Who Gives the Best Pep Talks? Total Surprise.

Who Gives the Best Pep Talks? Total Surprise.

For the most part, my kids hang together well. But other days I worry about whether they’ll be on speaking terms when they grow up. They bicker and taunt each other. They mimic one other until someone is yelling and slamming a door. Sarcastic comments have led to hurt feelings. They are not unique kids; they are American siblings. And I am always listening to my own inner voice that tells me when I need to intervene and when I shouldn’t. It’s a learning process for all of us.

Then – once in awhile – they surprise me completely.

Saturday, my 12 year-old daughter and I were in Pittsburgh for an Irish dance competition. She was tired because we’d gotten in late the night before, and after lunch she still had two dances to go when I told her:

“Don’t use up the tank on this third one. Save it. And then just give it all you’ve got for hornpipe.”

Hornpipe was the dance she wanted to win. She’d been dancing well all day, but this last dance was the one she needed to finish off her current level and move closer to becoming a champion.

“Mom,” she said, “You’re really bad at giving pep talks.”

“What?!!” I feigned surprise.

She smiled.

“You don’t want to hear from me?” I continued, knowing full well she really doesn’t, but by that exhausted point, I was clueless about what to say next.

“How about Dad? Does he give good pep talks?”

“Not really.”

“Huh. Who does?”

Then – shocker of them all – she mentioned her older brother.

“Really?!!? What does he say?” I couldn’t imagine a 15-year old being a font of wisdom.

Giggling for the first time in hours she said, “Stuff like, ‘Kick the dancer in front of you.’”

“Oh!” I laughed, “That would never occur to me.”

“Of course not, Mom! You’re you.”

She got in line for her third dance and I texted her brother, saying his words were needed.

Right away he responded with this.

I stared at my phone like it was the best Christmas present I’d ever received.

You are going to do great…I have faith in you…

Did I read that right?

I read it again. And again.

After she came back, I handed her my phone and told her to call her brother. She snatched it with gusto.

A few minutes later she returned, laughing and smiling broadly. Her brother’s encouragement strengthened the words of his text, and hearing his voice soothed her soul. Just like that – he had completely changed her day.

Parents are a family’s leaders. But we often feel sidelined, taken for granted, and forgotten. Most of our work is unseen. While we may ultimately be remembered for the jobs we dutifully perform to provide, to feed, to enable participation and so forth, we are seldom thanked for the even more important work we do: building character in our kids, and showing them how to forge relationships in their lives. 

When was the last time you heard a kid say, “Thank you for teaching me forgiveness and gratitude. I really love my sister/brother”?

Yet this is what we do, every time we speak to our kids about why we treat one another with respect and love, and why we expect them to behave with decency and goodness.

Instilling virtue in kids is like throwing cooked spaghetti at the wall. Do it enough and eventually a piece sticks.

Or so I keep telling myself.

It had been awhile since I’d seen a reminder that this was still truth.

My daughter’s hornpipe dance was absolutely beautiful – probably the best I’d ever seen her do it. And her smile and posture – my gosh….She was on fire with joy.

In the end, she got fourth place. Not the first she wanted, but she had no regrets and had made no mistakes. Judging is a little subjective, and she’ll get her first another day.

And on that day, her brother will be cheering for her while I root for the two of them, from the sidelines.

How to Care for a Tummy Ache

How to Care for a Tummy Ache

imageIt was 9:15 this morning and we were sitting in the doctor’s office, hoping to solve the mystery of my daughter’s stomach pain – pain that had driven her to the school nurse’s office every day for the last four days, and noticeable enough that even her little brother had asked if we could pray for her over breakfast.

There had been no fever. No vomiting. No digestion issues. Just some mild nausea, loss of appetite, and pain. Just pain.

After a few long minutes, the quick strep test came back negative. Severe constipation was also ruled out. We were down to “a probable virus,” and “call us next week if it’s still there, the pain moves, or gets worse.”

Hooray. Just the diagnosis I wanted.

I was trying to stay positive as I looked at her downtrodden form. She sat on the examining table, hunched over, somewhat pale, and unshowered. Yesterday, she’d come home from school and climbed straight into her pajamas. But – believe it or not – letting her sit on the couch all day didn’t seem like the right course of action.

