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Finding faith in the story of the Grinch

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Christmas 2020 felt like it was stolen. Many of the things we enjoy most about the season—travel, parties, exchanging cookies, and singing Christmas carols/hymns in a filled sanctuary—were not the same. It made us feel a bit more Grinchy than we may have ever felt before.

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In this episode of Get Your Spirit in Shape, Crystal talks with author and United Methodist pastor Matt Rawle about his new book The Heart that Grew Three Sizes: Finding faith in the story of the Grinch. Matt talks about how last year's "stolen" Christmas caused him and his congregation to rediscover what is essential in our celebrations of Jesus coming into the world. And how Dr. Seuss's familiar story pointed to lessons about love, grace, and a willingness to see who is not at out tables.

What a wonderful way to begin our preparations for Christmas 2021.

The Rev. Matt Rawle

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This episode posted on October 15, 2021.


All the Good: A Wesleyan Way of Christmas is a four-session Advent Bible study by Abingdon Press. Click here for more.

This episode of Get Your Spirit in Shape is sponsored by All the Good: A Wesleyan Way of Christmas, a four-session Advent Bible study where a group of diverse Wesleyan scholars takes you on an Advent journey guided by the practices in John Wesley’s Means of Grace. Explore the study, read the introduction and watch a video from the authors at

And by Sparkhouse Digital a rich and reliable resource for faith formation. Subscriptions include unlimited access to leader resources, videos, music, reproducibles and exclusive extras for early childhood, children and youth. Sign up for a free 30-day trial at

Sparkhouse Digital a rich and reliable resource for faith formation. Click here to learn more.

Crystal Caviness, host: Today we speak with the Reverend Matt Rawle, lead pastor at Asbury United Methodist Church in Bossier City, Louisiana. In addition to his role as a pastor, Matt is an author who writes books connecting pop culture with our faith. In his latest book, out just in time for Advent, Matt takes a look at the popular Dr. Seuss classic, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. In Matt’s book, The Heart that Grew Three Sizes we examine how the very thing we hate, like how the Grinch hated Christmas, has the ability to change our lives.


Crystal: The Reverend Matt Rawle, welcome to Get Your Spirit in Shape.

The Rev. Matt Rawle: Crystal, thank you so much for having me.

Crystal: We are so happy to welcome you back to Get Your Spirit in Shape. My co-host, Joe Iovino, interviewed you back in February of 2020. At that time we were talking about your Lenten study, which was new. It was based on ‘Les Miserables,’ the famous Victor Hugo novel. And today we’re here to discuss your new book based on Dr. Seuss’s classic story of the Grinch. The book is titled The Heart that Grew Three Sizes: Finding Faith in the Story of the Grinch. That’s very exciting and very intriguing.

Matt: Yes. And, you know, if Joe and I had known in February of 2020…what the rest of the year would have been like, you know…. Oh, my gosh. But yes, so…so we’re back and we’re excited.

We have a new offering, The Heart that Grew Three Sizes, based on Dr. Seuss’s the Grinch. It’s a story that we all have some working knowledge of. Right? You know, whether we seen like the cartoon on TV, like in prime time, or we’ve read the book to our kids, or read it as ourselves when we were younger. It’s a story that we all have this kind of working knowledge of. And one of the things I love about this story is you don’t have to explain what the Grinch is.

We all have this knowledge of what it means to be a Grinch. It’s in the vernacular. It’s in our language. It’s this person that’s just angry and agitated with Christmas in particular. And one of the things that I like to think about is when you say ‘the Grinch’ almost immediate we have this image in our mind of someone we know, someone in our circle that may be kind of Grinch-like or maybe…maybe it’s us. You know, because sometimes the Christmas season can bring like this inner Grinch out of us. So, Crystal, it’s exciting to kind of offer this as an Advent study using such an interesting character as the springboard through which we look at the life of Jesus.

Am I a Grinch?

Crystal: In the book, you tell this story about your time in seminary and you use this image of the professor’s taking a sledgehammer to what you learn and believe about God and your faith.

I really feel like you’ve taken a sledgehammer to the story of the Grinch because you’re forcing us to look at this familiar story in a really new way. And I’m going to be honest. It didn’t always feel good. I didn’t like some of the ways you were making me feel like I may be this Grinch, too.

