Archive for the ‘#1 -creator’ Category


The hillside garden

There’s just something about a garden path, isn’t there — inviting, drawing you in on a brief journey of discovery and delight. I know my littlest grand-girls love to skip off into the gardens, often pulling me along as they follow the adventure of a winding path, finding the brightest bloom, the biggest peas or the most perfect rose.

path 3I was out weeding in my gardens this morning, while the air was warming but before the sun got too hot, and I looked down along the little stone and brick walkway where I was sitting, overgrown with sedums and arched with daylilies about to burst open, and it struck me: All my little gardens have a path!

It certainly wasn’t intentional, like a grand master-plan, but perhaps more like instinct, responding to the landscape of the earth and the encounters of joy that a garden offers. Beloved JR enjoys the artistic challenge, too, and agreeably laid out for me the terraces, paths and little stone walls with old chimney brick and rocks from our brook. It is also a bit practical, I realize, as I step from the path amid the towering poppies and verbena bonariensis to nab a dandelion taking root in the mulch. Without a path, I couldn’t access the deeper parts of the perennial beds.

path 4

among the veggies

And of course pathways make square foot veggie gardening even possible!

Gardens are such a source of enjoyment, satisfaction and worship to me; anyone who knows me knows this, the constant battle against bugs and weeds notwithstanding. In fact, I think being engaged with something that is quite a bit ‘out of control’ is part of the fascination! And just now, I think all the different paths are my favorite part!

So, plunked there in the middle of the stone path, kneeling on my well-worn little green cushion, I was surrounded by the magnificent mid-summer growth on either side and all the sensations of scent, color, texture, shape. I couldn’t see around the big wild geranium (which needs dead-heading!) at the bend of the path. I couldn’t see down the meandering steps that lead to the lower yard and the trellised berries beyond, or behind me, where the steps lead up to the other end of the little walkway, up into the grass of the upper yard, into the shade of the oak tree. This narrow way hemmed me in, but I found I felt safe, secure, cradled – surrounded by loveliness; and I trusted this friendly little path to guide me home. Naturally, this got me to thinking.

path 8

pathway along the herb garden

“I am the door,” Jesus said. “I am the way….. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 10:9, 14:6) And again, “Enter through the narrow way; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14) Disciples Paul and Timothy both clarified, “There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (1Timothy 2:5) and “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we are saved.” (Acts 4:12)

I know I was specifically taught, from an early age, that different people use different language to describe the way to God, and its all good. Whether you identify with Tao, or Buddha, or Gaia, or Jesus, or the Spirit of Love, it’s all the same path to Enlightenment and Eternal Wisdom. But then I met Jesus. The Person. Literally. And anyone who has encountered the Power of the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ in the face of evil simply cannot deny the Truth. I know I don’t respond to whatever name someone happens to want to call me, I have a name that belongs to me. And so does our Lord. One Name, One person, and One path through the garden of life. I’m so grateful to be on that path!

path 6

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Fresh asparagus with mint.     YUM!

Fresh asparagus with mint.

I am at war. I’m fighting a mighty battle, and I’m not sure who is winning. This pernicious enemy goes underground and emerges in sneaky places, taking me by surprise. Right now I’m convinced I’m outnumbered, but there is no way of knowing for sure how far this one will go. Just when I think I’ve decidedly won a battle, I blink, and discover a new line of attack. The latest is in the asparagus bed. I’m talking about the spreading mint, of course.

When I first decided to put mint in my garden, I was aware of all the dire warnings — DON”T DO IT!   Full confession here: I think it was arrogance on my part to believe I could control it. I’ll just stay right on top of it, I thought.  I really love being able to pick tons of fresh spearmint for summer time iced tea, or special garnish or sauce flavoring, or even just for rubbing between my fingers when I’m out for a garden stroll.  I had the perfect spot in my raised bed veggie garden, all boxed in, surrounded by landscaping cloth and wood chip path.  Dear hubby Jack even put in extra deep edging all the way around.  As my mint flourished and looked contained, I grew lackadaisical about it.

