New Story.

The video below is the inspiration for the newest story I wrote a few days ago. I love this Christmas album by Stephen Curtis Chapman and this particular song, “All I Really Want for Christmas,” has just made me so contemplative this holiday season. I know a lot of people adopting/have adopted recently and one of the jobs we’ll be doing when we get to Peru is helping build a Children’s Home on campus. Brian and I know that someday, the Lord will have us adopt. Even though a newborn would be really neat, I really feel the Lord would have us take in a child who’s a little older, and give them the home and the love they’ve never had. So, since Thanksgiving (when my Christmas music began playing in earnest!), I’ve been thinking about this song and wondering how I could write a story to go along with it. I finally sat down on Friday night and came up with the one that’s listed under “My Writings.” It’s called “A Christmas Prayer”, but I’d be open to new suggestions for the title! Give it a read; let me know what you think. From here on out, I’m going to just post the new title of the story I post next to “My Writings” so you can be sure to know whenever I change it. Enjoy! Please let me know what you think!

Goodbye, Old Friend.

Yesterday was a bittersweet day for me. Let me give you some background… see if you can understand…

My mom taught me to play the piano starting when I was four years old. I’m not like wonderful, but I can get around on the piano just fine. It’s kind of my other outlet; I just really love music and losing myself in it. When we were first married, we lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment. I was elected as the piano player for our small church. The only way I could practice was to go to the church, about a 20 minute drive away, and play on their old, out-of-tune upright. It made it tough to just go and play for fun. For our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple, Brian got me something that completely surprised me! Check it out…

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My very own piano. I was ECSTATIC! It was literally the sweetest, most thoughtful thing he’s ever done for me. I loved my piano. In fact, I loved it so much that when we moved from South Dakota  a year ago and we had to decide what stayed and what went, Brian picked the computer and I picked my piano, its bench, and a cedar bench we had in our entryway. That’s it. Everything else was optional. The computer was Brian’s baby; the piano was mine. Brian was going to find a hard case for it and we were getting that piano to Peru if our lives depended on it!

Those sentiments have changed over the last few months. Not only is a hard case just about more expensive than the piano itself, but then there’s the issue of customs and the power being different. So, we made the giant decision to sell the piano. Brian promised that the money from the piano would be mine so that I could get my own laptop that I could use to focus on my writing.

We listed it on Craig’s List and had someone write that was highly interested. They wanted it for their autistic son for Christmas. Yesterday, the mom and the little boy came and picked it up… trading the piano for a laptop. What made it all worth it was seeing the little boy’s eyes light up when his mom said it was his for Christmas. We turned it on for him and he could’ve played that piano all day long. The Mom said that she’s taking lessons, so this is something they’re going to finally be able to do together since it’s been hard finding something he’s interested in. This is even the same model they originally saw at a music shop that sparked his interest a few weeks ago. Wow. God is good, huh?

After lots of tears on Brian’s shoulder last night, and even a few this morning, I really do have to admit that it feels good to not have it anymore. If God wants me to have another piano in Peru, He’ll provide. I certainly know He’s provided bigger things in the past. I will say, though, goodbyes are really tough. Even when it’s just things.

On the plus side, yesterday we got an email saying the church I grew up in in Vermont has picked up our support! We now need less than $200 a month!

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I did want to be sure to wish you all a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS no matter where in the world you are as you’re reading this. The one phrase that has rung through my head this holiday season is “God with us.” Such a powerful, little phrase, but it means SO much. I hope you enjoy celebrating the remembrance of the day when God came to us so that we could one day come to Him.

