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Death of a Dream

I want to move to Texas. Anybody who has known me for very long knows that about me. They may not realize how badly I want to go to Texas. They may not know that many nights I cry myself to sleep thinking about my daughter, her husband and my grandchildren and longing to be with them. I try hard not to make my entire life here in California about how much I hate California and want to move to Texas. I think if I did that I wouldn’t have any friends anymore.

I’ve been away from my family for over 40 years. I moved to California when I was 18 or 19 years old, got married, divorced and married again, and had children who are now grown and out of the house.  That entire time, I’ve lived away from my family. At first it was beneficial, I’m sure. Sometimes we have to break away to grow up properly, get a different perspective of the world and of our place in it.  But over the years I’ve missed being near my mom and family.  My daughter has moved and settled with her military husband in an area not too far from where I lived as a child.

Now I want to go home. In fact, with every grandchild that has been born (we are now waiting for number five) the pull home has grown stronger. So strong in fact, that now it seems it doesn’t just tug at my heartstrings, it seems now to be pulling my guts out through my nostrils until sometimes I can’t even breathe.

I’m not going to go into all the reasons I can’t just pick up and move back right now. Suffice it to say that moving back has been a growing dream for the last ten years or so.   And picking up and moving to another state doesn’t sound like such a big deal.  I got used to moving when I was young.  We moved often and it was no big deal.  Just another school. Another job. Different friends.  It all looked the same to me. Unfortunately, in 40 years a few things have changed in my life and I find myself having to let that dream die. If I am to do what is right in the eyes of the Lord, then staying put is what I must do. 

My oldest grandson will be ten soon and shortly after, grand baby number five will be here. I will visit for as long as I can, but it won’t be long enough, and then I’ll have to come home again.  The whole time I will be wondering why God doesn’t just fix this and let me move to be with my family?

Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that their brother, Lazarus was sick. They knew he’d come because they were all like family. Not coming right away just wouldn’t make any sense. All told, it was four days before Jesus arrived at the scene where people were wailing and grieving the death of his friend Lazarus. What the heck? Any one of us would have picked up and left the instant we got word that our friend was dying. But Jesus waited four days.

Mary and Martha surely didn’t understand it.

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:32)

Jesus could have fixed it and didn’t. He chose not to. Why?

Because Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Death cannot defeat him. Death of a loved one or death of a dream.

Then Jesus said. “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (v.40)

You all know the rest of the story and Lazarus lived again to tell it himself.

Mary and Martha didn’t have their eyes on the big picture. They had their eyes on their own pain and all that was going on around them  Who could blame them, after all? Their brother was dying.

Here’s what I’ve learned.

I can’t really keep my eyes on the bigger picture, because I don’t know what the bigger picture is.  But if I keep my eyes on myself and what I’m feeling and on my daughter and her four and a half kids and the hell she’s going through trying to raise them alone while daddy is gone so much of the time working and going to school, if I can only see my loneliness and my desire to be with my family, then I could very well miss Jesus and the glory of God.

Does that mean I believe he will resurrect my dream? I have no idea. But I know that he can because that what he does. He resurrects.  I also know that he let Lazarus die for a reason. And as much as it hurts to let go of something that seems so easy for me to do – just pick up and move to Texas, I wouldn’t trade any of it for God’s glory in me and around me.  And has hard as it is to be outnumbered every day by the beautiful children God has given her, I know that my daughter – deep down somewhere – feels the same way as I do.

I know he has a plan, and not just for me, but also for my family. It would be easier if I knew what it was. It would be nice if God consulted me on these things, but then I think I would only get in the way.

The bottom line is, for me, there is no choice, but to keep my eyes on Jesus who continues to redeem me every day, perfecting my faith even as I struggle against it.

Lord, help me keep my eyes on you, in the times when I see your glory and also in the times when I can only see my own loss. And if you choose to resurrect this dream, help me first become someone worthy of such of gift, because I learned to trust you through the pain.

You’re Not Going To Like This Post

“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him.”  Daniel 2:20-22

This was Daniel’s prayer of thanks after God revealed Nebuchadnezzar’s dream to him and gave him the interpretation, thus saving Daniel’s life and the life of his friends.

