January 29, 2013

making lemonade

Something is occurring to me:  I'm stuck with me.

Seeing that, you might feel the urge to exhort me that I'm not just "stuck", I'm fearfully and wonderfully made!!!  Or you might want to remind me that others are a lot worse off than me, and I should be grateful for what I have.  You might even want to warn me that I'm sinning in my audacious lack of acceptance for how my Creator designed me.

Maybe you'd be right.

All I know is, since not much has changed in the last 38 years with regard to my basic temperament and aptitude (despite my best efforts to the contrary), I am probably pretty much stuck with being myself, so I might as well make the best of it.  (Not to worry:  I'm not talking about accepting sin in my life, or giving up on God's power to transform me.)  

I'm talking about looking myself square in the face and admitting that although I wasn't given some of the talents that others have, God did give me my own portion of strengths, and I might as well admit it.  That way I can get on with the business of developing them and using them for good, instead of grovelling at the feet of the people I think I should be.

As long as I want to be (or think I should be) someone else [someone organized, say, or someone whose house is always immaculate, someone who plans ahead and actually carries it out, or someone who is always prepared at any moment for anything, someone who is confident and energetic and virtuous], the person God made me to be goes to waste.

So.  There.  It feels like a breakthrough, so I wanted to tell you, but you probably won't be surprised to hear that I have no idea what comes next.

And I think that just might be the point, actually.

I read recently on a friend's facebook page:  

God is radically changing the way we depend on him.  God has been saying, "Stay behind me." I protested, "But God, don't you always tell your friends what you are doing?"  He said, "Yes, and I am telling you that you will not be able to know what I'm doing.  You know nothing about trusting me.  Stay behind me.  And don't peek!" 
We must be convinced in the deepest places that we can trust him.  We will depend on him fully only when we come to the end of ourselves.  [God] won't let any person or any thing on earth meet my needs but him, so that I won't trust in them.

"Stay behind me - and don't peek!"  He says.  


Looks like it might be time to learn to like surprises.

January 28, 2013

Pollyanna fail

[a resurrected post from the archives of my sugar freedom days]

I could have called this sugar freedom:  day 33 in the style of the previous pro-sugar-free posts, but frankly I'm getting as tired of the titles as I am of the hype.

Don't get me wrong, I am still convinced that going without sugar is good for me.  But.  It.  Is.  H.A.R.D.

There's no magic to it, like I kind of hoped.  No "happily ever after" like I expected.  I like a neat plot, a good story, and so far I haven't ridden off into the sunset, away from the chocolate, with my one true love and a potato.

It's true that my allergy symptoms went away almost immediately.  It's true that I no longer feel that crashing fatigue mid-morning and again early-afternoon.  It's true that my mind is clearer and my emotions have leveled out (somewhat - we are talking about me, after all).  It's even true that I know of at least two people who have been inspired by my experience to begin to cut out sugar themselves.

But the Pollyanna in me is wearing thin (hmmm ... maybe the lack of sugar is starving her!!).  I am still choosing to see the daily miracles, no matter how minute.  But, somehow ...

Doggone it.  I've done it again.

Instead of leaning on the Everlasting Arms, I've gone and pressed hard into something else again.  Something fallible, something weak, something human.  In a word, me.  I've been depending on myself again.  Counting on my resolve to solve all my problems, instead of casting my cares on Him who cares for me.

When will I learn?

"May God Himself [not me, not Kathleen DesMaisons], the God of Peace [not of striving], sanctify me through and through.  May my whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The One who calls me is faithful, and He [not I] will do it."   
I Thessalonians 5:23-24

"Bring on the sanctification, and make it snappy" has been my approach.  Not working, can you tell?  God will refine when He is ready to refine.  My job is to wait on Him, trust Him, praise Him anyway.

"Be still, and know that I am God."  Psalm 46:10
"Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint."  Isaiah 40:30,31

January 26, 2013


Christmas is over.  Except for a few lone homes (like mine), most of the decorations and lights have been packed back into the attic, and winter stretches out ahead of us, dreary and white with cold.

