Reflections on the Man-boy at 15

This post has been sitting in my drafts for months, since the Man-boy actually turned 15 last June. All the ideas were there from the start, but for some reason, I couldn’t get the words out right. I’m still not sure I have, but I figured it was time to post it before he turns 16. I guess that’s the complication of mothering a Man-boy. You’re never really certain if the words are coming out right.

Our eldest son just turned 15. He is in a unique position in our family: technically a middle child, but also the oldest of our three boys.

As the mother of one girl and three boys,  I have observed first-hand a truth that somehow offends our post post-modern sensibilities: boys are different than girls. Generalizations are always dangerous, I know, because they’re so general. But I hope we can agree that a generalization is not a specification, and I hope that you will allow me this one.

As man-boys go, this one has a lot of energy. A LOT. He needs to be constantly active, but, thankfully, not in the way that gets him into trouble at school. The engagement and tasks there are enough to keep him busy, but when he comes home, he has to choose what he will do. And this is where he struggles. Having to choose can mean choosing nothing, which is never a good choice, especially for a 15-year-old man-boy. We have remedied this in several ways: involvement in after-school activities, helpfulness tasks at home, and odd jobs for our neighbors.

This remedy is perfect for the man-boy because he is task-oriented, hard-working, and high-achieving. His work must be meaningful to be appealing to him. While we are still working on defining cleaning up after himself as meaningful work, he has already learned the value of minimalism. He likes to be organized, and he understands that this is much more easily accomplished if he has less stuff.

Man-boy is an observant learner – a watch-and-do kind of kid. He has always been this way. When he was Little-boy, it was more obvious. I loved to watch him watching, because I could see how hard he was thinking about the process of what he saw. He watched his daddy fixing things, and he watched his mama cooking and cleaning. He had a toolset, a working vacuum, and a working leaf blower by his fourth birthday.

Little-boy also watched children playing. He was trying to figure out their games. When he comfortably understood what was going on, he decided if he would participate or not. I did not push him. What would be the point? His preschool teacher told me about halfway through the school year that he had just finally started participating in gym. I wasn’t surprised. Or worried. That’s just who he is. He has to understand first. Then do.

Despite this lack of gym participation in his preschool, he has grown into an athletic young man who has no problem participating in gym, soccer, karate, or any of the other physical activities he undertakes. He even completed a Warrior Challenge with his sister, dad, and aunt. Standing on the sidelines for four and a half months when he was five years old did not scar him. It gave him room to breathe. And to become.

Little-boy attended preschool when he was five, because he wasn’t ready for kindergarten. Not because he didn’t know things, he did. He passed the kindergarten readiness test with flying colors. But he didn’t pass the “away from Mommy” readiness test. On test day, I had to pry his white-knuckled, clutching fingers from my pants and hand my screaming, writhing boy to the pretty, young kindergarten teacher. God bless her. She gathered him up in her arms and took him into “the room” to be tested. He stopped screaming 35 seconds after she put him down, and aced the “what I know” stuff.

I was relieved that he was deemed “ready” by the school, but visions of prying that screaming boy off my legs one hundred and eighty-five times that year gave me pause. He wasn’t ready, really, because he needed to be with me. So we started with preschool, just three mornings a week. Then, because we moved when he was six, he didn’t have to go to school all day that year either.

So, I homeschooled him for kindergarten. The first part of the school year, he was taught at Grammie and Pop’s, because we were living at their house between house #1 and house #2. That was a chaotic time, but we got to prolong the blessings of the early years when siblings are first best friends, and the days are wide open to stories, play, and home. Because he was homeschooled, I had the privilege of teaching him how to read. He has no memory of this watch-and-do experience, because it was so fluid with what we did in our home anyway. I read books to him, as I always had, snuggled up on the couch, and he read too. Eventually, he read more words than I did, and then, one day, he just read. All by himself. 

As parents, we teach our children all kinds of things every day, particularly when they are small. All of these lessons are important, but there is something profoundly magical about teaching a child to read. Suddenly, he didn’t need me for that anymore. And so it went like that with many things: doing things all by himself, and not needing me anymore.

