FamilyLife Blended® Podcast

125: How To Be Thankful in a Blended Family

with Gayla Grace | November 20, 2023
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Have you ever wondered how to be thankful in a hard season in your blended family? Listen to Ron Deal and Gayla Grace talk about finding joy, regardless of our circumstances, as we focus on God’s faithfulness, His provision, and His promises.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Ron Deal

    Ron L. Deal is one of the most widely read and viewed experts on blended families in the country. He is Director of FamilyLife Blended® for FamilyLife®, founder of Smart Stepfamilies™, and the author and Consulting Editor of the Smart Stepfamily Series of books including the bestselling Building Love Together in Blended Families: The 5 Love Languages® and Becoming Stepfamily Smart (with Dr. Gary Chapman), The Smart Stepfamily: 7 Steps to a Healthy Family, and Preparing to Blend. Ron is a licensed marriage and family therapist, popular conference speaker, and host of the FamilyLife Blended podcast. He and his wife, Nan, have three sons and live in Little Rock, Arkansas. Learn more at

Have you ever wondered how to be thankful in a hard season in your blended family? Listen to Ron Deal and Gayla Grace talk about finding joy, regardless of our circumstances, as we focus on God’s faithfulness, His provision, and His promises.

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125: How To Be Thankful in a Blended Family

With Gayla Grace
November 20, 2023
| Download Transcript PDF

Gayla: You know, I'm thankful for family. I'm thankful for my big, messy, blended family. [Laughter] I mean, we've had a lot of tears, but we've had a lot of joy, too. And now, with all the kids grown up, relationships still aren't perfect, but you know what, there's a lot of love. I think one of the things I've learned along the way is to accept the situation like it is, so if the relationship with my stepchildren, for instance, isn't exactly where I want it to be, it's okay. This is where we're at today and we are still moving forward, even if it's little baby steps and it's five steps backwards. I think we just accept that this is where we're at and then in time, things do generally get better, usually.

Ron: Welcome to the FamilyLife Blended podcast. I'm Ron Deal. We help blended families, and those who love them, pursue the relationships that matter most. Welcome to our Thanksgiving edition of the podcast. This is releasing just days before Thanksgiving in 2023. I'm joined in the studio by our host of our monthly Women and Blended Families Livestream, Gayla Grace.

Gayla: Good to be here, Ron.

Ron: It's always good to have you here. Thanks for joining me.

Gayla: You bet.

Ron: We're going to spend a little time today talking about gratitude. Gayla, I imagine,  you've got some plans for Thanksgiving?

Gayla: I do. They change every year.

Ron: Yes. Who does the cooking? Does Randy do some of the cooking?

Gayla: No, well, sometimes we barbecue the turkey on the grill.

Ron: Yes; oh man, I'm coming over.

Gayla: It's good. It's really good. You inject it with all the stuff, and marinate it overnight, and then he cooks it on the grill; but the rest of the cooking's on me, mostly.

Ron: We have found a place that smokes the turkey.

Gayla: Oh, really?

Ron: And I have fallen in love, I tell you; it is just so well done, I don't think we're ever going to go back to doing it ourselves.

Gayla: That's nice.

Ron: It's kind of expensive, but my goodness.

Gayla: It's once a year.

Ron: It's once a year.

Gayla: Yes.

Ron: Right, and so it's really good stuff.

Well, there you go. I'm sure you're making your plans as well for Thanksgiving. We hope you are anyway. I’ve got to start off this episode on gratitude by just saying how grateful we are. We have got a $40,000 matching-gift challenge going on right now, specifically for FamilyLife Blended. Of course—

Gayla: Awesome.

Ron: —FamilyLife does a year-end matching gift challenge. We had one donor come alongside us, gave $40,000 and said specifically for blended family ministry, which means every dollar you give is going to be matched—becomes $2 up to $40,000.

Gayla: That's great.

Ron: Yes, very exciting and it's very important for us to be able to continue to expand our ministry and reach around the world. That's one of the things we're planning to do in the years ahead, and so we're working towards that goal. We'd appreciate you doing everything you can. You know, I guess really the larger conversation there, Gayla, is about provision.

Gayla: Yes, absolutely.

Ron: You know I'm just so reminded of how the Lord provides for us in this particular ministry, but just me, even me personally; that is important to me, and God just seems to be there in so many ways.

