Category Archives: Marriage & Womanhood

How Mama Bear Hurts Her Family

animals-bear-angry-brown-bear-wallpaperI’ve never loved the “Mama Bear” analogy.  When I think of “Mama Bears,” I picture moms who bite teachers’ heads off, and elbow their way through crowds so their kids can get the best seat at story time.  I’d much rather be a Mama Swan, peacefully gliding through life with all my little ducklings in a row.  But I’m not.  I’m the Swan-faced mom with the heart of a Grizzly.

The truth is, you don’t have to be loud and obnoxious to be a Mama Bear.  You just have to care too much about the well being of your family.  You have to idolize it.  To bow down and worship it, so that if anybody in your household isn’t okay, nothing’s okay.  You see, the thing about Mama Bears is that deep down, we long to control our universe so that we can protect the people we love.  If we’re Christians, on some level we know this is impossible.  But that doesn’t stop us from trying.  How can we stop trying?  Then things might really fall apart.  So we spin our wheels endlessly, longing for that moment when we can take a deep breath and say, Life is good.  Nobody’s in the hospital.  Nobody’s having nightmares.  Nobody’s miserable at work.  Of course, this kind of peace is fragile as an eggshell.  It’s like building your home on a foundation of toothpicks.

And boy, is it exhausting.  I knew there would be a lot of work in becoming a wife and mom; I just didn’t realize how much of it would be done with my heart instead of my hands.  The more people we add to our family, the more my heart has to carry.  Worry, concern, love, joy, pain, affection, fear.  I don’t even want a dog, because I don’t have the emotional capacity to care for one more living thing!  There are days when my husband walks through the door with a heavy expression on his face, and I want to hold up a hand and say, “I’m sorry!!  The anxiety meter has reached maximum capacity.  Put one more burden on my plate and I will drop dead right here in the kitchen!  Then you’ll have to finish cooking.”  Instead I usually opt for the quick-fix: “What’s wrong?  Just tell me.  Tell me now.”  Maybe I can slap some gospel truth on this one real fast and check it off the list before the spaghetti sauce burns.  

But it doesn’t work that way for one simple reason.  I’m not Jesus.  All my outward attempts to “fix” our universe are just that–outward attempts.  They’re the toothpicks straining under the weight of the house that will always crush them flat.  I still remember the day Clint looked at me and said, “Can you just let me be not okay?  Can you just love me when I’m not happy?”

But if you’re not okay, then I’m not okay, I thought.  And just like that, I finally got it.  Wanting him to be okay was never really about him.  It was always about me.  I didn’t want to abide with him in a season of long-suffering.  I wanted it over.  Fixed.  So that I could go back to being happy.  I’ve known that Mama Bears (like me) are protective and controlling.  But this was the first time I realized they’re also selfish.  So selfish, in fact, that they’re willing to short-circuit what God wants to do in someone’s life, just so they don’t have to endure the discomfort of watching it.

When little Susie has no friends at school, Mama Bears (like me) don’t want to walk the long, painful road of teaching her to trust Jesus.  We just want to make the heartache go away.  We want to throw a block party and invite every 5-year-old in Georgia.  But what if God destined this to be the first time little Susie turned to Jesus with a real problem?  What if this heartache set the stage for her first experience of believing God and seeing Him act on her behalf?  Isn’t that worth a little suffering?  For Susie…and for Mama Bear?

But the only way we will become the kind of woman with the ability to abide instead of fix, is if we abide in Christ.  David once sang, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” (Ps 46:1-2).  Don’t you long to have such assurance on the day your private mountains fall into the heart of the sea?  On the day your husband loses his job?  Or the pediatrician says you need to see a specialist?  Or your grown child phones to tell you she’s getting a divorce?

I guarantee you, Mama Bear longs for it.  Because she understands life on the other side.  She lives in the house built on sand, and even on the good days, she fears it’s sinking.  I wish I could say it’s easy to pick up that house and plop it down on the Solid Rock of Christ.  I wish it was a one-time thing.  But it’s not.  It is a moment-by-moment choice to yield and to trust.  Then, and only then, can we minister to our families with the sort of love that says, “Come as you are, messy and in pain.  I will abide with you.  As long as it takes.”