Ultimately, the decision to delay kindergarten that we had long ago wrestled and prayed over was a gift to him and to us: the gift of time. Little-boy had time to grow and become at his own pace, and while being the oldest in his class was sometimes difficult in the middle school years, Man-boy is not just surviving high school, he is thriving.

Because really, what is the big rush anyway?

We rush our children through childhood, dutifully “preparing” them for the grown-up world, piling on expectations and complications that their little shoulders were never meant to carry. We’re so busy getting them ready for adulthood that we forget to let them be children.

And then we cry when they’re gone.

Seriously, we are ridiculous.

Slow down. Breathe.

Just yesterday Man-boy was a baby, a toddler, a preschooler, and a scrappy little boy that smelled of sweat and mud and sunshine in that little-boy-musk way. Then one day, he lost that little-boy musk. I didn’t know that it had happened, until it was suddenly replaced by an other-worldly man-boy stench that is hard for even a mother to love. When he hugs me after soccer practice, and makes sure I get a full, olfactory-offending inhalation, I must admit, I miss that little boy smell, because it really is gone.

Someday, Man-boy will be a man. I’m sure, though, that like his dad, he’ll never completely lose the boy part of himself. I hope he doesn’t. I hope he never loses his energy, or his love for his family, or his love for his Savior. And someday, I pray that my Man-boy meets a lovely young lady that balances his energy, loves her family and his too, and most of all, loves his Savior as her own. When he finds her, we’ll all know it, because my hugger will finally pucker up. And that’s how we’ll know she’s the one.

Until then, we’ll watch and pray.

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Scar Stories

The scars I bear tell the story

Of what has wounded me.

Like the Savior bore His scars

When He hung upon the tree.

See here, His hands, His feet, His side

My scars are buried deep inside.

 

Can’t you see the way I am?

Is it so hard to understand?

Soul-scars, wounds that cut so deep

Rob me of my sleep-tight-sleep.

Jesus, my Savior, scarred for me

So that my scars could be set free.

 

Victorious, I, a Conqueror rise

With my Savior to the skies.

The scars that wound the soul remain

But Jesus took away the pain.

Healing hands by Him applied

The soul-balm, which for me, He died.

 

 

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Empty Peace

Peace elusive, peace reclusive

Peace. Peace. Peace. Peace.

Chasing wind, empty dreams

Spewing hate, preaching peace.

And we wonder:

My God,

WHY?

Why is this happening

AGAIN?

 

When walls divide peace can’t abide.

Politics, Morality

Virtue dying, hatred rising.

The Me-Generation, all grown-up:

Me. Me. Me. Me.

It’s all about me.

What about me?

 

Looking outward at the chaos

Judging all the hate-creators

Hating on the hating haters.

Ignoring darkness shrouding hearts

Tearing inner worlds apart.

Spreading hatred every day

In such small and simple ways.

Cutting words, cutting off

Where does that jerk think he gets off?

 

Love your brother, love your mother

But only if you think the same.

Otherwise, shame, shame, shame.

LOVE trumps hate, LOVE is good

And welcome in my neighborhood.

Unless, of course, we disagree

Then, oh, then, don’t talk to me.

 

Words have meaning and they matter

Words creating din and clatter.

Meaning? What does meaning mean?

Meaning is how I define it

And you all will now abide it.

Then the meaning means to me

What it means, I do decree.

 

Love conquers all, and I love you

Unless, of course, we disagree

Then, my friend, you’ll get your due.

 

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In My Head, I am a Writer

In my head

I am a writer

Sitting silent at my craft

Coffee warm and steaming upward

Swiftly typing my first draft.

 

Laptop open

Notebook ready

For my every eloquence

Lines of prose pour forth before me

Words of life and breathlessness.

 

In my life

I am a mother

Working daily at my tasks

Coffee warm and steaming upward

Swiftly checking off my lists.

 

Laundry pile up

Dishes stack up

Calling me to work undone

Teaching children while they’re growing

I can write more when they’re gone.

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The Business of Grief

My uncle passed away the other day, quietly slipping from this life surrounded by the people who loved him most.

