Darkness

Light and dark are constant themes in the Bible. Most notably — Genesis 1 and John 1 paint the picture of the very words of God creating darkness and light and separating the two. I think as humans we are naturally drawn to light. To summer days at the beach versus gloomy winter ones. To bright happy music rather than dissonance. To happiness at any expense, always avoiding sadness and mourning. God himself is almost always described as indescribable light and consuming fire. His followers are described as those who walk in light and are themselves the light of the world.

But as a friend recently pointed out to me, God is also described as darkness. Before the world began as we know it, God’s presence hovering over the waters existed only in darkness, until he commanded light to exist. When God spoke to Abram it was in the night accompanied by “terrifying darkness” (Gen 15:12). When Moses comes face to face with God and Israel witnesses his presence descend onto the mountaintop, the description is of deep darkness (Ex 20:21, Dt 5:23, Heb 12: 18). When David recalls God’s miraculous rescue from Saul’s army, he says that God “shrouded himself in darkness, veiling his approach with dark rain clouds” (Ps 18:11). When God’s presence filled the temple, it isn’t with indescribable light or beauty, but “a thick cloud of darkness” (1 Kgs 8:12). He uses shadows, darkness, and destruction again and again as a means of bringing about mourning and repentance to wandering souls (Isa 47:5, Jer 13:16, Eze 32:8, Joel 2:2).

Not only is God covered by darkness, he also uses darkness to cover his people. He used a cloud to guide his people in the desert (Ex 14:20). And he often uses darkness in our lives to teach and guide us. “And I will give you treasure in the darkness–secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name” (Isa 45:3). His ways are often described as mysterious or inexplicable — shrouded or dimmed to our human eyes. The word “darkness” is most used in the book of Job. If ever the purposes of God were shrouded in mystery and suffering, it would be in Job’s life. He often used sickness and even death (like with Lazarus), the darkest of human experiences, to bring greater glory to himself and teach his people about faith (Jn 11:4).

Yet time and time again we are told that this darkness cannot overtake us. Dark is not dark to the God who’s very being is Light. He can see in the dark. There are no secrets or hidden places that are too far gone for him to reach in to (Job 12:22, 1 Cor 4:5). “He reveals deep and mysterious things and knows what lies hidden in darkness” (Dan 2:22). Even if we ask the darkness to cover us, the night will shine as bright as day to Him (Ps 139:11-12). He is the light of the world — death and darkness hold no power over him (Jn 8:12). We are commanded not to dread anything evil that could come from the darkness (Ps 91:6).

I find so much comfort in knowing there is no competing god of darkness that is at war with our souls. God is a god of both darkness and light. When we find our lives filled with more sorrow than joy, more confusion than certainty, and more darkness than light — we can be sure he is in that too. He has not halted on the border of light, waiting for our return. He is with us even in the valley of the shadow of death; he hold us in the night and sings to our souls from dusk to dawn. He sends both darkness and light (Ps 104:20, 22), for he created both. “I create the light and make the darkness. I send good times and bad times. I, the Lord, am the one who does these things” (Isa. 45:7). And he promises to lead us from the “darkness and deepest gloom” (Ps 107:14) and to use our time in the darkness to mold us and shape us into his likeness.

So, today, if you find yourself to be in darkness, be encouraged. Sickness, death, mourning, depression, confusion, and pain are not the end of your story. God is still in the darkness and has not left your side. And he promises that “the people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine” (Isa 9:2). So what should you do while you wait for the darkness to lift? “If you are walking darkness, without a ray of light, trust in the Lord and rely on your God” (Isa 50:10).

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Prayer

“But as for me I will sing about your power. Each morning I will sing with joy about your unfailing love. For you have been my refuge, a place of safety when I am in distress. O my Strength, to you I sing praises, for you, O God, are my refuge, the God who shows me unfailing love.” Psalm 59:16

Sometimes prayers are answered in the most unappealing ways. This season of intense reliance on God has birthed a prayerfulness that I didn’t know was possible. I’ve never been much of a pray-er. I’ve struggled mightily with how my prayers accomplish anything if Jesus is sovereign over all. I’ve fought it because it seems like God only wants to change my attitude and not really answer my needs. But this season? It’s forced all the argument right out of my heart. All I have is Jesus and I turn to him constantly.

I never realized how much access we have to God. He is constantly available. When I’m in the shower blanketed with my own tears — Jesus is listening. At 2 am when my mind is running like a hamster wheel — he’s bending down to hear and comfort. When I have to do more and be more and I have nothing left to give — he’s by my side, strengthening me. So last week when I found myself unable to pick myself up after a discouraging day, I wept openly and called out to God before driving to my baking class.

