Monthly Archives: October 2011

Laughter: A Natural Medicine


Has anything made you laugh recently; I mean really laugh? Or are you, like so many people, laugh-deprived?

There is so much serious, spiteful, angry, vengeful, critical, judgmental, accusatory, hurtful stuff filling the airwaves, video screens, Facebook posts, blog comments, and print media, that it’s sometimes hard to breathe in the thick atmosphere of malcontent.

There is so much bad news worldwide: national and international crises, human suffering, natural disasters, job shortages, stock market roller coaster rides, disease, murders, child abductions, etc.

I sometimes feel that I am suffering from laughter deprivation, humor depletion, a definite feel-good shortage. I find things to smile at – but little to laugh at. And most of the stuff on TV sitcoms that is classified as “humor” is either stupid or borderline obscene.

To balance things out a bit, last week ABC had a story on the benefits of smiling. Research has revealed that a smile makes people feel better, whether it’s a smile from someone else offered to you, or your own smile offered to another person. If a simple smile can do that, imagine what hearty laughter can accomplish.

I checked out the benefits of laughter and have decided that I need to do a lot more of it.

Laughter can have a positive effect on pain levels.  Not only can laughter give us a physical and emotional release from pain and stress, but it can actually give us an internal workout – on the abs and the diaphragm, as well as  relaxing other muscles, like those in the neck and shoulders.

Laughter not only reduces the level of stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, but it also increases the level of health-enhancing hormones like endorphins and neurotransmitters. Laughter also increases the number of antibody-producing cells and enhances the effectiveness of T-cells–those cells that are instrumental in fighting such diseases as cancer. All this means a stronger immune system, as well as fewer physical effects from the daily stress that’s in all of our lives.

When we laugh more through the day, it also takes our attention off of negative things that surround us. If we look for the humorous side of things or put a humorous spin on things, it can ease the stressful moments and give us a different perspective on the situation at hand.

I am a very practical person; I can easily see the roadblocks that could hinder a project or idea. This can sometimes lead to stress before things happen. I am a plodder and can push myself until something is done, whether or not I really want to be doing the project.  When laughter is injected into the planning or the work, things usually go smoother, with far less stress.

The Bible says:

Eccl. 3:4 There is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh . . .” (NRSV)

Though life has it’s time of tears, it’s not good to dwell on sad things. We need to look for and plan for laughing times.

David and I both realized a while back that we need to laugh more. So we began to tune into old sitcoms, like The Dick Van Dyke Show,  I Love Lucy,  All in the Family, and Keeping Up Appearances. We sometimes pull out an old funny movie, such as What About Bob? or the older version of such classics as The Importance of Being Ernest.

If you want to get your mind and body into a more healthy state, especially if you are fighting a disease, as I am,  you need to put more laughter into your life to help strengthen your immune system.

Prov. 17:22   A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones.

Laughter is contagious. I love to laugh, though I don’t do it often enough. And I love to hear other people laugh. I have some favorites among the laughing population. My friend Joan has a catchy laugh and she can often see humor in the ordinary things of life. My friend Cheryl has a great laugh; sort of puts you in mind of the lion on the Wizard of Oz. There is a pastor friend of ours from Beebe, Quebec, Canada, named Bob Cargill who has a very distinctive laugh that is uniquely contagious.

But my very favorite laugh belongs to my husband. He has a great sense of humor and has a truly contagious laugh; it’s warm and friendly. I love to hear him laughing with others and encouraging their attempts at humor. His laugh makes me feel good, whether or not I am laughing with him.

I have a friend in Maryland named Dennis who often forwards emails to me that inevitably make me laugh as I read them. I usually end up sharing them with my household and friends and I laugh again with those people. I think I laugh louder and longer when I share the humor with someone else.

Look for ways to share your humorous moments and laugh-creating cartoons, videos, or emails with your family and friends.

