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Object Lesson One: Just a Box of Junk

It looked like nothing more than a box of junk, the kind of thing a kid might keep under the bed, filled with odds and ends, bits of paper and plastic, string and beads.

Instead, the owner transformed this simple junk into magical objects filled with wisdom and fun. The owner was a young church leader in charge of the jovenes (teenagers and unmarrieds) and his particular skill set was using everyday objects, a little sleight of hand, and a dash of science to teach simple object lessons about faith in Jesus. I sat spell bound, even though I’d seen better “magic” acts. What made this spectacular was the enthusiasm and the wisdom with which this young man performed the simple tricks and the humble way he used them to draw interest into his message – faith in Christ.

Watching him demonstrate his routine for the youth group, I realized how often I dismiss people or ideas as “valueless” or “timewasters” or “unimportant” just because they don’t fit my preconceived ideas. I wonder how many of my students I have overlooked because they didn’t fit in, didn’t “sit up straight and pay attention,” insisted on doing it their own way, or just because they “looked” like they couldn’t do the assignment? How many adults have I ignored simply because I didn’t have time for their “nonsense”, “whining”, or “babbling?” How many times have I felt the sting when someone felt the same about me, dismissing my ideas, my interests, my skills as “pointless”?

There is a lesson in this humble box of junk for all of us. Life means variety. Life thrives on difference and individuality. Trying to force everyone into a single mode, a single mindset is anti-life. “Isn’t that exactly what religion does? Force everyone into a single mindset?” some will argue. And they are right. Religion, philosophy, government – all these do try to force people into a single mindset because people are easier to control that way. However, faith in Christ is not religion. People have taken various aspects of it and turned it into a religion, not faith in Christ. “Oh, you’re just splitting hairs,” some will accuse.

No, I’m  not. Religion follows a set of specific rules which burden its followers. But faith in Christ follows two principles: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul. And love your enemies/neighbors as Christ has loved you.

And that, my friends, leaves us wide open to all the billions of ways to express that kind of love because we are all individuals. Love isn’t a burden. True love sets us free to be enthusiastic, creative, joyful, different.

Plot Twists

“Life is a book and there are a thousand pages I have not yet read.” Will Herondale

I don’t know who Will Herondale is, but he is quite right. Anyone who thinks life is boring or humdrum or not worth living simply isn’t living. When I was in high school I had my life all mapped out. Go to college, get a degree in journalism, and serve on the mission field writing news stories.

Like well-written books, a well-lived life has plot twists; although, I missed the first one in the midst of language school, cultural adaptation, and family life. I did graduate and did wind up on the mission field; however, no one seemed to want my services as a writer covering the various stories and events happening on the mission field. I wrote those stories in our letters home to family and friends. In spite of the curve in the road, I found a way to pursue my passion.

The curve turned into a plot twist where the “career girl” became a stay at home mom, and I still found time to write in the midst of bottles, diapers, meal planning and laundry. The unexpected direction filled my life with its share of troubles and unspeakable joys.

The next plot twist was equally unexpected, but more overt as we left the mission field to return stateside. We assumed we would always be on the mission field until we retired. Now we were no longer missionaries, but also right back where we started—in the same rural area serving the same small church. Ironic, but satisfying, and we had a wealth of experience and wisdom we would have missed out on.

Fast forward a few years to a time our last two children are in high school and the chance of a lifetime drops in my life. After 20 something years I finally get to use my journalism degree as editor of a small town newspaper. My ultimate dream job ended after four years as a new plot twist emerged.

Today I find myself teaching at a local high school. Back when I was in college I had no illusions about being a teacher. I wasn’t cut out for it; my personality didn’t fit in with being cooped up in a small room teaching the same thing over and over. Routine wasn’t for me. Yet I find myself strangely satisfied with this new chapter in my life even though the challenges some days leaving me feeling like I’ve gone a few rounds with a rancor. What will be in the next chapter? I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

Life’s plot twists are a good lesson for writers, who might mistake the humdrum and ordinary for extraneous material. It’s within those bits and pieces of ordinary life that one’s characters develop the strength and fortitude for handling the extraordinary times. Not all plot twists have to be earth shattering or life altering; they merely need to develop a new layer to one’s character and move the character forward on their journey.

