O’ Christmas Tree

This the season for celebration! Included in our celebration is our individual traditions and all our favorite songs!

One of my favorites is –

O Christmas tree, o Christmas tree
How lovely are thy branches…
Your boughs so green in summertime
Stay bravely green in wintertime
O tannenbaum, O Christmas tree
How lovely are thy branches
Let us all remember
In our gift giving and our merriment
With our family and friends and loved ones
The real and true meaning of Christmas
The birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ

‘O Christmas Tree! Recently, the Rockefeller Center in New York City celebrated the lighting of a very large tree – a long standing tradition. The official website of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree claims the tree is a ‘world – wide symbol of Christmas.’  A pagan symbol I realize, however, a symbol of hope and the season of joy. And I have always loved decorating a tree each year.

The first Rockefeller tree has quite a story. The tradition started with construction workers. They were the first men to put a tree up in Rockefeller Center. It was intended as a depression era pick me up. The story goes that on Christmas eve, 1931, construction workers at the Rockefeller Center site decided to pool their money and purchased the first twenty foot balsam tree. They freely decorated the tree with hand crafted garland and other decorations from their families. Then, they then lined up at the tree to receive their paychecks. Thus, was born a tradition. Very thankful men in very difficult times.

During WWII, the tree was decorated in a patriotic theme – red, white, and blue globes with painted wooden stars. In 1942, no materials needed for the war were permitted to be used for the tree, so three smaller trees were decorated – each in one of the flag’s three colors. In 1944, the tree was unlit due to black out regulations during the war. In 1945, the dark year was soon forgotten as six ultraviolet light projections were added to make the 700 fluorescent globes appear to be glowing the dark! By the 1950’s it took twenty workers on scaffolding nine days to decorate the tree. A tradition continued.

Now, trees are found in Ohio, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and even Canada and are usually Norway Spruce. This year, a 94 foot tree was chosen from New York. After the holidays, the tree with be used to make homes for Habitat for Humanity. Over 100 million people with see the tree and be reminded ‘O Christmas Tree, How lovely are your branches.

It is my sincere hope as we decorate for the season that we have fun with all our traditions, enjoy friends and family, and never forget the Reason we celebrate!

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Beside Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and God, my favorite person in the Bible is Paul. At first, Paul was not a believer and participated in the execution of believers. He was struck down on the road to Damascus by God Himself – an encounter that led to his conversion to Christianity. He was temporarily blinded by the incident as well as Divinely commissioned to the service of Christ.

Paul had visions and dreams given by the Holy Spirit, been raised to the third heaven and heard unutterable things, survived beatings that should have killed him, had prison chains snapped by an earthquake, received 39 lashes 5 times from the Jews, was beaten by the Romans 3 times, was stoned by his enemies once, was shipwrecked 3 times, spent a night and day on the open sea, and on frequent journeys, faced dangers from rivers, robbers, his own people, the non-Jewish people, dangers in the city, open country, sea, and false brothers. Paul faced labor and hardship, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst as well as went without food often and was often cold and lacked clothing. Paul goes on to say, not to mention other things – he had daily pressure on him, had to care for all the churches and his hands had been the gloves of God in countless wonders. (2 Corinthians 11.21-28) WOW! and all this never diminished his faith in the Living God.

I am amazed by the faith of Paul. What I am also amazed by is that of all the writers of Divine Scripture, Paul was inspired to write about prayer more than any other. In searching the Holman Christian Standard Bible, I discovered that in the letters written, Paul talks about prayer 26 times. In addition, he mentions words meaning prayer – supplication and intercession – 27 times. This man – who had been tortured on many occasions – is obsessed with prayer. So should we be. Why was he obsessed with prayer?

Prayer is the mystery of Christianity and powerful. In search of ‘pray’ and ‘prayer’ in the Holman Christian Standard Bible, prayer is referenced 356 times in the entire Bible. Prayer for life, fertility, success, finances, healing, winning battles, thankfulness, and many more reasons. These have given us the example to not just stand by and let ‘whatever happens, happen.’ Whatever need we or our loved ones have, we can pray.

Prayer matters everything. Our lives and the lives of the ones we love are shaped and influenced by our prayers. God is listening. It does not matter the form our prayers take or the posture we take when praying, it just matters that we pray – and pray at all times for all things. Pray for your family, pray for your neighbors, pray for your teachers, pray for the ones stranded on the road, the homeless, the needy. Pray for healing and deliverance, pray for salvation of our loved ones. Pray, pray, pray.

