Who should be worthy of forgiveness?

When I show up on Sunday mornings, I like to wake things up a bit. I like to send the kids off with some new spiritual tools to rev up the “normal” in their weeks. As a high school Sunday school teacher, I make sure that I am really, really prepared… podcasts, videos, new music, thought- provoking questions.  Also, I am equally prepared to toss the prep work and listen to what these kids need to discuss.  Last Sunday was one of those times when I threw aside my plans.

The first question went like this, “How do I get peace?  You know… after that shooting thing in South Carolina?  What was that about?”

I had been researching material for a column on forgiveness anyway, so I had the stripped down answer: “forgiveness = peace.”

“Ahhh.” (pause – heads nodding in agreement) “So what does that mean?”  We discussed Nelson Mandela’s decided freedom from all anger, bitterness or resentment, when released from prison. That was forgiveness. We touched on Joseph –  thrown by his brothers into a pit and left to die.  He then became a respected leader and ultimately saved those same brothers from starvation. That was forgiveness.  We talked about Jesus on the cross and his plea, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” That was definitely forgiveness.

These cases of forgiveness contributed not only to the well-being of the forgiver, but also to the welfare of future generations.  All of this was profound, especially since it was still pretty early in the morning for a bunch of teenagers. I was pleased with the depth of our conversation and ready to get on with my lesson plans. Oops, not so fast.

Their second question went like this, “Great, but how’d they do it?”

My turn for a pause. I did have an example in thought, since I had been researching forgiveness. So, I shared my own story of sweat-equity-investment in volunteerism, a carefully planned, team project that turned to chaos on presentation day. It was narrowly (but effectively) righted, and when the dust settled, just one person lingered on my grudge list. That grudge grew and got carried around for awhile (ok, a couple of years). Finally, forgiveness was found and the new friendship was well under way.

In my case, realizing forgiveness happened in a moment; it was a revelation of sorts.  I perceived that we had both been doing our best, that the other guy was innocent – in fact, so was I. That realization, (which I gratefully attribute to God) gave me a painless opportunity to forgive and it gave me peace.  I was aware, too, that if we spent our future careers avoiding one another.  Well let’s just say that  as allies, the possibility to work on a project together that would bless our fellow humans (at least a small pocket of them) was much better.

So, realizing another’s innocence, is the key to “how they did it.”  (At least that’s what I told the class.)

With the question, “how do you do it?” now turned back to the class, we decided to try it – we decided to realize the innocence of the South Carolina shooter.  Out loud, we talked through the account in Genesis 1 of man created “in His image and likeness” – pure and innocent. We reasoned through the spiritual nature of God and came to the conclusion that since God is Spirit, we all must be inherently spiritual.  Why would He create anything less than Spirit?  We talked about God’s infinite goodness – we are His image, so we must also express infinite goodness.  In infinity, there isn’t really room for “badness” to be expressed or experienced.  We also found a connection with one another at a very foundational level – that we all share one Father – there was a deep sense of unity in Love; even with the shooter in South Carolina.

And that is how we never got to my lesson plan last Sunday.

It’s said that “unforgiveness is sort of like drinking poison yourself and waiting for the other person to die.” (Marianne Williamson)  That lingering sense of injustice, unreleased anger, or unwillingness to let “them” off the hook, can make it difficult to forgive and can lead to chronic stress and a host of health issues.

Forgiveness, on the other hand, is defined by treating an offender as not guilty (Webster’s 1828 Dictionary).  By so doing, one finds peace, freedom to progress; even goodness.  Forgiveness is clinically linked to relieving stress, boosting the immune system and improving one’s overall health.  Psychologists and world thinkers alike, all get back to that same point – to forgive, the offender must ultimately be held innocent in our own hearts and then treated that way.

The interesting thing about forgiveness, is this: It starts with an individual and remains the work of the individual but when it is accomplished, it blesses not only the health and well being of that individual but the community and world in which she lives.

Jonathan Lockwood Huie says, “Forgive others not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace.”  My Sunday school class would say, “Forgive others because God created them innocent so they’re worth it, and because all mankind deserves peace.”

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Here’s the rock – here’s the hard place. Now what?