Gayla: Yes, that's—I'm sure you're not just referring to financially.
Ron: Right.

Gayla: Yes; provision by God is in so many places and as we talk about, especially for blended families and the holidays, sometimes we need provision emotionally and spiritually, certainly mentally, because holidays can be tough.

Ron: Yes, they can. Let's just keep talking about that because I think that's a good point for our conversation today. Through the years, can you think of some things that showed up for you at the right time?

Gayla: Yes. So gosh, this will be our 28th Thanksgiving together as a family and with five kids and two former spouses, there have just been dynamics that at times have been overwhelming. I have had to kind of sit back and think about things that we talk about a lot, for instance, being flexible with the schedule and try to start planning it ahead of time so that you know—I mean, this is the week of Thanksgiving, but we've got Christmas afterwards.

And so moving on into that season and all that goes on, make sure that you're cooperative with your former spouse because it doesn't serve the kids well if we are combative or refuse to be flexible and then they get stuck in the middle. We’ve got to think about the kids and their needs also, and sometimes we get so caught up in what we want and what we're planning, and we have to also consider, “Okay, but that might be more than little Johnny can handle,” and the back-and-forth stuff is, you know, too extreme for this year. There’re other things that are going on. We have to consider other people's needs too and not just ours.

Ron: I just think about our life together as a family and how things change. You know this is, I think, 38 years for Nan and I to do Thanksgiving together, and I knew her a couple of years before, so add it all up. It's a lot.

Gayla: Right.

Ron: So much has changed, empty nest.

Gayla: Yes, right.

Ron: I know you guys are walking that as well.

Gayla: We are empty nest; that's right.

Ron: So you have that, and who are we going to get to see, who we're not going to get to see. There's so much you cannot control when it comes to holidays. Blended families have that whole piece going from day one—

Gayla: Exactly, yes.

Ron: —and so maintaining some gratitude in the midst of helplessness, that's super hard. That is just really hard. And it's really always been one of those questions of faith that people have when walking with God. Like, “Lord, why won't this work out the way I would like for it to?”

Gayla: Right, right, yes. I think one of the things I've learned along the way is to accept the situation like it is, so if the relationship with my stepchildren, for instance, isn't exactly where I want it to be, it's okay. This is where we're at today, and we are still moving forward, even if it's little baby steps and it's five steps backwards. I think we just accept that this is where we're at. We're going to continue taking the next step forward, as God shows us the direction, and then in time, things do generally get better, usually.

But if we just are continually pining for, “Oh, it would be so much better if it looked like this,” or “You know what, my neighbor that's a biological family, everything looks so clean and easy over there.” And you know, we compare ourselves to others and it gets us nowhere other than disappointment.

Ron: So, you know, there's a couple of things there I want to tag on to; the anxiety that we feel and then the comparisons. I mean, you compare yourself one stepfamily to another stepfamily, that's not fair. Their configuration is different. There's different, you know, ingredients in their crockpot.

Gayla: Right.

Ron: But comparing to a biological family, there's a lot of things that are not necessarily; it always looks cleaner from the outside than it is on the inside.

Gayla: It does; right.

Ron: That's part of people's anxiety. It's the, “Here's what I want, here's what I can't get” thing. And that I think it just becomes, you know, a little demon in your soul, stealing your gratitude.

Gayla: Yes. And you know, what contributes to that is social media. And because what we put on social media looks great and our table is beautiful and everybody is there and everybody is smiling, but what's really behind the scenes is probably not so pretty. And so sometimes we might need to step away from social media, just for a day or two, if it's going to create additional pain for us. There's been times I've just thought I don't need to go there because it's not going to be a perfect holiday. I have pain in my heart right now. You know maybe if there's, you're in a situation like that, just be careful in what you're exposing yourself to.

Ron: Yes; there's always somebody who's not at the table that you wish they were.

Gayla: Absolutely.

Ron: I can relate to that. I know you can relate to that.

Gayla: I can.

Ron: There’re circumstances about that you can't control. There's something going on in a child's heart that you're nervous about or anxious about for them. There's a lot and so how do we step back and focus on joy? That's not to say that you minimize the problems. I think anybody who's listened to more than one of our podcasts [Laughter] knows that we don't avoid issues.