There was no question in Daniel’s mind who was in charge.  Without God’s intervention he and his friends were as good as dead, facing execution by an angry king.

I believe that is true of us today.

I’m being very honest with you when I say, I would have preferred NOT to write this post.  It would have been much easier to simply let November 6th pass, cast my vote and walk quietly away.  My heart is already sad as I anticipate the responses I will receive from friends and family.  But this I must do.

We, as Christians, are facing a great evil.  Actually, the entire United States (and even the world) is facing it, but, as Christians, I believe we have a clearer view of the overall picture.  And if anyone, is able to see through the world’s entanglement of lies, it should be us.  After all, we are friends to the One who holds all wisdom.

There has been much discussion (to put it mildly) about voting for the lesser of two evils.  I’ve heard all the arguments.  Truth be known, they are the same arguments I’ve parroted myself during elections where there was no clear “good vs evil” choice.  And don’t for one minute think that this struggle doesn’t continue in my heart to this day, because it does.  This is probably the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make as an adult.  Vote for Romney?  Or vote for a candidate who holds closer to my own beliefs, and who, according to political pundits, is equal to a vote for Obama?  Just thinking about it depresses me.

But this morning as I drove into work, this picture flashed across my mind.  I saw a little girl holding a broken doll out (as if to hand it to someone).  In front of her stood three men.  One man held a hammer.  His intention if given the doll was to hammer the doll until it was beyond recognition.  Another man held a paint brush.  His intention if given the doll was to paint the doll, making it pretty, even though the doll would still be broken.  The third man had nothing in his hands.  If given the doll, he would simply put the doll back together, heal it, so to speak.  He needed no tools, because all the parts of the doll were present, they simply needed to be put back together and he knew how to do it.  To whom was the little girl to release the doll?

What if the Church is the little girl?  And what if the broken doll is the United States of America?  Should she release it to the one who’s intention is to smash it to smithereens?  Of course not.  How about the one who stands ready to give the doll a new face, even so, leaving it broken?  If I listen to the world’s argument, this would be the ONLY choice.  One of the reasons being, that at least he wouldn’t break it anymore and then WE would have more time to fix it ourselves or get someone else to fix it–or SOMETHING.

I absolutely see the logic here.  I do.  And I don’t even necessarily disagree with it.  Romney IS a stop-gap.  I even think he’s a really nice guy with a great family.  Add to that his fiscal accomplishments and he looks like the man for the job.

But, what if Obama being elected for another term (God, please forbid it!) is the only way to get Christians to wake up to the fact that the ONLY reason we have been blessed for so long has NOTHING to do with voting the nice guy into office?  What if we’ve ignored his warnings for so long that this is the only way he can get our attention? (Think, Assyrians attacking Israel, maybe)

Please hear me.  In my heart of hearts, I believe that, for Christians, this is about more than who we elect for our next President. It’s even about more than saving the United States, the most wonderful country on earth, in my opinion.  I believe that the time has come to live out our faith, for real. Will we trust in another man?  Or will we trust God to make it right?

Many people still believe that our forefathers were deists.  I don’t believe so.  But are we the deists, that we believe in a God who sits high in the heavens and watches how matters of earthly men will play out?  Or are we followers of Jesus who believe that God has a plan and the ONLY thing we can do in ANY situation is to hear his instruction and obey–no matter if it doesn’t make sense according to worldly wisdom.

Honestly, I thought it would be easier to make a stand.  When I thought about this day, I thought I would be choosing between good and evil–not evil, less-evil, and only slightly better.  But that is the world in which we find ourselves now.  The lines have been erased and replaced so many times that now they are only grey smears.  We can’t get away from them.

I consider myself fairly weak-minded.  If you have a logical, well thought out argument, or if you just talk louder than I do, you can convince me of almost anything.  I’ve always been that way.  But, I can’t get away from this. The more time I spend with my king, the One who has already saved me once, the more I realize that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  There is nothing else.

