Learning to Live Open Handed

Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.
— Psalm 86:11 
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things, and give me life in Your ways.
— Psalm 119:37

Sticky notes with these two verses and one that says: “Give me singular focus,” sat on my desk for months. I needed the constant reminder.

Photo by Sabine van Straaten

Photo by Sabine van Straaten

God has been slowly untethering my soul from things that I’ve held too tightly. By my actions, I would protest (at times I still do), “Can’t I have both?” And I knew the answer was no. But “no” came with a promise of a life that I could not, in my short-sightedness, conceive of. At the turn of the year, I made a resolution that I intended to keep. 

The resolution was to be more yielded to the Spirit of God than I have ever been. 

This was not something to try. There was only yielding, dying and somehow living. It required constantly acknowledging my propensity to want to go my own way. And I’ve realized this year that this process, this steady constant returning, this well-worn path of repentance, is a gift. Every time I open my hands to Him in surrender He takes the thing that threatens my worship and replaces it with affection for Him. 

I have to remind myself that there is no merit to me finally acknowledging how lost, wounded, and broken I am, when God is the one who has revealed my need. What merit is it to me to lay every hope and dream out on the table and to say, “God, do with this what you will” knowing that He alone can make my life worth living? 

God has been showing me areas of self-deception and ways I’ve been short-changing my life from lasting character formation. One of those areas has been social media. 

A couple of weeks ago, I came home from a meeting grieved over my own sin and the struggle I suspect many of us are facing. I wrote the following thoughts.

I’m sharing this because maybe, just maybe, it will speak to a work that He’s already begun in you too. 

***

Oh Jesus, have we forgotten? Or did we ever really know that our lives are not our own? We know all the right words and we feel this deep ache. We ask ourselves why and then we fill ourselves up with doing. Doing makes us feel better. Slowing down just makes us realize we’re deeply dissatisfied and the doing will never really fix it. So, we fill the still moments up with other people’s doing. At the heart of it, we know there’s a daily dying that we can’t quite bring ourselves to embrace. What will our lives mean if we can’t show and tell people what we should mean to them?

What if? It’s the question that haunts all those being drawn deeper.

What if I stopped caring? What if they misunderstand?

What if they don’t care?

What if I slip through the cracks and I’m never really seen, never really known?

At times we begin to see shafts of light breaking through the clouds because God is pursuing us. But then we try to capture this unfinished business in moments that are fleeting. “I have to share this with the world, this is what everyone needs”. We tell ourselves that it’s for their good, but really it’s so that we can prove we have something to say. Something real. Something tangible. Something that, if we truly embraced it, would change our lives forever. But we don’t think about it too hard because laying everything out on the table feels a little too risky. We let Jesus close enough to make us appealing but not effective. I think Jesus wants to build His church by building our character. But the things that could really make all the difference in us we peddle for praise. So, rather than becoming who we know deep down God is calling us to become, we settle for the version of ourselves that will fool everyone, even us.

***

Friends, He wants so much more for us than we want for ourselves. 

Christ is all, 

Casey

 

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Stewarding Grace

We are constantly trying to make sense of the world around us. Our lives are a journey of discovery. “Who am I?” is a question we’re consistently asking and this leaves us searching for our identity wherever it might be found.

When we stop and think about it we find that circumstances are perfect for us to adopt our gifts as our identity and to forget that we did nothing to merit them. But the gifts we’ve received are what God has called us to use to serve Him and to serve one another, not tell us who we are. 1 Peter 4 tells us they are a reflection of God’s multi- faceted grace. When we steward our gifts we are stewarding grace.

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As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
— 1 Peter 4:10 & 11

Because it’s so hard to determine sometimes where our gifts end and we begin it’s intensely personal to offer our gifts back to the One who entrusted them to us, as if to say, “These gifts are not my identity. My identity is found in You alone. You are the One who gives me value and worth. Therefore the grace I’ve receive is the grace I’ll extend with everything I have, with every gift You’ve given.”

Here are some signs that you’ve surrendered your gifts to the Gift-giver:

1. You’re happy for the success of others in your area of giftedness.

In other words, the success of others doesn’t intimidate you. It’s understandable to feel a tinge of frustration when you see people move ahead and you seem to be standing still, but reminding yourself Who you’re doing this for should realign your heart to the One who graciously gave you the gift in the first place.

2. You don’t dwell on past mistakes.

God has already seen where you’d fall short and He called you anyway. You have to give Him your failures and trust Him with them. He is the redeemer of every lost opportunity and every missed chance if we will let Him be.

