Invitation to the With-God Life

Listen. Savor. Pray.

 

Are you feeling thirsty for more of the with-God abiding life? Here’s my story and why practicing God’s Presence has become one of the chief desires of my life: http://www.athirstforgod.com/tag/practicing-the-presence-of-god/

AND, by the way, did you know every Tuesday we have a lectio divina from the lectionary for the following Sunday? Come back on Thursdays (today) and pray through scripture using a lectio divina series I’m calling The WITH-GOD LIFE. We’ll be soaking in John 15 for a few weeks and then head out to the Psalms. I promise it will be strength for the journey.

Join the Slow Word Movement and subscribe to become a part of the community! I’ll be making a video on Five Simple Ways to Deepen your Scripture Meditation and sharing it right there next week. We also have a lovely Facebook Community for subscribers that’s continually growing.

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Key to Conquering Anxiety *SLOW Word video* Lectio Divina

 

We live our lives as orphans. We live impoverished and alone.  We walk out our front door, down the sidewalk and completely forget who our Daddy is.

 

At least that’s my story.  

 

When I was ten years old we moved across the country from Maine to Ohio. New neighborhood. New church. New Christian school.

 

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I pushed through the giant metal doors of that jr. high completely intimidated by the painted concrete walls, the dozens of blue eyes staring back. I breathed shallow. I learned to live as camouflage, an iguana that changed colors according to the background. I held my arms tight to my body and wished I could blend in.

 

It was an impossible task.

 

80% of the other children were family, first and second and third and fourth cousins of Dutch farm families who had ingeniously settled that land, drained the swamp and farmed the black topsoil that remained. Their trucks crisscross the country to WalMarts and Meijer stores filling our vegetable bins. The kids in my class picked the lettuce and carrots in the summer alongside their fathers’ migrant workers. They were on their home turf and were made of sturdier stuff.

 

I was a singer, a reader who ate, drank, and breathed Lucy Mond Montgomery, and had an anxiety disorder I would only come to understand after I birthed my first baby. That was decades away.

 

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As the kids teased, I took every arrow straight to the heart. I didn’t know how to deflect the pain, the fear that they might be right. I let them write my new name, carve it across my chest. The lies wormed their way into my blood system and it took years to erase the ink scrawled out: Rejected.

 

I walked through those metal doors into my jr. high stripped of truth. I walked in as an orphan. Abandoned. Devastatingly alone.

 

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This is my story, my fight for healing, and the long hard road of transformation. This was one of the essential keys on the journey right here in Psalm 139: 

Where shall I go from your Spirit?

   Or where shall I flee from your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, you are there!

   If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

If I take the wings of the morning

   and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

even there your hand shall lead me,

   and your right hand shall hold me tight.

 

This is not just theory, all these lovely words. It’s David’s story, a shepherd boy, struggling with fear on the side of the mountain listening to a lion’s hunting growls. He must have wondered if he had wandered outside of the circle of His Presence. And it’s my story.

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Years later this matchstick girl has learned to cling tight. His Presence is no longer ethereal ideology, or some mystic’s fanaticism. Practicing the Presence of God is my life-line, especially during times of transition when my world has been emptied, tipped upside down like a bucket, my comfortable life tumbling out. I’ve learned to open up my awareness to His constant Presence and the Light of the World chases away anxiety’s clinging fog. I no longer walk into rooms alone, sit at tables alone, walk the edge of the water’s surf alone. The perfect love of God is always near, a banner over me. His love, no wait…His present love defines me. I AM adopted. The papers have been signed in blood. I walk with Jesus. It’s the with-God life, and my dears, it’s good.

 

After years of pressing close, years of this renewing of the mind, (Oh the tales of redemption that I could tell!) I no longer function as a practical orphan. I know who I am.

 

I’m His.

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Poem: A Conversation with Mary *and SLOW Word video*

(Deep at the bottom of this quote is the SLOW Word Lectio.)

I feel more at home in the roomy world of poetry. I can be bare and human. I penned this poem last March in the silence of my first spiritual direction residency when the words were bubbling up faster than I could catch them. That evening I found a friend in Mary who while bearing the gift of God-with-us, understood all too well that our waiting and even our painful laments enlarge us.

Eugene Peterson translates Romans 8:22-25 this way and it’s been preaching to me from books and mentors:

22-25 All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.

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Praying with the Icon of the Sign: Emmanuel

 

She stands in orans, hands raised,

worshiping the one contained

in the round universe of her body.

She’s a pomegranate cut in half

revealing God as infant,

right hand raised in blessing.

She looks toward me placid

but inside a holy storm is brewing.

 

I wonder if His head

forced your womb high

against your lungs

making you gasp for air

as mine did me?

 

I wonder if He stretched your skin,

a hundred silver birch branches

grasping at the full moon

as mine did me?

 

And through each ascendant joy,

each searing grief,

the stretching magnified

expanding your heart for collected treasure.

What answer do you carry for me

an ordinary Christ-bearer,

who says a thousand quotidian yeses:

Will this stretching pain ever stop?

 

Perhaps it is the price

of this resplendent nearness.

 

I search for an answer

in her almond shaped eyes.

 

She looks at me

but only has eyes for Him.

 

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Your Brilliant Simple Plan to Create Calm in Chaos and SLOW Word

It’s no secret. I need quiet like I need water.  Perhaps we all do. Have you read this article yet? Our brains require ample amounts of silence in order to rebuild the brain cells stolen by noise and stress.

Because who can truly hear in the middle of all this crushing noise?

“In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15). (By the way, this is the first verse of the SLOW Word lectio divina included below.)