Christmas Through the Eyes of…

This time last year, our church went through a series called “Christmas Through the Eyes of…” and each week it was a different character from the Christmas story. My dad, the pastor of our church, was really at a loss for what to do Christmas Eve, so I suggested they finish it out with “Christmas Through the Eyes of Jesus.” So, Christmas Eve last year, I helped organize and orchestrate the Christmas Eve service. The first half was focused on the glory of God and the second half was focused on His incarnation. Very cool. But, while thinking about the Christmas story last year, I wrote “Abe’s Story” (the story in “My Writings” at the moment) as well as the following. It’s not really a story, just my thoughts on Christmas…

 

Christmas. What a wonderful time of year to stop and reflect on all God has done for us. I, personally, am a huge fan of Christmas and all it represents. I have one of the biggest imaginations ever, so it’s fun for me to sit and think about all the different characters in the Bible (written and assumed) and how they reacted to that first Christmas so many years ago. People like the Innkeeper and his wife who (depending on how you look at it) turned Mary and Joseph away OR did them a favor by giving them a room in a barn. The wives of the magi. Did they have wives? If they did, what did they think of their husbands going off on a couple year excursion led by a star? What about the wives of the shepherds? Did anyone else get woken up by loud music and a giant night-light that night or did everyone in Bethlehem sleep through the angels’ announcement, besides the shepherds? What about all the street beggars that seemed to fill Israel – what did they see and hear? How did Mary and Joseph’s parents, grandparents, and the rest of their families react to their big news? So many people…so many questions. So many ways you could finish the sentence, “through the eyes of…” in reference to the biggest Christian holiday of the year.

 

As I sat pondering these people, real or imagined, I began to ask myself, why didn’t God include more details in the Christmas story? It’s so short. If you just read through Matthew or Luke, you tend to miss subtle details that are just kind of said in passing. There is so much more there than at first glance. Things like, “…and laid Him in a manger for there was no room for them in the inn.” What? A manger? No room? There has got to be more to the story than that short line! Isn’t there?

 

The answer is, yes- yes there is more to the story. In fact, there’s probably a lot more to the story. Just knowing devout Jewish history to a small degree means you know that the odds of people wanting to stone Mary are very high. The odds of her and Joseph being ostracized from their families are huge. And I can’t imagine any young teenage girl dying to give birth in a barn. Yes, there is more to the Christmas story. So, why didn’t God put more details in the Bible?

 

Well, let’s think this through. How many books and songs and movies have been written depicting the Christmas story from the perspectives of people who were there? It’s all speculation, so why the big deal? Because we’re curious! Because we want to know! Because it helps us make the Christmas story seem more real, more palatable, if we can think it through in terms of it happening to real people. It’s truly thought-provoking and insightful and you can learn so much from people like the Innkeeper or the shepherds.

 

Now, imagine if God did put more details into the Christmas story. Imagine if we knew the names of Mary’s brothers and sisters and parents and grandparents. Imagine if we could read the dialogue between her and her mother when Mary told her about her encounter with the angel. Imagine if we knew the shepherd’s names and backgrounds and what they did with their lives after spending a night worshiping the Christ child. Imagine if we knew the motivation behind the Innkeeper sending a young Jewish girl to give birth in a barn. Would this make the Christmas story easier to understand… or harder? Would we learn more… or would we just read more?

 

More importantly, where would our focus be? On the characters surrounding the story…or on the focal point of the story?

 

I believe that God didn’t include lots of extra details because He wanted to keep everything surrounding the birth of His Son simple. If Jesus didn’t arrive with pomp and circumstance, then the story of His birth shouldn’t include multiple characters and their life histories. It should be simple. Gloriously simple. There’s a lot left to the imagination because I think God wanted it that way. You learn more when you’re not told every single detail of every single story.

 

This leads me to my second point. So much time has been put into thinking about Christmas through the eyes of other people that we’ve forgotten the most important Person in the Christmas story. What about Christmas through the eyes of Jesus?

 

Mary obeyed God…and gave up her reputation, her family, her home, and her future.

 

Jesus obeyed God…and gave up heaven.

 

Mary gave birth to her first son in a barn.

 

Jesus, the only Son of God, was born in a barn.

 

Joseph raised a son that was not his own.

 

Jesus…was raised.

 

The shepherds were the first to witness the Shekinah glory of God returning to earth.

 

Jesus, the Lamb of God, was the incarnate Shekinah glory of God on earth.

 

The magi followed a star to their King.

 

Jesus was the King.

 

What was Jesus thinking that first night? Was He thinking…

“I picked such pretty eyes for Mary.”

“Joseph’s hands are so rough from molding the wood I made.”

