Bible, Culture, Life's Moments

Memorial Day Thoughts…

Grandpa McGrath’s leggings: WW1

I am thankful I come from a long line of veterans. Some fortunate enough, like me, to never see combat. Others, not so fortunate. I am also thankful I have never had to suffer the ultimate loss of any of those who served in combat. However, for some, to whom I owe everything, the losses of those they fought with are staggering. From my Grandpa Micky on my Mom’s side in WW1, to my Dad and Father-in-law and my wife’s step-father, and uncles in WW2, to my brother-in-law and my cousins in Viet Nam, and my nephew in this long war against terrorism, the numbers are hard to even imagine. Dad and Earl stormed the beaches in WW2…Dad in the Pacific, Earl on D-Day. Both made it from basic training to the beaches, through multiple large battles, to mop-up patrols, and finally home. They literally lost 1000’s of their brothers…all around and very near them on their full assaults, behind their covers, in their fox-holes, and further to the rear and both flanks, but never their fronts…because both served with squads on point. Dad and Earl and Lee separated from service upon their returns home. Dad was recalled for Korea. He fought again. He was recalled for the Berlin Crisis. Thankfully resolution occurred before any fighting started. He was then called again. So he took up his weapon and his aid bag and fought and bandaged and splinted and removed dog-tags yet again in Viet Nam. His service spanned 35 years with 22 on active duty and 5 (possibly 6…we’re not sure) in combat. Through it all he grieved most the condition of his little brother who returned from the Korean War with what we now call PTSD. His little brother never really recovered. Family breakdown and alcohol became his partners until the alcohol consumed him and brought death far too soon. So, actually, I was wrong earlier when I said, “I am also thankful I have never had to suffer the ultimate loss of any of those who served in combat” for surely Uncle Jim’s death was the last fatality due to WW2 to strike so close to Dad’s heart.

So to those in my family who fight no more, to those still with me, to those now on active duty, call me to attention because I owe you my salute, my respect, my love, my freedom, indeed my life. To my dear Brat Family: the same salute, respect, and love do I extend to you and yours. Your Dads and your Moms, who served just as faithfully as their husbands, are just like mine. They are heroes, legends…ordinary people who rose to extraordinary heights. All my love.

Father, thank you for them all. Please honor them. For those gone by, attend them as no human hands ever could. For those still with us, encourage them, keep then, protect them, prosper them.

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Bible, Life's Moments

Protection From Above

I’m not sure, but I think my son, Daniel, once had shades of Snoopy lingering in his thoughts. You know, that particular image of Snoopy perched in a tree like a vulture keeping watch over everything below. Ready to pounce. Ready to provide. Ready to protect.

It’s okay. I got this.

It happened during that period of time when a mom and dad begin to nudge the responsibility and self-discipline training to the next level. Daniel was about 10 years old. Vanita and I had discussed some timing issues and some method issues regarding Daniel’s training. One of the items we chose was to leave him at home alone for a half hour or so.

“Daniel, we need to run to the store real quick. Matthew wants to go. Of course, Jessica is coming with us. Would you like to go or would you like to stay here and look after the house?”

Now all ya’ll know where this was designed to go. And it did.

“Really? I can stay here,” he asked.

“Yes. You’ll need to be very responsible. You know the house rules, right?”

“Yeah, I can do it!”

“Right, we know you can. So, okay, we won’t be long.”

Driving away produced no small amount of stress, but drive away we did. Training goes like that. A little older…a little more instruction…a little more responsibility…a little more autonomy to achieve success…a little more grace for the slips…and a whole lot of praying. We drove away with the stress and moderated it with the praying.

All these years later, I’m happy to report success. Back then, well, let’s just say I wasn’t always so sure.

We were anxious to get home, but we gave Daniel the time we had predetermined. We pulled into the drive way…and the excitement began. Daniel came on the run…not from the front door, not from the back door, but from up in a tree.

