"I count myself one of the number of those who write as they learn and learn as they write." ~St. Augustine

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Overwhelmed by a gift


She just took off her necklace and gave it to me.
A beautiful, hand-crafted piece of art, she took it off and gave it to me as she was leaving.  What!? Why would she do that?

"Stop, don't give me your necklace!" I cried, as she was unlatching it at the back of her neck. "You are not seriously giving that to me?!" I said, still trying to stifle the shocking generosity I was experiencing.

"I am."  she said in a matter-of-fact tone, with gentle smile.  "I wanted to bring you a gift and I didn't.  So, I will give you this."

Last night, I watched the awe-striking beauty of living in such freedom from things...

As A.W. Tozer might suggest that her possessions do not posses her.  She was not clinging to this thing...
"There can be no doubt that this possessive clinging to things is one of the most harmful habits in the life.  Because it is so natural, it is rarely recognized for the evil that it is.  It's outworkings are tragic."  ~A. W. Tozer
Last night I saw open handed generosity, I watched it and received it.  I felt it's kindness and sweetness placed and secured around my neck.

Having lived most of our adult lives overseas and on faith-based financial support, we have the unique opportunity to see generosity in the Body of Jesus daily.  We really do.   Early in our ministry, living on the donations of churches and individuals was a horrible burden for me---a difficult struggle for my heart.  The tightness of a small budget, the ambiguity of how much would come in each month, the pressure and judgement I felt living "on other people's money"... all of these felt heavy and hard.  

And, now, instead--- I love it.  I truly love it.

In the 15 years of living overseas, something has changed deeply inside of me.  God has taught me something right and real.  He has shown me that it is ALL His money, through His kids, to support His kids and His kingdom.

All of it--- all of us--- all His.

I get to see God provide through His people every day.  Through the generosity and faithfulness of His people, I have seen His provision and blessing in abundance.  I know each phone bill is paid because one of His children, my brother, has given to support us.   I know that each time I get on an airplane, He has bought the airline ticket and used some of His children to give us that gift.

And God's people are a very generous lot, I might say.  Not only is God using His kids to pay our rent and our medical bills; but we have above and beyond our "needs".  There have been times when we have been given temporary houses and cars in spades.  We have been given gift cards and "fun money"!  ...And, books and coats and ipods.  And yesterday I was given a necklace.  Why would she do that?!  My heart still reels with the profound generosity in the act of giving and receiving.  I am still overwhelmed by the gift.

We talked about it as a family as we drove away last night.  What fun it is to watch generosity!!  She blessed my heart--- deeply.  She blessed "my socks off!" with her gift.  And, I wondered out loud if maybe her heart felt blessed in the giving.  Her smile and gentleness indicated she was touched by the gift, as well.

It IS certainly good fun to give, too, isn't it?!  

Both of us blessed.  Both of us living out, living under, the beauty of giving:  the giving and the receiving.
For, "this is love..."  (I John 4:10)  and "this is love..." (Romans 5:8)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Today's Trust

I had significant physical pain again today.

This wrestle with pain has been a life long journey for me; a path, so it seems, that my Father intends me to continue to trudge.

The actual pain isn't horrible in-and-of-it-self.  Certainly the pain isn't as bad as it has been in the past.  But when it comes, it can bring with it a heavy, dusky emotional load.  It can shadow my heart with worry and fear.

The "what ifs" shadow can invade and surround me---blocking out bright light.  What if it gets really bad again?  What if it is something new, something worse?

This morning, the "what ifs" crashed around my heart and pushed into the corners of my mind, taking a light-filled mood and bearing down with darkness.  I felt cranky and irratible.  ...Frustrated and anxious.  One harsh snap of my mouth toward my son as we left the house made me aware--- a quick slap awake, ...somethings is not right in my heart.

On the ride to the church, I simply put my head back, closed my eyes and brought my heart to the Lord.

I am worried, Lord.  What if it gets worse? 


I want this pain to end, Father, and it isn't over...  


I am tired of this, Lord! I am afraid.  

As these thoughts tumbled out of my heart in prayer, the song from the radio spoke something very different to my soul.