Humor is a great pick-me-up for the blues.  So the next time you feel down, get with a friend who makes you laugh, watch a funny movie or sitcom, and ask the Lord to give you a spirit of joy in place of heaviness. Don’t let laugh deprivation ruin your day or your life.

What’s makes your humor thermometer rise? What makes you laugh?

©2011, Marcy Alves

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From Shame to Honor


Have you ever suffered embarrassment from harsh, unfeeling, and undeserved words that have been spoken in criticism or judgment? Have they left the mark of shame on your life?

After a message I shared with our church regarding two things the devil uses to disable followers of Christ – pride and shame – a woman from our congregation asked to share with the congregation. She said that during the past week an acquaintance of hers had derided her concerning her faith in God, that her friend shamed her.

Her prideful ‘friend’ said: “Your daughter was sick almost to death, your car was in an accident, you have money problems – what good does it do to go to church and believe in God, He doesn’t answer your prayers. I don’t go to church. I have four children and none of them are sick and I’m doing well without depending on God.”

Our church member continued: “It made me feel so bad. I’ve been feeling discouraged. And I have been crying all week. I know I was supposed to be here today for this message.”

Shame is debilitating; it causes believers to live under the cloud of doubt and uncertainty, hesitancy and timidity, depression and hopelessness – shame is not meant to be in the life of God’s child.

Some of our shame comes from others – from what they say and what they do to us. And some of our shame comes from our own participation with things of the flesh – things that end in our personal sin.

When we come to the foot of the cross and drop our burden of shame – seeing the Savior dying for our sins, shedding his blood to pay our debt, giving up His life to give us life – we should walk away from the cross with our heads held high, not hung down with a cloud of gloom surrounding us.

BC – before the cross – we had reason to be ashamed. AC – after the cross – things changed. Jesus came to do away with our guilt and our shame, no matter how that shame came upon us; to give us new life.

There are several reasons we no longer have to be ashamed:

  • Because we trust in Christ for salvation and the forgiveness of our sins:

Romans 6:22-22 –   What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.

1 Peter 2:6 For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

  • Because we have made Jesus Lord of our life

Romans 10:8 “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: 9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11 As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.

  • Because God calls us “sons”*

Hebrews 2:10-11 In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 Both the one who makes men holy [Jesus] and those who are made holy are of the same family.

  • Because Jesus calls us his “brothers”*

Hebrews 211-12 – So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. 12 He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.”

You are no longer an outsider, an outcast, a failure, a loser, a no good son of a gun. You are a child of God, a member of His family.

Recently I shared on Facebook and Twitter a God-tube video of Christopher Coleman­.

He was born dead and laid aside; when his twin sister was born about 15 minutes later and cried, Chris suddenly gulped a breath and cried. But because he was oxygen-deprived for 15 minutes – the doctors were certain he would be severely handicapped and suggested putting him away in a permanent facility. Christopher’s parents made the decision to keep him. Only those who have raised a handicapped child know the hardship of such a decision.

Since the video does not go into detail, we can only guess at the difficulty of attending to this young child’s needs. Yet, Christopher’s mother always gave him encouragement and planted hope in him from early childhood.  She was his cheerleader and pointed him toward his Savior and Maker, the Lord God.

Christopher was not sent to school with his twin sister when she started attending, but at age 5 he taught himself to read from his sister’s school books. He later graduated high school and at God’s instruction attended a college in Marietta, GA where he graduated with honors in a Communications major.

God told Christopher that He wanted to use him.  Chris can’t walk, has limited use of his hands, and labors to speak clearly. Yet he travels and shares his testimony about how much God loves him and saved his life for a purpose. The Lord has chosen him to “confound the wise”.

God has a different philosophy than the world does: the world worships success, wealth, material things, popularity, education, intelligence, influence, abilities, skills, but God chooses the foolish things of this world to shame the worldly wise – the arrogant.

1 Cor. 1:27  “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; “ (Authorized Version)

“Confound” means to stun, amaze, puzzle, mystify, bewilder, baffle, perplex and leave people speechless. That’s what God wants to do through the weak and foolish from the worldly view.