For true believers, there is only one place to run.  Under the shadow of his wings.  As the song says “That’s where we belong, that’s where we are strong.”  We are not strong fighting the world’s battle with weapons that the world gives us.  We don’t battle flesh and blood.  When Ephesians 6:12 mentions “…rulers, authorities and powers of this dark world…,” it’s not talking about mere men.

I’m not telling you who you should vote for.  I’m encouraging you not to take this lightly.  Don’t simply react to the dire situation in which we find ourselves.  Wake up and listen.  God is speaking to us all.  Spend some time in prayer and fasting.  We are not simply electing the next president, we are choosing whom we will serve–the world, or God.

And lastly, don’t listen to me.  I speak as a fool for I’ve been the world’s fool for 58 years.  But he has called me by name, and now I will be a fool for Christ.  Who’s fool are you?

Death, I Have Felt Thy Sting

Death, do you taunt me?  Do your flames lick playfully at my flesh as I lay gasping for hope?  I feel the heat of them, sucking up the oxygen in the room, depleting it of everything that keeps me alive.

So much easier not to think.  Engaging the brain only brings confusion, memories, downfalls, failings.  I thought I gave it a good try, but it always comes to this.  My legs fail me and there is nothing, no one to hold me up.

Oh to have some visible, physical malady that would land me in the hospital.  Then they would know.  I would not feel compelled to convince them.  No reason to explain the tears, the silence, the vacant stares.  Someone else could tell them what was wrong with me.  Show them some vague image on film or screen.  Someone with papers who knew about such things.

But that’s for someone else.  I have just me. Though, barely so.

If only today would last forever.  No faces, no expectations (for now), no mask, no made up smiles, clever quips, questions to be asked and answered.  Only quiet.  Only me.  Only nothing.

Please understand.  It’s not that I don’t want to be with you, it’s just that I can’t.  You don’t want to see this.  Nobody in their right mind could handle this.  All you can do is pity.  And pity is nothing more than rusty nails in my gilded coffin.

There’s nothing to see here, people.  Go back home where there is safety.  She’s gone and nothing more can be done.

To feel the sting of death, even though I live.  Such is the irony of my existence.  When even the hope of a better tomorrow breaks my heart.

Who can understand this?

How long, O Lord?  How long?

Echos

Woke up crying again  – sobbing actually.  Wish I could put my finger on the sadness.  Have I always felt so completely and utterly alone?

There have been good times. There have.  Happier times with all the sisters together laughing, cruising the oceans, skipping across countries, loving life and my place in it.

The world was smaller then.  It fit.

When did it get so big?  What happened?

I miss Bill.  We were good together.   Quiet, uncomplicated, simple.  Good.  (Jesus, can I come too?  Haven’t I been here long enough?)  There’s nowhere here that I want to be.  Nothing else I want or need to do.  I don’t fit anymore.  The world has outgrown me.  Raced so far ahead that I can’t even keep up with the conversations.  What was that?  It was just there!  Now, it’s only an echo of something I almost remembered.  Was it something from the distant past?  Something Mother once said?  Something one of my kids did long ago that delighted me – made me laugh?   Or was it something I meant to put on my calendar?  Something I needed to do tomorrow, or next week.  Or next month, maybe.  Will the sun ever come up?  What does it matter anyway?  When you live alone, you can get up whenever you want.

I miss Bill.  We were good together.

What was that thing I almost remembered?  Maybe I put it on my calendar.  I’ll check later.  There’s probably still time.  How much time?  How many more days will I wake up to sadness?  Share the house with loneliness?

Maybe I could bake something for that nice lady at the post office.  Maybe.  If I could remember what kind of cookie it was that I made that her husband raved about.  Who am I kidding?  I can’t even keep my place in a cookbook anymore.

When did I start using cookbooks?  Was there anything I needed from the store?  I should start a list.  Maybe I could make some of those cookies for that nice lady at the post office.  What kind was it that her husband raved about?  I should start a list.

My Rescuer

O God, do not keep silent, speak to this heart full of turmoil; speak so my ears can hear.

             My life is in chaos, my thoughts in confusion.

There is no peace around me that I can see.

              I look to the north and see only battles raging.

I look toward the east and see only silent walls towering over me, too high to climb.

