The 10,000 Foot View

Not long ago I listened as a friend confided some problems she was facing. It seemed as if her whole life was a mess, but it really wasn’t. I was able to see a few key adjustments she could make to reverse course and feel peace again. 

Fast forward to just a few days ago when I faced a problem that frustrated me and felt like withdrawing from those around me.

Why was I able to clearly see the answer for someone else but not for myself?

It’s called the 10,000 foot view! When we rise up above the minutia and details of our lives, we can more easily surmise a solution. It’s “seeing the forest in spite of the trees.” And, more often than not, we have a 10,000 foot view of the problems of other people, but we are too mired in the details to have the same view of our own.

Check out what Paul wrote:

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us – they help us learn to endure. And endurance develops strength of character in us, and character strengthens our confident expectation of salvation. And this expectation will not disappoint us. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” Romans 5:3-5 NLT

The bottom line is Paul challenged us to have a 10,000 foot view of our own problems. He preached that if Christians rise up above the frustrations and hurt that our problems bring, we will see the bigger picture.

  • We will see how our problems build up endurance (which means the next problem won’t trip us up quite as badly as the last one).
  • We will learn that our ability to endure difficulties builds a strong character (which prevents us from wallowing in self pity and makes us models to follow)
  • We will learn that our strong character makes us confident in our salvation (which brings purpose and peace)

Friends, if we could learn to pause in the midst of our problems to gain the 10,000 foot view, we would benefit immensely. I’m convinced our problems, though just as difficult, wouldn’t cause us to stumble so badly. Just look at Paul. He faced unbelievable circumstances: betrayal, threats, misunderstanding, jail, beatings, loneliness,….the list goes on. His problems were difficult but he wrote often of his joy, his purpose, and his willingness to keep going.

How could we gain a better perspective on our problems? Could we talk to a trusted friend? Could we make a pro/con list? Could we read Scriptures for insight? Could we pray? Could we read a book for help? Could we visit a counselor? 

Your Turn: What steps could you take to “pause” in the midst of a problem and gain a 10,000 foot view for perspective? 

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Two Simple Steps to Avoid This Age-Old Problem

facepalmI love shopping at Whole Foods. I was just there last night getting a few items that aren’t available at my local stores. Whole Foods offers some unique and healthful items, but not everything is what it seems. Recently, Whole Foods was in the news for selling items at a high price that aren’t worth it. Prime example: asparagus water. Selling for a whopping $5.99/jar, asparagus water is literally 4 sticks of asparagus soaking in a jar of plain water. People have expressed outrage all over America for the ludicrous cost and the proof that people were buying items at a high cost which were, in fact, worthless.

Has anything ever cost you a lot but proved worthless in the end? I can think of tons of examples: buying items to bring temporary joy, filling schedules with activities to bring a sense of significance or achievement, or saying yes to every opportunity in order to please other people. Yet, these actions often result in feelings of anxiety over money woes, exhaustion, disappointment, or a loss of personal identity.

Have you ever been there? I have. Sometimes our decisions can cost us a lot but give us nothing in return.

It’s not a new experience, though. I’ve been reading through each of Paul’s letters in the New Testament, and it seems the Corinthians bought some proverbial asparagus water, too.  Paul explained that the false prophets in Corinth had charged high prices for their preaching, yet Paul had preached the Good News for free. He even asked, “Did I do wrong when I humbled myself and honored you by preaching God’s Good News to you without expecting anything in return?” (2 Cor 11:7 NLT). The Corinthians were probably a lot like you and me. They figured if it cost more it must be more valuable, and so they fell for the age-old marketing trick: a high price conveys worth. Spoiler alert: In the end, the Christians in Corinth recognized the false teachers as such, and they returned to the truth of Paul’s teaching. No word, however, on whether they got a refund on the bogus preaching.

