We’ve had a lot of snow days here in Ohio. Which I positively love. It means kids frolicking in the woods, cups of sweet, creamy cocoa, card games, and movie nights. We went on a bit of a run--Ice Age: Collision Course (man, they’ve made a killing out of Sid the Sloth), Inkheart, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
All these different movies had one thing in common—an entire undiscovered world in the midst of an undetected ordinary object in our world. In Ice Age, a whole colony of Zen animals lives and does yoga in the interior of a magnetic rock. In Inkheart, just read a few paragraphs of a book and the story comes to life, literally leaping out of the pages. Toto jumps out of Oz, scampers around your room and barks. Gold coins shower the floor, making you instantly rich if you read the right scene from Ali Baba, etc. And in Fantastic Beasts, Newt Scamander opens his briefcase and submerges into not only a workshop with food and medical supplies for his beasts, but caves, fields, and nests—habitats for all of his creatures. Reminder, this is all inside his briefcase. It struck me how strange this was—that three random movies we watched over an extended weekend all had this theme. But it speaks to something that tugs at our hearts—a knowledge that this world isn’t all there is, a longing for something more than meets the eye. And so we keep turning the page, turning the corner, opening the wardrobe, banging into brick walls at train stations in hopes of ending up in Narnia or at Hogwarts.
Don’t get me wrong. I love this wonderful life. I love my husband. I love my kids. I love living in a college town. I love being able to tell stories. I love our church, my mom, my friends, chocolate croissants and dark roast coffee. And I am so blessed that these are most of my moments.
But some parts are really, really hard. War and sickness and racism and trafficking and poverty are all unbearable, plus any personal battle you’re currently facing. Thankfully, Jesus promises us more. Living with Him is like getting to spend a few moments inside of your favorite book—the colors are brighter, the air is sweeter, the music more melodic.
And one day, Jesus proclaims, He will put an end to all suffering, make everything new. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Revelation 21:4-5
And that sounds pretty stinking amazing. Maybe it’s why we keep searching for secret worlds, this longing to reach the land of no tears, no death, and no pain. And if you don’t live in your imagination as much as I do, I’m guessing you still escape to other lands via movies, songs, art, and books—suspend time and go somewhere exotic, adventurous, or at least warm for a little while. The good news is this place exists. Not just in children’s books or on movie sets. And although the passage from Revelation refers to end times, we get glimpses of this glorious living when we walk daily with Jesus. A warm, accepted feeling when you were all by yourself and feeling lonely. A few hours where the pain subsides for no reason you can pinpoint, but the relief is real. Someone stepping in to help you through a challenge, when you’d about given up hope. A stunning sunrise. A clear crisp song of a bird. A painting in a gallery that tugs at your heart. Sunlight refracting off snow crystals, sending out a rainbow of colors. A song you’ve never heard before that seems to speak to your exact feelings. A deer holding up his head and flashing his majestic antlers—brief moments of clarity, foreshadowing of brilliance.
Each day with Jesus is easier than one without. Because even in the midst of pain and sadness there is hope and there is love. When we hurt so much we don’t know if we can bear it, when the tension builds up so thick we’re not sure how we’ll get through it, when the suffering or ugliness is so bitter or vile, we don’t know if we can go on, we know that the Savior of the World loves us, is on our side, will never forsake us, will hold us up when we can’t stand, and hold our hands when we start to shake. He will see us through. He will protect us in love. Although we might not see it from our vantage point, He has already won this battle. And the more time we spend with Jesus, the more we understand this—the more relief we feel, the more peace we find in the storms, the more perspective we gain in the whirlwind. Sometimes in those storms we see rainbows and in the wind we catch a treasure flying past. These are the previews of what we’re searching for. It doesn’t make life here on earth idyllic, but it makes it infinitely better.
fAnd then one day when we least expect it we’ll open that wardrobe, or drawer, or window and discover the land we’ve always been seeking. As a character in The Last Battle (the final tale in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia) puts it,
“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now...Come further up, come further in!”
Until that day, you can find me eating chocolate, hugging the people I adore, loving and embracing my life. But I’ll also be tapping on bricks and wandering through the snow seeing if I can find a secret alley or spot a lamppost. You never know.