I search the south for solace and am faced with giants lying in wait to devour me.

I turn to the west for peace and see only kings building armies to take me down.

Chaos follows me and bears down as if to over-take me.   My heart cries out to you in silence.

You can hear me, can’t you?  You are my only hope; my rescuer; my strong tower.

Do not let them over-take me.  I will not lie down for them.

But they are many, and they are strong, and they are relentless.

I cannot cry out with a loud voice, for they will hear and know where to find me.  I will stay hidden until you come. I know you will come.  You are my hope and y redeemer.  There is none other like you.

Though others come and make promises, they are all liars, and they mean harm, not good.

You are good and you will come rescue me. I will wait for you.

The Invitation

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.  Psalm 130:5

The invitation by God to “come away” is a constant in our lives.  For many years I pushed that invitation aside, complaining of no time, no privacy, and any other excuses I was able to come up with.  Recently, I realized that there was a deeper issue keeping me from practicing the presence of God.

Fear.

To be honest with myself I had to admit that I was afraid he wouldn’t show up.

Why?

There were many reasons.  I’m not worth his time; I’m not ‘waiting’ correctly; I wouldn’t know it if he did show (that one requires a whole other blog).  The point is, all of these excuses were fashioned to protect me from further rejection. But what they accomplished was to keep me from spending time with the only One who truly knows how much I’m worth; the only One who teaches me how to wait, how to quiet my heart, and how to find the rest in him that I so desperately need; the only One who would show up for me without fail. Any time. Any place.

Our adversary is a liar and he will do ANYTHING to keep you from spending time with God.  God gave us a promise through his prophet Jeremiah (29:13-14).

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you” (emphasis mine).

It doesn’t depend on us.  It’s all him.  He promised.

Fixing Life, Fixing Me

Fast forward 40 years.  That’s where I find myself today.  And I’m wondering who is going to fix my life.

You know how, in movies, you’ll see a short piece about a subject maybe when they were a small child that will set the stage for the rest of the story.  Then you’ll fast forward to a scene where the child has become an adult and the story continues in the present?  That’s how I feel.

The first 56 years of my life was a very short snippet.  And now I’m in the present, 57 years old and finishing the story–my life–wondering how the author is going to fix everything and conclude with a happy ending.

I’ve come to realize that by the time many people begin to understand just who God is and what that means for their life, they’ve already made many of their life decisions.  Decisions that have landed them in life situations, geographical locations, maybe even physical states in which they do not want to be.  They find themselves living with people or in the midst of a chaotic or dying relationship wondering if God is going to fix things now that they’re aware of his presence and his power.  You know, put us where we want to be so we can get on with the business of serving him without all those pesky distractions we have to struggle through everyday.

Which brings me to the question:  Does God fix our life when we find ourselves where we don’t want to be?  I’m not sure, exactly.  I believe that some people eventually get to where they want to be, but I don’t believe that everyone’s situation changes (relationships, locations, health).  I do believe that God can change anything he wants to and in some situations I believe he does.  I also know that God alone is the one who decides who and what he changes, and we have no idea why he chooses to change one and not the other.

But, I know this for certain.  Whether God sets us where we want to be or gives us grace to stay where we are, I believe that if we remain in his presence, look to him in everything, for everything, he will work out in us what he wants to work out.

The most important thing isn’t that we end up where we want to be.  The better thing is that we will definitely end up where God wants us to be.  Our hearts will be forever changed as we journey through the rest of our story.

Does that mean I’ll make it to my farm in Virginia with my family?  I wish I knew.  But this I know–when I make it into Jesus’ arms, I will be the beautiful bride for whom he gave his life.

“Then Peter began to speak:  “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.”  Acts 10:34

Psalm for My Daddy

You, O Lord, have become my hiding place, my strong fortress against a world gone mad.

When I was lost and alone I had no food or drink.

Nothing to sustain my life.

I was wasting away and falling into slumber like the world around me.

But you knew I was lost.  You searched the high mountains and the low valleys.

You walked beside rivers and through forests searching for me.

