Hello, Mr. Sunflower

Mon., Aug. 21, 2017

Isaiah 40:8 – The grass dries up. The flowers fall to the ground. But what our God says will stand forever.

Yesterday, I visited one of the happiest places currently on earth. I went to the Pope Farm Conservancy, just outside of Madison, WI, to see 9 acres of blooming sunflowers.

Actually, it wasn’t quite 9 acres. The sunflowers have been blooming for two weeks. Sunday was the last day the plot was open to the public. Truthfully, some of the sunflowers are starting to droop and have lost their brilliant yellow color. Nonetheless, almost 9 acres of sunflowers is still a stunning sight to be held.

As visitors turned into the bumpy gravel driveway, neon-yellow vest clad volunteers directed vehicles to the appropriate grassy parking spots. Just a few short steps away, raised garden beds were growing a variety of Wisconsin products; from hops to goosefoot. After walking up a small incline, the rows upon rows of gorgeous sunflowers could be seen. Yes, many of their heads were a little droopy. But plenty of show-stopping color was to be found.

People from every age group were there. Newborn babies and parents posed as professional photographers tried to get the perfect shot. Grandma’s being pushed in wheelchairs enjoyed a pleasant Sunday afternoon. Families carried picnic baskets and blankets, with plans for an evening meal surrounded by nature and all those sunflowers. It truly was a beautiful sight to be held.

It’s been a difficult week for the United States. Race riots have turned deadly. Memorials and statues honoring Confederate soldiers are being removed quicker than water turns into ice. This has happened in Madison, WI, about an hour from Ripon, WI, the birthplace of the Republican party. These memorials and statues have been part of local history … until now.

Yet on this Sunday afternoon, it was the sunflowers who prevailed. Their cheerfulness was sought by people from a variety of nationalities. Young and old gazed at the 500,000 plants which seemingly lured people from all walks of life to pause if at least momentarily from the craziness of life and enjoy a little bit of heaven on earth. No one rushed. Everyone was polite. We were all captured by the pure joy of these sunflowers taking their last bow at the tail-end of peak season.

As spectacular as these sunflowers were, their beauty is still short-term. Even yesterday, some flowers were beyond their prime. The gorgeous flowers will soon be all about producing seeds. Their importance as a plant is no less. Just their purpose shifts.

There is one constant that remains steadfast and true; no matter the season: our God. When life seems rather chaotic and out of sorts, there is One who does not change. I pray we lean on this never-changing presence to guide us through seemingly challenging times.

Lord God – your creation is so amazing. Only You could design a field of sunflowers to take our breath away. Yet, we know that even their beauty is short-term. I pray Your constant presence encourages us to lean on You every day, especially when the world may not always make sense. Amen.

Blessings –

Dianne

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It’s Your Name

my name isMon., Aug. 7, 2017

Exodus 33:17 – The Lord said to Moses, “I will do exactly what you have asked. I am pleased with you. And I know your name. I know all about you.”

Within three weeks, my personal identity was compromised twice.

The first time, a person who represented themselves as me contacted a church treasurer and requested almost $20,000 to be wire transferred to an out-of-state account. Unfortunately, both the church and I were compromised. Please be aware that internet scams can happen to anyone.

Then, Rick and I took some kids on a youth mission trip. One day, our work site was a transitional living situation. We had both of our vehicles at the job site. We believe sometime during the day a bag of mine was stolen from inside of my car. We had been in and out of our vehicles all day, getting tools, water and other things. We let our guard down and did not keep our vehicles locked. This bag contained nearly every piece of my personal identification, except my passport. All gone.

I have heard people shared stories of when they or someone they know had their identity stolen. It can be very unsettling to have strangers infringe on your private life. For about a week, I carried an old wallet with basically nothing inside. It still remains a stripped-down version of the fat one that disappeared while on mission trip.

There are very few things we can truly call our own. Our name is one of them.  Several years ago, a man who was a coach at the time for the University of Wisconsin-Madison spoke at the church I was serving. He talked about how there are very few things in life unique to us. One of these things is our name. He challenged us to respect our name, the tradition by which we were named and honor those who named us.