I offer you a trip back a few weeks in time, back to the magic of giving, of a Gift, of people performing just for the joy of it, and for how the joy leaps and spreads like flames on dry grass.

Flash mobs.

So perfectly they portray Christmas:  people living in darkness, not even knowing it, not knowing to long for light, suddenly pierced by joy, by the Light dawning indiscriminately on the undeserving.  Beauty, unexpectedly, in the middle of a street, a store, a weekday's errands.  A Savior, in a stable.

Open your eyes to the wonder of the giving...

... and receive!

La Traviata in a Valencia market ...

... opera in a Melbourne open air market ...

The Hallelujah Chorus in a food court ...

... haunting music on a Basque metro ...

Carol medley in another food court (one of my favorites - watch for the awed little boy!) ...

Song and dance at a German train station, complete with ticker tape!

... and Ode to Joy in Spain, the best of the best of the flash mobs.

All those people, surprised by joy - did you see their faces?  Hungry, incredulous - "for me? here?!"  Absorbing beauty like an withered sponge, plunged again into healing water.  And the joy of giving joy must be as nourishing as the receiving - flash mobs are a glorious epidemic.  Youtube.com offers hundreds, from a South African town square to a railway station in Helsinki, from a Thai airport to the tourist streets of Charleston, from Hong Kong to Copenhagen, Vienna to Glasglow ...

And the beauty of it is, we're all made with a gift to give.  We all can give joy like that.  Each of us is created with some spark of life that the world needs.

So shine!  Give what you've got - maybe not music, or not opera, or not dance, but you can start with a smile or a hug.  And then listen - to God, to those who know you best - and find the spark you were born with ...

... and go light a fire.

(Got your own favorite flash mob?  Drop the link in the comment box - I'd love to see it!)

January 25, 2013

grass magic: the whole truth

Remember a post from our family week two summers ago?  Where my Farmer led the children in a glorious cheese-making venture involving fresh mozzarella and a certain artistically paraffin-coated round?

We were remembering at breakfast this morning ... and I realized that my glowing post gave a prematurely positive impression of our success.  Here's what really happened:

The mozzarella started out so nicely ...

And their little hands had so much fun squeezing and shaping ....

... that no one noticed that those lumpy little balls showed no resemblance to the silky orbs of fresh mozzarella that we've enjoyed from the store.  It was our mozzarella, after all.  Never mind that it tasted, well, cooked.

So that was the mozzarella.

Then there was the beautiful, carefully waxed "soft cheese" that aged for 90 days on my Farmer's dresser (naturally, you've heard of "dresser-aged" cheeses....):

Unfortunately, this gorgeous cheese developed some suspicious molds.  It must have been an amazing cheese, though we never got to taste it once it "matured", because every mold in the vicinity jumped on board - we had pink mold, black mold, green mold, brown mold, even orange mold.  My Farmer tells me that you really don't want to eat pink or black molds.  I guess the others are okay - ??

So that's the rest of the story.

I just wanted you to know.

January 22, 2013

separated? never!

It had been one of those days:  Sugar, Spice, and Everything Nice at each other's throats like wild dogs, bickering and blaming and outright brawling, and under and around and through it all, Lil' Snip's grating whine - when did he become a whiner?! - insisting that someone hold him, that someone read to him, read to him, read to him, again!, that someone play with him - nooooo, this way!!

I was ready to die.  [sorry, I know it's dramatic, but that's the way it was.]  Actually - by God's grace alone - I had died, over and over, to my self that day.  And as naptime mercifully approached, and I tucked the loudly protesting toddler under my arm and carried him, struggling violently, up to his cage, I mean crib, God shone His light on my heart, and taught me something beautiful about His own.

I still loved that Lil' Snip.  He had been purely intolerable that morning, and somehow I had not only tolerated him, but I still loved that inharmonious, recalcitrant bundle of muscled will.  All his discordant belligerence, his complete lack of courtesy and grace had done nothing - nothing - to separate him from my love for him.  I was happy to be separated from him for a few hours, it's true, but at my core, my heart still beat love, love, love, love toward him.