Then one day you heard my silent weeping.  You followed the sound of my falling tears and found me.  You lifted my face to meet your gaze and our tears turned to joy.  You gathered me up in your arms and cradled me against your bosom.

Even though I strain against your protective hand, you do not allow me to venture far.

You pull me close–closer than air when danger is near.  You allow me to run free in meadows you have cleared for me.  You allow me to see the colors of the rainbow, where they begin and where they end.  You are my strong Daddy and no one can love me the way you do.

You make me feel safe and strong and free.

You, O Lord, have become my hiding place, my strong fortress against a world gone mad.

What’s My Anything?

I just finished reading a book by Jennie Allen entitled anything.  I’ve also been going through a book study entitled Live Like You Were Dying, published by Live Loud, LLC.   I thought I was just reading some books.  That’s what I do.  I read.  Sometimes I even devour books.  Then I have to go back and read them again just to take them in and fully understand what I just read.

I’ve read some pretty good books in the past year.  Crazy Love and Forgotten God by Francis Chan.  Invitation to Solitude and Silence by Ruth Haley Barton.  These have all been some pretty heavy hitters.  I went through them with friends in small groups and we all felt their impact in our lives.  Each of these books in one way or another compelled us to some sort of action–to be the church, not just go to church.  To get to know God deeper, not just show up and learn about the sermon topic of the month.

In retrospect, I think the influence of these books on my life have been cumulative.  Their residual effects have been working in the deeper levels of my consciousness, causing a restlessness, and in some cases, actual discomfort.  The pieces of my life don’t fit together well anymore–not that they ever really did, but I had learned how to make things work.  I know, exhausting!

Anyway, I think that’s why Jennie Allen’s book touched me so deeply.  It comes on the tail of realizing how crowded my life is with stuff–so much unnecessary stuff that I feel claustrophobic, physically penned-in, unable to move.  I need to shed all the extraneous junk I’ve accumulated, much of it that I’ll never use.

And it’s not just physical stuff.  The more I read, the more I learn, the more I realize just how little I know God.  In one sense I’m coming into a greater understanding of how great his love is for me, and just how expansive his grace is that covers me.  On the other hand, the more I learn about his love for me, the less I understand it.  It doesn’t make any sense.  It makes my head spin.

I also realize that as good a Christian as I’ve tried to be for most of my life, my heart and my mind are devoid of anything good in and of themselves.  In other words, I’ve been play-acting.  And I’ve gotten pretty good at it.

Well, I’m tired.  I’m tired of trying to make a life work that was never meant to work apart from God.  And no matter how much I say to God (or have said in the past) “I give you everything,” I realize now that I have no idea what that even means.  Please understand, my intentions are pure, have always been as far as I know.  My words are true.  I just have had no idea of what I was saying.

But, I think I’m getting there.

Jennie says in the last chapter of her book “. . . we have an opportunity to see God move in our midst . . . to surrender in such a way that we would turn the head and heart of God.  He waits for surrendered lives, and he finds them, he floods them; I want to be a part of that.”

So do I.  I’m tired of trying to figure this thing out on my own.  I’m so lost, I couldn’t fight my way out of a paper bag right now.  I’m ready to give up.  And maybe, just maybe, that’s what God has been waiting for.

So I’m taking the plunge.  I’m stepping out in faith.  And I’m making it public (sort of).

God, you have me.  Do anything with me.  I can’t do anything without you anyway.

I wonder why it takes us so long.  When I realize how long he’s been with me, loving me, protecting me, providing for me, restoring me, redeeming me, (I could go on and on), it makes me sad that I’ve wasted so much time on my own selfish, prideful endeavors.  I know he’ll make it all okay.  I understand his redeeming love, at least I’m beginning to.  I just can’t help but think about what’s been wasted.  Now that I’m probably within 30 years or so of the end of my life–broken body, confused mind, and wasted talents–I finally get it.  Nobody, but the God of love could redeem such a wasted life.

I know I’m starting on a journey without any sort of road map.  But my maps haven’t gotten me anywhere anyway. It’s time to trust the mapmaker.

Your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Matthew 6:10

Getting Naked at Christmas

Got your attention, didn’t I?  If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s coming up with catchy titles.