 

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This afternoon I chatted with another homeschool mama in the corner of a kitchen as kids in costumes ran from one room to another playing hide and seek. We whispered about the need for quiet as if we were divulging a secret then we giggled at the extremes we go to guard our hours alone. But if this article or my (everyday!) experience are any indication, needing silence is just as essential to our mental and emotional health as our computer’s reboot button is to its continued functioning. And really, should we be surprised? My husband asks me the same question every time my computer seizes up: “When was the last time you rebooted?”

So, friends, it’s time to make a plan for rebooting our internal computer. It’s been necessary for women (and men!) throughout time. John Wesley’s mother, Susanna (1669-1742), used to take her long apron and place it over her head to signal the need for calm. Madeleine L’Engle’s children would recognize her irritability as a need for silence long before she ever did and beg her to take off to her writing tower at Crosswicks. Other women have written about their struggle to create spaces of silence. The introvert in me always smiles when I read Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem The Art of Disappearing.

In the early 1950’s Anne Morrow Lindbergh penned A Gift from the Sea about the wrestle between motherhood and the need for quiet: “I must find a balance somewhere, or an alternating rhythm between these two extremes; a swinging of the pendulum between solitude and communion, between retreat and return. In my periods of retreat perhaps I can learn something to carry back into my worldly life.” Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote these words before the hundreds of channels on the tv, the portable XBox, or the black hole of the interwebs.

 

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Into the age-old conversation I’m offering this simple little gem: #10MinutesofStillness. Sometimes simple can be embarrassing, but sometimes it can be brilliant. After years of practicing, this one, my friends, is brilliant simple. Of course, it’s not my brilliance. I’m just the beneficiary. I picked it up from my sister, who picked it up from a friend. You get the idea. Now here’s the prescription: Choose a quiet space, put the phone upside down and turn off any beeps and buzzes, and set an alarm for ten minutes. Full stop. It’s the mini-Sabbath in the middle of your busy Thursday.

(Secret: I’ve found #10MinutesofStillness are just as luxurious on family holidays as they are on a busy weekday. Here’s one of mine from family vacation last year.)

For just ten minutes you push away the incessant to-do list, and just settle into the gorgeous richness of the present moment. Listen for the birds. Scan your space for beauty. Be attentive to your breath. (Maybe you’re a shallow breather like I am?) Perhaps you can take a short phrase of scripture and do centering prayer. Most days I keep it simple. I make a cup of cinnamon tea, head out to the porch, shut the front door with all its crazy on the other side and sit in the swing. Ten minutes to hit the refresh button.

 

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Why #10MinutesofStillness? Here’s what I’ve found after a few years of the practice:

 

1. #10MinutesofStillness is the perfect transition.  Do you reach for a cereal bowl and a remote when the kids are finally in bed? Yup, some nights I do too.  Other nights I want to lean into something more creative. Scheduling a #10MinutesofStillness at the moment of transition helps me to be more mindful of my true desires and not just fall into an immediate Netflix hole. I did the same thing when the kids were young enough to nap.

 

2. #10MinutesofStillness gives us a moment of time to be attentive to emotions crowding under the surface. You know how it is. Your irritability is coming from somewhere. Nonjudgemental listening is the first step to untangling. Bring the emotion up into the air, look at it with compassionate curiosity and without trying to be a Fixer. Bring it up and out into the Presence of Christ.

 

3. #10MinutesofStillness is the creative’s best friend. When we’re mired in the tough of the making and the words refuse to flow, just ten minutes of no agenda silence will often unleash the dam and we’re on our way again.

 

4. #10MinutesofStillness is a gateway back to gratitude.  Practice opening up one sense at a time for sixty seconds each, without judging what you receive and without trying to create meaning. And then start thanking God for the simple gifts you are experiencing. Pretty soon the chaos is tinged with joy and you’re ready to love your people again.

 

5. #10MinutesofStillness can push the door open to God’s Presence. When our head is down and we’re leaning hard into hustle, we can forget to be aware of God-with-us.  Light a candle in your quiet space and sit without an agenda but with expectation, contemplatively present to He who is always present.

 

So, friend, I’m daring you: schedule a mini-Sabbath into your day. Cultivate a small corner of stillness then enter the conversation. What was it like for you? Was it a struggle? Was it a gift? We want to hear. And if you use the hashtag #10MinutesofStillness, let us know! I’d love to see the chorus of contemplatives rise!

 

Do you have another brilliant simple idea for creating calm in the chaos? Do share!

 

Today’s SLOW Word. (The scripture starts at 2:20):

Subscribe on the right for more aThirstforGod.com or the SLOW Word Lectio Divina videos.

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Finding Your Brave and My First Video

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(So…this is where I write a normal post and then at the end decide to take a plunge. My first Slow Word Video is embedded in the bottom. This is where brave gets real. )

We stood in line for the ferry in Vernazza, Cinque Terre and watched them jump. I held my breath and looked away. Andrew took pictures.

It was 90 degrees and perfect. No wind. No waves. Lagoon-like green water. I watched them walk to the edge and either jump or turn back. Sometimes they squealed as they dropped. Their brave came out of joy.

Heights are not my friend.  Or airplanes. Or really anything up high. The last two summers I’ve had panic attacks hanging onto a wall while rock climbing outdoors with my family. Truth be told we only climb about 30 feet at one stretch. I was completely secure in a harness from a rope which could hold 200 more pounds. I had done this fifty times before. But these two times I wasn’t in a climbing gym. This time I could see 200 feet down into the valley and into the lake below. My brain knew I was secure but my heart was positive I would feel the plunge of 230 gravity laden feet. I begged very quietly and tearfully to come down and then whispered in my husband’s ear: “No more climbing. Again. Ever.” I’ve decided I’m a land animal.