And that's God's heart toward me, toward you:  nothing, nothing, can separate us from His love.  Sin keeps us from intimacy from Him, but even sin does not change His love for us.

When Lil' Snip awoke, cheerful and compliant (actually, his snit lasted a few days, but let's compress that for the sake of brevity), ready again to receive my love, I forgave* him his obstinance and accepted him gladly back into my arms.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? 
Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine
or nakedness or danger or sword?
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, 
neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,
neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, 
will be able to separate us from the love of God 
that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. 
Romans 8:35, 38-39

* a difference here is that my toddler does not confess his sin; when we, however, "confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:8-10).  Needless to say, another difference is that I, unlike God, am powerless to cleanse Lil' Snip from his unrighteousness, much as I would like to be able to!

January 16, 2013

grace, defined

I heard it again, just this Sunday - "grace" used casually as a synonym for "mercy."

They are, thanks be to God, two different things, and I would like to differentiate them for the record.

[I am, of course, no Greek scholar, and I hope I am never accused of being a theologian.  This is my explanation of two admittedly theological terms according to my experience of God and my understanding of the Bible.]

Mercy is derived from the Latin for "price paid", and means just that:  when He does not demand from us the price due for our sins (namely, death), God is showing us mercy.  Jesus, in his sinless life and his own death on the cross, paid in our stead the price that we owed to God.  Ever since Jesus' death and resurrection, the scales have been divinely balanced, and God, "who calls things that are not as though they are," looks at repentant sinners and sees His righteous Son.

Grace, thank God, is something else entirely.

Mercy covers the sins we have committed.  
Grace makes it possible for us to live free
from sin's continual mastery.

The English word grace, according to Merriam Webster, means "unmerited divine assistance given humans". The Greek word often translated "grace" is charis - the "unmerited operation of God in the heart of man, affected through the agency of the Holy Spirit."  Charis comes from chairein which means "to rejoice," and denotes first of all a pleasant external appearance, "loveliness," "agreeableness," "acceptableness."  In other words, grace is God providing what we need, though His Spirit, to live in a way that is pleasing to Him and to our fellow man:  namely, without sin.

Mercy:  forgiven the punishment our sins deserve.
Grace:  empowered to live the life He intended.

------------------------  : :  ><  : :  ------------------------

"This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses,
for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.
So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God.
There we will receive his mercy,
and we will find grace to help us when we need it most."
Hebrews 4:15-16 (NLT)

January 15, 2013

giving myself

Last week I had a birthday.

When I was a child, I thought birthdays were all about me:  sort of an opportunity to be Queen for the day.

To tell the truth, up until last week, I still kind of thought birthdays were all about the birthday girl.  My children cooperated with this theory as soon as they were old enough, expressing eagerness to give me presents and backrubs and coupons good for cheerful service.  They were, I thought, copying how I treated them on their birthdays.

But then I had the "perfect storm" of a birthday, and my eyes were painfully pried open.  Life (celebrated and represented by a birthday) is about giving.  It is more blessed, Jesus says, to give, than to receive.  And then he thought it'd be good to let me learn it by living it, day after day.

To begin with, I had pms (which, I know, some think is a myth; let's just say it felt pretty real this time).  So I was a little grumpy to begin with.  But I smiled graciously for my Farmer's (belated by an hour) morning birthday wishes.  I made our breakfast graciously.  I oooh-ed and ahhh-ed over the gifts the children had picked out for me.  I allowed the whiny toddler to help me open my presents.  I smiled, pleased, to receive the gift my Farmer gave [allowed me to order].

And then (it was a little mp3 player) I wanted to play with it.

But there were groceries to buy.

On my birthday.

Since I wasn't actually having any luck transferring my music to digital form, and since the clock was ticking, I went, not quite so graciously.  [do you see me overlooking the fact that I get to go alone, since my Farmer - graciously - took off work to be home for my birthday?]

