Can God Be Trusted?
The Interstate 5 corridor through California’s Central Valley can seem interminable, especially if one is driving alone. So, to break up the monotony on this trip, I grabbed several old CDs that I haven’t listened to in years.
Cruising along to Carole King’s “Tapestry” album, the Lord was speaking as loudly as she was singing. “I feel the earth move under my feet; I feel the sky tumbling down, tumbling down; I feel my heart start to trembling whenever you’re around…” and I considered the earth-quaking impact of being in the presence of God.
Then, “Way over yonder is a place that I know, where I can find shelter from a hunger and cold…Talkin’ about a, talkin’ about a, way over yonder is a place I have seen, in a garden of wisdom, from some long ago dream,” and I yearned for heavenly places.
And, self-explanatory, “Where you lead, I will follow, anywhere that you tell me to…I will follow where you lead.”
But then there was, “I’d like to know that your love is love I can be sure of; so tell me now and I won’t ask again, will you still love me tomorrow? Will you still love me tomorrow?” And I realized that this is the cry of many people who are afraid to trust God because they have been bitterly and continually disappointed by others.
God’s Word is true and, yes, he can be trusted!
Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you…It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed. Deuteronomy 31:6, 8
Then David said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” 1 Chronicles 28:20
And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them. Isaiah 42:16
…for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” Hebrews 13:5b-6
How Sweet It Can Be
Two pies from which to choose—coconut cream and lemon meringue—so it’s a good thing the dinner had been spectacular because eight out of ten people wanted lemon, and the slices were small. Isn’t it amazing how delicious a lemon can taste when a little bit (or a lot!) of sugar is added in? Lemonade, lemon-drop candies, lemon cakes/icing/fillings/bars. Yummmmmm!!!
And even if one stays away from sugar, there’s lemon chicken, lemon juice on seafood, lemon slices in water, unsweetened lemon tea, and on and on…
Or just think of the many other uses—lemon wax, lemon scents, lemon as a hair lightener, lemons as a garbage disposal freshener or stain remover, and once again on and on…
But all by itself, as good as it may look or smell a lemon is sour. Unless you’re one of the rare people who love them as-is, sucking a lemon will set your teeth on edge and make you cringe—almost as bad as fingernails on a chalkboard.
I’m sure we’ve all heard someone’s sage advice, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”—perhaps a parent trying to teach us to stop complaining and make something good out of a bad situation. But when I hear that phrase I think of our LORD, for He’s the best lemonade maker I know. He takes broken lives and turns them around and He brings triumph out of tragedy. When we belong to Him, life can be sweet indeed!
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
In the Morning We Flourish…
The day lilies in my yard astonish me with their beauty—their delicacy and rich colors shout to my spirit of the vibrant imagination and creativity of God. Aptly known by the scientific name, Hemerocallis, which comes from the Greek words for “day” and “beautiful,” they bloom one morning and have wilted by the next; great illustrations of God’s truth about the brevity of life.
He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not. Job 14:2
O Lord, what is man who you regard him, or the son of man who you think of him? Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow. Psalm 144:3-4
In the morning of our lives we flourish, blossoming out to become all that God created us to be; growing from helpless infants into accomplished adults, developing careers, raising families, reaching for our dreams.
But it doesn’t last long. Soon, a look in the mirror reminds us that youth is fading and we may become desperate to hold onto it—turning to diet, exercise and Botox to ward off the inevitable. And yet, time marches forward, and suddenly we have become parents, then grandparents, then great-grandparents; and we wonder how it happened so fast.
As I ponder the scope of my years, God puts it in perspective for me. My life isn’t really about the brief time that I am confined to this body—it is about preparing for the eternity I will spend with Him—this is just my warm-up for forever. So why should I lament the trials I go through now since He has made it plain that they are meant to strengthen me?
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4
Watching the Summer Olympics, I realized that I’ve never heard an Olympian complain about the rigors of training—each one gladly pays the necessary price to compete in their games. And so I too will persevere, remembering Paul’s words that,
Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. 2 Timothy 4:8
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2
How much easier our lives can be when we live and move and have our being in Jesus; when we relinquish ownership of our problems and allow for His provision. This truth was once again exhibited to me in the last few weeks as my parents’ home was sold at an above-asking price to a wonderful family after multiple offers. When the tenants of the past three years called to tell me they had to move I felt an immediate certainty that God was in control so there was no worry; just a certainty the He had a plan. Before Dad died he told Mom that he had given that house to the LORD and he didn’t want her to ever worry about it—so she didn’t; and for three years she had the most incredible tenants who made improvements and left the house in better shape than it was when they moved in. My dad was a man who lived his faith and the truth of Mark 7:37 and Philippians 4:11-13 were evident in his life.