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This last January I prayed for a word for 2016 and BRAVE was placed in my hand.  It felt like a big stretch, possibly even a message from the Lord. BRAVE surprised me. I wasn’t searching for it. I wasn’t even sure I wanted it. But every time I  listened to the word, my breath caught with adrenaline. So I named a Pinterest board BRAVE and began gathering images and quotes. (Do you do this too? Am I the only one?) It was on the stage of Pinterest I explored BRAVE and began to listen to the Lord’s invitation to inch my toes forward on the rock.

I stayed in the shallows at first: a bright coral striped rug in a white living room, a National Geographic black and white of a woman in a birthing tub, the confidence of wearing a great ethnic necklace. Later it got real and I dove deeper. I admitted to my need for great swaths of silence and spent much of the year sitting and listening and doing centering prayer.

Then came the internal surgery. I confronted my people pleasing and the way I was shrinking before the noisy opinions of my inner critic. I stared at my perfectionism and witnessed its stranglehold. Finally, I sat down into the basis for my true identity: “Define yourself as one radically loved by God. This is your true self. Every other identity is an illusion” (Brendan Manning.) It was also on that Pinterest board where I documented the healing of God in quiet ways, ways only He and I would know. By July I was ready for BRAVE. I was listening to where I come alive, to my love of writing and the nuclear magic that occurs when words are spliced up against each other. I began writing poetry again.

 

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About three weeks ago I witnessed a friend’s first live facebook and her beautiful brave. Apparently Ashley didn’t know live meant LIVE and there was a moment of shock as she discovered an audience on the other side of her iphone screen. She was precious and articulate and passionate and imperfect. Unknowingly, she became my courage guru. I jumped off that high rock right after her first vulnerable, beautiful LIVE.  My sister had been begging me to do some videos of lectio divina for her. She’s an auditory learner. She wanted them unpolished and imperfect and raw. I could do imperfect, I thought. She’s a busy mom with a nonprofit and craved stillness and time in the word which fit into her busy life. I’d never done video and secretly cringe whenever I hear my own voice. But my life’s focus is to position people in the presence of God for transformation. This fit but was over my growing edge. Ashley’s BRAVE gave me permission for my BRAVE. After I watched her first LIVE, I promptly made a video and sent it to my people. My three closest people. The next night I made another and sent it to a few more. Fast forward three weeks later and we’re in completely new territory. I’m saying yes both to imperfect and to God’s invitation in what feels like a crazy back flip.

 

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Anne Halle, one of the professors from my spiritual direction certificate program, taught us on how to push out our growing edges. “You have an anxiety boundary,” she explained to us drawing a circle. “Push outside of your comfort zone in an extreme way and your anxiety will scream. Very likely you’ll never try again. But,” she said, “if you go to the edge of your comfort zone and dab your toe in the water WITH the Presence of God, you’ll continue to grow within the safety of God’s love.”  Small steps will eventually mean big growth she assured us. But here’s the kicker and here’s what haunted me afterwards: if we don’t continue to push out of our comfort zone in small ways, we’ll eventually have more anxiety making smaller moves. Our circle of comfort will collapse inwards. It will take less to give us more anxiety.

I love what our professor said, we were not created to push out our growing edges alone. We do it in community with the Presence of God.  And this is the necessary partnership where my BRAVE can edge up to the rock and jump. Get ready. Get set. Here we go. Use my small imperfect brave and say yes to yours!

 

I’m calling it the Slow Word Movement. Stay tuned in the next few weeks, this movement of stillness in the Word will have a landing page and a way to receive these weekly videos by email. Come join me on the porch for a bit of time in God’s Presence and then share what you hear in the comments:

Linking with my other brave guru, Jennifer Dukes Lee

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How to Reclaim your Evening and Plan for True Rest (And a Giveaway!)

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It’s the kids’ bedtime and I can feel my intention for meaningful rest slipping away. I’m too weary to choose well. By the time the kids are kissed and prayed over, the dishes are done, and the dishwasher’s humming starts, I’m done too. Done. I reach for the cheap entertainment of Netflix as easily as I reach for the dark chocolate I hide in the refrigerator door.  I press power and feel a deep sigh. I lose myself in someone else’s story, someone else’s creativity.

 

I’m an introvert and rejuvenate with quiet. Quiet fuels my ministry, my creativity, my relationships. Every evening I need a reboot button for tomorrow’s ministry so I have enough energy to fight well, to love well. I need today to be untangled so I can start fresh tomorrow. But as I sink into the couch after a day of homeschooling and ministry, I reach for the easy button, the remote.

 

During commercials I feel the ragged edges of my own story needing to be attended to. The worry I’m avoiding. The conversation that’s nagging. The task I pretend I can keep pushing off indefinitely.  I can feel them tugging at the edges of my thoughts but push them back under the water of my conscious. They keep bobbing back up through the evening. Soon my free hours are gone. I’ve watched more than intended, always more. It’s a mild drug, but a drug all the same.

 

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and this is the perfect time to say “yes” to more of God and take a clear look at our present addictions. Where am I choosing death instead of life? What other lovers am I expecting to give me peace, joy, and provision? I come to repentance with Hosea 2, especially verse 14, “I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her.”

 

I come to this Lent hungry for less hustle, more wide open spaces…for the wilderness with one Voice. I am a child of God with spiritual amnesia. I forget the bread back at my Abba’s table. This Lent I want to keep turning, keep re-turning to the table throughout the day, especially in the evening. This year I sense it is the easy decision toward the black box that is robbing me of the bread of Presence.

