Saturday, July 30, 2011

Worship Song Sunday -- Shelter, by Sean Dayton

I do believe that the Lord led me to this song. Before today, I'd never heard of the song nor the artist, but as I listened to it, I was moved by the beautiful simplicity and comforting truth of the lyrics.

I was supposed to have been relaxing and enjoying my kids and their friends this past week while on vacation at the beach, but it seemed the enemy had other plans in mind. And that's a post for another day. So suffice it to say that after the week I just had, this song was like a soothing balm on a painful wound to me and the cry of my heart to Jesus.

I recently read that true worship not only recognizes the worthiness of God, but rejoices in it. I hope that this song will allow you to do just that.

Shelter, by Sean Dayton
Here I am again searching for a place
Where Your grace can show me rest
Will You lead me there with Your tenderness
With Your promise to protect
When I fall You lift me up
When I'm lost You are the way
You are my Shelter when strength is gone
You are my Refuge when pain holds on
And my soul finds rest..... in You Oh God

Here I am again leaning on Your strength
Leaning on Your faithfulness
You keep me sheltered here in Your warm embrace
A place to rest my head again
My fortress, my hiding place, my soul finds rest in You Oh God

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Just Enough Light

I’m at the beach on vacation this week with my kids and their two friends. Brigantine Beach is a lovely little town, hidden in the giant shadow of bawdy and obnoxious Atlantic City. So many people I’ve spoken with have never even heard of Brigantine Beach, and that’s fine by me. It’s quaint, it’s quiet, it’s friendly, it’s like the town that time forgot; you can actually go out somewhere for any length of time, leave your doors unlocked and windows open and come back to find nothing tampered with. We’ve been vacationing here for 8 years and I love this place.

I’ve done some dumb things here over the years. Once, I locked my keys in the car while I was at the Laundromat around the corner and had to pay a ridiculous amount of money to the garage across the street from it to come get them out. Another time, I ‘forgot’ to drink plenty of water on a very hot day while hanging out at the beach with my kids and a dear friend of mine, and wound up dehydrated, causing my one foot to cramp so severely that the beach EMTs had to drive over to our blanket, pick me up, place me in their vehicle and escort me back to the house. I’m not sure who was more mortified…me or my teenage son and daughter!

Tonight, while my kids and their friends took a walk over to the nearby park to play some tennis, I decided to stroll down to the beach by myself. I love to stand by the water with my feet in the cool, wet sand and watch and listen to the waves breaking. To me, there’s so much of God’s beauty and power and majesty in them, and God‘s presence seems so very intense there. When I started off, it wasn’t dark yet -- the sky still was still alight with some brilliant streaks of purple, pink and orange.

I walked quite a ways down from where I entered, lost in my thoughts and enjoying the deliciousness of being alone on the beach, so I didn’t really notice just how dark it had become until I turned away from the waves and looked towards the shore. I could see only a few lights from some houses in the distance. There was no shining full or even half moon to help illuminate my way back. My cell phone was useless, barely giving off enough light for me to see the hand I was holding it in. And over the years, my night vision seems to have gotten worse and worse. For a moment or two, I was gripped by anxiety and a small bit of fear, wondering how in the world I was going to find my way to the path through the dunes and to the street, it was THAT dark. I imagined my kids and their friends coming back to an empty house and calling me on my cell, only to be told, “Mom’s lost on the beach!” Ahh yes, another mortifying experience to add to the list.

I whispered out loud, “Jesus, this place is so beautiful, but PLEASE GET ME OUT.” I was trusting Him to guide me back. I looked down onto the sand and realized there was just enough light there for me to take the next step…and another…and another. I looked towards where I had come from earlier, but still saw nothing but pitch black darkness in the distance ahead. I could only see what was directly in front of me, and I was trusting in Jesus for each and every slow and steady step. I plodded along slowly and carefully, eventually making it off the beach.

