Choose Joy

Don't let life simply go by...choose joy
Don’t let life simply go by…choose joy

I remember marveling one day at the parenting skills of my sister-in-law with her young toddler. When she foresaw her son about to make a poor choice, she quickly piped in, “Do you want to make a bad choice or a good choice?” The bad choice entailed biting the baby brother while the good choice involved walking away from trouble. From her strict, yet loving, voice came a convincing tone, which resonated, “You better do what I say or there will be consequences.” Secretly, I was always jealous of her consistent, parenting skills. She is a teacher and I swear she was given a secret handbook for handling kids that the rest of us have had to learn through trial and error (mostly error on my part).

Similarly, we are told to choose joy in the midst of adversity.  Like seriously, we have a choice? It often seems like our circumstances demand to be accompanied by a certain attitude or moodiness. It is more common to groan, moan and complain. Misery often finds others who are miserable.

However, true joy is rising above your circumstances.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4

 When I struggle to choose joy is when I lose sight of who I am.

I am a child of God. I belong to Him. It is much easier to focus on my short-comings, my weaknesses, my problems, and my pain than it is to focus only on Him [God]. Why? I can visibly see what is going on in my physical realm. I can see that my life is far from perfect. But it is a far stretch to keep my focus on things above because it involves a personal choice.

Will I choose to serve Him? Will I choose to trust Him? Will I choose to believe? 

Doubt and fear come crashing in like strong waves thrashing us against the rocks. If only we looked up to see the rock is Him, our stronghold, our fortress. Anything and everything that come into our life are to drive us closer to Him. There is no such thing as circumstance or coincidence. God permits things in our life so we can experience Him more, see Him more, and become more like Him.

“I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” John 15:11

 Joy is a choice.

Joy is not merely a by-product, but rather a work that is being completed in you. Joy is not something we create in ourselves, but rather a completing work of Christ. He is doing a good work in you. He is hand-picking situations and circumstances for your life which will move you closer to Him. Unfortunately, our biggest hindrance in experiencing joy most often is ourselves.

  • Are you hanging on to the past rather than allowing Christ to move you on?
  • Is forgiving yourself a significant struggle and instead, guilt and repeated repentance seem like best friends?
  • Are you caught up in amending a bad relationship rather than letting it go?
  • Do you beat yourself up for sin, never resting fully in God’s grace?
  • Are you overly critical of others, finding it difficult to reconcile and make amends?
  • Is your mind stuck on rewind, reading between the lines, only to be caught up with worry and anxiety?
  • Do you take over the reigns when the waves begin to rock the boat rather than giving complete control to Him? 
We can focus on this world—or we can focus on Him. When it’s all said and done, we will never regret making the right choice to follow Him and choose joy.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18

Are you lukewarm?

Are you yurting?
Are you yurting?

Somewhere between a tent and a log cabin lies a “yurt,” a circular, canvas structure filled with bunk beds to snuggly sandwich your entire family. You can enjoy all the joys of sleeping in a tent, like hearing your neighbors snore, babies crying at the crack of dawn and bacon cooking on the campfire grill. However, you do not have to sleep on an uncomfortable, hard-as-rock dirt floor where you wiggle to find a comfy sleeping spot. You are also immune from the bugs and critters that may go bump in the night.

Therefore, to my dismay, when we entered into the ranger station and saw a brochure describing our yurting hut, it described our experience as “camping light.” And this entire time, I thought I was roughing it. Anything that demands a community style bathroom experience in my opinion should at least be considered the real deal.  I still wake up at the crack of dawn. I have no cell phone service or internet connectivity. I have to make a fire to stay warm. And finally, every meal involves stoking a fire to heat up the griddle.

There have been many times during my lifetime where I thought to myself, “This is it.  This is as much as I can take.”

No one ever told me how difficult life could be. Day after day of feeling completely spent. At the end of my rope, I somehow barely found a string to hold onto.

It is at the end of our rope where we can become completely undone.

Rather than looking at our experience as something that would help make us more like Christ, we beg God to take it away. When our situation and circumstances don’t quickly dissipate, we begin to question God’s intelligence and sovereignty in our matters. If we see no change in sight, we often resort to whining, complaining and throwing serious temper tantrums.

Why me? Why now? When will it end?

Christian living has never been easy. To fully experience the promises of God, we must activate our faith. Faith comes by hearing, not by seeing. Living out loud for Christ means leaving a visible mark. To live in any other way, is to not truly live. A yurting lifestyle lies somewhere between radical Christianity, the real deal, and just faking it. Scripture refers to a yurting lifestyle as “lukewarm.” It falls in the limbo area between living a sold-out life where Jesus Christ is your everything and the occasional church attender. As the park ranger would say, “yurting” is Christian light. You may be able to talk the talk, but from the looks of your life, you are not able to walk the walk. You blend right in with everyone else in the crowd.