3. You can surrender your idea of what using your gift means.

Our culture paints a very specific picture of what using our talents is supposed to look like and it has snuck it’s way into the church. Do you trust God enough to let Him lead you down whatever path He chooses, whether it looks like what you envisioned or not? We sometimes put a ceiling on how far God can take us because we think it needs to look a certain way.

4. You steward your gift faithfully no matter what.

Whether you’re having an opportunity to use your gift publicly or not, if God gave it to you He is telling you to steward it. You steward that gift for Him because He is ultimately the One you serve.

5. Jesus is enough.

If everything changed tomorrow and by the world’s standards you had amazing success, if God asked you to, would you leave it all behind because Jesus is enough? If you were called to disciple the people on the stage rather than be on the stage yourself would you do it because Jesus is enough? If God asked you to use your gift in a place where no one would ever know your name would you do it because Jesus is enough?

If you have a gift, use your gift. Walk it out in the fullest expression possible. God will make up where you lack because He’s to One who is glorified, even in our weakness. ALL the glory belongs to Him. He invites us to be partakers in that glory but not for one second are we intended to try to take it for ourselves. When we find ourselves deceived into thinking this might all be about us, the Holy Spirit mercifully reveals that no amount of achievement or notoriety will bring the kind of satisfaction that offering our gifts back to God could ever bring.

The satisfaction we all long for is found in the Gift-giver, not the gift itself.

You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.
— Psalm 145:16
 

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Let It Happen

Comfortable people don’t need Jesus, desperate people do.
— Bob Goff

I’ve been hearing this question lately, “Why do you keep watering it down?”

“Watering what down?” I ask.

The Holy Spirit whispers, “Your passion. Your longings. That voice that keeps telling you that you were meant for more. You turn to lesser things for comfort when you’re called to feel the discomfort of “not yet” or “not quite”. It’s worth the investment right now.”

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The lesser things just deaden the voice a little bit; they take away the edge. Rather than requiring me to trust God, I make it manageable by making it quieter.

Not too close. Not too hard. Not too much.
That’s how it feels. Like it’s just too much. Deep down I don’t know if I can handle being fully alive so I self-medicate.

I want to protect myself from the pain of disappointment because the dreams are bigger than anything I could do on my own. You know the saying, “If your dreams don’t scare you they’re not big enough”? Well, they scare me, so I shut them away and act like I don’t care. If it happens it happens, but while I’m waiting I’ll be over here watching Netflix.

There’s a song that goes, “Your full of life now, full of passion, that’s how He made you. Just let it happen.” I just got it. I just realized I wasn’t letting it happen. I was letting the voices of others in my head influence me. I was letting my own desire for comfort influence me. I was avoiding the pain that I know comes with “letting it happen”. Because it is painful. There’s another song with a line that says, “coming alive feels a lot like dying”. And it does. I’ve been comfortable. Not satisfied. Comfortable. I work for a church, I serve, I lead a small group...but I’m comfortable.

We require the right problem to expose our need for Jesus. What’s my problem? Laying my head on the pillow every night knowing that I might not be ready for an opportunity that could present itself tomorrow because my desire for comfort won. Isn’t it interesting how pain reminds us that we’re alive? We find ourselves stuck in the cycle of settling for lesser things until we wake up to the conviction that each day is a day we won’t get back. Because God is merciful He allows me to feel the pain of “what if” and then I wake up.

Sinking deep into who God created you to be can be scary because you’re not sure who can come with you to that place. But if God is calling you there, then it’s because you’re supposed to lead the way for others. The longer you put it off, the more frustrated you’ll become over the time that you’ve lost. But know this: God is the redeemer and He can redeem the time if you hand it over to Him. There is a facet of who God is that we will miss out on if we don’t trust Him with the opportunities we believe we’ve lost.

Watering down your calling is just a temporary solution for an eternal problem. It will never lead to the satisfaction and true rest that we all long for. At the end of the day, I know that if I don’t trust Him with this I’ve denied myself abundant life. Jesus said that’s what He came to bring us, and just as He challenged the rich young ruler, He also challenges us to leave our comfort behind.

What He’s placed inside us isn’t just for us. God’s purposes will be accomplished with or without us. Are you okay with that? I don’t think so. Although, my actions make me feel as if I am betraying myself, since they seem so contrary to who I know I am—to who I’m called to be.

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
— Colossians 1:28-29

When Paul says, “for this I toil, struggling,” he's saying that he's exhausting himself for the sake of the call, for the good fight of faith. He acknowledges the powerful work of the Spirit within and responds accordingly. Know this: Paul is not working for the sake of achievement or earning recognition. He is working and toiling in response to the reality of a dying world and the corresponding power of the Holy Spirit within; the same power that raised Christ from the dead.