The tree was one of his favorite toys. It was one of those classic climbing trees. Situated just off the front porch and overlooking the front door, it provided a low branch for a swing and a tall climb for rambunctious kids. Apparently, it also provided Daniel with a fantastic ninja position.

“Dad, Dad…Mom, I saw this lady. I saw her.”

“What lady, Daniel?”

“The lady, the lady walking up the street. I could tell she was gonna come to our house.”

“Did she come to the house?”

“Yeah, I knew she would.”

“Oh, Daniel, did she knock on the door or anything?”

“Uh-huh, I knew she would.”

“You didn’t answer, did you? You know you’re not supposed to do that.”

“No, no, I didn’t. I couldn’t.”

A little bewildered, we just kind of stood there looking perplexed.

“I couldn’t answer the door. Instead, I said, ‘Who goes there!?’”

“What,” his Mother asked.

Daniel answered, “I said, ‘Hey, who goes there,’ and the lady jumped and screamed. I took care of it, Dad.”

“Daniel, wait, wait. What are you talking about,” I asked.

“Well, when you left, I was kinda scared, but I wanted to take care of everything, so I decided to climb the tree. That way I could be safe and watch over everything. So, I grabbed the hatchet…”

“The hatchet? Daniel, what? Why the hatchet? You know it only has certain uses and I need to be around when you use it,” I said with a nod to authority. On the inside, though, I knew where this was going and my Father/Daddy/Papa/Dear ‘ol Dad pride meter was climbing at break-neck speed.

“Yeah, the hatchet, Dad. (Breathing kind of fast) I was a little scared, but I knew I had to protect everything, (breathing a little harder) so I got the hatchet, (taking a gulp of air) turned everything off, locked the doors, put the key in my pocket, and climbed to the top of the tree. (Big breath, from corner to corner his smile stretched as far as the east is from the west). I did it Dad. Everything’s okay.”

“And the lady,” we asked.

“Oh, after she screamed and asked what I was doing in the tree, she left.”

Just like that, it was okay. It was okay.

Mom gave him a big, long hug.

I gave him a high five.

It was okay. Still is.

In just less than two weeks, Daniel will marry the lady for whom he has been praying, hoping, and looking for since he was a teenager. Her name is Abby. Daniel will perch over her. He will protect her and provide for her. He will pray with her, play with her, plan with her, and parent with her. He will be passionate about her. peaceful for her, and patient with her. Because he has such a wonderful Dad. No, take it easy, I’m not talking about myself. At night, before falling asleep, he’ll check in with Dad. After each long day he will say, “Dad, Abba Father, I did it. Everything is okay. The house is locked up. Abby is safe. (One day, hopefully) The kids are okay. I did it, Father. Everything is okay. Thank you. Amen.”

Here’s the important part…

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Update: Daniel and Abby, happily married, love one another and our Lord more and more everyday, help others and their little Rachel to do the same thing, and expect a brand new little baby boy any day now!

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Bible, Life's Moments

Memories

Memories. Sometimes sweet. Sometimes bitter. Almost always instructive.

A recent conversation brought this to mind. It gave me cause to reflect on my “days on the farm.” What an awesome, incredible, joy-filled experience… especially for a city boy.

There is nothing quite like waking up to the sight of five or six cows on the loose and running down the road. Nothing much can prepare you for the frightful moment a turkey decides to lunge at your midsection. And the yard work…oh brother, forget it! The weeds never go away.

If you are familiar with farms, then you know what I mean. If not, you have nooooo idea.

Neither did I. In fact, I thought it would be everything my childhood imagination insisted.

Bare feet.
Fresh milk.
Omelets every morning.
Horseback riding.
Sipping lemonade on the porch.
Dangling hot feet in cool streams.
A dog for the front yard.
A dog for the back yard.
A dog for the truck.
And a dog for Mama’s lap.
Mice keeping the crumbs away and cats keeping the mice away.
Roosters crowing.
Sheep braaaing.
Cows bawling.
Children playing.
And grown-ups talking.