I was not there. It’s not that I didn’t love him, I did, but that time, when breath is labored and the fleetingness of life has become the truest reality, is so intimate, so personal, that it was not for me. Not then.

My aunt had said that I could come, as I and my husband had been planning to do, even though she was praying that, for his own sake, her beloved would not last much longer. “I think he’s in his last hours,” she responded to my text. “I pray it’s minutes.” And then a few minutes later, “You can still come…”

That’s just who she is: gracious, warm, welcoming. Even when her heart is torn open, and she cannot grab hold of it. Even when that heart is lying on a hospital bed; the man that she has loved for decades, who cannot hold on much longer.

How do you say goodbye to your heart?

In the midst of that, she said I could come.

But I didn’t. I loved my uncle, but I didn’t belong there. Not then. I didn’t lose what she lost. I didn’t lose what my cousin lost: his dad three weeks before his high school graduation. They needed enough room to say goodbye. The husband, father, brother, uncle, in-law, lying on the bed in the middle of the living room was surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses whose presence testified to the import of his life.

Those of us who were not there testified as well, and when I texted my aunt that the moment they were in was too intimate for intrusion, I simply asked her to tell him that we loved him. And she did, and then again she welcomed me into that sacred space by texting me back, “that got a smile.”

I was undone.

My aunt is not a great lady in the lineage of social prestige. I don’t think she’s ever been on a magazine cover or the topic of an op-ed in The New York Times. But maybe she should be. She works hard, she loves her husband, she mothers her son. She is quiet, friendly, and unassuming. She opens herself to others – even in the moments of her greatest grief. That, my friends, is a great lady.

Her husband lay dying, and she texted me back. She made time for me, when time was her cruelest companion.

And then he was gone, only six months after we got the word, that word, CANCER.

Cancer is a thief. It steals health, wholeness, and time. But she would not let it steal her kindness.

And after the goodbye, now what? I imagine that people all do this differently, filling in this space after the goodbye.

Goodbye, my love.

Period.

Emptiness.

Now what? 

I don’t know the answer to that question, but I don’t think anyone else does, either.

This perhaps is the real business of grief. Answering this now what? of filling in the empty space, the gaping hole. How do you live with a gaping hole without getting swallowed up by it?

I don’t know, but I don’t think anyone else does, either.

And of course, the logistics. The tangible business of grief. Phone calls, plans, and arrangements. The mechanical processes of dealing with the dearly departed.

Decisions.

Decisions.

Decisions.

How do you make decisions when your heart is gone and your brain is mush? I imagine that you laugh, you remember, and you wait. Because everything doesn’t really have to be done right now. Because now, suddenly, you do indeed have time.

Time does not really heal all wounds, I don’t think. Only God can do that. But when time slows down, and the urgency of the moment is overshadowed by the joy of the memory, time moves slower, and gives enough time to breathe. And that glorious inhalation is the gift of peace that God speaks to us when He says,

Be still, and know that I am God.

Be still. Not stillness in the paralysis of grief, but stillness in the deep soul recognition that God is God, and I am not.

Death is profound, mysterious, and mundane. And in each part, the ones for whom the grief is rawest need us to sit quietly with them, so that when they slip at the edge of that gaping hole, we can reach out our hands to lift them up.

___________________________________________________________

References:

Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God.”

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Celebrate the Creation Cycle: A Poem for Easter

The barrenness of winter

Gives way to the bursting blooms of spring.

Twisted, gnarled branches

Stretch out their arms

For the new season of verdant shade,

Protecting birds, squirrels, and me.

Bulbs and roots awake from their sleep,

Revealing stems, leaves, and petals deeply hidden.

The sun’s distant heat comes closer,

Drawing me out from my winter hibernation.

Sunshine restores my soul.

It is no coincidence that we celebrate

The bleakness of our Lord’s death

And the triumph of his resurrection in springtime.

Because at just the right time…

Christ died for the ungodly. 

God restores creation each spring

To remind me

That He has restored me

Through Christ

And to invite you

To be restored as well.

Happy Restoration Day.

