This Place at This Time

IMG_0499I was shuffling through my bookcase – reorganizing and deciding which books I’d like to keep and which books I’d like to donate – when I found a book that a friend had written and sent to me a few years ago.  It’s called “Walks with Rich” by C.W. Hambleton.  I opened up to the first chapter and read this quote by Rich Mullins:

“People always say, ‘I don’t know where the Lord is leading me.’  I always say, ‘It don’t really make a whole lot of difference.’  The important thing is to be where He has led you to already.  If He has led you into a marriage, than be faithful there.  If He has led you into being single, then be faithful there.  If He has blessed you with many material goods, then be a good steward of those goods.  And if He has blessed you by allowing you to imitate His life of poverty, then imitate it with great joy.”  

Be where God has led me.  

It is interesting that God led me to open up this book at this time and read these lines.  I had started a blog last week that I called “The To-Be List”.  About being where God has me.

My constant prayer is “I don’t know what to do. Lord, please show me.”  

I’m realizing that in many things I kind of do know what to do, I just don’t know how to be.

I want my circumstances to be different, so I want to do something to make that happen.  I want some of my problems to be solved…who am I kidding?  I want all of my problems to be solved.  I want things to be easier all the way around.

I want the decisions I’ve made that have had consequences that are difficult to be erased from my past.  I want to be able to drop the burdens I carry at His feet and leave them there.

And I keep asking God to give me the ultimate to-do list…the to-do list that will change things, the perfect to-do list, the one that actually moves us forward not just gets us by.  I keep thinking that there has to be a way to make life better, but maybe that isn’t what God wants me to get out of this place He has me.

I believe God wants me…me…to get better through this.  It isn’t it about what I do, but who I am.

Maybe its me who needs fixing, not my life?

But how am I supposed to be?  

The first thing that popped into my brain was “Be strong and courageous.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

Really that one?  Strong and courageous?

I guess it kind of makes sense for me, because I have things that seem hopeless in my life.  Being strong and courageous would certainly help me face challenges boldly and with confidence in God…instead of my woe-is-me, it-feels-hopeless, can-I-please-catch-a-break self.

Usually I face challenges trying to be strong and courageous all by myself.  

“I can do this!!!  I can fix this!!!  I got this!!!”

All said with great enthusiasm!  But not too much later, a quiet whisper of “I don’t know what to do. Oh my goodness, it just won’t get better. Why won’t things get better?”  

So again, I’m left with the realization that as much as I want to fix things, I CAN’T!

And instead of believing I’m hopeless because I can’t fix things, I want to turn to God and say, “It’s yours.”

Lord, please forgive me because I know I am not without hope…I do have eternal hope.  But honestly, I’m struggling a little bit to be hopeful about the here and now.

Sometimes I read other people’s stories, know of other people’s situations, listen as a friend pours out their heart, and I think what in the world am I complaining about?

Why can’t I just live and not feel so overwhelmed and exhausted?  You have placed me here in this time and this place.  How do I live here joyfully?

Maybe part of the problem is that when I think about joy, it gets mixed up with happy.  That happy that means I should be smiling and a little bit bouncy.  I smile a lot…even laugh, but it isn’t that carefree kind of happiness I long for.  

And bouncy…yeah, that’s not happening.  Slogging.  Slumping. Trudging. Slouching.  That’s me.  

But that happy isn’t joy. So what is this joy of which I speak but know not how to live?

Joy, I have heard, is an attitude of the heart.  It isn’t based on circumstances or people or things.  

Happiness does seem more dependent on circumstances.  Joy seems more like an attitude for living.

I can be joyful in my circumstances, but not necessarily happy.  

What does joyful me look like if she isn’t bouncy and perky and smiling incessantly.

Joyful me isn’t easily angered.  She’s calm.

Joyful me isn’t easily frustrated.  She has perspective.

Joyful me isn’t living in fear.  She is courageous, bold, and trusting.

Joyful me isn’t overwhelmed.  She is peaceful and focused.

Joyful me isn’t looking back.  She is focused on Christ.

I guess I see joyful as calm in my circumstances.  Being where God has me without the angst I tend to carry.

This past week I was told by a doctor that I have a tension headache in my chest…a headache in my chest???  Wouldn’t that be a chestache…in my chest?  I don’t know, I’m not a doctor and all, but I’m pretty sure my head and chest are two different parts of my body!  I’m just kidding…I understand what he meant.  The stress in my life is centered in my chest…can’t take a deep breath, feel like an elephant is sitting on top of me stress.  BUT now that I know what it is, there is a relief and maybe my elephant has gotten a bit smaller.  But…I want joy not just tiny elephants.

Being blessed to be where I am…even if it isn’t the blessed I hoped for.

How do I get that perspective?  I mean really.  

There seems to be this idea that if we can just get our life organized or just do something differently, things will change for the better.  Is that true?  Always?  I don’t think so.  At least not for me.

How do I live in this moment, in this place, in these circumstances with joy when I can barely breathe sometimes?

It must be a choice I need to make…a shift in perspective.

Joy seems so far removed from my life and yet, I know that I’m called to it…that I do have so many, many things to be thankful for, so many things to be joyful about…and yet, I am not.  I just feel fussy.

Is it possible to be fussy AND joyful?  I’m feeling like the answer is definitely no.  So I pretty much have to choose.  

Choose joy.

Choose not to be fussy.

Change my attitude.

How many times have I told my children to change their attitudes about something?  

Father, are you telling me to change my attitude?  I imagine you are.  I do feel like a petulant teenager…all scowly and stompy.

Father, please forgive me.  

Maybe all the discontent and feeling miserable about circumstances has a purpose?

“Could that be so we are nudged to seek after God and find our true fulfillment and complete rest in Him and Him alone?  Someday we will be called Home, and then we will find complete peace and rest.  But until then, we are to follow Him wherever He may lead us in the full assurance that He will bring us into that rest.”  C. Hambleton

Father, I know there are praises to sing, prayers to utter, and petitions to place at your feet.  And maybe those praises, prayers, and petitions will work to change my adolescent attitude.  There really is no maybe about it, I know they will.

