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How old is too old to lead worship? Why is this even a question? Why does there seem to be agism in worship ministries? Do you have to be young, skinny, beautiful, and stylish to lead worship?

In this episode Aaron Keyes shares the realities of being a 45 year old worship leader. And he gives super practical insights into how you can prepare yourself mentally, spiritually, and FINANCIALLY for that time!

This conversation was not meant to go this direction, but it did, and it was SO insightful! If you’re 25, 35, 45 or 75… you really need to hear this conversation on preparing to be an older worship leader. And how to keep your heart from becoming bitter, cynical, and jaded.

There’s so much gold here. Share it with someone who needs to hear it.

www.aaronkeyes.com

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Transcript

  Wow.

This conversation did not go how I expected at all, yet it’s one of the most

insightful conversations I’ve had on the podcast in years.

Aaron Keyes shares how to prepare to be a 45-year-old worship leader so that you

don’t bomb out financially, emotionally, spiritually, vocationally.

If you’re 25, you need to listen to this.

If you’re 35, you need to listen to this podcast.

45, 65, whatever age you are,

you have to hear Aaron’s insights because he gets really raw,

really vulnerable, really transparent, and we all need to hear this.

So let’s dive into this month’s podcast.

Welcome to the Worship Ministry Training podcast, a monthly podcast for worship

leaders who are serious about growing in their craft and calling.

My name is Alex, fellow worship leader.

Super stoked you’re here.

And if you’re a new listener, I’m going to encourage you to hit

that subscribe button because every single month I’m going to give you helpful,

practical guidance that you can immediately implement into your ministry.

Hit that subscribe button and then go back through the past nine years of episodes

and binge listen your way to a healthier ministry.

If you’re someone who is really serious about growing as a worship leader,

I’m going to point you to the Worship Ministry Training Academy.

What is the academy?

It’s an online training platform that will

give you everything you need to build a thriving worship ministry.

You’ll get 10 in-depth courses on topics

like set building, team building, musical excellence, vocal technique, and more.

You’ll get live monthly training workshops on topics that are relevant to you.

You’ll get exclusive expert interviews

with some of the best worship leaders in the world.

You’ll get done for you, Ministry Admin Systems

and Audition Process, onboarding documents,

team training materials, and even team discipleship materials.

We will take care of you so you can focus on leading your team.

If that sounds like something that would be of help to you,

you can to buy the Worship Ministry Training Academy

for just $1 by going to worshipministrytraining.

Com.

Sign up today for your $1 trial, and I hope to see you inside of the academy.

All right, let’s get into today’s episode.

Why don’t you just share what you did, hands-on, what that looked like?

Sure, yeah.

First of all, it’s so fun to be back with you, man.

I really appreciate what you do.

It’s needed in this space

to have conversations of substance instead of just celebrity and all the trends.

I’m really grateful for this. So thank you.

And I’m honoured to be a part of this.

So yeah, real quickly,

for 25 years of my life, really from 19 to 44, I was a worship pastor.

20 of those years at the same church in Atlanta, Georgia.

Well, outside of Atlanta. Grace Fellowship.

It was a great place.

It’s where we got a heart for discipleship.

My wife and I both. We opened up our home.

We had people come live with us for six

months at a time, nine months at a time, something like that.

It was a total blast.

I was also writing songs and recording and travelling, not really touring so much,

but doing conferences and events while still leading a church.

We were raising our kids. We have four boys.

Two of them are almost done with college.

Two of them are still in high school.

So I’m 45 years old now.

For the first, this is the first year

of my life where I’m not on staff at a church as a worship pastor.

My heart hasn’t changed. My role has.

My calling hasn’t changed.

Just my role has, my job has. My as Bob has.

It’s fun to still get involved in worship

and even lead worship every now and then from a different vantage point,

where for the last three years, since COVID, really, that began shifting things.

All of a sudden, I wasn’t on the road as much as I used to be.

All of a sudden, everything changed for everyone.

But that was an inflexion point

for my wife and I both, where we ended up starting on some new traject.

She’s a therapist and a counsellor.

She does marriage, family.

She’s an incredible therapist at an office.

She’s got a new career.