Enjoy the detours.

Mind blowing Love

A lot of people, including Christians, have a mistaken idea of sin and its consequences. Most view sin as a stumbling block that prevents God’s love from reaching us, or as a breaking of law that requires God to punish us.

Yes, sin has consequences, but the true tragedy of sin is often overlooked. Sin separates us from God, not the other way around. You see, God’s view of us doesn’t change. He sees us the way He has always seen us, as sinners, imperfect, impure. Even the best of us fail to match up to His standards, so we are all in the same boat—lost. When a person accepts Christ’s matchless atonement, God sees us through the forgiveness of Christ’s blood which washes away all sin, making us pure, forgiven, perfect. Those are the only two ways God views humanity and all our efforts, actions, strivings, and longings can’t change it.

The tragedy of sin isn’t that it changes how God views us; the tragedy is that sin changes how we view God. Sin reorders our priorities, warps our sense of right and wrong, infects us with a debilitating cancer of doubt and disbelief. It transforms us from people who can see clearly to people who “see through a glass darkly.” Our view of God changes from someone who “loves us with an everlasting love” to a mean and vindictive, capricious omnipotent being out to get us.

Have you ever had a friend who did something bad to you? Perhaps you forgave the friend because you felt the friendship was worth keeping, but your friend continues to avoid you, justifying his actions by assuming you wouldn’t forgive him, or that his actions were just “too terrible.” After time, the friend begins to tell other people how bad you are and that you abandoned the friendship. Hits a bit close to home, yes? Magnify those attitudes by the factor of God’s greatness and you begin to get a glimpse of what sin does in our lives, how it fractures the relationship on our side. The longer we wallow in sin, the harder it is for us to ask forgiveness and seek out the same God who is constantly pursuing us with love and mercy.

Romans 5:8 says it plainly and simply, “But God demonstrates his own love toward us, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He didn’t wait for us to “get good, get clean, get better.” He chose to love us when we were fractured, messed up beings without any value or worth. Christ’s atonement didn’t make us better; it made us forgiven. So even when we still mess up, still don’t get it right, still make wrong choices, He sees us as forgiven—not by our actions, but by His.

Happily Ever After

A comment by a student of mine this past year, coupled with our anniversary this weekend, prompts this blog:

“Mrs. Parsons, how long have you been married?”

“Thirty-three years.”

“How can you stay married to someone that long?”

“If you do it right, it’s easy.”

At first I was a bit disturbed by the student’s assumption that marriages don’t last long; then I realized that according to movies and television, relationships are as changeable as shirts; and most of these students have blended parents—sometimes multiple times over. I have lived long enough to see long term, stable marriages become the exception rather than the rule, and the faerytale principle of “and they lived happily ever after” diminish from an assumed expectation to something that only happens in books.

Thirty-three years and four children later, we’ve fallen under the “happily ever after” category. Unlike the movies, however, “happily ever after” takes a lot of hard work, teamwork, and sacrifice.   I’m not saying those three things always spell a happy marriage because life tends to take a toll on even the most resilient folks. Yet there are a few sure fire ways to do it right.

I married my best friend. Contrary to the current American belief that relationships are formed based on looks, the best ones start with looking for character. Bruce and I spent a lot of time getting to know each other before deciding to get married. Since our courtship was pre-cell phone days while living in two different states, we wrote a lot of letters (daily, seven days a week for two years). We spent a lot of time finding out our common interests, likes, dislikes, what we thought of children, marriage, work roles, and whether we laughed at the same jokes. By the time Bruce proposed, he was my best friend.

We share the same faith. I know it sounds trite and corny and definitely not PC; however, a shared faith becomes a stable foundation for any relationship. We followed the same code of right and wrong, had the same source of strength and support, and came closer together through worship of the same God. Instead of dividing our household, our faith undergirded and protected our relationship.

We laugh together. From the very start of our relationship, laughter has seasoned and cemented our love. Bruce wanted someone to appreciate his sense of humor and I needed someone to keep me from being a dour and too serious person. Together we can laugh and share jokes even when everyone around us doesn’t get it. And after 33 years, we’ll see something, shoot each other a glance and burst into giggles without a word as if we’re reading each other’s mind.