Lord, being here where you have me sometimes feels very, very difficult.  I struggle to understand the plan, Your plan.  I wish I understood it all.  I want to choose joy, to choose an attitude of joy.  I want to have that full assurance that You will indeed give me rest.  I want to be a woman of joy, a woman of peace, a woman of thankfulness.  Lord, please show me how to live joyful in these circumstances, in this place, at this time.

I’ll convert their weeping into laughter,  lavishing comfort, invading their grief with joy. Jeremiah 31:13 (The Message)

 

Let Him Have It!

relax beach picRecently someone asked me what God is doing in my life.  What big things has God done? And I had to think…

Sometimes it feels like I’m in a perpetual state of weary and I can’t see beyond the next moment…and other times I’m so desperate for a change that I look ahead with either dread or longing…depending on the day.

But really, God is always working, so the problem is I’m not looking.  I’m not paying attention to Him working in my life.

No wonder I feel overwhelmed and sometimes alone in the struggle.

Many nights I lay in bed pondering things.  It inevitably leads to anxious thoughts. There are things I can’t figure out, decisions I’m afraid to make, and situations I can’t fix.  I tumble them all around in my head and wonder if I’ve missed God’s plan.  If I took a wrong turn…

But I believe that God is sovereign so is there really ever a turn made that God can’t use for good?  Is there a turn I’ve made that He did not already see coming?  Nope and nope.  I am where He knew I would be all along.  This struggle is no surprise to Him, even if it is shockingly surprising to me.

Many, many times God has reminded me of the value of being thankful.  And I am thankful, so thankful for my children, my home, my job, my friends, my family, my life. For love.

It does seem that those very things I am most thankful for sometimes are also the very things that cause the most angst in my life.  I wrestle with feelings of fear and failure.  I struggle with loneliness even when I am so very not alone.

Sometimes it feels that I stand on a battlefield alone.  Arms too tired to raise.  Weapons dull and shield cracked.  Armor missing.  And I wonder why?

I am not alone.  How often has God reminded me that He will never leave me nor forsake me?  A lot.

In fact, this past week someone anonymously paid a bill I had…a big bill.  I cannot begin to tell you how blessed, surprised, and thankful I was.  I wish I could find that person and hug them tightly.  It was as if God said, “See sweetheart, I am going to take care of you…even when you forget to ask.”

I forget to ask.

I forget to say thank you.  I forget to drop the burdens at His feet.  I’ll talk to Him and share my struggles and study His word and worship in song, but then I return to the day with the burden still solely on my shoulders.

Sometimes I so want a husband to walk up beside me and put his shoulder under the burden with me, grab my hand, and say, “Dearest, we will fix this together.  You are not alone in this.”

It isn’t a ridiculous desire, but I believe that God wants me to truly understand that Jesus is the one who will bear my burdens.

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”  1 Peter 5:6-7

Humble myself under the mighty hand of God?  The hand of God could mean discipline or deliverance.  In my suffering am I willing to place my trust, my life, my heart under the mighty hand of God?  Am I willing to trust that He will do the best for me?  Am I willing to let Him be in control?  Am I willing to drop my burden and let him take care of me and mine?  Can I let go of my control (imagined control) and my concerns and my cares and let Him have it all?

These past several years have been a continual struggle between trusting God and trying myself.  Of thinking I should be able to handle this without so much anxiety, worry, fear, and sin.  Of wondering why God hasn’t stepped in and made this all easier by now.  And yet, God.

God who blesses in unexpected ways.

God who provides when I forget to ask.

God who makes ways where none seem to be.

God who loves me no matter what.

I have thought a lot about things to thank God for…in fact it is something I repeatedly have to remind myself to do.  Today, I want to think about God. I want to know Him better. I want to understand the love of the Father.  I want to learn from Jesus how to live gentle and lowly in heart.  I want to be filled with the fruit of the Holy Spirit…no, I want to overflow with it.

I want to stop worrying and start living.  I want to stop thinking about being thankful, and start living thankfully.  I want to stop looking for answers and help from others, and start trusting in Him for the answers and the provisions and the courage. I want to stop living struggle, and live strength.

Father, You are enough.  You are more than enough.  And because of You, I can live a victorious life.  No longer a victim of my circumstances, but rather a victor in my circumstances.

I don’t need someone to step in and rescue me.  I just need to trust that Jesus already did!

If that isn’t an hallelujah I don’t know what is!

So, I guess even though my circumstances aren’t considerably better than three years ago, God is working in them to strength me and love on me.

God is always with me, always working, always blessing, always loving, always faithful.

I am blessed.  I am loved.

I am His.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30

 

A Simple Life

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One of my favorite things is playing the piano.  I grab a moment here or there to play a song or two whenever I get a chance.  

Yesterday I pulled out one of my Christmas songbooks and began playing “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song)” by Chris Easton and Amy Grant.  I remember when it first came out.  Although I liked the sound, I had issues with the words.  I didn’t like that it presented Mary as unsure and afraid. I didn’t like that Mary felt alone.  I didn’t like all the negative thinking by Mary.  

“Come on Mary!  An angel visited you!  God is with you…He’s in your belly for goodness sake!  Suck it up girl!  You have been blessed in an amazing way!”

It is almost laughable to me now.  Now that I’m me…this harried, weary, single mom.

I love this song.  It’s real.

Mary was young, single, and pregnant.  Facing divorce before she was even married. Facing disapproval from her family, friends, and community.  Facing all the changes, pains, and fears associated with pregnancy.  And I’m sure until Joseph had the conversation with the angel and decided to trust that God’s child was growing in Mary’s belly, she was truly asking “must I walk this path alone?”  