©GlowImages. Models used for illustrative purposes only

We don’t see it coming, we only get two choices and both choices are completely unacceptable.  What do we do?

We are handed a first-thing-tomorrow deadline, for instance.  Because of expensive and once-in-a-lifetime plans for tonight, we say “no”.  Left with no other choice, the boss issues an ultimatum, “… get it on my desk by 8:00 A.M.”

We can:

1) “cancel plans”

2) “leave career”

Both options – unsatisfactory.

And then it happens again…

Facing repeated “no-way-out” endings can affect health and wellbeing, reports the ADAA, and anxiety or depression can ensue.  Statistics show that these two  disorders are the most common mental illnesses in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults. These “lesser of two evils” scenes don’t happen  just at work; they can take place in our marriages, our families, and our communities.

In her article,  Caught between a rock and a hard place,  psychologist and author, Beth Fisher-Yoshida Ph.D., CCS, suggests hopeful strategies that engage both parties in creating a solution while promoting the wellbeing of all. In the situation above, for example, the manager might ask for solutions and offer his support to meet the corporate deadline. It’s a strategy that reminds me of the Golden Rule, simply stated: “Do to others as you would have them do to you”.

During my professional years, I learned that effective and timely resolutions meant nobody feeling belittled, martyred or compromised – myself included. Rarely, however, was there time for a group “think tank”.  Instead, it meant dropping my solution and giving the team some time to think things through.

That is when I would turn to the proverb “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5)  This Scripture and the rule, “do it the way I’d want it done to me,” helped me be free of distrust, skepticism or subtle power-plays, and opened me up for new solutions.

Once free of my own concerns, the atmosphere was happier and more positive and the team often came to some great creative solutions.

Take a page from my “non-profit event-planning” days. We contracted a venue that was perfect in every way, but included significant costs that might land in the planning team’s pockets.The team asked me to back out of the deaI.

I explained my dilemma to the venue and ripped up the contract.

Sadly, there were no other “right” venues in the market, and despite the planning team’s best efforts, I knew we would now have to contract with the lesser of two unsatisfactory options.

Wracked with worry, I dreaded the consequences of:

  1. either contracting with the “least of the wrong” venues or

  2. cancelling the whole event

The rock-and-hard-place, felt more like a trash compactor.

Three weeks passed.  The team wasn’t finding that creative solution.

That morning, I took my Bible with me to my volunteer post.  Once there, it was peaceful, allowing me time to read and really let my heart listen to the Word. My head stopped swimming and I went from “how am I going to solve this?” to “calm down and yield to God’s plan.”

I began to see this as an opportunity to allow fresh inspiration to lead my team to previously unseen solutions. Buoyed with that favorite verse from Proverbs, I got a nudge to read a favorite article, “God’s law of adjustment”,  which gave me a very real trust in God’s promise of tangible goodness, “the same yesterday, and today, and forever,” (see Hebrews 13:8).

Suddenly, I felt an inner calm.  I knew there was an unrealized and excellent solution, that would involve no compromises.

That afternoon, the cancelled venue, unexpectedly called.  They were happy and eager to accommodate all our needs and meet our cost criteria as well. Ultimately the event blessed all.

Although very nearly squashed in the trash compactor of fear, I did not have to live with the anxiety of a compromised choice nor did I have to pick the lesser-of-two-evils. My sleep returned to normal, my stomach settled, and my team-compatibility ratings improved.

Whether we are feeling that “rock and hard place” because of situations at work, in our  family, among friends or in our community, it’s good to know there is an “out”. We don’t need to feel responsible, manipulated or victimized by unsatisfactory options.

A wise friend summed it up for me later.  When life offers you just two options, it’s bluffing.  Hold out for the inspired, third option; let God lead the way.

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Fasting out of Cancer

Fasting – it’s trendy right now, promising everything from weight loss to a cure for cancer. Fasting hearkens back to a variety of ancient traditions and, in some, carries with it the promise of spiritual clarity and physical healing.  In numerous Biblical accounts, for example, fasting was practiced in deep times of need (Job), in times of mourning and as intercessory prayer (Nehemiah and Daniel after Jerusalem had been desolated) and in times of much needed spiritual strength (Jesus fasts forty days in the wilderness and returns to heal the masses).

