From the Basement

July 22, 2010

How God used Hilary Duff & the Rascal Flatts to get my attention (again)

Tonight, I was going through CD’s from high school. In between the incredulity (all the rap!) and laughter (Girl All The Bad Guys Want, anyone?), I found inspiration and hope in the last CD I put in… God’s timing, man, God’s timing.

The only quote that seems appropriate to introduce these songs (which are few among many of their kind in my musical history) is something President Lincoln said – “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.”

“On the Way Down” – Ryan Cabrera

Sick and tired of this world; there’s no more air, trippin’ over myself goin’ nowhere – waiting, suffocating, no direction and I took a dive and –

On the way down, I saw you and you saved me from myself. And I won’t forget the way you loved me. On the way down, I almost fell right through, but I held onto you….

I was so afraid of going under, but now the weight of the world feels like nothing, no, nothing…. And I won’t forget the way you loved me…. All that I wanted, all that I needed…

“So Yesterday” – Hilary Duff (yes, Hilary Duff). The song is about a breakup, but the chorus is so full of hope and release – being able to let it go.

Cause if it’s over, let it go and come tomorrow it will seem so yesterday, so yesterday – I’m just a bird that’s already flown away. Laugh it off, and let it go, and when you wake up it will seem so yesterday, so yesterday – haven’t you heard that I’m gonna be okay?

“Feels Like Today” – Rascal Flatts. This bit is from the first verse:

But I know something is coming. I don’t know what it is, but I know it’s amazing, you save me. My time is coming, and I’ll find my way out of this longest drought…

And hearing that song inspired me to go listen to my favorite Rascal Flatts tune, their cover of “Bless the Broken Road.” Rascal Flatts is a country band that has owned the faith-filled messages in their music. Even though Selah released a “Christian” version of the song that substitutes the word “savior” for “lover” at the end, I prefer lover. For Jesus is the lover of our souls, and his passion for us is overwhelming.

This is one of the most beautiful, humbling praises I’ve ever heard… even if you don’t like country, I exhort you to listen.

We worship a faithful God. In our darkest hours and our loneliest times, in the light of day and in the dead of night, he is there. We can just roll on home into our Lover’s arms – thank you Jesus for the mercy and intimacy, for how you are a refuge for my soul. When this world feels chaotic and hectic and frenzied, you are there in the midst of it. You are for us, therefore no one can be against us. And nothing – not the powers of this earth, not the government, not a difficult economy or crazy job market or concern over using the right words, not fear or pride – nothing can separate us from you and your will for our loves, from the awesome, terrible, awe-inspiring love you hold for us. Nothing can separate us from your love. Nothing can divide us from your purpose. We are in your light, and there cannot be dark where there is light. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

July 10, 2010

Acts 17 & Women

I’ve been traveling lately, hence the lack of consistency in posting. I’m currently hunkered down in the backyard of my boyfriend’s parents; I’m visiting them and am enjoying a cup of coffee and some quiet reading time on this most beautiful morning.

I was reading Acts 17 today, and the main thing that struck me was the mention of women. The chapter isn’t long – 34 verses – but there are three separate mentions of women, all within the context of coming to believe in Christ.

verse 4: “And some of them were persuaded, and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas.”

verse 12: “Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men.”

verse 34: “However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.”

In the first two instances, it is emphasized that these are prominent women among the Greeks. The third instance is particularly interesting to me – this is after Paul preaches to the philosophers of the Areopagus. It says some men joined, but it lists Damaris among the men, even though she’s marked as a woman. She is included – overall – in the group of men.

I haven’t done an in-depth study on this chapter, but I’ve been searching online and have yet to find an article or commentary that deals comprehensively with these three references. The book of Acts on the whole makes frequent mention of women, but three mentions of prominent, in one instance probably educated, women coming to Christ – wow. This is huge.