In my pre-shattering of happily ever after, I really didn’t get how walking in God’s will can sometimes be very daunting and difficult.  I can remember several times thinking that people going through difficult times were silly for not getting themselves into a better situation.  Oh how naive I was!  How judgmental!  How wrong!

I had missionary friends who had one difficulty after another and yet persevered in their situation and continued to minister.  I thought they were missing the very clear signal God was sending – time to move on,

Friends who were grieving…friends who had sick children…friends who were depressed…friends who were struggling with anything…how I loved them and longed to help them, but did not really and truly understand them.

I guess in my mind I thought that struggles were always a sign that something had to change…that something wasn’t right…that someone was doing something wrong.

(Sounding a little like Job’s friends, Sue.)

I was wrong.  Very wrong.

God calls us to things that we can ONLY do with Him.  I’ve heard others say, “God will not call you to something you can’t do.”  Ummm, I wish.  

I know that God calls us to things we can’t do.  I live that.  But the truth is, God calls us to these impossible tasks to show us that all things are possible with Him.  With Him.

Some struggles are me-made.  Struggles that come because of my sin, my decisions, my lack of trust, my fears.  But many of the struggles I face are just life.  Life on this planet. Life in a fallen world.  And some of the things that God has called me to seem daunting and difficult and pretty near impossible.  

I have expended so much energy trying to figure out how to fix things when really I could be just living…living this crazy harried exhausting life.

I can’t fix where I am right now.  But I can take each day, trusting God to provide, to uphold me, to give me comfort, strength, and rest.

There are moments each day when the words of that song could be mine…

When parenting seems impossible… “Do You wonder as You watch my face, if a wiser one should have had my place?”

When I feel that I can’t possibly do all that needs to be done… “Help me be strong, help me be, help me.”

When I feel like just plopping down on the floor and crying… “Breath of Heaven, hold me together, be forever near me.”

When I feel like a failure in parenting, in work, in spiritual leadership, in relationships, in homemaking, in finances… “Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness, pour over me Your holiness for You are holy”.

And my original thoughts on that song, those thoughts were the thoughts of a woman who didn’t understand that life although beautiful will never be perfect.  That being called by God to do something, big or small that requires courage and trust in Him, is not guaranteed to be smooth sailing.  

Although I believe that in God’s perfect will my children would be raised by two loving parents, I believe that God has allowed this to happen in this fallen world and He has called me to walk this path trusting Him.  Holding firmly to Him.  Keeping my eyes on Him. Choosing Him over what I consider to be the path to fixing things.

Loving Him more than I love an unbroken, simple life.  

That’s a difficult one, because I really really want things to be easier.  I really really want the life I thought I chose.  

But God…

God has allowed me to walk this path…to be on this journey…to live this life.

How?

I think, like Mary, I hide His promises in my heart, I trust God and move forward, I seek wisdom, and I live honestly before God.

If that means sharing my struggle, my doubting thoughts, my angry musings, my frustrations, my fears…then that is what I will do, because I believe that God moves when we share..when we share each other’s burdens.  When we open up our lives and and our hearts and say, “Let’s live this life together!  Let’s walk side by side!  Let’s trust God together!  Let’s expect to see God do beautiful things in our lives!”

Wanna?

 

The Rest of the Story…or Running Away

IMG_6011The other day I was reading the story of Elijah and the Baal priests.  How God rained down fire from heaven and burned up an altar saturated with water.  How Elijah prayed and God answered.  How Elijah was blessed to see the power of God first hand and to be a part of the display of God’s great glory!

And I thought how much I want to see God do amazing things in my life, and how I’m seeing now that He really does already do great things.  

Today…I feel like the Elijah that appears only a few verses later…the Elijah that ran away.

So God showed up BIG time and proved who is the one true God.  After the people respond positively, Elijah takes all the prophets of Baal down to a creek and kills them.  And then Jezebel, the queen over all those Baal prophets sent Elijah a message, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.”  (1 Kings 19:4)

And do you know what Elijah’s response was?  Just a few verses after the Lord did His “in your face” thing with the water and the altar and the fire…this is what the Bible says about Elijah:

“Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life…”

As my students would say, “Wait, what?”     

Yup.  Ran for his life…afraid of Jezebel.  

As if the power of God was all used up in that last miraculous display and now there is no more to protect Elijah from Jezzy.  

And then Elijah does this…

“But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough, now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”

Elijah sounds like he is despairing…He sounds weary and tired and afraid.

And right now…honestly, I feel a little bit like that as well.

I’ve been trying ever so hard to focus on the good in my life…to see where God is working. And I do see it, like Elijah.

But this life looks like its not getting easier any day soon and I feel so tired already and so weary, and so afraid of not being able to do it well…and so alone in this battle.

This was the first full week of everyone and everything going a thousand miles an hour and I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed thinking about the coming years…how this pace isn’t going to change for a while yet.

And this weekend…Sunday is my dad’s birthday.  And then in a little more than a week it will be the anniversary of his death.  And I miss him so much.  I always miss him, but today I miss him a lot.  

He was an endearing, grumpy old man.  He was the kind of man who didn’t gush and who wasn’t terribly warm and fuzzy, but I never doubted that he loved me.  And somehow when he was here, I always knew that life would be okay.  He was an anchor of sorts.  My parents didn’t really walk with me through my husband leaving…I think sometimes it is too hard for family to understand how to unless they live next door.  It all seems too surreal unless you are right there.  But when my dad read my book, he talked to me about things and apologized for not being with me more.  It was okay, truly, because God provided in other ways.  And my dad cared for me in other ways too. He didn’t give me counsel or comfort like my friends did, but he provided me practical advice, security and protection.  I miss that.  I miss the security of knowing my dad would help me if I needed it.  

The night my dad died I held him up as he struggled to breath.  At one point I whispered, “I love you Daddy”  and he whispered even more quietly back, “I love you too.”  It is one of the moments of my whole life that I cherish the most.  A beautiful moment in the midst of one of the worst nights of my life.