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4 Reasons Men Fail to Engage at Home

20111112_STP506In many Christian homes, the man of the house comes home from work only to plop down on the couch and turn on the TV. They are distracted at dinner. They are unmotivated in their role as a father and husband. Why don’t they seem to care?

This is a common problem, and it is not just deadbeats and sociopaths that fail to engage at home. Even sincere Christian men struggle with engaging at home consistently. I, personally, am deeply convicted about my responsibility as a husband and father, but I still have good days and bad days when it comes to being engaged at home.  This article shares 4 reasons why I have struggled to engage at home.

Learn more about guest blogger Aaron Smith below.

Learn more about guest blogger Aaron Smith below.

1. Work goals and rewards are more tangible than family goals.
Like most men, I like solving problems, and that makes me thrive in the work world. At my job, all of my goals are well-defined and the path to success can easily be broken down into tangible steps: “Do these calculations…fill out this report…” Sure, there are surprise challenges and delays, but at least the problems and the goals are well-defined.

At home, on the other hand, I sometimes get lost in what I am trying to accomplish. What are the actual steps that lead to a stable marriage or Godly children? Oh, how I want a formula for being a good dad and husband… “play two games of hide-and-seek on Mondays, bring flowers home for my wife every Tuesday, read Scripture at dinner, and voilà… perfect family.”

But, unfortunately, there is no formula for having a loving marriage or for raising Godly children. Only God can make our family efforts succeed. But God still intends for men to make plans and to lead their families the best that they can. I think that this is why I find it much easier to stay engaged at home when my wife and I have a clear set of goals for our family.

2. Men feel entitled to “veg out” after work.
When I was single, I could work really hard for a couple of days, and then just “veg-out” for a few hours to recover. But, now as a father and husband, I don’t have that luxury. But, I still regularly have days at work where the stress and pace really take it out of me. I often want to just come home and watch TV. Being entertained is so much easier than engaging. Sometimes, I even rationalize to myself, “Why shouldn’t I take a rest? I have worked hard all day. Don’t I deserve a rest?”

In general, the answer is no. I have a responsibility before God to actively love my wife (Eph. 5:25) and to train my children (Eph. 6:4).  I only have a few hours after work each day, so if I am going to be faithful, I will need to spend most of that time engaging with the family. I don’t have the prerogative to regularly “check-out” from family time.

The times when I have succumbed to the temptation to veg out, are times that I have lost sight of how much I am needed at home and my responsibility before God. Also, when I find that I have nothing left to give my family at home, it usually means I am giving too much of myself at work (see next point for more on this).

3. Men make work an idol.
The line between doing my best at work and making work an idol often seems like a razor’s edge. I may start the week desiring to work hard for good reasons: to provide for my family and to glorify God with my talents. But by the end of the week, I have fallen into idolatrous motives — looking to my performance to give me significance and trusting in my own efforts to bring me happiness.

And as soon as I wrap my happiness and significance up with my work, I become a slave to success. Delays or setbacks at work continuously tempt me to work longer hours. Even when I come home, I keep drifting back into thought about how to solve those pesky problems at work, and how great my life will be when I overcome them.

The problem here is that I forget the Gospel. Christ has already accomplished the work that gives me significance. His death on the Cross has made me holy and blameless before him, a beautiful bride for Christ (Eph. 5:25-27). Also, I don’t have to trust in my own efforts to provide for my family’s needs. The God who made all things knows all my needs and cares for me; He will provide. He has given me His Son — how shall He not also give me all things (Rom. 8:32). When I keep these Biblical truths in my mind, I have much more energy left to give at home.