 

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Now don’t get me wrong. Andrew and I bond over cheering for our favorites as they their saute their way to Top Chef. I fold laundry to Madam Secretary on Monday afternoons. But that black box can become a black hole. When I take a walk at twilight I see blue flashing lights from every front window. I know I’m not alone. So often I find that I’ve sacrificed my evenings to escapism…instead of true refreshment. Even worse: some nights I fall asleep exhausted from running after bad guys on Blue Bloods. Ever wake up exhausted and realize your subconscious has been working overtime through your dreams? It’s time for us to reclaim rest.

 

This week, as I’ve wrestled with a desire to reclaim my evenings, I’ve heard this simple phrase: “Set a tray again.”

 

Set a tray. Years ago, I learned this practical trick for preparing for rest. It’s time to pick it up again.

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Why a tray?

 

First, I’m a simple person, a visual person. A bulleted list is not a strong enough magnet: take a bath, read a book, make a cup of tea. Lists can get lost. I need something concrete, something alluring, something to build a sense of expectation.

 

Second, setting a tray is just plain pragmatism. I know myself well. I need something that doesn’t require any work once I push past tired into exhaustion. By bedtime, entering into rest has to be just as simple as picking up a remote.

 

This is how it works. After I make my bed in the morning, I set out an empty tray. Right now it’s a simple rattan tray, a souvenir from a trip to Myanmar in seminary. Throughout the day, as I glance toward the bed, I fill it with small invitations.

 

Two types of things land on my tray: things that promise healthy self-care and others that draw me toward His Presence. Epsom salts with lavender to remind me to take a bath. A new candle. A painted mug from Romania WITH a Kava Kava tea bag tucked inside. A quiet book (check out the giveaway at the bottom for my absolute favorite quiet book of the moment!) Another day it might be a cooking magazine, favorite music, the butane lighter for the gas fireplace, a mug ready for hot milk with a dash of vanilla.

 

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The first category are reminders to be present. When I connect deeply to the senses, I shut down the day’s busyness, the whir of anxious thoughts, and choose to be HERE NOW. Then, once I’ve chosen concrete presence, I can begin to look around for His Presence. As Denise Levertov penned in her poem, Flickering Mind, “Lord, not You, it is I who am absent.” I can’t skip out on my humanity, the truth of a life rooted in the senses, in order to connect with God, I must say Yes to being a creature.

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I’ve also placed on the tray a journal, a Bible, a pen. It’s easy to forget, Rest is not something we do separate from God. Rest is a gift. 

  • “Come to Me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:2

 

Rest at its truest is a gift meant to reclaim us. In rest, we collect pieces of ourselves we’ve scattered and bring them all into the Presence of God. In our quiet evening hours we can practice a light version of the Ignatian Examen, a type of reclaiming. We listen to our day, to the shadows and the light.

 

  1. Can you put a finger on that anxiety, when it showed up during the day? Can you remember when you started striving? What was going on around you when you felt that anger, that fear, that grief? That surge of energy? That desire? That hunger for heaven?
  2. OR When did you forget that you were not in control? When did you agree with the darkness, the lie you keep swallowing? When did you run over the people around you, treat them cheaply? When did you fall into your pet sin patterns?
  3. OR When did you look around and remember that God was present? Where did you sense His invitation? When did you sense the edges of joy?  Were there any words He spoke to your heart that you don’t want to forget? 

 

In a reclaimed evening we allow God’s Presence to untangle the knotted nest of the day. We list the day’s gratitudes. We grapple with the day’s chaos. Then, we open up our hands to receive His invitation to true rest.

 

#ReclaimRest Want to share your tray? I’ll post my tray variations on Instagram/Facebook throughout Lent as a type of accountability. Want to share your tray? Use the same hashtag, #ReclaimRest or link to me on Facebook.  No tray? Just share your practice of how you are reclaiming your rest.

 

 

The Giveaway!  

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Christie Purifoy has written the type of quiet book that is perfect for your evening hours. In her book she shares the first year of becoming the owner of a beautiful farmhouse and how the pursuit of “home” has wound its way through her pursuit of a rooted life.

Enter the giveaway! For each of these 4 actions you get another entry into the giveaway! Comment under this blogpost to tell me you’ve done one or all of the following:

  1. Subscribe to A Thirst for God on the homepage under the CONNECT box. Once a week, receive a practical way to become more present and more authentically pursue the with-God life.
  2. Visit Christie’s blog christiepurifoy.com and read her latest offering. She is a wonderful friend for the Journey and her beautiful writing is a gift.
  3. Follow me on Instagram: @mtrsummer and see the antics of an Anglican family of five struggling to find beauty among the chaos.
  4. Friend me on Facebook: Summer Gross

 

Linking with the always thoughtful Jennifer Dukes Lee at

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Why Practicing the Presence of God Changes Everything

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“I am with you always,” He promised.

 

And I listen, because those were his last words. They were the last sounds of his voice reverberating on the rocks of our earth before he ascended. And last words have intentional power. They are last on purpose…for emphasis, for weight.  

 

But I am a faith-less one and the words are now faint millennia later and the collective we, we have forgotten how to walk enveloped in God-nearness. We doubt that when He promised He was EverPresent, He meant just that. We rationalize that truth is just a platitude meant for sympathy cards.

 

We have forgotten how to hold firm to His Presence…and so we walk our neighborhoods, into the consultation at the doctor’s office, or into the intimidation of that full room alone. Could it be that sometimes we even walk hiding from The Presence? A little distance to Holy just feels a whole lot more comfortable.

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But wouldn’t the truth of God’s abiding Presence transform the very shimmer of the oxygen we breathe? If we knew the Prince of Peace, our Abba, the Lover of our souls was HERE in our now, how would that transform our present?