She was over prayer administrator at church for years and years before that.

I I work in banking, which is funny.

I work in mortgage.

I got into mortgage at the worst possible time to do that, by the way.

The last three days have been great.

But I got into mortgage.

Then I also shifted from really just leading worship school,

which was a lot of worship leaders coming from all different levels to now I’m

focused more on coaching high capacity, the highest capacity of worship pastors

individually and at executive coaching level for worship which I’m loving.

So I’ve been getting trained as an executive coach,

and I’m finding so much joy in bringing all the same heart that I’ve always had

to help worship pastors go the distance and help them do a good job.

I’m finding so much life in this new season where it’s taking a little bit

of a different turn, and I’m doing it in a different vehicle.

It’s one on one coaching, consulting stuff instead of school, big classes.

But I’m just loving it.

I think one of the big things that shifted

since we originally started training up worship leaders, and I have been doing

that for about 20 years, I was 25 years old, and I’d have some interns.

I’d have some younger guys, some 19, 18 15-year-olds.

What’s shifted in the last 20 years is,

20 years ago, the main need that I felt like we needed to address was all these

young leaders, worship leaders who’ve never been trained.

There’s still a point of need there, but there’s It’s another need because

what there is now, what I’m seeing a lot more of, is the guys who’ve been doing it

for 20, 25 years who are wondering what’s next.

They’re not burned out, but they’re bored out.

They’re wondering, do I just persevere for the next 20 years?

If you’re 45 thinking you’re going

to still be the cool worship leader at 65, you’re delusional.

Some people, it’s an easy shift into whatever’s next in their life.

A lot of people, if you’ve done the same thing for 20

years, 25, you’ve been faithful, and now you’re starting to wonder what’s

next, I’m having a lot of those conversations.

That’s where it’s… Some of this executive coaching that I’m

doing with worship pastors is really life-bring to them and to me, because

there are some interesting things that go on in the life cycle of a worship pastor.

What no one ever talked to me about, and I don’t know if you’ve ever had

conversations about, and I’m sorry, I’m just running with all of this.

Go for it. It’s fine.

I never thought when I was 25 or even 35 about the economic cycle of worship

pastoring, because the truth is, It’s pretty rough.

When I was 25, 20 years old, I just put everything on the altar.

I’m trusting God to take care of our

future, trusting God to take care of our family, not worried about it financially,

I didn’t have any mentors, anyone really helping me think through,

what’s your plan for college for your kids?

It’s just like, God’s going to take care of it.

God’s going to provide.

Maybe a song will work or something like that.

Well, what’s tough about that pure

naiveté, kingdom and ambition,

with practical realities of economic cycles is,

as a worship leader, once you in your 40s, mid-40s,

chances are economically, you’ve toped out at what you’re going to be able to earn.

If you’re on staff at a church, right at the same time that your expenses

are about to go through the roof with kids in college.

I was not prepared for that.

My naivety, I thought it was faithfulness.

Now I think it was naivety.

I think it was foolishness.

I wish that I had just had someone helping me think through the long term.

What’s the long play here for your kids, man, and for your future?

Because we just got into a position where I was like, with two kids in college

and my wife doing grad school, we were not prepared for that.

I was blindsided by it.

I wish that I…

I mean, that’s on me.

That’s not on anyone else.

But I just wish that I’d had a coach or a mentor.

Ever since my pastor died six or seven years ago,

So I’ve missed that, the voice of a coach, of a spiritual father,

just pushing and pulling and asking hard questions and fighting against.

So now I’ve hired a coach to help me to fill that role.

I need a coach.

I think everyone needs a coach to level up.

Everyone can level up.

You just probably won’t on your own.

So anyway, long answer, just to say the heart hasn’t changed.

I still want to see worship leaders who think their job is

to lead songs, become worship pastors who recognise their calling us to lead people.

I want to help them level up.

But with the limited time that I have

left, I want to focus on a fewer people

at a time going deeper so that their impact can go broader.

Yeah.

I know we weren’t planning on talking about that, what you just shared in terms

of hitting that 45-year-old mark and then financially and all of that.

