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Archive for February, 2020

“Fear nothing in front of you because of who is behind you.”

I don’t know who said those words, but they speak such valuable truth … truth that we (okay, I) need to be reminded of regularly.

What’s ahead of you, today?

A new job? A divorce? A disease? A move? A new baby? Infertility? Loneliness? University? Aging? A tough conversation? A test? Leaving your home? Going back home?

… even the threat, the possibility or hint of one of those things is enough to have many of us shaking in our boots. We fixate on the struggles of the situation, the ‘what ifs’ of a situation. We allow the fear of what is or might be around the corner to decimate the gift of today.

We forget that we are not facing our fears alone.

Throughout the Bible there are reminders that we are not alone, we are not abandoned in our joys, our sufferings, nor our fears.

Hebrews 13:5 is one such example; “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

Now, we have to do our part as well … we need to walk with God, acknowledging his presence in our lives. He’s still right behind us, even if we don’t, but the peace of God … we actually have to do something to receive it.

Philippians 4:5-9 speak of that peace:

“The Lord is at hand (he’s right behind us); do not be anxious about anything (okay, easier said than done, but we do need to, actively, practise this), but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (yes, he already knows … tell him anyway … unload it at God’s feet … and look what he says will happen …)And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding (I like to say, it goes beyond all human understanding), will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers/sisters (what’s next tells us how to avoid fear …), whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

He’s got your back … now let’s think about the whatevers and the if theres.

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I was recently asked if our son being away was as bad as I had thought it would be, while he’s off in New Zealand and Thailand with a Christian missions and outreach group. I replied that it was hard to let him go, I have had moments when his presence was missed and I cannot wait to see him.

but …

it’s been okey,

he is where he ought to be,

doing what he ought to be doing …

living his life,

always close to my heart,

but independent of me.

That is the stage we are at in life … it’s the season of cut and release.

I have to say, I like this stage of life … semi-empty nesting … kids into their twenties, no longer directed by us, dependent on us, except in their choice to be. I have no inner ache to go back in time, though I have warm memories of the seasons past. There are things I wish that I had done differently, but we live and learn, from our successes and failures.

Parenting is all about
more God, less me.

That is what this stage has been reminding me … that I am the hands and feet (and heart) of God in this parenting adventure … I do not, nor have I ever, possessed my children. They are and have been and will continue to be a gift to my life, but they are not my life and I am not theirs.

A friend recently said, “I thank God that he was ultimately in control and corrected my mistakes. My children survived and God is still not finished with us.”

” … and God is still not finished with us” … us, not them. For we are all are learning and experiencing life, as we live intermingled with our kids. Our kids are not at the end, nor are we … we are all God’s work in progress.

Our kids are, have been and will continue to be in the capable hands of the same God who allowed us to share in their adventure called life.

I am so thankful for where this adventure has taken us, so far … but I cannot wait to see what is around the next corner … for our kids, as well as for hubby and I, as we all continue to live under the care of God … acknowledging that parenting still has to be more God, less me.

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Ever cried in your pillow? How about punched something (a wall, a tree)? Ever stood in a forest and screamed at the top of your lungs? Or stared out the window, but your thoughts were so far away, you didn’t see anything? Ever sighed from a place so deep inside that you wondered if there was any air left in your body? Have you ever waved fists up in the air, while stating your sorrowful case before God?

Ever lamented?

lament … it is the feeling and/or expressing of regret or disappointment (Oxford dictionary). We all lament at some point.

I wrote this post eight years ago, though it originated from my experience, closer to fifteen years ago.

I was struggling to see, to dream even, how God might ever be able to penetrate into the heart of another. There was nothing within me, my vivid imagination, my belief in God’s redemption, that could give me hope for this person.

And so my soul began to groan in lament ...

I remember, ugly tears falling from my face, head shaking in disappointment and hopelessness when a song started reverberating through my memory.

How long O Lord ?