Matt: Well, good. Good.

Crystal: That was the point, wasn’t it?

Matt: Yeah, well, the church is both priestly in the sense that it is a place of comfort, it is a place of sanctuary, it is a place of welcome and hospitality. But the church is also prophetic in the sense of, we all have things that we need to take a look at in our daily walk, you know. Like the seminary professor who takes a sledgehammer where you kind of wake up and say, Oh, my gosh. I’ve never thought about Scripture this way. How interesting. And how I need to kind of look at the way that I’ve understood these stories. The Grinch story also does this in ourselves in the way that look….

In chapter 2 of the book, I actually treat the Grinch as a bit of an anti-hero because the Whos down in Whoville, their Christmas celebrations are not without controversy. They’re not without some pushback, because like they have…. the decorations are over the top and there’s singing and there’s feasting and there’s you know….

The Grinch is not upset at the Whos because of the way that they’ve been reaching out to the poor or the way that they have been compassionate in service. Right? So their celebration is not without pushing back.

Especially, like I said, in chapter 2 of the book. We take a look at our own selves. We take a look at our own faith communities and the way that we celebrate Christmas, because sometimes we have all of the right markers.

The Grinch wears a Santa suit and he goes down the chimney and he has a sleigh. But it’s not Christmas. He has all of those outward symbols, but the inside is totally wrong.

So that could be one of the questions that we ask ourselves in our own faith communities. Like, all the markers are here. Like, we have the Christmas tree. We’re singing “Silent Night,” people are in scarves and they’re holding hands, but is this really proclaiming the good news of the birth of Jesus?

So, I do hope at least a little bit that this book leaves us shaking in our pew, maybe just a little bit, as we look at our own celebrations and how maybe…how we have missed the mark in terms of celebrating Christmas.

Checking our blind spots

Crystal: Christmas comes with a lot of expectations (as you talked about) and traditions. We spend so much time and often money on the outward appearance of Christmas. So, as we evaluate our own blind spots—like I said, it made me feel uncomfortable. Can we talk more about those faith blind spots? They’re called blind spots for a reason. How do we even start recognizing them in ourselves?

Matt: Yeah, that’s great.

Step number one is to recognize that we all have blind spots. It’s not a sin to have a blind spot. We all have them. We all need corrective mirrors. When we’re driving, we literally don’t have eyes in the back of our heads, so we need corrective lenses. We need mirrors. It’s not a sin to have a blind spot, but not correcting for it just might be.

It’s important at any time of the year, but especially at Christmas and Thanksgiving and this time of joyful celebration, one, to check our blind spots in the sense of who is not at the table right now. Who needs to be at the table, who’s not at the table. Who have we overlooked?

Then, secondly, is to check what our celebration and what our worship is actually communicating. So, for example, I remember one year…. And I think I actually wrote this in a different book, but it makes sense here in The Grinch… a church member who could never bring herself to sing the hymns of Christmastime. I mean, she literally just stood there with her arms crossed. And, you know, I asked her about it. And she said she didn’t want to talk about it. Okay. 

Well, then as it crept closer to Christmas she still has her arms crossed and is not singing. Finally I said, “ I’m here whenever you want to talk about it.” Well, she eventually came to me and said, “My dad died on Christmas day.” So, every time you talk about the joy of the season (right?) and the peace and when we’re lighting the candles, the candle of love, and we’re talking about the joy of…. Like, those things really sting for her. So she was a bit of a Grinch, but not of her own making. One of our blind spots is to recognize that for some it is a really difficult time of year. And it is a sorrowful time of year, which is why every year we have…. I mean, some books call it Blue Christmas. We call it a Christmas healing service, where we…. It’s always the last week before Christmas. And it’s an opportunity to be honest, especially for those where it’s not a joyful time for them, because in large part, especially with the Grinch…..

2020’s stolen Christmas

One of the reasons why I wrote the book is because it felt like the Grinch stole Christmas last year. Because we had masks and we were physical distancing and we didn’t have some of the same markers that we had last year. What does it look like to have a Christmas Eve service when you’re wearing a mask and you have to keep distance?