Since my identity has been compromised, I have been thinking about the value of my name. How easily can someone can foil themselves as me. Does this compromise what I stand for and how I conduct myself? What does my name stand for when others hear my name? What is God saying to me through this?

When the Northern Kingdom of Israel was captured by the Babylonians, King Nebuchadnezzar had the best looking, most educated and informed, quick and qualified people brought back to Babylon. He wanted the Israelites to become integrated into Babylonian culture. For this to happen, he chose Israelite leaders to become influencers with the other Israelite people. Among those chosen were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. All four received new names; names which reflected a Babylonian heritage. Yet, the Babylonians had a hard time calling Daniel by his new name, Belteshazzar. It was difficult for them to separate the man from his original Jewish name, Daniel.

It is easy for us to become clear about who we are: what defines us and the call of God in our lives. It is easy for us to lose our identity, either willingly or unwillingly, with culture. We value other’s opinions of what we stand for and how we conduct ourselves. At the end of the day, we consistently fail each other because, well, we cannot be perfect.

Yet, God always knows who and whose we are. God knows everything about us: what we are proud of, what makes us happy and sad, what disappointments we struggle with. God knows our name and what we stand for, even if we struggle with this at times. When we are displeased with ourselves, God finds many things of which to be pleased in us.

Over time, I am recreating the pieces of my identity. At the same time, I am cautiously listening for God’s voice in my life. I know my identity is safe and sound in God’s kingdom.

Lord God – thank you for calling us as your own. Thank you for knowing more about us than we know about ourselves. May we be assured our identity in you is never questioned, but always safe and sound. Amen.

Blessings –

Dianne

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My New Sanctuary

Mon., June 12, 2017

Leviticus 26:2 – Observe my Sabbaths and have reverence for my sanctuary. I am the Lord.

I have a new sanctuary. And it’s here at our house.

Last fall, a couple gave us a set of wicker patio furniture. They wanted more room in their condo. They also felt our 110-year-old screened-in porch was just the right location for it. Rick and our neighbor, Larry, brought it home. As it was late fall, we didn’t use the furniture very much. Eventually, it went to the basement for the winter. Recently, Rick and his buddy Randy brought it back up and set it on the porch, accompanied with a comment that wherever they put it, it would not be the right location.

About a week later, I asked Rick to help me move the furniture. He had washed off the patio table and chairs to also go on the porch. Of course, the wicker furniture was in the spot where I wanted the tables and chairs. With not too much grumbling, we got everything moved around.

I was anxious to get the furniture in position and dressed with the newly purchased cushions. The old cushions were fine. I just wanted to make the furniture more cohesive and fit our house. And they do! I also bought some annuals and finally got them potted and appropriately placed in various spots on the porch. Finally, I thought, “This is what I was hoping for.”

Randy and his wife Pat stopped by. Pat loved the lay-out. Her only question to me: “When will you use it?”

Last Saturday night, Rick and I were home alone with nothing pressing to do. A first in a while. I made a couple suggestions. His response: “Let’s just sit on the patio furniture and enjoy the night.” This is exactly what we did. It was lovely.

I was excited to tell Pat at church yesterday that we had used the patio furniture. Cathy overheard and encouraged me to make time this summer to just sit on the porch.

Today was a rare day when I didn’t have anything scheduled right away this morning. I grabbed my first cup of coffee, devotion books, calendar and to-do list and headed to the porch. It took me about two seconds to recognize this is what I must do every morning. Too often, I bolt through the beginning of my day without getting my heart and mind in the right place. Too often, I fail to dedicate everything I will attempt to do for the glory and honor of God’s kingdom. Too often, other things seem more important than a few minutes caring for my soul.

God’s sanctuary can be in a variety of places. A house of worship is most common. Sometimes, people tell me the golf course or their boat is their sanctuary. These can be sanctuaries … when we mindfully seek God’s presence and communication in our lives. Many times, I yearn for a place where it is quiet, I can slow down my heart and mind to hear God. I think I’ve discovered this place for me this summer. I only have to walk down the upstairs steps and out the front door to find it.