“All the earth will worship You, And will sing praises to You; They will sing praises to Your name.” Selah. Psalm 66:4

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Lazarus: Dying to Live

Recently, I finished reading through the gospels. Someday I may write highlights of the many lessons I learned from that study, but for now I will share just this one. Not too long ago, I shared it with a friend as we sat together at my kitchen table, talking, praying, and weeping over her impossible situation. I don’t have the answers to her problems, but I have Scripture, and so does she, because we are sisters in Christ.

Before his own death and resurrection, Jesus displayed His resurrection power in the life of a dear friend. In John 11, the familiar story of Lazarus is told. This is a beautiful story of death and life, but the problem with its familiarity is that we can easily skim over the details. Rereading it, I discovered truths that I had not noticed before.

The story begins when Jesus receives word in Jerusalem, where he had been staying to celebrate the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah), that Lazarus, “the one You love,” is sick.

Upon receiving this urgent word, Jesus responds by doing nothing.

NOTHING.

He stayed in Jerusalem two more days. A good friend was sick, and He didn’t go see him.

Then, seemingly out of the blue, Jesus suddenly announces that it’s time to go to Bethany, where Lazarus lives. The disciples remind Him that the Jews were just recently trying to stone Him there. Jesus seems unconcerned by their protests, and instead twice tells them that Lazarus will not die from his illness, even though Lazarus did die before they even left. After some further discussion, Jesus finally tells them directly what He’s going to do, because they’re not following Him on the whole sleep/death metaphor.

We are so slow to follow. 

As a side note, the infamous “Doubting Thomas” is the one who rallies the rest of the disciples and boldly proclaims that they should all go to Bethany and die with Christ, if it would come to that. Thomas had a crisis of faith when He doubted Jesus after His resurrection, and that’s all we remember him for. Nobody remembers that Thomas was the one in this story who was ready to die with Christ. Why don’t we ever call him “Fearless Thomas?”

This is why I refuse to define people by their worst moments. We all have them. Thomas’s timing may have just been the worst in biblical history. Poor guy.

When Jesus finally arrives in Bethany, His friend had already been dead four days.

FOUR DAYS.

The Jews believed that the spirit hovered over the body for three days, and that sometimes people could come back to life in that period of time. But by the fourth day, the deceased was officially dead, and there was no longer any hope.

This is exactly when Jesus showed up: WHEN THERE WAS NO HOPE.

Bethany was only two miles from Jerusalem.  Mourners came from Jerusalem to comfort Mary and Martha before Jesus did. It would have been easy for them to wonder why He wasn’t showing up when these other people had come.

It doesn’t even take an hour to walk two miles.

It seems they did wonder, because Martha and Mary both told Jesus that they knew if He had been there Lazarus would still be alive. Jesus could have healed Lazarus. He loved Lazarus.

He wants good things for those He loves.

Jesus was planning to do a greater work in Lazarus, but Lazarus had to die for it to happen. If Jesus had gone before Lazarus had died, only the three siblings would have witnessed the miracle. But because Jesus waited, and the many Jews had come to mourn his death according to their custom, lots of people got to see a much greater work than healing.

They got to see a dead man brought back to life.

God is not far off, dear friend, and He is always right on time. He is doing a greater work in your life, but you might have to let something you love die in order for Him to do it.

This is a hard truth.

And this is why I wept with my friend at my kitchen table. But you know what? When Jesus stood outside the tomb of his dead friend, Jesus wept, too. He wept, even though He already knew He was about to do a marvelous thing: to return a brother to his mourning sisters, to bring back His own dear friend, to show His power as the God-man, and to glorify His Father.

Despite all these glorious truths, Jesus wept. He wept over the loss of Lazarus. He wept over the grief, the loss, and the separation that death brings. He wept because it wasn’t supposed to be this way. He didn’t create us to die.

He created us to live.

As you stand at the tomb of whatever you have lost, or are about to lose, remember that Jesus stands with you, and He weeps with you, because death is so hard. But even in the weeping, you can know, as Jesus did, that resurrection is coming. Resurrection may not be a returning of exactly what was lost, as it was in the case of Lazarus, but God always brings new life out of death, because He has promised,

Behold, I am making all things new.” 