Maintaining our trust in a loving God in spite of circumstances is what confounds the “wise” around us who don’t know our God. We have no reason to be ashamed.

We have a couple of apple trees in our front yard. Because the trees had years of neglect before we acquired the property, the apples that come from those trees are misshapen, wormy, and small, with somewhat tough skins. But when I cut away the apples’ “shame” they are very tasty. They make wonderful applesauce.

I take the time each autumn to “redeem” these apples – to make something good out of them. They would go to complete decay if I did not intervene – like Jesus intervened for us.

Our Heavenly Father sent his Son, Jesus, to redeem us; to take fallen, misshapen, sin-stained, shameful and shamed people – some of us with very tough skins – and make something “tasty” of us.

Because Almighty God, Ruler of Heaven and Earth, is a God of love, He delights in taking his creatures from shame to honor – to leave the wise of this world stunned, amazed, puzzled, mystified, bewildered, baffled, perplexed and speechless.

Are you ready to give up the shame of your life – to exchange it for a life of honor?

 

©2011, Marcy Alves

* “sons” and “brothers” – in the New Testament refers to both men and women. This is actually an elevation of women in the culture of that time – particularly in the Jewish culture where only sons inherited from the father. In Christ we all have the rights and privileges of “sons” and “brothers”. (see We’re the ‘sons of God’ . . . So What?)

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Who’s in the Driver’s Seat?


Going for a ride in your car can be dangerous. And life in the fast lane can be especially treacherous.

There have been several tragic and fatal car accidents in the news this past week; two that are remarkable in their unique circumstances. One occurred at the Las Vegas speedway and the other at the intersection of Route 30 and Jessup Avenue near Marshalltown, Iowa.

The auto accident death with the highest national and international impact was that of IndyCar-driver Dan Wheldon.  He moved from England to the U.S. to be able to race in the Indy 500, which he called, “the biggest sporting event in the world.” Wheldon fulfilled his dream by twice winning the Indy 500.

This past week Wheldon was competing in the Las Vegas Indy 300 when the racing career of this 33-year-old came to an abrupt end, as did his life.

According to an article on the NASCAR website, “Wheldon started last in the 34-car field and was up to 24th quickly, but still well behind the first wave of cars that got into trouble on the fateful lap. Still, he had no way to avoid the wrecks in front of him. There was no time to brake or steer out of trouble. His car sailed into the fence extending high over the track barrier, and about two hours later, his death was announced.”

It was reported on ABC news later that he had died instantly from blunt force trauma to the head.

The other tragic accident referred to in my opening paragraph was that of Gordon and Norma Yeager of State Center, Iowa. The Yeagers were 72-year “marriage veterans”. Gordon (94) and Norma (90) had gone for an early morning drive that ended in their deaths several hours later. Their vehicle was hit by another car when Gordon failed to yield as he pulled away from a stop-sign into the path of another vehicle. There was no time for the driver of the other car to stop.

Gordon and Norma both died later that afternoon holding hands in the ICU room where they had been placed together.

Though “accidents happen” there are tragedies in this world that seem to be “other directed”.

Of all people, race drivers are aware of potential danger accompanying the thrill of racing, but are willing to take the risk. But, how many IndyCar races have there been at the Las Vegas track with no such pile-up as the one this past week?

How many people would consider it a risk to go for a morning drive? How many times have you or someone you’ve been riding with failed to look carefully before entering traffic from a side-road and have been spared from an accident, rather than becoming a victim?

There are other forces at work here.

Recently I spoke for a Christian women’s group in Sherbrooke, Quebec. On my way to Sherbrooke I picked up a friend in Newport, VT. On our way out of town on the evening before the speaking engagement, it was after dark as I approached an intersection where I clearly had the green light. Just as I increased my acceleration, a driver coming toward me suddenly took a left turn in front of me, cutting me off. I slammed on my brakes, stopping about 1½ feet from his front side passenger door.