Want to know how to avoid getting duped by pleasant-sounding people and opportunities? Pray for eyes to see and hears to hear God. (Prov 20:12)

  • Pray for eyes to see life’s circumstances and decisions the way God sees them. Don’t make decisions or confront situations without first seeing them through God’s lenses.
  • Pray for ears to hear God’s voice louder than all the false voices yelling at us. Don’t listen to the wrong voice and discover you’ve cost yourself time and heartache.

Our decisions don’t have to come at a high cost and give us nothing in return. We can avoid the d’oh! moments of life. Our lives – every decision, activity, and relationship – can be full of worth and value if we first filter them through God’s standards. 

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I’ve Had This Conversation Hundreds Of Times

In 20 years of ministry I’ve had the conversation hundreds of times. Maybe more.

You know the one. The one in which someone says they are too busy to read the bible. Or they don’t understand it. Or they admit they hit the snooze button on the alarm clock and run out of time.

We are all guilty of it, right? Who among us hasn’t employed those excuses? Even the most righteous struggle in this area from time to time. Trust me. Life in our culture is too busy – too distracting – and, we’d rather get on with our day than to be still with God.

Yet, God is always faithful to speak through His Word when we crack open the Bible and dive in. Sometimes He teaches us something about His character. Other times His words put courage in our hearts. He guides us, directs us, inspires us, and corrects us through those words. He moves us, empowers us, and reminds us of Who He is….and who we are.

Which reminds me of another conversation I’ve had hundreds of times. Maybe more.

The one in which someone expresses their shock over how beneficial a few quiet moments with God can be.

“Wow. That verse was exactly what I needed today.”

“I feel so much better about my day because I started it with God.”

“God used those verses to comfort me in my lowest moments.”

“I needed an answer, and God spoke clearly this morning.”

It’s true. All of us, including myself, are often amazed at how practical and relevant Scripture is, and we are surprised when God chooses to weave His Word and our experiences together to be loud in our lives.

You’d think those kinds of experiences with God would keep us coming back for more. You’d think that getting a taste of wisdom or comfort or inspiration would develop a craving to spend more time with God.

But, then again, we are easily distracted.

We are busy.

And so we settle for whatever news or agenda or soundbite that is thrown in front of us. We allow our spirit to be informed by the covers of magazines or the headlines. We allow culture to dictate what we think about right and wrong…about good and evil.

Rather than feasting on Truth, we devour trash.

Friends, we don’t have to settle for that. We can feast! We can be inspired to make wise decisions. We can learn Who God is and how He relates to His people. We can learn how to overcome temptation. We can learn how to love our enemy. We can receive comfort in unexplainable ways. Peace can flood our minds. Self-worth can sky-rocket. Spiritual growth can explode.

Each morning.

In a few quiet moments.

With God.

Today, toss the trash and enjoy a feast. Do it tomorrow, too. You’ll never regret spending time with the One who loves you. What will you choose today?

“A wise person is hungry for knowledge while the fool feeds on trash.” Proverbs 15:14

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Sirens Aren’t Coming To The Rescue

My hubby and I were parked in a empty parking lot in an unusually quiet part of Atlanta when we heard it – the familiar and sickening sound of car tires screeching on asphalt. We whipped our heads around in time to witness two cars collide with heart stopping force. Time slowed as I saw one car careen into another. For some reason I felt the need to provide commentary as we sat frozen. 

“Oh my gosh, that is a horrible wreck!”

“Umm, the second car is rolling. Wait, the driver is bailing out of the car….the car is still rolling!”

“Shawn! She is crawling across the street! She’s hurt!”

Shawn got into motion before I did, and before I knew it, we were both running full speed to the scene. An elderly man had been driving the SUV that hit the lady. He sat frozen in his car. Stunned. In shock. Thankfully, Shawn and I weren’t the only ones on the scene, and 2 other men began helping him.

As Shawn began directing traffic to avoid another accident, I tended to the woman who had rolled out of her moving vehicle. Her car had rolled to an embankment and died. Both air bags had deployed and glass was everywhere. I couldn’t find any immediate injuries, but blood was on her face which was rapidly swelling. She was so thoroughly stunned that she had trouble speaking. 