A new sanctuary on the porch certainly spurred a new attitude for me today. Most importantly, I pray this WILL become my morning ritual. Now, if I can only figure out how to move my desk out there as well …

Almighty God – wherever we go, You are present. Wherever we pause, your still, quiet voice can be heard. I pray we can find our own individual sanctuary spaces to be with you Lord God.  May these little sanctuaries be a daily place we seek and great You. Amen.

Blessings –

Dianne

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Not Just a Long Weekend

Sun., May 28, 2017

John 15:13 – Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”

 I’ve have found myself trying to figure out the most important things to do this weekend: clean a corner of the carriage house, weed the flower beds, plant new flowers, set-up our beautiful porch for the summer, finish sorting through the things from my Mom’s apartment (see yesterday’s post here: https://simplewordsoffaith.com/2017/05/27/cleaning-out/.) And then I realized, while all of these are admirable and need to be done, let me not forget the real reason we have a long weekend.

Memorial Day.

The photo with this post is my Dad when he was serving in the Korean Conflict. Drafted, my Dad spent most of his service time in Germany. It was during the Cold War but things were anything but cold, my Dad used to say. Like many vets, my Dad spoke very seldom about his time in the service. I am not aware of him ever attending a reunion with the other people he served with. It was just a stage of his life that he chose to keep very private.

I have no idea what it means to be a veteran or to serve your country on the basis of protecting the country’s citizens. This was not a path I chose for my life. Yet, I pray that I can have respect, honor and grace for those who have served. I pray I can allow my to-do list to not overshadow why many people will have Monday off.

Jesus spoke of how people love each other in great lengths in the gospels. He emphasized going above and beyond to love others in our actions. At times, I know it is difficult to understand why certain wars and battles and conflicts have arisen. Whether you agree with our country’s involvement in these or not, I pray we can see the way service people think of others before themselves. And this, my friends, is living out Jesus’ definition of love.

So, in honor of Memorial Day, let’s take this opportunity to celebrate those who have served in such a way that they were willing to lay down their life for their friend:

  • Attend a Memorial Day parade or celebration. Listen carefully as the words from the Gettysburg Address are recited. Allow your Adam’s apple to feel bigger while Taps is played. Salute the flag and the people who have defended our country.
  • Honor a Vet. Maybe it is one you know. Maybe it is one you simply see out and about. Shake their hand. Thank them for their service.
  • Proudly display a flag at your home. Remember how the United States was established so people could worship freely, have opportunities and celebrate differences.
  • Spend time in prayer asking God to guide our current governments at all levels.
  • Humbly discover a way to honor someone who has served our country.

 

I’m sure you can come up with better ideas than I have. My point is to stop and do something in the next day or two in which we celebrate the folks who have chosen to love their country and the citizens of this country. The cleaning, flower planting and rest can all wait.

 

Lord God – How fortunate some of us are to live in a country when differences are celebrated. Where choice is allowed. Where agreement does not always have to happen. Yet, the call to love our neighbors extends to all those around us. We lift up those who have served, who currently are serving and those who will serve our military in the future. May you guide and grant wisdom to those who oversee our military. We pray for peace and quiet resolution when differences arise. Thank you for Christ’s example of how to love others; including those whose names we may not even know. Amen.dad-service

Blessings –

Dianne

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Cleaning Out

salt & pepper shakers (2)
The super cute salt and pepper shakers that are now owned by Roella!

 

Sat., May 27, 2017

Matthew 6:19 – Don’t store up treasures on earth! Moths and rust can destroy them, and thieves can break in and steal them.

 The last several weeks, my life has been filled with sorting and cleaning out. In preparation for the Youth Mission Trip Garage Sale we held at our house last weekend, I went through things moved to our current house 18 months ago. Items I had not determined if I wanted to keep or not. I remember the very warm day we unloaded the moving truck at our current home. Lots of church folks helped us move our possessions into this house. I remember the overwhelming and embarrassing feeling of having way too much stuff. I knew this when we loaded the truck. Out of time, it had simply been boxed up and moved. Watching box after box be unloaded, I vowed not move this much stuff again.