I’ve been thinking lately, about Christmas.  I’m not sure I will be able to effectively describe what I’ve been feeling during this season when all is jolly and festive and bright, but I’ll try.  I certainly haven’t been feeling jolly and bright.  In fact my heart has been breaking.

Those of you who know me know that Christmas is a hard time of year for me anyway.  I’ve never figured out why, I’ve just learned to push through to January when things start setting themselves somewhat right again.

This year is different.  It’s hard for me to pull my thoughts together to focus on one thing, but I will try to express some of the thoughts and feelings that have inserted themselves into my head in a way that will, I think, forever change my feelings about Christmas.

First, let me explain about the title “Getting Naked at Christmas.”  In the 20th chapter of Isaiah, God tells Isaiah to “Take off the sackcloth from your body and the sandals from your feet.” And he did  so, going around stripped and barefoot.  God told Isaiah to do this because the people weren’t listening to God.  After Assyria conquered the northern kingdom of Israel in 722-721 B.C., Hezekiah, King of Judah was under great pressure to make an alliance with Egypt, even though Isaiah urgently warned against it.  Hezekiah and the people weren’t listening, so in obedience, Isaiah stripped of his sackcloth and sandals and got their attention.

I believe we are in the same place today.  We’re not listening.  We have learned to quiet the voice of Holy Spirit who resides within us as we succumb to external pressures of family and society who continue to do the things that go with Christmas.  Buying gifts for everyone you think might possibly buy a gift for you.  Planning to spend time with loved ones (or not so loved ones), because the societal belief is that “Christmas is all about being with family.”  Well, I love being with my family, most of whom live on the other side of the United States, but not because of Christmas.  And I’ve never seen a pin or bumper sticker that reads “Family is the Reason for the Season.”

It’s true, this time of year evokes familial feelings that we tend to lay aside through the busyness of the rest of our year.  Some of us have long-held family traditions that we cherish and long to pass on to our own children.  Family traditions at Christmas can make for wonderful memories this time of year.  My husband decided one year to give his son some cash, but wanted a unique way of delivering it.  He decided to hide it in a 12-pack of Dr. Pepper, but disguise the soft drink package as something else.  I don’t remember what he make the package look like that first year, but it was a fun gift and over the years his son has received many 12-packs of Dr. Pepper, disguised as various objects.  It has been a fun tradition in our family to see what he’ll come up with next.

But what of other traditions?  What about acting like “Jesus is the reason for the season” and not just saying it to people?   What about celebrating Advent in the weeks before Christmas as we anticipate, along with Mary and Joseph, the birth of our Savior,  and later the second coming of our King?  What about that tradition?

I know you’re out there.  I know there are those of you who hold these traditions very close to your heart.  You teach your children to honor Christ this time of year as the King who became flesh and saved the world from sin.  I have to believe you’re out there somewhere.  Maybe it’s just my little world where Christmas has become command performances with plenty of wine and champagne.  We may know in our hearts what this season is all about, but no one around us is any the wiser (and prefers it that way).  We raise our glasses with them and celebrate “life,” or “family,” or “friendship,” when we know so well that without God, those things have very little meaning.

I can’t do it anymore.  I must honor the One who is my only hope — the babe who loved me before I even knew him.  The One who loves me now, even though I’ve crumbled under the pressure (and dare I say–not that much pressure), to be like everyone else.

It’s time to come clean.  It’s time to get naked.  (And before you get silly, I must point out that naked is NOT the same thing has nude.)  It’s time to stop doing what people around me think I should be doing and start being where Jesus wants me to be and doing what Jesus wants me to do.  It’s time to stop hiding out of fear of rejection and start standing up, even if my courage peeks out through knocking knees.  That’s what I’m doing for Christmas this year.  How are you celebrating?

There is only one gift I want this year.  I want the eyes of all hearts to be opened up to see Jesus for who he is.  I want all those who claim to love God to be captured with his love and wholly given over to loving him and serving him.  That’s what I want for Christmas, and I’m not asking Santa for it.

Happy Birthday, Jesus.  Wish you were here.

“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”  Luke 2:10-11

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