Gayla: Right.

Ron: We don't. In fact, we're telling people to step into grief on a regular basis, for example. So we're not saying pretend and act like there's nothing that concerns you, but I think joy is that thing that rises above our circumstances and looks through it and looks past it, tries to say, “Lord, help me have the wisdom that I need to understand what's going on in my life and not let this concern, you know, dictate everything about me. I've still got to try to bring a sense of wisdom and grace to our circumstances.”

Gayla: And you know what I really feel like God has been teaching me lately is to trust in Him even when we don't understand the circumstances, or we don't like the circumstances. We are still going to trust that God is going to walk with us, and that God has different plans than ours sometimes. Isaiah 55:8 is all about my ways are not your ways and sometimes we just have to latch onto that. We may not understand His ways. Oftentimes, we understand things backwards, right? I mean, I can understand things that happened ten years ago, a whole lot better—

Ron: That's right.

Gayla: —than maybe what's going on in my life right now today. And yet, am I still going to trust God and allow him to guide my steps? Absolutely. I think that's where we can find joy and peace in knowing that He is still right here with me. We can either focus on our problems or we can focus on God's presence in the midst of our problems.

Ron: That's well said. A few things you're grateful for, and then let's share some things we want to encourage our listeners to be thankful for during this particular season.

Gayla: You know, I'm thankful for family. I'm thankful for my big, messy, blended family. [Laughter] I mean, we've had a lot of tears, but we've had a lot of joy, too. And now, with all the kids grown up, relationships still aren't perfect, but you know what, there's a lot of love and not everybody will be at our table at Thanksgiving or at Christmas. We've got a lot of kids that live out of state, one out of the country.

Ron: —one out of the country.

Gayla: I'm thankful for who's there and how we can have laughter and joy in the midst of whatever is going on.

Ron: I too am grateful for my wife—37 going on 38 years, not too far away from that anniversary—our three boys and my oldest is married, our daughter in law, we love her, and we just love so much about our relationship and how we engage one another stay connected and that's so very important.

I love my job. I love what I do. I get to help people live with Christ and for Christ and impact the generations. I just am honored that I get to do that.

Gayla: —and offer hope. Because I've been in seasons of hopelessness in our blended family. I am thankful for the opportunity to offer hope, even if people are not in great places, just to give them hope that it can turn around.

Ron: I'm very grateful for FamilyLife, too. I think about you and I both are passionate about blended family ministry.

Gayla: Right.

Ron: We know, also know that the economics of it don't always work out well.

Gayla: [Laughter] Right.

Ron: And so, people who are on their own have a hard time finding a voice and finding an audience and being able to communicate, and FamilyLife has given us an opportunity to do things like what we're doing right now; to talk and create videos for people and to reach around the world and that's super, super exciting to have that partnership. We're just, I'm glad you're here. I mean you've expanded our team dramatically and so it's wonderful.

Gayla: Well, thank you. It's a privilege to be part of FamilyLife, and I love their mission of every home a godly home. And that every home includes blended family homes. I'm so thankful for their focus on those families, too.

Ron: And for our leadership and their willingness to say, “Yes, we're going to invest in this.”

Gayla: Right.

Ron: Thoughts and perspectives for our listeners and viewers about, you know, Thanksgiving, the week, not just the week, but you know, this time of year.

Gayla: Yes, I, thinking back over all the years as a blended family, and when the week of Thanksgiving comes, and we know that it's all about Thanksgiving, but you know what, what if we don't have a thankful heart? What if we are in circumstances that it's really hard to be thankful for?

I think about some of ours. You know when Randy and I married, he had custody of his kids. They were with us all the time. And then that changed as his daughter moved into her teenage years and she wanted more time with her mom and her mom was living out of town from us and so she went to live with her mom. Then a couple of years later, his son kind of walked through the same thing, and those first few holiday seasons when we didn't have them as much as we wanted, as much as we were used to, and we were grieving. I don't know that we could have identified it as grief then, but I know now that's what it was.

And yet, I again, go back to the scripture I mentioned earlier about God's ways are not our ways because what happened then, within the course of just a few years, is their mom was diagnosed with cancer and she passed away. Certainly, we didn't know that. We had no idea that was going to happen and yet his kids got to have extra time with their mom; some healthy time with her before she got sick and then passed. Who could have ever predicted that?