As I headed home down a well lit street, I thought about how this little scenario related to my life. There have been times in my past where the destination ahead looked extremely dark, hopeless and foreboding. The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel seemed nonexistent, and I had no idea how I was going to make it from Point A to Point B. And sometimes, I wasn’t all that certain there even WAS a Point B. Fear, doubt and anxiety danced around me like some demented playmates, taunting me loudly. I’m currently journeying down another one of these paths. A simple phone call earlier in the day brought some disheartening news and the future of someone close to me may be in for an unexpected and unwelcome change. After the phone call ended, I just lowered my head and burst into tears. Right now, it looks pretty dark and ominous up ahead, and I must admit, I‘m anxious and somewhat afraid. Yet through all of these kinds of moments and seasons, Jesus reminds me that I don’t need to be anxious or worried or afraid or even doubtful about anything. No matter how dark it looks, He simply asks me to cry out to Him and to trust Him to give me just enough light for the next step I am to take.

Just Enough Light for the Step I’m On
Sometimes only the step I’m on,
or the very next one ahead,
is all that is illuminated for me,
God gives just the amount of light I need
for the exact moment I need it.

At those times I walk in surrender to faith,
unable to see the future
and not fully comprehending the past.

And because it is God who has given me
what light I have,
I know I must reject the fear and
doubt that threaten to overtake me.

I must determine to be content where
I am, and allow God to get me where I
need to go.
I walk forward,
one step at a time,
fully trusting that
the light God sheds
is absolutely sufficient.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Worship Song Sunday --Healer, by Kari Jobe

You hold my very moment
You calm my raging seas,
You walk with me through fire
And heal all my disease
I trust in You,
Lord I trust in You

I believe You're my healer
I believe You are all I need
I believe
And I believe You're my portion
I believe You're more than enough for me
Jesus You're all I need

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Under Attack

This past Monday night was the kick off for my church's Vacation Bible School (or Kids Camp, as they call it now). This is the first time in 11 years that I've never really been deeply involved in it. I'm just kind of there for support for two dear friends of mine who are heading up the station I'd done for several years. So there’s not much stress on me this time around, no running around like the crazy woman that I can be, decorating, setting up, trying to buy every item for our room that I think we could possibly need for the week (it’s the snack room for VBS station leaders and helpers). All I really did for the first night was to print out a sign for the door so people knew where we were, burn a music CD to play in the background as the volunteers sit and relax and chat for a few minutes during their break, run out to buy some coffee from Dunkin Donuts, and then help with clean up at the end of the evening. Compared to other years, this was a cake walk.

My kids and I returned home close to 10:00 PM, and got ready for bed. I was really tired, not because of anything I did (again, all minimal stuff), but because it’s extremely humid this week with temps soaring into the high 90s. Even with air conditioning, this weather just drains me. I laid down in bed, all prepared to get a good night's sleep heart started to pound, and my mind began racing faster than NASCAR driver Kyle Busch at the Nationwide Series race this past weekend.

And the thoughts that were on absolutely frightening and ugly. I lay there paralyzed for awhile by the fear and anxiety that suddenly had me in its grip. I tried to pray, but couldn't.  Those dark, anxious thoughts just kept tripping me up. I tried quoting Scripture in my head, but I couldn't remember a single one. I kept getting stuck. It was like I was brain dead and that scared me even more. I tried deep breathing exercises...yeah, those exercises they teach you during childbirthing classes that NEVER WORK while you're in labor.  Well, they didn't work this time, either. I tossed, I turned, I sat up, I cried, I went downstairs for water and grabbed my iPod, hoping music would distract and calm me.  Wrong.  I can probably name  every single, solitary song I listened to in my musical library.  NOTHING helped. And those ugly, dark, fearful and anxious thoughts just kept coming, surrounding me, dancing around in my brain. I realized that this was no doubt spiritual warfare, a horrific attack on my mind and my heart, although for the life of me, I can't see that I'm doing anything tremendous for the LORD this year at VBS, so why all the flaming missiles headed my way? Maybe because both of my teens are involved as volunteers? Perhaps even our smallest, most humble acts of service for the LORD are able to cause some big ripples in the lives of other people, big enough ripples to enrage the enemy and bring us under attack. Knowing this, however, did nothing to comfort me. I felt like I was dying. All I could do was whisper the Name of Jesus, over and over, begging Him for some relief.

