Saturday, November 29, 2014

Whatever Comes

We celebrated Thanksgiving last night with 6 friends. Charly asked each of us to share a name that we would give to God right now, and to share something difficult that we've been through recently and how we can thank God for it.

I shared about how challenging it has been for me to teach Daniel at home. And that after checking out three local preschool/kindergartens, I found one that was willing to take him in their 5 year old class for a reasonable price. Yesterday was his third day. 

The first day when I picked him up, the director and his teacher both seemed amazingly patient and understanding. But the second day, his teacher was quite frustrated with how many times he needed to go to the bathroom and how he disruptive he was to the 20 some other children during nap time. Laughing out loud for no reason and talking to himself. “Why is he like that?” she asked me.

I'm not sure that kindergarten is going to work for him,” I told Charly after dinner. And my heart felt incredibly heavy. In my discouragement, I projected into the future that maybe he will never be able to make it in a classroom. Never be able to follow along with what other children are doing. Always in his own little world. Disruptive. Not able to make progress. What would this mean for him? For our family?

My word for God was “Sustainer.” I shared last night that I believe God doesn't want me to project into the future like that, but to take one day at a time. One of our friends shared how he remembered the miracle after miracle that we saw God do in Daniel's life last year. “Yes,” I said. “This time last year, he was in diapers and couldn't talk. He had just learned how to feed himself and to walk again. I need to keep remembering how far God has brought him.” How easy it is to forget all the great things that God has done in the past. And to focus instead on the present problems. I'm trying to see past suffering to the greater good God works through pain and the difficult circumstances in our lives that we can't understand.

As I read Philip Yancey's Where is God When it Hurts? this past week, these quotes made me think about Daniel and his struggles:

“More than any society in history, our modern one struggles with the meaning of suffering. We no longer view it as a judgment of the gods, but what is it? We grant a measure of meaning to lesser pains, such as those we take on voluntarily, but what meaning does a birth-defective child have? Or cystic fibrosis? Or mental retardation? For us, suffering is something to treat and get over with; but what about suffering that never goes away?” (Philip Yancey)

“Despair is suffering without meaning.” (Victor Frankl, who spent time in one of Hitler's camps)

“And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:20-21)

“Don't forget in the darkness what you have learned in the light.” (Joe Bayly)

“Whatever happens, even though it can't be undone and may have lasting consequences, God can redeem it.” (Philip Yancey)

This afternoon, as we were working on preparations for our second Thanksgiving meal tomorrow with some of Joshua's college student friends, Jordan played some of her favorite music. Listening to Brian Doerkson's Whatever Comes made me think of our sharing time last night. About the struggles everyone shared and how we could still thank God in the midst of hard times. And in the midst of many unknowns about the future. 

Other words for God were: Faithful, love, sovereign, compassionate, merciful, healer, provider, good.

And whatever comes, He will continue to be those to us.

In the good and the bad, He is God. And He is for us.

With us. Always.

Whatever comes.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Seeing Past Suffering

It can be hard to see clearly when the windows, like those in our kitchen, are streaked like this:

Reading Philip Yancey’s Where is God When it Hurts? this week has helped me to see past the streaked windows of our suffering to the greater good that God is working under the surface. In his book’s study guide, he shares a poem written by a Confederate soldier about “transformed pain.”

I asked for strength that I might achieve;
He made me weak that I might obey.
I asked for health that I might do greater things;
I was given grace that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy;
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life;
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I received nothing that I asked for, all that I hoped for.
My prayer was answered.

He also shares A Prayer by Blaise Pascal:

“I ask you neither for health nor for sickness, for life nor for death; but that you may dispose of my health and my sickness, my life and my death, for your glory…You alone know what is expedient for me; you are the Sovereign Master; so do with me according to your will. Give to me or take away from me, only conform my will to yours. I know but one thing, Lord, that it is good to follow you, and bad to offend you. Apart from that, I know not what is good or bad in anything. I know not which is more profitable to me, health or sickness, wealth or poverty, nor anything else in the world. That discernment is beyond the power of men or angels, and is hidden among the secrets of your Providence, which I adore, but do not seek to fathom.”

Yancey says “Poverty and suffering can serve as instruments to teach us the value of dependence, and unless we learn dependence we will never experience grace.”

“Human suffering remains meaningless and barren unless we have some assurance that God is sympathetic to our pain, and can somehow heal that pain. In Jesus, we have that assurance.”

“Faith means believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.”

