has some of these! I never thought I would. I really am the cool-hippest now!”

Sister, with lingo like that, you already were.

I was so delighted that this panic went through my head: This is so much fun, it almost feels selfish. Wait, I am trying to rid myself of selfishness. Ohcrapohcrapohcrapohcrap.

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Are you participating in #MarchAgainstExcess? Please-oh-please tell me about it on Facebook, Twitter, in the comment section, wherever! Every story takes me to that kid-cracked-out-on-Halloween-candy place. It’s kind of embarrassing if I’m being honest:)

 

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