I want my dad to be here…to help me figure things out, to help me fix things, to advise me on things.  He was never too busy for me.  He was always willing to help me figure things out.

I don’t know what to do right now.  I wish I could talk to him…to ask his advice.  I don’t want to live like this right now.  I feel like Elijah sometimes, “God please, it is enough now!”

It’s enough.  Stick a fork in me, I’m done.

I so wish I was stronger and more able to do this life gracefully.  I feel like I’m slogging.  Is that even a word?

But if we keep reading in 1 Kings, we see our gracious God’s response.  How I love Him!

God sent an angel to Elijah who gently woke him and gave him food and drink. Elijah ate and drank and then fell asleep.  Then the angel did it again, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.”

Golly, do I feel that the journey in front of me is too great.  I can’t even tell you…

But whatever God gave Elijah to eat sustained him for that journey.

“And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food for forty days and forty nights…”

If God’s angel woke me with something to eat and drink I wonder if it would be crusty bread and coke 🙂  Yum.  

Seriously though, I know God wants me to understand that He will sustain me…He will uphold me….He will provide for me.  He will be my refuge, peace, and strength.

I was thinking that maybe something that would help is just taking one day at a time…I can do that for some things…not sure how to do it for others.

I guess that’s where I plop myself down and pray.

But not like Elijah.  Because I don’t want to end my life, I just want to make it better.  Lord, help.  I’m done and weary and overwhelmed.  

And what I need to be okay with is that God’s plan might be that it stays this difficult and tiring.  That it isn’t going to be significantly different for a while.  And I need to be okay with that.  Not because it’s “the right” thing to do, but because I want to be healthy and peaceful and content for my children.  I don’t want to always be seeking a way out or a quick fix or a perfect situation.  I want to trust that God can work even in the midst of great struggling and great exhaustion.  

I definitely don’t understand so much of this life and this week has shown me that I have limits, but it has also shown me that God has given me strength and resources and I just need to trust that He will continue to strengthen me…to trust that He will continue doing amazing things in my life.  

My dad might not be here, but my Father is and I know that He offers the ultimate security, protection, and love.  

Trust God.  Pray.  Trust Him some more. That’s what I need to do.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

What’s Wrong with Happy?

flowers for joyLast week I had the most wonderful time sitting at a picnic table studying God’s word, journaling, and writing some.  It was quiet and peaceful. I felt inspired.

I had such a blessed time writing more than I have in months, and guess what?  Not one document was saved…not one.  Technology and me….ugh.

I was wondering if maybe the Lord wasn’t keen on what I had written?  Or maybe I needed to consider it more…delve deeper into what God is revealing to me before I write.

I’m not sure the reason, but I’m starting over nonetheless.

This summer has been one of regrets.  I’ve made some decisions that I thought would be good, but weren’t.  My intentions were good, but the outcome was bad.  And, I wish I could change things, but I can’t.  I can only look back and learn…move forward wiser.

I’ve spent the last several days looking back…considering things and praying that God would help me see what needs to be seen.

He is faithful.  

I’m seeing how desperate I am for affirmation, security, and love.  

Desperate.

In my quest to fill these needs (wrongly), I’ve sought them all by trying to make others happy at any cost.  My children, my family, my friends.  

For the past few years friends have admonished me about this issue of trying to make everyone happy.  I have scoffed at them.  What could possibly be wrong with wanting others to be happy?  

Well, I’ve discovered a fair amount.  Because, honestly, I don’t want other people to be happy because I love them so much, I want them to be happy because I want them to like/love me.  I want them to value me.  I want them to be pleased with me.  I want them to affirm me.  

That was a lightning bolt to my heart.  

It hurts and reverberates through my whole self.  

Lord, really?  I’m like THAT?

And then I consider how annoyed I get with my children after I’ve done a thousand things for them in a day.  How frustrated and angry I can feel at not being helped in my quest for their happiness.

My motives are all wrong.

And the results are all wrong.

You’d think after all this time I’d have figured out that my efforts at making people happy often have the opposite effect.

Probably because I’m doing it not out of love or a true desire to make life better, but out of my own need and want and fear and insecurity.

My need.

Not theirs.

I saw it even yesterday with my youngest daughter.  

I get so frustrated with her asking for things (constantly) and instead of dealing with her heart issue, I spew forth evidence of mine.  I give her lists of what I’ve done for her, what I’ve given her, and tell her how ungrateful she is.

Wow.  Way to ruin any thing at all I’ve done to love her well.  

I just made it all about me.  Again.

So now that I know this about myself…what do I do?  How do I change?  I mean really.  

It’s so easy to be resolved sitting here on my sofa when everyone is asleep…but in a few minutes the chaos begins and my efforts to please will be in full swing.  And I’ll do it happily for most of the day, but then, as I do every single day, I’ll hit the wall of weariness and feel tired, taken advantage of and testy.  And I’ll stop being a mom that cares about anyone else’s happiness…honestly, not even my own.  Because at that point, I just want peace at any cost…which very rarely is a result of my words and facial expressions and actions.

Oh dear.  

Lord, what’s the first step?

There are practical things I could do…like a plan for the day, a chore chart (‘cause those have always worked great, said me never), eking out time for me to relax (alone or with my kids)…

There are spiritual things I could do…like pray, study Scripture, and seek counsel, but I kind of want more, Lord…is that wrong?  

I’ve read so many books about prayer lately…formulas, cards, closets, strategies…they have all left me feeling more confused and ineffective in my prayer life.  

How do I become the prayer warrior I’ve always wanted to be?  I think maybe this is the first area I figure out in my happiness quest.  Because I’m always trying to figure out the magic formula for prayer that will make God (and me) happy.  I want Him to be very pleased with my prayers.  