 

Where in our lives are we murky needing Light the most? He is here.  

Floundering for wisdom? He is here.

Grieving? The Comforter is here.

In desperate need of hope? He is here.  

With awe, we acknowledge that God chooses to bring all the fullness of His character into our ordinary here. He is here at our Monday dinners, our Saturdays spent on the side-lines of a soccer game, and in the strangle of addiction.

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God is present in the empty echo of loneliness, the swirl of tightening anxiety, the mix of the mundane and the glorious everyday. God’s Presence is not reserved for the Sunday service, left at the altar when we walk out the back door. God wants to infuse our laundry day, our right-angled cubicle desk job, the twisted questions, the late-night fears, the Christmas morning delights, as well as the everyday dishes at the kitchen sink…with His Presence.  

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He’s just waiting to be welcomed in, to be invited, to have the door swung wide open with this simple prayer: “Come, Lord Jesus, Come.”

 

This could change everything:

We weather our storms alone while we walk beside the One the seas obey.

We wander aimlessly, lonely, accompanied by He who is our eternal home.

We limp through life, buried by shame, while all along we shuffle next to the Savior who died to carry the heavy burden.

We feel about in the dark, though the Light of the World, the Resurrected One is present with His piercing brightness.

 

There is a heavy fog between the truth and our living within it.  

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We live our everydays heavy with spiritual amnesia. We choose the lie of self-reliance that keeps us from leaning into Kingdom living.   God’s nearness remains elusive at best. In John 1, we get introduced to Jesus through The Message translation this way: “The Word became flesh and blood and moved right into the neighborhood.” According to Jesus’ promise, “I am with you always,” Jesus never left the neighborhood.

 

David, the prophet king, encourages us to start a disciplined practice:

“I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken,” (Psalms 16:8).  

 

And this is the question: What would it mean for us to set the Lord always before us?

 

What if we made this extremely simple? Jesus used simple metaphors to teach truth: A lamp on a hill, a pearl of great price, a farmer scattering seed.  What if in our desire to remember the truth of God’s all-pervasive PRESENCE, we use simple metaphors of our own: a lit candle, a listening shell, the smell of cedar, a simple wooden cross around our neck or in our pocket. 

 

What might you use as a tangible witness?

Ask yourself this question: “Where have I felt the Presence of God most intimately?” 

 

  1. Meandering through the tall cedars and ferns of the hike to the mountain lake? Bring home a bowl of pinecones and sprinkle them with cedar oils. Every time you walk past, say thank you to He who is present. “You are here.”
  2. A collection of shells and rocks from your favorite beach sprinkled throughout your home. They are silent ebenezer rocks that the same God who met you there with your toes in the sand will meet you here.

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Or you can borrow mine. Last December I brought a simple white prayer candle home, only a $1 at the dollar store from the Dollar Tree down the road. I lit the candle on the island of my kitchen. As I walked around it all day, a simple Copernican revolution began to occur in my heart.

  • One glance as I walked by to fill a glass with milk for a little and I remembered, “You are here.”
  • Another glance as I began dinner, starting to be overwhelmed by the next day’s agenda, I remembered, “You are here.”
  • A phone call and that heaviness, another broken marriage, and my eyes glanced over at the candle. Oh, yes, You are here. The darkness will not swallow us.

 

This simple practice led me to quick prayers and long deep breaths, “You are here. I don’t need to be the answer, I just need to invite He who is the answer into every individual moment.”

Come Jesus,

Come Wisdom,

Come Redeemer,

Come Healer,

Come into my HERE.

He is always present, my simple “come” becomes an opening of the door to the knocking Christ: a simple invitation.

 

The Answer

 

Friends, what would it mean for you to set the Lord always before you?

Photos 1, 3, and 5 from Deathtothestockphotos.com

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Day 10: Embrace Solitude

Wide open, unfilled spaces can be utterly freeing. Anne Morrow Lindbergh in A Gift by the Sea rolled up the rugs in her “shell of a beach house” to encourage visual simplicity, a way of embracing the quiet. With this move, your schedule has been tamed, the phone stilled and the clutter hasn’t yet crept back onto the countertops. Here in the wide open landscape, you have the freedom to listen to the direction of your life once again.

 

Breathing space.

 

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“Therefore I will allure her and bring her into the desert and speak tenderly to her.” Hosea 2:14

 

The desert can be fierce and unrelenting or it can be the quiet space where in the stillness God’s voice becomes strong again, where His hand becomes the only comfort, His table the only place we come to for bread.

 

This is the call I hear today: Be still and do not rush to fill the emptiness. Use this time to to listen to His voice.  Start by brushing close to His tenderness. Don’t start with words, just practice His presence. Repeat the truth: “He is here.”

 

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But there is another honest truth of life in the desert. And at first it feels like the opposite of the first truth, the gift of hearing the voice of God, but in reality, it is a further deepening. In solitude our emotions rise loud, perhaps even crying out, demanding attention like a raw wound.

 

We may have wrapped our wounds carefully in the busyness of our last setting, in the friendships and hard work, in the virtual and real landscapes that crowded our view. Now in the lack of distractions of a new move, we may feel deeply all that we lack, all that we have left behind, or perhaps all that we have always hungered for. Today, get still and listen to the unquiet within your soul. Let it rise to the surface. Be brave. Name it and bring it to the table with Christ.

 

Action: Get out a journal today and listen.

  • What voices are trying to define your identity? What do they say about you?
  • Where are you running when you get lonely? TV? Facebook? The refrigerator?
  • What lies are echoing off the bare walls of your life?
  • What do you fear you will never have again?
  • What deep desires keep rising to the surface?
  • Where do you go to get filled other than Christ?