But let’s camp there just for a moment

longer Before we talk about the other stuff because it’s such a fascinating

topic that, like you said, it’s not being talked about.

It’s going to blindside a lot of people.

Last week or two weeks ago,

we did an interview with Seth Putnam, and he said the same thing.

He said, You know what topic might be really worthwhile talking about is

that transitional point in a worship leader’s career where they shouldn’t be

the one who’s primarily singing the songs leading on stage.

But what do they do after that and what does their life look like?

You’re the second person who has brought this up in the last two or three weeks.

I think let’s just camp there for a minute.

Financially, I think somebody needs to hear what you just said.

We have to be having a game plan. Mr.

25-year-old worship leader listening or Mrs.

Worship Leader listening, 25-year-old, start now planning for a second financial

income to come into play around your 30s or mid-30s.

This is such an unusual worship leading

topic, but Hey, let’s just talk about that.

For me, worship ministry training has

become that second stream where I needed to do this.

I live in Los Angeles.

I still work full-time at my church.

I’m still heavily invested.

I’m just as busy as all the other worship leaders who are serving full-time at their

churches or bi-vocational because those guys are just as busy.

I’m bivocational, too.

Worship Ministry training is something I do after I get home from church.

That’s my second play.

Your second play is now you’re coaching and you’re also doing the mortgage stuff.

But maybe give us some wisdom.

You’re saying we need someone giving wisdom.

Go for it, Aaron. You got the floor.

Well, okay.

There’s a few things here.

There’s the financial side of what happens after your 20 years into worship

Then there’s also a psychological side or maybe just like…

I don’t know how to describe it yet, but basically, we can talk about a few

things because I think that this is an area that really needs some conversation.

I’ve actually thought about putting

together some content and calling it When the Music Fades,

to throw back to all readers, 20 years ago, When the Music Fades.

That’s a question that we’ve been asking

worship leaders for 20 years is, if you lost your ability to sing today,

would you still be recognised as a leader tomorrow?

That’s still a really great question because a lot of young worship leaders do

conflate their musical ability with spiritual authority.

You should not do that.

It’s absolutely ridiculous.

We’re the first generation in the history

of the church to do that, to think that because we’re gifted

musically, we should be given authority spiritually.

That is insanity.

And we’re seeing what happens as a result, where you’ve got scandal after scandal,

drop out, kicked out, leaders getting booted all the time.

We shouldn’t be too surprised.

We are the first generation to say,

because you’re a good singer, get up there and lead us in worship.

Worship. That is hilarious.

Biblically, there’s no warrant for it.

But the main question still remains, Hey, what made you a leader in the first place?

Because chances are, and this is the conversation I’ve had

with a lot, about once a week, I’ll get a call from a worship leader

who is an old friend or went through worship school or something like that.

It’s always the same conversation.

They’ve been doing it faithfully for 20 something years, maybe 25, maybe 30.

And they’re just going, this is getting harder and harder for me

to hang in there for, not just economically.

Let’s talk about seasonally in life, because when the major trend of what’s

in for worship is lyrically not just Pentecostal, it’s triumphal.

It’s triumphalistic.

It’s positivistic. I mean, think about it.

If you look at the top, I don’t know,

top 15 worship songs, song in the US, at least, it’s pretty triumphalistic.

Like, the mountain is going to move.

I’m going to get the miracle.

You’ve never let me down.

You’ve never let me down.

Can you believe that?

That is hilarious to me.

We can get into that if you want.

There’s a lot of like, wow, life is always up and to the right, isn’t it?

That’s easy to sing when you’re 25.

It’s easy to believe the mountain is

always going to move and the seas are always going to part when you’re 28.

It’s hard to sing that honestly at 45.

I’ve just prayed for too many people who didn’t get healed, dude.

I’ve been at too many gravesides

of faithful people who fasted and prayed and the miracle did not come.

Dude, Seth Putnam.

I mean, he is such an incredible, faithful man who’s gone through one

of the hardest things of anyone I know with his wife having a stroke.

He is the most loving and faithful husband

We’re very close, and my heart just breaks.

I carry Seth in my heart as a hero

of faithfulness because that miracle, I don’t think that miracle is coming.