I think that's the thing that I've learned about blended family life is, and life in general. There are unexpected transitions that happen, and there are some seasons that are harder than others, but can we still sit back and say, “I'm trusting you God to walk through this with me. Your ways are different than mine. Randy would have said, “No way did I want my kids to go live with their mom during that time,” and yet, we're thankful now for the time they had with her.

Ron: You know that makes me think crockpot, right, and life is moving forward. A lot of times people don't even realize—well, it's so easy within the journey to focus on what's not right—

Gayla: Right; exactly.

Ron: —that you miss what does taste good today. I was talking to another group earlier this week and was just sort of talking about those reflections of, hey, enjoy what you have. There's always something in life that we are not settled about, not content with, but trying to focus on what you do have and enjoying that.

So, in your Crockpot mess, all the ingredients, you may have a couple of ingredients, three or four, five ingredients that are doing great, coming together, merging well, got some momentum going in their relationship. And then there's this outlier relationship, [Laughter] this kid or this thing that's going on with a co-parent, whatever it is, it's just trouble.

Gayla: Right.

Ron: Enjoy what you have. That doesn't mean you're not concerned about, and you're not intentional about moving forward with the difficult relationship. You are, but you don't let it spoil the whole pot.

Gayla: Right. Yes, and it is easy to focus on that one piece that's not working instead of being thankful for all the pieces that are working and that are coming together. And the more people that are in a blended family, when you merge families, the more complicated it can get, and you have to recognize that.

Ron: And so really, what we're saying is, the sad and the happy go along side by side. There's good and bad all at once and so you're not really just overemphasizing one over the other. You're just sort of recognizing that they both are there.

And then there's this other thing. We've talked in the past about the research called Turning Points Research, where I reported about this in the book Building Love Together in Blended Families that I wrote with Gary Chapman. The last chapter is all about—here's the punchline—you don't know when things are getting better necessarily. [Laughter]

They did research where they followed children who grew up in stepfamilies and when they became adults, then they went and interviewed them, and they said “What were the turning points? What were the things that made things move in a positive direction for you and your family and your relationship with your stepparent in particular?”

They often looked back and pointed to “Well there's this moment and this moment.” “My stepdad went the extra mile for me,” or “My stepmom just showed me how much she cared when she did X”—you know, whatever the situation was and then the kids acknowledged, “But I don't know that she knew that I started liking her again.” [Laughter] And so the researchers, kind of really got to that, and they were like, “Wow, you know, there's this—things could be turning in a positive direction, and you don't even realize it. It may take a while, a few years, for you to look back and see it.

Gayla: Yes, especially if it's in their teenage years. For one thing, they may not know how to acknowledge it. They may also have this loyalty bind of, “Oh, I've got this biological parent over here that's not going to like it if she knows that I like my stepmom,”—

Ron: Right.

Gayla: —so I'm not going to express it. And yet, I totally agree. I've shared this story before about my stepson, well into his adult years, sent me a handwritten letter with a gift on Mother's Day, telling me how thankful he was. And even said, “I know I made your life hard.” It just was exactly what you're saying—that these kids do turn around oftentimes, but we don't know it.

Ron: Yes, so the point is you may be focused on what's not going well and all the stressors in your heart and things actually could be—

Gayla: —getting better.

Ron: —shifting in a better direction. You just don't fully realize it yet. So, hold that, like, you know, there's something about believing and trusting in what is not yet fully realized so that you're still, your heart is still attuned in the right direction for that.

Gayla: And latch on to every little thing that you see. If your stepchild has some way that they recognize you or something that you haven't seen before, just kind of tuck it away in your heart. I remember Randy telling me one time that Jamie, which was my daughter, who was difficult for him for many years, and as an adult, or I don't know if it was late teenage years, she had called him and he wasn't, didn't answer, and she leaves him this really sweet message. He said, “I kept that voicemail for so long, and sometimes I needed to replay that voicemail.”

Ron: That's good; that's good.

Here's another thought I had. Again, maintaining gratitude and keeping that attitude during this season. I'm grateful that wisdom is available.

Gayla: Oh, absolutely.

