Five Minute Friday: Break

jesus_my_friend_176The minister tried to break my will. Though he hurt me, he failed. I am incredibly stubborn but have never imagined that my stubbornness saved me. There was Someone in my life Whose will he could never break. Though the minister didn’t know, that Someone has always had my back, kept His arms around me. The minister was never fighting me.

It’s sad.

I don’t know how, but I knew I was not to speak of my Friend to any of those around me unless he (or she) passed my litmus test: Do you know my Friend? Not just, can you talk about my Friend but do you know Him? Is He your Friend too? There is a je ne sais quoi about those who know Him. It’s not perfection. It’s hope and endurance and joy and the willingness to be wrong. It’s knowing that they too rest their heads on the shoulder of the One Who took on the sins of the world and not only didn’t break, but revealed sin and death as huge, terrible jokes.

I wish the minister had known my Friend. I hope at the moment he was dying, his heart and eyes opened and he saw my Friend reaching out to embrace him and tumbled into Jesus’ arms. The worst thing the minister did was refuse to let the best Friend ever break his stony heart and cradle him in His love. My heart still breaks for him.

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Every Friday,100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then publish the results. We don’t edit or engulf ourselves in concerns about whether our writing is worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers. Kate Motaung’s, at  Heading Home, provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We all link our posts there and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

Five Minute Friday: Real

Beloved,

I will not leave you as orphans 1You’ve not returned me to my family but, in returning me to the Church, You’ve led me to family. There are others who know they are reaching for the same salvation as I, others who walk the same road as I. Some are acquaintances. Some are distant. But Bridgett and Robert are just two of those who love me as their sister. That’s mind-boggling. I still don’t understand how anyone who isn’t related to me, who isn’t my real family, would choose to make me part of his family. It’s the exact opposite of what I experienced with the minister. Though he lay claim to me, tried to control me, I was never a real part of his family. I was always an outsider and that’s what I’ve always expected. But Bridgett not only contacted me to offer me a plane ticket so I could attend Helena’s wedding, she and Robert paid my expenses while I visited. I didn’t think I’d be able to go but Bridgett wanted me there and made it happen. I’m still overwhelmed by the love and friendship she showers upon me.

On my nightstand, sits a card Robert recently sent me. He admires my faith, admires that I freely share it. He’s been my friend, my brother for more than ten years now. I never fantasized about a brother. I was either an only child, alone, or Aschenputtel, at the whim of the wicked strangers who delighted to torment me. But You didn’t follow my imaginary script. You did not leave me an orphan. I just didn’t know all the ways You “set the solitary in families.” (1) But You’re not limited by my lack of knowledge. You’ve given me what I never expected. Your love far exceeds my imagination.

(1) Psalm 68:6, AKJV

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Every Friday,100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then publish the results. We don’t edit or engulf ourselves in concerns about whether our writing is worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers. Kate Motaung’s, at  Heading Home, provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We all link our posts there and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

Five Minute Friday: I Plan To Go Home

0 woman in blue velvet dressOne foot clad in black, Mary-Jane pumps banged against the chair rail with a dull thud. I had switched the lamp on the table to its dimmest setting, ready for our return. They will be down soon, I silently told one slim leg clad in off-white tights. I perused my dark blue, silk velvet dress for any specs of missed lint and, finding none, took in a deep satisfied breath: Finally, I’m where I belong.

“No!” I told myself. “I’m too tall now to swing my feet while sitting on a chair. It won’t be that way.”

The scene in my mind changed. This time I stood looking in the mirror. My short hair had been expertly slicked back, my eyes perfectly made up. This is where I belong, I firmly told myself.

“Something is off,” I told my Friend. Tears filled the corners of my eyes. “I imagine and plan and try to see myself as I will be when I’m finally with my parents and I just can’t get it right. How will I ever be ready to go home if I can’t even see it as possible? How can I plan if I don’t believe it will happen?”