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The First Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! Many today with have family and friends over to share a meal and most likely some football!! A day many are off work. Some traveled great distances to celebrate this Thanksgiving 2018. I, myself, traveled from Florida to Ohio. My family is small and we will be going to a restaurant for our meal, but we will be together – laughing and talking for sure.

I remember when I was a little girl, learning of the first Thanksgiving. We were taught about the ‘colonists’ who were known as Pilgrims. It was in Plymouth. I did not realize at such a young age how brave these travelers were. They left the only home they knew to travel for sixty-six days across a great sea that they may not have made it across. When they did land in America, the land was not welcoming. There were undeveloped areas and some inhospitable people here. They were cold and overcome with disease and loss.

Some Indians were hospitable and taught the newcomers to cultivate corn and make maple syrup. They shared their knowledge and helped them become a part of a new world. I understand our very first Thanksgiving was held by Pilgrims in Wampanoag – no doubt an Indian name – in the Autumn of 1621. This area is now Massachusettes. This day was shared by Pilgrims and the Indians who helped them survive and flourish.

It was not originally a celebration, but a time of prayer. Prayer that allowed the Pilgrims to enjoy their first successful harvest. I cry as I think of how they trusted their God to bless them in this strange and dangerous land. They worked and prayed and when God answered, they were thankful.

In 1863, amid all the goings on with the Civil War, President Lincoln declared the day a National Holiday – again as a day of prayer. President Lincoln stated in a proclamation to all Americans to ask God to ‘commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, and sufferers in the lamentable civil strife’ and the ‘heal the wounds of the nation.’ Perhaps we need the same prayer today.

Today, many will celebrate with turkey and dressing and pumpkin pie. They will eat so much they will not be able to leave the couch for a while. Not only do I want to enjoy the celebration of the day to give Thanks, but I want to always remember God has blessed me in every way. He has not blessed me to then turn around and think I no longer need Him and no longer need to humble myself to remember all the ways He has produced ‘harvest’ in my life.

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Is There a Right Road?

I have heard that ‘even atheists pray.’ That intrigues me. Why would they pray and who are they praying to? Well known atheist, Christopher Hitchens, wrote a book, “God is not Great.” I disagree with his title, but in his book, he outlines how people have claimed to be ‘religious’ and done unspeakable acts. While I agree humans are really imperfect, that does not negate the greatness of the Living God to me. He never supported a claim about ‘God’ not being great, just people. Mr. Hitchens died in December, 2011. I am not 100% certain, but I understand that when his cancer was advancing, he claimed, ‘there is much comfort in the old scriptures.’ Does perspective change when circumstance changes? Now, Mr. Hitchens knows for certain if there is a God and if there is a heaven, but I would be greatly saddened that with his free will, he chose to not believe.

Another well known atheist, Stephen Hawking, was claimed to be the smartest man in the world. Mr. Hawking verbally stated he was a godless man. He said all the remarkable things that are true about our bodies and this planet ‘are so because they need to be so.’ I consider this the most ignorant thing  I could ever imagine said, however, what else would a man without God think and say?

I have also heard so many contend that ‘all religions’ are good. Well, did all the religions have a God that created the universe? or are we still thinking it all came together without any thought or Divine intervention? I am too amazed at Creation to think life just happened to happen. Does it matter what religion we believe? In Joshua 24:15, Joshua states – ‘And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.’ Today, the same is true, if other religions are correct, follow them, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Living God, the God of Israel, the God, Jesus, Who died so I can live forever.

Does it really matter what we believe? Jesus told us in Matthew 7:13 – ‘Enter through the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and spacious and broad is the way that leads away to destruction, and many are those who are entering through it.’ What did He mean? When I look at these Words, they say to me that Jesus is the ‘Narrow Gate.’ He is the Only Way to life. The wide gate is all the other ways people think they can get to heaven. This is not ‘intolerance,’ it is the Truth and I believe our very lives depend on it. I believe ‘He is the Way, He is the Truth, He is the Life.’ (John 14:6)

The next question is always, ‘would a ‘loving God’ punish us?’ Deuteronomy 30.19 tells us ‘(God calls) heaven and earth to witness this day against you that (He has) set before you life and death, the blessings and the curses; therefore choose life..’ It appears God allows us to make the choice and really wants us to make the choice to choose Him. 

Yes, I know many ‘good’ people who even put many Christian believers to shame, but the fact still remains, no one will ever be ‘good enough’ to get to heaven and the Father without the blood of His Son. We all stand at the foot of the Cross in need of a Savior.

What causes one man to believe so little and another to be so consumed by God? I do not know, but I know I love Him with all my cold little heart is capable of.