When we water down the call we relegate the powerful work of the Holy Spirit to the sidelines of our lives. The power that raised Christ is the same power that is available for you to spend yourself completely on the gospel (beyond what you thought possible). And in the very midst, the Holy Spirit invites us to rest in His sovereign care. He wants us to know that if we pour out our lives, abundant life awaits us.

You may be asking the same question I’ve used as an excuse many times to keep from being “all in." How is it possible to give beyond what you imagined and then to rest? Both are the result of utter dependence and yielding to the work of the Holy Spirit. You can’t have one without the other. You can’t work in submission to the Holy Spirit and not rest AND you can’t rest in submission to the Holy Spirit and not work.

When we try to preserve our comfort we deny ourselves true rest.

But Jesus invites us into a “glorious ‘yes.' " A yes that requires every part of us and gives us abundant life in return.

So give it all.

Give it everything you’ve got.

Do it scared if you have to.

Because it will be worth it.

It always is.

You’re full of life now, full of passion. That’s how He made you. Just let it happen.
— United Pursuit
 

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Treasure

    Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid: and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
    — Matthew 13:44
    Photo Credit:  Simon Wilkes

    Photo Credit: Simon Wilkes

    Growing up I read the Bible to find out what I needed to do and how I needed to act rather than to know God. Although, I had a love for scripture (that I now understand is by no merit of my own, but a God-given gift) I didn’t see the grand narrative of redemption because I didn’t know to look for it. I didn’t know God’s redemptive plan was woven in from Genesis to Revelation and parables like this one, rather than being instruction for me, were actually revealing something intrinsic to the nature of God and the way He interacts with us. 

    Since I was always reading to find the application I assumed the main character talked about in this short parable, stuffed in the middle of Jesus’ discourse on the kingdom of heaven, was me or you. Obviously, what we’re supposed do is give up everything we have because we’re so happy we’ve finally found the kingdom, right? That’s the application. Count the cost to get the kingdom. 

    But here’s the catch, we have nothing to offer. And why am I buying a field? Every word Jesus spoke was intentional. We can’t just ignore the details we can’t explain. If I sold everything to purchase the field that the treasure was buried in, as it pertains to the Gospel (which means "good news"), that doesn’t make much sense. Why would I buy the whole field when I can freely accept the gift of Jesus’ sacrifice for my sin?  If you’re still hung up on this, let me put it this way, there is nothing you or I have that could ever purchase our redemption. But when we receive the good news everything we once held of value will pale in comparison to the riches of Christ. What a convicting thought! But the idea of us being the main character just doesn't fit within the context of the parable.

    Rather, this story shows the incredibly intentional nature of our redeeming God and the man in this parable undeniably represents Jesus. 

    If that man is Jesus and the field is the world (vs. 38), then him selling everything and purchasing the entire field because of the treasure he finds there makes sense. Jesus has something to offer: His deity and His life.

    In the parable, this man is overwhelmed with joy when He finds the kingdom of heaven. But He can’t just take it. That’s not how it works. Because God is just, it has to be done the right way. So, the man hides the treasure right in the middle of the ordinary place he found it so that he can go sell everything he owns to buy something that only he understands the immense value of.

    But if the man represents Jesus why would the King of kings and the King of heaven need to sell everything to buy the kingdom of heaven? What is the “kingdom of heaven”? It’s not talking about what we typically envision when we think of a kingdom. I don’t know about you, but I generally think castles and princesses and dragons because I’m kind of a nerd and I like stuff like that. But what the phrase, “kingdom of heaven,” is talking about here is the rule and reign of heaven, God’s rule and reign. So basically, Jesus is bringing God’s way of doing things in heaven to earth. 

    Due to man’s rebellion, the rule and reign of heaven on earth and in the hearts of men had to be purchased back. The price tag on this process would cost God everything. Much like the man who expresses so much joy at discovering the treasure, we see Jesus “who for the JOY that was set before Him endured the cross”. 

    Jesus went on the greatest rescue mission imaginable; He gave up the comfort of heaven to bring the kingdom of heaven to us. He gave up everything He had to buy back a broken world, so that the kingdom of heaven would come to it’s fullest expression in the redemption of man. And that is a really, really good story. It’s a story about how much God values us. It’s a story about how treasured we are.

    Of what great value is the treasure hidden in the field! If we only understood what a treasure we are to the One who has found us! 

     

    Your kingdom come,

    Your will be done, 

    On earth, as it is in heaven!