4. Men don’t take advantage of opportunities to meditate on God’s Word.
Anytime that I struggle to stay engaged at home, I probably have not been spending enough time meditating on God’s Word. Psalm 1:1-3 promises the following to those who regularly meditate on God’s Word:

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”

What an exciting picture! I long to be a husband and father who bears good fruit during each new season of my family’s life, and the only way that this will happen is if I regularly renew my mind with God’s Word.
IMG_2035I’m happy to introduce another talented guest writer!  Aaron Smith is a husband, dad, engineer, and blogger.  He spends his days designing hydraulic systems, and his evenings at home with his wife Christel and their two children.  In his spare time (or in his words, the time he should be sleeping!) he blogs at Faith and Life.  Check out his blog, share it with your husband, and leave him a comment below!

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What I Want My Daughters to Know about Biblical Womanhood

I’ve meant to return to the subject of biblical womanhood for a while now. But always when I approach this tender topic, I see the faces of vulnerable women from a thousand different walks of life. And my words refuse to come together.  But suddenly today, when I sat down to write, I saw just two little women.  And when I thought about what I want to teach them about biblical womanhood, everything became a little more clear.
P1060364Dear daughters,
Being a godly woman begins with surrendering your whole heart to Jesus. This means Jesus defines who you are–not your friends, the world, or even yourself. The Bible says that those who surrender their hearts to Jesus are blessed, chosen, holy, adopted, redeemed, favored, and forgiven (Eph 1:3-11). My precious daughters, no matter how you feel, or what happens to you, that is your identity.photo-37

Surrendering your heart to Jesus also means obeying Him. Often (just like your mom) you will be tempted to be the boss of your life, following your own wisdom. But the Bible says “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (I Cor 1:25). If you build your life around Jesus, submitting to the perfect wisdom of God, He will make you the woman He wants you to be, which is the true definition of biblical womanhood.

As you grow, you will learn that the world tries to define womanhood by outward actions and appearances. Many people believe beauty is the ultimate goal of womanhood. Our culture will tempt you to believe that the prettier and sexier you are, the more valuable and loved you will be. But this is a lie! I P1060530Peter 3:3-4 says that our main focus should not be looking pretty on the outside, but rather having a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious to God. Do you know what a gentle and quiet spirit is? The word “quiet” doesn’t mean you can’t be loud and bubbly (which your daddy and I find absolutely adorable.) It means your heart is as quiet and peaceful as a baby resting with its mother (Ps 131:2). You see, when you listen to Jesus’ opinion of you, you will not be anxious about fitting in or being the most beautiful. Your heart will be at peace. And that is true beauty.

Some people believe finding the right man is the ultimate goal of womanhood. But this will always lead to disappointment! If God wants you to be single, you may believe the lie that you’re less adequate than wives and moms. If He wants you to marry, you may believe the lie that a man can provide lasting fulfillment. My sweet girls, stand guard against both thoughts! God has always based biblical womanhood, first and foremost, on our relationship with Him, not men. If He does bless you with a godly husband, then respect, cherish, and honor that man, for he is a gift!  But do not look to him for your ultimate hope and security.  That is Jesus’ specialty alone.

Finally, my dear girls, beware of defining biblical womanhood by what you do. If you fall into this trap, you will forever be comparing yourself with others—how well you cook, clean, decorate, and discipline; whether or not you stay at home; how you invest your time and P1060370talents. This can only lead to pride, shame, guilt, and judgment. Always remember, biblical womanhood is about attitudes more than actions. It is about having a soft and submissive heart toward God and His commands. Most of God’s instructions in the Bible apply to both men and women. But there are certain passages written specifically for women (Ti 2:3-5, Eph 5:22-24, Prov 31, I Pt 3:1-6). Embrace the teaching of these passages with a grateful heart! They were not written to burden you with guilt, but to teach you God’s perfect will and design for women. He alone can, and will, empower you to be the woman He wants you to be. And in becoming what He wants, you will find the greatest freedom and joy.

All my love forever,
Mom

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To Those Battling Biblical Womanhood

woman_read_bible-400x400Recently someone asked me to respond to an article bashing biblical womanhood.  Admittedly, it’s one subject I’ve been fairly silent about.  Partly for fear of the backlash.  But mostly because I am the last person who deserves to write about it.  It’s not that I ever rejected the Bible’s call to submit to my husband (I Pt 3:1, 5), or have the sort of spirit that’s beautiful in God’s sight (I Pt 3:1-4).  In fact, I embraced such teaching as sound doctrine from a wise and sovereign God.  The problem was, I couldn’t live it to save my life.