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Even though the truth is I never understood the song “Tin Man” by the music band, ‘America,’ and the words have some pretty poor grammar, my favorite line is, ‘Oz never did given nothin’ to the Tin Man that he didn’t already have.’ I think everyone remembers Dorothy and her three companions going to Oz. Oz really didn’t give them anything except the realization of what they already had. The brain, the heart, the courage.

Courage. The Word tells us, ‘For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.’ (2 Timothy 1.7.) There is no time for casual faith. The Word tells us, ‘The thief comes, to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.’ (John 10.10) What thief and what is he stealing?’

The thief is our enemy – the devil. The thief takes our hope, our life, our happiness, our loved ones.. and so on. Jesus came to give life and gave us the power to overcome the evil in our world. Jesus gave us the power to help those around us, but we need to be aware and we need courage. Abraham had courage. Genesis 14.14-16 says, “When Abraham heard that his nephew had been captured, he armed …. 318 trained servants …and pursued the enemy….and he brought back all the goods and also brought back his kinsman..and his possessions, the women and …”

This is one of my favorite examples of a believer hearing his family is in trouble and he ‘goes and gets them.’ This speaks to me to pray for God to use me to fight the devil (and a great big fight it is sometimes) and ‘get my family’ back. We are in battle every day. Prayer and putting our faith into action is how we have the courage to rescue our loved ones. Luke 19.46 says, ‘(Jesus) said to them, “My house will be a house of prayer…” ‘

It is my heart, and the Heart of the Father, for God to do a miracle for everyone in my family and everyone I meet. Others have tried to convince me that in order for people to have prayers answered, the person being prayed for must be ‘willing’ to receive a miracle. That may be true and it may not be true. I read in Joshua 2.13, where Rahab asks for her family and states, ‘and save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all they have and deliver us from death.’ AMEN. She prayed for her loved ones and her prayer was answered.

Also in Esther, I see her, her uncle Mordecai, and all the Jews fasting and praying for God to intervene. They were ordinary people who became heroes to those they loved. I am ordinary and believe that for ‘such a time as this’ (Esther 4.14) God has called me to pray and fast for my kindred and everyone I come in contact with.

The Bible tells of healing that happened when fathers and mothers asked for their children. Jesus did not ask if the recipient was ‘willing’ to receive. (as in Matthew 8.5-13 as Jesus responded to the Centurion.) This compels me to have courage and  be bold in prayer and hold nothing back. It compels me to ask that the ones I love have healthy relationships, be happy in life, be well, have healed hearts and minds, have good lives, strong positive behavior patterns and leave the old destructive lives behind. I pray they be delivered from death. I pray they live and not die because my Savior died for all these things.

These are not the words of lifeless idols, these are the Words of the Living God to us.

Have courage! We have been endowed with it by our Heavenly Father.

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Could you image a war without any weapons? Kinda comical actually. Sadly, we live in a world inventing more and more devastation producing weapons and every good soldier knows they need weapons. In a perfect world we would never need or use weapons, but in this imperfect world, that will never be. Our enemies will always be prepared for battle.

We not only face the possibility of physical war, we face spiritual war every day. Sometimes we think our battle is against a certain person or circumstance, but there are unseen forces that are against each of us and the ones we love. The Bible tells us this in Ephesians 6.12 – ‘For we are not wrestling with flesh and blood [contending only with physical opponents], but against the (tyrannies), against the powers, against [the master spirits who are] the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spirit forces of wickedness in the heavenly (supernatural) sphere.’

In Sun Tzu’s well known book, “The Art of War,” he describes many things to prepare for actual war, but I know another Book that tells me the true art of war. Isaiah 54.17 promises believers that ‘no weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from Me,” declares the Lord.’ We are victors in Christ against every attack or unsettling circumstance we face. But we need to be informed.

The Bible assures us – ‘For though we walk (live) in the flesh, we are not carrying on our warfare according to the flesh and using mere human weapons. For the weapons of our warfare are not physical [weapons of flesh and blood], but they are mighty before God for the overthrow and destruction of strongholds.’ – 2 Corinthians 10.3-4.

I always wondered exactly what are our weapons? They are prayer, faith, obedience, repentance, praise and worship, the Word of God, the blood of Christ, the Name of Jesus, thanksgiving, the Truth, our salvation, forgiveness, fasting, our confession of our faith and love for God and more. (in no particular order). These are our weapons against defeat, depression, loss of hope, lack of employment, sickness, anything that is against us.