I’ve been searching for commentaries on this chapter, but have yet to find one that explicitly discusses the references to women. I did, however, find one website detailing the notes of John Wesley, an 18th-century theologian, and his comments were too priceless not to share. Of verse 4, he says:

Of the principal women, not a few — … In the case of true religion, which always implies taking up the cross, especially in time of persecution, women lie naturally under a great disadvantage, as having less courage than men. So that their embracing the Gospel was a stronger evidence of the power of him whose strength is perfected in weakness, as a stronger assistance of the Holy Spirit was needful for them to overcome their natural fearfulness.

Well then.

I don’t want to get off on too much of a tangent, but Wesley’s comments – however antiquated – are reminiscent of a practice I’ve been thinking more and more about: that is, allowing our understanding of culture to infiltrate our spiritual understanding of gender. Arguments about the “cultural lens” or an innate “bias” don’t hold up here, because to follow Christ is to alter our entire worldview. Wealth is one of the best examples I can think of – scripture runs contrary to the wisdom of the world. We think very little of hearing that message on Sunday morning, yet we are content to let our understandings of gender fly under the radar as non-essential, secondary issues. And what damage this has done. I’ve been in too many churches that longed for the good old days (my words there), where “men were men and women were women.” Think 1950s Cleaver family.

When it comes to gender roles, I think the church is far too reliant on cultural tradition. And then it’s surprised when women rise up against that tradition, not recognizing its complicity in cultivating that discontent.

But that’s another post.

In the meantime, I am thankful that scripture documents the conversion of faithful women and men, exhorting us in our faith even today.

July 3, 2010

Floating in Water/Trusting God

Filed under: Faith,Love — jeannablue @ 4:37 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

It seems like everyone has a part of nature that they connect to in a special way, be it the sky, the mountains, rolling green hills, or prairies full of wildflowers. For me, it’s water, especially lakes and seas. Looking out at a body of water just floors me – the crashing waves and still waters, the whitecaps and colorless blue, the power and unpredictability. Something about it is just glorious, and I can’t help but praise in the face of such awesome creation.

All parts of nature glorify God, and I think that oftentimes, they reflect an aspect of God (as if being beautiful wasn’t enough!). One thing I love about water is its buoyancy – if you trust it, the water holds you up and moves you. Floating is so much easier than treading water, but floating requires trust. You have to trust the breath in your belly, trust that a big wave isn’t gonna come down on you (or that if it does, you’ll come right back up). You can’t always see where you’re going – scratch that. You rarely see where you’re going, but you’re present and focused on the act of floating, and that is enough. The water carries you. All you do is breathe – keep that belly full. Keep that trust.

On the other hand, treading is exhausting. You see where you are, you see how far you have to go, and it can be downright terrifying. And you get tired real fast. And for me, it’s a lot harder to swim after treading than it is after floating.

It’s an imperfect analogy, yeah? But the point is there. Water – and the human body in water – is such a beautiful metaphor of the love and buoyancy of God. He holds us up, but we have to trust him. He’ll do all the work – if we let him.

Trust, breathe, focus on floating, focus on Him… he’ll get us to where we’re going… in his own time… in his own way.

July 1, 2010

“So… God wants me to be unemployed?”: On Trust, Belief, and Trust

Trust Him. Praise Him.

Those are the encouraging or, alternately,  infuriating, soul-wrenching answers I get when I ask God about his plans for my employment (I hope it’s not too much to assume that I’ll find work?). I have been home since March and graduated since May. It is almost the 1st of July, and I’m still in my mom’s basement. I think many recent grads are in the same boat.

In honor of the classic song “Count Your Blessings,” I’ll count my blessings first. My parents live less than an hour apart and both have opened their homes to me for as long as I need it. I live rent free and occasionally chip in for coffee or pizza with my graduation money. I have no expenses, notwithstanding the Student Loans of Doom that are looming over the horizon.

In short, I’m blessed. I originally wrote “save the whole unemployment bit,” but even with that, I’m still blessed.