Growing up we went to see the Nutcracker every year. I was mesmerized by the antique theatre with velvet curtains and gold columns, the live orchestra, and mostly by the Sugar Plum Fairy dancing on her toes in pink satin pointe shoes. As a young ballet dancer she was who I wanted to be #lifegoals.
Now, with a family of my own, we have a new Christmas tradition. Each year we go see Awaited—a modern musical production depicting the Christmas story. This is not your grade school Christmas pageant. I am amazed by the spectacular costumes—ranging from a metallic gold poisonous frog to the giant camel trodding down the aisles that looks like a Jim Henson creation. There’s a snow machine that rains snow on the audience while the cast performs a delicate rendition of “Silent Night.” The shepherds are strong and stomp around stage with giant wooden staffs. They look more like body guards then guys who hang out with sheep. The music complete with harpists, multiple drum sets, electric guitars, keyboards, etc. rivals a Broadway soundtrack. But my favorite part is the three kings.
The kings wearing towering crowns and flowing robes journey down the rows of spectators with their entourages in search of The Star. Because they’re brilliant scholars, and they know when a certain star appears that the world’s savior is being born. Which is life changing, for everyone. Their performance begins with a quest, including climbing ladders on stage to search the heavens. “We three kings have traveled so far.”
And then the wise men see it. And it changes everything.
The music crescendos. The kings toss down their crowns, strip off their robes to simpler tunics, put down their treasures in awe and wonder. They are no longer concerned with their earthly status or designer clothes or monetary worth or how long their journey has taken. All they care about is that star and what it means—salvation, peace, joy, hope and love. They spin around the stage twirling on scarves, suspended in air.
Do you feel it?
A few days until Christmas are you spinning and twirling delighted in the promises Jesus offers?
Or are you frantic, frazzled or freaked out, worn out by your journey? How far have you traveled this week, this season, this year? Not just literally, but figuratively? Baking cookies, wondering why the teacher’s gift was NOT delivered by Amazon Prime in two days, picking up the extra pack of stamps you need to finish sending out your cards, staying up late or rising insanely early to concoct the side dish you’re taking to the event. I enjoy shopping for people I love, baking delicious food, and sending cards to stay in touch with far away friends. But I do NOT want to lose myself in the lists and the to-dos. How about the bigger stuff? The job hunt or college search? The acclimating to a new city? The figuring out how to do life now that your body no longer does what it used to do or now that a person you depended on is no longer there? I don’t want to get overwhelmed or preoccupied with these things either.
I want to step back and let the real Christmas story soak in. That when Jesus showed up on the scene in Bethlehem 2000 years ago the world was a wreck. There were corrupt politicians and civil wars and poverty. Spend five minutes on your favorite news app and you’ll see plenty of the same today. Mary and Joseph’s marriage wasn’t exactly starting as they’d planned or expected. Their current living situation wasn’t ideal. Doctors weren’t going to be able to help with this birth. But Jesus was coming to save the world.
To save them. To save us. To save you. To save me.
We worry about all of it—did we get everything on our list, do we have the right outfits to wear, where did we put our phones, are we going to max out our credit cards, can we get all of our work done in the midst of the Christmas festivities to please our clients, our bosses, and to pay the bills? Will we heal? Will they heal? When? But we can lay it all down. Our worldly status. Our crowns. Our treasures and revel in the peace, joy, hope, and love that Jesus brought down to the world.
Jesus came on Christmas. But His love, His promise of salvation for all of us is for every day. Breathe it in. Take a moment to stand completely still letting it soak in. Then revel in it. Merry Christmas.
P.S. If you haven't seen Awaited, or can't get tickets, a full version of the show will be available to stream at http://awaitedshow.com starting this Thursday at 7pm and also the whole show will be on WCPO (9) on 12/24 at 5pm and 11:30pm and WLWT (5) on 12/25 at 5am and 11am. Treat yourself and your family. You'll be blown away!
…if you’d like more reminders about how amazing and loved you are throughout the week, follow me on:
There was a strange banging and clanking sound coming from our laundry room. I carefully cracked open the door, concerned about what I would see. There was our washing machine spinning uncontrollably, doing the Macarena back and forth to an invisible band. Apparently we own the Samsung model known for exploding. This was not good. At all.