“However deep the pit, God is deeper still.” (Corrie ten Bom)

“…those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction.” (Job 36:15)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Water from Stone

I was reading through one of my old journals yesterday, and these quotes that I recorded 3 years ago from M. Wayne Brown’s Water from Stone really encouraged me.

“There is such a fundamental difference between wanting God and wanting what God can give us.”

“What if we believed the journey of faith was actually more of an awakening to what we already have than a striving after what we think will complete us?”

“God is with me. Always. I do not need to conjure, cajole, entice, woo or find him. I need to embrace him, to converse with him about what my life is and what it isn’t, and to recognize his incomparable wisdom and glory. I need to lift the refreshing and sustaining cup of Living Water that he is to my spiritual lips, and drink him in.

In my alone time with God—just as in my life in general—I am first and foremost to be cognizant of the One sitting with me. I am to remember that he is already present, that he is already powerful, and that he already loves me. Rather than seek ways to get the faucet flowing or the power booted up, I seek the spiritual eyes to see what is directly in front of me.

Looking across the table of faith into the face of God who loves me and knows me intimately, I begin the transformational journey with the simplest of prayers: Lord help me see what I already have.”

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Place of Healing

Joni Eareckson Tada is one of my heroes. She wrote A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God’s Sovereignty (2010) when she was in a difficult season of chronic pain. Her words have ministered to me in a similar way that Amy Carmichael’s have in her book about pain, Rose from Brier (1933). Here is a passage from A Place of Healing:

Who can understand the ways of God? As Solomon noted, “A man’s steps are directed by the Lord. How then can anyone understand his own way?” (Proverbs 20:24) The truth is that you and I –if we see anything at all—perceive only the dimmest outline or shadow of God’s plan and purpose. His ways are often mysterious, and it’s beyond our capacity to analyze His actions or predict what He might do next.

As the prophet Isaiah asked: Who has understood the mind of the Lord, or instructed him as his counselor?

The answer: no one. Not ever. But even with our limited understanding, with time and with much prayer, the daylight dawns, and we discover what Jeremiah told us so many centuries ago: God’s plans for us really are full of hope and a future.

Even when that path leads through pain…

There’s nothing like real hardships to strip off the veneer in which you and I so carefully cloak ourselves. Heartache and physical pain reach below the superficial, surface places of our lives, stripping away years of accumulated indifference and neglect. When pain and problems press us up against a holy God, suffering can’t help but strip away years of dirt. Affliction has a way of jackhammering our character, shaking us up and loosening our grip on everything we hold tightly.

But the beauty of being stripped down to the basics, sandblasted until we reach a place where we feel empty and helpless, is that God can fill us with Himself. When pride and pettiness have been removed, God can fill us with “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Joni's words make me think of Laura Story's song  Blessings:

What if your blessings come through raindrops
What if your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Windows of the Soul

As I was reading through my recently finished paper-bound journal, I came across a passage that I had written down back in June. It comes from Windows of the Soul by Ken Gire, a book that I found on my friend Andrea’s bookshelf when we spent a week in Tianjin. He has become one of my favorite authors. I love his insights about the ways that God speaks to us, and I think you will too: 

He searches for us on the Damascus road or the Emmaus road or whatever road we happen to be traveling at the time, even the pathless road through the forest where we have wandered and ended up lost. He meets us at a rock in the clearing or at a well outside a city in Samaria. He reaches out to us when we’re out on a limb in some sycamore tree, the way he did with Zaccheaus, and receives us in the dark, the way he did with Nicodemus. He may meet us where we work, charting stars in the heavens or counting sheep in the fields or writing study guides in the office. He may meet us in a dream as we sleep or in the Scriptures as we have our morning devotions. 

There is no forest so deep that He cannot find us, no night so dark that He cannot see us in all our fears, all our tears, curled up in all our exhaustion.

Windows of the soul is where God finds us, or where we find Him…He comes to us where we are, speaks to us in our own language, calls us by our name…

What is God saying to us there? To you and to me?

Where is He calling us? To what vocation? To what wilderness or out of what wilderness?

What story is He wanting to tell with the reluctant heroes that are you and I?

What art is He wanting to create from the empty canvas of our lives?

What sculpture is He trying to craft from the rough-cut stone of who we are?

What poem is He wanting to write out of the painful images from our past?

What is He saying to you and to me though the images that flash across the screen of a theater or the images that flash across the screen of our souls as we sleep?

What dream is God dreaming when He dreams about you and me, and how can we help that dream come true?