I know those strategies and such work for others, but I can’t wrap my brain around them. In some ways, they are an hindrance to my prayer life.  I get so caught up in doing it just the right way, that I barely do it.

So I’m just going to start praying.

Just going to pray throughout the day…as I begin each new task or start any project or do anything at all…that God will reveal the attitude of my heart, my motivation.  That He will remind me of who I am so I am not so desperate for affirmation apart from Him.  And that He will show me how to truly love my family and friends, and even myself.  

My hope is that I will no longer be seeking to make everyone happy, but rather that I will be seeking to love others well.  

And sometimes loving someone well doesn’t have anything at all to do with making them happy.  

Nothing is wrong with happy, but maybe happy just needs to be a result of being loved well.

And maybe reminding myself that I am indeed loved very well by my Father will make me the happiest…and that can spill over my children, family, and friends. 

Be Encouraged

IMG_1866Everyone has something.

You know that thing. That thing that you feel will never go away. Never be easy. Never be uncomplicated. Never be what you want it to be. Never be overcome.

I have a few somethings.

Some things I can’t figure out what to do about. Some things that baffle me. Some things that trip me up continually. Some things that I can’t figure out how to overcome.

Sometimes I feel like the somethings are not some things but rather my whole life.

Sometimes I feel like it is all one hopeless mess and there is simply no way to get on the other side.

And sometimes the other side scares me too. What if the other side is even more complicated and challenging? This side, albeit not always fun, is comfortable in a weird, familiar slightly twisted sort of way.

It sure is easy to get comfortable in uncomfortableness…why is that?

I’m not talking about content in my circumstances, I’m talking about comfortable in challenging, tempting, and maybe even sinful situations. It can feel like it is easier just to stay…easier to just hunker down in my unhealthiness. It’s hard to be strong.

Recently I found myself saying to a friend, “What does it mean to be strong in the Lord? What does that look like? What is my responsibility in that? Clearly I need to be doing something because nothing is happening right now that looks anything like me living in the strength of the Lord.”

That’s me being a bit of a petulant child and feeling a little hopeless.

That was Friday.

On Sunday, God answered me.

1 John 2:14 I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.

I know that I am neither a father nor a young man, but I am a mother (who sometimes needs to be the father) and I am a relatively young woman (LOL!) so I’m thinking that God had John write that verse for such a time as this, for me.

It reminded me that there is strength in remembering what God has done for me. How He has stepped into my world in ways I couldn’t imagine. Even saying that He stepped in doesn’t do it justice, because that implies that He wasn’t there from the start. He has always been with me. But occasionally His presence is so real and comforting I’m in awe of His love for me.

Strength and comfort come from remembering…from thankfulness and praise for His faithfulness in the past and the understanding that that faithfulness never ends.

And then there are John’s comforting words to the young men (and women),

1. You are strong.

2. The word of God abides in you

3. You have overcome the evil one.

It seems the key to strength lies in His word. In continually abiding in it and it in you. There are a few verses in the Bible that are testimonies to this truth…that the Word of God is power and strength and hope. Things I really would like to have when dealing with some things…well, every thing.

John 8:31-32  If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

2 Timothy 2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

Psalm 119:11 I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.

Psalm 119: 28 My soul melts away for sorrow, strengthen me according to your word.

Psalm 119:92 If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.

Psalm 119:165 Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.

“Nothing can make them stumble.”

Nothing.

How lovely, comforting, strengthening.

There are other verses about peace that God brings me to a bunch…

Isaiah 26:3 You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.

I love those verses. How comforting it is to read the Word of God. To see the layers, the depth, the thoughtfulness of God in His word. To know that God loves me so much…that His mercy is beyond simply a judge offering mercy to an offender…it is the tender mercy of a Father offered to his child. A child who justly deserves no mercy, but receives it every time.

Every single time I come to God asking a questions…every single time…His answer is the gospel.

And every single time He uses His word to remind me.

I am strong.

I am strong because I have the Word of God and I have overcome evil because of Jesus…because of the Gospel.

(So this is the English teacher in me – but it is so cool!)  That sentence in 1 John 2:14 is written in the perfect indicative which means that these things have already happened and that’s a fact. That there is assurance that these are not just things that could happen, but that they are facts, that they have already been accomplished.

So you and I are strong already.

The word of God abides in us already.

We have overcome the evil one already.

And not because of any great accomplishment or strength on our part, but because of the great accomplishment of Christ on the cross and because of the strength of the Lord in our lives.

Jesus is the Overcomer so that I can overcome.

John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.

There is the assurance of trouble BUT there is also the assurance of peace and overcoming. Yup. That’s pretty much what I need to hear… Trouble will come…don’t be surprised or disheartened by it. Instead, turn to Him who is your peace and be encouraged.

Be encouraged that no matter how crazy this world may be, He has got it.

Be encouraged that no matter how much you struggle and fail, He loves you and He’s got you.

Be encouraged that no matter how hopeless it might seem, He loves you and He’s got a plan.

Be encouraged that no matter how weak you feel, He can handle your life for you. He’s got your strength…it’s there for you.

Be encouraged dear one.

The God who offers his tender mercies to you, the God who calls you his precious child, the God who assures you that you are his treasured possession, bought at great price and dearly loved…this all powerful, all loving, all hope-filled, all merciful, all faithful, all everything God…this Father of ours…He loves you.

He loves you. You…in your messiness, your hopelessness, your weakness, your sinfulness, your doubt, your fear, your anxious thoughts… He loves you.

He. Loves. YOU.

He isn’t waiting for you to do some great, noble, brave task to earn his peace, or his strength, or his love. He just loves you.

1 John 3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.

1 John 3:10; 19 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins…We love because he first loved us.

Psalm 103:8 The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

I keep looking for ways to overcome, to change, to fix, to redo this life of mine. I keep looking for ways to be comforted, to be strengthened, to be assured…and I’ve very often not looked to the right place. God reminded me today.