In today’s world with the hateful rhetoric of women’s rights, male bashing, and hatred of marriage, I’d like to state “for the record,” that marriage can be delightful. I am my own person and Bruce is his own person. We didn’t “give up” our personalities and one doesn’t dominate the other. We have a shared partnership that grows sweeter and more wonderful each year we are together.

We hold hands and we’d rather spend time with each other than anybody else. We definitely don’t fit the stereotype of married couples in today’s society and that’s okay. Maybe that’s why we are still married and living “happily ever after.”

The Invisible Girl

Between studying for my teacher certification exam, teaching classes all day, family, and the holidays, time to keep up with this blog has been rather thin.  So for your holiday enjoyment, I present a very, very short, different kind of Christmas story.  See you all in January!

The Invisible Girl

Melea Anderson was invisible.

She stood at the cluttered counter, the ice puddling in her soft drink as the clerk ignored her.

Two customers pushed past her and placed their purchases on the counter. The clerk looked up, nodded, and chatted with the two women while he rang up the items. The ladies left, and Melea found herself at the front of the counter once again.

“Excuse me.” She hoped she could catch the clerk’s attention before he became involved in tidying up the area around the register. But her voice seemed to be as insubstantial as she was.

“Excuse me.” This time she set her cup on the counter and waved her hand in the clerk’s face.

He frowned and answered the Bluetooth clipped to his right ear.

Melea sighed soundlessly.

After a moment, he rang up her purchase, his eyes never making contact, his attention centered on the phone call.

As she walked to the car with her now-diluted drink, Melea considered the sad state of her life.

It wasn’t as if she were a tiny thing. At five foot eight inches in her stocking feet, she massed a good deal of space. But something about her – personality, mannerisms, something — made her unnoticeable.

She halted in the parking lot and considered the unpalatable drink she held. Melea tossed it in the trash can and closed her eyes.

She found herself on a silvered beach, gun metal grey waves lapping the sand at her feet.

The setting sun stained the sky raspberry pink laced with strips of thin ribbons of white cloud. In the distance, she could hear the seabirds; the high pitched lonely keen stabbed her heart.

Melea sat on the sand and wrapped her arms around her knees as tears tracked silent trails down her face.

*****

“Mom! Hey, Mom!” Thirteen-year-old Melea raced into the sun-lit kitchen, sheets of notebook paper clutched in her hand. The smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies tickled her nose.

Her mother stood at the stove, lifting the still warm cookies onto a platter. Melea’s little brother, Peter, sat at the bar, his feet drumming against the counter as he chattered about his latest video game.

“And then, three big dragons came up through the dungeon floor.”

“Mom, Mrs. Athleberry gave me an A plus on my essay.” Melea vibrated with happiness and held the papers out for her mother to see.

“That’s nice, dear. Dragons, oh my. How ever did you manage to take on three dragons at once?” Mrs. Anderson smiled at Peter and put another cookie on his plate.

“I charged up my sword to level six and launched my tsunami attack.” Peter crammed another cookie in his mouth, his free arm demonstrating the attack.

“She said my essay was erudite. I had to look up the word. It means ‘showing profound knowledge.’ Isn’t erudite a wonderful word?” Melea laid the paper on the counter where her mother would be sure to see it.

Mrs. Anderson laid the platter of cookies on top of the paper and ruffled Peter’s dark curls. “You’ll have to show me how you beat those nasty dragons after supper, okay, Pete?”

The light went out of Melea’s face as bitterness washed over her. She felt hot tears sting the backs of her eyes and blinked to keep them from falling. Without a word, she turned and walked out of the kitchen, head down, shoulders slumped.

*****

Melea couldn’t recall the exact moment when she discovered a gift for slipping through time. Perhaps it was in high school when as an embarrassed junior she wanted to disappear. Two of her classmates had discussed a rather large portion of her anatomy as they passed her in the halls. The girls weren’t deliberate in their actions; they just didn’t see her shrinking against the wall to avoid being trampled. Mortified, Melea wished the earth would open up and swallow her. A heartbeat later, she stood on the parapet of a castle overlooking a battlefield.

Afterward she assumed the lecture in history class about the Battle of Hastings determined her destination. Whatever the reason, she learned to sideslip through time whenever the mood took her, escaping from an invisible physical world to become an invisible observer in time.