And yet, over the last few months, I’ve gone through days where I did not seek him, whether out of spite or laziness it’s hard to say. And then, on the flip side, there are the days that are glorious and praise-full and awesomely productive. And then there are the screaming days. Today was a combination of awesome + screaming.

On days like these, when I go out on my porch and sob and cry and throw a temper tantrum that could rival a two-year-old, I forget that I’ve learned a lot. On days like these, I forget that all things work to the good of those who love him, mostly because I’m too busy thinking that God is planning to use my life as the sequel to Job.

(On days like these, I really hope that Job was a one-time thing and that God’s not planning to do that again.)

In the aftermath of the tears, several truths become apparent. Things I’ve learned over the last few months.

  1. I could do everything right by human standards and still not get hired if it’s not God’s will.
  2. I could do everything wrong by human standards and get hired if God wants me to work there.
  3. God may be keeping me from employment to let me focus on other things.
  4. His name is still Faithful and True.
  5. He is Jehovah Jireh, the God who provides.
  6. He is using this time to make me into the woman he wants me to be.

As my mom reminded me today, he sees how these months fit into the span of my life. He knows what I’ll be doing a year from now. He knows the names of my children. He knows the plans he has for me. I see what’s on the screen. He’s already directed the whole picture.

I want to be like the Proverbs 31 woman. In verse 25, it says, she is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. A righteous woman who seeks the Lord’s own heart – she laughs at the days to come. Others flee and cower, but she stands strong. Sans peur. No fear. After all, why should she fear? She knows that her God loves her, protects her, is for her, is not against her. She knows that there is nothing on this earth that can separate her from the extravagant, earth-shattering love of God.

God’s love is shattering. It’s such a revelation every time, and I so often feel shattered when faced with it. So painfully, acutely aware of the reasons I don’t deserve it. So ready with excuses of my humanity, of my proud refusal to believe that he means what he says. And yet he comes and scoops me up and holds me against his chest and murmurs in my ear that he loves me, and that he is enough – he is always enough.

I’ll be gone for the next two weeks visiting family and friends, and this evening, I was freaking out to my mom about how I don’t know what I’ll do about job searching for the next two weeks. Unreliable internet, etc. And she looked at me and said, take the time off! Enjoy the time away! I asked, what happens if the perfect job comes up and I don’t see it? And she looked at me, so loving, and asked if I really thought that God didn’t already have everything planned out and did I think I’d be going away for two weeks if he didn’t have everything under control?

And then I did that whole crying/wallowing thing.

And then something wonderful happened. God picked me up, put lyrics in my head that wouldn’t go away, and gave me the title to my next blog post. He uses writing to take me outside myself, to give perspective, to show his love – his shattering, wonderful love that has given me the gift of a two-week hiatus and more opportunities to lean on him and not on my own understanding.

To remind me that unemployment does not define me. That his plans are so much bigger.

Like sunlight burning at midnight

Making my life something so

Beautiful, beautiful

Mercy reaching to save me

All that I need

You are so

Beautiful, beautiful

– Francesca Battistelli, “Beautiful, Beautiful”

Link to video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JbCfyZHSQbE

June 30, 2010

The Glory of God

I will meditate on the glorious splendor of Your majesty,

And on Your wondrous works ….

All your works shall praise You, O Lord,

And Your saints shall bless you.

They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom,

And talk of Your power.

Psalm 145:5, 10-11

*

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty,

The whole earth is full of his glory.

Isaiah 6:3

Glory is… beauty and splendor. Worthy of praise, honor, and thanksgiving. The beatific happiness of heaven. A height of prosperity or achievement. – or so says Webster’s dictionary.

This post isn’t a cogent essay, or even an attempt at such. It is merely bits and pieces here and there – scriptures, songs, quotes – that point to the awesome glory of our God.

We worship a Glorious God. In Desiring God, John Piper says, “The chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy himself forever,” and that it is because of this that we find such complete satisfaction and pleasure in Him (33). The basic building blocks of this idea are:

The happiness of God in God is the foundation of our happiness in God.