I hid my head in my arms, my heart in the warmth of His embrace. He remained silent.

Image Source

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Every Friday,100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then publish the results. We don’t edit or engulf ourselves in concerns about whether our writing is worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers. Kate Motaung’s, at  Heading Home, provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We all link our posts there and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

Leviathan Flees

For six weeks, Spring had been bringing fresh, mild days to New York but my body was hunched in the chair, my arms wrapped tightly around me as if to ward off a winter that refused to relinquish it’s hold; the warm sun had not penetrated the thick, chill fog that hung about me. My eyes had been red and swollen for several days… Ever since I’d written the letter to God… Ever since the words had spilled from my pen: ‘They lied to me.’

best woman crying sad sketchThe letter ended there. Its preamble had merely been an ineffective delaying tactic. And before the ink seeped into the paper, misery unleashed its power, left me with little except wet, salt-stung cheeks and eyes gritty with sand. Warmth fled. Laughter was unthinkable. Only fog remained. It penetrated to my depths, filled every empty space; I was a heavy blob of tears.

“How are you?” my therapist inquired after my hand reached for a wad of tissues to dab at dripping eyes and nose.

My lower lip trembled. The tissues made a quick swipe at my nose. My head shook. My nose sniffed damply and loudly. “I know what it is,” I whimpered. My face screwed itself up. The stream of tears burst its banks. Two more damp quick sniffs and then, “I know what I’m so afraid of.” My throat swallowed, my chest heaved up and down. “They lied to me,” my voice was a hoarse whisper.

My therapist leaned forward, “What do you mean?”

“When they sent me away,” more swallowing, more damp sniffs. Pained composure descended for a moment. “Papa sat me on his desk. I’d drawn some maraschino cherries for him. He took the drawing, told me it was beautiful, tacked it to the cork board above his desk,” the sniffing came again in short, sharp, moist bursts. My chest heaved out clicking breaths: huhnh, huhnh, huhnh, huhnh, huhnh!. The wet, shredded tissues scrubbed at my eyes and nose.

“He told me they were sending me away.” My face scrunched up as the words left my mouth. “He said they wanted me to be safe while they found the bad man, the man who hurt me.” My hand raised itself up to wipe at the liquid running from my nose. “I told him, ‘But I will never see you again.’ Papa pulled me against him and said, ‘Of course you will. You will be home before you know it.’ I shook my head against his chest and cried. My tears soaked through his sweater. I can feel the wool against my cheek. The warm, wet, woolly scent is in my nose,” my hand stroked my cheek where it had pressed against Papa’s chest.

After another loud sniff, I continued, “I told him I needed him. That I really would never see him again. He said, ‘You must be my brave little girl. And I will be right here if you need me.’ He held me away and looked into my face, ‘If you need me, draw maraschino cherries for me and ask Siobhan to send them. I’ll come right away.’ He held me close again, ‘We must make sure you’re safe. And as soon as the bad man is found, you will come right home.'”

My body shook. My hand reached for a wad of dry tissues. My chest tried to pull air into my blocked nose. My arms hugged my body tighter as it rocked to and fro.

“But what do you mean that they lied?”

My forehead scrunched. Why didn’t he understand? I took a deep breath, “He sent me away from the danger but they stayed and the danger killed them. He knew he was staying with the danger. He knew they would be killed. But he lied and said I’d be home before I knew it. He told me to send the maraschino cherries but he was dead and there wasn’t anybody to receive them. He’d never be able to come,” my voice tried to scream through the dampening tears.

When my breath eased “And Marmar knew too. She cried when I left. I can see her there. She cried so hard, Papa was supporting her. I had told her that I would never see her again just like I told Papa. But she said, ‘Don’t worry, my Lyssa. God will take good care of you. You’ll be home soon.’ But when I left, her heart was being ripped away and she knew it.”

My chest shook out breaths in short clicks: huhnh, huhnh, huhnh, huhnh, huhnh! Except for the wet, clicking noise, the room remained silent.