Although the writings are ancient, to me these accounts don’t feel so far  from our modern headlines. The call for fasting, old or new, remains a part of our world’s culture. And modern medicine is increasingly trying to determine what actual health value it might have. For some, a prolonged period in which one abstains from solid food supports mental acuteness, bodily cleansing, and even physical healing.  One recent study, published in the March 30, 2015 Oncotarget, reports positive lab results for cancer victims associated with short fasts.

 Still, consider another general medical opinion – WebMD presents fasting as only marginally safe and a relatively unsustainable method for losing weight.  “…the risks far outweigh any benefits, and ultimately, fasting can cause more harm than good.”   Despite the hopeful reports, fasting is not for everyone.  Patients that fast frequently find themselves drained both in body and mind, which can lead to other problems.

And in some cases, fasting just isn’t an option. Take Christian healer and health-pioneer Mary Baker Eddy, who as a young woman experimented with numerous curative methods – including forms of fasting – to treat her own illnesses.  After enduring an extended fast that left her worse off, she turned away from fasting as a medical treatment.   But Eddy then turned  to her deep heritage of Bible study, where she grasped a practical sense of God’s abundant promise to sustain His creation. She realized that God didn’t make a law that fasting from food was a means of health.   Ultimately, she came to the conclusion that to be whole and healthy she had to stop relying on a material solution and undertake a more spiritual kind of fasting. As she put it,  “…abandon so fast as practical the material, and to work out the spiritual which determines the outward and actual.” Abandon the material?  Isn’t that harder than abstaining from food?  When my close relative was diagnosed with cancer, I experienced the healing power of this kind of fasting for myself.  I had emotions, fears and expectations of unsavory, ugly, life-experiences. The medical care provider offered counselling and support resources to help cope with the impending flurry of procedures and treatments. All of this happened right on top of the holidays. The stress of it all threatened not only my mental but also my physical well being. I made some time to pray – to quiet my thinking and to affirm my unbreakable relationship with goodness – God, divine Love.  The inspiration then came to me to mentally and emotionally fast from the clinical and emotional expectations commonly associated with this experience, and to expect a peaceful future based on the changeless love of God for both my relative and me.  This inspiration provided me comfort and protection – a better understanding of God’s care. There was a promise of hope. That said, it was not easy.  I had to refuse to respond to the alarms and video loops of “what if’s” that kept playing out in my head. Making a conscious effort to abstain from fear-filled anxiety was the toughest “fast” of my life. A favorite verse from Jeremiah helped me the most: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” As I practiced denying fear — giving it no room in my consciousness — I gained some momentum.  I found I had the strength to quickly refuse the random, crazy emotional blasts. With that, I moved through the holidays at a normal, festive pace. It was New Year’s Eve, the results from the first surgery were back, and  they were all negative. They couldn’t find the cancer, there was no cancer, no further treatment was needed.  Those worrisome “what-if” scenarios did not come to pass. In society today, the physical fast can’t meet everyone’s needs, but a mental fast from fear, gloomy expectations and what-if scenarios offers us all an effective tool to rest and heal.

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How to Get Rid of a Tension Headache

“We all have the right to expect pain-free, balanced days.”  I couldn’t agree with Ingrid Peschke more on that point.  As a young woman she suffered debilitating migraine headaches that just intensified as she grew older, married, and had children.

I know several people who suffer from these headaches.  Even though I’ve never had one, I can tell that to the sufferer they are real and serious. It might take days for the condition to subside.

Ingrid found a solution that permanently healed her headaches.  What she did, though, might not be what you would expect.  read more…

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Can Twentysomething Depression Be Healed?

I have a friend who was suicidal.  He once told me, “Unless you’ve been there you have no idea what it’s like to be in that dark place. I genuinely believed that the world would be better off without me.”  He no longer has those thoughts and is a much healthier and happier person.

Suicide is a serious problem, especially amongst teens and young people.  My British colleague Tony Lobl explores this issue, and found in his research that “19 percent of young people in the United States either contemplate or attempt suicide every year.” That’s a lot!

Tony interviews a young woman, Patricia Brugioni, who had thoughts of suicide but overcame them.  But not in the way you might expect. She says, “I knew there were unresolved things in my heart, like huge whales swimming beneath the surface of my thought.”