Then I heard another sound. This one was familiar, as well. The sound of someone praying. Another lady had arrived on the scene and had begun praying aloud over our friend on the ground.

“Do you hear that,” I asked the hurt lady? “People are praying for you right now.” She nodded her head. 

As I asked the injured lady who she needed us to call, I could hear the prayer warrior asking God to heal and comfort. I reached up and squeezed the praying woman’s hand in thanks. 

All of us together kept traffic at bay and took care of both victims until we heard another familiar sound – sirens. Thankfully, an ambulance arrived within 10 minutes and offered much better help than we could. But, the sound of those sirens….they brought hope and comfort.

My ears were full of sounds. Some brought pain and destruction. Others brought hope and healing. Although my experience was quite literal that day, my ears are full of metaphorical sounds every day. Sounds of friends in need. Sounds of my family in need. Sounds of my church in need. Sounds of a neighbor in need. I won’t hear sirens coming to the rescue in any of those situations. I am the rescue. God has equipped me to do His work. He has tasked me all of us with that responsibility. What’s more, it is our privilege to be the rescue. Check out Proverb 20:12: 

“Ears to hear and eyes to see – both are gifts from the Lord.”

When God gives you the gift to see someone’s hurt or hear their need, be Jesus with flesh on. Love. Serve. Give. Christ in you is the help they need.

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When Prayers Aren’t Enough

healing power of musicMusic has a way of speaking straight to my heart. More specifically, lyrics set to beautiful music has a way of capturing emotions I’m incapable of expressing.

Does that make sense?

Have you ever heard a song that so clearly explained how you were feeling that you needed to play it again? Needed to google the lyrics so you could read them slowly….letting them sink deep into your heart?

My daughter endured the most difficult experience of her life earlier this year. During one of her most painful moments, I overheard her humming. It was in the wee hours of the morning, and she was high on pain killers, eyes closed, but she hummed. The sound was beautiful even as tears streamed down her face. Although the tune was familiar, I couldn’t quite place it. While she hummed, I prayed for her comfort.

Later that week, I heard the same familiar song on the radio – Oceans, by Hillsong. As I listened to the lyrics, I had one of those moments when I when I wished I could hit replay on the radio. Comparing the painful experience my daughter was living with the sentiment of the song…..well, tears streamed down my face. As a matter of fact, every time I hear the song now, my eyes still fill with tears.

To be clear, my daughter had no idea what she was singing that night. She was out of her mind with pain and painkillers and doesn’t remember humming. But, without a doubt, I believe the Holy Spirit was using that song to comfort my child. I believe He ministered to Hannah when my prayers and groanings were not enough.

Romans 8:26 says, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”

Read the song lyrics for yourself. If you are facing circumstances that are too deep for words, may you remember that you, as a child of God, are His, and He is yours. He will keep your eyes above the waves.

Oceans, by Hillsong

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now

So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

I will call upon Your name
Keep my eyes above the waves
My soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours and You are mine

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My Only Appointment This Summer

lazyI love the unstructured, unplanned days of summer. August through May, my family has demands, appointments, deadlines, and expectations that fill each day. Every day. Summers bring a very welcomed respite from that pace, but I still keep SOME structure. My kids sleep a bit later…..giving me the opportunity to lounge in my bed with my iPad. I read my bible and pray….and check the news and weather ….without interruption. Everyday. I have to wake up earlier than the kiddos , but it is always worth it! A structured plan to spend time with God means I’m walking TOWARD God and a healthy relationship with Him. On the flip side, when I don’t spend time with Him, I’m walking away from Him.

During our busier months, I wake up between 5-5:30AM in order to grab those quiet moments. In the summer, I get to stretch that to 6:30 or 7AM. For those of you who hate mornings, I’m sure you are rolling your eyes right now. Well, pull those peepers back into place and keep reading. Finding quiet, undisturbed, undistracted moments to read God’s Word and talk to Him are critical to spiritual health. Let me correct that. Moments aren’t enough.