Our things were put into two rooms on moving day. Right before Christmas, I finished cleaning out the downstairs room. For months, it was nearly impossible to walk through the upstairs room. Slowly, the little path became bigger and bigger. While not completely empty yet, inventory has been greatly reduced. Some went on the garage sale and sold. Other items await Salvation Army pick-up.

I’ve also been helping clean out my Mom’s apartment. She moved into this apartment three years ago. At the time, we cleaned out the house my parents had lived in for 20+ years. This was nearly overwhelming, including boxes moved from our family farm 20+ years earlier that had never been gone through. I hauled carloads of stuff from my Mom’s house to our house in Mazomanie, lacking time to go through them. Many of these boxes have now been moved to our Poynette house. I am still going through them. In this most recent downsizing for my Mom, we have been amazed how much stuff my Mom tucked away in her apartment. Again, we’ve gone through choosing what to keep, what items family members take and what to get rid of.

Through this whole process, I’ve contemplated many things:

  • We can learn a lot about ourselves and others going through a person’s stuff.
  • It’s hard to watch a loved one choose things for just one room. There has been a fair bit of angst. We’ve kept more than this for Mom. “Things” are quite important to her.
  • The time, energy and effort that goes into sorting stuff. I could have read several good books, taken many bike rides or long walks or completely changed the landscaping of our current home.
  • The shared history of telling stories while going things.
  • I’ve purposely gifted a few things. I gave some super cute salt and pepper shakers to my friend’s daughter. Another friend showed me quilt pieces she had pieced together using fabric I gifted her. It brings joy to see others loving this stuff.
  • Rick has spent months cleaning out his parent’s farm and house. We’ve challenged ourselves to only keep items really meaningful or super cool. Like the double washer tubs and stand Rick saved for me.
  • The resources used to accumulate this stuff. Some items are family treasures passed from generation to generation. I’m not ready to get rid of my great-great grandmother’s milk white glasses. Yet, I think of the vacations, opportunities to help others or other ways the represented resources could have been utilized.
  • The most important lesson of all: I pray my life is about more than “stuff.” I pray the treasure of heaven far exceeds even my most prized possessions. I pray relationships with other people override my attachment to material things. I pray I can keep a healthy perspective of earthly possessions versus heavenly possessions.

I’m still not done sorting through my Mom’s or my own stuff but I’m making progress. Each filled box that is donated or bag put into the garbage makes me feel lighter. Most importantly, I pray possessions do not become more important than my relationship with God.

Heavenly God – why do we choose to fill our lives with so much “stuff” rather than seeking you? Why do choose to let things of this world become more important than listening to your call in our lives? Help us to keep the appropriate perspective of earthly treasures versus our heavenly treasure. Amen.

Blessings –

Dianne

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A Sign of Spring

trillium
Trillium by our house. Do you spot the Jack-In-The-Pulpit as well?

Fri., May 19, 2017

Exodus 25:32-33 – It will have three branches going out from each side of the center shaft, each branch decorated with three almond flowers.

 Spring has been VERY slow in Wisconsin this year. Yet, one of the favorite spring-time traditions showed up right on time.

Growing up, we didn’t go to town to get flowers for Mom on Mother’s Day. We went to the woods and picked ice cream buckets full of trillium. We’d bring them home and fill vases with these gorgeous wildflowers who naturally would bend over the vase’s edge.

These three-petaled show stoppers are truly one of my favorite flowers. Natural shade lovers, trillium grew in our woods and would be a white blanket of beautifulness each spring. A few flowers would have a hint of pink in them, with more pinkness towards the end of the trillium season. For me, trillium was the indicator that spring had arrived and Mother’s Day was just around the corner.

I knew that I would not be seeing my Mom on Mother’s Day this year. However, I saw her a few days before. Right before I took her back to her now permanent residence at the nursing home, we took a drive to the property that was the farm where I grew up. I knew exactly which woods would most likely have trillium blooming. And we were not disappointed. Endless trillium bowed for us as we observed them. They were truly at their peak and a beautiful sight to behold. I grabbed the scissors I always keep in the glove compartment and snipped off just a couple flowers to grace my Mom’s room at the nursing home. (Yes, I know they are protected. Please don’t turn me into the DNR!)