Some time after Jesus brought Lazarus back to life, He hung on the cross, storming the gates of Hell–conquering sin, pain, and death. And because God raised Him from the dead, you can be raised, too.

Happy Good Friday, dear one. You will not mourn forever. It may be dark now, but Sunday’s coming.

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On My Birthday, or, Angel on Constitution Avenue

In February, 2016, our family rented the second floor of a row house one block from the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. We spent a wonderful few days exploring museums, monuments, and landmarks, but our most precious moment was an encounter with a homeless man on the way to the National Archives.

We took the Metro from our apartment on Capitol Hill to the Archives downtown, but had to get off early at L’efant Plaza Station because of work being done further up the line. The long walk on the cold windy day made us wonder if we had wasted our Metro cards, but even simple inconveniences can prove to be divine appointments.

The massive Archives building loomed over us as we crossed Constitution Avenue. On the opposite side of the street, a homeless man sat by the curb, leaning on a street sign, playing his trumpet. His song filled the crisp, cold February air.

I asked my husband if he had any money for this man. He was ready with his wallet in an instant. He has been married to me long enough to know I would not be able to pass this man by. As he pulled a out bill, our 13 year old son, Caleb, grabbed his own wallet and pulled out some spending money for the trumpet-playing man, too.

The children are always watching.

John handed me the bill. I placed it in the trumpeter’s cup. We lingered for a moment, and when the song was over, I leaned down to shake his hand.

“God bless you,” I said. “You play beautifully. What’s your name?”

“John.” Well that was easy. We laughed and told him he was in good company. He laughed too and shook my John’s hand. We found out we were the ones in good company: the company of a Vietnam veteran.

He asked our names, and we made our round of introductions. “We’re celebrating a special holiday weekend, you know. President Lincoln’s birthday.”

“Yes,” I said, “we are. And it’s my birthday, too.”

“Oohh, it’s your birthday?” He cooed. He looked around at our children. “You kids better be good to your mama, you hear?”

“Preach it, John,” I encouraged him.

“My, Miss Julia, you are certainly blessed. You have a very happy birthday. Make sure those kids mind you, now.”

I smiled bright. “Thank you, John. I will.”

He reached up to give me a hug. I hugged him back and kissed his cheek.

Human touch mends broken hearts.

We turned to go. When we got about a quarter of the way down the block, I heard my name.

“JULIA!”

I turned around. John, the trumpet-playing, Vietnam vet was calling me.

“This one’s for you.”

He lifted his horn to his lips and “Happy Birthday” rang out. I stood with my family, motionless. We listened, soaking in the trumpet sound, and the special blessing of connecting with a forgotten human being. It was the best “Happy Birthday” serenade I have ever received.

When the song was over, I put my hand up to salute John, the soldier who served in Vietnam, the musician who played his trumpet like Louis Armstrong, and the homeless man who sat outside on the cold concrete sidewalk in the middle of winter, depending on the kindness of strangers. He smiled and waved back. We turned around to walk inside, quietly aware of the gift we had just been given.

The day we left D.C., I asked John to drive down Constitution Avenue for me, just in case. It was not on the way, but he loves me, so we went. My trumpet-playing friend wasn’t there, as he had said he always was. Grief stung my heart; grief for the man I would not see again, and for his life that I could not fix. But I also realized that some moments are not meant to be replayed, because they just can’t be. If you miss the one, you don’t get another.

I am so thankful that we gave John the Trumpet-Player a few dollars that day, because what he gave back we can never repay.

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2

 

 

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Ugh, Chores!

Chores. The word falls with a clunk from the tongue. It is neither romantic nor poetic. When we describe something as a chore, we say it with deep, heavy sighs and dramatic eye rolling.

“Oh, that was such a chore.” The word is just not endearing.

And yet, chores are a daily reality. I have read many mommies who eloquently throw off the oppression of chores for the better task of child-rearing. With them, I wholly embrace my children as my first priority, right behind my Savior and my husband. What I don’t understand, though, is how chores, also not-so-affectionately known as housework, and child-rearing became mutually exclusive. At what point did it become noble to neglect the tasks of homemaking in order to dote on the kids all day?