 

Bring each one to the table in the next few days.

 

Jesus was allured into the desert by the Spirit for forty days in order to confront the temptations of the evil one. Today, confront the voices who are tempting you to believe their lies.  Name them. Bring them out of the darkness into the light of God’s truth-filled presence. Then ask God what truth He wants to use to combat these lies.

 

Pray that your wilderness will not be wasted.

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We’re on a 31 day journey toward falling in love with our zip code. Our family just moved down five states south and are loving the warm October. Would you like to come along? Slip your email address (I’ll guard it with my life) into the CONNECT box on the front page and we’ll journey together.

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When We are Confused by our Calling

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Welcome to Word-seeds dear friend.  This is where we pray the Scripture roots into every crevice and crack of our life, breaks up the hard ground.

Word seed is a Bible study that may take longer than a day. We wind around a thought, give questions for meditation and begin to open up the Scripture that you may be hearing this next Sunday. Feel free to stop at a picture question and come back later for a bit more time in the Scripture. This week we are on the rocky shores of the Lake of Galilee with the fishermen cleaning their nets for the day.  Read it in Matthew 4:12-22 before you read here?

(These word seeds will always correspond with the lectionary because I have a need to join others on our common pilgrimage.  Today’s post comes from the gospel, Year A, Epiphany 3)

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Pray that I don’t loose the hands of Jesus in my attempt to feed the poor.

Mother Teresa to Henri Nouwen

 

Kathy Sicard wrapped the scarf tight around my head and the world dimmed. With the second scarf I went blind.  I felt like I had walked into a movie theater late, groping for chairs, hoping I didn’t end up in someone’s lap.  Marie Diebold grasped my hands, facing me, walking backwards. Her voice was low and soft.

 

We were in her house for our Tuesday night inner healing study.  One Tuesday night we went through the lessons, the next Tuesday we gave it to others. It was our first year doing the 16 week Healing Care study by Terry Wardle.

 

Marie guided me slowly through her kitchen, around the butcher block island, the metal sink cupboard from the 60’s, the collection of hanging mugs by the window.  She talked me straight through the narrow kitchen doorway shuffling our feet from the wood floor of the kitchen to the oriental carpet in the living room.  “Walk straight. OK, a small step to the right, and there now, here’s the coffee table. Can you feel it against your legs. Ok stop. Turn left. Walk ahead two steps.” We wound through the downstairs of her farmhouse like this.

 

I do fine with trust exercises like this.  Not so much in real life.  I know God is guiding but  I find myself fumbling wildly for the wall, the doorways, begging to take off the scarf.

 

This scripture reveals my heart.  I’m the one walking in darkness.  I’ve seen the great light but much of the time the brightness doesn’t register.  Let’s just say I don’t spend enough time basking in the glow.

 

So much of my calling has seemed like a straight line. No, that’s not quite true.  There have been plenty of times of uncertainty, I have just repressed them.  I like straight lines. Receive calling. Go to seminary. Work in a church for ten years.

 

Every line looks straighter when looking back right?

 

The truth is that after ten years of parish ministry, I’m down to a congregation of three.  I’m a mom to three blondies with big blueberry eyes and small unwrinkled hands.  I fold them up onto my lap and smell their heads.  I’ve been smelling my children ever since they were born.  Primal, I guess.

 

They are beautiful and I struggle to be an intentional mother, wrapping them in truth and fuzzy blankets at night.  I spread pasta on our table like I’m asking them to take forkfuls of love.  I’m an Italian mama by osmosis after having been born there, I guess.  But my calling?  This is where I struggle.  I like adventure and large purposes.  I like to see where it is that I am headed.  I want to get my hands dirty in the fight. I want to climb in bed at night exhausted for more than just wrestling children into their jammies.

 

So I’m listening to His voice in the Gospel, looking for direction this week.  And it is His words that begin to open up a new way to see my calling inside our brick bungalow.

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Until now, I always saw Christ’s calling of the fishermen as Jesus sending them out on a quest.  Set down your ordinary life and I’ve got a new purpose for you. Something big. Something dynamic.  We’re going to go fish for people! I imagined the disciples going straight from cleaning that fishy smell off their hands to a brainstorming session.  But Jesus’ words indicate something quite different, “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”

 

Some of the translations leave out the “come” but it’s right there in the Greek. Deute. Come hither. Come follow. The next time we see the verb spoken straight from Jesus’ mouth it is in Matthew 11:29, “Come unto me and I will give you rest.” The literal translation of the Greek here is: “Come follow after me and I will make you fishers of men.”

 

So much of my calling feels like a groping in the dark instead of a knightly quest.  No gallantry. No coming home with the holy grail.

 

But “Come” makes all the difference in the world.  Come means that He is walking in front of me. “Come” means that He is present as I walk forward into the darkness.

 

We are not alone in our callings, we are following.

 

Just the definition of following calls us to walk forward with Someone growing big in our field of vision.  When we follow, He fills our focus.

 

Christ grows bigger as we follow closer.

 

I think over my mental landscape this past week, my mind twisting with that fear that I wasn’t enough, the tantrum at dinner time, the day spent wrapped up tight in disappointment.  How much of my mental landscape is consumed with the One I am supposed to be following?   Perhaps that is the unfortunate answer.

 

Perhaps what or who I am following takes up most of my mental landscape.  

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Marie walked backwards and held my empty hands and I grasped tight.

 

They were the same hands where I had placed the Eucharist bread that tasted of honey and fed us of Jesus. They were the same hands that had massaged my tired pregnant muscles and the same hands I held between mine before she went into surgery to get the cancer cut out.  That Tuesday night in the dark I grasped tight the familiar hands of a friend.  I grasped trust.