And he answered. With a car crash. The last possible thing I needed in my day. It was a minor fender bender at 3 mph. But you know what? Jesus was there. The other person involved in the crash was highly over-reactive. In a situation with literally two small dents in the back of her BMW, she asked for an ambulance and was carted off on a stretcher. All the firefighters and police officers involved rolled their eyers with knowing looks, “Ah, one of those types. She’s looking for a pay day here.”

So how did Jesus show up for me? A cop was right behind me when the accident happened. He got right out and spoke with me and the other driver. I never had to interact with her. Being on my own and already in a fragile state, I probably would’ve made matters so much worse if I had dealt with this irrational driver. Any crash is unsettling, but her response was so over the top. But Jesus protected me with a police office for a witness and as a mediator in a high stress situation. And I tell you what, having a car accident immediately shook me from my sadness and forced me into action. I’ve hated feeling helpless over the last months and like I have been unable to do anything to make things better. But at least for that night I had a real to do list that occupied my mind. Even that was grace.

I’m flooded with thanksgiving at how he answers our prayers. He often does not remove suffering or prevent it from coming — but he is with us in it. Tangibly so. He is there to calm, guide, and to give hope. And he also provides a way through the darkness. Sometimes by the physical presence of someone who can help. Jesus is so kind to us. And prayer matters. I may never reconcile all the discrepancies my brain has with prayer. But my soul knows full well its benefits and its effectiveness. Jesus, my rock and refuge in the storm.

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Weeds


Growing up in Southern California, I didn’t really know anything about Spring. We lived in one continual season of sun/fog — either one occurring at any point during the year. Watching everything die and completely go dormant during the winter was a completely new experience for me. But even more shocking? Before the tiniest leaf bud starts forming on a hardy Oak, even before the grass has fully transitioned back from brown to bright green, the weeds come back in full force.

Our first year here I was amazed to see the multitude of dandelions that sprouted up out of nowhere. The creeping charlie vines that would appear in the strangest places. The clover that would dominate the newly revived lawn. It was an amazing sight to behold, but I didn’t give too much thought to all those weeds until we became homeowners. I am a yellow thumb at best when it comes to gardening — I don’t kill everything like a brown thumb, but things don’t exactly prosper under my watch. And that’s primarily due to weeds. They are everywhere. They are constant. They are fast-growing and undeterred by bad weather or poison. These weeds are an eye-sore, and they also prevent my garden plants from being completely healthy. They steal nutrients and life from the soil that was meant for my vegetable plants.
I recently spent a good two hours in my yard attacking the weeds that have already appeared in the two weeks since it stopped snowing around these parts. We have a large garden covered in gravel, and boy do those weeds just LOOOOVE my gravel. The crabgrass has one thick, deep, white root that shoots straight into the ground. And if you don’t eradicate it before the yellow flower turns into a white, fluffy, seed monster — it spreads its seeds everywhere and propagates with the vigor of bunnies. Creeping charlie is much easier to pull out, but it spreads in a shallow layer — shooting out into all directions making it impossible to determine whether you’ve removed it all. Our gravel area even has a few patches of grass that pop up — normally I’d be happy to see grass, but in this context even it is a weed.

I’m guessing you can see where this is going. As I crouched over my gravel garden with my sharp gardening tools, minute by minute stabbing at those weeds and pulling them up by their roots a thought came to me. This gravel pit is so much like my heart. Before I know it, my heart is dominated by sin that winds its way around like a resilient weed. It happens quickly and unexpectedly and constantly. Even when we’ve taken every precaution, laying down weed covering underneath the rocks, the weeds still make their way through. The only thing we can do is pay close attention to our hearts and work on getting those weeds out before they can spread their disease.


Oddly enough, weeds can even be beautiful. My kids keep getting mad at me for pulling up all these beautiful yellow flowers. But what they don’t know is that those flowers are not good for my garden. Even things that look pretty can become detrimental to our souls. Even good things like family, hard work, or feeling loved can choke out our hearts when they are allowed to take over.

Pulling up weeds is a labor intensive business. It is slow and painful and tedious work. The second you are done, you’ll have to start over again. There will always be new weeds. While I am in charge of getting those darn weeds out of my garden, I am so thankful that I am not alone when it comes to my heart. Jesus is our ever patient Gardener, guiding our shovels to just the right spots. He gives wisdom, strength, grace, and forgiveness in this process with our hearts. But he refuses to leave us as we are — covered in weeds and choked out plants. That process can be painful, but he wants us to bear fruit and to be freed from weeds. That’s what wants for us. Freedom. What a beautiful and gracious thing.