His life trajectory just took a 90 degree turn because hard stuff happens.

It’s really hard when you get older as a worship pastor to stay relevant

when the trend of relevance is going this way towards positivism and triumphalism.

I always get my miracle.

Everyone that you know their life is going this way.

It’s hard to stay honest, and you can qualify the heck out of every song.

You can spend three minutes before you

sing it and go, Here’s what it says, but here’s what it means.

But that gets tiring.

When there’s not many songs

that dignify reality and dignify the desert that a lot

of people are experiencing, especially in the last three years,

when there’s not many songs that do that, you have to work twice as hard to make

sure that what you’re leading people into isn’t fakeness and dishonesty.

I think that Good Lord.

I mean, if you look through the Psalms,

every emotion available to the human experience is in the Psalms.

We’ve taken a very narrow sliver

of that in worship in today’s trends, it’s It’s a very narrow sliver.

You can’t get too dark.

But man, the breadth of what we have to bring to God to stay faithful

is not really being addressed too well by popular worship.

I’m sure that there are people out there doing a great job.

I just don’t know. I’m not in that world so much anymore.

But I know that if I’m leading worship in a couple of weeks

in England for a conference, and because I don’t do that every Sunday

anymore, for the first time in my life, I’m like, What songs are out I don’t know.

I need to know what people are singing.

As I’m listening, I’m just reacquaining myself with what’s familiar.

I’m like, Well, this is going to be tough.

This is going to be really tough.

There are some

seasonal realities that kick in 20 years into doing this where you’ve changed.

You’ve just been through a lot of life

that you hadn’t when you first started, and it was easy to just be naive.

I There’s seasonal, there’s financial, there’s also, I think, professional.

If you drew a Venn diagram of three

different circles of money, meaning, and expression, I think those are three

things that you’re going to have to keep in tension to find fulfilment.

You need to make money, you got to provide for your family.

You want to make a difference.

You want there to be meaning to what you do.

Then expression is like, Can you really be you?

Can you do your thing?

I think it’s only maybe in the last generation or so,

especially in church generations, where we expect all three of those circles

to overlap, where I’m going to get my money,

where I get my meaning, and I get to express myself.

That is not a lot of people’s experience.

That is certainly not a lot of the history of humanity.

As you get into your ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s,

you might not get your money where you get your meaning.

That’s okay.

But in worship ministry,

sometimes we can be given the luxury, and it is a luxury country.

Think about how many countries

in the world could you actually provide for your family by leading worship?

There’s not many.

There’s not many countries.

It’s such a gift to be able to do that for a season.

I’m just asking people to please

consider what What happens after that season has changed because it will change.

In some people, it’ll be easy for them

professionally to shift from their running the worship department

and their leading most of the music and the writing.

It’ll be easy for them to shift

into an executive pastor or a discipleship pastor or a teaching pastor.

I don’t know.

The question that I ask a lot of worship leaders when we have these conversations

is, what was it about leading worship that brought you energy.

If it’s like, I love just sitting with people and seeing

their lives change over time, okay, well, you could be a great counsellor one day.

If it’s, no, I love the carte blanche

creativity that I get from having been here for so long.

Okay, well, that’s probably not going to make you a great counsellor.

You might be good at marketing.

The thing that I want people to think through is like, what is it underneath

your job that gives you energy in that job?

Because whatever that is,

what may Make you good at this will make you good at a lot of other things.

I felt very intimidated.

I felt very behind.

I felt insecure when I stepped down from what I had done

for 25 years at the inflexion point of the highest expenses we’ve ever had

with two kids in college, my wife, and Crespo.

Highest expenses, most unstable or insecure

economic position, I felt really I’m disappointed, honestly.

Good grief, man.

Twenty-five years, I gave everything.

I gave everything, dude.

We just put all of our money

into scholarship being to come to worship school.

We didn’t save.

We just went hard after God, and I don’t regret any of that.

I just can’t afford to repeat it.

We have to figure something else out.

I’m And wanting to help people recognise.

There’s a really interesting book

by David Epstein called Range, where he compares Tiger Woods to Roger Federer.

I don’t know if you’ve heard of this book.

It’s a social science book.