Sure, I’ve had to hack back some stragglers now and then, but mostly it seemed under control.  Until this spring when lots of bright green mint began to show up along the garden path, ten feet away!  Jack and I (well, mostly Jack) undertook a fierce project to tame back this invasive — we raked back the wood chips and ripped up the hard-pack paths where the roots were growing along deep underground, and with our bare knuckles, going along inch by inch, pried out every last shred of mint root we could find.  In fact, the whole mint bed came out, I even sifted with my fingers to recover the tiniest bits of white root tips and get them gone.

The smart thing might have been to eliminate the idea of mint altogether, and simply plan on harvesting from a neighbor when I’m in the mood for tea, but , no , I insisted on burying a deep trash barrel in the same spot, drain holes in the deep, deep bottom covered with a fine wire mesh.  I have to say, Jack was a good sport the whole time, as he supplied the labor.  Okay, this may buy me a couple years of self-contained mint-pleasure before it finds a way to escape (mint roots can go down three to four feet when they’re desperate, I understand!) but I’m stubborn that way.  I want to have my mint and grow it too.

Anyway, we thought we had it licked, and I went on about the zillion other spring chores in the gardens, like trying to get my carrot seeds in and pry dandelions out from among the daylilies.  And then the mint began cropping up in the middle of the raised asparagus bed!  Now, asparagus grows from deep, deep roots, buried about a foot down.  The only way for the mint to get in is from underneath the twelve-foot path, under the high side of the tiered asparagus bed, and we’re talking here about eighteen inches deep!  How do I dig down to find the bottom of the mint without destroying my asparagus?  And the roots are spreading everywhere!  AARGH!

Oh Father, my Creator, and the Gardener of my soul, facing and weeding out the tenaciousness of sin in my own heart is a truly impossible task.  I’m unaware of the roots until some meanness or selfishness in me pokes up, and I hurt the one I love.  You alone can reach my depths, and root out the nature of my sin from its very source, and even then, only as I rely on You and sincerely yield to your loving conviction.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
See if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the way of everlasting truth.

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My life as a spring morning

I can’t help it.  I am delirious.  The yard is freshly mowed, the temperatures are perfect, the air clean and fresh, the sky blue with those small, puffy white clouds, and I get to have my hands in the dirt.  The warm, rich, black dirt that we made from leaves and yard clippings, with the help of Roscoe, our intrepid herd of red worms imported to the compost bin for the job.  Everywhere I look, it is beautiful.  Plus, there is a bird song that I don’t recognize breezing up from the woods, so I have my binoculars close by, along with my tool basket.  I just don’t see how it gets better than this.

This is the time of year I love my gardens best.  It is all potential — before the gold rose chafers overwhelm the iris beds and the japanese beetles devour the berry patch and the slugs make mush out of the daylilies.  Any unplucked weeds are imperceptibly tiny, and the tomato hornworms aren’t even eggs yet.  The fresh mulch still has its warm cedar smell, and new annual flower seedlings are beginning to poke up in the flower beds (thanks Jan :)).  The baby chickadees are peeping in the bird box at the fence along our little apple orchard, and the young swallows have already fledged and are chattering along behind mommy as they swoop and soar, snatching bugs from the air.  And I will pick a big bowl of spinach for supper tonight.  The vegetables, too, are all full of potential, neat and tidy and sprouting green rows in their new beds.  Oh how loud can I write  I  LOVE  THIS!

And I marvel, how is it that I get to spend the morning in my garden on a perfectly glorious Friday in June…

I imagine part of my delirium comes from deeply knowing it is such a gift. Part of the delirium is gratitude; worshipful receiving.  I have this joy today, but keenly remember that it wasn’t always so, and there may well come a day when it will not be again.  I carry the hardship of facial palsy every day, and the memories of affliction and sorrow not too many years ago, and the scars of childhood wounds in my soul.  But these are now all in the light, where Jesus touches, as peonies open in the sunshine.  I am conscious of those I know and love who bear much worse, and weep aloud with cries of  ‘O Lord, where is the gift for them?’  But in the moment, my moment, I receive this gift with open arms, lifted heavenward like the perfect iris blooming, turning a face to the Creator, and the tears aren’t of grief, but an Ode to Joy.