Upon returning home, I walked by the north side of our house and was pleasantly surprised to see a bank of trillium. This is just the second spring we’ve been living here. There were a few trillium here last spring. This year, one little corner off the house looked stunning. A few Jack-In-The-Pulpit only added more beauty.

Why am I such a fan of trillium? Probably because these were the wildflowers we always picked. It’s really that simple. I’d love to tell you it was because their three-petal shape inspired me to recall the Trinity or how their stark white color reinforces the biggest event of spring: Christ’s resurrection. But they didn’t. I see this now. As a young girl, my only encouragement was filling an ice cream bucket with these lovely flowers.

I’ve tried several times to establish trillium in flowerbed. (Yes, I make sure and buy the plants so it is all legit and such.) But I’ve had very limited success. Their beauty and grandeur just aren’t that easy to replicate. Maybe this is another reason why when I see many blooming in the same spot, I’m overwhelmed with joy.

I do not believe the scripture passage from Exodus is referring to trillium. It speaks of almond flowers. If you keep reading this passage, you’ll discover the flowers are used for decoration; much like we use flowers today. As I get a little more mature, I recognize a few things that are very important to me. Like really good napkins. Fresh flowers in the house. I don’t have fresh flowers ALL the time but I really strive to do this. Why? Because fresh flowers bring me joy. They draw me back to carrying an ice cream bucket through the woods and gathering trillium. This maybe a very simply joy, but a deeply meaningful one personally. And for this, I praise

Lord God – Thank you for the arrival of spring and all the joys that are a part of it. Whether it be flowers, green grass or some other indicator that spring has arrive, may this beauty remind us of you as our Creator. Amen.

 

Dianne 

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Patience, Please!!

honking

Wed., May 17, 2017

Romans 5:4 – And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady.

In the last several days, I’ve been on the receiving end of the several car/truck horn honks. It’s been a little surprising, even mystifying, to me.

Last weekend, hubs Rick and I were in southern Illinois visiting friends. We stayed in a cute little community. After checking into our hotel late Friday afternoon, we drove downtown to see the shops and find a place for dinner. Yes, it was our first time in this community. Yes, I was driving 22 in a 25. Yes, I was gawking out the window while driving. It didn’t take long for the vehicles behind us to become impatient. It was Friday night. It was after work. Would a few more seconds getting to your destination make much difference? Apparently so.

This was not a one-time response. It. Happened. Several. Times. On the third time, the honk was accompanied with another special sign. We thought people would see out-of-state license plates and be excited tourists were looking for a cute dinner spot. To solve the problem, we quickly parked the car and walked up and down the Main Street.

Fast forward a couple days. From Illinois, I went to western Michigan for a continuing education conference. Amazingly, the horn-honking followed me several hundred miles! I’m waiting for traffic to clear before making a left-hand turn. Now, I received a harmony of at least two cars behind me honking! Seriously? Aren’t I to wait for passing traffic? Maybe I missed something as it seemed I created angst in the 20-seconds I waited for the coast to be clear.

By now, I am reflecting. I’m in another cute little community that depends on tourists for their local economy. Have other tourists experienced this same melodious harmony? What would a little more patience look like? Would waiting less than 30 seconds hijack a person’s evening?

 

Or just maybe, we have lost the ability to wait. Have patience. Be still. In our ever moving, on-the-go society, we have completely forgotten how to be. Wait. Be courteous. Have patience.

 

Unfortunately, there have been times I have been on the giving end of horn honks. These figurate horn honks happen nearly daily. Waiting in the car for Rick. On the phone, waiting for a customer service rep to get back to me. At the store, trying to keep patience as a person counts out one bill or coin at a time.

 

Waiting can be excruciatingly slow at times. But how many times has the Lord waited for me? These times are much longer than a few seconds. More accurately, God’s patience represents days, weeks or even years of me removing boulders in my life that kept me from fully trusting God. Why do we expect others to be patient with us but miss the opportunity to bless someone with our patience?

 

When I losing patience, I project an unpleasant spirit that is unpleasing in God’s sight. Yet, I do it anyway. These character development opportunities can help my faith grow steady and strong. I choose which spirit to embody.