Praying while we drive isn’t enough.

Talking to God while we walk a few laps around the ‘hood isn’t enough.

Those flip-style devotional calendars? Not enough. 

Squeezing time with God into our already full agenda isn’t enough. I’m sure God isn’t impressed by our ability to multitask.

The fact is spending undistracted, focused time reading God’s Word transforms us into wise, mature, and equipped Christians. The bible teaches us what God is like, how He relates to us, and how we should respond to the world. When we study its stories, we find parallels to our lives….and answers to our questions. Then, we can take the next step  – actually living out what we’ve learned.

We don’t get that kind of info when the sum total of our plan for spiritual growth is a prayer walk.

So while I’m enjoying the lazy days of summer, I’m taking advantage of the extra time to read. My YouVersion bible app is in full swing. I’m reading the bible in chronological order (just a few chapters daily) and I’m reading a short plan by Rick Warren called God’s Prescription For A Healthy Life (just a 16 plan). I’m going to pull my kids into the mix, too. We’re going to choose one book of the bible to read together this summer – their choice. I’ll let you know how it goes!

The bible is God’s love letter to us. Don’t neglect it. Instead, blow off the dust and crack it open. I promise you’ll be glad you did.

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Are You Ready?

preparedLast week brought unwanted excitement to Forsyth County. A man wearing 2 bullet proof vests and a gas mask and carrying an assault riffle drove an SUV loaded with explosives to the front door of our county courthouse. He was intent on deadly mayhem, and he got it…..except the mayhem was on him.

One of our sheriff’s deputies saw the suspect approaching the courthouse and engaged him outside. A gun fight ensued. Police backup was called, and our local SWAT team (who had just completed a drill and were dressed in full combat gear) arrived in 37 seconds. Yep, 37 seconds. The suspect – who was determined to take lives – lost his life within the first 2 minutes of the engagement.

The safety of our civilians rested in one thing: our law enforcement officials were prepared. They were trained, alert, and ready to step into battle. They had participated in drills to train their reflex reactions. They were aware of their surroundings….conscious of danger. As law enforcement officials, they long ago accepted that they would likely find themselves in extremely dangerous situations….and they were willing to put themselves in harm’s way.

I’m incredibly thankful for the quick response by those men and women. More importantly, I’m inspired by it. Because of their preparedness, they did their jobs with excellence last week. I have a job, too: to represent my God to a watching world. Sometimes that job requires me to speak about my faith; other times that job simply requires me to model Godly behavior while others quietly watch. Either way, if I’m not ready to speak or act in ways that honor God, I will squander the opportunities I have to lead others to know or understand God. If I haven’t trained myself in the quiet moments of life, I won’t be ready to respond when storms roll in. And, trust me, storms WILL roll in.

So, how can you and I be prepared to do our jobs as followers of God? 

  1. Know what the Bible says. Read it. Memorize it. Study it. Learn the principles by which God relates to us and expects us to behave.
  2. Pray. Talk to God. Listen to Him. Ask for help. Ask for opportunities to serve. Thank Him for His goodness.
  3. Discipline our tongues and emotions. Learning to guard our words and responses to others takes practice. Speaking before thinking often produces moments we regret, so we must train ourselves to pause before those biting words tumble out of our mouths. We must train ourselves to pause long enough for heated emotions to die down before we engage someone else.
  4. Sharpen one another. Learn from one another. Listen to church messages, read books, build a small group of Christian friends, and spend some one-on-one time with a trusted mentor or friend. People in these settings grow in faith faster than those who aren’t.

Life happens. Kids ask questions. People divorce. Cancer strikes. Consequences hurt. When life happens, I want to be prepared. My effectiveness depends on it. Maybe, just maybe, someone else might depend on it, too.

Who is depending on you today? Will you be prepared to respond in a way that honors God?