“I wrote that song the angels are singing!”

“The shepherds who take care of the sacrificial lambs have no idea the irony at this moment.”

“It’s so dark down here.”

 

We focus so much on the “others” in the Christmas story that we forget sometimes the only One that really matters in the story.

 

Christmas through the eyes of Jesus.

 

What was He thinking that one silent night so long ago?

Last Bible Study.

Yesterday marked the last day of the teaching part of our Bible study at church. We were missing one girl, which made me extremely disappointed, but we gained another lady. I was so happy to see how excited the other ladies in the study are about learning how to study the Word for themselves. It is SO encouraging!

The ladies needed to go more indepth into Phil. 2:1-11 on their own. They made it a good chunk of the way – I was very impressed. It was really cool listening to their insights and what they learned and how it worked out for them. Then, I shared the importance of studying a single verse and then a single word. We looked at Phil. 4:8 for as long as we could, but then had to move on. I wish we could’ve had more time. It was a lot of fun picking the verse apart together. I wish we would’ve had time to go online or even into e-sword to show them how to look up words. We really could’ve spent WAY more time looking at “joy.” I hope they’re able to do some of that on their own.

While preparing for this lesson, I remembered a study that I sat in on once about John 21:15-17: It reads:

15When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 16Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”  17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”

Just to show the importance of studying a single word, when Jesus uses the word “love” the first two times, He is using the Greek word “agape.” This is probably one of the most well-known Greek words, but it is such a deeper meaning of “love” than what is conveyed in the English. This is the love spoken of in 1 Corinthians 13, the “love chapter”, and is the love that only God gives. We can only love with agape if Christ is loving through us.

However, when John answers Jesus all three times, he uses the Greek word “phileo“, from which we get our word “philadelphia”, which means “brotherly love.” This is the love you would show to friends, not a deep, spiritual love or even an emotional love like you would have with a spouse.

The last time Jesus asks John if he loves Him, Jesus switches from “agape” to “phileo.” John gets very sad and answers the same, with “phileo.” Some speculate that Jesus asked John this same question three times to remind John of his denial of Christ three separate times. John is humble enough to admit that in reality, no, he does not love Jesus with the “agape” love that Jesus loves him. It really makes this passage much more powerful when you study a single word.

The same is true with the Christmas story in Luke 2. When the angels arrived in Bethlehem and the “glory of the Lord shown around them”, that “glory” is the Shekinah glory of God. This glory literally surrounds the very presence of God. Every time God appeared in the Tabernacle or the Temple and the people could not approach because His “glory” was there, this is the glory that was being spoken of. Later in the Old Testament, this is the same glory that was lifted from the Temple and the Jews weeped when it was gone because they knew the presence of God had left them. When Jesus was born, the glory of God – God Himself – the very presence of God Almighty – returned to earth. That passage is so awesome to read now! It’s no longer “just” the Christmas story. It holds so much more meaning, knowing that God had FINALLY returned to earth and made His dwelling among us. It had been literally hundreds of years without Him. Imagine how dark earth was during the silent period between the Old and New Testaments. Not to say God wasn’t working, but His glory was not present on earth like it was when Christ Himself walked among us and like it is now with the presence of God living within each of us believers.

Studying Scripture is absolutely amazing. I used to wonder how people could read and reread the Bible numerous times over their lifetime and still get something new out of it. I get it now. I just wish I studied like this more often.

Let Christmas Begin.

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Well, we finally got the tree up! 🙂 My dad grew up always putting the tree up on December 10 (although none of us know why), so he passed that tradition on to my family. So, when I was growing up, we always put the tree up on December 10th. I was always really annoyed because all my friends would have theirs up the day after Thanksgiving and we had to wait! This year, honestly, I completely forgot about the tree. I’m not sure why. But, it just hasn’t felt like Christmas. So, on Monday, I woke up and kept thinking, “something’s missing!” Tuesday, my dad asked if I would be willing to get the tree up on Wednesday since it… December 10!