"His love is amazing.  Steady and unchanging.  His love is a mountain firm beneath my feet.  His love is surprising.  I can feel it rising.  His love is surrounding.  His love carries me."

His love surrounds and carries. 

His love...my heart began to sing along with the music.  Slowly and steadily, the raging worries ceased to pound my mind.  The "what-ifs" silenced and my heart was lifted.  Light entered my mind and I sat and listened.  And quietly, I began to sing along,  "His love is amazing!"  

Your love O Lord, reaches to the heavens.  Your faithfulness reaches to the skies. 

My gentle Father calmed my soul and quieted my mood.  Like a big, gentle hug, He wrapped His calming love around me.  Oh! How He loves me...

There was a moment of peace and then He spoke His Truth into this peace.  A loving hug was followed by a firm face-to-face truth-moment for my mind.   As if to grab my face with tender, strong hands and looking into my eyes, His Spirit spoke deep into my soul...

My well loved daughter--- Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things.  Set your heart on things above where Christ is seated at my right hand.

Trust me for today.  And, do not worry about tomorrow, Stephanie....


Oh!  How He loves me...



Friday, March 23, 2012

Can't fix me


I feel broken.  ...out of sync.  So frustrated by my own sin, I feel the weight of guilt and shame heavy on my heart.  True and healthy Holy Spirit conviction is long gone.  Forgiveness has been asked and received from my Jesus.  But, the heaviness remains.  The guilt hangs around and lingers.   My head still hangs low...

This strategy of my enemy and the wounds of my heart work together and leave me feeling discouraged, listless and worthless.  Pulling out of the shame and walking in freedom feels intensely difficult... as if, this is the "right" place for me to be.  This place of defeat is the "right" punishment for my sin.  I must pay, it feels.  I must do something... I must fix this!

And, certainly, the Lord is finally "done" with me.  Right?
These are the ebb and flow thoughts that swirl around my mind and soul today.

Why so downcast, O my soul?  Put your hope in the Lord!  

These words fill my journal page as I wonder about the state of my heart... and how to fix it.
How to fix it??  Really, Stephanie.  Did you hear that?  I am still trying to fix it!

So, I sit.  And, I read and I take in the words of a woman who walked this road nearly 150 years ago...
"To state it in brief, I would just say that man's part is to trust and God's part is to work..."

"Only God, who created us first, can re-create us, for He alone understands the work of His own hands.  All efforts after self-creating, result in the marring of the vessel."

"Settle down on this one thing, that the Lord is able to save you fully, now, in this life, from the power and dominion of sin, and to deliver you altogether out of the hands of your enemies."

"The most difficult burden we have to carry in life is self.  Our own daily living, our frames and feelings, our especial weaknesses and temptations, our peculiar temperaments, these are the things that perplex us and worry us...  you must hand yourself to the care of God, and leave [it] there.  He made you, and therefore He understands you and knows how to manage you, and you must trust Him to do it."

This wonderful lady, Hannah Whithall Smith, writes of a parent's love toward their child.  "He loves us, loves us, and the will of love is always blessing for the it's loved one".  I read these words last night as my daughter snuggled next to me with her own book.  She can't seem to get close enough to me.  In this warm, God-timed place, I read, "the baby toils not, neither does it spin; and yet he is fed and clothed, and loved, and rejoiced in...  This life of faith consists of just this:  being a child in the Father's house."

...being a child in the Father's house.  You are my well-loved daughter, Stephanie!    

When my daughter sins, I watch with deep joy when conviction comes and I rejoice when forgiveness is asked.  It is my joy to her her repentance and my bigger joy to forgive and offer mercy to her, my sweet girl.  But, what might I feel if she would roll around in the guilt and shame of her sin for days!

I read these simple thoughts about being a child in my Father's house and I can't help but reach up and caress her hair, my daughter, as she sits next to me.  What deep grief I would feel if she wouldn't, or couldn't, leave the sin done and forgiven!  What if she wallowed in it and punished herself and didn't believe my love!