As a kid I was fairly compliant.  So naturally, when I walked down the aisle, I believed this whole biblical womanhood thing would come easily for me.  Sweet and submissive as a baby bunny.  Boy, was my husband lucky!  Then somewhere within our first year of marriage Xena Warrior Princess rose up within me and slaughtered the bunny.  What I once believed to be compliance, I now recognize was pride.  Back then it manifested itself in the arrogant belief that I could fulfill the call to biblical womanhood in my own strength.  Once I realized I couldn’t, it manifested itself in utter outrage that I should ever be asked to.  Why should I submit?  I’m smart and gifted.  I can get it done twice as well in half the time.  And so I became controlling, disrespectful, and angry.  But I could never control things as completely as I wanted to, which only made me more furious.  Finally, all the anger gave way to deep discontentment.

Maybe you can relate.  Maybe you can’t.  Maybe the entire notion of biblical womanhood makes you want to gag.  Here is my challenge.  If the thought of submitting to an honorable man feels old-fashioned or degrading to you, then for just a moment, set it aside.  Forget all about submission and respect as it relates to a man, and ask yourself the one question I was forced to confront: Am I willing to submit to God? 

I finally came to see that my real fight was with Him.  It wasn’t my husband’s role I wanted, it was God’s.  I longed for the authority to control my life as I saw fit.  Like Satan himself, my heart cried, “I will make myself like the Most High” (Is 14:14).  I’ll never forget the day God opened my eyes to what I was becoming.  As I cried on my knees, He gave me a new verse from Isaiah: “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you” (26:3).  Oh how I longed for peace!  And I saw that it only came by way of trust.  Deep down, if I really trusted God, I could stop trying to be Him.  Then instead of being thrown into turmoil by the things I couldn’t control, my mind would be steadfast.  And all the anger, anxiety, and discord I’d welcomed into my heart and home would be replaced, at last, with peace.

We often view submission as oppressive, but I’ll tell you, as I submitted to God that day, I’d never felt more free in my life.  The truth is, biblical submission has and always will be foundational to Christianity.  To quote Webster, to submit is to “yield to the authority of another.”  Is this not the very heart and soul of the gospel?  Indeed this is the example Christ Himself set, when He submitted to the Father’s will, becoming obedient to the point of death (Phil 2:2-8).   And that is exactly what’s required of any who would follow Him.  The call to Christianity is not a call to rule, but to die (Mt 16:25).  To become a bondservant, a slave, to the One True King (Rom 6:22).  And in so doing, to discover life and freedom for the very first time.

Do I believe God has a distinct vision for womanhood?  Yes, I do.  If He wanted men and women to function in exactly the same way, I believe He could’ve made one gender.  We could’ve reproduced asexually, like star fish.  But He didn’t.  He could’ve made Eve first.  Or inspired Paul to urge men to be keepers of the home, subject to their wives.  But He didn’t.  He intentionally created both men and women, and through Scripture revealed the equal but different roles for which He designed them.

If you struggle with the doctrine or application of biblical womanhood, would you be willing to begin by yielding to the authority of Christ, then asking Him to teach you His vision for womanhood, as revealed in the Bible?  Not what you want the Bible to teach, or think the Bible should teach, but what it actually teaches.  Because as Wayne Grudem points out, when we tweak Scripture to suit our preferences, what’s ultimately at stake isn’t merely manhood or womanhood.  It’s the authority of the Bible itself.

So, to the dear reader who asked for my thoughts on biblical womanhood, it is with great love and humility that I offer this response.  Always, the challenge in blogging is to address a big topic in a tiny space, and for this reason I am saving specific thoughts on the nature of biblical womanhood for a separate post.  But I wanted to begin the discussion with my own testimony–a testimony which clearly leaves zero room for judging anyone else.  I still know what it’s like to struggle with respect, to long for control, and to be sick of managing a household.  But because of His grace, I also know what it’s like to experience glimpses of harmony, when my husband and I embrace our God-ordained callings because we trust that His design is best.  And I can say this–it is beautiful, it is peaceful, and it is freeing.