Surely Heaven has gardens.  Lots of them – dirt, bugs and all.  We know Eden did, so maybe it’s an important part of being human.  I know my heart sings and worships best in a garden, with the intimacy of miracles all around.

“On my word,

a single May

is too heady for my blood.”

Rainer Maria Rilke, The 9th Elegy

White iris – praise uplifting

Momma phoebe flying over the hillside garden

Veggies coming

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JR meditating at the edge of the ocean
Outer Banks of North Carolina

Why, I’m wondering, is it so difficult to.  just.  stop.  We’re winding down our wonderful vacation week on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and I’m finally winding down myself.

Our very first morning, waking up to the sun rising over the crashing blue and white surf just off our bedroom deck —  I quickly wrapped myself in a soft fleece blanket against the brisk dawn ocean breeze, grabbed a pair of binoculars and plopped myself down on the deck, watching the gulls & pelicans & willets along the shore.  There was one figure – a man I think – with two dogs, far down the beach.  I watched a small doe, likely whitetail, make her way along the dunes until she gently ambled out of sight far to the south.  My heart skipped when I glimpsed a plume of spray offshore –  first thought = Whale!!  But then realized it was simply a pelican, dive-bombing for breakfast.  As I watched the big bird on the water through the binoculars, my eye caught a playful pod of dolphins, also cruising for their meal.  The sun, rising higher, spread gold across the misty morning horizon.  What else, what else?

I was watching all this quiet liveliness against the backdrop of constant ocean roar, and suddenly realized how busy I was inside — seeing, naming, scanning, searching ….

How automatic and natural that internal pace:  Looking for the next thing before I’m done noticing the present.  Even remembering ‘I’m on Vacation!  Time to quiet down inside!’  only underscores the reality.  I recognize that this internal pace is my own creation — my response to always more that needs/should/can/ought  to be done.  My list is long, my obligations scattered among the many hats I wear in our unscheduled, people-oriented life, not to mention caring for an old rambling farmhouse and keeping up with overflowing gardens.  Internally, I’m usually two steps ahead of myself, organizing and anticipating and tryingtogetajumponthings in my mind.  Funny though, that in the land of the living I move slow, quite slow, and transitions and disruptions are unsettling set-backs to my careful order.

Bundled on the  deck with my blanket in that early warming sunshine with the sky and the sea spreading out forever, I didn’t realize how thoroughly I carry my internal channel with me until I tried. to. stop.   And just be.   And not process anything, but simply pause, present to the unfolding day.

In the middle of the week — during one of our unambitious strolls down the endless and nearly deserted beach, there was a young family out for the day.  Dad was building sand castles with one small male child, while the other – a skinny, dark-haired boy of 5 or 6, was playing at the edge of the surf, mother nearby watching with protective amusement.  This seemed to be the boy’s first encounter with the sea – he was giddy with excitement – squealing and dancing and skipping and charging the waves and darting away again with screaming delight.  He was absolutely and thoroughly absorbed in the thrill, oblivious to mother, father, brother, seagulls, us, as he pranced on his tiptoes chasing back and forth the foaming edges of the surf.

I thought, how long has it been since I’ve been like such a child….abandoned to the simple, profound joy of being alive?  I can’t recall such a thing.  Perhaps never.  Certainly not in my anxious and terrified childhood.  Even now, strolling along the beach with nothing to do but breathe in the glorious fresh air, I can’t seem to resist the compulsion to stoop and pick up and organize the smooth, pretty bits of shell that catch my eye.  White ones today; purple and gray ones tomorrow; then pale orange ones next.  The black shells, I’ll wait for another year.  (Right.  I really think like this?!)  I certainly can’t enter that precious, un-self-conscious freedom while rabidly organizing my next task.