Ron: You know, ask God for wisdom. James makes that really clear to us. James 1:5, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you.” Now, I got to say, I also know that it doesn't necessarily mean that you, boom, get the answer to every question you're asking in your life and know exactly how to handle every circumstance.

Gayla: Right.

Ron: It's not necessarily that because wisdom, I think, sometimes surpasses the momentary questions that we're wrestling with. But there is something here that the point is, in your relationship with God, go to Him with the stuff you struggle with and ask Him because He's generous. He's not holding back on us, Gayla. He's not going, “Man, I'm going to make Ron suffer through this one [Laughter] and we'll just see where he lands. That's not His heart at all.

Gayla: And it's a promise. Those are the things that I love that we can latch on to some of God's promises, and that is one of them.
Yes, but I also say sometimes we just have to take the next right step that we sense God is leading us. Sometimes we're waiting for this big announcement of what we're supposed to do and maybe there's just that step right in front of us that we need to take and then He'll tell us the next step.

Ron: I heard a theologian one time do a summary of the entire gospel of Mark and he said, “Basically, here's what it comes down to. Love the next one, the next person, the next moment. Do the right thing in the next moment and just keep doing the next moment and the next moment.” Often, I find, I have no idea where that's going to take me.

Gayla: Right.

Ron: I don't know where it's going to lead. I don't know what the results are going to be. And if I get so wrapped up in all of that, then I won't actually live out of gratitude and do the next right thing. I'm so wrapped up in what I want or how, you know, trying to get the whole picture figured out. Well, break it down into a micro-moment and just do the next right thing.

Gayla: And I think God will give us a peace about it as we're moving in His will. And I also think He'll give us a sense of, “something's not right here,” if we start moving in a place that's not the right direction. I think we just want to stay sensitive to the Holy Spirit and guiding us in a way that if we began to sense,  you know, something's not quite right here. Then we might need to back up.

Ron: I got one more thing I just want to share that I think is good for our listeners and viewers and for me, to look in the mirror and remember that we are wealthy. I'm mindful that whoever's listening right now, or watching, is on a computer and has a smartphone or something; some device is making it possible for you to listen to this. And guess what, that means you're among the richest people in the world. I know we hear that sometimes and we kind of go, “Yes, yes, yes, but my neighbor's got more than I do.” And that's the problem. We're not content and we're comparing ourselves.

But the reason this is important, I think, is because it sets our heart in a place where instead of constantly wishing and wanting, where we actually go, “You know what, I have a lot and I'm blessed, and I need to be thankful for that and live in that space. And that helps me help settle my heart a little bit.”

Funny little story. I started making a practice before my boys left our house and moved out on their own, for years, I made a practice whenever issues of money came up what their friends had or what we didn't have “Are we going to buy a boat, Dad?”

Gayla: Or what we weren't going to buy for them, right.

Ron: Right, right. “Are we getting a bigger TV?” I will sort of wrap into that little conversation, “You know what guys, I'm a rich man and I, we are a wealthy family.” I can't tell you how many times—it's so funny the look I get from our kids because they're looking at me like, “I'm looking around our house and I don't think we're that wealthy.” And that's the point, right? Whatever they're comparing to and whatever they think wealth is, is not accurate.

Gayla: Exactly.

Ron: We are wealthy, and I need to say that. I want my kids to understand that so I will, and they will, live out of contentment, not out of wish.

Gayla: But you know, in Philippians, Paul talks about contentment, and he talks about contentment is learned. And so, I think it's something that we have to focus on. It's not just going to automatically happen. We might even have to pray about it and just say, “Lord, I need your help to be content in my circumstances as they are today.”

Ron: Right.

Gayla: And He'll give that to us, but it has to be intentional sometimes.

Ron: Got any other tips or thoughts you want to pass along to our audience?

Gayla: You know, I think just as we talk about gratitude, to focus on what we have and not what we don't have. And I know you've said that, but I have so sensed God reminding me of that in this season with my broken arm, as the viewers can see, and it's been quite a journey for me. And yet God is here, and He is guiding me, and He is comforting me on days that are hard. I'm just trying to be reminded of what I have, and it's the same thing with our families. And no matter where a blended family is, what do you have today, as opposed to what you don't have? I think that's where we find joy and gratitude.