Though the Bible has ample examples of lamenting (the Psalms, Job, and, of course, Lamentations), it is not something that we often see, or do, in our churches. I am not sure that church is the place where lamenting should occur, but the absence of this practice (at church) could make people think that it is something that we should not do.

Often our Christian circles can be so … clean, happy, perfect …

UNREAL!

We are not living on the side of eternity, we are living lives in this temporal, sin-filled worlds, with sin-filled bodies and minds. We live lives of sorrow, disappointment, worry, sickness, heartbreak and agony. To live authentically does not mean we paste a smile on our faces and sing Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be).

To lament is to pound our chests, and, with fountains falling from our faces, cry out,

“God, I hurt!”

“God, I don’t know where you are in this!”

“God, did you leave me? Because I feel so alone.”

“God, why did you allow my enemies to do this to me?”

“God, I am so lonely.”

“God, why did you …

forsake (abandon) me?”

David lamented.

Job lamented.

Jeremiah lamented.

Rachel lamented.

Jesus lamented.

To lament is to powerfully, passionately voice our sorrow, our agony. To lament is to pour out your heart. To lament is to be the most real we can be. To lament to to come to the end of our rope … resulting in the abdicating of power and ability to do it alone, anymore.

When we lament, we speak, we cry, we moan in the most pure and beautiful language to God’s ears. To lament is to be on our way to acknowledging that we cannot do it (life) without Him.

God can handle our laments … our God has broad shoulders, and he wants us to lay the weight of our world on them.

And so, this song, this Psalm (for the words of the song come from Psalm 13) has been playing in my mind again … not so much out of current lament, so much as a reminder of fifteen years ago, how I lamented from the deepest depths of my being …

and how I am now seeing God’s hand on what I had lamented as hopeless. He is giving “light to my eyes” as “I trust in his unfailing love.”

Lament will come again, perhaps just around the corner … but the one to whom I lament … his shoulders can carry the weight of our lament … he desires it from us.

Until then, even when the lament comes, I will remember that, “he has been good to me.

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

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The sun’s rise signals the start of a new day.

How I love to actually see it rise since we live in a place that sometimes called Raincouver, the Wet Coast or (more commonly, by me) the Monsoontown. For many months it takes faith (and hope) that the sun is actually rising … somewhere, up there.

Yet, when we get to this annual February repose from the Pacific Northwest winter doldrums our (wavering) faith is rewarded with glorious sunrises and sunsets, the daily growth of bulb plants emerging from the ground and even blossoms on the trees.

Wavering faith …

Like my mind and mood in the dark and damp winter months, our faith can sometimes waver. Perhaps it wavers due to the dark and damp months effects on our serotonin production. Perhaps it wavers due to external forces on our lives and loves that just do not make good sense. Perhaps it wavers due to hurts, so deep, that it could take a lifetime of mining to bring them to the light of day … the light of a sunrise.

To see the light of a sunrise only takes opening ones eyes, for the source of the light (the sun) radiates to wherever it touches. To steady faith that is wavering … that also takes looking to the source …

Ralph Waldo Emerson said,

Sorrow looks back
worry looks around
faith looks up.”

His quote fits well with Psalm 121. This Psalm/song to sing while travelling is known as a song of ascents. It is a song whose lyrics remind the traveller to trust in God during the journey … for he is not just at the destination, but God accompanies us throughout the trek, as well.

God is with us … in the mountains and in the valleys. He is with us when our faith is strong, but he is also with us when our faith is wavering. He does not move, he does not leave us alone. We need to look up.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

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Muddled … that’s been the problem.

Awhile back I couldn’t, for the life of me, find my way out of a (small) parking garage. My family, colleagues and students have laughed with (I’m pretty sure it’s with, not at) me and my inability to focus, to remember. I start one task and get so easily diverted to another, forgetting the first one completely.

It all started the day I got the call from across the country, when packing a suitcase seemed the hardest thing in the world (mostly noted when I arrived to see what I had forgotten to pack).