This place in His word…this is the place I want to stay. This is the place where my strength is renewed and my hope is restored.

My First Book Review

A few months ago I had the privilege of being asked to write a review for a book by Shannon Upton entitled, Building Your Home:  A Faithful Mom’s Guide to Organizing Home and Family.

I love a good book on organization.  I feel like it has been my life’s goal since my first born took his first step and started mixing things up!  Five children later I’m hopelessly entangled in the never-ending endeavor of organization.

Prior to having my sweeties I was a conference planner, a profession that requires a high level of organization.  Now, I can’t seem to even give the illusion of being organized.

I have read so many organizing books that it’s highly likely I’ve read almost every one out there!  And I’ve tried many of the techniques involved.  Most recently I went through all my clothes as directed and made instant decisions.  It was so effective that I can fit every season of my wardrobe in one small closet and my dresser.  The only down side is I find I have very few things to wear!  On top of that, I did not, as the book suggested, thank my clothes for their service to me.  Apparently, I am a very ungrateful clothes wearer!

But none of these books have been quite as inspiring as this one.  This one has made me think…made me what to be what Shannon Upton calls a “Jesus Mom.”

One of the first things she wrote that grabbed me and made me want to sit down for tea with her was her story of dealing with postpartum depression (PPAD).  She tells how, during her struggle, someone shared their story of dealing with PPAD.  This is what she says, “I knew she was trying to help me feel better by letting me know that I wasn’t alone, but all it did was make my burden seem heavier-more real somehow.  She was bringing up feelings that I was trying so hard to keep under control.”

I instantly felt connected to her because I have had those moments, those interactions.  I loved her honestly.

Throughout her book, Shannon shares openly about her life while encouraging us to reevaluate and find peace in our own.  I love that she didn’t present herself as the perfect homemaker, but as someone working through all of life’s complexities and busyness…sharing the successes and struggles along the way.

Her book is about choosing to focus on Jesus first, to clear out the spiritual clutter of our lives.  “The point isn’t ‘having it all’ or even having it all together – it’s settling our spirits so we can dwell in the Lord’s peace” (p. 15).  Peace that isn’t based on perfection, but on building our homes in a way that will bring peace to our families.

Shannon warns against giving ourselves more spiritual clutter by stressing about getting organized.  Putting pressure on ourselves only takes away the peace we are hoping to choose daily.

There’s no pressure here, no hurry.  Don’t go giving yourselves even more spiritual clutter over “getting organized.”  In fact, I don’t even like that phrase.  It implies that “organized” is a place we can get to, a thing we can achieve, but it’s not.

Your home isn’t a problem to solve, it’s a set of systems to be managed.  As a Jesus Mom, you don’t want to organize your household so you can “feel at peace.”  Instead, you can choose to feel peaceful while you organize.”  (p. 25)

What a great idea!  Choosing peace.  God’s been encouraging me to choose peace a lot lately.

I’m choosing it with varying degrees of success, but success nonetheless.

What I took from this book was that managing my home is about creating a peaceful refuge for my family that exudes Christlikness.  My goal is for my home to provide me with opportunities to love the Lord well, to love my family well, and to love others well.

Shannon recommends starting with prayer.  What a wonderful way to begin – praying over our home.

Dedicating it to the Lord.  Asking for wisdom as we begin the process of organization.  Asking for a godly perspective and a spirit of contentment.  Giving thanks for all the blessings.

Then beginning.

Shannon provides some practical advice on the process and throughout encourages, inspires, and entertains with her engaging writing style.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and have already begun the processes Shannon recommends.

I’m taking my time and praying my way through my home. And God willing, my home will be a place of ministry, not only to my family, but to my friends, neighbors, and acquaintances.

Those Things and Thankfulness

sunset picture (wburg)There is this thing I keep talking about.  This thing called thankfulness.  I keep coming back to it in my life and in my writing.

I think it is because God keeps bringing me back to it. Over and over and over again.

Today my devotional time included the verse I often use to deal with anxiety in my life (another common theme).

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)

But what struck me was the thanksgiving part.

I know that the antidote to anxiety is gallons of gratefulness, but I have missed one significant aspect of this in my life.

And maybe this is just me, but I think that God is calling me not to just find something for which I can be thankful just to be thankful (although that is not bad), BUT to find something in the challenge, crisis, difficulty, stress for which I can thank God.

Right now my job feels very stressful and sometimes I find myself struggling to have a positive attitude about it.  So, in my effort to have a better attitude I say, “But I’m so thankful for my house.  I love the home God has provided for my children and me.  I love the yard and the blooming gardens.”  It definitely gives me a better attitude (at times), but it doesn’t necessarily change my attitude about work.

I think what God wants me to do is thank him for this job.  This job that wrings the life out of me…that robs me of sleep, time, and my emotional and mental stability.  (See…my attitude stinks.)

Yesterday as I was driving home I was pondering the joy and gratefulness I felt upon hearing I had received this job.  How thrilled and thankful I was at that moment!  Now, I keep asking, “God, what was your plan in this?  Because I was already pretty weary and exhausted before this job…I got nothin’ left to give.”

Tonight I prayed, “Father, I know that this is the place you have me right now.  Please show me the things I can thank you for in it.  Please change my attitude, change my mind about this job. Please open my heart up to what you are doing.  And Father, please please show me how to not be so very overwhelmed with all I have to do, all the insurmountable challenges, all the things that cause me to have anxious thoughts and fussy feelings.   Lord, please be glorified in even this.”

Even as I pray that prayer, I’m thinking, but Lord please change my circumstances for the better.  Please make being a single working mom less difficult.

And then I think, but why should it be easier for me?  Why should I deserve better?

How many single working parents feel overwhelmed?  How many single working parents are exhausted, weary, and desperate for a change of circumstances?  I daresay, a fair number.