As it began to get light, I fell asleep for about 30 minutes or so, and then my 'dog alarm' went Doberman, Casey, wakes me up every day with her big dog snout in my face, or she'll paw at me until I acknowledge her and move off the bed and towards the bag of dog food awaiting her in the kitchen. I was a great, big wreck as I stumbled downstairs, mind still racing, heart still pounding.  After I fed the dog, I sat before the LORD and cried and continued to beg for some relief from this attack.  I could barely focus, I was shaking and in pain. Trying to function on half an hour of sleep while trying to deal with what felt like a never ending anxiety attack will do that to you. I picked up my "Jesus Calling" book and the first few lines of yesterday’s entry hit me like a wave of cool water:

"Bring Me all your feelings, even the ones you wish you didn't have. Fear and anxiety still plague you. Feelings per se are not sinful, but they can be temptations to sin. Blazing missiles of fear fly at you day and night; these attacks from the evil one come at you relentlessly."

YIKES!!!  He KNEW!!  Why did I think my LORD hadn’t been listening, that He wasn’t aware of my awful plight? Of COURSE He heard and knew. I eagerly looked up the Scripture references for that day, and Isaiah 12:2 was the verse that I held tightly to throughout the day:

"Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD, is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation.”
Later in the day, the LORD used a phone call, three email messages and a face book chat from three sweet sisters-in-Christ (thank You, Jesus, for Cecilia, Toni and Linda!) to bring me some much needed encouragement and prayerful support.  Linda, who sent me the three separate emails, had NO idea what I was going through at the time, yet each email was brimming with God’s Word, and messages from Him that I needed to hear to remind me that He was in control, He was for me and not against me, He was on my side, He was holding my hand, I could cast ALL my anxieties on Him, and that His perfect peace would guard my heart and my mind through this attack and future attacks.  All those truths I seem to forget about when I'm falling apart at the seams.

I’m happy to say that as the day went on and into Night Two of VBS, I was no longer tired, in pain, cranky or anxiety ridden. No small miracle to me! My mind slowed down to normal, my fearful thoughts had stopped bombarding me and I felt a peace that could only have come from Jesus. And, later, I was able to get 7 ½ hours of sweet, uninterrupted sleep! I’m so thankful to my Jesus for these simple, yet to me, powerful blessings.

I’ve included the beautiful picture that my friend, Linda, sent to me in one of her emails. It’s a picture taken at Sandy Cove, where our church holds its annual women’s retreat, and it’s a place which I always associate with the LORD’s perfect peace and true, loving presence.  I'm in awe that He knew exactly what I needed. 

Our God is greater, our God is stronger
God You are higher than any other
Our God is Healer, awesome in power
Our God, Our God…

And if Our God is for us, then who could ever stop us
And if our God is with us, then what can stand against? ~ Our God, by Chris Tomlin

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Worship Song Sunday - Your Love Oh Lord, by Third Day

"Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” ~John 4:23-24

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Come Home

Trying to live life apart from God, once you've tasted life WITH Him, is exhausting, painful and lonely.  So very lonely. And empty.  Jesus once told His disciples, "Apart from Me, you can do nothing."  That strength and power and 'joi de vivre' that comes from your life being interwoven with Christ's are gone when you choose to turn your back on Him and disconnect yourself from Him completely.  Not only can you DO nothing...there IS nothing. Nothing compares to Jesus. Nothing compares to being His very own and having Him as your first Love, your best Friend, your Hero, Confidante, Redeemer, Protector and Savior. I relearned this lesson the hard way this past week as I willingly took on the role of the rebellious, prodigal child and engaged in a one-sided game of Hide and Seek with the Lord. It was a foolish, no win game of my own choice and proved to be a very dark existence for me. Colors in the landscape no longer seemed vibrant. My Bible sat in a far corner of my room, untouched and without any daily connection and conversation with the Lord, the silence was deafening. I felt so alone. I had a dream a few days ago in which I found myself trapped in a tiny jail cell, the kind they put you in when you're in solitary confinement. I remember feeling completely panic stricken, barely able to move or breathe. I certainly didn't need a psychiatrist or counselor to explain the meaning behind that dream.