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Capricious Spring

  There’s something about spring. There are the lovely little bursts of life, for sure. The longer days. The beautiful newness of the blossoming trees. But, it’s also uncomfortable. While the dead of winter is downright despondent, it is reliable. You know what to expect of winter. It is cold and relentless, but it is predictable. Spring? It’s 60 one day, snowing the next. Days of sun and green and white puffy clouds are followed by days of grey and gloom. And that inconsistency can be terrifying.

I never know if I’ll wake up to chirping birds and warmth or to a dreary frigid day that keeps even the bravest of squirrels nestled in their burrows. I don’t know if yesterday’s bright yellow daffodils will survive tonight’s frost. Will today’s earthy, slushy, life-giving mud be icy and dangerous tomorrow? Will the fruit trees with their early spring blossoms survive an unexpected deep freeze in the middle of April?

These days are testy. They are unexpected. Some days are beautiful and full of hope and life. Others smash all those hopes and dreams and throw you back into the dead of winter with a vengeance. These have been my days. The days we are living in this season of our marriage. The predictable deadness of winter may be over, in fact, some days seem downright pleasant. But the frosty chill of spring can be devastating to a tender new bloom, just emerging from a long dormant season. As we learn new patterns and create new fledgling intimacies, the slightest misstep or argument can seem to demolish any progress made. The raw pain of our winter is still so present. It feels like spring brings forth life only to squash it. We don’t quite have the strong established roots of summer to weather the strongest thunderstorms.

But spring is nothing if it is not new. It may be the smallest inkling of what is to come, but it is real. It is hope. And gosh darn it, it is beautiful. We just have to weather the potential snowstorms of mid-May and trust that our plants will once again grow and blossom and one day withstand the heat of summer.

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Finding a New Voice

So it’s been a few months, hasn’t it? I’ve missed this space. This little world that I created to give myself a voice when I felt lost in the early months of motherhood. But as much as I live, breathe, and exist in motherhood, it is not the main focus of my thoughts these days. Over the years my blog has evolved from motherhood musings, to natural living tips, to cooking advice, to spiritual thoughts. It’s now time for them to take another detour. A detour I never wanted in my own life. A detour that has been kept close to my heart as I have walked a road I never expected.

I’m not sure how much to share or where to start, but it feels like writing about this season of my life is important. Essential, even. I have had to find strength and power in myself and in my faith that I didn’t know existed. And part of that strength comes from connecting with other people. Being real about the hard things in life.

The last five months have been a crucible for our marriage. There have been countless tears, a lot of sleepless nights, ceaseless prayers, hurt, clinging to one another, losing all hope, finding new ways of being, and we aren’t close to being done yet. Many of you know some of our story. Whether you know me in real life or have read our interview from a year ago, we’ve been public and out there about the real challenges of our marriage. But no days could have prepared us for this recent storm. We are battered and bruised and are not sure when the calm will return.

I haven’t known what to say or how to say it, but it feels like it had to be said. I never hoped to have a voice for people enduring unspeakable pain, but here I am. I’ve found a lot of hope and life from reading other’s stories (especially Glennon Doyle Melton of Momastery blog) and from walking through this season with my closest friends bound to my side. Despite the pain and the challenges and the not knowing what the future holds, we are trying to go through this season well. Trying to grow healthy as individuals and as a family — and as people who are a part of God’s family.

So sharing this new voice of mine is important. And so are your prayers, friends. They are my lifeline every minute of the day.

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Having a Voice

Perhaps the biggest struggle for stay-at-home moms is the feeling of a loss of voice. The feeling that you used to be somebody who’s opinions mattered but now you drag screaming toddlers down the street to pick up your other kid from school (true story). You used to matter to people and your counsel was sought after but now you get grilled with whys and what ifs with no real evidence that your answers were heard. You use to do important things with important people and now you spend 95% of your day wiping tushies, noses, or messes. 

It was hard six years ago when I made the transition to motherhood but now it can sometimes feel stifling. Even with happy faces on the best of days I feel like a small portion of what I used to be. Yes, I know it’s a phase. Yes, I know my voice towards my kids is the most powerful one I will ever have. And yes, I’m exhausted and worn thin and sometimes not okay.

But six years into this gig I finally feel like I’m going to be okay. Not right now. Maybe not tomorrow or six months from now. But I will be ok and be heard again. One day all those needy little hands will be busy with their own lives and I’ll be me again. But I think a better me. The me that is being fashioned out of these years of feeling silenced is one that listens better, has more compassion, thinks more before she speaks, and hopefully has learned something about being a servant. 