 

When they heard the call of Jesus, Andrew and Peter put down nets, families, lives, expectations.  They opened their hands to grasp a hold of His. They opened the tight fists of their lives, and everything fell through.

 

When we open our hands to follow Jesus, we drop the what for the Who.

 

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We drop the tight-fisted control, the shiny magazine lives, the surge for self-expression when we follow the Call.  Following requires the hard purging.  Following requires repentance. Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near.  It requires setting down  everything heavy.  It requires the healing of the fears that have us tangled in their nets.

 

But perhaps following is freedom, the first steps onto heavenly ground, arms empty, lifted in worship.

 

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I want to go back to school to get a counseling degree.  I want to write. I want to be a midwife to God’s redemption, do spiritual direction and inner healing prayer.  I want to get back into the life of the church.  Right now I feel shut out of all the callings that make me feel most at home.  But perhaps that’s the point.  This move is stretching me and stretching sometimes happens so fast it leaves scars.

 

I think Jesus understands the strangeness of being sent away from the comfortable.  After his desert temptation, Jesus was not welcomed home. His hometown of Nazareth had not been able to transform their definitions from Jesus the carpenter son of Joseph to Jesus the Christ.

 

Just like old times, on the Sabbath He had sat with the others in the Synagogue, rolled out the scroll, found the job description of the Messiah in Isaiah 61. These were the verses I imagine kept him awake at night. His mission.

 

THE mission that all other callings reflect back.

 

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

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But people don’t want to “know” their Messiah, their neighbor. They want celebrity and a charismatic Samson who will fight their enemies with the jawbone of a lion.  They don’t want their Messiah to be the boy that grew up on their front lawns.

 

And so Jesus found himself homeless with a mission still burning deeply. He was kicked out of the synagogues and into the streets.  But, again, perhaps that was the gift.

 

I found this in Barclay’s Gospel of Luke: “Jesus would go anywhere men would listen to him.” Then Barclay links us to John Wesley’s journey,

“Our [Methodist] societies were formed from those who were wandering upon the dark mountains, that belonged to no Christian Church; but were awakened by the preaching of the Methodists, who had pursued them through the wilderness of this world to the higheays and the Hedges—to the Markets and the Fairs—who set up the standard of the Cross in the Streets and Lanes of the Cities, in the Villages, in the Barns, and Farmers’ Kitchens…”

Barclay says in closing, “When the Synagogue was shut, Jesus took to the open road.”

 

Same mission. Different location.  Same purpose. If the mission burns within us, we proclaim it wherever we can. The kitchen table or the internet. We implant it as hope into a friend’s heart, or whisper it into our daughter’s hair.

 

We join His mission and it becomes our heartbeat: Proclaim. Release. Restore. Redeem.

 

Wherever we are.

 

calling not about us

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Would you like weekly Word-Seeds to be slipped into your email?  Slip your email address into the Connect button on the front page of “a thirst for God.” Let’s pray that the Word plants in all the crevices of our lives.

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Writing in community with the lovely Jennifer Dukes Lee here:

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When A Little Bit of God Isn’t Enough

Grab a warm cup of tea and a quiet hour for a deep breath with the Word. I am soaking in these verses this week: John 1:29-42. Before you read the meditation here at “a thirst for God,” read them first? They happen to be the verses many of you will hear on Sunday if you are lectionary based.Year A, Second week after Epiphany.

This is something I hope to offer early each week, these meditations or Word-Seeds.

 

This is not short but perhaps we can keep coming back throughout the day for a little more Jesus, a few more crumbs? Maybe together we can live, walk and breathe in this scripture for these few days.

 

The photos could be seen as a place to pause, to journal, to listen. A Selah in the Psalms. When we encounter the Word, we can’t help but be transformed…and when we encounter Jesus?  Ahhhh, but this is our hope.

 

First, let’s pray:

 

Lord, You know that the Word changes us. It ignites us. But we need the Holy Spirit to open the Word for us.  Would You plant Word-Seeds deep in our hearts?

Come, Lord, Jesus, Come.

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They are all about to meet at the crossroads of the desert.  Jesus is here, gaunt from his 40 day fast wrestling with evil.  John the Baptist is here. This town is the staging ground for his ministry. And then there is this spattering of disciples. They had all heard this crying out of John the Baptist, all these disciples hungry for the holy, willing to put down nets, leave family, go out into the desert for Bread.

 

God had been silent for four hundred years. The disciples were leaning forward, searching for the Voice.

 

 

From this town, the Jordan River is within walking distance. This was the last stop for bread and lodging before heading out to hear John’s preaching, to wade into the water’s flow.

 

He was preparing the Jewish people for Jesus.  “Who are you?” he was asked and he clarified by revealing all he was not.  I am not the Messiah.  I am not Elijah.  And then cryptically reaching into of the depths of the prophet, Isaiah, he answers, “I am only the voice of one calling in the desert ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”

 

 

Now we’re in the market. Everything interesting in a bustling town happens in the market. This little town is no different. As Jesus walks through the crowd, John is compelled by the Spirit to proclaim what he sees. And the market people all whip their heads around to see: “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

 

Those words would get your attention if every year you brought an unblemished lamb to the temple to be killed for the sins you carried around heavy.

 

John’s deep projecting voice raised above the buying and selling: “This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’  This, friends, is why I have been baptizing.  I am witness to the fact that He is the Son of God.” Are they used to his raving?  His disciples listen but oddly, stay put.

 

They hear….but stand still.