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My Plan To Build Community

women-friendsSo my last few posts have been all about making plans – plans to turn our good intentions into our best successes – in 4 major areas of life:

Personal Growth

Leading/Supporting my family

Using the gifts God gave me

Building Community

If you ever feel as if life is running faster than you can keep up, these posts are for you. Setting an agenda for key areas of our lives enables us to stay laser focused on accomplishing what really matters to us.

Today, I’ll share the last post for this series: my plan to build community with others. All work and no play…..well, who lives that way? Not me! I LOVE breaking free of my responsibilities and goofing off. I secretly hope for cancelled events or snow days….reasons to plop on my couch and watch movies. And hanging with my friends….they make me laugh and keep me sane! But, if I’m not careful, my calendar will be so full of have-to’s that I won’t I have time for get-to’s. Sooooo, I PLAN it! Here’s my plan for building community with others:

1. Time for friends:

  • The first Wednesday of each month is blocked off for random fun with friends. We shop for new jeans, drink way too much Starbucks, or discover new places to eat lunch. We chat about parenting, the latest tv shows, and swap recipes. Sometimes we’ve engaged in bible studies, other times we’ve met at someone’s house to plan a monthly menu. Sounds exciting, right? Well, it is. Time with my friends – whatever we choose to do – is gold! But, I’ve learned that unless I schedule it, I’ll get too busy for it.
  • Each Sunday night my family and I attend our Life Group, a small group of friends from church who get together to eat dinner and discuss the sermon we heard at Mountain Lake. I am open and honest with these friends about the victories and struggles in my life. They make me better!
  • Remember my plan for personal growth? Exercising is a big deal to me, but I hate doing it alone. Instead, I partner with 2 friends. We get fit and grow in friendship everyday.
  • I set reminders on my Google Calendar for birthdays and anniversaries for my close friends. I want them to know they are important to me.
  • I text my friends. A lot. Random messages of encouragement, funny one-liners, inquiring about their day, prayers for them…..I never underestimate the power of connecting with my friends.

2. Time for mentoring others

  • Relationships are not all about what I can receive, but also about what I can give. That’s why I set aside the 4th Thursday of each month to invest into others. Sometimes I meet with other pastors’ wives to coach them through the challenges of ministry; other times I meet with local friends who need a little direction in finances, marriage, or parenting. My goal is to sharpen their skills and faith. To do so, we set time parameters, agendas, and how many sessions we’ll meet together.
  • Jesus told us in Scripture to “go and make disciples.” The word “go” literally means “as you go.” Since I take Jesus at His word, I do my best to keep my eyes and ears open as I encounter people each day. Random conversations can become something much more powerful when I simply become aware of God’s activity around me. Encouraging someone during a marital trial, encouraging a tired parent, complimenting a weary friend, sharing a bible verse with a struggling friend….God can use me to mentor and coach others anytime, anywhere.

Do you have a plan to build relationships with people? People need you. And, you need people. I’ve shared my plan, but what does it look like for you?

  • A weekly play date with other moms who have kids the same age as yours?
  • A monthly dinner with neighbors?
  • Joining a Life Group?
  • A monthly meeting with a younger friend who could benefit from your wisdom?

Put your thinking cap on and make a plan. Remember, you don’t have to change the world.  Just change your world.

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My Plan For Personal Growth

“My life definitely runs me. I don’t seem able to run it!”

“The ‘plan your work and work your plan’ is good advice, but what’s a good plan??”

“My life is more chaos than order. HELP!”

Recently, I told you guys what my Top Ten were – the top ten areas where I focus my time and energy – and it seems I’ve hit a nerve. Many of you have expressed your own frustrations when it comes to accomplishing your daily to-do’s. Life comes at most of us like an open fire hydrant dousing us with a barrage of demands, requests, and deadlines, and we’re left drowning in the mess. We don’t mind working hard…we just want to work hard on the things that matter most. We want to lay our head on our pillow at night feeling satisfied, not defeated.