If God did not joyfully uphold and display his glory, the ground of our joy would be gone.

God’s pursuit of praise from us and our pursuit of pleasure in him are in perfect harmony.

For God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. (Piper 50)

This is why acknowledging and praising his glory is important.

His creation reflects His glory. Nature. Newborn babies. Marriages. The person of Jesus Christ. Notwithstanding Christ, who is glory, everything else is a reflection of his glorious, wonderful, powerful nature – a testament of his love for us, that he shows us and lets us share in his glory. We are made complete in the praise of his glory and the satisfaction that follows. And that pleases him.

One of my favorite worship songs right now is “Everything Glorious” from David Crowder Band. The first time I heard (well, that I remember hearing it) was when I was driving back from Montana a few weeks ago. It was a Sunday morning, and my friends and I had our own church service in the car. We wound across the sprawling sort-of-mountains, over the hills. The clouds were so big and fluffy and close that you felt like if you stuck your hand out the window, you could touch them. As we drove down a hill that had clouds scattered across the landscape looking like cotton candy, this song was playing. The photos (taken in Utah) are courtesy of my friend A.S.

The day is brighter here with You

The night is lighter than its hue

Would lead me to believe

Which leads me to believe

(chorus)

You make everything glorious

You make everything glorious

You make everything glorious

And I am Yours

What does that make me?

My eyes are small but they have seen

the beauty of enormous things

Which leads me to believe

there’s light enough to see that

(chorus)

You make everything glorious

You make everything glorious

You make everything glorious

And I am Yours

From glory to glory

You are glorious You are glorious

From glory to glory

You are glorious. You are glorious

Which leads me to believe

why I can believe

You make everything glorious

You make everything glorious

You make everything glorious

And I am Yours

You make everything glorious

You make everything glorious

You make everything glorious

And I am Yours

He delights to show me his glory.

He delights when I delight in his glory.

I delight when acknowledging his glory brings me into a deeper understanding of his awesome, all-encompassing, knock-out, drop-dead gorgeous love.

Praise gives perspective.

How awesome it is that he lets us choose to revel in his glory.

It’s like splashing in the lake as a child. You’re only a few inches deep but it’s so good.

How much deeper can we go?

May 14, 2010

On Waiting

Fact: since I got into college, I have not received or been accepted to any job/school/internship to which I applied. Before every summer, I would be filled with anxiety about where I’d find work, because I’d apply and apply and apply and nothing would come through. So the summer after my freshman year, I waitressed at Perkins, a job I got via my mom’s connections. The summer after my sophomore year, I interned at a regional non-profit in my hometown, also received because of my mom. Last summer, I was the lead teacher for the K-5 kids in a summer program at a local daycare, something I got via my boyfriend’s connections.

God always came through.

And then this year, it was across-the-board rejections at graduate programs. I’ve also been rejected from a fellowship and an internship, and there are several positions that I started to apply for but that were filled before I could finish the application. Right now, I’m waiting to hear from a place I interviewed with about 2 1/2 weeks ago, and I’m also waiting to see if the resumes I sent out to some contacts are going to turn up anything. I’ve submitted my resume online to several job openings; nada.

You know what? God’s still coming through.

I’ve been learning a lot about waiting this past year. I don’t know what exactly this post is shaping up to be, but I want to encourage you – in whatever you’re waiting for – to keep persevering. There’s this great quote from Oswald Chambers that says, “He works where He sends us to wait.” There is work being done in the waiting. We learn so much more through waiting than we do through immediate gratification: patience, trust, and maybe wisdom, too.

This has, thus far, been the least anxiety filled May that I’ve had in the last four years, even though by others’ standards, it should be the worst. I’m graduating in two weeks. I don’t have a job. I didn’t get into grad school. I have few job prospects. Networking has not turned up anything thus far. … and yet God is faithful. He is doing a good work. I can sense it. I trust it.