Other Resources:
7 Misconceptions about Submission by Mary Kassian
Biblical Womanhood in Five Minutes An audio interview with John Piper
Evangelical Feminism & Biblical Truth
 by Wayne Grudem
Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood by John PIper & Wayne Grudem
What’s the Difference? by John Piper

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Two Different Men

largeWhen I was but a youthful girl
Of four and seventeen,
I chanced upon two different men,
Whose natures were unseen.

One was handsome, tall, and dark,
With gallantry to spare,
He swept me off my feeble feet,
And made me twice as fair.

I came to know him by a word,
As we dined and danced,
For while he brought the stars to life,
I called him sweet Romance.

The other man was odd to me,
For he never left my side,
Though often I was known to gripe,
And roll my eyes and chide.

He did not lure with mystery,
Pour gifts upon my greed,
In fact at times he grew so dull
I scarcely paid him heed.

But as the days gave birth to years,
My skin came loose and gray,
And when I searched for my Romance,
He’d wandered far away.

I trembled in my lonely bed
With sickness and with fear.
“Do not cry,” a soft voice said,
“I am ever near.”

The other man stroked my face
And dried my weathered nose,
He brushed my hair with shaky hands,
He gently held me close.

“Where is the one who stole my heart,
Fierce and young and brave?
Why would he arise and leave
An old man in his place?”

With wrinkled lips he smiled and said,
“We’ve always been the same,
Both he and I were but one man
Resolved, your heart to claim.

He was grand and I was small,
When first we caught your whim,
And though I grew from day to day,
You always preferred him.

But now, my dear, as dusk draws near,
I have grown so vast,
That though he was the first to win,
It’s me who’ll be the last.”

I held his face between my hands,
I cried into his tears,
Until his old familiar touch,
Had swept away the years.

At last I knew there was one thing
That I could be sure of:
And so I whispered in his ear,
“Then I shall call thee Love.”

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5 Dating Tips for Single Guys

Dating011-medium-newLet me begin by saying I realize your lot in life is as far as Fiji from mine.  I have no idea what it’s like to be a single guy in 2014.  But you and I do have one thing in common.  Both of us care about single girls.  Recently, some of my favorite ones have opened my eyes to the terrors of dating in the 21st century.  WIth that in mind, I thought I might offer a little insight into wooing the fairer sex.  I’m certainly no expert–my only qualification is this one extra X chromosome.  But for what it’s worth, here’s some advice from a girl:

Be confident in who you are.  I know it’s cliché, but nothing exudes insecurity faster than showing-off.  Trust me, no matter how politely she smiles, she knows you don’t really have $100,000 to invest in an up-and-coming business, knows you didn’t once date Katie Holmes, and is probably groaning inside if you’re telling her how much you can curl.  If there’s one thing she really will be impressed by, it’s sincerity.  Being genuine and humble demonstrates confidence.  Ego brags.  Confidence doesn’t have to.

Focus more on the “connection” factor than the “cool date” factor.  In other words, don’t drop $150 on a botanical garden carriage ride and then stare at her like a mute statue or *shudder* text your friends the whole time.  Sure a cool date’s great, but it will never make up for a lack of connection.  Which means you need to plan more than the date–you need to plan the conversation.  I once read a marriage book that said women long to be explored.  It’s the reason girlfriends can talk for hours at a coffee shop.  We want to be discovered…more than we want to smell botanical flowers, or perhaps best yet, while we smell botanical flowers :)

Err on the side of being a gentlemen.  With the rise of the women’s-lib movement, I can see why it’d be confusing to know whether or not to open her door or pay for her meal.  But you’re a lot less likely to offend by being more of a gentleman than less of one.  If she tells you, “I’ve got it” when you open the door–no big deal.  But if she’s looking for a gentleman and ends up having to pick up the tab, don’t expect a second date.