Despite the pouring rain outside, I made a suggestion.

“How ’bout we drive over to Rockville and pick up your dress? You’re missing school anyway. We can get some lunch while we’re there.”

Surprisingly, she perked up at the idea of spending two hours in the car (one each way), just to pick up an Irish dance dress that she already owned, but which had been altered to fit her growing pre-teen body.

“Sounds great!” she declared.

We made a detour by home so she could shower (my idea), and headed out.

I indulged her in a few minor ways.

I let her sit up front.

I let her choose the music (and then a comedian) on Spotify.

I didn’t ask her many questions; I let her steer the conversation.

Overall, I did my best to listen well, and by the time we arrived at the seamstress’ shop, my daughter was coming back to me. One tiny smile and wiggle in her seat at a time.

We got the dress and time was passing quickly. So we giggled our way through lunch at a very poorly-serviced and obnoxiously loud Chipotle, and then ran through Starbucks. She asked for a pink cake pop. I gave it to her. Gladly.

Tonight her belly is much better. Since it’s day 5 of this…whatever it is …maybe she was on the mend anyway. And I’m sure her brother’s prayer had something to do with it. But I also think it’s like this….

Sometimes, things just aren’t right. You don’t know why, or what’s really wrong. Stuff just bugs you. Life gets to you (and your body) in ways you can’t understand.

And what you need – maybe all you simply need – is to hang out with your mom for a little while.

Today, my shocking revelation was …I am the Mom.

And my presence was all that was needed.

My daughter confirmed this lesson on our ride back to Annapolis, when she glanced over at me and said, “Today was the best. Thanks, Mom.”

Today? The best? A doctor’s appointment? Torrential rain? A long drive for a fairly boring reason? A mediocre lunch in a fast-food place?

To all the Moms out there who – like me – think you’re not doing enough: Most of the time, all that’s needed is for us to Show Up. And you can do that. And they love you for it. So much more than you know. 

Happy Mother’s Day.

Mom!! Hear This!!

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“MOM!! Guess what!??!”

“MOM!! Listen to this song I wrote!”

“MOM!! Can I have Patrick over?”

“MOM!! Can we play on the X-box?”

“MOM!! What is this word?”

“MOM!! He’s annoying me!”

My kids have developed a habit in the last few weeks of beginning all of our conversations with “MOM!!” It’s gotten so bad that last night I had to take a time-out in the middle of the evening’s activities before my husband got home. I went into my room, lay on the bed, and stared at the ceiling.

A few minutes later, I heard the door squeak open, and my daughter came in cautiously. When she saw that I was awake, she lowered her voice to a loud whisper and asked,

“Mom!! What are blackheads?”

Sigh.

So here I am. Font of knowledge. Scheduler. Cook. Mediator. Taxi driver. Captive audience. Etc. And I love it. Most of the time.

But there are days I get a little worn out. And then, well…

My kindergartner can dress himself, of course, but he’s taken to waiting for me to help him on school mornings. I think it’s because it’s  time for just us, and it makes him feel that his day is off to a good start.

Yesterday, when I entered his room, he was half out of his p.j.s, playing with Pokemon cards. His whole face lit up, and I heard the usual, “MOM!!” followed by something which I can’t recall now.

I sank to the floor and said, “C’mon bud, you’ve got to get dressed and downstairs for breakfast.”

But he just stood there in his pajama pants, smiling at me.

Then, he folded himself into my lap and kissed my face saying, “You’re the best mom ever.”

I nearly cried as I hugged his little body and touched his soft skin.

It’s amazing how one small thank you can more than make up for all of the unacknowledged gifts we’ve given. 

And today, as I hear the birds sing, see the flowers bloom and the sun shine, and feel my heart beat again, I know it is a new day. A chance to start again. One big gift, filled with limitless gifts.

And for all the Lord does for me, I can truly touch His heart today. With thanks.

Let us praise him the more, since we cannot fathom him,

for greater is he than all his works,

Awful indeed is the Lord’s majesty,

and wonderful is his power.