There’s a reason I am not going to grad school this fall, and I think it has to do with learning to trust God and the gift He’s given me: writing. I am officially taking a year off, and I am feeling called in a powerful way to begin to send out my writing. To keep producing work and to start sending it out. It took closing every door possible to get me to pay attention that voice, that still small voice that’s been nagging at me for years.

In the midst of resounding silence, I’ve found a calling.

But I’m also learning to trust. To not freak out. To know that my Abba will do things in his own way and time, and that I’d just better keep praying and waiting. My dismal record of job applications shows that I’m pretty bad at getting work on my own, and yet He has always brought the perfect thing at the perfect time that taught me just what I needed to be taught. And so I’m trusting that He will find a way to provide for me. A voice of worry says, “You need to start paying student loans back in November.” And I pray, Lord, please help me find a way to pay them back. Trust.

I have grown so much more over the last few months because I’ve been waiting – and I am so grateful. At times, the months were anxiety filled; at times, my head was (literally) in the toilet, my emotions exacting a heavy toll from my physical body. But worry accomplishes nothing. Anxiety and fear accomplish nothing. That voice that says, you could be doing more, you should be doing more, you can do it alone – lies.

Ultimately, my confidence cannot lie in my own abilities. Plenty of people do everything right and have nothing turn out. My professors and various others have expressed fury on my behalf that [fill in the blank] didn’t work out. And you all probably know people like that, or perhaps you’ve been in that position or are in that position.

The good news is, we can have total confidence in the promises of our Savior. That he who begins a good work will be faithful to complete it. That he is with us always. That he gives wisdom to those who ask. That he will grant prayers for patience (oh, will he grant them!).

I’m going through a book by Angela Thomas, and the section for today was entitled Pray & Stand. I started to cry when I read one of the verses; it very much articulates where I’m at, and it is an awesome encouragement.

Ephesians 6:13 – “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

He gives us the strength to stand in the face of adversity, of trial, of desert places, of pain, of brokenness … even better, he is there with us. We can trust that he has a plan and a purpose, that – as “Desert Song” says – “All of my life, in every season, you are still God, I have a reason to sing… I have a reason to worship.”

When I’m unemployed, I have a reason to worship God. When I’m worried about how I’m going to pay the bills, I can trust him. When I’m filled with fear and anxiety, I can invite him in and watch as his awesome love casts everything else out. I know in my heart of hearts that he fights for me, that he loves me, and that even in the waiting – especially in the waiting – he is shaping me into the woman he wants me to be.

Psalm 118:1, 5-9, 13-14 – “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever …. In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free. The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? The Lord is with me; he is my helper … It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. …. I was pushed back and about to fall, but the Lord helped me. The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.”

May 12, 2010

Clarity vs. Trust

During my reading this morning, I came across a beautiful story told by the author of Ruthless Trust, Brennan Manning. He recounted his experience meeting Mother Teresa. When she asked how she could pray for him, he requested a prayer for clarity. But, to his surprise, she refused. When asked to elaborate, she said (and I’m paraphrasing) that clarity and trust were incompatible – that a prayer for clarity belies fear and a spirit that does not trust God.

We are called to trust what we cannot see, to trust the promises of God, and more often than not, a prayer for clarity is a prayer for clear direction – so that we can walk toward the visible rather than walking by faith. I am certainly guilty of this. While I think that praying for clarity (e.g. that we would sense His hand in a situation) is not in itself a bad thing, my prayers for clarity are so often out of fear of the future … mistrust. I know that I’ve abided in that very human, very dark spirit of fear and anxiety rather than abiding and trusting in my Maker.

I know I posted a portion of Romans 8 a few days ago, and I think these verses were in that post, but I just want to affirm the awesome power and hope that is in these verses:

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He alos justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:28-31

Be blessed today.

April 23, 2010

Happiness vs. Contentment

Filed under: Choices,Faith — jeannablue @ 2:37 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

So often, we hear “I’m just not happy” as an excuse, whether for leaving a relationship, a job, an obligation, a family. While a continued lack of happiness may be indicative of an issue in your life, happiness is an emotion that is impossible to sustain 24/7. Contentment, however, is something that can be sustained, primarily because it comes directly from the Creator.