Finally, my therapist asked, “Did Professor Cumberlan learn when they died?”

The tears, though suspended, waited just within my eyes to burst forth again. With a loud sniff, my nose attempted to pull a breath past the congestion, “About three weeks after they sent me away. Probably a little less. They were walking in the park near our home. Someone shot them.” My forehead scrunched itself, “It’s as if I can feel what happened to them. Papa was shot in the neck. My head wants to snap to the side the way his must have. Marmar was shot in the abdomen. I can feel a big wound in my body.” Leaking tears quickly reverted to a torrent that weighed my head down and pulled me into a deeper slump.

“Small children often have a close connection with their parents,” he told the top of my head. “It’s not unusual that you would feel your parent’s deaths. But I think you’re wrong. I don’t think they lied to you.”

My head raised itself. My eyes examined his face. Another loud, wet sniff brought in enough air to whisper, “What do you mean?” Tears spilled over leaving salt tracks on my dark cotton skirt.

“You’re looking at it from a child’s perspective. You were afraid you’d never see them again. Somehow, you may have had a strong sense that you would never see them again. But they didn’t know. Three weeks isn’t a very long time. If your father knew they were in danger, he would have left just as he left South America.” My therapist took a breath and shaped each word clearly and precisely, “Your father loved you. He wanted you to be safe.” My mouth shaped itself into a small O as my head nodded slightly in agreement; the tears had subsided once again. “He didn’t set you up to be disappointed. He did what I would have done. He made sure you were safe and that you had a way to contact him.” My mouth widened itself to a pained pout. “He didn’t know. Neither did your mother. They believed you were in danger. But there was no reason for them to believe that they were also in danger.”

A hoarse squeak left my mouth, “Really?”

He leaned forward and looked directly in my eyes, “Do you believe your father deliberately set you up?”

Several moist sniffs pulled in air and pushed back tears. “No,” it came out in an almost voiceless whisper. My eyes widened. A pout pulled my lips out. Another sniff came. A few tears tumbled down. My voice sounded high and breathy, “But… I thought… I thought they lied.”

“You were wrong,” my therapist told me.

My mouth twisted itself into a confusion. Tears brimmed my lower lids.

“You were wrong,” he repeated.

My eyes narrowed, my neck twisted my head to one side as if my ears had caught a sound that was nearly, but not quite, audible. The almost sound coursed into my heart. “I was wrong,” I whispered. My barely audible voice released more tears, different tears, tears that washed long-caked debris from my heart.

After repairing my skirt and rinsing my face in the bathroom, I stepped out into the warmth of the Spring afternoon. There was a delicious, green scent in the air. The growing leaves seemed newly cut — laser cut — sharp, clear, in shades of green richer than I had seen before. The late afternoon sky had been washed with clear, soft blueness. Puffy white clouds, tinged with pinks lounged about. My body wanted to float alongside them. My legs, longing to dance, rejoiced in the swishing fabric of my long cotton skirt. My feet raise my ballet black flats in little sweeping kicks. “Is it always this beautiful?” I softly asked my Friend. “Why have I never seen it before?” I breathed in another draught of the sweet air. Hailing a taxi, I settled myself in the back and pressed my forehead against the cracked the window. The taxi’s wheels against the asphalt sang to me with each revolution, They didn’t lie.

* Image source.

Five Minute Friday: Gather

Once He gave me a lightening bolt.

Mt Saviour MonasteryAs I walked up the mountain to the women’s guesthouse from the chapel at Mount Saviour Monastery just outside Elmira, New York, I happily chatted with God. The week of silence and exquisite beauty had left me giddy with delight. Silence clears the heart and mind. And at Mount Saviour, silence is respected so much, those on silent retreat take meals separately from visitors who want company with their rest.