-Sirach 43:29-30

Concerns for My Daughter

I’m catching a mid-morning flight and trying to leave the house quietly. But my daughter is up to say goodbye.

She’s always been an early riser, but I’m still surprised to see her standing there in her pajamas, her blond hair a tousled mess.

“Honey, you should be asleep.”

She turns her head ‘No’ and whispers while moving in to hug me tightly.

“Did you leave Daddy a schedule?”

“Yes.”

“Ok. But who’s driving me to dance?…What is the plan for tomorrow?…Did you remember to tell Dad about…?”

She has a list in her head.

Just like me.

Maybe that’s not a good thing.

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See – the list making – the idea that we can finalize plans, has become for me an extension of my perfectionism – something I do not want to pass on to her. Having a few ideas about what I’d like to do is one thing. Expecting them to happen just as I’d like, is another.

I want to tell her to relax. Enjoy. Don’t anticipate.

But it’s hard to convey these things effectively. And there are even bigger things that I must teach her. Things I believe are essential for her to understand.

If all of Scripture could be boiled down to two central messages, they’d be: 1) Be not afraid. 2) You are loved.

More than anything else, these are the things I want my daughter to know. And sometimes I worry she isn’t getting these messages.

‘But maybe she’ll see,’ I think. How can I help her see?

These were my thoughts in Bible study Thursday night, where we were discussing Jesus’s mother, Mary – the one person in history other than Christ himself who best exemplifies a person exercising full trust in God’s providential care.

To the root of her being, Mary was humble and put her faith in God. She had no silly notions that she was in charge of her life. As the angel told her that she would bear God’s son, she declared herself “the handmaid of the Lord” (Luke 1:38). Her ‘yes’ – given despite the questions she had – showed she accepted the full weight of His authority, love, and protection. From within that sacred space, she then assumed her role in God’s plan and prayed from her deepest depths, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” (Luke 1:46)

Mary’s life was anything but easy, and it’s impossible to overstate how agonizing it must have been for her to watch her son die on a cross. But everything we know about Mary leads us to this conclusion: in the role that God chose for her, Mary was fully cooperative, and God used her as His instrument to point others to Christ – to Himself.

Not surprisingly perhaps, Mary’s last words in the Bible, concerning Jesus at the wedding feast in Cana, are to the servants – and all of us – “Whatever He says to you, do it.” (John 2:5)

We too can magnify God – make He who is invisible, visible – by fully leaning into Him and asking Him to fill us with His love. Then, His love flows into our words. And into our actions.

Lord, I thank you for your mother, Mary. I ask that you make me more like her, and that Your Will be done in me. Make me a vessel that magnifies your Love, projecting Your radiance to my beloved daughter.

Transition

Two weeks ago, I was shopping in Whole Foods when I saw my friend. She was standing by the olive bar with a downcast face, spooning a mixture of fruits into one of the plastic cups provided for purchases. We’ve known one another for more than a decade and met through a playgroup when our oldest kids were babies. She’s always smiling – one those people whose eyes twinkle joyfully most of the time. But her sadness hung on her like a heavy robe. And I understood. Completely.

Our “babies” – two vivacious boys – had started Kindergarten that day, and though we knew the boys were fine and wholly ready for this stage of their young lives, the transition was going to be hard – for us. We’d both been ‘at home’ with at least one child every day for the last 12 years. And while the separation from them would be brief (7 hours can go very quickly), the days suddenly seemed quiet. Too quiet.

I told her, “I lost it while driving yesterday. Started crying. Not good! And he didn’t know what to do. Poor guy. I told him through tearful smiles, ‘I’m so excited for you! But I’m going to miss you!'”

Apparently, my friend had had exactly the same experience. While driving. And then there we were, hugging in the produce section of Whole Foods.

What is it about following routines that can trigger the deepest of emotions? When something in our lives changes, routines suddenly seem anything but routine. They become more focused, more deliberate, somehow. We start to think more about where we’re going, what we’re doing, and why.

So how have I spent my last two weeks? Doing some of the same stuff I always have, but I’ve also gone full bore into a long list of projects that I’ve been waiting to tackle…

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Shopping for artwork for the barren walls of my office.  IMG_2441

RedoingIMG_2452 our daughter’s room…I cleared the knick-knacks out of the way, and my husband painted the color our daughter chose. (Can I just say what an awesome dad he is?)