Just about every leader in the Bible had to go through a period of having no voice. Even Jesus himself. There is nothing wrong with having no voice, it’s hard, but it changes you. In a way that we all need to be changed. In a way that humbles and makes us reliant on prayer. After all, he is the one who hears us when we feel desperately unnoticed. He actively seeks us out and says it’s impossible for us to hide from him. He sees us when we are silenced and that, that is what will make my voice worth listening to in the future. 

I don’t need to fight this “voiceless” phase or wish it away, I need to yield to it and let it change me. I don’t need to sugar coat it or guilt myself into thinking I’m just not being grateful enough. Motherhood is hard, wild, and wonderful. And when I’m in a new phase of life (that I can’t now imagine), I hope these little years have left their mark. That I will have learned a thing or two about compassion and service. I hope you will too. 

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Getting Creative

While most of my days are filled with chasing little ones and cleaning up their never-ending messes, I like to spend my evenings making pretty things. Sure, I could give my floor that sweeping it desperately needs or tackle that pile of laundry, but some times you just need to exercise those creative muscles and make life a little more beautiful.

   
  I recently bought a grown-up coloring book, after much encouragement from my husband, and have been thoroughly enjoying myself. It feels bizarre to be investing time in something that is just for me and has no practical purpose, but it is really soothing. I have no artistic bones in my body, so I like pretending to be an artist. It’s a great way to relax in the evenings!

  
Some of my other pretty, creative pursuits have more practical end results. Whether it’s a simple as modifying a dinosaur costume for my overgrown kindergartner, making unique Christmas presents, or dreaming up a new quilt — sewing is still a favorite past time of mine. I’ve got two quilts in the works and they couldn’t be more different.

  
One is a simple and modern quilt filled with robots for my sweet Nolan. As a middle child he can sometimes get lost in the shuffle. He is used to hand-me-downs, especially in blankets, so I thought a quilt geared just for him would be special for him.

  
The other is a block-of-the-month quilt that I inherited from my grandmother-in-law. I have had it on hand for awhile and finally figured out a way to modify it, just a little bit, to become the perfect heirloom Christmas quilt for our family. My mom is going to be bringing me some Christmas flannel fabric that she’s had for years for the back and it’ll be a whole family affair!

  
And every time I get the sewing bug, I can’t help but whip up something for the little miss in the house. 

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My Dad

Today is my dad’s birthday.
 
 I have yet to meet anyone who knows my dad and didn’t think he was the coolest guy around. He (literally) towers over most people, and yet he has the ability to make everyone feel comfortable and welcome in our home. He is humble, quiet, gives great advice, listens, loves Jesus, and is the biggest example of a servant-leader I have ever seen. He leads from behind, nothing is too low for him to get involved in or concern himself with. Everyone looks up to him (again, literally), but he has earned that place of respect by living a faithful and generous life.

And as a dad? He always danced with me. ALWAYS. Even when we were the only ones on the dance floor. He dressed up with us on Halloween (in the COOLEST COSTUMES!). He took us to the beach and camping and barbecues the best steaks in town. He took my sister and I on dates and modeled how a real man takes care of his woman: providing, giving flowers and presents, yes, but even more, he treats my mom with respect and prizes her above all others. He gave me many uncomfortable talks as a teenage girl, but he always did so out of love and to protect me from myself. He showed me how to be consistent in reading the Bible, in serving, in giving, and praying.

As a son he has always been consistent and loving towards his parents. I hear he may have given a little bit of trouble in his youth, ahem, but he adores and honors his parents, even now in my grandma’s death. As a friend, you cannot do better than “Leggs”. He is a lot of fun, but more than that he is faithful, loyal, and generous.

As a small token of my love and appreciation for another year of your life, I hope this little post honors you, Daddy. I love you forever and always,

Moki Jo

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A Beautiful Mess

Life’s messy. Relationships are messy. My heart? It’s really messy. All our messiness is so easy to hide and ignore because it’s internal messiness, not in your face messy. The in-your-face messiness of my kids has reminded me lately of how God views me, despite my messiness.

Without going into too much of the gory details, we have a lot of potty problems in our household. My eldest has not yet stayed dry at night, my middle one frequently wets the bed, and my littlest? Oh, that darling, loves everything girlie, girl? She also loves messes. Really. Really. Really. Gross. Messes. Like getting into her #2 diaper and covering herself, her bed, and everything in her reach with it. All the time.

The last time I went to get her from her nap and walked into her, as you can imagine, delightfully smelling room and saw her smeared face, I sighed a deep sigh. She had the happiest expression, in the midst of all her mess. “My dear, don’t you know how gross this is? Why are you settling to play with this nastiest of things, when you have a house full of pleasant and lovely things to play with?”