She didn’t know what physical laws kept her grounded in the past without allowing her to touch or hold anything. She couldn’t walk through walls or fly through the air, but no one could touch her, hear her, or even see her. People walked through her; she had even slipped and fallen down a cliff once without being hurt. She could see and hear without leaving any impression on the past.

Melea found it ironic in light of the her inability to make any impression on the present as well.

Even being an eye witness to history didn’t help distinguish her. Only once had a professor commented on the accuracy of a paper she had written; the remainder gave her an A and singled out other students’ papers for recognition.

*****

She stayed on the silver beach as the light fled ahead of the darkness. A cool breeze brought a million stars with it, sprinkling the night like heavenly fireflies.

“Isn’t there someone, somewhere who can see me?” The whisper blended with the night, an unseen plea fraught with the shards of her shattered heart.

Melea laid her head on her arms and closed her eyes and wished she’d never been born.

A gentle coo drifted across her senses, its feather light touch soothing her bleeding emotions.

Startled, she opened her eyes to a lamp-lit room with rough walls. Fear skittered along her spine. She’d never time slipped from one place to another. Each trip always returned her to her own time frame, although she could time slip multiple times in one day.

Melea blinked, yet the scene remained the same.

A young girl and older man hovered over a hay-filled stone trough. The scent of the green fodder tickled Melea’s nose.

Inside the trough, wrapped in a brown cloth lay a baby, the lamplight glinting off the soft down on the baby’s head.

Intrigued, Melea crept closer, even though she knew the couple couldn’t see her. She peeked over the edge as the baby opened its eyes and stared upward at her.

Shock sparked like lightning along her nerves as the baby’s gaze held her immobile.

Melea fought to breathe as recognition filled the child’s eyes. She could feel the smile in those tiny eyes as the child’s entire personality poured into her soul, wrapping her in warmth and love.

A small hand lifted free of the blankets swathing the infant.

Hesitant, fearful lest this be one more cruel joke the universe played upon her, Melea stretched out a finger.

The little hand closed around her finger and held on.

Tears poured from Melea’s eyes. “How? How can you see me? How do you know me?”

The child’s parents were as oblivious to her presence as every other person she had met in her life.

Yet the baby saw her.

Deep in her soul something stirred. The chains which bound her spirit in doubt and despair thinned and melted into nothingness. Melea basked in the sunshine of the baby’s love and felt wings of hope unfurl.

The scuffle of sandaled feet sent a curl of anxiety through her stomach, but Melea refused to look away from the baby. If she looked away, she might lose the connection, the sense of acknowledgment that defined her for the first time in her life.

Along the edges of her vision, she noticed rough-dressed, bearded men and boys crowd around the trough, their clothes smelling of animals and sweat.

The baby’s parents seemed a bit taken aback, but quick words from the men reassured them.

Melea didn’t understand the words, but the tones reflected great joy and excitement. One by one, the newcomers joined her at the trough; calloused hands passed through her, reaching out to the baby with tentative touch.

“Yeshua.” The child’s mother spoke, her words soft, her face tired from childbirth, yet alight with an inner radiance.

“Yeshua.” The newcomers repeated the name, wonder and reverence underlying their voices.

Yeshua tightened his grip on Melea’s finger and the warmth of those eyes which seemed to see through her, see every slight and invisible moment of her life, see the missed opportunities, the loneliness of each waking moment, burned away the ice and chill inside her.

“Yeshua.” Melea added her voice to the others, unmindful they could not hear her. What did it matter? Yeshua heard her. Yeshua saw her. He knew her as no one else ever would.

The lamps brightened, washing the cave in light.

“No!” Melea cried out in fear as the cave faded away into the sun washed parking lot of the convenience store.

“No.” She whimpered as the one moment that mattered most vanished like a dream. “Yeshua, don’t leave me.”

As she spoke the words, Melea seemed to hear the baby’s coo. She closed her eyes, hoping to see the flickering beams of the cavern lamps, but only lights and shadows behind her closed eyelids remained. With a sick feeling in her stomach, she opened her eyes and watched a battered blue pickup pull up next to the gas pumps.

I will never leave you.

The words started as a small spark in the center of her being, exploding outward and reverberating throughout time and space, acknowledging her, claiming her, marking her as unique and filling her from the moment of her birth to the moment of her death with a sense of purpose.