 

FullSizeRender copy 5Thinking about taming our overgrown  yard. (Whoever sits on our porch is risking their life.)

 

 

Tackling years’ worth of albums and scrapbooks that haven’t been updated (or in some cases, even started!).

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FullSizeRender copy 3And, deciding it was time to relinquish a few safeguards that are only required when parenting the very young.

 

 

So, I have my work cut out for me.  Rather, I’ve put some work on myself.

See, it’s easy for me to throw myself into these tasks, thinking that by going through the motions of improving the external, I can become ‘settled’ on the inside.

And over the last two weeks, I have certainly focused on the “shoulds” that have been pestering me for a long time.

I should beautify this house. I should get rid of the clutter. I should follow-through on projects I never finished. I should…I should

What an awful word. Should. It always makes me feel like I’ve fallen short. Of my capabilities. Of my responsibilities. Of my dreams. Of my expectations, however unrealistic, which are so often not exactly mine, but what I presume others’ expectations to be – of me. At the core, should makes me believe I’ve missed the mark – of ‘goodness.’

Separating what’s truly important from the ego in me that wants to just “get it all under control” takes effort, discernment, and quiet. The kind of quiet I can fill up with projects that aren’t intrinsically bad, but that might not align with what I know to be my calling in this life – to love and serve others according to God’s plans, not mine.

In my recent study of Galatians, I came across this verse:

Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of the promise. But just as then the child of the flesh persecuted the child of the spirit, it is the same now.  (Galatians 4: 28-29)

Every day, I have a choice. I can be an Isaac, and live fully freed by the grace of God through the covenant he established with me when I recognized that Jesus Christ  came to set me free from the traps of my own making that separate me from God. Or, I can be Ishmael, Isaac’s half-brother, who was pushed into the wilderness, cut off from any of his father’s inheritance. Worse yet, I can live in a transitional spot, teetering between knowing and embracing the gifts of a Spirit-led life, while also entertaining the shoulds of my flesh, which followed outright will drive me to ruin and despair. Basically, my flesh can persecute my spirit. Where will I lean in this transition?

As a child of the Promise, I’ve experienced the priceless fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). But to enjoy them in this earthly life, I need to stay close to Him.

My oldest son was poking fun at me the other day, prodding me about those albums.

“Mom, are you gonna cry over the photos of us?  Boohoo! My babies! Boohoo!”

As he curled his fingers into loose fists and rubbed his jolly eyes like an infant would, I returned his smile, but with a smug, knowing grin. It’ll be decades before he understands how much I love him and his brother and sister, that I would cut out my heart to save each of theirs. And then I think…

Yes exactly. You’d die for this child of yours. But the Way of eternal love is felt most acutely by fully embracing the present as the gift that it is. So don’t cry over the past. This is the start of a different era. Embrace your new freedom. Live within peace and gentleness. Focus on what has eternal value. Look ahead. Joyfully. 

There is an appointed time for everything.

And there is a time for every event under heaven—

Ecclesiates 3:1

For Kathleen…Mom…A Gem

When did you first realize your mom was a person?

When did you understand….that she had once been a child…

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who experienced her own, unique childhood…

and became a young woman…

who had dreams, hopes, and fears…

which may or may not have been realized…

by the time she became your mother.

Did you…kind of think…her development ended with your birth?

I ask because, if you’re like me, the realization that your mother is (or, may she rest with the Lord, was) a full-fledged individual with her own strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, successes and failures, has been a gradually dawning, but incredibly powerful one.

We celebrate Mother’s Day because we love mothers. According to the demands of the job, which they fulfill with devotion, mothers bring us into the world, welcome us, nurture us, feed us, teach us, encourage us, comfort us, discipline us, sacrifice for us, challenge us, and in short, care for us all their lives and ours. Once a woman recognizes that she wants to “mother” in any kind of capacity and follows-through on that God-given desire, limitless possibilities to love other people emerge. So we celebrate mothers and all they do and have done for us.