Ron: Well, I want to close with one last for our listener and viewer.
And it's just, I am grateful for the mercy of God.

Gayla: Oh, absolutely.

Ron: Psalm 116:1-6. Let me just read that for you. “I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen,” Isn't that a great image?

Gayla: Yes, it is.

Ron: “I will pray as long as I have breath! Death wrapped its ropes around me; the terrors of the grave overtook me. I saw only trouble and sorrow.” And I can imagine, Gayla, somebody's, you know, watching right now and that's exactly where they're at.

Gayla: Right, yes.

Ron: That is exactly what they're feeling, and they don't have any hope. And then he goes on and he says, “Then I called on the name of the Lord; ‘Please, Lord, save me!’
How kind the Lord is! How good he is! So merciful, this God of ours! The Lord protects those of childlike faith; I was facing death, and he saved me. Let my soul be at rest again, for the Lord has been good to me.”

Gayla: Absolutely, and He's been good to me.

Ron: There's a song by the group We The Kingdom.

Gayla: Yes!

Ron: It's called No Doubt About It. The chorus goes like this.
There's no doubt about it, I'm on my way home.
I'm not yet where I'm going but I'm a long way from where I was.

Gayla: Praise God.

Ron: It gets me every time because I look back at my life and I think about what a mess I have been in different places and seasons.

Gayla: Oh, me too, yes.

Ron: Still can be.

Gayla: Right.

Ron: And I think, “I got a long way to go, but I'm not where I was by the mercy and grace of God.” And I know that; God's kindness is so very kind and rich. I don't deserve it, but He's gently leading me closer to Him. I just don't have any choice but to worship and try to serve Him as best I can and surrender to this God who has given up so much for me.

Listener, we hope the same for you. I hope you will cherish this mercy throughout this week and beyond because He is lovingly molding and shaping your heart for His good purposes. You can trust Him.

Gayla: Exactly.
Ron: Well, if you haven't subscribed to this podcast, we would love for you to do that. And do you know what would make us very grateful, if you would take a minute and write a review or a rating, share that; that helps us reach other people as well.

By the way, Gayla, we have heard from a number of people recently. Listen to this. Kylie wrote to us on YouTube, “Thank you for your channel. I get so much out of it.”

Gayla: Wow.

Ron: Someone on Instagram said, “Thank you for what you're doing. It's much needed.” And someone wrote to us by email saying, “I really appreciated everything you guys unpacked as far as who I am, whose I am, and what I am worth. This podcast really touched my heart and I thank you.”

Gayla: That's great.

Ron: Well, you are welcome, and we're glad that they tune in.

Gayla: Yes.

Ron: I do want to remind you that our year-end matching gift, $40,000, is sitting in front of us. The money needs to come in in the month of December, before the end of this calendar year, 2023. So, if you're listening, and you can just do something, help us reach that goal.

Coming up, don't forget the next Women and Blended Families Livestream, Tuesday, December 20th.

Gayla: December 12th.

Ron: Excuse me, [Laughter] December 12th. Thank you for correcting me.

Gayla: That’d be a little far in the month, yes.

Ron: Yes, it would.

Gayla: Because we're going to talk about all things related to the Christmas season and blended families and how we manage the schedule and the former spouse and our kids and the school and all of it.

Ron: All of it, coming up December 12th.

Gayla: —12th, Tuesday, December 12th.

Ron: 2023. If you live in the DFW airport, no, you don't live in an airport. If you live in the DFW area—if you're in the DFW airport, I'll see you on a pretty regular basis. [Laughter]

Gayla: Oh, gosh.

Ron: Make plans to be a part of our next Blended and Blessed® Livestream. That's going to be Saturday, April 27th. Yes, we're way out in front. We want you to get it on your calendar. It's going to be in McKinney. If you don't live in the metroplex, that's okay. It's a livestream. You can tune in from anywhere in the world and your church can host it for couples in your region. We would love to have you be a part of that. Check the show notes for more information and you can join us.

Okay, next time on the FamilyLife Blended podcast, we're going to be talking about Parenting Adult Children and Stepchildren with Dr. Charlotte Melcher Smith. That's next time on FamilyLife Blended.

I'm Ron Deal. Thanks for listening. Thank you to our production team who makes this podcast possible. We appreciate all that you do.

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