Well, I guess it’s all of that and quite a bit more. Some I experienced. Some I still dream about.

During our first church ministry, my young family and I were invited to live on a farm with some members of the church. They had just built a new home on the farm leaving the old farm house empty. We could hardly believe our fortune. The scent of hay filled our senses from a hundred miles away. We could barely contain ourselves. Graduating from school, packing our household items and tying up loose ends became mere formalities. In our hearts we were already on the farm.

The arrival only reinforced the expectations. And four years on that beautiful farm confirmed our expectations were right. We built friendships stretching to heaven and memories that seem like heaven.

One in particular still gives me reason to giggle. My wife, Vanita, was out weeding her small garden. Remember, we were city folk living the country life…always willing, not always as wise. As she kneeled, pulled, dug, and rearranged, our first child, Matthew, played around her, on her, under her, and sometimes over her. He played with the tools…well, he managed to lift a handle or two, seeing as he was just two years old or so. He picked up the discarded weeds…put some of them back in the ground. He dug deep in the soil with his bare hands. He chucked a few small stones. All in all, he was becoming the little boy I once longed to be.

Playing behind Vanita, Matthew said, “Mama, is dirt good?”

“Yes, Sweetheart, the dirt is good,” she answered.

“Mama, is the sky good?”

“Yes, Honey, the sky is good.”

“Howbout the rocks, Mama? Rocks good?”

“Uh-huh, rocks too, Matthew.”

“Grass?”

“Yes, grass too.”

“Mama, are worms good?”

“Yes, Baby, worms are good.”

And for just a little bit our son fell silent.

… … …

Then,

“Puh, yecch, blech, puh, puh, splech, khu-poo…uh-uh, Momma, worms not good!”

Turning, my beautiful wife witnessed Matthew spitting the last remnants of a large earth worm from his mouth. He turned, lips and cheeks all covered with dirt, smiled and said, “Uh-uh, Mama, worms are ugh.”

Memories are awesome. They bring back good times…sometimes not so good times. They give us a reason to pause…slow down…reflect…and learn. You can fill in the blanks regarding the lessons we learned from that little episode. Even more so the many lessons learned during a not so successful transformation from city folk to country folk. Perhaps for me the lesson is this: children want to learn. They are born with the who, what, where, when, and how questions ready to explode from their minds and their lips. More importantly, the why question is just begging to be fulfilled.

“Why is dirt good, Mama?”

“Well it helps us grow food.”

“Why, Mama?”

“Because, it has the right stuff for growing the food.”

“Why, Mama?”

“Because, it’s always been that way, darling.”

“Why, Mama?”

“Because, that’s how God made it.”

“Why, Mama?”

“Oh, Baby, sometimes I just don’t know why.”

“Why, Mama?”

If you are a parent, you’re saying, “Been there, done that,” right?

Most often their questions make us proud. Often the questions stump us. Sometimes exasperate us. Hopefully they do not anger us.

It’s the way God designed us. The human being is a question producing, information gathering, idea synthesizing product of an all-knowing, never-changing, wise and creative God. We learn. He teaches. We’re made in his image. So we get to teach also.

Be careful, then, Mom. Be careful, Dad. Be careful, grandma, grandpa, aunt, uncle, teacher, preacher, counselor, mentor…be careful. In the Bible we read this:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Deuteronomy 6:4-7

and this

My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things, things from of old—things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done.  Psalm 78:1-4

and this

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.  Ephesians 6:4

Be careful that you help your offspring not only know about God, but come to know him. The last thing you want to hear from your son or daughter one day is, “Puh, yecch, blech, puh, puh, splech, khu-poo…uh-uh, God’s not good!”

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Bible, Life's Moments

Brewer Road

Brewer Road. Douglas County. Georgia.

My sister married into a large family that came from Brewer Road.

The last name of that family is Camp. The family is even bigger these days. Included in the family is Jeff, my nephew.