Before I left, I (graciously) pointed out to my Farmer some potential timing issues relating to pie-making and pottery-studio-paneling and toddler-napping.  [do you see me overlooking the fact that, on his day off, my Farmer is not only watching the children while I run errands, but is also planning to make me a birthday pie - with the children - and put up paneling in my pottery room?!]

And then I bought groceries.  God, in his graciousness, had many little treats planned for me on my outing:  Cans of crab, which I love, and have never before seen at the discount grocery store.  Also five unexpired bars of 85% Lindt in pristine condition, Belgian chocolate cream cheese for a song, and my favorite kinds of sausages.  Wonderful new books for me at the library, checked out by my favorite librarian, who had just watched a documentary I had recommended, and loved it!  And at my regular grocery store, crab cakes were a dollar off.

I returned home to a wonderful smell - my Farmer had made stew!!  But ..... I was eager for those crab cakes ..... and it turned out he had made the stew from the dried peas I had told him I didn't like!!  I put the groceries away, suppressing irritation at all the helpers - big and small - getting in the way.  [and yes, overlooking the fact that they want to help me]

After lunch, I took up one of my new books and settled into the recliner.  It was not to be: Lil' Snip, whining so unbeguilingly, wanted me.   I graciously read Curious George to him, mostly from memory, mostly without looking longingly at my own book.

When he hopped down, temporarily appeased, I picked up my book again.  Nice appeared with a flutter of homemade coupons - for backrubs.  She had set up a little backrub-giving shop.  I laid my book back down, graciously, and turned myself over to Nice.

The rest of the day was the same:  willing myself to speak nicely over the utter cacophony of three or more of their voices at once, to not ruin my birthday for them; coaching them in kindness, kindly; and receiving, graciously, what they want to give.

: : :

Here's the moral I thought I was writing about:  grownups don't get to receive on their birthdays; they just get to give to their families the gift of their graciousness, so the children can learn to enjoy giving.......so that when they grow up, they too can give and not need to receive.

Here's what I think I'm actually being taught:  even though I am no longer (in some ways) a child, I still need to receive.  My birthday was not about how graciously I could give a good day to my children.  I missed the point.  It wasn't that they were giving me the "wrong" things and I needed to set a good example by receiving them anyway.  They were giving me the right things.  I could have been truly receiving them.  I could have been blessed by them.  My birthday was a day for them to be blessed by giving to me.  And for me to practice truly receiving, because I need the practice and because they learn from watching me.

Hmmm.  Didn't I just write about this?  About letting go of one thing in order to receive something better?

: : :

[I am still learning.  Very likely I am still missing a lot.  Maybe even the main point.  I am grateful for my blog, where I can learn out loud, as it were.  Maybe, someday, I will be able to look back and see the path that He has brought me so gently along, and how it has led me to Him...]

January 11, 2013

night vision

[yet another eye-opener from my Lil' Snip:]

Up the morning steps I go, toward the sound of energetic, tuneless singing, punctuated by enthusiastic commentary in the little yellow room.  I round the corner, unlatch his door, and swing it open - always an excitingly unpredictable moment, followed by anything from a happy "Mommy!!!" to a suddenly, inexplicably furious squeal.

This morning, he's standing in the far corner of his crib, pointing hard at his changing table.

"There's a fox!!!" he exclaims.

A what?  I open the blinds and let light in.  Yesterday's jeans and shirt lie crumpled in a pile.  He looks.

It doesn't take long for him to regroup with a revised exclamation:  "When it was dark, it was a fox!!"

Ahhh.....!  Not "oops, it was only my clothes," not "it was dark; I couldn't see," not "I was wrong," but "when it was dark, it was a fox."

He's just a toddler.  He couldn't know that what I heard was myself, insisting on the truth of a lie freshly-exposed by the light, unwilling to release an old familiar hurt to embrace instead an opportunity for life.

Open my eyes, O Father of the heavenly lights, to see what's truly there, instead of pictures painted in shadows.  Open my heart to receive your good gifts.

Every good and perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights,
who does not change like shifting shadows.