On my solitary journey this week, I came to realize that my faith and my trust in Jesus, as well as my relationship with Him, are not as strong as I thought them to be. I came to realize that it's much easier for me to blame all of my problems and heartaches on Him, rather than doing the harder, necessary work of looking deeply and carefully into my own heart and life, and taking responsibility for what's there. I came to realize that as long as I continue  struggling to take control of everyone and everything, determined to live a life of self-sufficiency, my reliance and dependence on the Lord will be a moot point.  All in all, some humbling revelations for me. This morning, I was ready to stop running and hiding and playing at life.  This morning, I was ready to sit at the feet of my Jesus....and just listen to the gentle, loving Voice of One Who has been right beside me the whole time, inviting me to come back to Him.  I was welcome.  I was missed.  I was loved. 

It's good to be home.

You can try to fix your broken empire
And put bricks on a cracked foundation
But you'd be building castles on the sand
But there's power in the blood of Jesus
Your Father's screaming 'just come home!'
And He's reaching out His hands

I know you've been running, searching for something
But you're looking in a place you don't belong
It's never too late, you can't outrun grace
No, Mercy doesn't care what you've done
So Come Home 
So Come Home ~ "Come Home, by Luminate

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Running From God

Yesterday was a bad day for me.  In fact, to use the title of a children's book, it was a:

Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

Not the entire day, mind you.  The day began very peacefully.  It was almost like a Disney movie in Technicolor, with little woodland creatures frolicking around and birds happily chirping in the background up until That Moment.  That Moment when I lost my temper and opened my big, ugly mouth and let the verbiage fly forth, like those hideous winged creatures in the Lord of the Rings.

It started off as a simple trip to the bank and the library, but it ended in a War of the Worlds battle and we never did get to where we were going. Instead of responding like an adult to my two teens' constant bickering with each other and with me, I reacted like a spoiled, rotten child. I allowed my anger and my frustration to get the better of me and the vile, hurtful words just spewed out of me.  That's the bad thing about words....once you say them, you can't grab them back.  They just kind of hang there in the atmosphere for a bit, like a smelly green mist. And then they attach themselves to the minds and hearts of those who are the unlucky victims of the verbal attack, much like barnacles attach themselves to oceanfront piers....and they don't let go. There's no playbacks, no rewrites, no alternate endings in this kind of script.  Vocal arrows strike hard, their poison goes deep and does it damage well.

I stayed angry and resentful and hostile for the rest of the day.  Sitting out in our backyard, I hoped to calm down, but the opposite occured.  I just angrily boiled away, like a black cauldron of witches' brew, feeling and thinking things that no good Christian mom (or any mom, for that matter) should EVER feel and think towards her family. I questioned my maturity and my parenting skills.  I questioned whether I should have ever become a mother. I wondered if this is how Casey Anthony may have felt. And that scared me to death. So I shoved the thought far away. But still I seethed.

Later, my one teen, who is always the first one to come and seek forgiveness and offer forgiveness when I screw up, tried to do so.  And I'm ashamed to admit it, but I blew them off.  Told them I had nothing to say and to go back in the house and leave me alone, which they very quietly and meekly did.  It was at that precise moment that I heard the still, small voice of God encouraging me to come to Him, to talk to Him, to let it all out.  But I purposely brushed His voice away like one brushes away an annoying mosquito that keeps buzzing in their ear.  I didn't want to talk to God, and I SURE didn't want to listen to what He had to say either. I didn't want to hear about forgiveness. I didn't want to hear about anything.  I ceased listening. I ceased caring.  And for a time, He ceased speaking.  What a lonely, deafening silence it was.

Oh, I fell, and fell hard yesterday.   Do you remember back when you were a little kid, running fast, then you tripped and fell hard?  It felt like you had the wind knocked out of you.  Well, that's how I felt, only I felt like I had my spirit knocked out of me.  I didn't just take a few steps backward in my journey.  No, I went back light years, back to the wide path, back to the old me. And who should be there to greet me on that path but an old, familiar demon of mine: alcohol. I haven't had a real drink in years (a sip of beer here and there) but yesterday, the voice of the enemy replaced Jesus' and his was the voice I heard loud and clear, saying, "Why not? Have a couple of cold ones, who's gonna care? You know you'll feel better!"  And I wanted to so badly, just to shut up the stupid voice and to also stop the feelings of anger, guilt, shame and pain that kept rising to the surface. 