There is something strangely comforting to me about putting a heap of smelly clothes into a machine, and later pulling out a soft, warm, gentle smelling pile. I also oddly find satisfaction in folding the mound into neat, squarish shapes and lining up the clothes in organized bins. Sounds weird, but it’s a tangible reward of turning something disorderly and dirty into something appreciated and useful.
But chaos and not being able to have things as I think they should be, not being able to control them? Not my strong suit. At all. Can you relate? Is there anything in your life that’s spinning out of control? How do you feel about it?
For me, this trivial thing, this silly thing, a broken washing machine, made me feel unbalanced, just like our rocking washer. I couldn’t stop our family from wearing clothes, from sweating in them, or from using towels (believe me, I still wanted them to shower). Not only was our machine out of control, but now the heap of dirty laundry became a separate uncontrollable monster. Kids kept asking, “When will it be fixed?” “When will we get a new washer?”
“I’m working on it,” I replied. I’m really trying, I thought. But even for all the calls, repairmen, forms filled out, web searching and ordering I was stuck, waiting on others. This something I’m supposed to do and couldn’t do, made me feel like I wasn’t measuring up to the invisible mom/wife measuring stick that I’ve created for myself. Which is silly.
It happens to all of us. When meetings get cancelled, kids have temper tantrums, schedules are packed to overflowing, expenses pile up, someone we love is sick, but we don’t have the cure in our Band-Aid box or on the shelf next to the Advil? These things out of our control can make us feel frustrated and helpless. Somewhere along the way we may feel less than, because of something that has nothing to do with us. It’s such a blurring of our true reflections. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect. He thinks we’re pretty awesome just like we are, even when we’re not in control. Honest.
We don’t need to be in control. In fact we never were.
How’s that for good news?
God is in control. Of everything.
God is in control of the giant things like keeping the earth on its axis and tiny things like equipping ants with antennae so they can communicate with little built in headsets. If He can do all of that, God can certainly take care of anything that needs to be done, when it needs to be done, how it needs to be done.
It’s not all up to us. It never was. It never will be.
Life doesn’t always go as planned. Sometimes we don’t’ know what to do, others we can’t do the work we know we’re supposed to do, because of circumstances. But there’s always something we can do—try to reschedule the meeting, offer a cuddle to the disgruntled child, figure out the exact item we’ll buy when the money is available, visit the friend who is sick, and most importantly—talk to God about it. Pray. Then we can trust God with the rest.
Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. —Philippians 4:6-7
We got a new washer yesterday. I’m back in business. Nine loads (giant loads, mind you), down, several more to go. I already feel better. But I’m certain there will be more things, more intense things, that feel like they’re spinning out of control. But I have hope. You do too, that we don’t need to worry. It doesn’t’ all depend on us (praise Jesus). Out of our control never ever means out of control. We can always count on God, turn everything over to Him. And He truly will take care of all our needs.
The other night my husband and I were on the back deck unwinding our day. We let the warm summer evening breeze blow through and around the thoughts, concerns, and conversations we’d experienced since our morning java. Brett was relaying something hilarious one of the kids said when he interrupted himself, pointed at the sky, and proclaimed, “Look at the moon!”
I turned my gaze upward and there it was, orange and mysterious barely peeking out from behind gauzy clouds. For the first thirty minutes of our conversation it had been hidden from view, but certainly not absent. It had been a darker than normal evening, but the moon was there. It’s always there. Even when we can’t see it.
The same is true with God.
He is always there.
Even when we can’t see Him.
Because there are days when we can’t see Him, aren’t there? Days when the clouds of unexpected expenses, unpredicted demands, and unappreciated criticism come our way and cloud our view of Him and His love for us. There are other days when we’re swamped—sprinting to the next and the next and the next, and ‘dang I forgot to text her back’ and ‘I never called the repairman’. On those days, we don’t even take time to look up. And then there are days when the brightness of fill-in-the-blank with whatever you seem fixated on lately seems as bright as the sun, a glare making it hard to see anything else but that distraction.