I felt in large part that the Grinch really did steal Christmas last years in a lot of ways. And it was important to recognize that, to name it, to claim it. But then, to also be able to recognize the beauty on the other end of that, which ultimately is where the Grinch story points us, because at the end of the story—spoilers, but the story was written in the ‘50s—at the end of the story the Grinch is at the table and he’s eating. He’s carving the roast beast. He has a place at the table.

That’s a really beautiful thing, but in order to get there, we have to recognize that for some it is a difficult time of year and that’s okay. For many it is not their fault. Their Grinch—their rough Grinch-y exterior—is something that has been done to them. And it can be very healing to acknowledge that.

You don’t have to be happy. No one’s asking you to be joyous during this time of year. So let’s name it. Let’s claim it. Let’s be honest about our own blind spots as we gather around the Christmas tree.

A book about more than the Grinch

Crystal: This book is centered on the story of the Grinch, but the reader is also going to find Herod, John the Baptist, and Noah is in there. I think Jonah gets a mention. Then you’ve got these Advent themes of peace, hope, love and joy. There’s just…there’s a lot.

I really love how it was kind of unexpected. There were some unexpected stories and themes that all point back to this reconciliation and the incarnation of Jesus as a Christmas story. That seems like a lot of things kind of coming together into one place. How did that process work for you when you were writing the book? You start with this origin of the Grinch, but a lot of pieces of stories that had nothing to do with the Grinch and were Bible stories, kind of came and converged with this.

Matt: In putting the story together in terms of writing the book, I also consulted the lectionary texts. So it’s not a book about the Grinch. It’s a book about Jesus and the Christmas story using the Grinch as a vehicle through which to tell that story. So when we’re talking about someone who is Grinch-y and someone who is angry and someone who wants to destroy Christmas, King Herod is the obvious choice to talk about because he is so obsessed with keeping his own power and holding onto his own authority.

I love it when the wise men come and they announce to the palace, which I don’t know exactly how wise that is that they do that—but they announce to the palace that the next king…we want to pay homage to the next king.

And King Herod said, “Really? (well, with fingers crossed behind his back) I’d love to pay homage to this new king as well. So you guys go find where this new king is and tell me so that I can go and worship him.” Then they follow the star and there’s this beautiful scene of worship and Jesus is probably around 2 years old or so when this is all happening. Then they are told in a dream to go home by another road, another way.

There is a beautiful metaphor for being in the presence of Jesus. You go one way to the altar, but then you leave a different way. And you leave forever changed. It’s so beautiful. It’s so amazing.

But this enrages King Herod, just like the Grinch, where the Grinch will stop at nothing to get what he wants. King Herod has this… there’s this terrible, terrible story in the Gospel of Matthew called the slaughter of the innocents. Right? Which, by the way, gives a whole new and haunting meaning (at least it did for me) of ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem,’ when we look at that hymn. Right?

What’s that first verse? [singing] ‘O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie, deep in dreamless sleep the silent stars go by. Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.’ That is a haunting verse, especially if we sing it in the context of King Herod slaughtering all the children under the…all the male children under the age of two in Bethlehem. How still we see thee lie. Oh, my gosh. It’s haunting. Hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee. It’s just…. It’s haunting.

The Grinch, even though it’s kind of a silly story and it’s a Dr. Seuss story, can open up some of these things in our own story of Jesus, to help us ask some of these questions of why, for example, Herod was so hell-bent in stopping Jesus. The same question is there with the Grinch.

Hate doesn’t need an excuse to consume us

Why does the Grinch hate Christmas? Well, Dr. Seuss never tells us. And the way that I read that is, well, hate doesn’t need much of an excuse. Hate doesn’t need much of a reason to consume us. And I think it’s beautifully interesting that Dr. Seuss never tells us why. Now, you know, the movie and the cartoon, like, it feels in the gap for us narratively. But Dr. Seuss never tells us. And that’s powerful because hate doesn’t need much of a reason to completely consume us. So when we look at the character of the Grinch, looking at Herod is an obvious choice in terms of bringing us into that Christmas narrative.