Daniel faithfully prayed three times a day and discovered why there was a delay in the answer. “And [the angel] said to me, O Daniel, you greatly beloved man, understand the words that I speak to you….for to you I am now sent….Then he said to me, Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your mind and heart to understand and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come as a consequence of [and in response to] your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me for twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief [of the celestial] princes, came to help me, for I remained there with the kings of Persia.”  Daniel 10.11-13. Now, I may not know who all the princes and kings are in this passage, but I do know they are enemies and it looks like there was quite a battle before Daniel’s prayers were answered. 

Ephesians 6.10-18 tells us, ‘Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes…so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.’ Be prepared. 

Evil is real and all around, God is real and all around and Greater than anything in the world against us. I John 4.4.

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An Honor and a Privilege

I had the best Grandfather in the entire world. I know some would like to challenge me on that, but they would have quite the contest to think there was ever or ever will be a better Grandfather in this world. He only had an eighth grade education, but my Grandpa was the greatest man I ever knew. He was the smartest and kindest and all round most wonderful Grandpa ever. He taught me many things and he taught me by example that you never don’t take care of family.

My Grandfather took a trip to Europe once. It was pretty amazing really. He had never been on a plane before, but he flew to New York City and then on to Europe. When he came home, he was so excited to tell us about the trip that he spent the next twenty years telling us about it over and over again. I am ashamed to admit that I once thought if I had to listen to another story about Europe, I would fall over and die on the spot. Now, much time has passed since I lost my dear Grandfather and I wish more than anything in the world I could sit on our front porch, share a Whopper from Burger King, and I could listen to him tell me over and over again what he saw and how much he enjoyed on his trip to Europe.

It is because of my Grandfather that I was able to attend nursing and veterinary school. He was my rock. I lived with him as he took care of everything while I studied and dreamed and finished my education. I was younger then and my heart wanted to have a family of my own. There was a time I told God I was upset to have be taking care of my Grandfather when I wanted a family of my own. I heard the Lord whisper to me, “he’s taking care of you.” Looking back, I wish I could tell him how much I miss him and how grateful I am for all the care he took of me. Sometimes we do not see the reality of our lives and I did not see it then, but I do now.

Five years ago, I moved to Florida to spend time with my brother. During that time I have come to know what a precious gift it is to give the ones we love our time. I have always been in a hurry to work and do things. I have few regrets, but the one I do have is not spending more time with the ones I love. Now, I have the wonderful blessing to share time with my older parents. I think what a wonderful blessing it is to have our loved ones with us for a very long time. I consider it an honor and a privilege to be with them. I consider it my blessing to care for what they need me to do for them. I will have memories I will cherish forever for the time I spent with my Grandfather, my brother, my parents, and all those I love.

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Value Just Because

A friend once gave me a mug as a gift with the words, “God Danced the Day You Were Born.” This gift was meaningful because it came at at time in my life when I was uncertain of my value as a person. The words on the mug were based on the Bible verse, Psalms 139.14 -“I will …. praise You … for the (awe filled) wonder of my birth!” 

The world idolizes fame, fortune and beauty. It makes me wonder exactly what makes us valuable? One of the saddest moments in my life, but should have been one of the happiest, was the day I graduated from veterinary school. I thought this accomplishment would make me feel important and valuable. The truth was when the lights were out and there was no one to pretend to, I felt like a nothing and a nobody. The truth was, I was no particular ‘body.’ I came from a blue collar family that did average jobs and lived in an average neighborhood, and we were unnoticed by others for the most part.

As I struggled with the question, ‘was I valuable’, others thought I ‘had everything.’ I was a registered nurse and just graduated as a veterinarian? They looked at me as if I had the whole world. But deep inside, things were not okay. These things did not make me feel like my life was valuable. Then, the answer came to me from God’s Word. The answer is that I am valuable because I am me. Sounds so simple, but I had spent a life time being a ‘human-doing’ to make myself valuable, when I was a ‘human-being’ and was valuable to God because I was His and He made me. Human-doings spend their time frantically trying to make themselves approved, lovable, etc. This is exhausting and I don’t think it really works. Human-beings are just that – being human.

I know many people who feel their lives are meaningless and some feel worthless. This hurts my heart badly because I felt that way at one time and am blessed to have been able to realize and accept that my Heavenly Father values me above anything monetary on this planet. I am more valuable to Him than all the homes, cars, boats, treasures collected, or anything in this world. He finds me and you HIS most precious possession. (Exodus 19.5)

It matters what we think of ourselves. If we feel our lives are worthless and others’ lives are  worthless, then we act like it and do self-destructive things or things to hurt others. These only further lead to feelings of worthlessness and it is a vicious cycle. We need to get off the hamster wheel and believe what God has said about us. He loves our brown eyes, blue eyes, curly hair, strait hair, short stature, chubby physique, our sense of humor, and whatever else makes us, us. He danced the day you and I were born. He was there and excited to welcome us to life. He finds us valuable. We do not have to DO anything, all we have to do is BE us.