But just like the moon, God’s still there. He never goes away or disappears just because of circumstances, our decision not to seek Him, or the things we get distracted by. He is still there and He is still working. Consistently and constantly.
The moon, whether we see it or not, is pulling the tides of the 321,000,000 cubic miles of water in the oceans. Every single day. The moon constantly keeps the earth from wobbling as it spins. It does this at night when it glows in the sky and during the day when it’s barely visible if visible at all. The moon even tugs at babies still in the womb, beckoning them to come out into the world. Don’t believe me? You should have been walking the hallways of Northside Hospital, a.k.a. the Baby Factory, with me the night our first child was born. There were so many women who went into labor that night of a full moon there weren’t enough beds available. True story. The moon does all that, when we’re inside and have a roof blocking our views. It’s in action when we’re outside and thick storm clouds cover its glow. Even when it’s daytime and the sun is bright and the moon is dim, when all that’s observable from earth is the tiny sliver or a toenail moon, when we’re outside, but busy, distracted and not looking up, in all those times the moon never stops doing its thing.
And God created the moon. Can you imagine how much more He’s doing 24/7? When we don’t see God, we can’t dismiss His power, His attention to details, or His love for us. Even in the stressful times, the stagnant times, the struggles, and the storms God is strengthening us, building our character, and blessing us with gifts.
We never doubt that the moon is up there somewhere doing its thing, so why do we ever doubt God?
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. —Hebrews 11:1
Trust in His constancy today. No matter what cards life has dealt you, God is on your side. He is pulling you safely from the tides, steadying you from spinning out of control, and beckoning you into His loving arms.
Ever feel like everything is in pieces? Like you have no idea if the loose ends will ever be tied up or if they will just keep on unraveling?
I’ve been fortunate to spectate my son rehearsing for the local musical production of Annie, and similarly to our disheveled lives, a show seemingly starts with chaos. Once the show is announced and the cast has been selected there is the first rehearsal—packed with potential, but heavy with an uneasy feeling that this couldn’t possibly come together. Scripts are passed out, a tape played, and soon the partial cast—the group for Act 1—sings hesitantly from their seats straining to find the melody.
Have you ever struggled to find your tune?
Even when we can’t find the notes, even when we can’t see it, God is at work, bringing the pieces together. Step by step a little more of the full picture is revealed, like a jigsaw puzzle being assembled piece by piece to reveal a beautiful landscape. But even as the bits convene, each one creates it’s own obstacles and seems to add a level of uncertainty.
In the production, students move from their seats to the stark stage. More actors appear seemingly out of thin air, interspersing, transforming sheets of paper printed with lines into a story. But just like our lives, there are bumps and hiccups as the actors adjust to the transitions. Dance steps add to the pizazz, but complicate where people stand on stage. Singing needs to be coordinated with the orchestra that has replaced the tape recording.
Wooden beams create the skeleton of a staircase where the stage was bare before. The smell of sawdust lingers heavy in the air, and it’s exciting to imagine the finished set, but also a bit questionable if there will be time to complete it—if it will all fit, if it will stand strong. A live dog coaxed with Milk Bones replaces the imaginary Sandy. Will the dog sit? Stay? Or scramble off the stage like it did tonight?
It’s not that different from our own discernment. One step forward. Two steps back. A turn around and a slide sideways. God keeps adding pieces for us, steps to our staircases, notes to our songs, but we’re not sure how it’s all going to come together, or if it ever will.
When we’re in the middle of it all, sometimes life looks like a wreck, feels off kilter. Some days we’re waiting for the email, the proposal, the acceptance letter, the check to clear, the next step to be visible and in the waiting we feel frantic, antsy, eager to just be doing the next thing. Life around us looks undone, like chaos, like it’s moving, but not necessarily forward and maybe even backwards.
But God is always at work. Always.
He is planning and shuffling and building things behind the scenes. He’s making introductions, connecting old friends, new friends and loose wires, so that when it’s time, that thing He’s planning will be spectacular.