The same is true with Jonah, right? Jonah in Nineveh. Jonah is angry. He is mad as he is sitting on the opposite side of Nineveh, waiting for God to blow the city up just like the Grinch is standing on Mount Crumpet and waiting for the weeping and gnashing of teeth to come from the Whos down in Whoville. But it doesn’t happen. They sing a song of joy. And the same with Jonah. It doesn’t happen. The people repent and God does not offer wrath to the city, but redemption and forgiveness. That messes with both Jonah and the Grinch.

That’s what causes his heart to grow 3 sizes. Because that’s the thing with Christmas, is that Christmas is completely disarming because we hear these stories of [singing] ‘and he shall reign forever and ever.’ We have this picture when we’re reading the prophecies of Jesus that he’s going to be the Lord of lords and the Prince of Peace and ‘on his shoulders will rest the government.’ Then we’re given a baby, born to a poor family. It’s completely disarming, and it’s supposed to be. It shows how vulnerable God’s love is.

When we enter into that beautiful, exceptional, vulnerability of God, it can even change the Grinch’s heart which is remarkable because the Whos, at the end of the story, they could have marched up the mountain and they could have asked for the Grinch’s head because of him stealing away Christmas. But they didn’t. They invited him to the table. What a beautiful…. They didn’t have to do that. We talk about the Grinch’s heart growing 3 sizes. How about the Whos hearts growing? They didn’t ask for the Grinch’s head. They didn’t ask him to go to jail. They didn’t bring him before the judge. They said, ‘Hey, hey. Look. Christmas is more than all the stuff you tried to do and tried to steal and tried to take away. In fact, we not only want to invite you into our life, we want to put you at a place of honor and for you to carve the roast beast’ at the end of the story.

It’s the story of the Prodigal Son, which actually (now that I think about it) I don’t think I wrote about at all in the book. But my, how amazing the book would have been if I had written about the Prodigal Son because the younger brother’s coming in and they kill the fatted calf and this reconciling moment is so beautiful.

So, again, it’s not a story about the Grinch. It’s actually a story about Jesus when we really dive down into it and use it as a vehicle through which we can understand the Advent and Christmas story.


Crystal: Before we return to that conversation with Matt Rawle I want to share with you a couple of great resources. First, if you teach children or youth you should know about Sparkhouse digital, a rich and reliable resource for faith for a nation. Subscriptions include unlimited access to leader resources, videos, music, reproducibles and exclusive extras for early childhood, children and youth. Sign up for a free 30-day trial at

Second, in addition to Matt Rawle’s book, The Heart that Grew Three Sizes Abingdon Press is also offering another resource for your Advent study. All the Good: A Wesleyan Way of Christmas, is a 4-session Advent Bible study where a group of diverse Wesleyan scholars takes you on an Advent journey guided by the practices in John Wesley’s ‘Means of Grace.’ Explore the study. Read the introduction and watch a video from the authors at

Christmas essentials: You can’t steal Christmas

Crystal: The most powerful line in the book to me was this one, the first half said, “Take everything away and Jesus was born anyway.” And I just love just kind of stopping and thinking about that. Then the second half of that line says ‘…and continues to be born within us through God’s grace every day.”

So the Grinch took everything away. Then the Whos, they gave the grace to welcome the Grinch in. That was such a powerful but simple truth. And I just wonder, how do we get back to that simple truth?

Matt: Oh, my gosh. Yes. So that’s something that, again, this book was born out of realizing or…it just felt like the Grinch had stolen Christmas last year.

In our congregation, we had to really pray about and discern what was essential in terms of welcoming Christ into the world. Because a lot of things we couldn’t do because of Covid restrictions. Some things that we had been doing since the church began. The church—meaning my local congregation, not the church universal—we really had to dive down deep into what is essential in terms of welcoming Christ into the world.

Ultimately, at the end of the day…. And this is also a lesson to pastors, too, because Bless our hearts—I’m from the South so I can say that. Bless our hearts—when we get ready for Advent and Christmas, there’s so much pressure to make it perfect, to make it over the top, to make it this huge thing.

I know many pastors listening, you may not admit it, but I know you. And you know me. We do look at the church across the street. Like, what are they doing? Oh my gosh. They’re doing a Messiah singalong with 30 members of an orchestra. Well, let’s do a Messiah singalong with 35 members of our orchestra. Or whatever, right? We have these contests between the these congregations of let’s make Christmas bigger and better because we have a lot of guests and we certainly want the guests to be attracted to the church and all of these things.