 

After the events of 9.11, a story circulated about people who were not yet in one of the Twin Towers because of some delay. Where those people initially patient that morning? I do not know. I assume, however, that their view of patience was radically changed.

Somehow, we all need less hurry and more patience in our lives. May I remember this the next time I want to honk my car horn.

Lord God – some of us radically lack patience. Without patience, we also lack the ability to develop character rooted in you. Grant us patience and the patience we need when it doesn’t come quickly! Amen.

Blessings –

Dianne

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Happy Birthday, Nate

Sat., May. 13, 20

Nate & Tony17

Hebrews 11:1 – Faith makes us sure of what we hope for and gives us proof of what we cannot see. 

Today, would have been Nate Vielhuber’s 39th birthday. Nate was my husband Rick’s eldest son. When just 21, Nate was killed in a snowmobiling accident. Our lives were forever changed.

Rick and I were dating when Nate was killed. It was very early in our relationship. I was also the pastor for the church were Rick and his family were members. This means I presided over Nate’s funeral; the second funeral I ever conducted. I barely knew how to officiate a funeral. I certainly didn’t know how to officiate my boyfriend’s eldest son’s funeral. I will never officiate at a more difficult funeral.

Losing a child is heart wrenching. The littlest details are deeply etched in my memory. The sound of Rick’s voice on the middle of the night phone call. The shock displayed on Rick’s parent’s faces as we told them. The outside temperature the night of the chilly January visitation. The specific tie Rick wore to the funeral. The pain deep in my gut while driving back to seminary the day after the funeral as I crossed the bridge between Wisconsin and Iowa entering Dubuque. My inability to tuck the emotion away that same day.

Yet, my pain was a shallow puddle compared to the overwhelming and long-standing pain Rick experienced. I attended seminary several days a week the first months after Nate’s death. On my way home, I often stopped to see Rick. It was impossible to predict his state of mind before arriving. Would it be a good day? An awful day? Somewhere in-between?

Because we had not been dating very long, my personal relationship with Nate was not well developed. I am very much aware that for some, this should mean my grief isn’t significant. Honestly, my grief is often tied up in the grief I have witnessed Rick experience. Yet, I grieve the lost opportunities, the unfulfilled dreams, the sadness of how this loss dramatically affected every Vielhuber family member.

When I meet someone new, a question I am often asked is how many children we have. I’m still unsure how to answer this question. First, I explain Rick has children and I do not. Do I say Rick has two or three children? If I say two, I’m not including Nate. If I say three, further explanation is needed. Rick struggles with the appropriate answer just as much as I do.

Several months ago, Rick showed me a picture he ran across while going through things at the house that was his Mom and Dad’s. It is the photo with this post. Nate was probably 13 or 14. He was with Rick’s Dad fishing in Canada. This picture rides in my car now.  One day, our youngest three grandkids were in the car. They saw the photo. Grandson Waylan asked Rick if the people in the picture were his Dad and Rick. Grandpa gently shared that no, this was his Uncle Nate and his Grandpa-Great.

When gathered for family get-togethers, it’s rare Nate’s name is not mentioned. Our grandchildren know they have another uncle. I enjoy Rick repeating the same stories of times he had with Nate: failing to make pie crust for home economics class; shooting potatoes; taking confirmation class together and a whole host of others. After the death of a child, it is easy for parents to loose perspective on God, faith and life. I am amazed how Rick has allowed this significant loss in his life to deepen his view of God. Rather than being bitter about the shortness of Nate’s life, he praises God for the exciting 21 years he had with Nate.

Nathanial means “gift from God.” There is no question, Nate was a gift from the beginning. Today, I say thank you, God, for the gift of Nate, the day of Nate’s birthday.

Our hearts are sometimes sad when we remember a loved one no longer with us, Lord God. Other times, our hearts swell with laughter and tears. Be with any this day who are missing a loved one. Amen.

Blessings –

Dianne

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A Little Inspiration for Today …

Thurs., Apr. 27, 2017

change

Almighty God – give us guidance to see the things you’d love for us to see this day. And wisdom in knowing where you are changing us.  Amen.

Blessings –

Dianne

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