Gretchen_HSGrad_1994   Gretchen_Mom_Wedding

But did you catch the gist of that last paragraph? We typically think of moms in terms of what they do for us.

But my mom is a precious jewel. Not because of what she does and has done for me, and my sister, and my kids, and so many others…No. She’s precious just because she is.

Over time, I have been privileged to learn that it is better to listen than to talk. As Stephen Covey says, “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.” So when my mom starts telling me about her life, I pay attention. And this sparkling gem of a woman has shown me many things through the stories she tells. Here are just a few:

Enjoy the ride. My mom spent her early childhood in San Francisco. She liked to rollerskate down those enormous hills and stop herself by catching a rope at the bottom. I’m freaked out just thinking about it.

Know your strenKathleen_Sewinggths and use your skills. My mother has a quiet strength and is always willing to work hard. After she finished high school, there wasn’t money for college. So she worked to pay for it. She used her talented hands and the sewing skills she’d learned from her mother and grandmother to make gowns for sorority girls.

Always, always, always be kind. Some 30 years ago, my mother was in a post office when an elderly man cautiously approached and asked her for help with a form. He said his eyesight was poor. She noticed the form was for a change of address. As she filled it out, she kept asking him to repeat the street names; he was difficult to understand. Finally, she guessed on the spelling of each one and read them back to him. He just said, “Yes, yes, that’s fine.” Then she handed him the pen and showed him where to sign. He signed only an ‘X.’ It occurred her that this sweet, polite gentleman probably could not read.

Take a deep breath and stretch – yourself, your resources, your time. For as long as I can remember, my mom has worked or volunteered on a nearly full-time basis. And she pushed herself. I’ll never forget that day when I was in fourth grade in Jacksonville, Florida and a special delivery arrived: the **pink!** Buick my mother had won for her stellar Mary Kay sales. It was a dream come true – for both of us!

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Later, when I was in college (paid for by loans and my parents’ savings), she was single and money was very tight. But in my junior year, she still managed to come to France with my sister to visit me. I am so very humbled by this thought, because until recently when she explained this to me, I never knew…..how hard it was for her to get away from a rather low-paying job she endured to ensure her daughters’ educations….how far her commute was for that job….and what her monthly take-home actually was. Though she can certainly be thrifty, I was shocked. I asked her, “My gosh, Mom…How did you do it?” “Lots of soup,” she said.

Put your “face” on. My mother is always “put together.” Hair and makeup in place. She jokingly calls this her “face” and we say she won’t walk to the end of the driveway unprepared for the day (kidding, but only kind of!). But I’ve learned the secret behind this daily routine of hers. If you take time and care to present yourself well, you will present yourself well. You’ll feel better, more self-assured.

My mother’s also in good shape, doesn’t overindulge (chocolate doesn’t count!), and sees her doctor regularly. These things aren’t optional, and they don’t have to be avenues of narcissism either. It’s about loving yourself enough to treasure your health and well-being. Where’s the story for this one? Pictures are the proof. She’s in her late 60s, has never colored her hair, has low blood pressure, and low cholesterol. ‘Nuff said.

Finally, Remember who you belong to. My mom knows she’s a child of God and that He loves her. And she looks at everyone else in the world this way too. She knows people are on their own paths, so she’s not preachy. When she’s most open and her vulnerability is on full display, there a deep beauty in her humility before her Creator.

She passes on the love she’s been given…to her family…and her friends. If I said to her, “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19), I know she’d say, “Amen.”

Kathleen_Aidan  Kathleen_Kiss_Cate

One final thought…Last year, my mother was presiding over a convention of nearly 1,000 women, finishing her term as President of the Florida State Chapter of P.E.O., a sisterhood devoted to the education of women and an organization to which we both joyfully belong. She had served on the Board of Directors for seven years, moving up through the positions one by one to President, and having gotten to that level of leadership not by self-promotion, but having been nominated and selected by her sisters. There were myriad speakers and presentations over the 3-day event, but I was in deep awe of just one – my mom.