He chose to give us birth through the word of truth
James 1:17, 18

January 10, 2013

a dare to myself

There are fourteen posts on this blog, hidden from view, unfinished, unpublished.  Drafts, blogspot optimistically calls them.  From time to time I read these unpolished snippets of ideas, and feel restless about them.

I want to finish them.

I'm telling you by way of holding myself accountable (that's high-minded language for "publicly shame myself into finishing them").

I hope it works.  The discipline will be good for me (uncompleted tasks are my nemesis, an all-too-familiar impediment to all kinds of progress).  And who knows, maybe I'll turn out some good work.

There.  I dare me.

January 9, 2013


Earlier this morning as my children and I performed our various obligations, Lil' Snip came running to me, tears streaming, wailing with toddler offense.  He flung himself at me, and with his sturdy little self came a flash of insight:  I am his refuge.

This is what refuge is - it's what you run to, when you're in trouble or afraid.  It's what you fling yourself on, when you need comfort, or help, or defending.

Even (sometimes) when the one who is your refuge is the one who you're angry with.

Cast all your cares on him, for he takes care of you.
I Peter 5:7

What do I run to for comfort?  facebook?  chocolate?  friends?  books?

Where do you turn?  shopping? exercise? work?

Not bad things, those, just not a true refuge, not a fortress, not powerful to save.

Let's run to the One who made us, who has loved us since before we were born.  The One who truly cares about us. The One who truly can and does take care of us.

He alone can comfort, help, defend and protect.  He alone is a Refuge.

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains quake with its turmoil.

Psalm 46:1-3

January 7, 2013

house of cards

I've been hiding in a house made of cards.

I've mentioned before, I believe, how much I dread fellowship meals:  crowds are not my thing.  Yesterday we had another one at church.  We stayed; there was a meeting afterward that we wanted to be part of.  And things went fine, mostly, until the food was finished and I started to look around .... at the people talking, laughing, enjoying each other's company ...

... and all I could think was "no one's talking to me."

I'm ashamed, of course.  So "poor me" I blush to write it.  But since I know I'm not the only one, I take a risk and publish my awkwardness for both of you - the ones who feel it, too, and the ones who can't imagine.

A friend and I were talking recently about high school, and how lonely it was for us, and how startled we've been, sometimes, to find out that others were lonely, too - even some we thought so self-assured.  We all hide, maybe.  At the fellowship meal, my inner ache tells me I'm unwanted, superfluous, unseen.  Look at all the others, talking to each other, laughing, sought-out.  And on the periphery (where I usually choose to sit), alone stand I.

So many things you could say to me, to convince me that I'm wrong.  I've heard it all.  It does not penetrate my armor of alone-ness.

But yesterday, a gift:

At the meeting (again sitting at the fringes), I looked at all the heads in front of me, and like Paul's light on the road to Damascus, epiphany struck:  this is my family.  These are my people, and they love me.  Hardly a soul there that hasn't said a kind word to me at one time or another, exchanged a smile.  They are for me.  We are one.

As a group, they overwhelm me to the point of intimidation, yes; but one by one - I love them, too.

Fear fled, as the house of cards crumbled.

I am safe.  I am loved.

This is my Body.

[now, let's see if I can remember that at next month's fellowship meal....]

"so in Christ we who are many form one body,
and each member belongs to all the others."
Romans 12:5

January 3, 2013

boxing up Christmas

Two days ago was New Year's Day; I boxed up Christmas.

We brought down the egg box, left over from moving, six years ago.  Both manger scenes were put away, figure by figure laid back into styrofoam and blown-plastic pockets.  Snow globes nestled into boxes, cushioned with pine garland.  Ornaments were unhung, and packed away between pages of paper toweling.  Christmas books, a collection added to each year, arranged by size and snugged into a corner of the Christmas box.  An ornate glass bottle and brass box - wisemen's gifts - went in the bottom, and the miniature Christmas tree - our first, so many years ago, so far from home - reclined on top.  The stable scene from my childhood, practically unmarred across the decades, fit in across the snow globes.