Yes, I believe we do things as Christians in response to the great Love we have received in Jesus, but that is not where our value is, it is just in being us.

My prayer today is for all to know how special and valuable they are.

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A Cup of Cold Water

When I lived in Ohio, I admit I never drank the daily recommended eight eight ounce glasses of water.  However, in Florida, it seems I cannot get enough. The temperatures and humidity cause insatiable thirst and water is welcome and refreshing. I do get my eight eight ounce glasses a day now. Something that seems so inconsequential, but is monumentally crucial.

Water also makes me think of other things. I am blessed to have many FB and other friends who are doing great things for God. Some are pastors, some are missionaries, some care for orphans, and many others are using their gifts for the Kingdom each and every day. Sometimes I sit and think of how I would like to do so much for God. I think of orphan children I would like to make sure are fed and loved and know they are special. I would love to tell others the truths He has told me. I would love to pray for others I have never met. God has meant so much to me for over forty years and I wish I could give Him just a fraction of what He has given me. I realize I just have a small life. I wonder what I can do for God?

One day God showed me. I shopped for my brother when he was too weak to shop himself. Without letting him know, I removed those hard to remove covers over the tops of his orange juice and lemonade bottles. You know the ones. I knew he was weak and removing them was difficult for him. One day, he caught me removing the tops. I was expecting him to be uspet because he was very independent. He said, “I forgot to thank you for doing that.” I knew he realized I was trying to make things easier for him. Not only did I shop for him, I washed clothes and spent time with him – letting him talk and feel important and valuable. Now, to tell the truth, no one  in the world would consider this important, but I think God does. Matthew 10:42 tells us, “… and whoever gives one of these little ones … even just a cup of cold water because he is My disciple, they will not lose their reward.”

A cup of cold water. Everyone can give a cup of cold water. A smile to those around us, a hug to a struggling friend, a cup of tea and company to a widow. An encouraging word to a friend. We all have a cup of cold water. Look for the opportunities every day. I know they are all around. God is watching and He sees everything we do – even if just give a cup of cold water in His Name.

Our friends and family need us to love them and do what we can to make their lives better.

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Do You Want?

There is a story in the Bible I have always found interesting. It is – “Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem … Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, ….. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie — the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.   One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, He asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?'” John 5.1-6
I always wondered why Jesus asked the man if he wanted to get well? What kind of a question is this? It has always seemed odd to me that someone who has been ‘not well’ – especially for 38 years – just may not want to ‘get well.’ When I analyze it, I think perhaps the man never imagined he could be well. Perhaps he was used to being ‘not well’ and did not know how he would be if he were well because being ‘not well’ was all he ever knew. Perhaps he did not think it was even possible to be well – for many reasons. Maybe his illness was incurable, maybe the time he had been ill discouraged him, or maybe other reasons.
I have been very lucky to know God and been healed by Him. About thirty years ago, I suffered from a great depression that caused me to want to end my life. I did not know why I was depressed and the condition continued for five years with no hope of being well or free from the depression. I did not know where to turn and no one I knew seemed to know what was wrong with me and why I was suffering so badly.
The Bible states, “My people perish for lack of knowledge..” (Hosea 4.6) This told me that there was something I did not know that was causing my pain and suffering. I began to search for the reasons and read and availed myself to the help that is in books I read and meetings I attended. I discovered the ‘punishment necessary for me to have peace was placed on my Savior the day they crucified Him…’ (Isaiah 53.5). He provided my peace with His sacrifice.
I had problems that were causing me harm, but I had been in the behavior patterns so long, not only did I not even realize how damaging the patterns were, change was uncomfortable, frightening, and difficult to say the least. But, if I was going to live and ‘be well,’ I had to change what I was doing to be healed. I obeyed God and the depression left without medication or hospitalization and has not been back in thirty years.
I am not perfect and struggle every day to make my Father proud of me and show Him how thankful I am that He saved my life. He assures me that His love is Everlasting and He in Unconditional Love and Acceptance. I see others struggling with similar things, but when I try to share, it seems to me they do not ‘want to be well.’ This confuses me. When I struggled and found an answer, I was elated. I hope if you struggle with addiction, depression, anxiety, negative behaviors or any other struggle, you find your answers and realize God is always the Answer to all our struggles.
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