And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
My prayer that the following excerpt from Richard’s Story will be a blessing to many as the testimony of my Dad’s faith lives on.
Things became difficult during the last few years of Richard’s life, especially as his vision and hearing became progressively worse and Leota had several strokes. Having survived prostate cancer, a hernia, a detached retina in one eye and macular degeneration in the other, cataract surgery, and a pacemaker; he was now also afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, he was constantly worried about Leota, who was incapacitated by multiple strokes. Regardless, he continued working in his yard almost every day, struggling to mow, keep the weeds out of the grass, and fix the sprinklers that kept breaking. Things that he once could do in a few minutes required hours, but he kept on keeping on.
All of Richard’s and Leota’s kids were concerned about them continuing to live alone in Apple Valley, knowing they could no longer manage, and all of them came as often as possible to spend time helping out. Finally though, their health issues became so critical that Barbara often had to drive up from Orange County, 100 miles away, to handle an emergency of some sort. On several occasions it was when the neighbor called to say that Leota had been taken to the hospital by ambulance and he would stay with Richard until she could get there. As a registered nurse, Barbara had serious concerns about the quality of care both parents were receiving so, in September 2008, she finally loaded them into her car, took them home with her, and got both of them appointments with doctors she knew were competent.
Richard’s new ophthalmologist provided one of the greatest gifts he could ever have received in his final months. Previously, some doctor had told him that his vision was steadily deteriorating and he would eventually go blind, creating a dread and a fear that plagued him constantly. The new ophthalmologist not only did a thorough eye exam, but also performed a laser procedure that improved his vision a little, and he was frequently heard happily proclaiming, “I thought I was going to go blind, but that doctor told me ‘Mr. Kain, I assure you; you are not going to go blind.’”
During the month at Barbara’s home, a condo about a mile away was leased for Richard and Leota. As the new home search began, Richard was adamant that he didn’t want to live in the city and there was just no way he’d ever move into one of those places. But then a miracle occurred—by what could only have been divine intervention, Barbara was told of a place that had just become available and wasn’t even listed on the market. As soon as Richard walked in the door his face lit up and he exclaimed, “I like this place!” A spacious 2-bedroom/2-bath condo with two enclosed patios in a beautiful setting was the answer to many prayers, and on October 1, 2008, they moved into their new home. Richard often expressed his gratitude to God for helping him find the perfect place for Leota to live when he was gone.
As it turned out, Richard and Leota only got to share their home for about two weeks before she had to have surgery for colon cancer and then went into a nursing home for rehabilitation. They were thrilled when she came home in good shape, but just another couple of weeks had passed when she fell, breaking her femur and ended up back in the hospital and nursing home again. By this time, Richard could no longer be left alone and Barbara and Ed traded off staying with him. He was quite a challenge because the Alzheimer’s had progressed to the point that he couldn’t go out and walk (as he loved to do for hours on end) without getting lost. It didn’t matter how often he was told not to leave the house alone, off he’d go and the search was on once again. Additionally, he was so very worried about his “sweet, beautiful, pretty-thing, wonderful wife” that he would moan and cry all night and there was nothing they could do or say to comfort him. One time though, when Leota confronted him about it he replied, “But I was just praying for you.” An intercessor right up to the end! Ed wrote: “I was able to spend a lot of time with Dad during the last 4 months of his life while Mom was in the hospital or rehab facility. With all our time together, I came to appreciate that Dad was the real deal; what you saw and heard from Dad was what he believed. He experienced some tough times dealing with Mom’s medical problems, but he also had a faith in God that saw him through an extremely difficult time.”
In January 2009, Barbara received a call from Ed that Dad had fallen in the shower and he was unconscious and bleeding. The paramedics were already there by the time Barbara arrived, and off everyone went to the emergency room. Richard had a gash in his elbow that was bleeding profusely and required a lot of stitches. During the routine screening which included a chest x-ray, it was determined that there was a massive tumor in his chest and he was admitted to the hospital for a biopsy. The tumor was a malignant cancer for which nothing could be done (quite a surprise as two chest x-rays taken just eight months previously had been completely normal!). By this time he could barely walk due to pain from a tumor in his foot, so he was discharged from the hospital to the same nursing home where Leota was a patient—in fact they shared the same room for about 6 weeks before he died.