Sugar dismantled the brass Swedish angel chimes, piece by piece into vinyl sleeves; it was tucked in, too.  The plastic Fontanini, the magnet manger, the foam sticker nativity from someone's Sunday school - all packed away in the Christmas box.

It was heavy when I carried it upstairs, all that Christmas in an egg box, lowered with a careful thud onto the spare room closet floor.

I left out the Christmas cards, though; taped around our livingroom doorframe, we'll have company all winter.  The kitchen beam kept its pine adornment, too, with the big red bow and the red folded-paper garland from some far-away land.

I couldn't pack away the Moravian star made of gold screen, either, so it swings in the window above the kitchen sink, still catching the light.  The pine garland swags and strings of wooden cranberries will stay up on the livingroom windows, for awhile anyway.  January needs color.  In the window by the corn stove, the snowman and wool penguin still huddle together.

And the candles - jar candles and flameless candles and pillar candles and window tapers and tea-lights - they've sort of spread out and taken over.  I think we'll need their light.  January can be dark.

I boxed up Christmas, two days ago, but the remnants remind us that it was, and will come again.

January 2, 2013

my alter ego

This morning after breakfast I shared a few pieces of Toblerone (dark, from the local Amish dent & bent grocery) with my Farmer over coffee and I remembered my very first Toblerone....

 : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : 

I was 22 years old, flying to Japan after college for my first Real Job*.  When the Korean Air flight attendants brought around the duty-free catalogs, it seemed like the thing to do, given my new identity as a globe-trotting sophisticate, to order something.  Ah-ha!  Here was something chocolate, something affordable (my Real Job had not yet netted me my first paycheck), something imported and exotic.  [It rather betrays my true identity as a rube, doesn't it, that I'd never even heard of Toblerone before this!] 

So I bought some.  I ate it in-flight, feeling so grown-up, so urbane, so in-the-know.  A fitting start to my new jet-setting career.

*[my Real Job turned out to be, in retrospect, a hilarious misnomer.  I spent two years in the backwaters of Japan, "teaching" high school English through the Japanese government's JET Programme.  I did spend time in the classrooms, and even, on occasion, got to do some lesson-planning, but most of my time was spent catching up on any reading I hadn't gotten done in college, doing crossword puzzles, creating bitmap art on Windows Paint, and customizing the appearance of my new laptop, with a little worksheet-creation, hangman-playing and pronunciation-modeling thrown in for good measure.]

 : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : 

Fast-forward sixteen years ... I am sitting at a worn kitchen table in my century-old farmhouse, overseeing the education of my children in rural Pennsylvania, dressed in a hand-me-down sweater and jeans that pre-date some of my children.  Some sophisticate I turned out to be.

The contrast amused me this morning, as I drank my generic decaf coffee brewed the pre-Keurig way in a plain old drip coffeemaker.  But as I wrote this post, I used thesaurus.com to help me find "urbane", and saw that sophisticate as a verb means to adulterate, to cheapen, contaminate, corrupt, degrade, falsify, taint, make impure, water down ... and I realized that sophistication has never really been the goal of my heart at all.

There is nothing I want more, truly, than to be unalloyed, pure, undiluted - aimed hard & undistracted at my Maker.  And there is nothing harder, for me, than just being who He made me to be, and not who I think you'll want me to be.

During the past four months, I have gradually emerged - been freed, really - from the depression that has cocooned me for over a year.  Part of this has been through teachings on God's design for us, and part of it was, I believe, the depression itself:  born of weariness in mask-wearing, it gave me respite, a space in which to rest, and heal.

The depression itself, it seems, was a means to freedom.  Which reminds me, again, of the chrysalis.

A jar waits on a shelf.  One chrysalis hangs empty, a story of freedom attained.  Two remain, and what they contain, whether dormant butterfly or wasp, or nothing, only God knows.

I wait, too.  Only God knows His design for me, and whether sophisticate or rube, or something yet unimagined, He will bring it about in His good time.  This I know.

 : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : 

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