The battle inside of me raged for almost an hour. It was ugly and exhausting.  I wish I could tell you I had an epiphany moment and cried out to Jesus for help, and that I called on some of my godly gal pals for prayer support, as I always encourage them to do. But I remained silent. I'm great at handing out sage advice, obviously not so great at following it myself.   Thankfully, however, I didn't give in.  And I'd have to chalk that up to God's loving mercy and grace, in spite of my stupidity, my stubbornness and my silent treatment towards Him. The remainder of the evening, I kept to myself, not saying much to anyone, doing what I do best during times I act like a total jerk: I cleaned and decluttered portions of my house. I'm certain my garbage men will be thrilled to death when they pull up to my place on garbage day.  Tired, embarrassed, disgusted with myself and fairly depressed, I went to bed early.

Today is a brand new day. I wish I could report that everything is just peachy keen right now.  But it isn't.  My one teen again came to me to ask for forgiveness for the part they played in this nasty little scenario and also to say that they forgave me.  We have made peace, and for that I'm grateful.  When I humbled myself before my other teen to ask for their forgiveness and wanting to talk it over, I was met with extreme coldness. While they said they forgave me, their manner, attitude and voice conveyed a different story to me. It sickens me to know I've done some major damage to this child's heart and spirit. And I'm at a loss as to what to do, if anything, to reverse it. 

And God?  Well, I'm not proud to say that He continues to wait patiently for me as I do everything to avoid meeting and talking with Him.  Like a wounded, bleeding animal, I'm tearfully snarling at and running and hiding from the very One Who could help and heal me. And I'm not sure why. I am quite the prodigal today.  Struggling for control of my life.  Not yet to the point of brokenness.  Not ready to choose to make my way back into the forgiving arms of the faithful, ever-on-the-lookout Father.

Why are you striving these days?
Why are you trying to earn grace?
Why are you crying?
Let me lift up your face
Just don't turn away.

Why are you looking for love?
Why are you still searching as if I'm not enough?
To where will you go, child?
Tell Me where will you run
To where will you run?

And I'll be by your side
Wherever you fall
In the dead of night
Whenever you call
And please don't fight
These hands that are holding you
My hands are holding you ~'By Your Side,' by Tenth Avenue North

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Worship Song Sunday -- We Welcome You, by CeCe Winans--(Live)

Several years ago, a dear, sweet woman whom I was blessed to call my friend, sister-in-Christ, prayer partner and spiritual mentor, lay in a hospital bed, waiting for her Lord to bring her home after a very long and valiant battle with cancer. As I entered her room, the first thing I heard were the noises from the various machines that she was hooked up to. But as I drew closer to my friend's bed, I could hear something else. It was coming from the CD player next to her, and it was this song, We Welcome You, by CeCe Winans.  Standing there, the other noises in the room seemed to disappear, and all I could hear was the music.  I had this overwhelming desire to take off my shoes right there in my friend's hospital room, because it suddenly felt as if I was standing on holy ground, in the presence of the Lord.

Today, may this song do the same for you, gently leading you into His holy, loving presence. Feel free to take off your shoes.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Jesus Says.....

Jesus says:

Search for Me tirelessly
Pursue Me relentlessly
Pray to Me unceasingly
Listen to Me carefully
Wait for Me expectantly
Accept Me willingly
Live for Me joyfully
Hold onto Me tightly
Share Me unashamedly
Love Me sacrificially
Trust in Me confidently
Obey Me faithfully
Serve Me humbly
Speak of Me courageously
Worship Me authentically
Praise Me IN SPITE OF......
Endure with Me patiently
Surrender to Me always
Have faith in Me completely
Confess to Me honestly

Love others unconditionally
Forgive others sincerely
Give to others unselfishly
Extend mercy and grace to others consistently
And don't give up

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Bathroom Musings

Some people have said they do their best thinking in the bathroom.  Don't worry....I promise this won't be ugly.