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    Partnership: The Joshua Blueprint

    Over the past 6 months or so, God has been re-prioritizing some things for We Are The Vigilant. We’ve been in contact with our community, sharing the heart behind where God is directing us. Now, we want to share more of the story with you and anyone that would listen, really.

    In short, We are the Vigilant exists to connect Kingdom-minded creatives who want to reach a hurting world with their unique resources.

    We believe that as creatives, God has equipped us to give what we can. This means that even if we don’t have the dollars we can still offer our time and our talents to those who don’t have access to the opportunities we often take for granted.

    We also feel strongly that as creatives, it is incumbent upon us to use our creativity to help people see things in new and challenging ways. We’ve been asking God to open our eyes so that we can, in turn, use creative means to help other people see. Calling ourselves “vigilant” is really a statement of faith. We’re asking God to help us stay awake and aware of what’s going on around us. 

    One of the ways we intend to do this is by highlighting people and ministries who embody what it means to use their unique resources (or talents) to reach a hurting world.

    Joshua Blueprint is the ministry of Ray and S’ambrosia Wasike.

    I (Casey) met Sam in college. We were a part of the same campus ministry. While I was the worship leader for our group, I constantly made her play instruments she wasn’t all too comfortable with, like drums, for instance. Granted, as a leader I had no idea what I was doing, but she was willing to try whatever crazy thing I asked her to do and I loved her for it.

    Me & Sam - edited.jpg

    Sam and I would get together regularly to pray for our campus and anything else the Lord might lay on our hearts. She was a leader even when she didn’t know she was leading. Her heart for the Father and willingness to be vulnerable in order to show people Jesus are two of the most beautiful things about her and they feed her creativity in incredibly moving and meaningful ways.

    Although I’ve never met her husband, Sam would only marry someone who is as in love with Jesus and creative as she is. Ray is from Kenya and from our brief interaction over the phone and Sam’s blog I feel like I know him already. 

    Next week Sam is going to be sharing more about the heart of Joshua Blueprint. But please feel free to check out their website and GoFundMe.

    For the whole month of October we’ll be highlighting their ministry and discussing some of our biblical convictions about the direction God is leading us. We hope that you’ll come along!

     

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    Considerations of: A Turd with a Veil on It

    Considerations of: A Turd with a Veil on It

    This pastor, he dresses too hipster, so I don’t like him. His priorities are whack.

    This other pastor thinks that God will provide for all his needs. Doesn’t he know it’s wrong to ask God for a car? Especially a nice car?

    And then there’s this guy who has more than 10,000 people in his church and mega churches, they're just gross. 

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    7 Signs Your Insecure Leader is Showing

    7 Signs Your Insecure Leader is Showing

    Have you ever met an insecure leader?

    Well, have we ever met? 

    Unfortunately, I fit the bill sometimes. 

    But I think anyone who's a leader and a human being is going to struggle with insecurity in some shape or form. 

    Meet LIL.

    LIL is short for "Little Insecure Leader."

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    Usefulness...It's More than You Think

    Usefulness...It's More than You Think

    First and foremost, I bid you all a very Happy Thanksgiving!

    It’s Thanksgiving Day, and I’m likely beginning my day with a delicious cup of coffee. Now, there’s something to be thankful for—COFFEE! I am exceedingly thankful for coffee. I believe it to be the most enjoyable drink on the earth. And it’s a drink to be had in any season. You can drink it all year round. 

    For the cold months, there are a million ways to have it hot. There’s nothing better than sipping your favorite tasty latte to warm you from head to toe. Yet, even when the temperature outside rises too high, a well-made cold brew is absolutely appropriate, and quite refreshing.

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    Battle Born: Fighting the Funk of Depression

    Battle Born: Fighting the Funk of Depression

    The irrationality of fear first gripped me when I was young. 

    I was in first grade…and the thought of school terrified me. 

    But that’s normal, right? Its culturally common for kids to hate school and who, at some point, hasn’t ever seen a young child screaming bloody murder when getting dropped off to their first day of school?

    Then came middle school, where at age 12, I was so distraught with anxiety, that I walked in one night to tell my Mom I no longer wanted to live. I told her I had been having thoughts of ending my life with my Dad’s shotgun. 

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    Destroying Porn: This One's for the Guys

    Destroying Porn: This One's for the Guys

    **Note: While this post is intended to educate, challenge, and inform, it is of a particular graphic nature. Please read at your own risk.** 

    Lets take the gloves off; porn is ubiquitous. 

    As technology progresses, so has the consumption of pornography. As a result, porn usage has ruined families, marriages, businesses, churches, and many, many young lives.