Lord Jesus, I believe that Thou art able and willing to deliver me from all the care, and unrest and bondage of my life.  I believe that Thou did st die to set me free, not only in the future, but now and here.  And, Lord, I am going to trust Thee to keep me.  I have tried keeping myself, and have failed most grievously.  I am absolutely helpless, so now I will trust Thee.  I will give myself to Thee; I keep back no reserves.  I believe I am Thine.  I believe Thou dost accept that which I present to Thee; I believe that this poor, weak, foolish heart has been taken possession of by Thee, and Thou hast even at this very moment begun to work in me to will and to do of Thy good pleasure.  I trust Thee utterly, and I trust Thee now!  ~Hannah Whithall Smith

It is man's job to trust and God's job to work.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A must

I am convinced.  


It is a must*. (*dictionary definition:  to be urged, ought, by all means to, to be compelled, or necessary...)


I know it isn't politically correct to say "this or that" is good for everyone.  And, yes, I know and believe with my whole heart that we are all unique and very different.  I know that any time we make a blanket statement or paint with a wide brush we run into trouble...  I know.  But, I am convinced--- deeply convinced--- that all of us, yes each and everyone of us, needs to take significant time away to be alone with God.  


We need solitude.  We need silence.  We need to get away.  ...to slip away and take time, a good amount of time, to spend with the Father.  


We need time to sit still.  We need to listen.  We need to ponder and pray.  We need to ask and wrestle, to read and learn, to study and worship.  We need time to relax and just sit with God.  


It is a must.  And, honestly, if I were forced to pick just one spiritual practice that has had the biggest impact on my life it would be this...  spiritual retreats, my get-aways with God.  


Now, how you do it---the timing, the place, the surrounding--- will vary, of course.  Creativity is key!  And, what you do while you are away with Him will indeed vary from person to person.  This is where the uniqueness and individuality is so apparent and beautiful.  In fact, through the years, the time allotted to this has changed and shifted.  And, each time I get away with Him, it looks a bit different.  But, the need for solitude and silence, I am certain, is a must.  


I just got away with Him.  Scheduled months in advance and set apart as sacred on the calendar, I had a long, lingering "date" with God.   Was it hard to find time?  Yes!! Was it hard to go?  Yes, absolutely.  Every time there are 16 or 20 reasons why I shouldn't go away.  


And, was it sweet?  Yes, a thousand times yes!  And, challenging.  And, tender.  And, encouraging.  And, convicting.  And, difficult.  And, refreshing...  And, definitely a must for me.  
"Our religious activities should be ordered in such a way as to have plenty of time for the cultivation of the fruits of solitude and silence." ~A.W. Tozer
"Solitude begins with a time and a place for God, and God alone.  If we really believe not only that God exists but also that God is actively present in our lives--healing, teaching, and guiding--we need to set aside time and space to give God our undivided attention. (Matt. 6:6)"  ~Henri Nouwen

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Barabbas and Me

Give us Barabbas!
Why in the world would they choose to release Barabbas instead of you, Lord?  

These were the thoughts that came tumbling out of my heart when reading the account of Pilate's offer to release a prisoner for the Passover feast*.  (John 18:39-40)  "Give us Barabbas!" they cried.  

After all they had seen of Jesus.  After seeing His healing, His kindness, and hearing His teaching...  They chose Barabbas, Lord??!!  

No, Stephanie. I chose Barabbas.  The words flooded my mind.  I chose Barabbas.  "No one can take my life from me.  I lay it down voluntarily.  For I have the right to lay it down and the power to take it up again.  My Father has given me this right."  (John 10:18)

And, I chose you, too.  

Me and Barabbas.  Both rebellious sinners...both guilty.  Both released and offered freedom on the same day.  That day Jesus took our punishment, walked our road, and carried our sins.   Barabbas' crime and sentence---my punishment and my sin.  

I am chosen.  I am released.  He walked in my place.
  
Chosen to be freed and offered a new life.  I wonder how Barabbas spent his remaining free days on earth?  I want to remember and walk as one loved, chosen and set free each day of my life.  You?  How will you spend your days of freedom?  
"Where have your love, your mercy, your compassion shone out more luminously than in your own wounds, sweet gentle Lord of mercy?  More mercy than this no one has than that he lay down his life for those who are doomed to death."  ~Bernard of Clairvaus
*I am reading a wonderful daily Lent devotion that is free for download here.  
"See yourself as Barabbas, [condemned] awaiting your sentence of death.  Then consider how it would be to have someone loosen your chains, and release you, no questions asked." ~Tricia Rhodes

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Victorious through Him

He carried me.  And, we conquered.
Jesus, me, and my "300 men" of energy and strength!!