God’s miraculous provision was so very evident in all of this! Not only did Richard get to spend his last weeks with his beloved wife at his side 24 hours a day, but they were both being professionally cared for; they were served meals that he enjoyed tremendously, either in their room or in the dining room; all of it was completely paid for by Medicare so there were no financial worries; and it was party city as all of his kids and the majority of his grandkids came to visit. He was in his element surrounded by his family.
After entering the nursing home, Richard had one final doctor’s appointment. Barbara took him to the oncologists office to get the official results of the biopsy and to see what, if anything, could be done about it. Before the doctor even spoke, it was evident by the look on his face that the news was not good. He actually had tears in his eyes as he explained that there was absolutely no hope for a cure and the best that could be done was to keep Richard comfortable for the very short time he had left. Richard responded, “That’s OK. It only means I’m going home sooner rather than later, and I’m ready.” The doctor didn’t quite know how to respond other than to tear up again. What a testimony!!
What a Day That Will Be…
Unlike the wild and rugged coast of the Pacific Northwest, Southern California’s beaches are more populated than isolated. This distinction does offer some unique advantages, not the least of which is a shore dotted with wonderful seaside restaurants where great meals are enhanced by warm sun, roaring waves, peals of laughter from kids frolicking in the surf, seagulls squawking on the beach, and pelicans soaring through the sky and diving into the water to retrieve their own dinner.
And the shops! Oh, the shopping extravaganza that is available throughout the coastal communities for those of us with that particular weakness—everything from boutiques to antiques—a shopaholic’s paradise.
On this particularly perfect day my husband and I started with a leisurely brunch on the San Clemente Pier and then strolled through the downtown shops for several hours; finally topping the afternoon off with some great tacos in a wonderful Mexican restaurant.
But later, as I pondered how relaxed we were and how we enjoyed our brief escape from the daily grind, I realized that it couldn’t compare to the wonder of what God has in store for us. As wondrous as His creation is, it cannot compare to that moment when we see Him face to face in all of His glory.
Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him. 1 Corinthians 2:9
Seek Him First
(This is an except from “I’m Still Standing,” a series of essays based on my journals during my encounter with breast cancer.)
Who would have thought so many would turn out to hear what this nondescript young man had to say? What was it that stirred up so much interest—even among those who were sick and tired of hearing any discussion regarding politics or religion; or among those politically-correct individuals who sought to avoid controversy of any kind, preferring their “live and let live” philosophy that rejected any interference or judgment by others? It certainly wasn’t his appearance. He looked like any other 30-something guy; casually dressed in a way that didn’t make any sort of statement; and he didn’t have those movie-star-good-looks that the tabloids loved. But there was something different about him. Was it the humorous gleam in his eye? Or the intriguing way he spoke in what seemed to be riddles? Was it the way he seemed to be speaking directly to you when you were standing way in the back of a crowd? No one seemed to be able to put a finger on it, but there was a certain charisma in his manner that divided people—they either loved him or hated him. He was considered a dangerous terrorist who wanted to bring down the government to some, and a peace-loving pacifist to others. So here they were—common everyday working people, stay-at-home-moms with their kids, reporters, clergy, politicians, celebrities and unknown businessmen—all gathered around and hanging on every word he spoke, just trying to figure him out.
He had a lot to say that day; touching on legal issues, personal accountability, lifestyles, and even the meaning of life. Amazingly, the crowd remained quiet. He was such a captivating speaker that they were literally speechless. Then his manner seemed to change—for a moment he seemed genuinely puzzled as a new thought occurred to him. “Why do you worry so much about things that really aren’t all that important?” he asked. “You shouldn’t be so obsessed with your jobs, your finances, with how you’re going to afford to buy a house, with the cost of that new outfit or car or vacation, or even with where your next meal is coming from. All you really need is faith in God because he knows what you need even before you do. All you really have to do is look to him first and everything else in your life will fall into place.” Oh boy—he’d done it now—if the crowd was just divided before it was polarized now. Yet they remained quiet, almost mesmerized, as he continued speaking, with each person forming his own opinion of just who this guy was, and just how relevant were the things he had to say.
Such could be the scene should Jesus preach what has come to be known as The Sermon on the Mount in a public forum today. And the simple truth he set down originally is as valid now as it was then, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:33-34, NIV)
It’s so simple we miss it—no matter that it’s written over and over in God’s Word—we still miss it. “Seek him first.” It means just what it says. It shouldn’t be a complicated or difficult-to-understand instruction. After all, the concept of diligently seeking after something is not foreign to us. If we desire the love and attention of another person we go after it with everything we’ve got—romantic dinners, gifts, doing all of the little things that would please the object of our affection. Or, if it’s a career we want, we perform and perform and perform to keep the boss happy—late hours, heavy workloads, compromised ethics—we do whatever it takes to get that bigger check or promotion. We understand these pursuits, but when the Lord says, “Seek me first,” we don’t seem to get it. We don’t seem to understand we need to pursue him just as we would pursue anyone or anything else that’s important to us.