Walking up that mountain on the late-spring day when the rain came and went, my senses were filled with “what God hath wrought.” Each chipmunk, each deer, each bunny, each terrifying wasp spoke to me of the immense glory of God. At that moment, after evening prayer, I had only the inane chatter of an overwhelmed child who longed for the right words to say, “I love You.” I knew myself to be an infant in His presence, without words to express the depths of love my heart longed to sing.

Christ holding up childThen, in the misty evening, a lightening bolt creased the air and struck the path just in front of me as if God had gathered me up and swung high. The experience reminded me of times when Papa had caught me up when I was a little child. Back on the ground, back in this world, my feet were a little unsteady; my joy… In this world, how can I ever express my joy?

My breath caught in my chest: “You can do it again,” I asked/offered.

He declined.

Internal as well as external silence filled the remainder of my journey to the guesthouse. What could I say to the One who gave me a lightening bolt that didn’t terrify me when I am so terrified of being hit by lightening? I read eight languages and know, we just don’t have the words to respond when God gathers us up — at least not on this side of heaven.

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Every Friday,100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then publish the results. We don’t edit or engulf ourselves in concerns about whether our writing is worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers. Kate Motaung’s, at  Heading Home, provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We all link our posts there and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

Five Minute Friday: Visit

We spent two summers in Bristol where the minister’s wife was born.

Each time, as the end of the school year approached, the minister would ask at dinner one night, “What will the kids do this summer?”

“Play, hang out around here,” the minister’s wife would respond.

The minister’s face would convulse, his voice become harsh, “This summer can’t be like last year. They did absolutely nothing. The boys wouldn’t mow the lawn unless I stood over them.”

bristol - scary bridge“We could visit my aunt in Bristol,” the minister’s wife would suggest. “She’d love to have us. You could join us for a week or two whenever you can get away.”

The minister would grumble about the cost of airfare, the ensuing weeks would be filled with his voice warning us to be on our best behaviour and not embarrass him, and a few weeks later, seven or eight sleepy kids would debark in England.

Though I’ve always loved England, I feared parts of Bristol. There was a huge, high bridge where we often picnicked that terrified me. I just knew it would fall on me. While the other children ran about and explored, I would sit with my back to the bridge, nervously looking over my shoulder to make certain it hadn’t begun to crumble.

9 West 57th StYears later when I went to live in New York, the dread fear that building would tumble on me kept me looking down so I wouldn’t the giants hulking over me. I detested 57th Street between 5th and 6th because I was certain the building at 9 West 57th Street would slide down and crush me as I walked past.

Finally, I learned I had a form of agoraphobia, I fear wide open spaces and things that tower above me. Knowing has helped a bit but given a choice, I avoid things that might come tumbling down and crush me even if everyone says they’re safe.

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Every Friday,100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then publish the results. We don’t edit or engulf ourselves in concerns about whether our writing is worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers. Kate Motaung’s, at  Heading Home, provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We all link our posts there and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

Facing Down Leviathan

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. (1)

In studying Scripture, I keep coming upon Nachash (Nahash). “Serpent” is one translation. Leviathan is another.

My image of the serpent in Genesis came straight from the pictures in the big, family Bible I first read when I was five. They were supplemented by others from Sunday school books and various paintings. All of them pretty much depicted a big snake with or without appendages. I had only a hazy image of Leviathan. The priest who confirmed me said, in response to my queries, “It’s a primordial hippopotamus.” I was unconvinced. Leviathan was a sea creature and hippos aren’t known for their ocean-going tendencies. Over the past few years, I’ve learned Leviathan, in size, is a more like Jörmungandr, the giant Midgard Serpent. He’s also utterly terrifying. God tells Job:

Orange-Leviathan_smallLay hands on him;
think of the battle;
you will not do it again!
Behold,
the hope of a man is disappointed;
he is laid low even at the sight of him.
No one is so fierce
that he dares to stir him up. (2)

The serpent in the Garden (Nachash in the original Hebrew) is Leviathan (also Nachash in the original Hebrew) in Job and Ezekiel and in many other places throughout the Bible.