Growing up, we would get a real tree every other year from our neighbor’s woods (we had woods behind our house, too… I have no idea why we didn’t just go back there!), and then a fake tree on the “off” years. Since we left Vermont seven years ago, my parents haven’t had a real tree. They have this fake tree that my mom thought was just great… 15 years ago. When Brian put it together Wednesday, he made an executive decision: my parents need a new tree. So, at 8:00 Wednesday night while my parents were gone, we loaded up the dog and drove around town looking for that perfect, albeit fake, tree. An hour later (yup, it was fast!), we had one! My dad feigned hurt that we didn’t like his tree; I think my mom would’ve jumped for joy if she could have! It has the lights already on it and my mom thinks that is just the best invention ever. My dad can’t bear to part with the old tree just yet, so in lieu of putting lights on the house, he’s going to set it up on the porch and put some lights on it. Maybe someday, he’ll get the courage to say goodbye to the old tree that’s lived in two different countries and been set up in four different homes in 15 years! 🙂

It’s finally snowed, too. Well, iced and then snowed on top of it. So, it kind of looks like Christmas. The tree is up and decorated. My homemade Christmas cards are almost done. Let Christmas begin! 🙂

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This is where we’re going tomorrow night, by the way! I keep forgetting, but I really am excited. My cousin is the drummer for the tour – for everyone except Casting Crowns. He’s the official drummer for Denver and the Mile High Orchestra, but he’s drumming for everyone this time. So, we got “meet and greet” tickets from my uncle and are SO looking forward to the evening!

This is my favorite Christmas hymn these days. Check it out – Casting Crowns style!

Bible Study Methods, Wk. 2.

Today was the second session of the Bible study methods I’ve been teaching at church. It went really well, I thought. It was the same three ladies, but they all are really enjoying hearing the new ways of doing stuff and they’re enjoying putting it into practice.

This past week, they were to read the entire book of Philippians through five separate times. That sounds like a lot, but honestly, you should try it. Reading a book straight through, as it was meant to be read, gives you an entirely new perspective on it. Philippians is the favorite book of one of the girls in the study, so I wasn’t sure what she was going to think, having to read it so much since she’s so familar with it. But, when I asked them to share their thoughts, all of them said they were so glad they did that exercise. They all thought it put the book in a whole new light and it made even Paul come alive more than he ever has. You can really feel his heartbeat and his desire for the Philippian church as you read through the book. You get a feeling of his urgency and of his love for the people. It’s really quite cool to get to know the book so well like that.

Instead of looking at 2:1-11 as our paragraph, I decided to do 4:2-7 since they had to look at chapter 4 a few extra times anyway for the chapter analysis. So, yesterday afternoon, that’s all I did was work on the paragraph. I’m still recovering from that awful flu, so I ended up staying home from our small group and working on the Bible study since I ended up having to sleep all afternoon. But, I got it done! 🙂 And I really did enjoy working through this paragraph on my own, not just copying the notes from the original study.

I always thought the part about Euodia and Syntyche was out of place. It just seemed to be like an aside before Paul goes into his diatribe about joy. But, when you actually analyze it and do some research, you find out that this little “tiff” between the women was actually large enough that Paul was concerned it would divide the church. So, he not only exhorts them to reconcile and be “of one mind,” he also encourages the rest of the church to remain joyful regardless of circumstances, to let their gentleness (assumably in how they handle situations) be know to everybody (believers and non), to worry over nothing, and to pray over everything. Our church has been having some issues lately with disunity and I just could really see how Paul’s desire for the Philippian church to remain steadfast in all those other areas is so important! A giant issue that’s close to dividing can really steal your joy, make you act rudely to others, make you worry, and cause you to pray a lot less. That’s the exact opposite of what Paul was wanting them to do during this situation. It’s just really applicable to our church right now. Very cool.

So, I was able to show them how I break down passages and I showed them different resources, explained how a Strong’s Concordance works, and then gave them their homework for this final week of actual study. This week, they’re to do Phil. 2:1-11 on their own and next week, we’ll see if they have questions or were able to figure out the process. I’m also having them write down as many observations of 4:8 as they can, so we can take apart a verse and then a word: “joy.”