Since that day in late November I have had times of sitting at my computer, oblivious to the unknown minutes that have past since I last tapped a letter on the keyboard. It is as if my brain takes an unexpected hiatus from the body where it is contained … I wonder where it has gone.

I will be helping a student with their math (an area where the pathways in my brain are still firing on all cylinders), the bell will ring and I have no idea whether that was the first or last bell of the day.

I’ll walk determinedly into a room and have no idea why I am there … actually, I am fifty and that is unchanged.

It is said, of some, that the death of a loved one can leave you feeling as if you have lost a part of yourself. I have felt as though I have lost an anchor and am like a boat adrift, moving aimlessly at the discretion of the waves, while, at the same time, looking unchanged, normal, capable.

Most days I function just fine, then my brain simply goes on vacation and I am left with a momentary void. Or I am left struggling to conjure up where my sentence was going. Or, I sit at the computer and cannot, for the life of me come up with anything to write about.

This muddled brain leaves me feeling confusion and insecurity like a boat, unmoored, drifting out to sea, directionless.

Then I read the following words:

Grief, in its excruciating form, is love that no longer has a place to belong.

This muddled mind, this brain adrift … symptoms of a love that has lost it’s mark, it’s destined port. So, it drifts, taking ones senses with it, searching for that which is gone … it’s gone …

he’s gone

and there is no coming back.

“To him who is able to keep you from stumbling …
to the only God our Savior …
Jude 1:24

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I love to go to the theatre to watch a movie. I love the darkened room, the crowd sitting around me, the buttery popcorn, the trailers (don’t get me started on people not showing up at the theatre until the trailers are done). I love it all!

That said, you won’t ever catch me watching an awards show … not the Academy Awards, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, not even the Grammy Awards. For me, seeing a movie is all about my own enjoyment … I really don’t care if others enjoyed it.

The other day I clicked on a video from the Oscars … not sure exactly why, maybe it was because I had just watched the movie Miss. Potter (which I adored) starring Renée Zellweger. The video was the acceptance speech of Ms. Zellweger for her best actress award. In her speech she spoke all of the inevitable thank-yous, then she spoke of heros …

“Our heroes unite us … when we look to our heroes we agree and that matters.” Renée Zellweger

and I nodded, in agreement and appreciation of wise, community-building words.

A similar theme was shared when US President John F Kennedy spoke to the Canadian parliament, in 1961, on the relationship between the two countries, ” … what unites us is far greater than what divides us.”

Those are rarely worded themes in Hollywood, in the United States, in Canada, in our world today.

It is as though our human race is set on a course of self-destruction through the focus on our differences of thought, conviction, behaviour. We not only disagree, but we gather only those around us who agree with us, restricting our growth, our maturity, our ability to see things from others points of view … resulting in a stunting of our growth and (perhaps) a risking of the status of our mental health.

What if, rather than discussing our differences (on social media, at the water cooler, over coffee, etc) we talked about who inspires us and why.

As Ms. Zellweger’s words permeated my thoughts on my drive to work, I began to think about my heroes. The people who, though I largely do not know personally, yet inspire, model and bring wonder to my life. Just thinking about such people put a smile on my face, a joy in my heart and grit in my soul to do and be better. Positivity grew within simply thinking of these people.

Then I tried speaking of them to people, interjecting their stories into my conversations … you know what happened? Those I was speaking to began sharing the names, stories and lives of their heroes. We began sharing joy positivity, unity.

May we speak of our heroes, providing opportunities to find common ground in our unity, rather than in what tears us apart.

“how good and pleasant it is
    when brothers and sister dwell in unity!”