Please don’t misunderstand. I LOVE my kids. I LOVE being with my kids. I LOVE playing with my kids. I LOVE caring for my kids. I LOVE taking my kids places, both for activities they participate in and family outings. I cringe at the messages we send our children when we refuse to spend time with them or ignore their needs in order to complete our daily to-do lists. People are more important than agendas. Who wouldn’t agree with that?

People first.

Always.

And yet, there’s a problem. We need clean dishes and clean underwear. In order to have these things, someone has to clean them. Like actually, physically clean them. That someone is usually Mom. Yes, the kids can help, and they do, but honestly, even in a house where the labor is well divided, as it is in ours, Mom still does the most. It’s just reality. That’s okay. It’s part of the job. I did sign up for this, after all.

I just wonder, what am I teaching my kids if I always put off the chores till later? As I like to remind them when they  want to put off their chores until later, the problem with later is that it never comes. It is always NOW, and there is always something else I’d rather be doing NOW.

When a grown-up is being  whiny and demanding, we say (or least think) things like, “Don’t be such a child.” We don’t mean it as a compliment. But when children are whiny and demanding, we imagine that it must be because we are neglecting their needs, and the oppressive beast called Mommy Guilt tugs our heartstrings away from the responsibilities of everyday life.

Of course, we want to meet our children’s needs. We should meet our children’s needs. But what are we teaching them when we immediately drop everything every time they have a need? Because, let’s be honest, children ALWAYS have needs. They have needs 24 hours a day. And they want them to be met.

TWENTY FOUR HOURS A DAY.

Child-rearing naturally varies across time, cultures, and families. But something that has morphed into this ugly child-rearing monster of oppressive Mommy Guilt is the belief that our primary role as parents is ensuring our children’s immediate comfort and happiness. The Bible has a lot to say about child-rearing, but I am telling you, I can’t find a primary concern for their happiness anywhere.

In generations past, children came alongside their parents to learn life skills, help the family, and learn a future trade. I am not longing for the “good old days.” I know better than that. But I do humbly submit that parents then got something right that we are getting horribly wrong now. The children were part of the family, and were expected to work for the good of the family. The children were not the center of the family universe.

Spending time with our children doesn’t always have to center around doing what they want to do, just as completing the daily tasks of life doesn’t, and shouldn’t, have to happen without them. Family time can be productive, bonding, and beneficial to the children when it is spent making dinner, doing dishes, washing windows, cleaning the yard, washing the car, or doing whatever else needs to be done, and can be done together. We already know this, of course. We all agree with this concept in theory, because we all lament the entitlement attitudes that pervade our culture. But we have to remember that the children feel entitled because they believe they are entitled.

Who taught them this?

We did. We congratulated them for showing up and rewarded them for participating.

In order to change the pervading culture, we have to change our own little cultures. The cultures in our own homes.

The best part?

When our family cultures naturally expect our children to contribute to the good of the family, they feel more connected, secure, and happy. They aren’t as whiny and demanding, because they’re learning how to fend for themselves, how to look to the needs of others, and sometimes, even how to go without. We are not raising our children to be childish, we are raising them to be good citizens, spouses, parents, friends, neighbors, and professionals.

We are raising future adults.

Work is something adults naturally understand we have to do. Why? Because it is necessary, yes, but even more so, because we were created for it. When God made Adam and Eve, He put them in a garden to cultivate it. In other words, they had chores to do. Imagine! In a perfect garden there were chores. We are often restless and bored without work, because we were made for work. Children with meaningful work develop a much deeper sense of self and purpose than any accolade or trophy will ever provide. And the help they give helps Mommy keep her sanity, and slays that nasty Mommy Guilt Monster in the process. When the work is done, everyone is available to play together, even Mom.

So I say, Yeah! Chores! 

 

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Blowing Bubbles

 

Blowing bubbles: chasing troubles

False humility: self idolatry

 

Floating on the wind, circle back again

Time has taken hope forsaken

 

Blowing bubbles: healing troubles

True humility: solidarity

 

Facing in the wind, strong until the end

Christ awakens hope unshaken

 

 

 

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