I was reminded again today how much I’ve taken for granted the fact that I know how to do this. I’ve been teaching kids for 12 years (yes, I started as a kid myself 🙂 ) and I’ve been using this particular method (the Inductive method) for the past six years, so it’s very familar to me. I use this method, or at least big parts of it, every time I teach, even if I’m “just” teaching children. It’s so important to have a handle on a passage for yourself and to understand what a passage is saying on your own, not just what a commentary says. I’m really glad that I’m able to kind of pass along this information in the last few months before we leave for the field. I hope a new teacher emerges from this group and that it really helps them grow in their own personal walk with the Lord. What’s funny is that they all said I don’t need to go; they’ll just convince the church to hire me on as the third pastor! 🙂 HA! If only, right? 😉

The Weekend.

The start to my Christmas season was supposed to be this weekend. I actually had a lot planned this weekend! Friday, I was planning on baking brownies in the shapes of snowmen and Christmas trees, and then a bunch of sugar cookies in the shape of “Merry Christmas Olympians.” Saturday was our Christmas party for the Olympians and the kids were going to put together baskets of homemade Christmas cookies for the deacons and elders. Sunday, I was to be in a Reader’s Theatre, play a piano/organ duet with my mom, and be the emcee for the ladies Christmas party in the evening.

Unexpectedly Friday evening, we were invited out to dinner. So, I put the dough for the sugar cookies in the fridge and planned on baking them when we got back. We were looking forward to the evening since it was with another missionary family who is heading back to their field of Niger in January. They have nine children with number ten due in May. The oldest two are in college and the current youngest is a year old, just to give you an idea of how spread out they are! 🙂 Wonderful family – we really enjoy spending time with them. Halfway through the movie we were watching, though, I started to feel… odd. We ended up leaving rather abruptly afterwards (it probably seemed even more abrupt for a family who thoroughly enjoys visiting and I’m not sure they even own a clock) and rushed home in time for me to be violently ill. And thus began a wonderful weekend.

Thankfully, the flu lasted just a solid twenty-four hours (I say “just” with a grain of salt. My prayers consisted more of, “Lord, kill me now! But if not, give me the grace to get through this!”). I missed the Christmas party and my dear mom made all my cookies for me (Brian said he knew there was a good reason we’re still living with them … haha). Sunday (this morning), I barely made it in to church to do the Reader’s Theatre. We practiced twice and I thought for sure I would fall off the stool I opted to sit on, but I didn’t! Made it through the RT and then Brian immediately took me home and made me eat soup. 🙂 I managed to sleep this afternoon and actually made it to the ladies Christmas party this evening! And my mom and I will play the duet next week. So, I guess it wasn’t all a total loss.

The Christmas party was a blast. We actually held it at Red Robin restaurant, which turned out to be a great idea. In case you don’t have those in your neck of the world, it’s a burger joint that has amazing food, but a really relaxed atmosphere. Last year, the Christmas party was held at a more, shall we say, “mature” venue. We had no separate room; we set up on the far side of the restaurant where it seemed to be more secluded. We had no idea how many were coming, but we had room for 98. When all was said and done, we had 93 show up! Amazing! I was the emcee, we had two college girls (Baptist Bible College and Seminary in Clarks Summit, PA, is about 10 minutes away, so we get a lot of BBC students coming to our church) play music for us (my wonderful husband set up my piano and the sound system for us), and then we had another BBC student as our special speaker for the evening. I was amazed how well it went considering the venue. But, the restaurant was so good to us. The managers didn’t just turn down the music; they turned it OFF. WE were the music for the restaurant tonight! And Leonna, our speaker, ended up basically speaking to most of the restaurant since there was no music, so people closer to us listened to her. Very closely. It was pretty impressive.

All in all, we had a great time with give-aways for fancy (aka, tacky) Christmas sweaters, Christmas earrings, and those who could quote the Christmas story. We sang some Christmas carols and ate some really good food and hopefully spread the true meaning of Christmas tonight. I’m glad the flu didn’t keep me home! But, I think I’m going to go to bed now.

The Visa Process.