Melea raised her head, looked around at the scruffy station which seemed to sparkle for a moment. The sky spread a blue canopy splashed with white overhead and she heard birdsong.

She threw back her head and laughed a child’s laugh.

 

 

 

 

The God of Second Chances

This week we had an opportunity to watch Hollywood’s version of Noah. The film had some creative and interesting interpretations and stunning imagery. The whole sequence of “something from nothing” was incredibly beautiful.   The movie did get a bit heavy-handed with the evil men: meat-eaters, technology-users/good men: vegetarians, environmentalists; however, it was an enjoyable film.

Unfortunately, the writer missed the whole point of the Noah story: redemption, not just saving the animals.

When Noah tells his wife, “I have seen evil and it is inside all of us,” the entire scope of the Creator saving a remnant takes on new meaning. The God who could create something from nothing could easily have destroyed the entire world and started over from scratch had He desired. He could have sent a plague to wipe out man and leave the animals had He so desired.

He chose to save a remnant, to give man a second chance.

This was the point the movie missed; the point that, in the end, kept the film from being superb. The mercy demonstrated wasn’t Noah’s, but the Creator’s. In the biblical account, Noah didn’t build his ark far from civilization, but right where everyone could see. Daily they passed by ridiculing Noah’s folly. Daily he preached redemption and salvation to anyone who passed by.

Until the last moment anyone who wanted could have come aboard the ark, but no one chose to do so. In the end, when the rain fell, the Creator shut the door to the ark–not Noah. The Creator spared Noah, his wife, his three sons and their three wives. It wasn’t about ending mankind; it was about giving mankind a second chance.

The visual promise of second chances came in the form of a rainbow, something we often take for granted. Beauty formed by splintering light through water, a truth that even in darkness, light shines.

Through Noah and his sons and their wives a bit of the Garden of Eden was preserved, the piece of “made in the image of God” which came through from the old world into the new, a remnant of the Creator’s original purpose: man made to fellowship with God and tend the earth.

Surrender–humanity’s real issue with Christianity

Over the years I’ve heard lots of reasons given why people reject Christianity; some have basis in legitimate issues, but most are flimsy, tissue paper excuses that come apart under close scrutiny.

It’s always amazed me that the very people who poke fun at Christianity have a tendency to believe equally incredible philosophies; perhaps because it is easier than admitting the real reason people wrestle with Christianity.

Surrender. At the heart of the gospel is man’s need to surrender everything he is to accept the gift of salvation. People struggle with the concept of surrender; we see it as weak, as conceding defeat, giving in or giving up. Surrender reveals the fallacy of our belief that we are the captains of our souls, the masters of our fate. (Invictus, by William Ernest Henley).

Yet there is nothing weak in admitting we need help in the midst of impossible circumstances. No matter how accomplished a swimmer, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, one is still powerless to save oneself. Nothing we have is worthy of bringing us to God’s notice, and that is an uncomfortable truth to admit in a culture that prides itself on self-determination, independence, and the ability to overcome.

Surrender is also the great leveler. Our innate desire is to be better than others, to separate people into groups or categories of differing levels of ability or worth. Surrender makes kings equal with beggars and that chafes our souls as nothing else can. We cannot tolerate the idea that everything we have accomplished is worth no more or less than the filthy rags of a Skid Row bum.

Too long conditioned by our culture to see surrender as a negative quality, we miss the blessings of surrender. A couple of years ago, my husband and I were struggling with health issues, which took a financial toll on our family. We were getting by, but there was nothing left over to celebrate our 30th anniversary. Some dear friends decided to gift us an anniversary trip to Alaska, complete with cruise, plane tickets, and hotel accommodations. It was an overwhelming gift. The only thing we were required to do: surrender in the face of such love and friendship.

Terror Unmasked

Fear drives humans. Fear of hunger drives us to work for food. Fear of death drives us to take unprecedented measures of protection and avoidance of risk. Fear of failure and rejection causes us to design defensive barriers and wear masks lest we betray who we really are.

The true terror, however, comes from unconditional love.