The struggle surfaced again while lazing in the hot-tub that evening.  Now — this is the first time, ever, that JR and I have intentionally taken such a vacation, with one goal:  To Relax.  We deliberately chose a place with no family and few people; lacking touristy attractions; miles of nothing to distract or stimulate; with broad expanses that invite rest; and with a hot-tub overlooking the ocean.  The plan was simple — sleep, eat, soak, walk on the beach, and sleep some more.  So, soaking there in the hot-tub at sunset, sky turning pink and lavender and waves glowing peach as they tumbled with lazy reach onto the shore, we mused together about faithfulness and idleness.  Relaxing in that hot tub, with NO ministry objective, felt unfaithful, self-indulgent, too close to sinful in fact.  Using up resources just to pamper ourselves, total unproductive idleness, especially when there is so much need in the world …. this is supreme selfishness, right?  This mantra is a relentless master.  And an unhelpful one.

For over the course of our short week at the beach, slowly opening ourselves to be aware of the present moment only and allowing ourselves to sink into the enjoyment of that as a gift, we began to discover, both of us, the response to our inner quieting was a deeper sense of worship.  There was no effort for ‘morning devotions’ in order to draw close to God; the growing stillness and presence in my heart seemed enough to allow more room for Him.  And we learned, JR and I together, the beauty of that kind of faithfulness.  For it takes a far greater Trust and Dependence to allow the ‘Blessed Controller’ to actually be in charge and to intentionally receive each moment as a blessing.  The temptation is to try to wrest satisfaction, safety and sense of purpose from life as if that were faithfulness.  The quiet and peace in my heart, today, is very different from the frenetic joy of my first morning at the beach.

Now, re-entering Real Life, taking up again the lists and obligations, we are gently trying to remind each other that it is really OK to continue breathing deeply, and to let each moment unfold.  My challenge will be to remember to abide here.  A handful of bits of colored shell, memories of the hot-tub and dancing at the edge of the surf  will be happy companions on this journey.

hot tub at the OBX


glass of shells=1

Just a bit of the beach

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The bright male cardinal is back at my kitchen window again today. He is sitting on the sill outside, bonking himself against the glass pane. From time to time, he will peck at the glass, and then goes back to bonking again.

Cardinals are territorial birds, and this male is trying to dissuade the rival bird he sees in his reflection. It is a thrill for me to have a nesting pair in our garden that stays all year ‘round; they have been here for only a few years as the species is slowly expanding into the north. I love the dramatic red plumage, and the drama of their social life as I observe them through my window…

So: Why does he do this? Is this a ‘male’ thing? I wonder if maybe it’s true, that we do observe a bit about created nature — male//female — by noticing what the ‘creatures’ do. While I don’t buy into the extreme stereotypes that all men = martians etc.,or that, because of what I notice with some birds, all passerines are territorial, I really do believe (and find it repeatedly reaffirmed as we work in counseling and spiritual direction with dysfunctional relationships) that men and women are inherently different by nature.

It is too grievous to me to consider what the Church has done with this, and how, particularly, it has used Scripture to support extreme bastions of hierarchy through the centuries, both in the Church and in the home. One has only to honestly and faithfully consider the nature of God as He describes Himself (meaning, LOVE), Jesus as we come to know the Servant in the gospels, and Mr. Cardinal, to figure out that dominion, subservience, power and authority are not a part of the Kingdom.

The beautiful creation story in Genesis 1-3 has inspired some theologians to justify the subordination of women. And the same passages are studied by feminists to refute the same, and establish female independence. I find much richness and depth in this story; much wisdom for understanding motivations, fears, temptations, struggles, and joys in the created peculiarities and fallen complexities for both men and women. It seems to me that God is letting us know, in no uncertain terms, that we are different. I also discover that we are inter-dependent. But, what I can’t discern from these passages, is that Adam is meant to control, dominate, have ‘authority’ over, or otherwise subjugate Eve.