Last night, as I fell into bed and plopped my head on the pillow, all I could do was smile.  A very hard day, yes.  A "done" day, yep!  But, it was a day where I talked to the Lord much, more than I had been lately.  And, it was a day I needed Him frequently all day long...
  
So, that You would rely on My strength and not your own,  Stephanie.  
  
With His strength, I got out of bed.  I did a multitude of things and made it through the day with the Lord's Presence, and only 300 men.

Sweeping the floor... asking for God's strength.
Feeling sick... asking for God's healing.
Cleaning the kitchen, folding the laundry... asking for God's Presence.
Forgiving others... asking for God's mercy.
Feeling hurt feelings... asking for God's perspective.
Schooling the children... asking for God's wisdom and energy.
Teaching a class... asking for God's Presence, His Word, His Power.

My Brother Jesus carried and strengthened.  He fought and worked.  He never grows weary!

We conquered!  Me and my 300 men... and my God!  I boast today in God's amazing strength, His endurance, His Presence and His mercy!  (Judges 7:2)  I was done yesterday.  God wasn't.  He carried and He conquered.  How do I even say Thank you, Lord.  My eyes are on You, my God!  (2 Chron. 20:12)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I am done today.

Do you ever just feel "done"?
   
Done mothering.  Done wife-ing.  Done laundering.  Done working.  Done giving and listening.  Just done.
   
I feel done, today.  Tired.  Spent.  And, done.   ...ready to curl up, tuck in and rest.  
   
It is one of those days when I could happily get back in bed, curl up in a ball, pull the covers up and take a long day's nap!
  
So, I offer this slightly edited version of a post I wrote in April 2010...  words that speak my heart today.  
  
****
  
I have only 300 men. 
  
This was my thought this morning as I woke to a full day ahead and an upcoming event I am not prepared for. I have only 300 men today, Lord.
  
In Judges 7, we read of God purposefully dwindling down Gideon's strong army to only 300 men. Early in the book of Judges, God finds Gideon hiding away and doing his task with his head down. God approaches Gideon in this hiding place and calls him to fight the Midianites... and the Midianites were a force to be reckoned with. Then, a bit later in the story, God dwindles the army Gideon has raised from 30,000 men to 300 men on purpose

  
On purpose.  Intentionally, God takes away Gideon's army. Really, Lord? And, to add interest to the story, God clearly tells Gideon what He is doing and why, "In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her." (Judges 7:2)
Today I have only 300 men, Lord.

  
I have learned so adeptly through my life how to do what needs to be done, accomplish the many tasks, bolster my heart and mind and survive... quite successfully. In my heart, at least, I have boasted in this strength.
  
And, God has been dwindling down my army for years. Slowly, God has been chipping away at my successful discipline, my organizing and plan-making, my energy, my solutions and my strategies, ...even chipping heartily away at my good looks and my charm (written with a smirk). The 30,000 "men" that I gathered around me through my early days as a Christian (lets just say the first 10 years of faith) were a blessing for those years. God does use large armies at times. But, these last 10 years, he has been whittling away at those armies.
  
The message to my heart of late has been one of surrender and reliance on Him. These past years, He has been ushering me into a new relationship of sorts with Him. He wants me to not trust in horses and chariots, blessings and strength... He wants me to trust in Him alone. No Stephanie-strength allowed.
  
Time and time again these days I find myself standing against the enemy, without or within, and saying to the Lord, as Jehoshaphat said, "Will you not judge them? For I have no power to face this vast army that is attacking me. I do not know what to do, but my eyes are upon you". (
2 Chron. 20:12)
  
And, God's response to me, time and time again has been, "Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God's!" (2 Chron. 20:15).
I am tired today. My energy is low. I have failed again in areas sin. I am disorganized and my to-do list is a long. I haven't had much time to process deeply these last few weeks and I feel a bit in a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions. I am headed into an intense time of ministry... and I am feeling weak and ill-equipped. ...I only have 300 men, Lord. Like Gideon, I would like to just put my head down, do my "tasks" and get things ordered in my life and hide out from the enemy... without and within.
  