There is a reason why the Bible does not often talk about happiness but rather joy and contentment. To be sure, happiness is a good emotion! We may be extraordinarily happy when witnessing the work of the Lord, be it through a sunset or a newborn baby. I know that I am happy when I see a loved one after a time apart. Happiness abounds when friends unite for good conversation and laughter. But happiness cannot be continuously sustained, and consequently, it cannot sustain us.

And this makes sense: happiness is a uniquely temporal, earthly emotion, I think – an honest one, a good one, one that can be wrapped up in joy and contentment, but one that is altogether divorced from joy and contentment.

I’m mentioning joy and contentment together, but I really want to focus on contentment because it is such a different animal than happiness or even joy. In Philippians 4:11, Paul says, “I have learned in whatever state I am to be content.”

Contentment happens in all situations, good and bad. You can be content in the face of anything. You cannot be happy in the face of anything. At least, most people find it difficult to be happy in every situation.

Happiness and contentment are different in the ways they play out in our lives. Personally, contentment is a lot harder. Happiness is an emotion often induced by action – be it laughter, good conversation, or going down a zipline over volcanoes in Guatemala. Contentment, on the flip side, is similar to peace in that it’s not initially an action. We can choose to be content or to accept the peace of the Lord, but it’s not something we can strive for.

Contentment is something we rest in and accept. Happiness is the result of something we do. Do you see the difference?

Contentment comes through resting in the everlasting arms of our comforter, our lover, Jesus Christ. Are you resting in His arms? Or are you striving against them?

Christ gives us so many reasons to trust Him, so many reasons to rest in Him. The beautiful promises of our awesome God abound throughout the Old and New Testaments. The following are a random assortment of promises spoken by Jesus in the some of the Gospels…

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8

“The very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore: you are of more value than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:30-31

“If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free…. If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed!” John 8:31, 36

“I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” John 10:10

“I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by my own…. My sheep hear My voice… and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” John 10:14, 27-28 (italics mine)

“In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 17:33

Do you hear the voice of your beautiful Savior? His very words promise knowledge of His truth, an abundant life, gifts that are good in His sight. He promises that He has overcome the world – for us. He sets us free from the confines of worry and pain, anxiety and a troubled heart… who the Son sets free is free indeed!

One of my favorite passages in all of Scripture is when Jesus tells us that He is the good shepherd and that we are His sheep. It is so humbling. I have no idea why He chooses us, but I am so very grateful that He does! What awesome gifts He gives us! What a blessing it is to be able to rest. In a troubled world filled with turmoil and tension, we as the beloved of Christ are offered rest… it is a free gift to any who believe in Him.

“I know My sheep, and am known by my own…. Neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand…”

That is why we can be content. Paul has learned in all things to be content – through shipwreck and snakebite and illness and prison and being jeered at and tormented… and this verse goes a long way in explaining why He is content. He knows his Savior, and his Saviors knows him, and Paul is able to rest in that. In the face of everything else, Paul knows that Jesus is right there with him. Paul was not alone, and we are not alone, either.

We are known by our Savior. You are known by Him. I am known by Him. Even when we do not acknowledge Him, He knows us. He loves us. He is the good shepherd who goes in search of His lost sheep.

Happiness comes and goes, and it is certainly fun, but I pray that it is not the litmus test that we measure our lives by. It is so inconstant, so reliant on our own selves and those around us. Contentment, though, is a guarantee from the one who put the stars in the sky. Contentment enables us to respond in faith to every situation. It is also perspective – contentment in the Lord gives us a good perspective on our lives.

Contentment = peace. No striving. No anxiety. No worry. Just an utter trust in our Lord and Savior. He is our Deliverer – He always delivers on His promises. His love never fails.

In all things, indeed, I am learning to be content. Lord, let that be so.

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