The relationship between this first pair of humans is expressed by the term ‘ezer ke-negdo’. This unusual phrase most likely indicates mutuality. The noun helper can mean either “an assistant” (subordinate) or “an expert” (superior); but the modifying prepositional phrase, used only here in the Bible, apparently means “equal to.” The phrase, which might be translated literally as “an equal helper,” indicates that no hierarchical relationship exists between the primordial couple. This sounds fine to me, leaving room for differing natures and mutual relationship, and fits the ‘Kingdom paradigm’ as Paul says, “There is now neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus…

My dear, dear sister said something to me recently that nearly broke my heart. She said, “I think I’m becoming more masculine…” When I asked her what on earth she meant, she went on to talk about her journey of discovering her own personal, strong identity, distinct from her husband’s, and realizing that she is becoming more assertive. She said she is losing her “softness”. Wow. My thought was, ‘what a screwed up notion of femininity we’ve perpetuated!’ I was thinking of the culpability of BOTH men and women. Now, I don’t think for a moment that she has lost any of her lovely softness. But perhaps she has lost some of her squishiness. Her nature is still soft, nurturing and inviting, her attitude submissive (in the very best sense of the word, as in “submit yourselves one to another”) and her new-found inner strength and dignity are very attractive. I think she is discovering the woman God created.

What about men? Well, I am trusting that men can have a similar journey of discovery. Our men might discover that they, too, have a quiet and gentle strength that is a wonderful gift from their Creator, and find their greatest joy in using that strength as an act of submission as well. Now, wouldn’t THAT be something? Yes, we certainly have done much damage to our relationships, and have made our Church ugly rather than winsome by applying (and acceding to) rules, structures, expectations and hierarchies that have more to do with power and avoidance and control-driven human nature (both male and female) than with God’s intent and original design. That’s why I’m thinking about my cardinals today.

By defending his territory, Mr. Cardinal is acting out an (apparently) innate instinct to protect and provide for his mate. While she is sitting on her eggs in a few weeks, fulfilling her instincts, he will be bringing her food. Now, lest anyone think I am trying to say they are an example of a God-ordained division of gender roles, I just want to point out that I have also been following a live feed of a pair of Red-Tailed Hawks at Cornell University in NY,  and the male is spending as much, or more, time on the nest as the female. This is typical of the RTH, and sometimes the male will even develop a ‘brood patch’, or area on his breast that has no down under his feathers, for warming eggs during incubation, just like the female. Does this mean that he lacks a ‘male instinct to protect and provide’? Seriously don’t think so. And of course we’ll remember the Emperor Penguins of Antarctica, as the males will incubate the egg while the female wobbles nearly 150 miles round trip to fetch food. Does this mean she has abandoned her ‘female instinct to nurture?’ Obviously not. Our human insistence on gender roles, within and without the church, seem to have totally missed the point. As always, God the ‘I AM’, calls us to ‘BE’. He is searching the heart, not the job. Meanwhile, Mrs. Cardinal sits in the lower branches of the spruce tree, enjoying and resting in the un-self-conscious display of protection on her behalf, knowing that Mr. Cardinal is not, in the least, suggesting that she is incapable of looking out for herself. That’s not how the math works out.

Women Workers

Macho Man Apron


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The little chickadee outside my window sharpens her beak. At least that’s what I think she’s doing. Maybe the small twig is her napkin, and she’s just brushing off the ort of leftover sunflower shells. At any rate, she briskly swipes her tiny black beak, back and forth, across the twig and gaily flits back to the copper tray feeder hanging just on the other side of my window, to nab another seed. This she takes with her back to the branch in the lilac bush, grips the seed with her toes, and begins pecking away until she’s extracted all the bits of seed-flesh from the shell. Then back for more. And if I have forgotten to refill the feeder in the morning, she gently taps at the window with her beak until I notice and open the window to pour out a little mound of seed, with her sitting on the windowsill just a few inches away. She chirps her thanks in a happy, friendly sort of way, and goes about her business.

The downy woodpecker, on the other hand, eyes me defiantly. He flops like a lump on the edge of the dish, glaring at me through the glass with one bright dark eye, his head solidly tilted to one side. The brilliant red on the nape of his neck bristles and sparkles even though its a cloudy morning. While he keeps me in view with one eye, I believe he is surveying his options with his other, for he suddenly grabs a seed and flies off to the blue spruce a short distance away. There he jams the seed into a crevice in the bark and jack-hammers out his breakfast.