And what of his admonition not to worry about tomorrow? After all, worry is such a normal part of life. It’s so easy to do it. Who among us doesn’t worry about something? Aren’t we supposed to worry about our kids, our health, or our finances? Aren’t we supposed to worry about threatening global issues like poverty or war?
As a teenager, I remember worrying about what would happen during the Cuban Missile Crisis and, a few years later, about Viet Nam. For my parents it was World War II and the Korean War; for my grandparents, World War I. And today, the terrorism and doomsday scenarios are worse than ever before, even in fictional accounts. Have you ever watched 24, or read a Clancy or Ludlum novel?
Jesus is still the solution. His word remains true—he doesn’t make false promises, and he promised that if we seek him first all of our needs will be supplied. Therefore, worry should have no place to rest in our lives.
So why is something that sounds so simple so difficult to implement? I believe it’s largely because Satan knows how to manipulate us, and worry is just another face of fear. Life is hard, and we routinely face painful and difficult situations and/or decisions. And when fear wears this disguise it often appears legitimate—sometimes even admirable. It appears as concern for things that are our responsibility—the financial stability of our family, the well-being of our child, or issues regarding our health. But when worry appears, fear has done its job. Fear has turned our attention away from the simplicity of God’s command and focused it on the “what-ifs” of life.
Part of my own struggle to overcome worry is recounted in a journal entry: How do I re-focus and get rid of worry? It remains just as Jesus said—I must seek him first. And, in order to do that, I must give him ownership of all of the things that concern me. I must ask myself, “What is the worst-case scenario, and if it happened would God still be there for me?” Yes! As promised in Romans 8:38-39, nothing can separate me from his love. So, it comes back around to wanting him more than anything else—it comes back to seeking him first.
But worry is accepted—even expected—as normal behavior, and I’ve been criticized for not being logical when I’ve refused to worry about certain things. I’ve been accused of being unrealistic, irrational, or impractical. I’ve been told that “the world just doesn’t work that way” or that I need to “get real.” Others have tried to put me on a guilt trip for not worrying—surely they’re more well-adjusted than me because they worry about things that are important, and I’m being irresponsible if I refuse to do it too. But the ways of God are not understood by man’s logic, so I must come back to faith—I must trust what he’s said in his Word—I must live outside of worry because my God is bigger than any problem I face—he’s bigger than the cancer, he’s bigger than the chemotherapy, he’s bigger than the radiation.
This, then, is the foundation of my faith—God is real and his Word is true. Jesus said it—I believe it—I must always seek him first. My life is his and he is my refuge, my place of rest, my peace, and my hope. He meets my every need. What more could I want?
For 19 years life had revolved around my son, with me doing all of the usual things that moms do, but now my nest was empty. Kevin had taken flight and gone off to college, and suddenly life was very different—no more boys draped all over the sofas where they’d finally fallen asleep in the wee hours of the morning; no more shopping for enough food to feed an army; no more school activities to attend—it was suddenly very quiet, and my husband and I rattled around in our big, empty house. Ironically, just a year or so before, Kevin had commented, “Mom, you’d better get a life—I won’t be around forever.” And he was right, and here I was.
Then my husband saw an ad in a paper inviting women to come and participate in a Christmas music program with the Santa Monica Sweet Adelines. Knowing how much I enjoy singing he suggested that I go and check it out so I did, and immediately fell in love with the barbershop sound. Soon I joined the chorus and harmony began filling the empty spots in my schedule. I had always loved singing in church choirs, and the melodies of the old four-part gospel hymns never failed to bring a thrill deep within my heart that went far beyond words. Now, with the Sweet Adelines, I was learning vocal techniques that enhanced my voice as it blended with and complimented those around me, and my appreciation of perfect harmony jumped to a new level.
Sweet Adelines regularly compete amongst themselves in quartet and choir contests, always striving to get every aspect of a tune exactly right—word perfect, note perfect, timing perfect—so that the blend of voices singing four different notes comes together in such unity that the music literally sends shivers down your spine. Every once in a while we would hit that perfect chord and produce a unique sound called an overtone in which a fifth note, sometimes called a fifth voice, is clearly heard. When this occurred it would not be unusual for us to stand in silence when the song was finished, awestruck by the beauty of the harmony, with tears of emotion flooding our eyes.