However, we need to recognize that none of these things will make Jesus be born quicker or more efficiently. Our salvation is found in none of these things. And we tend to spend a lot of money and polish the brass and do all these things. And sometimes forget of the reckless vulnerability of the birth of Christ.

I’ve talked to pastors over this last year, especially with wrestling with Covid and these kind of things, you might not have the flashiest podcast. You might not have this fantastic digital experience for people at home. Be authentically you. God has called your congregation to be where they are, when they are, with the people that are there. Be authentic to who you are and it will be okay. So, Jesus will (I promise you.) Jesus will be born anyway even if you are tripping through a liturgy, even if your Wi-Fi all the sudden stops working in the middle of worship, even if you have to improvise at the 11th hour. Look, God will gift us Christ’s presence anyway, and that is okay. It is all gonna be okay.

That’s also a lesson in the Grinch, that maybe, just maybe, Christmas is more than the packages and the bows and the decorations and all of these things. I’m not saying that these things are bad. I mean, you should see my Christmas tree at my house. It looks like a super nova of nostalgia. Every ornament that we’ve ever had in the last 17 years of my marriage with my blushing bride Christie, all of those ornaments are on there. It looks like a super nova happens in our living room. It’s not that these things are bad. It’s not that these things are somehow blasphemous, but they're not essential. And sometimes we need to remember that…that grace, much like the gifting of Jesus is going to happen anyway whether or not we fumble, stumble, bumble through this year’s Christmas Eve service.

Some things that look like Christmas, aren’t

Crystal: Matt, on that same line, you talk about in the book how Christmas may not look like Christmas, may not look like what we think Christmas looks like, our own experiences and traditions.

Matt: There are some things that look like Christmas but aren’t. I talk about the crawfish they caught in Arabi, which is the 12 days of Christmas that I heard growing up in New Orleans. [singing] ‘On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me a crawfish they caught in Arabi.’ That’s not Christmas. It kinda sounds like Christmas. I joke about how it can’t be a Christmas song unless you have sleigh bells in the background.

But then there’s some things that don’t look like Christmas, but absolutely are about Christmas. Like, for example, the holy family’s flight into Egypt and recognizing that immigration, and now we understand immigration is part of the Christmas story and is part of the Christmas narrative, though it doesn’t really feel like Christmas. For example, we also get wrapped up in cold weather stuff, like, [singing] ‘I’m dreaming of a white…’ The whole southern half of the planet has a warm Christmas. So let’s not get wrapped up in ‘Let it Snow, let it snow, let it snow.’

But there are somethings that don’t look like Christmas, but are absolutely part of the Christmas story. And sometimes those things surprise us. And that’s kind of the point. We wait with anticipation. We wait with expectation of something to happen. And we expect it to come with a sleigh and a red pointy hat and a bowl full of jelly… a belly like a bowl full of jelly. And we sometimes forget that it is looking to the eyes of the other.

It is the incarnation. It is recognizing that God has hands and feet. Jesus is dependent on a mother and a father and a community. It doesn’t feel like Christmas to think about dependence. But it certainly is part of the Christmas story.

I am fascinated, Crystal, that God chose to have Jesus be raised by regular parents. Like, you would think that God would have chosen like…I don’t know, a child psychologist and a really wealthy businessman to have been Jesus’s parents. Like, that would have been a really great combination. But as far as we know, Joseph was an artisan, we suppose, right? And we don’t really have a background on Mary or Mary’s mothering skills. We just don’t….

And what a vulnerable place to place the Messiah in the household of regular people. You know. Dependence on parents doesn’t seem to be a Christmas story, but it absolutely is. How can we incorporate… For example, how can we incorporate dependence on one another in our Christmas story? Because Christmas is a lot about what I can do for others, but what about the ways in which I need others to do for me during this season? We almost forget about that narrative, but it absolutely is part of the Christmas narrative.

Long and short: Expect to be surprised during this season. Open your eyes to the way that God is surprising you and being found in the unexpected. Right? It doesn’t have to have sleigh bells. And it doesn’t have to be cold weather. It doesn’t have to have a red nose to be part of that Christmas story. So open our eyes to the other ways in which God is trying to speak and communicate with us.