Psalm 133:1

Just a few of my ‘heroes’ : Queen Elizabeth, my dad, my hubby, my mom, Charles Spurgeon, CS Lewis, Corrie ten Boom, Yahweh (God), Joni Erickson Tada, Terry Fox, Fred Rogers, Nellie McClung, Harriet Tubman, Malal Yousafzai, Francine Rivers, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Louis Armstrong, Stan Lee, Jean Vanier, Christina Rossetti … in no specific order, other than the prominence of the images of my parents and hubby.

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Cinnamon hearts, Hallmark cards, heart-shaped boxes of chocolate, flowers priced double (triple) what they will be in a week … the consumable expressions of love in our society.

If they are consumable, they don’t last … so what are the lasting expressions of love?

I look at my ‘ring finger’ on which is my gold wedding ring sits. Though it is not my original wedding ring, it does symbolize the vows we took, the promises made thirty plus years ago.

If he were to die ahead of me (which is not my plan), it would provide a constant reminder of the love we shared for each other … it does that now while we are both still alive and well … well, most days.

The Bible speaks of an expression of love that lasts into eternity.

“Greater love has no one than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13). This is a verse which tells of the expression of love from Jesus, through the willing sacrifice of his life on the cross. It is also the model of love for us all.

Jesus’ expression of love for us is the example of the Golden Rule,

Do to others as you would have them do to you (Luke 6:31).

And we read it, and we quote it, and we post it on social media … like it’s easy!

It’s not easy!!

When Jesus went to the cross, as the ultimate and most everlasting expression of love he did so for ALL people!

He did so for :

  • his mother
  • his disciples
  • for the sweet church lady
  • for the child with special needs
  • for the man who gave wealth to care for the homeless

But he also gave his life for :

  • the Jewish leaders
  • Pontius Pilate
  • Adolf Hitler
  • the addict who just stole a purse to buy more drugs
  • the man convicted of child abuse

I struggle to even write that Jesus gave his life for … these people. For I struggle to see them as worthy of such love. And that is where the lesson of love rests, for me and you. The love of God is greater, goes farther, reaches lower all to reconcile, to pardon, to redeem the vilest of us all ..

me … with my hard heart (and matching hard head), my selfishness (opposed to his selflessness), my judgemental attitude.

God gave his life for me … even if I choose to not receive his gift of love, even if I choose to not be transformed by his love … he gave anyway.

The love of God is the greatest, most lasting expression of love.

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Brené Brown has called midlife an unraveling. Often, over the past few years, I have felt like my ball of yarn is strung from one end of my life to the other, knotted and in a such a maze that I might never get it straightened again.

Then the unraveling ends, the ball of yarn firmly in place, and one takes a deep, lung cleansing breath. It is quiet, still (maybe only for a moment, yet it is quiet). One appreciates this moment of peace, tranquility of body and mind and senses that makes one feel like they have arrived at a new place, a fresh start.

Then the inner query …

what does one do to restart when they are at the midway place of life?

a new hairstyle? perhaps more … silvery?

a new hobby? that lawn bowling we tried last summer seems age appropriate (in a dozen years or so … but it was fun)

travel to exotic destinations? (but the income has not increased, Carole … how about a trip into Vancouver or Seattle for the day?)

some go with a new lover … but I’ve just got mine trained and, well, I am rather fond of him

a new red sports car? … my red Jeep still makes me smile when I drive it … him … I always seem to refer to my Jeep as him

a new job/career? … doing what? At fifty, I am still unsure of what I want to do when I grow up!

As I ponder, I keep hearing that song from the Sound of Music, how do you solve a problem like Maria Carole? Maybe I am still unraveling after all!

Yet, I also hear,

“Create in me a clean heart, O God.
    Renew a loyal spirit within me.
Do not banish me from your presence,
    and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and make me willing to obey you.”
Psalm 51:10-12

The words of King David, feeling the weight of his midlife, actually he’s feeling his midlife sin and his responsibility for the death of Uriah (and, in case you are wondering, I have not had an affair nor arranged for the death of another so as to hide it). He, perhaps more than any other, needed a fresh start and he went to the right place … his knees.