He talks about the difference between Tiger and Federer, how

with golf, you basically want to do the same thing over and over and over.

Your swing is always the same swing,

and the better you can be consistent with that, the better you are.

And he talks about that’s a specialist,

someone who does this one thing really well.

Tiger is a constant example and golf is

a great example of a sport where you want that.

He compares that to Roger Federer, who Tiger started playing golf at two.

There’s videos of him on Oprah or whatever.

He’s four, hitting the golf ball.

It’s cool.

Federer didn’t start playing tennis until ’16.

He played every other sport.

He wasn’t even interested in tennis.

He was good at basketball and all these other sports.

Once he started playing tennis,

all these other abilities coalesced us in exactly what you need

for the game of tennis, because tennis isn’t the same thing every time.

You’re adjusting every time, and there’s a lot more agility and stuff like that.

Epstein’s basically saying, the generation that came before us, specialists ruled.

The times that we’re facing now, generalists are what you need to be.

It was really helpful for me because I was afraid that I’d been typecast

or stereotyped into this need niche of this is all I know how to do.

That book helped me realise, no, actually,

I’ve learned a tonne of stuff about leadership, about organisational dynamics.

I’ve learned a bunch of stuff about

budgeting or creative writing with songwriting.

I’ve learned about all kinds of different things that I…

Once I step back from this role,

I realised, wait, I have all of these skill sets

that actually make me good at a whole lot of different things.

And what gave me energy about this, I could still do that over here.

So what I love to do, I love helping people understand

and experience things that are going to enrich their lives.

That’s all that I’ve been doing, I think, since I was 20 years old.

Anytime I would lead worship, I just think if you understood what this

verse said, and then you experience the reality of it, it would enrich your life.

That’s everywhere I go to lead worship, that’s all I do.

I’m not this great singer.

I’m not this amazing booklet me.

But I want people to understand

and experience things that will change their life.

You’ve come to my house. If you’re ever in Colorado,

come on over and I’ll make you a burger that will change your life.

All right, let’s do it. I will.

I want you to understand If you get 50% sirloin and 50% brisket,

and I grind it up and I mix it together, and there’s nothing like it.

Everything that I’m doing,

what I’m doing when I’m doing what I’m doing is I’m wanting people to experience

new things that are going to enrich their lives.

That’s the same thing with mortgage, same thing with coaching.

It’s all the same thing. I can do that as a worship leader.

I get just as much life and joy from doing

that as a bartender or as a mortgage lender or as an executive coach.

It’s the same thing. Does that make sense?

Yeah. I mean, guys, unbelievable how much

truth you’ve packed into the last 10 minutes of conversation.

I wish I could remember everything you

said so we could pull stuff out and unpack it.

But the last thing that you said,

I think is really key for people to consider,

which is what is the underlying thing that brings you joy in your ministry?

Why did you want to be a worship leader?

It wasn’t to sing songs.

I mean, maybe that is your underlying joy.

And then, okay, how do you do that

in other venues or in other seasons or situations?

But for me,

it’s funny you said that because just yesterday I had this epiphany

because my role has shifted pretty significantly at my church.

I’m now the creative pastor.

I oversee all of our graphics and all of our creative video, marketing,

everything, service flow, service specials, blah, blah, blah, blah.

I’m doing so much project management.

It’s my podcast, I can be honest on air.

Here we go.

I don’t find what I’m doing very fulfilling.

I’m project managing

15 projects at a time, making sure they come to completion at the right time.

Yesterday, I had this thought.

I was like, You know what I loved about my ministry?

It wasn’t really about the music or anything.

It was about weekly gathering with a group

of people to encourage them, connect with them, make them feel loved,

seen, known, and build them up in the faith.

That’s what I miss. That’s what I love.

I don’t like projects.

I like people.

That was a big epiphany from yesterday.

That weekly gathering of people to encourage them and to check in on them,

like you said, that’s the underlying thing that brings me joy.

I can do that in so many other contexts.

I love what you’re sharing, and you’re just blowing my mind.

Everybody in the comments, all the academy members watching live are

like, yeah, they’re loving what you’re sharing.

Well, I wonder if I would have had ears to hear it at 35.