Living so far away we do not get the opportunity to know one another very well. My loss.

However, a little less than a month ago, Jeff and his Mom, my sister Barbara, came to the great northwest for a short visit. The visit was prompted by the death of my other sister, Floria. Now, okay, not the best circumstances for a visit, but still the visit was sweet. I learned a few things on account of that visit. Barbara is a great Mom. Jeff is a great son. And I’m positive I can say the same kind of thing about the rest of that Georgia family.

Jeff could not contain himself. While I have met his wife, Amanda, only once (and that on their wedding day), and have never met his beautiful little girl, McKoy, I feel as though I know them well. Jeff simply spilled and gushed tid-bits and news regarding both of them. If Jeff has ever hit a home run, shot game while it was on the move, succeeded at business beyond the expectations of others, or any other way gained some small town fame, I would not know. He didn’t talk about himself. He talked about others.

His wife.
His daughter.
His Mom.
His Dad.
His brother.
His extended family.
His co-workers.
Even the former sheriff of Douglas County (if you ever meet Jeff, you will want to ask about the Sheriff).

And it was all positive. And sometimes what he shared was priceless.

One of those stories took place on old Brewer Road. If you can recall the song by Brooks and Dunn, “Red Dirt Road,” then you’ll have a good picture of Brewer Road back in the day. Now for just a few moments allow yourself to transport back to the early 50’s. That’s right, right back in the middle of the last century. Picture for yourself an old, red dirt road stretching and winding its way through the pine trees, kudzu, scupanon vines, corn fields, and cabins with nothing but dirt for yards.

Now imagine a young man walking that old dirt road with nothing but a duffle bag hung over his shoulder. Mixed in his heart were the expectations of joy for returning home and the exasperation of pain for remembering war. His name is Ernie. He was coming home from Korea. Ernie was one of seven boys born to Fred and Manie Camp.

Imagine also a mom, dad, and six brothers standing, milling around, kicking the dust, chatting, longing, looking for him to round the curve and enter into sight. Early in the morning they gathered. Eagerly they waited. On that day they waited. Think about that…that day, for them, today, their day, his day…an epic day…a day they had contemplated and anticipated…time stood still on that day. It stood still the way you want time to stand still. It stood still with the joy of life not the humdrum of life. Time is like that. When you are focused on the event, the celebration, the glory and the hope, time is inconsequential. Ernie’s soon and coming return produced this kind of hope. It was more like an eternal moment than minutes and hours on a slow southern day.

And then it happened. No confusion. No mistake. Recognition was perfect. The son and brother came into sight. He ran. They ran. The dust of the old dirt road churned. Whoops and hollers from deep southern drawls sang their way through the dark corners of woods and swamps spreading the light of their joy. Young legs carried young men toward one another. Older legs of Mom and Dad trailed behind, not for want of enthusiasm, but simply for age. Six brothers reached their brother. The reunion would be spectacular. One brother plowed right through them. Ernie’s eyes were on Mother and Father. Yes he wanted to rejoin his brothers. He wanted to hug them. Talk with them. Catch up with them. But first…first came Mom and Dad. He ran into their arms. The son was home. The parents were content. The brothers watched. Deep satisfaction paved old Brewer Road. Beautiful. Incredible. Fantastic. I can imagine Mother Camp whispering in the ear of her returned son, “Well done. I’m so glad you are home.” I can also imagine his tears of joy.

As Jeff told me this story, his eyes also filled with joy…not tears of joy. Instead, his eyes were afire with joy. Genuine excitement moved him body and soul. He recalled his Uncle Don telling this story now enshrined in their family hall of fame. His Uncle Don—the preacher—loved this bit of family history. It reminded him of His Story. It reminded him of heaven.

Heaven, where time stands still with the event of God’s glory.

Heaven, where every reunion pales in the light of our union with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Heaven, where all the out-stretched arms of loved ones who have gone before must yet remain empty of our embrace as we thrill for the promise of the Everlasting Arms.