David was asking what any of us might ask of God, at midlife … for renewal, God’s presence and for grace. Hair color, travel and career choices are asides to the the heartfelt desire and need for God’s presence, renewal and grace … in all things.

Maybe, just maybe, midlife is the season for collecting that ball of yarn, strewn from hither and thither. Working out the knots, rolling it back up neatly? Organizing and making order of the mess of it. It will never look as it did before the unraveling, but it can all be collected again.

Perhaps that exercise in winding the ravelled mess into a ball will be the process through which renewal can begin … starting with the prayer,

create in me a clean heart, O God.

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For many it rolls off their tongues as if they have been saying it since they uttered their first words, for others is only spoken in the safe confines of their minds … it’s the still voice … that is not so small.

Above all other words against humanity, I would rate this four-letter F-word the worst of them all … spoken verbally out loud, or (perhaps worst of all) lived, as though it’s four letters are the prison walls that surround the individual.

Fear

Fear is an emotion, caused by a threat … the thing is we can feel fear over what will occur, what may occur or even something that isn’t likely to occur. So, though fear is an emotion that can cause us to avoid danger, it can also cause us to avoid living.

We all have fears. For some it is creepy (or slithery) crawlies. For others it might be speaking in public, enclosed spaces (caves, elevators), needles, boating, flying or broccoli (or maybe that is just a preference … not mentioning any names).

Some of us have fears that are so debilitating that our fears have become phobias, meaning that our fears are so great that anxiety accompanies the fear, preventing us from doing things and going places that we would otherwise love.

Fear

Fear is sneaky too, for it disguises itself in other words … anxiety, uneasy, uncomfortable, overwhelming, weakness … words that send us to our knees.

… can that be so bad?

It is said that there are three hundred and sixty-five times in the Bible when the message,

do not fear

is delivered. I haven’t counted, but I do know that is a common biblical communication to us. It is a message that God has incorporated into his Word, from the Old Testament to the New, from cover to cover.

God knew that fear would come to us when sin entered the world, so he has been whispering, ever since Eden,

… do not fear, for I am with you

What if we acknowledged that whisper when the hairs on the back of our necks start to stand at attention? What if, we reach for a verse in the Bible (see below) and read it, memorize it, read it in the context of the chapter it is written. What if we give out energies over to the opposite of fear … God … instead of giving our full attention to that thing that has our knickers in a knot …

We are not alone in our fears.

May we all be encouraged (as in full of courage) to look for solutions to our fears … there is one and he is always with us, even to the end of the world.

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As I talked to my friend, my heart ached, for they so desired an experience with God, such as Moses and his burning bush.

What this friend desires so much is a beautiful thing, a powerful thing, but God has his own way of interaction and intimacy with his children.

Maybe, as a parent, I understood this better than my friend (who has no children), simply because I know what it is, as a parent, to have similar yet different hopes, and successes, and lives for my three children, because I love my children equally, yet differently.

I could think of no words of wisdom that would penetrate that doubt-filled heart of my friend … then a story began to form in my imagination …

There were two brothers … twins who were so identical that if they were looking at each other they might mistake their brother for a reflection of themselves. Their identical physical appearance could make one imagine that they were alike in every way, but their only other similarity was how they each loved and wanted to worship their God their lives.

When they grew up to adulthood, they both went to Bible school, both determined to give the rest of their lives to serve their God. Initially both were headed to a life in public ministry, both studying theology, public speaking and ensuring that God’s desires for their lives came ahead of their own desires.

After graduating, the first born volunteered to do a two year mission, in a third world nation with great needs, including the needs for clean water, education and spiritual formation. His two years turned into four. During this time he helped raise money (from back home) for a well project to bring clean drinking water to the village, started a school and had converts to Christianity numbered in the hundreds.

When he returned home he was invited to work for an evangelism organization, sharing the Gospel message to people in some of the biggest cities in the world. He wrote books that became best sellers. Everyday there were messages of people who came to know the Lord through his spoken or written word.