I don’t know, man.

I might have been so faithy at 25.

Dude, now I really think a lot of what I

thought was faithfulness, I think it was foolishness.

When you go through Proverbs, it’s constantly contrasting

the righteous and the wicked, but it also puts in there the foolish.

You do not have to be wicked to wreck your life.

All you have to be is foolish.

I think for so much of my earnest…

Dude, I think earnest is probably the word I would say.

That’s the number one value worship music today, earnestness.

We love you so hard.

Then we get on stage and we have to love

God way harder than we actually, our lives, actually love God.

And dance around.

Dance around, of course.

Can we be a little bit real?

Anyway, in Proverbs, it’s like, you don’t just need to be righteous and not wicked.

You need to be wise and not foolish.

I think in church, we can really disguise foolishness as faithfulness.

We can also superimpose stuff like how long you stay in your job.

In the church, we describe faithfulness as overstaying.

Overstaying in a job is not faithfulness.

Faithfulness is going where God’s leading you, like doing what God says.

But because we get, I don’t know, we get a little

fuzzy in our head, we think we’re being faithful to stay

in a place long past God has actually brought us into a new season.

But I heard Bob Goff say,

a lot of people are two or three jobs behind who they’ve become.

There’s something about that.

It’s beautiful when you’re able to take what you were able to do in the church

and do that in a different place in the church.

It’s just as beautiful if your calling is

actually going to take you out of outside of a church job into a marketplace.

Because I can tell you from working

in mortgage for the last three years and doing some executive coaching,

I’m seeing a lot of good kingdom stuff happening out there, too.

It just helps me when I do lead worship,

I’m a lot more interested in the back row now than the front row.

I’m a lot more interested in the people

who have their arms folded and they don’t really like this music.

I care about those people because

my identity is not found anymore, and I don’t even find that much

gratification in how much the people are responding if I’m leading in worship.

I find meaning in their lives becoming

more faithful to God and that looks like a lot of practical things.

Becoming better fathers and mothers,

becoming better neighbours on their street, becoming more generous

with their time, becoming more forgiving or less resentful.

Like actual transformation stuff, that’s the only thing I’m in this for.

If we’re just singing some songs, like, dude, I’d rather sing better songs.

That’s the other thing that happens once

you get into your 40s, you realise this music isn’t really expanding very much.

We have more songs than ever, but about fewer things.

We sing the same thing every few songs.

We’re just saying the same thing.

I started to recognise, I’m feeling a little bit stuck.

I think you know that you’re stuck if you have to drag yourself to work week after

week, you’re stuck and you got to do something.

My encouragement would just be to figure

out what has God called you to do and then recognise how many different vehicles

you could do that through to the glory of God,

just the same as you would if you were on stage singing about the glory of God.

I think we can give God just as much glory

by living faithfully as as we can by singing exuberantly.

And so part of what that transition has looked like for me,

and what I’ve tried to train worship leaders in forever,

is just recognising it’s first half of life, second half of life stuff.

It’s moving from being the sage on the stage to the guide on the side.

I find a lot more joy now in guiding these worship leaders who I get to walk

with through coaching, through one-on-one coaching.

I get to just help guide a little bit and coach them.

I am more excited about sitting down for coaching calls than I am

about getting on stage in front of a couple of thousand people.

I sat down yesterday for two coaching calls with worship leaders.

These are amazing worship leaders.

I am amped.

I can hardly sleep the night before.

I’m so stoked about what God’s doing

in their lives, not just about what he’s doing in mine.

I’m thankful to get a little place to help

maybe cut off some of the years of, you can learn some of this faster than I did.

If you can learn from my mistakes and I have to make your own.

I love that.

But this stage of life, there’s that verse in Psalm 16,

where it’s like the boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places.

I grew up hating that verse.

It was probably my least favourite verse in the Bible.

But I grew up as a rebellious kid in a fundamentalist church.

I hate the boundary lines.

But the more that…

The older I get, the I’m agreeing with Psalm 16,

the boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places.

My pastor used to say, The difference between a river and a swamp is boundaries.

One of them stays in its boundaries and brings life and beauty.

One of them has no boundaries or justt