When one finally reaches the final destination, he or she does not run into the arms of anyone other than the most beloved. So, for a little while, can you allow yourself to be transported to your final destination? Does that destination look like the one described by Jeff and before him his Uncle Don? Does your destination sound and feel like this:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. Revelation 21:1-6

Will your destination find time standing still with joy and expectation? Will the glory of the never-ending event of the presence of God satisfy all your longings? Will you run past all the others into the Everlasting Arms? Will you hear the Savior say, “Well done. I’m so glad you are home?” Will you?

There is a road.
There is an old dirt road.
It is paved with memories.
It’s called Brewer Road.
There is another road.
There is a long narrow road.
It is paved with life.
It’s called Salvation Road.

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Adversity

The Mother of All Water Fights

The fresh air and beautiful sunshine of early February were a joyful pause in the midst of a long, wet and gray winter. The relief from old man winter’s grasp renewed my expectations for life. A day earlier everything seemed dark, but the coming of the dawn sun brought light of another kind. It was a gift from God.

That winter had been unusually stressful. The difficulties my son faced day to day seemed too large to overcome. His impulsiveness and hyperactivity stirred most people to anxiety. Few in his life could refrain from pointing out his weakness and fault. In pain, my wife and I endured the long winter with him. His heart was broke and ours was breaking.

One night, during early February, when the days were sunny and warm and the nights were crisp and clear, I slept like I had not slept in weeks. There was no tossing and turning. My mind seemed unusually calm. My spirit rested. Shortly before the morning alarm erupted, I dreamed.  If the dream’s author was not God, I would be surprised.

Standing atop a very tall building, I looked below into the crowded city streets. People moved quickly and strategically. If not all, then most were engaged in the mother of all water-fights.  They tossed water-balloons. They carried water-guns. They held hoses streaming water at full force. Some even wielded high-tech water devices only found in dreams and only used in George Lucas films. There were hundreds and thousands. The odds were several thousand…

…to one.

The one was my little boy.

In the crowds of the city’s chaos he stood alone. From my vantage point high above the city streets, I could not reach him. All I could do was watch as he moved between the cars, as he dodged one water blast after another, as he drenched his opponents, and as he maneuvered himself with the tactics of a special-forces soldier.

Oh, how my heart stood still. Remorse and pride commingled in the depths of my emotions.  Suddenly, I began to cheer. Words of encouragement fell from my lips.

“Go, son, go.”

“Yes, yes, that’s it. Look out, he’s coming up on your left.”

“Alright! Way to go! Great job!”

He took on so many. He stayed in the battle. He fought a good fight. Finally the numbers overwhelmed him. From front and back, from right and left, he took water, shot after shot, until he was drenched. The odds against him were just too great.

Sitting in the middle of the street, people standing all around him, he looked up. His eyes met mine. A lump formed in my throat. Tears gathered in the corner of my eyes. “Oh no,” I thought, “not again, not again.”

We looked at one another. Our eyes met. I expected sadness. But…but…he smiled.

He smiled! He didn’t cry. He didn’t frown. He didn’t stomp his feet. He smiled. All I did was cheer. He did the hard work. He engaged the battle. He met the resistance of a world filled with uncaring and uneducated enemies. He won. He won! He may have been drenched. He may have been overcome by the sheer numbers. Yet, he had his victories. He won.

As I awoke, I felt the tears running down upon my pillow. Pulling myself from bed, I stumbled into his room. His breathing was soft. His face was relaxed. His sleep was peaceful. The dawn once again brought early February sunshine. The light of the morning broke the night of darkness. The Light of the World broke the spell of darkness. My son had an advocate, a cheerleader. If no other would stand on his behalf, I would.

I bowed in thankfulness to our Savior and I realized then my son had an even greater advocate. His name is Jesus. And that greater advocate was calling me to be like him…filled with grace and compassion.