But wait! This all actually has a point that is central to Loved As If in which I dive into theodicy and hope I don’t drown.

In a recently published article, my friend, Dr. Randall Smith, following St. Augustine, writes, “the really crucial moment in the story—the actual fall—occurs when Adam ‘deliberately decides—despite not being deceived—to disfigure by sin the spousal fellowship he and Eve had already been given by God.'”

How often have I passed over “Adam was not deceived” (3) because I was bristling about Paul saying woman would be saved through child birth. As I read Dr. Smith’s article, those four words finally resounded through me stirring up immense horror: “Adam was not deceived.” He knew better.

When God places Adam in the garden, He instructs him to “till it and keep it.” What isn’t readily apparent is that God gives Adam the same priestly charge He will later give the Levites who are to tend the Ark of the Covenant:

[B]ut appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the testimony, and over all its furnishings, and over all that belongs to it; they are to carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings, and they shall tend it, and shall encamp around the tabernacle. (4)

I’ve seen many depictions of the Israelites in battle with the Ark of the Covenant. Usually the Ark is surrounded by a few Levites vested as per God’s instructions to Moses. But in reality, the Ark would have been surrounded by all the sons of Kohath (5), more than 8,00 men, ready to cut down anyone who came near. And the Kohathites set out in the midst of the hosts of Israel; the Ark is surrounded by warriors. It was just that precious. And so was the garden before it.

But Adam threatens not even the most minimal battle to protect it. So the serpent, Nachash, Leviathan, gets into the garden — as if Adam isn’t there. Nachash questions Eve — as if Adam isn’t there. Nachash beguiles Eve — as if Adam isn’t there. But he is there all the time.

Modern English doesn’t use a plural form of the pronoun “you” so we aren’t aware that in Hebrew, Nachash is speaking to both Adam and Eve when he asks: “Did God say, `[You both] shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” And Adam is there when Nachash says: “[You both] will not die. For God knows that when [you both] eat of it your eyes will be opened, and [you both] will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (6) The English translation is painfully haunting when one realizes Adam might have pulled Eve away and whispered to her, ‘God will be along at the breezy time of the day. Let’s ask Him then.’ Instead, Adam remains silent and eats the fruit even though he knows Nachash is lying.

The fall involved neither sex nor eating an apple. The fall actually occurred because Adam decides he’s not facing down Leviathan. Adam balks at suffering and sacrifice. (So does Eve but I’m not telling that story here.) He knowingly chooses himself over God, his bride, and his priestly charge.

For long, I thought suffering came as a result of the fall. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t love God. And I knew (because I had tried) that I couldn’t just will myself to stop loving Him. But I was appalled that God would allow suffering in my life. Suffering came as a result of sin. Why should I suffer for the sins of others? In my mind, suffering was a linear equation: my sin equals my suffering, the only variables were the sins I might commit. I truly felt that I and other innocent people ought to be exempt or at least ought to be given a pass after a certain amount of suffering. I was woefully ignorant.

Suffering was built in from the beginning. It was never something from which I or anyone else could be exempt. The original, deluxe, Imago Dei operating system that was the very life God breathed into Adam could not be fully actualized unless Adam laid down his life for the sake God, Eve, and the garden.

And that’s why Christ is the new Adam. He doesn’t flee suffering. He faces down Leviathan though He doesn’t want to die. He goes to the cross and reboots humanity. His reboot isn’t an undoing of suffering and sacrifice. Instead, Christ restores us to our original factory settings so that we might operate from the Imago Dei, so that we might truly sacrifice and suffer instead of simply hurting in confusion, so that we too might face Leviathan and lay down our lives for our friends. Christians can now suffer as God had always intended, as Christ did, as Adam did not.