Maybe the answer won’t be a change of circumstances, or maybe it will and those won’t be much better…yikes.  (way to think positively…Lord, I’m thankful for the ability to think…please let it be positive.)

Our prayer could be, “Lord, if this is where you have me, please give me your peace.”

You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you, because he trust in you.  Isaiah 26:3

How often have I quoted that verse?  Times without number I have grabbed hold of that verse and begged for that perfect peace.  I have thought, Lord I’m trying to keep my mind on you, but it wanders often because there is so much to do and so little time and I feel like such a failure.  I can’t figure out how to get on top of things.  I can’t figure out how to do this life well.  I want relief.  I want peace.  Perfect peace.

Lord, help me stay my mind on you.

And then, I looked up this verse and I thought, “Yes!  I get part of this!”

Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.  Psalm 50:14-15

Did you see the word? The word that just jumped off the beautifully well-worn and underlined pages of my beloved Bible?

Sacrifice.

Thanksgiving can be sacrificial.

Sometimes my gratefulness seems forced.  Thanking God in the challenges and disappointments of my life can be difficult.  Sometimes I do it out of obedience.

In my little notebook, I make lists of things I love and am thankful for…silly stuff like the sound of a car driving over gravel, the squeak of shoes on a basketball court, the smell of dinner in the oven, the feel and potential of a completely blank page in front of me, the smiling eyes of my children, still reading with my 15 year old son at night, laughter, a lesson plan completed and successful, a quiet classroom, and even pulling weeds in my lovely gardens (at least I hope they are weeds!).

My lists can put me in a better place for a moment, but the big difficult thing still looms over me and I can’t seem to find a good word to utter about it.  And it takes mere moments for the big difficult thing to stomp out all my joy and pour stress, anxiety, and irritation all over me.

I think that big difficult thing needs to be stopped, but God hasn’t stopped it yet.  So what do I do with it?

I think I can make that big difficult thing smaller by finding something about it that isn’t terrible…something that is relatively good…maybe something that I can genuinely thank God for.

Maybe this is the solution for all my big difficult things!  I have a fair number of them right now…imagine all the thankfulness I could have if I threw a little the way of each big difficult thing!

Truly.  That would be a fair amount of thankfulness.

I believe when I shut off this computer and pull out my journal later tonight, I will not just list my thankful thoughts.  I will list my big difficult things and make some notes of things I can find to thank God for even regarding those big difficult things.

Then my focus won’t be on how big those things are, but on God and how even in those things that I can’t figure out, can’t stand, can’t bear, can’t beat, God is there blessing me.

That sounds like some staying of my mind on God.

And I’m sure that as I do that God will give me peace…perfect peace that passes all understanding.

But he said…

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But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you,

for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  2 Corinthians 12:9

I have taken for granted that I understand this verse. I’ve had it memorized for years, but I don’t think I fully grasp its meaning.  I think I’ve been skating along the surface of it.  Satisfied with an easy glide rather than challenging myself to some beautiful spins and leaps.

Today I was thinking how much I do really want to get this passage and how there seems to be a depth to it I can’t comprehend.

God sometimes gives me better understanding through writing.  It’s like I think with my fingers on the keyboard.  So here I sit with a very few minutes before the day begins in earnest and I must rush to work.  I had to write though.  I had to “think” about this verse more.

I have a foundational understanding of the “grace is sufficient” part – I know how desperately I need grace and how it is all I need.

Sufficient is an interesting word…it means “enough to meet the needs of a situation or a proposed end.”   (Merriam-Webster)

Enough for me in my situation.  Enough to get me where God wants me…my proposed end in eternity.

Grace is the perfect amount to get me to God.  Grace is the perfect amount to give me hope.

No matter if I need a dash or dump truck full…God provides.  (Hmmmm….trying to think of a time I’ve only needed a dash…)

The second part of that verse is a bit more baffling to me.

“for my power is made perfect in weakness”

It’s like I read that verse and for a moment I have some clarity and then it clouds back up again and I think (as so many of my students say), “Wait, what?”

What has God’s power being made perfect in my weakness have to do with grace?  With sufficient grace?  And how does that word “perfect” fit?

I understand that God’s power shines through my life because I must rely on Him…trust Him with so much of my life.

Maybe the issue is not in my not understanding His power, but rather in not understanding my weaknesses.

I’m realizing that maybe I’m consistently viewing my weaknesses as all sin issues.  I should be able to do all that God has given me to do and do it well…it must be a flaw in me that I can’t.  I should be able to do this life better.

Do I have this all wrong?

I think I might.

Paul says that because of God’s power being made perfect in weakness, he “will boast all the more gladly of [his] weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon [him]. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Another verse that seems deeper than I treat it.

Sooooo….I boast in my weaknesses?  Seriously?  I want to hide my weaknesses.  Really hide them.  Like dig a very deep hole, bury them, cover with a pretty garden, and throw away the shovel.    The pretty garden is key.  Keep that baby hidden and beautiful.

Paul says that because of all this grace and power stuff, he is “content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.”

Maybe I need to look up those words and see what applies to me.  Weak? Check. Insults?  Not sure.  Hardships? Check.  Persecutions? I don’t think so.  Calamities?  Ummm…seems like it.

Weaknesses.  In spite of them, God’s purpose prevails.  That must be His power.  The power to use this weak, fail of gal and make her strong in Him and possibly even a blessing to someone else.

“For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  2 Corinthians 12:10

I looked this verse up in the Matthew Henry Commentary that we inherited from an old pastor.  (We backed over his books so they became ours…long story.  Kinda funny.  Good ending.  I now own a great (albeit slightly bent) set of commentaries.  And the pastor has a brand new set.)

Matthew Henry says, “ This is a Christian paradox:  when we are weak in ourselves, then we are strong in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; when we see ourselves weak in ourselves, then we go out of ourselves to Christ, and are qualified to receive strength from him, and experience most of the supplies of divine strength and grace.” (p. 643)

I think that I understand it a bit better.  If I can acknowledge my weaknesses and not turn in on myself in despair, but rather look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith…if I can turn to my Savior and grab hold of his strength and power…if I can step outside of myself and into His strength…that is the power in weakness.  That is God’s power perfectly working in my life not just in spite of my weakness, but within my weaknesses.