I found myself reaching into her messiness to “rescue” her from it. To bathe and clean her (x100) and wrap her in a warm, clean towel. To thoroughly wash all her toys, bed things, clothes, etc. To wipe down the walls of her crib and her room until there was no trace of the mess. But you know what? Even in my revulsion towards the situation, my feelings towards my daughter never changed. I loved her every moment, despite how gross she was. I felt privileged to care for her and clean her and show her mercy.

And isn’t that how God deals with us? He says even our best efforts are like filthy rags — we are only capable of making the messiest of messes on our best days. And yet he takes us, cleanses us, and transforms us into something beautiful. He adores us even when all we can offer is crap. Before we could do one lovely thing or even clean ourselves up a bit, he reached into our lives and saved us from ourselves. Saved us from useless things that we though would make us happy. Saved us for a life of peace, hope, joy, and for no fear in death.

Not only should this remind us of his great grace and mercy, it should also give us compassion for others, in their messiness. When relationships get complicated and people’s filth starts coming out, how can we judge others when we are just as bad? How can we not simply say, “We too used to settle for trash, come with me, to Jesus. He will transform us and together we can experience his grace.”

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A Whirlwind Summer

It should be no surprise to you that I didn’t do any blogging this summer. Despite having more free time my mind has been everywhere but here. I have so much that I want to share from my cooking classes but life has been a bit draining as of late. I won’t bore you with the details, but this has been a very long, trying season of waiting in our household. We are all okay, but it has taken all my focus to take care of my family. So, I hope you’ll forgive me!

We did manage to have a lot of fun this summer despite the various trials. In May, Brian and I were able to get away for a night while my dear friend Rochelle and her hubby watched our THREE kiddos. Can you believe it? Yes, they were so gracious to take all of our kids and let us celebrate our 9th year of marriage. IMG_4175

Then in June my parents came for a visit on their way across the country. We made some wonderful memories together and, as always, the grandkids loved spending so much time with their grandparents.

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At the Kane County Cougar’s Minor League Baseball Game. 

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Hanging out with Papa on the front porch swing is always a favorite!

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And backyard BBQ’s are also always a hit!

At the end of the month we took our first vacation as a family of five. We stayed in Holland, MI which is a quick drive but a world away from our normal life. We used Airbnb for the first time and stayed in a wonderful “Treehouse”. We will definitely do this again!

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Ice Cream at a local Holland hot spot.

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Sand time is the best time. 

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Every one loves the lake — even when it’s frigid!

I turned 31 in July (eek!) and we spent as much time in the pool, at the splash park, or outside as possible. We had a really rainy start to the summer which meant cooler temps and lots of mosquitos, but we made the best of it!

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We love taking family walks around the lake and pausing at a bench or two to enjoy our favorite park. IMG_4620

The boys, relaxing after rolling down their favorite hill. 

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Sweetie pie, modeling a mama-made dress. 

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The boat dock — we love watching all the fish below!

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A new, awesome pool we discovered. 

The end of July meant our annual trip to California to visit our family. We spent many days at the beach with my parents and visited with my sisters and their families too. What fun!

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Beach time with Cousin Zoe. IMG_4978

Walks on Del Mar after an ice cream treat. 
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Visiting my dear Grandfather, Avery gave him lots of sweet kisses. IMG_5027

The whole family together for a luau and to celebrate Cousin Bram’s birthday.

Then we met up with Brian’s parents and spent a fun-filled two days at Legoland. We even got to stay at the Legoland hotel which was great fun for the kiddos. We finished off our trip with a few days in Santa Clarita where we got to spend more time with Brian’s parents, grandparents, and other relatives.

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Waiting for the Lego boat ride with Grandpa and Ceecee — Nolan definitely caused a boat-jam while driving his boat. IMG_5099

On a different boat ride that took us through several lego fairytales. IMG_5117

Back at Grandpa and Ceecee’s doing what they love best — water fun!
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Parker loves his great grandpa, or Pop as we call him!

Now that August is upon us we are winding down the summer and heading into our first real school year now that Parker is a big Kindergartner! We have been making the most of every weekend with trips to new lakes and beaches and pools.

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At Blackwell Forest Preserve, renting a row boat for a morning.

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Moore Park Sprayground in Geneva.imageExploring 31st St Beach in Chicago. Warm water!

 

Another new pool in Lombard — we’ve been finding any place that is open in the morning for our water fun!

And next week? Kindergarten starts and so do my classes. Our big boy turns 6 (!?!) and we’ll celebrate with a Lego Birthday party. I hope to get back to more regular blogging but time will tell — I hope you all had a great summer!

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