What memories is He bringing down from the attic? And why them, why now?

What is He showing us about ourselves through the pages of our diaries or through the pages of Scripture?

What people is He using in our lives, and what is He trying to tell us through them?

What word is He wanting to incarnate in our lives?

Where is He taking us with our tears, and do we have the courage to follow?

What wound is He healing in us through nature or what far-off horizon is He showing us through music we hear?

What natural beauty is He wanting to bring out in you and in me?

What song is He wanting to sing with all the high and low notes of our lives?

In the past, God’s word has come through tablets of stone and handwriting on a wall and through the pages of Scripture. It has come through a flood and a rainbow, a burning bush and a whirling wind. Through the correction of the prophets and the curses of Shimei. His word has thundered from Sinai and whimpered from a manger. His word has come through a dream in the night and a vision in the day.

Through the mouths of kings and the mouths of babes, through the psalms of God’s anointed and the poems of pagans. Through a star in the night and through angels in the field. Through the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. Through a poor widow’s offering, the picture of a good Samaritan, and the story of a prodigal son. His word was spoken through the law of Moses and afterward, more eloquently, through the life of Christ.

We live by those words, and on those words, not by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Some of those words are spoken at the most unexpected of places that if we’re not expecting, we’ll miss. Some of those words are spoken by the unlikeliest of people whom we will most likely dismiss if we don’t receive them. And some of those words come in the most uncommon of ways that we will react against if we’re not accustomed to the unaccustomed ways that God speaks.

Those words are the daily bread of our soul.

We have the responsibility to handle them accurately. But we have a more important responsibility. To handle them reverently. For they are words from the King. However they come, through whatever messenger they come, they are His words, and we should receive them as such,,,

What we hear at the windows of the soul may daze us or delight us. It may cause us to fall to our knees in fear or jump to our feet in joy. Sometimes what we hear at those windows is merely something to help us understand people more deeply or experience life more fully. Other times, what we hear are simple words of great authority that God has spoken.

It seems only appropriate to kneel in the presence of such words.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Love That Never Fails

Your Love Never Fails was a theme song for our family last summer.

Your love never fails.
It never gives up.
Never runs out on me.

I started thinking about this song in light of my relationship with David and Daniel. Will God’s love—through me—never run out on them?

How often have I said to them when they have wanted to quit in the midst of a challenge, “Don’t be that quick to give up.” And how often in this past year have I struggled with feelings of giving up on them, when faced with their challenging behaviors.

God’s love never gives up.
Never runs out on me.
Never runs out on them.

Will I allow God to use me as a channel of His love in their lives? Or will my resistance—as a reaction to their resistance—clog up the channel and stop the flow of His unlimited supply?

I recently had an idea of imagining scenes from our lives as cartoon strips with the boys holding up signs above their unpleasant words and behaviors. Signs that say:

Please don’t give up on me.

Please keep on loving me even when I’m acting unlovable.

I don’t know the right thing to do or say right now. Will you love me anyway?

Being part of a family still feels new and sometimes unnatural to me. Will you forgive me when I say things that are rude?

When I act like I don’t care?

When I shut down because I don’t know how to handle my emotions?

When I lie?

When I don’t do what you want me to do?

When you don’t understand why I’m acting the way I am?

When I don’t understand why I’m acting the way I am?

When I’m trying to be funny, but it’s not amusing?

Will you still love me?

Will your love keep spilling out onto me? When I don’t deserve it.

Will your love never fail

Even when I disappoint you?

Even when I’m acting like I don’t want to have a relationship with you?

Can I see these signs above their heads so that their offensive words and actions beneath start to fade?

And I can hear their true heart’s cry.
And I can see them the way God sees them.
And I can react in a different way, to their hurts and brokenness from the past.
To respond with compassion.
With God’s love that never fails.
And never runs out on them.

Give Tanks

“Tanks!” is how Daniel says thank you. He yells it from wherever he is in our apartment when he hears someone in the kitchen preparing a meal. He says it again, sometimes more quietly, when we’re gathered around the table, enjoying the food together.

David and Daniel made thank you hands out of colored paper to put on the wall last weekend. They told me what they wanted to thank God for in Chinese, and I helped translate so that they could write them in English. Daniel was thankful for “clothes, food, love, home, and books.” David thanked God for “Jesus, wisdom, Liam’s adoption, bodies, and hearts.” 

This is a month that reminds us to be thankful.
But whether or not I choose to be thankful is up to me.