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.” Revelation 3:15-16

Jesus lived differently. He lived life to leave a visible mark. A mark is made by an identifiable source. It sets you apart. It signifies you are different. We all made a mark on Jesus decades ago when we drove the nails into His hands. Therefore, let’s not be so quick to dismiss the pain, the suffering and circumstances, which come our way. Let’s not so hastily complain and grumble. Rather, let them leave their mark and set you apart.  Let them drive you to faith. Let them lead you to the end of your rope so you can find hope.

True hope can only be found in Him.

“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” John 20:25

Thomas doubted he saw the reincarnated Jesus until he saw the visible mark. What mark are you leaving? Can people tell you apart? Do you react differently than others in the midst of pain and suffering? When at the end of your rope, whom do you turn to?

I’ve become more aware of my own shortcomings. Will I allow God to choose my path, which is perfectly suited for me? Or will I complain and kick up the dust along the way? Just over a month ago a mosquito carrying chickungunya bit me. I never expected a single mosquito bite could significantly alter my life. I wake up throughout the night from pain and feel every step I take throughout the day. The joint pain is relentless. Through this experience, I’ve become more aware of my friends who live daily with physical pain. They never complain. They don’t give up. As rocky as the road becomes, they do not falter. In spite of severe difficulty, they welcome life with joy. (See 1 Thessalonians 1:6) May I live following their Christlike example.

Oh Lord, please make me more like you. May I be an example to others and leave a visible mark of Jesus every step of the way.

Remember Noah

Remember #Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord
Remember #Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord

Remember the story of Noah? It’s been recounted in movies and bedtime stories for centuries. It’s the story of a man who lived in the midst of a sinful society.

Standing alone. Set apart.

“The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” Gen 6:5-8

Make no mistake – our unfaithfulness and sin grieve the Lord.

At this point in history, God could have easily wiped out all of mankind. He could have thrown up His hands and said, “It’s finished.  I quit.  I give up on man.” Yet, He deals with us in a patient, merciful, generous and persistent manner. Because of God’s faithfulness and grace, mankind lived on.

Noah found grace because God, in His grace, found Noah.

The account of Noah continues with the construction of The Ark. Bible scholars estimate that The Ark was 95,700 square feet (to put this in perspective – 450 feet equals the size of 1½ football fields). The building of the ark was a massive undertaking that required complete obedience on the part of Noah. Notice the following verses.

“Noah did everything just as God commanded him.” Genesis 6:22

“And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.” Genesis 7:5

I want to point out to you that Noah was an ordinary man. He had a life – a job, a wife and kids – until one day God showed up at his doorstep and asked him to build an ark. An ark..something no one ever had heard of before. God provided him the blueprints for this intricate and large task. I wonder if Noah ever questioned what God was really up to. I wonder if Noah ever complained about all his sweat and hard labor. Do you think Noah had a difficult time letting go of his friends and co-workers the day the floods came up?

Do you ever wonder what it would be like to be in the shoes of Noah?

In Genesis 7, we read the rains came for 40 days. Everything was washed out. Only Noah and those with him on the ark remained living. The waters flooded the earth for 150 days. Wow! That’s a really long time to be stuck on an ark with stinky animals wondering when God would show up again.

Throughout the entire account of Noah, do you notice that Noah never said a word? God gives four little speeches, but Noah keeps his mouth shut and does his job. Noah, his family and all the stinky animals are basically imprisoned on the ark for months with nothing to look at, except an endless ocean. There were no mountains. There were no trees. All Noah could see for miles and miles was blue, blue sea. About this time in the story, I would have been wondering, “God, where are you? Have you forgotten about little ole’ me?”

Have you ever found yourself asking, “Where are you, God?”  

Have you ever begun on a new adventure and then felt that the rug was pulled from beneath your feet? You felt as if God had vanished, flooding you with emotions of sorrow, loneliness, perplexity and despair. I’m sure we all have had a time in our life when we could relate to the words of Asaph in Psalm 77:4:

“You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.  Has His mercy ceased forever?  Has His promise failed forevermore?”

 And then God shows up!  Not in our timing. Not as we expected.

But you come to realize, God did not lose track of Noah and He will not lose track of you! God never forgets about you!

Today’s Truth: Genesis 8:1, “But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.”