We won’t always see that our suffering accomplishes anything. When suffering includes a linear equation, that’s only a hint of its fullness. It makes sense that a father would sacrifice himself to save his child. But when we’re in pain or foregoing something we want or need for the sake of another, we don’t always know how God is working our suffering and sacrifice into the entire program. Then again, it’s difficult to understand how Adam’s actions can affect all of creation. But for many, it’s just as difficult to understand how a few lines of code can wreck a computer. Yet most of us know what a computer virus can do.

In the end, for all our babble about self-worth and self-esteem, we can’t really imagine our immense value. When Paul writes, “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God,” (7) it’s hard to see how “the glorious liberty of the children of God” will restore creation. Just as it’s hard to accept that “creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope.” (8) Our brains are groggy from living in a world that only recognizes fairly simple mathematics. The immense creativity that allows creation to wait “with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (9) demands well-developed imaginations and hearts.

Christians can catch a peek now and then. Some more, some less. We can trust that creation is waiting for the Adam Christ restored in all those who follow Him to do what the original Adam did not do in the garden. We’re not to chase suffering. Masochism is of Nachash and has no place in the Imago Dei operating system. For the same reason, we are not to sacrifice out of pride. But a lot hinges on us. The restoration of all of creation longs for our “glorious liberty.”

We obtain that liberty by following Christ, the new Adam. We obtain it by accepting the suffering and sacrifice God allows into our lives. We unleash it’s immense power when, through the grace of God, we say, ‘This time, I’m facing down Leviathan.’ I can’t yet say, with some of the saints, that I rejoice in suffering. But I know, when we suffer with Christ, the uncorrupted Imago Dei operating system becomes fully activated and finally, we begin to grow into what God created us to become from the beginning.

(1) Genesis 2:15 (RSV)

(2) Job 41:8-10 (RSV). Image source.

(3) 1 Timothy 2:14 (RSV)

(4) Numbers 1:50 (RSV)

(5) Numbers 3:29 (RSV)

(6) Michael Barber, Coming Soon: Unlocking the Book of Revelation and Applying Its Lessons Today, Emmaus Road Publishing (January 1, 2006). Genesis 3:4-5 (RSV)

(7) Romans 8:21 (RSV)

(8) Romans 8:20 (RSV)

(9) Romans 8:19 (RSV)

Five Minute Friday: Open

Usually, the Five Minute Friday prompt segues into something I’ve been thinking or writing about. This week, I’m recovering from a sinus infection, my head feels soggy, and nothing comes to mind. when I feel this way I’d usually skip FMF. Not this week. Let’s see where this goes…

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Often, I’ve been admonished that I must have an “open mind.” Usually, I’m being told that my faith and morals are close-minded, old-fashioned. I’ll usually ask, ‘Open to what? Everything? Anything? Even those things that will destroy me and make me less the person I’m working to be?’ The answers I receive range from head shaking to ‘You’re weird.’

God has blessed me with an impish mind and I wonder, what if I asked, Are we open to suffering? Are we open to sacrifice? Are we open to asking God to take the things we really don’t want and use them for His glory even if it hurts?

19 stitchesWhen my god-daughter’s little sister stepped into broken glass, she would allow no one to pour peroxide over the bleeding mess. Her mother was unwilling to suffer the howls and tears. Fully dressed, I climbed into the tub held the child’s foot, said, “This will hurt,” and poured on the peroxide. It was apparent, hers wasn’t a shallow cut. We rushed her to the emergency room for stitches.

She wasn’t my child and that probably made it much easier. But I had to be open to suffering (and ruining my skirt) for the child’s good including her anger because I did hurt her. I know so many who are angry with God because he allows suffering. Often, I think we are closed to Him and closed to understanding that He will allow us to suffer because sometimes (perhaps often) suffering is the only way to determine if we’ve just got a shallow cut or need stitches.

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Every Friday,100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then publish the results. We don’t edit or engulf ourselves in concerns about whether our writing is worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers. Kate Motaung’s, at  Heading Home, provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We all link our posts there and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

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