Though he did desire to marry and have a family, he never wanted anyone or anything to come between he and his devotion to God’s plan to use him to spread the saving power of God. So he intentionally stayed single, never dating.

Many years later, after a brief illness, he died. At his funeral were dignitaries from around the globe, singing his praises for what he had done on the mission field throughout his life, both abroad in third world countries and in spreading the good news to millions around the world, many of whom accepted the gift of grace that God offers.

Meanwhile, in his final year of university, the second born met a woman, who also loved God. They enjoyed spending time together, love grew between them. They met each other’s families and married soon after graduation.

He had intended to join his brother on the mission field, but his new wife had recently been diagnosed with a chronic disease, requiring treatment that could not be given in a third world country. So, they settled in the town where they graduated, she a school teacher and he, working in the insurance company that her father owned. Over time they had two children and he moved up in the company, eventually taking it over.

They lived a good and happy life together, active in the lives of their children, their community and church. He volunteered in a homeless shelter, was a basketball coach in the local high school. He and his wife, personally, donated and raised the money needed to maintain the school that his brother had begun. He loved his life, his family and community and wouldn’t have traded it for anything, but … especially whenever his brother was in town, he wondered if he had sacrificed enough for God. His brother, who led so many to Christ, whereas he (with his wife) could only remember praying with their children, as they accepted God’s love at young ages.

After a brave battle with cancer, just weeks after his minutes-older brother, he too died. His funeral was in the country church where he and his lifelong love were married and attended. It was attended by family and friends, clients and co-workers, people he had coached in basketball, who had been neighbors.

When the two brothers reached heaven, they found each other, embraced and enjoyed the presence of the other. As they were chatting, Saint Peter approached. “Excuse me, someone told me that the two of you are identical twins. Is that true?”

The brothers looked at each other, one still a reflection of the other, amazed that anyone would have to ask. In unison they replied, “yes, we are twins.”

“You may find it an odd question, but here in heaven we do not see as humans do on Earth. Here, we see the heart, the soul that God created you to be. So, when twins arrive in heaven, we do not see how they are physically similar.”

The brothers pondered a moment, then the younger asked, “Saint Peter, could you tell me if I lived my life as God had created me to live?”

Saint Peter stared at the younger brother. Then he said, “wait here a moment” and disappeared.

Soon after Saint Peter returned, with God himself. “Hello boys, it is so good to see you both,” God said, arms outstretched, inviting the twins into his arms, as a father might do with young children.

As they embraced their Father-God, the Maker and Creator of all things, they felt something that was beyond words. It was love, and acceptance and approval and pride. They felt the very assurance that they had lived their lives in a way that way pleasing to God. Both brothers felt so good in that moment, they both felt they were receiving the pleasure of their God for having lived lives for him.

The younger brother, still somewhat uncertain, looked up at God and asked, “how is it that I could feel that you are as pleased with the life I offered to you as the life my brother offered? He was the one who never allowed himself to marry, to have a family. He was the one who spoke your name around the world, and to millions of people who gave their lives to you. How could my sacrifice be as good?”

God looked, from one brother to the other, smiling at what he could see … beyond the identical outer layer.

“The two of you have been born twice to me, once from your mother’s womb and I breathed the breath of life into your lungs. The second time was when you chose to accept my love and grace, receiving the redemption that only I can give.

I look at you and your brother and see that you both fulfilled the mission I placed in front of you. I do not see numbers of people, I see pure hearts, loving sons, men who each did their best. The two of you are my sons who I love, not for what you have done, but because you are my sons, because you have invited me to be in your lives.”

At this God paused, looking deep into the eyes of this younger twin, “you, my son, have been faithful with what I placed in your life … the people, the opportunities, the resources, the time. Well done, good and faithful servant! Now, come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:23)

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—”
Robert Frost – The Road Not Taken

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