The chatty yellow goldfinches pay no attention to me at all as they are absorbed in their own conversations, gossiping maybe about the rude bluejay who just swooped in and is hogging the best perching place in the bush. They continue their chats as they eat, hanging out together among the seeds, breaking shells with their stout little beaks and scattering shell bits around the tray. This congregation of noisy, busy birds arrives together, eats together and flies off together with only one or two discernible squabbles among them.

The bluejay has dropped to the ground, snow from the latest storm littered with seed carcasses, to join the two mourning doves foraging there.  Mr. Dove stays glued to Mrs., poking among the broken bits to find the missed or discarded morsel, and they are obviously very much in love. And it isn’t even close to springtime.

Then the turkeys arrive, slowly wandering up from the woods where they have roosted in the treetops for the night, stopping to browse among the staked raspberry rows before making their way to the oak tree and the little apple orchard and the cracked corn I have scattered there. I see two hens and their brood of young poults. The young ones trail behind the hens like cars on a train, pecking and scratching as they go. When Mama is ready to move on to the neighbor’s garden, one young guy isn’t paying attention and is left behind. Mama has to double back and scold her wayward youth, herding him to join the rest of the flock. Their beautiful bronze backsides shimmer as they disappear over the shallow slope to the west.

Delightful dramas unfold right outside my window. Who needs television?

And we know that our infinite God created us humans with the need and the ability to relate to one another in uncountable, and sometimes incomprehensible ways.  And if He counts their feathers, and cares for the birds of the field, beloved…

“Then Elisha prayed and said, ‘O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.’ And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes and he saw.” — 2Kings 6:17

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Some days the delight and joy seem like just too much. The air is clear and clean and sparkling, and the rich green is deep and all around, and the birds and bees and butterflies are busy in the gardens. You could drown in the fresh ferns down in the woods if you strolled there, along the brook. This is my world as I sit on the back porch step and try to take it all in.  I feel a tear rolling down my cheek. I am remembering yesterday.

Yesterday, dead-heading iris out among the perennials with the warm sunshine on my back, I was ambushed by peaceful quiet joy as I noticed the blooming zinnias; simple, strong uncomplicated petals. They required nothing of me. They simply were. And they were simply perfect. Three pretty blooms, smiling, and I smiled back, filled with gladness. and gratitude.

Immediately sorrow and anguish swelled and tumbled out at as well, without invitation. My smile, which I felt emerging from a deep, happy place in my soul, caught on my face and twisted. As I felt my cramped cheek muscle contort my smile into a snarl, the grief of living with Bell’s Palsy hit me afresh, as it does daily, and I sobbed there alone in the garden.

We don’t think much about our faces. We sort of take them for granted. We don’t really contemplate that the expressiveness of our face is the reflection of our soul to the world. Until it doesn’t work. For most of us, without disability, we merrily go about living our lives, smiling and laughing at what brings us joy, crying, frowning, speaking our words without trying to manage half our tongue at the same time, expressing and releasing all manner of unintended emotion.

When half of your face is paralyzed, half of your soul stays locked behind in the prison of immobile muscles. And for some of us with BP, healing nerves bring spasms and contractions, often ending up with unusable hypertonic muscles that keep the cheek and lip drawn up in unpleasant contortion. It hurts when the photographer says “smile” and you know you are smiling as big as you can, and the result is something that looks more like a sneer. It hurts to know that you ruin everyone else’s picture, so you stop smiling and learn, with concentration, how to produce a small facsimile. It is lonely there.

And so, smiling at the zinnias, I burst into tears, bumping into my prison bars out there alone in the garden. The zinnias, unperturbed and requiring nothing, smiled back.

This morning, with my steaming mug of black french roast coffee, sitting on the back porch steps and soaking up the glory of this place in which I get to live, my tear is in gratitude for my zinnia.  I realize that if half of the petals yesterday had been curled or distorted, I wouldn’t have been blessed and delighted, but would have turned away.  It is a challenge to my faith to remember to believe that my value, and therefore my beauty, is secured in the heart of my Creator.  He is unperturbed and requires nothing of me, but to bask in his love and in turn offer that love to all I meet.  That’s the same journey we’re all on, and now I’m trying to learn that I can do that even with half a face.

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