Adjust your expectations.  If you’re waiting for a girl who looks like J Lo and loves college football, don’t hold your breath.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t have standards, just consider them carefully.  That shy girl from church may just need a cup of coffee and a cinnamon roll to become the most interesting person you’ve ever had a conversation with.  That really un-athletic friend of your sister’s may look at you like you’re Lebron James when you play basketball like Kevin James.  Or maybe not.  The thing is, there’s only one way to find out.

Don’t be afraid to stand up to her.  There’s a big difference between a control-freak and a leader.  One is rooted in pride, and the other is rooted in love and service.  Once you’ve built a trusting relationship with her, be brave enough to speak into her life in ways that will challenge and edify her.  At the end of the day, no matter how much we balk, (most) women don’t really want a yes-man.  They want a man they can respect.

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Making Peace with Family Systems (or Why Everybody Fights So Much Over the Holidays)

family
Years ago in a Marriage and Family class, my professor drew big circles on the whiteboard to represent family systems.  He talked about “closed” systems and “open” systems, and all sorts of other terms that eventually filled his circles with arrows and scribbles and a general sense of disorder.  This holiday season I found myself thinking a lot about those circles.

Every day I live in my own circle.  It’s the “Me and Husband Family System.”  It has its own set of priorities, entertainment preferences, conflicts, and agreements.  This Thanksgiving we loaded up the minivan, drove four hours, rang my parents’ doorbell, and stepped back into the “circle” that raised me.  Mom and Dad’s family system.  It was as familiar as my mom’s fried rice, and yet it fit like skinny jeans after a pregnancy.  How can something that made you who you are, no longer fit who you’ve become?  

My answer came three weeks later when Christmas rolled around and we spent a week living in another “circle,” the one that raised my husband.  I realized that marriage is a little like tossing two family systems into a bag and shaking it until they smooth each other out.  In the end what you take out of the bag is entirely new.

Sometimes it’s beautiful, like a stone polished with friction.  And sometimes it’s broken.  Sometimes we realize the pieces we were given were never whole to begin with, and trying to build something healthy is like assembling a bicycle with broken parts.  Even if we can make it look normal on the outside, it will never race down a road.  So how do we make peace with family systems?  Here’s what I’ve been mulling over:

Recognize that every family system is flawed.  From the moment sin entered the world, nobody had a shot at doing this “family” thing perfectly.  So, what if we just admitted it?  What if we gave our parents, and our in-laws, and our parents’ parents the freedom to be human?  To have made mistakes that impact us and yet to be treated with dignity, love, and forgiveness–the same way Christ has treated us?

Acknowledge the specific failings of the family system.  I think there are two unhealthy tendencies for dealing with the failures of a family system.  We either want to sweep them under the rug, or we want to frame them on the mantel.  Neither is beneficial.  Think about your own children.  Would you really want them to pretend they haven’t been hurt or negatively impacted by the mistakes you’ve made?  To quietly grow bitter toward you?  Or worse yet, to repeat those mistakes?  As terrifying as exposing the failures of a family system can be, when it’s done with a commitment to love one another, it can be liberating.  Messy as a bachelor pad, but liberating.

Lay the past to rest.  None of us own a time machine.  Which is why framing past failures on the mantel is so devastating.  Nobody wants to be defined by their mistakes, nor made to pay for them again and again.  At some point we have to deal with the ugly under the rug, then forgive and lay the past to rest.  Throw it in the trash with the turkey carcass and all the other things we’re officially “done” with.  That is grace.  And we all need it.

Accept personal responsibility for the family system you’re creating.  Believe me, I know how comforting it can be to blame someone else for all the things you dislike about yourself.  Your inability to trust.  Your penchant for shutting people out.  That anger problem you have.  But the hard truth is nobody will be held accountable for our lives except us.  The beautiful side to that truth is we’re not slaves to the past.  In Christ we have everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pe 1:3), everything we need to grow, to change, and to overcome.

As I move into this new year, I’m reminded again that Jesus is the essence and the fullness of Hope, one of my favorite things about Him.  There is no hurt He can’t heal, no relationship He can’t restore, and no failure He can’t redeem.  His presence within us is our hope of glory (Col. 1:27).  Our only hope of glory.

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