But, like Gideon, God calls out to me, "The LORD is with you, mighty warrior"(Judges 6:12) Me? Me, Lord... mighty warrior?? When God calls him a mighty warrior, Gideon quickly explains to God that his clan is the least and that he is the least of those in his clan. Me, too, Gideon!! Me, too.
  
But, Our Father seems to like to call the weak... just a quick perusal of Scripture will show that as true. Our Father seems to like to call the foolish, the childish and the sinners. He likes to confound the wise with His strength shining forth through the weak of this world.
  
I am most definitely one of those weak ones. I am a jar of clay, broken and full of holes. But, I guess the jars with the most holes shine forth more light, for today I have only 300 men.

  
"But this happened that I might not rely on myself but on God, who raises the dead" (2 Corinthians 1:19)
  "I cant. He can. I think I'll let Him." ~J. Coles

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The tumble and fall of the urgent "more"

Just one more pair of jeans... that should do, right?  Oh!  and...I need just one more shirt in pink, then I am done.  Just one more trip to Target.  Or, one more book.  One more album.  Or, one more app.   For everyone it is different, for sure--- but,  we feel it, don't we?  Or, am I alone here feeling the tug?  


Because, what I have is great... but it is not quite enough.   Nearly, yes.  Well, okay-yes, it is enough, of course!  And, I am thankful, Lord.  But...  but, I just need this one more thing...  


And so it goes.  The tumble and fall, the slippery slope of the "more".  There seems to be a constant urge within--- an urgent cry, a tugging, a screaming, or a quiet nag--- for "more".


In the movie, "Sabrina", Sabrina Fair reminds Linus,  "More isn't always better, Linus.  Sometimes it is just more."  Oh! The tug and the pull of the more.  One more movie, one more episode, one more email, one more blog and one more blouse.  One more chip and one more bite...  Just one more.


It isn't always better, Stephanie.  Sometimes, it just more.


Certainly this isn't a problem that only Americans have... although I do feel it keenly living here these few months, to be sure.  This is a human problem.  Across time and generations this has been a problem.  Solomon speaks to it over and over again, "Man's appetite is never satisfied". (Ecclesiastes 6:7)


To be content with exactly what I have right now and nothing more.  I need for nothing.  I have no need, no want, and no "dream" for the more.  "For godliness with contentment is great gain". (I Timothy 6:6).  My Father reminds me that there is great gain in being okay with what I have.  What blessings await me to be content with the "now" and to be happy in what I have now.  "Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work--this is a gift of God. (Ecc. 5:19)  So, He invites me not only to be "okay" with what I have, but to enjoy it.  


Lord, bless me with this enjoyment and this contentment--- these gifts from You.  


"O thou who kindly dost provide
For every creature's want!
We bless Thee, God of Nature wide,
For all Thy goodness lent:
And if it please Thee, Heavenly Guide,
May never worse be sent;
But, whether granted, or denied,
Lord, bless us with content. Amen! ~Robert Burns Grace

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Always Present Moon


I just love seeing the moon during the day.   It always surprises me and brings me a message of God's always-Presence.

Out the kitchen window, while wiping down the sink today, there it was...  the moon.  Blue skies, green trees, the sunshine and ...the moon.  In broad daylight-- there it is--sitting in it's spot.  I could just imagine this day-lit moon was smiling at me with a laughing smirk and a wink.  He is calling my heart to remember that indeed he is still there.  The morning didn't send him away... he still remained.

Hidden, but there.  Unseen but always present.

That moon is always there, but unseen most days.  It never "goes away" really.  It is always up there rotating consistently and faithfully in the sky. I just don't always see it.

This has been a theme the Lord has been whispering into my heart lately.  Daily He seems to remind me to keep awake and aware.  This sleepy, sun drowned or cloudy world keeps me from seeing Him much of the time.  Sometimes I just forget or "fall asleep" in the haze of distraction.

Today my heavenly Father let my eyes fall on the hidden moon.  I want to see more, Father.  