So in order to ensure that I accomplish the things most important to me, I’ve made a plan. Well, actually several plans. And I’m going to share them with you. Maybe you’ll find an idea here or there that you can implement. Maybe you’ll be inspired to share a few of your own ideas, too. Over the next several posts, I’ll share my plans for:

Personal Growth

Leading/Supporting my family

Using the gifts God gave me

Building Community

Let’s start with Personal Growth. For me, this includes spending time with God, physical fitness, and rest/margin. 

1. Time with God: Each morning between 5-5:30 I read the Bible or the YouVersion app on my iPhone. I usually follow a planned reading guide or engage in a book study. I take notes, highlight key passages, and record my thoughts. I listen for what God is saying to me,then I talk to Him. It’s not rocket science; it’s a simple plan to knowing God. I finish up around 6AM when my first child wakes up. I never have any distractions this early in the morning, and it’s a great way to start my day.

2. Physical Fitness: Once my kids are out the door for school, I meet friends at 8:40AM Monday through Friday for a good workout. We grab light weights (and my trusty fan because I need cool air blowing) and follow an exercise DVD. The workouts typically take 40-60 minutes. I don’t plan any appointments before 10:30AM so I have no excuses to miss working out! Without a set time and plan, I am certain I would never workout.

3. Rest/Margin:

  • Since Sundays are a work day for my family, and we only get a couple of hours to rest on those days. We usually spend that time on the couch watching movies. My hubby and I have made Monday’s our day of rest, instead. It’s his day off, and we plan NO appointments. NO phone calls. NO agenda. There are exceptions, of course, but they are few and far between.
  • I build down-time into my daily schedule. For instance, I stop working on projects 30 minutes prior to my kids arriving home from school, allowing me time to decompress and recharge before my family requires my attention and energy.
  • I also keep certain times during the week unscheduled. I call this time “margin.” Because I don’t schedule every minute of my life, I can say yes to unexpected opportunities/demands that arise. God doesn’t always stick to my schedule, so I better make room in the margins for Him to change my plans!
  • I clock-out at 5PM. As a stay at home mom, my work is never finished, but it’s important to me (and my family) that chores and tasks end and family fun begins. I wouldn’t like it if my husband came home from work and then locked himself in his home office to work some more, so I shouldn’t do it, either! Rest is good for all of us!

So, there you have it: my plan for Personal Growth!

What about you? Any ideas? Any suggestion? What is YOUR plan for Personal Growth?

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My Top Ten

Last September I wrote this post about planning the activities of our lives. My goal? To encourage us to make the best use of our time! We should run our lives – our lives shouldn’t run us – and making a plan can help bring success to our intentions. After I posted the blog, a friend requested more specifics on the plans I make for my own activities. In short she asked for my top ten – ten areas I focus on in daily life for success in family, faith, work, and relationships.

Uh, easier said than done.

Categorizing my activities took a little thinking. Nevertheless, I’m most satisfied when I’m accomplishing significant things, so determining what those significant things are is important! I took a few minutes to write down the overarching categories that really matter in my life.

Personal Growth

Leading/Supporting my family

Using the gifts God gave me

Building Community

Then, on a separate page I listed my activities in a typical week. I discovered everything I do falls into one of those overarching categories: 

Personal Growth:

1. Time with God

2. Time for margin and rest

3. Time for fitness

Leading/Supporting my family:

4. Time with Shawn

5. Time with my kids

6. Time for errand/appointments/chores/financial planning

Using the gifts God gave me:

7. Time for ministry

8. Time for writing

Building Community

9. Time for friends

10. Time to invest into others/mentoring

Alas, there are 10 – count them, 10 – areas in which I spend my time. I guess you could call them my Top Ten. By focusing on these 10 areas, my good intentions become my best successes. Of course, I don’t spend equal time in each area. Some get an hour each month, while others get daily attention.

Here’s the bottom line: Life is FULL of distractions and interruptions, sometimes leaving us at the mercy of whatever is most urgent, but with the help of a plan we can make our lives count!

What about you? What are the overarching areas of life that are most important to you? In other words, where do you spend your time? And do you have a Top Ten?

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