About 35 minutes later, when my adrenalin pump had returned to normal output range, we were driving on a dark country road, when my passenger suddenly said, “A deer!” Only I thought she said, “Oh dear.” So I responded, “What’s up?”

She then almost shouted, “NO, A DEER!!!” To which I quickly responded with a foot on the brake pedal (adrenalin is a powerful, quick-action hormone) as “Bambi” bounded across the road. The deer had come in from my left in a blind spot created by the panel where the front windshield and the side window come together.

Another force was at work that night – one who did not want me to arrive safely in Quebec; one that did not want me to share my testimony with the women’s group the next morning. I rebuked that force in the name of Jesus. Thankfully, another power was with me that night.

My husband had a “driving” dream earlier this week. In the dream David was on a road not far from our house. He was riding in the passenger seat; no one appeared to be on the driver’s side. There was a steering wheel on his side of the van, another on the driver’s side, and one in the backseat. He was trying to steer with the wheel in front of him, but the car wouldn’t go where he attempted to direct it. He thought of switching over to the driver’s side of the car to use that steering wheel, but there was no seat on the driver’s side. It was scary to have absolutely no control. David woke up, glad to find himself in bed instead of in an uncontrollable vehicle.

I believe that David’s dream contained a message from God: it’s a message to all of us.

“My child, you’re in the passenger seat. I didn’t put a seat on the driver’s side of your ministry vehicle because I’m the driver, not you. There is a steering wheel in front of you and you will often feel like you should be doing something to steer the ministry. I will sometimes let you steer, but only when you take time to get directions from me. When the vehicle seems to be going out-of-control, turn to me. I will always be in the vehicle with you and will take over the controls any time you ask – trust me.

“The steering wheel in the back seat represents others who will try to steer your ministry course. Don’t let backseat drivers control the vehicle. Pay attention to me and you will not become a fatality of a wrecked ministry.”

How about you? Do you ever feel like your life has spun out of control? Or someone else is steering from the backseat? And just when you think you’ve regained control of the steering wheel, it seems to be disconnected from the tires on the ground? You’re heading toward a pile-up on the track and you can’t stop or steer around it.

How do you get back in control? Or should you even be in control? Are we ever really in control?

Long ago I surrendered my life to God. I asked Him to take over the controls of my life. I have to admit that there are times when I try to steer from my side of the car – the passenger side. But the Lord has allowed things in my life that are beyond my ability to control – I cannot dictate the outcome – such as dealing with cancer. But I can leave the driving up to my Heavenly Father, knowing that as I follow His leading, as I put my full trust in Him and His love for me, He will see that it all comes out just as He has planned.

There are no accidents where God is concerned. Though there is another force that would like to destroy me, as on my trip to Quebec, “greater is He that is in me than He that is in the world”. My Savior is in the driver’s seat and that is where I want Him to remain.

Who’s behind the steering wheel in your life? You or God?

©2011, Marcy Alves

People Pleasers and Gracious Receivers


Is there anyone else out there who has this problem: someone in your family, or among your friends, or at your place of work, or in your church, does something for you that they think will please you, but it has just the opposite effect?

Let me illustrate: your friend is going to the grocery store and asks if she can pick up anything for you.  You answer, “Yes, thank you. I need some garlic – the loose bulbs, not the packaged kind. I’ll pay you when you get back.”

Your friend returns later without the garlic, because she couldn’t find it in the produce section. But she hands you a bag of onions.

You just bought a bag of onions yesterday and your friend was with you when you made the emergency run to the convenience store. The kind of onion she bought today is not the kind you prefer; they are yellow onions and you like the sweeter taste of the Vidalia onion. You mentioned that to her yesterday when you had to buy the bag of yellow onions because the soup you were making for dinner needed onions and  it was already 5:00 PM, so you didn’t have time to drive to the grocery store.