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    My Greatest Conflict: This One's for the Girls

    My Greatest Conflict: This One's for the Girls

    There’s a fine balance.

    Let’s take it back, all the way to the 6th grade.

    Awkward was my middle name; being a tall, gangly, pre-pubescent was my game.

    I was quiet. Too quiet. The boys thought I was cute and the girls could smell blood in the water. I wanted so desperately to fit in. But I didn’t know who I was, so I didn’t know where I fit. So, I got owned. Like all the time.  People made fun of me. People laughed at all my awkward and I probably helped a little too.

    And then it happened. The switch flipped and that summer before going into 7th grade I said, “No more!” Slamming my fist on the table causing my milk to slosh onto my freshly toasted pastry strudel. 

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    6 Ways to Seek Excellence and Grow Through It

    6 Ways to Seek Excellence and Grow Through It

    A few years ago my husband and I started attending a very large church that, to some, might seem to have it all together but I think they would be the first to admit they don’t.

    We are so thankful for our time there. We learned so much and we got to rest and recover.

    But some of the typical things that people encounter with larger churches were things that we found to be challenging, and at times frustrating.

    • It was hard sometimes to feel connected.
    • At times things felt a little too well rehearsed.
    • And we wondered if we were “cool” enough.

    Shocking, I know.

    I have a tattoo. Matt wears skinny jeans. What more could you want?

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    If We Truly Are Vigilant...

    If We Truly Are Vigilant...

    Here we are. All of us together.

    We have come to a point in history where we find that our desire to do good is thwarted by an acute case of self-obsession.

    We are in slavery, our taskmaster, comfort. We dare not make way to the promised land knowing full well that between us and that place lies wilderness, lies difficulty, lies hardship.

    Who am I to say such things?

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    Stop Chasing Your Dreams

    Stop Chasing Your Dreams

    "By the time a basketball or football player gets to Division I or Division II, they’ve already been a star in their own town and community. They have been elevated to celebrity status at such a young age, before their frontal lobe has even fully developed. It creates a high confidence level, but also a delusion around what’s actually possible."

    – Dan Lebowitz, Exec. Dir. of NE University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society. 

     

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    Meet Brother Arnold

    Meet Brother Arnold

    In 2007, I was asked to preach at a small church in Leavenworth, KS. It was the beginning of an encounter with a collective of people that I now know and love.

    Upon my arrival, I was introduced to this jazz drummer who my girlfriend at the time (now my wife) referred to as “Cool Guy.”

    “Cool Guy,” was a lighter skinned, elderly, black man. His body was slightly hunched and swayed to one side, bearing most of his weight upon a favored foot. Observing his stance, I noticed that the rest of his weight was held up by a long black cane. Through a quiet voice with a slight rasp, he extended his hand to mine and spoke,

    “How ya doin’ there? I’m Brother Arnold.”

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    Is There Anything for this Generation to Declare?

    Is There Anything for this Generation to Declare?

    Churches everywhere are working to maintain relevance in this post-Christian nation, scrambling to survive.

    Church attendance in many places is steadily declining as people go outside the church walls for spiritual fulfillment or people have just stopped caring about church altogether.

    "One generation shall praise Your works to another, And shall declare Your mighty acts."

    - Psalms 145:4

    Let me ask you, is there anything for this generation to declare?

     

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    The Minister's Manifesto

    The Minister's Manifesto

    I don’t know how to be something I’m not. 

    Most of us don’t.

    Since I can remember I’ve loved 2 things: ministry & art. 

    In the same way you like unique foods and your own manner of doing things, I can’t imagine not having a passion for these pursuits. 

    For me, it’s a peculiar combination. 

    Most of my life I’ve felt too “Christian” for the art world and too “artsy” for the local church. 

    And so, finding a space to call my own has been a pursuit of discovery.

    Its also been an intentional pursuit to carve out more space for others like myself...maybe for someone like you too.

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    How Do You Know When It’s Time to Go?

    How Do You Know When It’s Time to Go?

    Many of our friends and family already know this, but we wanted to share it here too.

    We’re moving.

    You know it’s God when your husband comes home and says, “I think we should move in with your mom”.

    That’s exactly what happened a few months ago.

    Immediately we both knew it was what we were supposed to do.

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    Shake that Zombie Off

    Shake that Zombie Off

    Most of us live too safe. 

    Most of us live too tired. 

    Most of us live too bored and too busy. 

    We are so preoccupied by what we have to do or what we didn’t get done that we neglect to see the joy in the faces of our children, the beauty in the world around us and to just be thankful. (John 10:10)

    I’ll just say it this way. We all have the tendency to be a little zombie-like at times.

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