There is a fairy tale ending. The expression “God remembered Noah” is not alluding to the disappearance of Noah from God’s mind and into the land of forgetfulness, but rather that God’s remembering Noah was the return of His mercy to mankind. The discipline of man’s sinfulness to the extent of sending a worldwide flood was over and God’s favor on mankind was restored. The floodwaters abated and the mountaintops did appear once again. Eventually, Noah, his family and the animals safely exit the boat. Life resumes once again and there is hope! There is hope for you and I as well.

Regardless of our situation and circumstances on this side of our eternity, we can put our hope and trust in the Lord.

“The LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” Psalm 147:11

What’s in Your Box?

Do you keep God in a box?
Do you keep God in a box?
It’s easy to want a God whom we can contain and feel comfortable with.

For this very reason, we place God in a box.  We want a God whom we worship on Sundays and can stuff away in a box for the remainder of the week. We place our box up on a high shelf in our home that we gaze upon from time to time. We say to ourselves, “Wow, that box looks so pretty.  Maybe I’ll take it down this week and gaze inside.” But another week passes by and before we know it, it is Sunday again. We take down our box, dust if off and carry it to church once again. This pattern continues week after week, month after month, year after year.  We promise ourselves that we will spend more time with our box next year.  But, another New Year’s Resolution goes by.

More time slips away.

Until one day, we hit a crisis in our life and then we become so hysterical, that we pull down our box and peer inside. We shake our box in desperation, praying for a miracle and promising that we will change and be better at spending time with our box.  However, the crisis passes and we survive, we make it to the other side.  Before we know it, our box, our beautiful box, is placed back up on our shelf.

I want to introduce you to faithfulness, the seventh fruit of the Spirit, found in Galatians 5:22-23.  In his commentary on Galatians, William Barclay writes, “This word is common in secular Greek for trustworthiness.  It is the characteristic of the man who is reliable” (p. 51).

According to Webster, faithfulness implies unswerving adherence to a person or thing or to the oath or promise by which a tie was contracted (faithful to her promise).  It implies a sense of loyalty, firmly resisting any temptation to desert or betray (remained loyal to the czar).  Faithfulness is constant, suggesting freedom from fickleness in affections or loyalties (a constant friend).  There is a strong allegiance or resolution to one’s principles or purposes that will not be easily swayed, as well as, a steadfastness that will not be turned aside at any cause.  Faithfulness is resolute, stressing its unwavering determination to reach the finish line. (For additional study, see the Forerunner Commentary).

Despite our unfaithfulness, we serve a God who is always faithful, a God who is always there.

We may become disgruntled with God or impatient in hearing His voice, and so in our haste, we walk away.  Due to our self-centeredness, we cheat on our God and replace Him with material, carnal things in an attempt to be satisfied.  We are deceived into thinking that our way is better, that we know what we are doing and we don’t need God right now.  Disloyal, dishonest, unreliable, undependable, unbelieving are just a few words that describe who we really are.  What does Deuteronomy 31:8 promise us?

“The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

I desperately want to be faithful and I believe that you do as well. However, we will never fully extend the fruit of faithfulness until we put our complete trust in Him. Stay tuned to hear more about faithfulness in my next blog.

Are you Blessed?

Are your motives pure?
Are your motives pure?

No joke—my husband drove up behind this car on the way to work the other day. Black Mercedes with license plate that reads, “Tithe.” Chuckling, he muttered, “Must be a pastor’s car.”

Scripture can be twisted and contorted to read what we want to hear.

We can use it to win an argument, make excuses or champion our cause. A verse taken out of context can be incredibly instrumental to our advantage. However, for our own benefit, we mustn’t pick and choose.

Scripture, God’s breath of life to us, is meant to be read in it’s entirety.

It is tempting to meditate only on scriptures that exhort blessings. Here’s just a few:

“I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies.” Genesis 22:17

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” Numbers 6:24-26

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” Ps 34:8

With a hazy lens, little do we realize that blessings are also born out of pain and suffering.

Blessing in scripture can refer to a material, financial wealth, because certainly God is able. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Ps. 50:10). However, we must be careful not to limit the word blessing to only financial things. This word also includes our emotional and spiritual well-being. We cannot fully appreciate God’s goodness and glory without experiencing the full depth of Him. He is the Lion and the Lamb, the Alpha and the Omega,…spoken about from Genesis to Revelation. Why would we want to hinder ourselves from seeing every bit of Him? From the example of Paul, we see this exemplified.

Paul learned to be content regardless of his circumstances.

“Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11-13

God is continually at work to set us apart and make us holy, the work of sanctification.