How about you? Do you need an advocate? Do you need to become an advocate? Start with Jesus.

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Bible, Life's Moments

The Dreaded Wood Stove of the Family Room

Toddlers never cease to amaze me and usually astound me.  I have a few twitches to prove it.

In our old home there were certain items that had been “forbidden” to our little ones.  For instance, the ever lurking and always fascinating electrical outlets were always labeled “Authorized Personnel Only.”  I could just see it, I would turn my back for the briefest moment and one of them would plant a giant, slobbery kiss on one of those little electricity spitting menaces and…ZOWIE!!!  “Waaaaaa!”  “Child, haven’t I told you…”  (Most fortunately, this one never happened to us, but I’ve been told other parents actually suffer nightmares from it.)

No we have not endured any electrical exhilaration, but there was something else.  That something, for our oldest son, was a high and looming object in the corner of the family room.  Black, hard, austere, I’m sure that from his vantage point it looked to be a mighty fortress just waiting to be conquered.  It just stood there.  To him it must have been almost mystical.  From the top there arose a tall tower.  In the front there opened and closed a creaky-hinged door.

Like any fortress it never seemed unprotected either.  Always, always, our son knew the guards were not far away.  Giants they were.  Sentries on the prowl.  Never mind they were also known as Mom and Dad.  When it came to that thing they were like Ninja.  For a toddler this all added up to high adventure.  The pages of a Little Golden Book turned themselves in his very own house.

Yeah, that’s it.  You guessed it — the Dreaded Wood Stove of the Family Room!  Many was the time our oldest heard the order being issued by one of the sentries.  “Thou shalt not touch the wood stove; for in the moment you touch it you shall surely feel much pain and scream thy little head off.”  But, remaining true to his species, he constantly marshalled his forces (two teddy bears, a purple pig, and a funny looking lion).  He developed strategy and plotted tactics.  Finally, he would launch a full frontal assault on the “Fortress Wood Stove.”

See, like every human, our son hears from the “United Front of Dark Espionage.”  It seems their reports are always contradictory to the commands of the sentries who stand their ground on behalf of the Great King.  Filtering through the airwaves, or brain-waves, or whatever, comes that age old intelligence report:

“Have they indeed said, ‘You shall not touch the wood stove?'”

Our son, would peer across the vast plain of the family room.  His brow would wrinkle.  Pondering.  Mulling it over.  He would then hear the final message:

“You shall not surely feel great pain and scream thy little head off.  For in the moment you touch the wood stove you will be like them.  You will really know things then.  You will be your own boss.  You will be in control.  Yes, you will say when it is the best time to eat and sleep.  You will decide whether it is good or bad to break your mother’s fine china.  You will be like them!”

Then, sadly, our son would heed the report.  With a shrill scream and flailing arms, he would launch that attack.  Complete with diversionary tactics and commando like energy, his invasion upon the “Fortress Wood Stove” looked bound for success.  Five feet.  Four feet.  Three.  Two.  One.  Only inches left.  The screaming was about to begin.

Suddenly, from out of nowhere would come the long arm of a sentry.  Swooping down, Mom or Dad squelched the rebellion as suddenly as it had started.  The battle ended.  Nothing remained except the retreat.

“Why, Papa, why?  How tum tan’t I tush it?”

Good question, huh?  It’s no different then yours or mine.  Or Adam and Eve’s.  Though we rebel, God forgives.  Though we run, he never loses sight of us.  Though we fall, he picks us up.  It takes time to learn when we’re little.  It takes time to learn when we’re big.  Life and death, light and darkness, obedience and rebellion crowd the adventures of history and everyday living.  Sometimes the learning is painful.  Sometimes we’re spared.  Sometimes, if we are open to it, God will prevent us from touching the heat.  Because he is holy and full of grace, we can be equipped to accept the freedom of saying “No!” to the Fortress Wood Stove of the Family Room.  It begins by saying “Yes!” to Jesus.

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