Back in August, I wrote in my journal:

It’s My Choice

whether I see the good or the bad
whether I focus on myself or others
whether I give in to discouragement or not
whether I choose to compare or not
whether I affirm or condemn
whether I laugh or scowl
whether I am thankful or resentful
whether I make room in my heart or not
whether I seek God in the day to day or not.

Every day I have the choice: of what to focus on, of what kind of attitude to have, of how to interact with those around me… Regardless of my circumstances.

Our inner happiness depends not on what we experience but on the degree of our gratitude to God, whatever the experience.” (Albert Schweitzer)

“It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness.” (Charles H. Spurgeon)

Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth. Grace evokes gratitude like the voice an echo. Gratitude follows grace as thunder follows lightning.” (Karl Barth)

“The act of sacrificing thank offerings to God—even for the bread and cup of cost, for cancer and crucifixion—this prepares the way for God to show us His fullest salvation from bitter, angry, resentful lives and from all sin that estranges us from Him” (Ann Voskamp)

God, help me to have a thankful heart.

“give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Our Eyes

After I finished praying that God would open the eyes of a friend’s heart, Jordan said, “That’s what I’ve been journaling about recently. The eyes of our hearts. And what I’ve been learning in our kungfu class about the importance of where our eyes are looking.” She showed me her journal, and I was encouraged by her reflections. She gave me permission to share her journal entry here:

I lift up my eyes to you, to you whose throne is in heaven. As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he shows us his mercy.” (Psalm 123:1-2)

“But my eyes are fixed on you, O Sovereign Lord.” (Psalm 141:8)

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23)

The eyes are a very important part of the body. Through them we see the world. In kungfu class, the nainai (grandmother) said where your eyes look is very important because where they look your whole body is looking. The direction you look in is the direction your whole body leans toward. In the same way that our physical eyes are important, so also are our spiritual eyes. Just as through our physical eyes we see the physical world, so through the eyes of our hearts we see the unseen world.

And Elisha prayed, ‘O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.’ Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (2 Kings 6:17)

So what does it mean for our eyes to be good? In order to have our body filled with light we must have our eyes open. If our eyes are closed we will see nothing but darkness. Therefore, the first step to having eyes that are good is to have open eyes. God is the only one who has the power to open the eyes of our heart to see the unseen. However, we do have a choice to make. We can either choose to have faith and trust in the unseen or we can harden our hearts and refuse to have our eyes opened.

For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.” (Acts 28:27)

God offers healing to those who are willing to have their eyes opened. However, that is not all that is important concerning our eyes. Once we have eyes that are opened we must also be careful where they are looking.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

With open eyes fixed on Jesus we will be encouraged, strengthened and motivated to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


 What do we do when our lives feel dark? Where do we find the light?

Hope is faith holding out its hands in the dark.” (George Iles)

In Rose From Brier, Amy Carmichael writes, “However things may appear to be, of all possible circumstances, this in whose midst we are set is the best that He could choose. We do not know how that is true—where would faith be if we did?—but we do know that all things that happen are full of shining seed. Light is sown for us—not darkness.”

In Thou Givest…They Gather, she writes:
He has for thee
A light for every shadow
A plan for each tomorrow
A key for every problem
A balm for every sorrow

“When all my plans and hopes are fading like a shadow, when all my dreams lie crumbled at my feet, I will look up and know the night will bring tomorrow, and that my Lord will bring me what I need.” 
(Gloria Gaither)

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 42:16)

“I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.” (Isaiah 45:3)

God will “say to the captives, ‘Come out,’ and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’” (Isaiah 49:9)

“Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant? Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God.” (Isaiah 50:10)

In Jesus “was life and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”
(John 1:4-5)

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)


Beth Moore writes in The Beloved Disciple, “Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God makes everything beautiful in its time. I truly believe that if we’re willing to see, God uses every difficulty and every assignment to confide deep things to us and that the lessons are not complete until their beauty is revealed. I fear, however, that we have such an attention deficit that we settle for bearable when beauty was just around the corner.”

She says, “God is never more glorified than when He brings an oak of righteousness (Isaiah 61:3) out of what once was damaged a root.”

In Reaching for the Invisible God, Philip Yancey writes, “As individuals we each begin with a different medium. Some of us are ugly, some beautiful, some brilliant, some dense, some charming, some shy. We may choose to fixate on the raw materials, the “stuff” of life. We may, for example spend our lives resenting God for a physical flaw or a facial shape or the family that reared us. We may demand that God solve those problems on our behalf (how exactly—by changing the genetic code or reinventing a family?) Yet those same raw materials which provide such resentment in some people, may also be the very ingredients used to shape us in the ways that matter most to God.”