He doesn’t promise us a perfect life, but rather a perfect eternity. We read Scripture so that Scripture reads us. In other words, we read Scripture to reveal our true selves. The good, the bad and the ugly can be quite transforming.  Why do I elevate myself above the person sitting next to me? Why do I pat myself on the back? Why do I long for the approval of others? Why do I find sarcasm and cynicism as my best friends? 

Therefore, in all that we do, we must examine our true intent and motives to determine if they are pure. Is this for my personal gain or for the glory of God?

A person may think their own ways are right, but the LORD weighs the heart.” Proverbs 21:2

#Chikungunya Gotcha?

Because he’s my amazing hubby…I’m including this story on the #chikungunya outbreak. Word of caution–wear your deet:


Not Everyone is #Free

#Restaviks in Haiti
#Restaviks in Haiti

As we celebrate the fourth of July today, may we remember that freedom is not free. It comes with a price. And men and women have fought long hard battles to protect our freedom.

And may we remember that not everyone is free.

A few weeks ago I had the privilege to speak to this precious group of boys and girls who are called “Restaveks.” This word is derived from the French language reste avec, meaning “one who stays with.” In Haiti, children between the ages of 4 to 16 are often given to a host family as a domestic servant (or also referred to as “slave”) because the parents lack the financial resources to support their own child. This host family may be a distant relative or even a stranger. It is a problem that has derived from the intense poverty which stares you in the face. Imagine having to make this tough choice. Knowing you cannot afford to feed your child, you make the difficult decision to give them up.

It has to be one of the most agonizing decisions a mother or father makes.

Restaveks will receive food, clothing and housing for doing household chores. Depending on the situation, they may or may not be given an education. The reality is most of them have too many chores to do to even leave the house.

One of the most complex contradictions you will see in these children’s faces is their joy. Despite their circumstances and deplorable living quarters, some of these children have found joy. They have found hope. Through ministries like #myLIFEspeaks in the rural village of Neply, Haiti, these children have discovered they are loved.

“We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield.” Psalm 33:20

Everytime I visit Haiti, the restaveks break me. They tear me up. I come home to comfort, recreation and leisure–and leave this injustice behind. I don’t have an answer to solve it. The problem is much bigger than I.

But God, He is able. He is able to set the captive free.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,” Ephesians 3:20

I realize this is a debbie-downer message on a day which is to be filled with fun, family & fireworks. I’m truly sorry. It’s just I can’t shake the image of these kiddos from my mind. A year ago, I didn’t even know restaveks existed. But now I know and feel compelled to do something about it. I love the work of #myLIFEspeaks as they come alongside the Restavek to give them hope. Please visit myLIFEspeaks for more info.

Now go out and have fun! Enjoy your friends and family. Hug them tight today. You have been blessed with #freedom on the #fourthofJuly.

If you would like to make a donation to help support the Restaveks in Neply, please click here. They will receive hope & a hug, mentoring, game time, food and clean water. 

Be Just Like Jesus

Be the hands and feet of Jesus
Be the hands and feet of Jesus

In John 13:1-17, we see Jesus do something extraordinary…or should I say out of the ordinary. He washes His disciples dirty and grimy feet. I found myself a bit tongue tied at the first verse in this passage which reads…

“It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” John 13:1

Particularly, the statement “He loved them to the end” caught my eye.

With these words, we are ushered into the final hours of Christ’s life before His death and resurrection.

What do you think this statement means?

It could simply mean He showed them love “to the very end,” meaning “until the final hours He would spend with them.” But I think the words suggest much more than that. Jesus was giving His disciples a dramatic object lesson to show them the lengths He would go to in order to love them (and us too)! That’s a fascinating thought, though, because the thing he was about to do was an incredibly common and mundane thing. He was going to wash their feet. It would be like saying, “On their 50th wedding anniversary, Bob showed his wife the full extent of his love: he mopped the kitchen floor.”

Now, I’ll be honest with you: I’m always game for a good ole’ pampering pedicure. My girlfriends can call me just about anytime and I will find a way to join them at the spa. However, if they were to tell me we were going to the nail salon to soak, scrape, wash and file complete stranger’s feet for a day, I would be as quick as a whistle to dismiss myself from this outing. Let’s make this real clear: digging around someone’s in-grown toenails for a day doesn’t quite suit me. Apparently, the disciples felt the same way.

Footwashing was a menial job that typically fell to the lowliest person in the room. Although everyone agreed that it had to be done, nobody wanted to do it. On the other hand, nobody wanted to sit down on the floor for dinner with stinky, dirty feet in plain sight while they enjoyed a plentiful potluck dinner. So, it was a job that had to be done. Luke’s account about this last supper seems to suggest that the footwashing issue led to an argument over “who was the greatest among them.”