Unconditional love sees us naked and defenseless, bares our inadequacies and failures, depicts the ugliness of the human soul and still accepts us. Unconditional love finds us, not worthy, but desirable; for who we are, for the uniqueness of the creation due to the nature of love. It simply is. Unconditional love defies human understanding, goes beyond human boundaries. It meets us at our most vulnerable, at our most unlovable, and still takes us in.

Humans dare not face the reality of ourselves; we cloak our faults in excuses, hide behind noise and activity and busyness. Bring us face to face with the silence of ourselves and we run terrified. Unconditional love forces us to see ourselves as we really are; to admit the awfulness of the human condition and the lack of anything good in and of ourselves, and finds us acceptable not in spite of those faults, but because of them

It is a truth that is hard to bear. It is a truth we find unpalatable, and therefore unacceptable; so we run from it screaming and hide behind false philosophies and vague, confused ideologies.

In so doing, we lose the most precious treasure of the cosmos. For unconditional love finds us as we are, accepts us and by its very nature transforms us into the people we always desired to be. Humans cannot change on their own. We want to be as we perceive ourselves, but are unable to complete the transformation without outside help. Unconditional love demands transformation; not for approval, not for acceptance, but for our completeness. It takes the raw materials and transforms coal into diamonds, sand into pearls, humans into enlightened beings

Unconditional love is vital for the evolution of humanity. Without it, we are and forever will be completely lost.

 

 

 

 

Truth Requires a Response

My daughter is working in Portland this summer and is keeping an online blog about her experiences.  http://joannanparsons.wix.com/prayersforportland One such experience dealt with a misunderstanding over who Jesus is and the reason for His death and resurrection.

It always amazes me how people will believe a misconception over the truth. Truth is not comfortable. Truth is not safe. Truth requires a response and most people find falsehood easier to swallow than truth, which demands they become responsible for their attitudes, actions, and destiny.

We take refuge in all sorts of misconceptions and fallacies, from blaming others for our shortcomings to denigrating others to make ourselves feel better; from dismissing what we don’t like about our world because it makes us uncomfortable to re-writing history to justify our actions; from name-calling and insulting what we don’t like or understand to passing laws to prohibit anyone from disagreeing with us.

Truth stands on its own. Truth doesn’t require a defence, nor does truth need my explanations or justifications. Truth spans centuries, crosses political, economic and cultural barriers. Truth endures; but most of all, truth transforms.

In the final analysis, it is the transformation we fear; which is why people will stubbornly cling to misconceptions, falsehoods, and outright lies. Transformation means we forgive ourselves, we forgive others; transformation means we step outside of ourselves and our belief system to embrace something bigger than ourselves.

Truth requires us to see ourselves for who we are, not who we want to be; and to realize our worth does not lie in ourselves, our possessions, or our accomplishments.

Truth sets us free.

The Potency of Speculation

Speculative fiction, no matter its genre, takes us on incredible journeys. It allows us to explore facets of ourselves and our worlds in a non-threatening manner. Topics that might be inflammatory, or even taboo, can be addressed through speculative fiction. In addition, speculative fiction allows us to extrapolate current trends and events and carry them to a myriad of possible futures, sometimes preventing catastrophic outcomes before they happen.

But most importantly, speculative fiction sets us apart from the rest of creation. The ability to imagine, to consider consequences, to envision a distant future or connect with the distant past is something innate in humans, not animals. Elephants give up after repeated attempts to break a chain, never realizing the chain has been replaced with a rope. Cats do not consider their lineage, nor the fate of their siblings. Wolves do not affect their environment when food sources run low, they simply move to another environment. Place a human in a hostile environment and he will not only adapt, he will transform the environment into something productive.

Animals are caricatures of human behaviour, but they lack the spark of life, the spark of the divine, that gives us the unique ability to dream, to become more than what we are. History is filled with stories of people that inspire us; stories of people who rose from humble beginnings to become powerful. While some animals rise to the top of their species or local group, I have yet to see one rise to the top of a different species or inspire others to be different, to become more.

The potency of man’s ability to weave imaginative tales to teach, to inspire, to entertain, is for me one of the most compelling facts in the natural world that humans and animals are vastly different. Because we are different, it is incumbent upon us as humans to cherish and protect the animal world around us without sacrificing humans. It is certain the animals cannot imagine the benefits of humans; it is left to us to speculate the impact of abusing our world.

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