We’re getting things completed as far as the visa process goes. Today was a pretty big milestone. Instead of writing out all the details, I’m going to direct you to our ministry blog. If you’ve never checked it out – feel free! 🙂 We update our ministry blog weekly (and by “we”, I do mean, “me” 🙂 ). This blog is more about my life, but the ministry blog is all directly related to our ministry. We also post our current newsletters and our prayer requests. Check it out and let us know what you think! 🙂 The link is to the left.

Bible Study Methods.

The church we attend offers a women’s Bible study twice a year, in the spring and in the fall. Normally, we take a break for the summer and over the holidays. This fall, we did Beth Moore’s “The Patriarchs” and we finished it a week ago. The ladies in my small group, though, were anxious to keep going with another study. They talked about just doing another Beth Moore study, but then a few of them said, “Yeah, let’s do that because I’m lost without her! I just don’t even read my Bible when we don’t have an organized study because I don’t know where to begin and I’m not smart enough to study it on my own.”

Wow.

That statement actually surprised me. So, I suggested that instead of doing another study where you’re listening to someone teach, we do something where everyone can learn how to study on their own. I think it’s so crucial that everyone knows how to study the Word (and does it!) on their own. You cannot be spoonfed 24/7, no matter how good the teacher is! Beth Moore herself even says that she should not be the only means by which you study your Bible. You must get in there on your own. I talked with our women’s ministry director about it and we bounced different ideas around trying to figure out which one would work best, and we decided that I would facilitate a study on Bible Study Methods that my father (the pastor of our church) wrote and facilitated this summer. It’s a 6-week course and is really, really good. It takes you through the Inductive Bible study method, which is probably the easiest in-depth way of studying, that I know of.

This morning, we had our first session. It went so well! The sad part is that out of a church of 350, we had 3 women show up. The great part is that all of them are anxious to learn and left so excited to get started! I broke the 6-week session down to 3 weeks, but we’re doing 2 sessions each time we meet. We’ll break for 2 weeks over Christmas and then when we come back in January, the women will present a passage that they studied over those 2 weeks themselves. They can present it either in Bible study format, a devotional, or just reading what they learned. But, this way, it’s practical and they can see it work and then if they get confused or lost, we can go over it again in January and make it really accessible. Hopefully, I’ll be here for enough weeks in January to get through everybody’s devotionals (we’re hoping to leave before January 20th for Florida in order to fly to Peru on the 20th).

I’m so excited to be able to do this, though. I have recently discovered that I love teaching women and it’s so fun for me to be able to impart some knowledge I learned six years ago in Bible school. One of the girls that’s attending is a young, single mom who received the Lord at 16. Even though she grew up in the church and she’s been saved for a few years now, she still feels like a baby Christian in many respects. When I went over how the Bible all fits together and how it’s divided up, that was all new to her! She had never heard it explained that way before. It’s really neat to have her in the class because she’s so anxious to know how to do this on her own. The Patriarchs study was the first Bible study she has ever completed, so she now feels like she can do it and she wants to keep going. It was neat seeing all 3 ladies leave this morning going, “I can’t wait to get started on this homework! I can’t wait to do this on my own! I’m so excited!”

Mission Accomplished.

I was talking with a friend of mine about how I thought it would be great to have like 30 women show up and she reminded me, it doesn’t matter how many show up. All that matters is how many take this to heart and grow in their walk with the Lord. So, I’d rather have 3 who are sincere than 30 who will walk away not caring less.

We’re taking the book of Philippians apart, so this week, they are to read the entire book, in one sitting, 5 separate times and write down simple observations; make an outline of the book (as indepth and detailed or as simple as they’d like); write a brief (1-2 paragraph) synopsis of the book; and read chapter 4 by itself a couple of times (just enough to be familiar with it). Next week, we’re going to go over what they learned and we’re going to break down chapter 4 a little more extensively and we’re going to start looking at a paragraph – chapter 2:1-11. The last week, we’ll look at a verse (4:8) and then a word – “joy.” The goal is to get them seeing the big, skyscraper view, all the way down to the microscopic, groundlevel view of Scripture. I’m excited to see them learn how to do what Beth does for themselves.

It’s so cool seeing our later departure date for the field turn into such a huge blessing! I’ll let you know how next week goes! 🙂

December 2008
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