Last night, I was in the bathroom, brushing my teeth while my mind was going over several different conversations I’d had with friends over the past few weeks in relation to hard times and struggles they’ve been dealing with. It seems that whenever we open our hearts and share our difficulties, SOMEONE will typically come up with the reasoning that God is allowing this or that in our lives to (a) strengthen us; (b) to build up our character or ( c) to teach us a life lesson (and yes, more often than not, I’ve been guilty of being that SOMEONE). C’mon, ‘fess up people…aren’t we all so tired of hearing that? I’ve got to admit there are many times when I feel absolutely no comfort or encouragement whatsoever from this sort of reasoning. But like Job’s friends, I guess we feel the need to say something. It makes us feel kind of good and smart and in control, doesn‘t it?

Truth is, we really can’t know for sure why God does what He does, and for us to act as if and say we do, even if done/said innocently enough, is just plain crazy. Because if we -- little peons that we are with our finite minds in this massively great universe that God has created and holds in His arms -- think we’ve got God all figured out as to why He’s doing or allowing one thing or another to take place, then to me, it stands to reason He just wouldn’t be God, would He? He would be just like one of us, as in the Joan Osborne song: ‘What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us, Just a stranger on the bus, trying to make His way home.’
And personally, I don’t want a God that I can figure out on my own like some cheap mystery novel. I don’t want someone just like me in charge of and in control of my life (because I sure haven‘t done such a stellar job with it so far). I want someone bigger, stronger, smarter, better, more majestic and mind boggling as my God and King! Our finite minds truly can’t wrap themselves around our great God, who is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. He’s amazing, incredible, sovereign, awesome and totally unfathomable! And even though Scripture says that ‘God does not change like shifting shadows’ (James 1:17) and ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever’ (Hebrews 13:8), every moment with Him in our lives is a new adventure and can very often be quite surprising to us (but certainly not to Him).

For as long as we live and as much as we know and long to know about our Lord, He will always remain a mystery, like an over-the-top scientific equation we just cannot figure out, no matter how hard we try. God is Divine…and we are not. God is in control…and we are not (and HalleLUjah for that!). He may allow trials, pain and suffering in your life and mine and an overabundance of joy, favor and blessings in the lives of Little Mary Sunshine and Joe Schmoe from down the street, or vice versa -- all for reasons we just can’t claim to know or understand.

So if we feel we must say something to someone who’s been struggling just to keep their head above water for what feels like forever, maybe it’s best to just own up and say, ‘Look…I’ve got no idea what God is doing or why He’s allowing this to go on in your life. I just know that HE knows, He loves us, and that we have to trust Him for and with everything and everyone in our lives.’

It’s raw…it’s real…it’s honest…but not easy to accept. So let’s keep encouraging one another as we travel along this journey together.  And keep holding onto our Lord -- because He's got us and will NEVER let us go.

I know it seems
Like this could be
The darkest day you've known
But believe you me
The God of strength
Will never let you go
He will overcome, I know

And the arms that hold the universe
Are holding you tonight
You can rest inside
It's gonna be alright
And the Voice that calmed the raging sea
Is calling you His child
So be still and know He's in control
He will never let you go~ 'Arms That Hold The Universe', by Fee

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Worship Song Sunday - The Way, by Jeremy Camp

It's amazing to me when I think that on any given Sunday, in churches all over this state alone, literally thousands of people are lifting up their voices, their faces, their hands and hearts to the Lord Jesus Christ in worship of Him, all at the same time.  Different songs, different words, different voices, different languages, but all as one beautiful melody in His ear.  Let's worship our King, my friends.

All creation cries out with longing
With groans only You can comprehend
And with wisdom, You always answer
And give the words of life so unfailing

And Your glory shines all around us
Your faithfulness shown for all to see
When we think of all of Your wonders
The beauty of Your plan that's been revealed
We walk in Your light, we walk in it

Shine, bright
Let Your glory fill this land
Lift high, the King of Kings and great I Am
Jesus, You are the Way

We can see the works of Your loving hands
With a hope and peace not made by man
When You poured out Your grace and Your mercy
And You held out Your arms so we could see
You bled for all mankind and set the captives free

Shine, bright
Let Your glory fill this land
Lift high, the King of Kings and great I Am
Jesus, You are the Way
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