Each musical rehearsal contains a new marvel, as if something has miraculously happened in the dark, empty theatre overnight. There are beds and phones and buckets and plates. Each prop needs to be in its place, used at the right time by the correct actor. Students in sweatshirts and Converse scramble to find their costumes, and then almost magically, are transformed into New Yorkers in the 1920’s. But Annie’s curly red wig is askew. Someone else is missing a scarf. The boy with a solo has a sore throat. The seam on a dress rips. How will this fly?
But then comes the night of the performance. And all of the bits and pieces and loose ends collaborate for one spectacular show. The girl who was hard to hear is crystal clear with her mic. The cumbersome scenery slides on and off stage flawlessly. Everyone remembers the lines they’ve been struggling to recall. And the vase that keeps falling down stands straight and tall.
The waiting can be unnerving if we focus on the unknown. But if we focus on the known it can be exhilarating.
God loves us. Eph 2:3-4
He will never forsake us. Heb 13:5-6
He has perfect plans for us. Jer 29:11
When we focus on these truths we can notice each new prop and how it rounds out our stories. We can appreciate every character God brings into our lives and what we can learn from them. We can appreciate this change of tempo and that breather we get when the scenes switch and the fresh outlook a costume change offers. Then, after a long season of rehearsing and retaking scenes, it’s time for the show, and we can savor what God had done, what He has put together for us.
Just like a school doesn’t put on one play then close the curtains for good, our life is never about one performance. Our days are packed with new seasons, new scripts, new costumes, and new stage directions—new jobs, new relationships, new schools, new homes, new stages of life. And although there will always be a bit of hesitancy when we see the bare theatre and the unfamiliar songs, there can always be excitement and expectancy that God is the ultimate stage manager, director, and producer working all things together for glorious outcomes.
7:50 AM Sunday morning.
Beep. Flash. Silence.
Max and I were on our way out the door. He plays in the band and was supposed to be at church by 8:00 AM. Only now our garage door wouldn’t open, because the power was out. I knew there was a way to unhook the chain, but…
“Let’s take Maddie’s car,” I called to Max while searching for her key. “And go out the front,” since fortunately her car was parked in the driveway.
Has anything fritzed out, not worked, run out of steam, let you down this week?
The lights were out at church, too. Which was ironic, since Max plays electric guitar. “Text me if you need me to bring your acoustic,” I said as Max unloaded his instrument from the trunk.
Sundays mean Starbucks. Only when I got there, they were closed!!!! Are they even allowed to be closed? No problem, I’ll make something yummy with the Nespresso. Except it plugs in. My mind raced to Plan C. I’m sure we have a Via instant coffee pack or two in the coffee drawer. I’ll just add hot water from our water dispenser. Except it also requires electricity.
Back at home, we got ready in rooms with blinds wide open as pale morning light strained to streak through the gray February sky. Using phones as flashlights. Brushing teeth in the kitchen. It all worked. Mostly. By the time we got to service at 9:00 AM, the power was back on at church, and praise Jesus, they’d made coffee.
Three days later…. our vacuum is spitting out pine needles and dirt instead of sucking things up. I try to pick up the large pieces of lint and leaves with my fingers. Sigh. Two days after that…our kitchen sink is clogged, glugging up food remnants instead of washing them down. My husband and mom are wrestling with coat hangers and plungers while I wash our dinner dishes in the laundry room utility sink. A power outage, a broken vacuum or a clogged drain are all minor inconveniences, but they remind me be grateful for all that I have, for all the things I take for granted a million times a day.
But sometimes in life the obstacles are greater than a power outage or a broken appliance and slower to solve. We all have days, weeks, seasons where we feel like we’ve run into a brick wall, where things aren’t going as planned, where things we take for granted let us down, and people we depend on aren’t so dependable.
But Jesus? He never lets us down.
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” —John 8:12
Ironically the Sunday of the power outage our pastor began by asking, “What’s the one thing you can’t live without?” Most of the mismatched, ponytailed and bed-headed congregation that got ready for church in the dark might have been thinking, “power”. But the truth is, we could live without it. I could also live without a vacuum or a sink, although I’d rather not. There seemed to be plenty of Plan Bs and Plan Cs running through my mind without too much thought or planning. But even when everything else is taken away, I have Jesus. And he is all I need.
What have you run out of today? Coffee creamer? Patience?