He says, “We are participating with God to fashion from raw materials something of enduring beauty.”

Reading books like The Ugly Duckling and The Saggy Baggy Elephant with David and Daniel has put these stories in a whole new light. Issues of abandonment, being separated at birth from those of “their kind,” and therefore growing up thinking they are ugly, facing teasing by other animals, wanting to change themselves in order to fit in, struggling with their sense of identity…

Until at the end, they finally discover those who are like them—and realize they actually are beautiful.

Just as they are.

Monday, November 3, 2014


Besides Dirty/Clean another set of opposites I’ve been thinking about recently is Weak/Strong.

Sometimes when I’m in the kitchen fixing dinner, I can hear Joshua and Daniel in the bedroom—Joshua trying to teach him to say, “Joshua is strong” and then Daniel’s uncontrollable giggles, “No, Joshua is SMALL!”

David and Daniel both like to say, “I am strong!” and then try to make big-looking muscles with their biceps. They have definitely been growing this past year. We just had their one year home study assessment and compared their heights and weights with last December. David is 5 cm taller and 4 kg heavier, and Daniel has grown 8 cm and gained 6 kg.

On Sunday mornings, we take turns choosing from a selection of Chinese and English praise songs on the computer. Recently one of David and Daniel’s top picks to sing is Jesus, Lamb of God. There is a great picture on our Musical Meditations CD of a muscular man holding a tiny newborn that goes with the line “You are my strength when I am weak.

Very aware of my weakness—both physically when the migraines hit and spiritually/emotionally as well— I feel very dependent on God’s strength.

In Rose From Brier, Amy Carmichael write, “Is it not a thought of exultation, that however crushed and crippled we may be, our Leader is marching to music all the time—marching to a victory sure as the eternal heavens? We follow a Conqueror. We prisoners of the Lord follow hard after Him as He goes forth to His coronation. It is only our bodies that are bound. Our souls are free.

“His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of man; the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” (Psalm 147:10-11)

In Reaching for the Invisible God, Philip Yancey writes, “If…I perceive God as working from below, under the surface, calling out to us through each weakness and limitation, I open the possibility of redemption for the very thing I resent most about my life.

And in The Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen writes that “a deep understanding of our own pain makes it possible for us to convert our weakness into strength and to offer our own experiences as a source of healing to those who are often lost in the darkness of their own misunderstood sufferings.”

What an amazing God we have who can convert our weakness into strength and then use our understanding and acceptance of our weakness as a source of strength for others.

Sunday, November 2, 2014


David and Daniel have been learning some English opposite words like



This morning as we were watching the Children’s version of the Jesus film, I was especially struck by two scenes. When the sinful woman arrives, uninvited, at Simon’s house, and as her repentant tears fall freely onto Jesus’ feet, she dries them with her loose hair and kisses them. The religious leaders are aghast at this very unexpected and disgraceful act. How could Jesus allow that kind of woman to do such a thing?

When the beaten man lies helpless in the road and the religious leaders walk clear around him and continue on their way. Unbothered. Then a Samaritan stops, bandages the broken man’s wounds, and mercifully takes him to a safe place where he can recover.

Jesus and the Samaritan allowed themselves to get dirty. To enter into another’s sin/brokenness/pain. The religious leaders were too clean in their own eyes to defile themselves by contact with a sinful woman or with a beaten and bloody man who might already be dead.

Am I willing to get dirty or do I think I’m too clean?

Jesus was compassionate toward those who recognized their need for Him—the lepers, the beggars, the crippled, the dirty “sinners;” and he spoke harshly to the religious leaders about their “cleanness.”

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matthew 23:27-28)

As I was walking by the mosque across the street from us today, I remembered when our family first took a tour there with Charly’s PhD professor soon after we moved to Lanzhou 3 ½ years ago. I reflected on what God taught me about Clean Hands and a Pure Heart.

We can clean our hands, but only Jesus can clean our hearts.

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10)

As I entered our apartment building, the trash man was shoveling a huge pile of trash from our trash chute into his large wheelbarrow. And I thought about what a dirty job he has. A dirty job to make others’ lives more clean.

Like Jesus. Who willingly took all of our dirty sin on Himself as He hung on the cross. Broken and beaten at the hands of sinful men. Pleading with His Father to forgive them, for they knew not what they were doing. He became dirty with our sin so that we might be made clean in His righteousness.


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