Crystal: Yeah there’s so much to think about to really enrich our own Christmas experiences. I just love that. Matt, I have 2 more questions before we kind of end up here. Is there anything that you definitely wanted to make sure we mentioned about the book before we finish up?

Matt: Yeah, it’s a book for everyone.

My last book was The Grace of Les Miserables, which is kind of heavy. And it’s a Lenten study and it’s not necessarily for the kids. But this is for everyone. The Grinch’s story is a universal story. We all have a working knowledge of it. I hope people sit down with their family—and what I mean by family is whoever’s near them—their next-door neighbor, maybe it’s their kids, maybe it’s an older adult. Everyone can sit around this book and this story and learn something about Jesus.

I would like to just lift up is that it’s for everyone. It’s not just for church-y folk because that’s one of the beautiful things about Dr. Seuss’s story, is that it’s not overtly…doesn’t mention Jesus. It doesn’t have any hymns in it. There’s no quote/unquote religious symbolism. But all of those are vehicles through which we can learn about Jesus. So even if you have a friend who isn’t familiar with church and they might, you know, celebrate Christmas. But this might be a really great way to incorporate them in the life of your faith community.

So the one thing I’d want for people to take away is that One, it’s for everyone. But no one is too Grinchy not to have a heart that grows. Right? That’s what I want people to hold onto.

How Matt keeps his spirit in shape

Crystal: Yeah. Absolutely. Well, before we go there’s this one question that we ask every guest on Get Your Spirit in Shape. Matt, how do you keep your spirit in shape?

Matt: I still keep the same practice that I had last time when Joe was asking me about my morning prayer. So I still have that.

But now I’m teaching a Disciple class, which is one of my favorite things. I love teaching Disciple Bible Study because it’s just so good. One of the ways that I keep my spirit in shape is two things, with that Disciple reading. So one, first thing in the morning…. Well, I say first thing. …after coffee and breakfast, right? So let’s be real. So after I have been fully imbibed with caffeine I do my Disciple reading. And I don’t read the commentaries. I just read Scripture, first thing in the morning, of what those Disciple readings. Then later in the day, I will read the commentaries for those readings. And when I say commentaries, I…I’m looking at them right now on my desk. Three commentaries that I’m using just for one Disciple reading. So I read those at the end of the day.

So, in other words, I allow Scripture to be Scripture. I just read it and allow it to be what it is. Then later, near the closing of the day, I revisit them and then read what others have thought about those scriptures. Those are kind of the bookends of my day right now. It’s not always the case, but for now, right now in this season, that’s kind of the order of the day, is I read Scripture and allow it just to be. And then at the end of the day I read the commentaries of what that Scripture is or, you know, how others have thought about that Scripture. And that has been a very helpful and grounding practice for me in this season.

That certainly has helped me with the next project that’s coming up is called the ‘I am’ project. It’s based on Jesus’s ‘I am’ statements. It’s coming out next year. But that’s gonna be an exciting, beautiful expression of the Gospel of John and the layers that are in that fantastic story. Reading all of those commentaries about Scripture has really helped me understand how much is going on in the Gospel of John.

So reading Scripture and allowing it to be and then later in the day, at the end of the day, reading the commentaries to kind of close out those readings, has been a really important practice for me.

Crystal: I can see where it is a really meaningful and spreading it out over the day gives you a time to probably think about it throughout the day, too. I really enjoy hearing about that, and hearing about your upcoming book, your yet-to-be maybe in 2022. So we’ll have to definitely get you back in here and talk about that a little closer to that publication.

Matt, thank you so much for being a guest on Get Your Spirit in Shape. Thank you for your ministry. Thank you for writing this book that just really can give all of us an opportunity to look at ourselves and how we can make Christmas more meaningful when that season comes, which is just right around the corner.

Matt: Thank you. Absolutely. Thank you so much.


Crystal: That was the Reverend Matt Rawle, author of The Heart that Grew Three Sizes. To learn more about Matt and his ministry and books go to and look for this episode. In addition to the helpful links and a transcript of our conversation you’ll find a link to my email address. You can talk with me about Get Your Spirit in Shape.

Thank you for joining us for this episode. And I look forward to when we’re together next time. I’m Crystal Caviness.

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