Your friend says, “They were on sale and I know that you use lots of onions in your soups, and they are organic, you don’t have to pay me, they’re a gift from me.”

Now, if you’re like me, you appreciate sales, especially on organic produce, and you like free stuff. But you don’t need or want more onions of any kind at this time. You have experience with onions that have been around for too long, some of the rings in the onion get mushy and they rot.

How would you handle this scenario?

I actually found myself in this situation recently.

Where I should have felt grateful, I didn’t. I had all I could do to not say something that wound sound ungrateful, let alone thanking my friend for her thoughtfulness. Plus, garlic is what I needed at the time.

Honestly, I felt kind of irritated. I was being put in the spot of expressing gratitude for something for which I felt no gratitude. Maybe I didn’t want to feel like I owed her? This seems to be happening to me more frequently recently. What’s up?

What I felt like saying was something like, “Please don’t buy me things unless you know I want them.” Or, “Well, since I already bought onions yesterday, maybe YOU could use these YELLOW ONIONS yourself; I prefer Vidalia, remember?” Said sweetly, of course; not in a mean way.

I’m not going to tell you what I actually said, except for “Thanks”. I’m a little embarrassed about my not overwhelmingly gracious response. I have a hard time faking gratitude – it’s always been a struggle for me.

I wrestled with the situation after my friend left. I prayed about it. I don’t want to be an ungrateful person. And I don’t want to discourage people from trying to do nice things for me.

I asked the Lord to help me learn something from these on-going encounters. Remember when the Israelites were in the desert and didn’t get the lessons God was trying to teach them? It was “Okay, guys . . . one more time around the mountain.” (Deut. 1:34-45)

As I laid it before the Lord, a light clicked on in my head. There are three things I sensed the Lord showing me:

  • First, He reminded me of the Scripture that says: “Be thankful for everything.” (Eph. 5:20) Maybe this was a test from the Lord?

Or maybe the Lord had my friend buy the organic yellow onions for me because He knows I’ll be making lots of soup during this fall season and those who eat it won’t care what kind of onion I use. Or maybe someone else will need onions and now I have plenty to share?

Being thankful before figuring things out is an expression of trust in God, that He indeed oversees the circumstances of my life.

  • Second, how about when I think of blessing someone else?  Maybe I should ask them what I can do to bless them and not just do what I think will bless them?

Perhaps this is one of the explanations for many failed evangelistic efforts. Maybe our Gospel presentation is not reaching our neighbor, or our co-worker, or our family member, because they don’t see the need for what we’re offering them.

How can we expect people to be respond positively when we share God’s “plan of salvation” with them if they don’t think they need it? We have to first connect with them at the point of their “felt need,” even though we know their “real need” is a relationship with God through Jesus.

  • Third, I wonder how often we offer our words or works to God and expect Him to be pleased when what we’re saying or doing is not what He wants us to say or do?

Is our Heavenly Father sometimes frustrated with us because we don’t ask Him before we enter into a flurry of activity that may have nothing to do with His desire for us? Busying ourselves with things – even good things – that have little or nothing to do with His best plan for us – activities that crowd-out intimate time with Him?

How can it bless our Father when we give the best part of our time and energy to what we think might please Him or what makes us feel good about ourselves, when what He really wants is to share His heart with us and to reveal His love to us.

I wonder if He ever feels like saying, “It’s nice that you spend so much time feeding the poor and cleaning the church building, but that’s not what I had in mind for you today. It would please me more if you would first spend time with me and get your marching orders from me.”

Jesus said he only spoke what the Father told him to say (John 12:49) and only did what he saw the Father doing (John 5:19). If Jesus sought his Father’s instructions for what he should say and do, shouldn’t we?

Anyway, I’m ever learning, and with God’s help I eventually come to the knowledge of His truth. He’s teaching me to be a considerate giver and a gracious receiver (ouch!).

How about you?  Is God trying to get you to be “other” focused both in giving and in receiving? What’s God saying to you about your attitude of gratitude?