Again, I am back to the question of how does that practically happen in my life.

Maybe I’m looking too often for the 10 step plan when all I really need to do is change the way I think about things.

I seem to be looking for an actual sword I can wield throughout the day…slaying worry, anxiety, anger, frustration, disappointment, and sorrow.  Have I not been given a sword to wield already?

In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darks of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.  Ephesians 6:16-17

Sometimes I forget the power that God has given us within His word.  I can look at those words as something to be studied, pondered, and memorized, and completely forget that they are life…life-giving, power-infusing, fear-dispelling, hope-instilling, peace-providing words.   Words that not only show me how to live, but words that make life livable.

Psalm 119

With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!  I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. (v.10-11)

Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors. (v.24)

My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word! (v.28)

Incline my heart to your testimonies and not to selfish gain!  Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.  (v.36-37)

Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments. (v.66)

Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn your commandments.  (v.73)

If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.  (v.92)

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth.  (v.103)

Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.  (v.105)

Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart. (v.111)

You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word. (v.114)

Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble. (v.165)

Those verse are rich with the beauty of how God’s word is an integral part of our lives when we let it…the blessings if it are many.

The oh-so-many weaknesses that I have are not my flaws, but the cracks in my pot that let God’s power shine through.  His power is holding this cracked pot together.  I’ve been trying to hold it together for a while, and it is difficult work – dare I say, impossible.  The visual I provide others is a harried, weary working mom who is easily frustrated, easily angered, and easily brought to tears.

The woman I show when God is holding me together is peaceful, even joyful…she knows her life is not her own that she’s been bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20).  She knows her Savior loves her.

No matter what I struggle with or where I go or what I do or say or even think, God loves me and His power is perfectly displayed in my life…and amazingly, even in my weaknesses.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.  2 Corinthians 4:7-10

Shake it UP

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I finally did what I’ve wanted to do for a long time.  I didn’t bring work home and I spent some beautiful moments thoroughly enjoying my kids.

We spent the evening together without homework, work, or chores. The best, most enjoyable thing was dancing.

Seeing my little girls’ faces light up while I danced like a goofball was the BEST thing I’ve seen in a long time!  Even my 15 year old son was happy to join in!

My favorite dancing song  was “Shake” by MercyMe.  The girls requested it because they sang it in Sunday school.  I love love love that song.

It was such a joy-filled time for us.

So often I’m so tired or have just simply too much to do and I can’t seem to find the time to do anything but what absolutely has to be done.

Absolutely. Has. To. Be. Done. Right. Now.

Not what I want to do.

Not what I would like to do.

Just the gotta-do-or-feel-like-I-might-die-things.

But that night of dancing brought it right in front of my eyes…I need to spend time doing fun things with my kids.

I just gotta.

I feel so convicted…so sure of it…and yet, it is something I rarely make time for…

It’s not because I’m not looking.  I just can’t seem to find it.

Last night was my fourth night in a row of 5 hours of interrupted sleep.  I’m seriously hanging by a thread.

This morning I woke up praying that God would show me what to let go of…but I honestly can’t think of one thing I’m doing that can not be done.

At church we are talking about transforming our lives. This week the pastor spoke about stress and rest.  I felt like crying through the whole sermon.

God has me HERE…in this stressful, sleepless, weary place and I don’t know what to do.

I want to just dance around the living room with my little girls, but I have papers to grade and household stuff to do and finances to figure out and children who need help with homework and life stuff.

I’m trying to look at the bright side of things…but I’m so tired I think my drooping eyelids are making it difficult to look up.

I want to write about happy, joyful things.  In fact, when I started writing this blog I was thinking how exciting to write about something fun.

Alas, I wandered…slid into the pit.

Is it just me?  Does life seem slippery right now?

I seem to have one foot always slipping perilously close to a pit, while the other is knee deep in mud…gosh, that’s a lovely picture.  Ok…maybe the other is just a bit muddy and it’s dry, caked on mud.

Where is my joy???

Where are the dancing moments?  Why not more?

I cherish every moment of joy, but I want more.

Count it all joy…

Count…(maybe the problem is I teach English…words not numbers).

I just want joy.

But joy comes with remembering…

Remembering that I am loved…that NO MATTER WHAT God loves me.  No matter how I feel…God loves me.  No matter how much of a failure I am (or think I am)…God loves me.

Count on Him. Count the blessings.

I remember when I was young, my mom and I sang “Count Your Many Blessings” for a Sunday service.

I love that song.  Catchy and true.

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed, When you are discouraged thinking all is lost, Count your many blessings – name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.  Count your blessings-name them one by one; Count your blessings-see what God has done; Count your blessings-name them one by one; Count your many blessings-see what God has done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?  Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?  Count your many blessings- every doubt will fly, And you will be singing as the days go by, Count your blessings –name them one by one; Count your blessings-see what God has done; Count your blessings-name them one by one; Count your many blessings-see what God has done.

I believe that counting our blessings is very similar to counting it all joy.  Within every moment is a blessing.  I know that…so how do I forget it?

I know how…it just simply doesn’t feel that way.  It doesn’t feel like I’m living blessings…I’m surviving burdens right now.

So I guess that leads me back to some shaking it up.

I need to shake up my perspective.  I need to shake up my life.

I honestly don’t know what that looks like, but I believe I’m going to start with another grateful journal.

It’s been a while since I wrote down things in my little journal of thankful thoughts.

I’ve even said I was going to in the not so distant past and promptly forgot to do it.

So, I guess I’ll pull it out and start tonight.  I know what I’m going to write first:

I’m thankful for…

  1. Time to dance with my children.

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