One special evening my son was at home and the two of us went to a late night showing of The Lord of the Rings at an IMAX theater. On the way there I had been trying to explain to Kevin how thrilling the experience of perfect harmony is to me and had demonstrated with a cut from a song on a CD—one that I could play repeatedly and never tire of; but it just didn’t seem to mean much to him. Later, as we were exiting the theater, Kevin said to me, “Mom, you know how harmony affects you? Well, that’s the way I feel right now, but it’s the incredible cinematography that touches me that way.” (No surprise that he’s now a video editor!)
And so I realized that as every person is perfectly and uniquely created by God, so also is He able to speak to each one through different aspects of life; thrilling our souls with nothing less than personalized gifts from God. When such moments occur I know that my heart is really rejoicing because I have had a taste of His glory, and I recall the words of an old hymn, “All that thrills my soul is Jesus; He is more than life to me…”
All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. (John 1:3)
A Price Was Paid
Sheba joined our family when our son, Kevin, was thirteen. He contributed half of the money to buy her and, for him, it was a very high price—it was all he had. The deal was that Kevin would take care of Sheba but, as often seems to happen, he mostly just played with her and Mom (that would be me) did all the work. Then Kevin grew up—went off to college, graduated, moved into an apartment, got a job—and there was no room for Sheba, so she stayed at home. Oh, Kevin still loved her—called her his dog, played with her when he came home; but one day he told me that Sheba loved me more than she did him—yes, she was always glad to see him, but she followed me around constantly, seldom letting me out of her sight. Why is that? It’s because Sheba was now my dog—Kevin never paid the full price for her but I did. I met all of her needs—I fed her, bathed her, walked her, took her to the vet, scratched her favorite spots, played with her—I was always there for her—every day—and Kevin wasn’t.
To whom do I belong? To my husband? To my son? To my parents? To my extended family? To my friends? Each has paid a high price for me in terms of time, money, self-sacrifice, love; each has given all they know how to give—all they can afford. And each one shares a part of me, just as Kevin shared a part of Sheba. But I belong wholly to the only person who supplies all of my needs; the only one who loves me unconditionally, who never fails me; I belong to God. Heart and soul, mind and body, in work or play or worship, in joy or in pain—in total, I belong to God because he is the only one who has paid the full price of ownership—on the cross—and he can be counted on to be there every time I call on him. Now and forever; loving and accepting; always with me; always patient and kind when I stumble and fall and make mistakes.
Like Sheba constantly keeping me in her line of sight, I must always focus my vision on God. This doesn’t mean that I don’t love and appreciate all of the others in my life—my husband, son, grandson, parents, family, and friends—but none of them, alone or in unison, can do what God has done all by himself because;
…when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” (Hebrews 10:12)
You are not your own; you were bought with a price. (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20a)
A Perfect Day
A perfect morning—the coastal marine layer keeping the temperature in the comfortable mid-60s as much of the country swelters under intense heat; baby birds chirping in their nest; Jacaranda trees adorned in their glorious lavender headdresses, the scent of blooming jasmine wafting across my patio, and a hot cup of coffee.
As perfect as it seems for the moment though, all I have to do is pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV to be reminded of the chaotic world in which we live. Yet even in the midst of one global crisis after another we have hope, and faith still triumphs in the face of trouble.
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2)
I recall the words of an old hymn whose words proclaim the hope of what is promised to those who believe, and my heart sings, “What a day that will be, when my Jesus I shall see,
and I look upon His face, the One who saved me by His grace; when He takes me by the hand, and leads me through the Promised Land, what a day, glorious day that will be.”
How amazing—how beyond perfection—will be the day be when Jesus is revealed in all of His glory and claims His inheritance. The Day of the Lord will surely come, striking terror in the hearts of unbelievers—a day of destruction for those who refuse Him, but a day that ushers in the eternal reign of our King; a day for which I long.
Be silent in the presence of the Lord GOD; For the day of the LORD is at hand, For the LORD has prepared a sacrifice; He has invited His guests. (Zephaniah 1:7)
Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (Revelation 11:15)
All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before You. For the kingdom is the Lord’s, and He rules over the nations. all the prosperous of the earth shall eat and worship; all those who go down to the dust shall bow before Him, even he who cannot keep himself alive. A posterity shall serve Him. It will be recounted of the Lord to the next generation, they will come and declare His righteousness to a people who will be born, that He has done this. (Psalm 22:27-31)
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.” Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20)
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