The one person in the room who shouldn’t have done it was Jesus.

First of all, he was the rabbi. There is no evidence anywhere in ancient literature of a rabbi stopping to wash his disciple’s feet. I’ve read there are no recorded instances, absolutely none, from the ancient East in which a superior washes the feet of an inferior. Not in Jewish, Greek or Roman sources. But even more so, from a human perspective, Jesus was the neediest person in the room. He was hours away from a cruel and lonely death. If anyone needed to be served that evening–to be loved and cared for–it was Jesus. But look what happens in v. 4-5, “so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”

In fact, it was such an awkward and embarrassing moment that Peter protested: “No, you shall never wash my feet.”(v8) We can understand his discomfort. As humbling as it is to serve, it can be downright humiliating to be served. We don’t like to admit we need help. But Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.

We now understand that Jesus was foretelling His death on the cross and salvation would be accomplished there. Peter, like the rest of us, would need to have his sins washed away by the shed blood of Christ. Jesus was also trying to tell Peter, and the rest of us, something important:

Unless you are willing to serve and to be served, to love and to be loved, you cannot be my disciple.

Does this sound shocking to you? It should. If you think you deserve salvation, if you think you deserve to have God come down and humble Himself on your behalf, then you are seriously mistaken. In sharp contrast, although we don’t deserve it, Jesus freely offers..and you must allow Him to wash your feet or you will have no part with Him. Listen up, I want you to understand that God thinks you are worth having some pretty feet. He thinks you deserve a nice pedicure..and He’ll throw in the manicure for free. He thinks you are worth the pain and the effort to get clean.

He has done a redemptive work for you on the cross and yes, you are beautiful!

“You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you.” Solomon 4:7

Sticky Fingers

Let’s be honest, we like the security of control.  We may enjoy getting on the roller coaster for a spin but oh boy, we sure want to know that it’s going to end!  We fail to surrender all because we have no idea what is coming up ahead.  We have no idea what will be required or asked of us.

We much rather play it safe.

Can I hear an Amen? Webster defines surrender as “to relinquish control.” It seems to imply weakness, or giving up, or not being smart enough to figure out things on our own.

No one wants to be the first to wave the white flag. No one wants to give in.
Avery taking the wheel on her 16th birthday
Avery taking the wheel on her 16th birthday

I will never forget teaching our oldest daughter to drive because the words “relinquishing control” took on a whole new meaning for me.  It is really hard to hand over the car keys to your child and then watch her drive away.  I don’t think I’ll ever forget the day after she got her driver’s license.  She got in her car, along with her sister, my second born, and was off on her merry way to school.  And boy, did I ever pray my lil’ head off that morning!  I prayed that she would be kept safe.  That she would not drive too fast.  That she would be cautious and courteous on the road.  That she would have common sense.  And in order to have the privilege, yes privilege –not right, to drive a car, she had to agree to do what I told her to do.  I made her sign a contract stating a) she would drive the speed limit, b) she would not take any passengers without my permission and, c) she would not text and drive.  And oh yes, if she screwed up, even once, those lil’ ole car keys would be mine once again.

This is exactly what our surrender to God typically looks like.

It comes with sticky fingers.

We tell God what He can and cannot do with our lives.  We allow God into the driver’s seat for just a lil’ while.  But if we don’t like it…if we don’t appreciate how things are turning out…if it hurts too much–then we jump right back into the driver’s seat once again. We like to set limits on God in our lives.  Here’s how this may look in our day to day.  God, I will do this and this for you—but don’t you dare ask me to do anything else. God you can touch this area of my life—but don’t you dare come over here. God I have allotted you 30 minutes of my day—but the remainder is all mine. God, thank you for my paycheck—I will give you a little bit, but the majority of it is for me to spend at my disposal.

God you can do anything to me—but don’t you dare touch a hair on my child’s head.

God I will sing in the choir—but don’t ever make me change a diaper in the church nursery. God you can inflict me with temporary, momentary pain, an occasional cold or two—but certainly not a permanent disability or long-term health problem.  God you can give me a child that has a fit here and there—but not a difficult, rebellious constant battle.

We all have set limits on God.

We have given him firm boundaries.  And as soon as the boundaries are broken, we begin to take control.  Relinquishing control is the scariest thing you will ever do.  However it is also the most rewarding.

“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.” Matthew 11:29 ESV


Gotta have faith

My son played with a frog he caught a bit too much…and it died. But I love how he believes God will raise the frog from the dead, because “God has super powers.”

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