Give me eyes to see, Father.  Give me an awakened heart to see, to hear, to be aware and awake today! May I see You, may I hear You, may I know Your voice.


"The real labor is to remember, to attend.  In fact, to come awake still more, and to remain awake."  ~C.S. Lewis

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

He remained silent... unless

In those last hours before His death, He was left by His friends.  Alone He walked.  Alone He stood.  He was questioned and assaulted and still He remained silent. (Matthew 26: 63)

Silent, that is, sometimes.

There were times, very specific times, when He spoke up.  There was a question that He simply couldn't and wouldn't deny, even with silence.  He wouldn't allow them to misunderstand His silence as denial.  

He could not keep quiet any longer when asked about who He was.  He must speak forth His identity.  

"If you are the Christ, then tell us!" they demanded. "Are you the Son of God?" they questioned.  

"I am",  Jesus answers.  No more silence.  

"But Jesus remained silent.  The high priest said to Him, "I charge you under the oath of the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God."  (Matthew 26:63)

"Yes, it is as you say."  (v.64)   

The humility of silence wouldn't stand when questioned about His very Being or about His relationship to His Father.  He cannot, will not, deny who He is.  

Even as my eyes glance over the words, "Yes, it is as you say," a memory floods my mind.  As I read this today, thinking on those last moments of Christ's life, I can't help but think of the recent moment when I remained silent.    Just the other day, in fact.  Not questioned, exactly... and certainly not assaulted, the opportunity to speak of who I am in Christ came and went.  I remained silent.  

Did I deny my Lord that day?  Well, not exactly...  But, my silence was truly full of cowardice, people-pleasing, and insecurity.  Was my silence a form of denial?  I knew the moment I walked away from the situation.  I felt the tug and sadness, the conviction, of His Spirit.  

He had been there with me.  I am never alone.  He had given me words.  I had Truth still lingering on my tongue.  I could have testified with my mouth.  But, I chose silence...  "humble" "gentle" "inoffensive" silence.  I remained silent.  

My Jesus remained silent that day.  Silent, that is... unless asked about who He was.  He just won't deny who He is, even with silence.  

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Ample Opportunities

photo source
They just don't seem to worry.  I watched them eat yesterday, these darling little birds--plump and singing their happy songs.  Cared for even amidst the snow and cold, these little ones don't have to be anxious.   They just eat what God has given them and go about their day. 

For me, in any given day, there are ample opportunities to worry.  From the lingering cough of a child, to the relational dynamics of family, to the laundry-pile that never ends...  each day, truly, holds enough worry of it own.  Each day there are plenty of reasons to feel anxious.  And, I do sometimes.  Do you?

Some moments, I feel this slight pain or tinge lingering in my stomach... worry...  and I have to stop and ask God, "Why am I feeling this way?"  It usually only takes a moment to pray and ponder my recent train-of-thought and it becomes clear why I am feeling just slightly queazy.  ...a passing thought of the upcoming credit card bill, a quick thought of the preparation I haven't done for that upcoming seminar, a conversation I feel insecure about...

My body can tense and feel the worry before I am emotionally aware of what my mind and heart are doing. 

Reading this morning, I was struck by the words of Christ to His disciples, "Do not be anxious". (Luke 12:22)  Just don't, He says.

Just don't do it.  Simple and sweet.

The beauty of Christ's words, though, include not only the "don't", but the "why not..."

Don't worry, He tells His friends.  Why?  Because, "He who planted the ear, does He not hear?  He who formed the eyes, does he not see?" (Psalm 94:9)  Why not worry, Stephanie?  Because, your loving, powerful Father sees and hears and knows. 

Why not be anxious, my friends?  Because, "God feeds them".  (Luke 12:24)
There is ample opportunity for worry, yes.  But, so are there a myriad of reasons to trust this One- this powerful Creator that sees, hears and knows all.  This day affords me ample opportunity to trust this One- this loving Father that clothes and feeds. 

Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  So, seek his kingdom and these things will be added to you!  (Luke 12:31,32)

Each day gives me ample opportunities to "fear not!" and occasions "to not worry".  Each day offers me circumstances to trust, to rest and to receive from my Father's hand.   ...to eat what He provides and go about my day, even in the snow. 
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