 

 

They don’t leave their teacher’s side until the next day.  On this day just two disciples are alone with John. Jesus passes by close and once again John cries out: “Look, the Lamb of God.”  Finally, the disciples’ curiosity is engaged. They leave John the Baptist’s side and start wandering through the crowd in Jesus’ shadow.

 

Jesus turns and asks that simple question he asks all of us, “What do you want?”

 


They reply with “Rabbi, (meaning teacher), where are you staying?” Their question signals a desire to follow, to hear Jesus’ teaching.

And what does Jesus say? “Come and see.”

 

Confession time: I have built a habit over many years of learning about God so as to have tastes and appetizers instead of going straight to God and waiting with Him for His Presence, gathering a whole meal of manna.  Instead of coming home with Him to sit at His feet, I dwell on the outskirts perhaps like the disciples of John hearing prophetic words but not seeking Him who is unknown, He who is greater.

 

Sometimes I read books about God, listen to sermons and think they are an end in themselves. I am the perfect student, addicted to the dramatic  “aha” moment.  But this is the question, am I seeing the Word from afar and only listening to mumblings about him?

 

Am I a homeless one satisfied with this huddled warming of my hands over a candle when I am free to open the door, draw close to the fire, and sit with the Lamb of God Himself?

 


Abide with me and I will abide with you. (Jn 15:4)  Seek me and you will find me.  I have always convinced myself that I want pure God of pure God when perhaps some days what I really want is the hunted thrift store find to stuff my already full closet with more knowledge…

 

And here the question goes deeper. Do I really want to go home with God to sit at His feet empty of agenda, offering myself poor of spirit?  Andrew and the other disciple of John’s follow the One, but some did not and would I make the trek across town and have the courage to ask, “where are you staying?”  Would I have the courage to follow?

 

The two are received into companionship with God Himself, offered a simple but exceedingly vulnerable “Come and See.” The door is opened to the dwelling place of God.  The sleeping mat. The table. The chair opened wide in a gesture of friendship.

 

My dear friend, Linda, comes each morning to her time with God armed only with a cup of hot coffee and whispers “Abba” and sits still in His Presence.  She comes without journal and without agenda but always with expectation that He will meet her there.  She tells of the day when He told her just to come in that simple way and how fumbling she felt not to be weighed down with books and worship music and the journal.

 

Over time, the awkwardness lifted slowly and she became hungry not for it but for Him.

 

Here’s a question. Do I often come to a “quiet time” as I might to a morning conversation with my husband about schedules and overlapping to-do lists? Do I come with the attitude of, “Let’s get this done so I can pack the lunch boxes full, get dressed, guide the kids through the maze of morning tasks.”  We hit all the necessary bullet points but entirely miss the relationship.  Do I hit all the truths I need to be full, nourished, stomach packed, but miss the Bread of Life Himself.

In the afternoon, when my toddler goes down for a nap, I rest using contemplative centering prayer but so often even there I come with a to-do list, an agenda, multi-tasking always.  I sit still, but honestly, what I really want is to hear from God is about a question that’s been festering or to hear the Voice leading ten more steps down the road.  About ten minutes in, my shoulders drop and I remember the invitation to “Be Still and Know that I am God.”  I open my fingers and my agenda slips through and I am empty, poor in spirit, but my hands are full of Bread.

 

My purpose is to love God and enjoy Him forever.  Period.  Everything else can wait.

 

Because here is my peace and He is my peace and the search is over and I am home.

 

Andrew and the other disciple zigzagged with Jesus through the crowd to his where He was staying, perhaps a room on a rooftop able to feel the vibrations of a busy family below.

 

Their minds must have echoed with the words of John the Baptist, who yelled out the day before, “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him…I testify that this is the Son of God.”  Andrew and the other must have asked what treasures would pour out of a man on whom the Spirit rests? Or will we even be able to understand His cryptic messages?

 

He opens the door to the place where He prays, where He rests. They sit. Stay. Listen.  They soak up Word.  Then Andrew, impatient with joy, jumps up, says he will return and runs straight for his brother, “We have found the Messiah.”

 

My Calvin Commentary on this scripture said this: “it appeared that Andrew having been with Jesus was so full of him. He knew there was enough in Christ for all; and, having tasted that he is gracious, he could not rest until those he loved had tasted it too. True grace hates monopolies, and loves not to eat its morsels alone.”

But, here is today’s question: How can we like Andrew point to the living God, go home and grab our brother when we have not tasted, have not seen God Himself, not soaked in His Presence?  When we have only tasted God someone else has shown us, we have no desire to usher another into His Presence, drag them to the holy.  We are not tearing off terra cotta roof tiles, lowering them down into the Presence of the One who sees their pain and speaks straight to the heart, “Your sins are forgiven.”

 

If we have not been home with God, not tasted His Bread, our “Come and See” may be anemic, embarrassed, hollow.  It was only when Andrew had been in Jesus Presence, sitting at the feet of the one in whom is hidden all the mysteries of wisdom and revelation, that his calling to his brother had urgency.

 

“We have found the Messiah,” Andrew told his brother.

 

Found.

 

He, the pearl of great price, the treasure in the field, the Messiah the earth has been groaning to feel walk upon its dirt is Found.

Let’s pray:

Abba, I can’t desire you on my own, please place a desire within me to be filled with you. Lord Jesus, somewhere deep in my heart, I want this. I want You and not just knowledge. I want You and not mere sightings.  I want Bread and not just crumbs. Teach me to sit still in Your Presence, to sit, to drink, to bring others to the well.

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Would you like weekly Word-Seeds to be slipped into your email?  Slip your email address into the Connect button on the front page of “a thirst for God.” Let’s pray that the Word plants in all the crevices of our lives.

 

Writing in community with Jennifer Dukes Lee:

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