 

©2011, Marcy Alves

Photo by: David C. Alves

Encouragement: Producing Hope


Are you an encourager? Or a discourager?

Recently at our weekly Lifegroup meeting (a small community group from our church fellowship) we took a “self-examination” on encouragement.  There were fifteen “I” statements on the exam page. We were to rate ourselves on a scale of 1 to 5 – 1, being “hardly ever” up to 5, being “nearly always”.*

The self-exam had two columns in which to rate our encouragement to “family” and “others”. With my husband sitting next to me, this was a bit challenging. In case he was peeking at my self-scores, I didn’t want to overrate myself.  Self-exams are hard to do with a potential onlooker at your side.

Some of the “I” statements were tough to rate, like . . . “I have a healthy balance of affirming others for who they are and for what they do.” Sometimes I find myself defining who people are by what they do, their words and actions  – but “who” and “do” don’t always match up.

For instance, there are people who have been so beaten down by negative life experiences that who they really are becomes lost in depression, anger, fear, resentment, or hopelessness. If their circumstances were to take a turn for the good, without interruption by more bad circumstances, a whole “new” personality might seem to emerge. But sometimes that “new” person has been there all the time – just needing some encouragement to surface.

Anyway, at the end of our self-evaluations, we discussed our responses to the exercise.

Several of us felt we were more encouraging to “others” than to close family members. We seem to expect more from family members. Or family members may not feel as obliged to put their best foot forward at home, but expect their family to excuse their moodiness, grumpiness or rudeness. We don’t want to encourage bad behavior by being too nice, or so we reasoned.

Also, most of us tend either to put up with those negative moments from our family members, knowing (or hoping) those moments will pass, or we react in-kind – negativity for negativity. We often don’t think of giving encouragement to deflect unconstructive or pessimistic talk or actions.  So, we either reflect the negativity back to the offending person or ignore the person altogether.

From my experience with depressive talk, actions, or thinking from others, I have found that much of it comes out of a hopelessness that anything will ever get better.

There is always a cause for depression – a mental, emotional, spiritual, or physical trigger. Often it only takes an injection of hope into the situation to bring about positive change; the opening of a doorway out, or even a window to let light into the space where those who need encouragement live.

I have found several keys to help move people from discouragement to hope:

  • be an attentive listener and ask questions to show interest
  • pray with the person whom you are trying to encourage
  • share Scriptures which assure her/him that God knows about and can do something about their needs
  • offer to assist in setting goals and establishing first steps towards accomplishing those goals that will bring change
  • don’t give up on people who need extra time and compassion – God didn’t give up on you

There are many Scriptures that deal with “encouragement”. Here are a few to ponder as you consider your role as an encourager or “hope-giver”.

Our Heavenly Father’s Example

Psalm 10:17 You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; You encourage them, and You listen to their cry . . .

Romans 15:5  May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus . . .

Heb. 12:5-6  And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:  “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,6because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.

(That last passage may not seem to be encouraging at first reading, but it is truly awesome that God accepts us as ‘sons’, with all the privileges of being His children; other people need to know that God will accept them.)

Our Assignment as Encouragers

1 Thess. 5:11   Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”

1 Thess. 5:14   And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idleencourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.

 2 Tim. 4:2  Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encouragewith great patience and careful instruction.

Heb. 3:13  But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

Encouragement and Hope

Romans 15:4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

2 Thess. 2:16-17  May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

As we talked through the results of our self-exam, most of us in the Lifegroup conceded that we are not there yet as high-ranking encouragers. Yet, we would like to be people of hope who pass that hope on to others. I think the encouragement exam will cause us to look for opportunities to be encouraging others.  As children of God, we want to reflect His nature to those around us. And He is the ultimate encourager.

How about you? Are you an encourager? Would you like to be? Think about it.

©2011, Marcy Alves

*How Am I at Being an Encourager? c. 2000 Ken Williams Ph. D, International Training Partners

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