What isn’t working in your life? Your marriage? Part of your body?
What is it that you depend on that isn’t coming through for you? Your Wi-Fi signal? A friendship?
I promise Jesus is all we need. With Him, we don’t need a plan B or C.
A family member I trusted for years lied to me. Jesus loves me fiercely.
My husband and I lost all of our grandparents. Jesus holds and comforts us.
A friend moved away. Another moved on. Jesus stays loyally right by my side.
I get frustrated with someone I love. Jesus grants me grace and teaches me how to extend it.
How about you? What are you facing? When you get the blame for something you didn’t do, Jesus knows what really happened. When you know what you should do, but it would be way easier to follow the crowd? Jesus says, “I’ll help you.” When your license expires, the light bulb burns out, the battery needs charged, Jesus is running at full capacity. You get another rejection? Somebody subtly puts you down? Jesus does the opposite. He invites you in, again and again.
He never goes out. His door is always open. He never quits on you or me. Even if everything we depend on shuts or breaks down—Jesus is there, shining brightly, standing strong. We don’t have to plug Him in, turn Him on, charge Him up, or figure out how to make His love work. He is always energized and available. He loves, listens, give us strength and courage, brightens our paths and helps us see things more clearly, unconditionally, eternally.
If everything else went out and stopped working. If all the cupboards were bare. Jesus would still be there. We don’t need to strategize or think up alternate routes. We can count on Him. No matter where you feel let down, run down, or depleted today, Jesus is there with you. He will not now, or ever, let you down.
My favorite day of the year is Christmas Tree Day, which falls annually on whichever day my family gets our tree. To me, it represents hope.
Merriam Webster defines hope as: to cherish a desire with anticipation. Yup, that’s me about Christmas. But the word ‘hope’ seems to get watered down. I hope I get there on time. I hope the line’s not too long. I hope they still have it in my size. That’s not really cherishing a desire, is it? Then what is hope? Hope is a college in Michigan. It is a charitable wine company. It’s even one heck of a goalie for the women’s National Team. But it is so much richer than that.
We all love picking out a prickly evergreen from the local farmer’s market, taking turns standing next to this one thick with fragrance, then that one with just the right point on top, so we can all compare and choose which tree is the perfect pine to grace our family room. Our family enjoys unboxing treasured ornaments from years past, the golden twinkle of lights, and singing Christmas tunes out loud, whether we know the words or not. But I get especially emotional.
Sure, it’s because of all the reasons I’ve listed above—spending time with my favorite people on the planet, reliving old memories, creating new ones, but I believe Christmas Tree Day is so powerful to me, because of all of the hope it signifies—the hope of the entire Christmas season.
My heart fills as it anticipates carols, cookie baking, and candle light services. I flash-forward to the joy of watching my kids scramble to locate our Elf on the Shelf (his name is Frosty) each morning. My taste buds eagerly look forward to the creamy richness of a peppermint mocha, sigh, and thick dark fudge. I’m excited to hug, laugh and catch up with loved ones. I look forward to priceless moments ranging from pausing to contemplate the nativity scene to prancing through the yard at the first sign of snowflakes—the kind of memories that seem to fold one on top of another at Christmas like no other time of year. I can barely wait for it all.
Christmas Tree Day brings me all of the hope of the Christmas season. But the Christmas season brings me all of the hope wrapped up in the fact that Jesus was willing to come down to earth, among the trials, the mistakes, and flaws of mankind (that’s me and you) to save us. Some days we feel hopeless. But Christmas is the beautiful promise that no matter what we’ve done or where we’ve been, Jesus loves us anyway, and calls out to us from the manger and from the cross, and right to where we are today, saying He wants to offer us love, the perfect kind. That’s what hope is. Hope is the desire, the anticipation, for His selfless love. But unlike Christmas morning, we don’t have to wait to unwrap it. God’s love is His gift to us today, right here and now.
No wonder the start of the season, the day that commences this month packed with hope, stirs me up inside. I cherish each moment setting up and decorating the tree, but I am also overwhelmed with the promises and potential of Christmas. No matter what you’re hoping for this Christmas, know that Jesus offers you all that and more.
May your days be merry and bright
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