I wish I could find a word stronger than “proud” to describe how I felt. Her personality and skills were on full display, and all of the determination and perseverance that carried her through the ups and downs of her life had prepared her for this moment. It brought to mind that wonderful verse from Esther: “And who knows but that you have come…for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

Gretchen_Kathleen2014PEO

Every single life, every single woman’s life, has a purpose. In fact, it has many, many purposes, rippling out from the deep fountain of her soul. 

Thank you for being you, Mom. 

How to Sleep Well

One summer evening 9 years ago, I was holding the reins of life so tightly that the tension had crept into my jaw. I knew I was grinding my teeth at night; it’s one of my body’s telltale signs that I’m seething with something that needs to be vented and hasn’t been. You’d have thought that pain in my jaw, neck, back, and legs would have brought me to some kind of reckoning – but No. People are stubborn. And if you mess with an animal in pain, often you just aggravate them further. So it was with me.

I was physically miserable, but I was compounding my misery by arguing with a few people – the main one being my husband. Today, I don’t even know what I was fuming about, exactly, but we were working through some tough things, individually and together, and it was all crashing in on me. So I was letting him have it.

Disagreements can be productive, but the problem on this day, and others like it, was that no amount of arguing was going to solve the issues at hand. Primarily for one very good reason. My husband was not in the room. He wasn’t even in the house. Whether he was traveling, working late, or out with friends, I don’t recall….it was long ago….and his whereabouts then are not germane to this story. What is germane is that I was very angry and resentful – feeling ‘put upon,’ as they say – and my rant with him, and some other people, lived entirely in my head, was leading me exactly – nowhere.

Our two kids at the time were ages 3 and 8 months. I had spent much of that day on a chore no mother can ignore. Laundry. I’d done 4 or 5 loads of it. But because I couldn’t find precious minutes to fold those loads between picking up toys, making meals and snacks, cleaning up messes, and entertaining my charges (especially the ‘older’ one of our babes), I had deposited the clean clothes on the only large, flat surface available – our bed in the Master bedroom. Through tight eyes, I was staring down a mountain of ‘lights,’ ‘darks,’ and ‘colors.’  I was NOT happy.

I wanted to crawl into that bed and shut out the world. Stop the spinning. Stop the incessant demands on me. Forget about life. And sleep. Front time to time, I was doing too much of that, too. Sleeping. It was an effort to refresh my body, sure, and I justified the mid-day naps by saying I needed them to cope. But the truth is, I used these breaks to not cope. It was a means of escape. And it wasn’t good, restful sleep. I wasn’t waking up feeling a whole lot better than when I’d laid down.

So, back to my tirade…I wanted to take that pile of laundry and hurl it across the room in a fit of rage. But I had hit a wall. I just couldn’t do even that. And that’s when, for some unknown reason, I sank to my knees next to the bed, buried my face in my hands, and prayed.

I hadn’t really prayed – in that position, or in that kind of way – since I was a little girl. A jumble of tangled thoughts, fears, concerns, worries, complaints, and frustrations tumbled up and out of me as I talked to God. And the longer I went on, the more I felt His steadying hand on me, the reality of His presence with me in my room, telling me that peace is possible – even for me. I was down there on the floor for about 20-25 minutes. I know because I looked at the clock when I got up and was shocked at how much time had passed. I had entered into a timeless space with God during our dialogue, one that in hindsight I’d see marked the beginning of a new way of living.

That singular experience with prayer changed my way of viewing God – from some distant, remote ‘being’ who has knowledge of me but no real interest, to a God who was approachable. Someone I could talk to. And in time, I stopped venting to Him, and started thanking Him, because I could see evidence of His love for me in my daily life, and then in my life in general, and finally, even in the parts of my past for which I felt ashamed.

Today, I know beyond the shadow of any doubt, that The Lord is my truest friend, the Lover of my soul, who cares for me so much more than I care for myself. And the key to a good night’s sleep is not my chamomile tea, or a few carefree moments with a novel – though I enjoy both of these before I turn in. No, the key for me is to lay everything within me at God’s feet, knowing and expecting Him to handle my present concerns with the same undivided attention He has given to me all of my life. His Hand on me is peace.

In peace I shall both lie down and sleep,

for you alone, Lord, make me secure. 

– Psalm 4:9

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