“Eventually I went along with…[taking]  medication. But years later, reading back through my journal, I realised it had only been at this point that my depression turned suicidal.”

That was Brugioni’s experience – a long struggle with manic depression throughout her teens and twenties and, then, a healing.” read more…

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Finding Your Indomitable Spirit to Defeat Addiction

Challenges are a part of life and we all face them at some time.  Mostly they’re every day little bumps in the road that are easily overcome and quickly forgotten without any lasting consequence.  There are times, however, when the challenge is so overwhelming that the ability to rebound would seem nearly impossible. Yet, there are remarkable examples where individuals and nations persevere to surmount something and become even stronger than before.

My colleague, Don Ingwerson, examines how we can draw upon the “indomitable spirit” within when we face these challenges. And, he raises this interesting question when the challenge seems to be the grip of addiction: “[H]ow does a person embrace this Spirit when drug addiction from treating a pain so many times results in a lack of hope, faith, and trust – qualities that are fundamental components to recovery from pain and addiction? The answer is…” [read full article]


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Are You Losing or Gaining on Your Investment in Health?

Soon after spending a couple of hours talking with a prospective employee, I received a thank you note expressing appreciation for giving her the most valuable thing I have to give — my time.  Though that exchange took place more than twenty years ago, since then I’ve thought a lot about the idea that my time has value.

Sometimes, I spend money to save time. I also spend significant time each day in quiet communion with God, and have experienced how the flow of my day is smoother and more productive. Both of these probably raise the eyebrows of those who feel money might be the most important consideration.  They may fail to see that time has value and feel that cold hard cash in the pocket is what’s most important.

If investing time into something isn’t important, then I suppose spending or even wasting it is the result for many people. Even worse, despite spending time on lots of diversions and missing opportunities for betterment, some of us allow boredom to become the consumer of our time. And, that can have unfortunate health consequences.

According to Dr. Christopher Cannon, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard University and spokesman for the American College of Cardiology, “Someone who is bored may not be motivated to eat well, exercise, and have a heart-healthy lifestyle. That may make them more likely to have a cardiovascular event”.  And, in studies by Annie Britton and Martin J. Shipleyit can also be a harbinger of excessive drinking, smoking, [and] taking drugs”.

But others besides me have given careful thought to the use of time. Philadelphia Eagles football coach Chip Kelly is widely known in sports circles for his innovative techniques for coaching and mentoring his team members.  In answering a question about developing his players during a recent media interview he said:

“…everybody has the same amount of time during the day and you can either spend your time or invest your time and that’s what we are trying to get our players to understand. It’s how you allocate your time.”

Invest – don’t just spend – your time. This idea really strikes a chord with me because it puts a different value on time. It moves beyond “saving it.”  Kelly is asking his players to invest their time.  In reality, you can’t ever “save” time. We are always using our time no matter what we’re doing. American theologian and writer Henry Van Dyke suggests in his short story “The Thrilling Moment” that we have an infinite number of options for using our time. He says:

“Every moment of life… is more or less of a turning-point. Opportunities are swarming around us all the time…”

And, consider this point by spiritual activist Mary Baker Eddy:

“Success in life depends upon persistent effort, upon the improvement of moments more than upon any other one thing. A great amount of time is consumed in talking nothing, doing nothing, and indecision as to what one should do. If one would be successful in the future, let him make the most of the present.

“All successful individuals have become such by hard work; by improving moments before they pass into hours, and hours that other people may occupy in the pursuit of pleasure.” (Miscellaneous Writings, page 230)

But just staying busy to stave off boredom isn’t really a wise or an effective use of time. It’s pretty easy to get caught up in the day-to-day busy work of life. Little tasks demand attention as though they are the most important thing that moment. Besides, it’s easy to let boredom or procrastination drift into frivolous entertainment — youtube, video games, television.

Perhaps Soren Kierkegaard was right when he posited that Boredom is the root of all evil” in his major work Either/Or.

From my perspective, spending a portion of the day reflecting on my deeper spiritual values is a good investment. I strive to understand my relationship to the Divine; I endeavor to incorporate qualities and behaviors into everyday exchanges such as kindness, compassion, giving, and love – all of which benefit me and others. My time and daily tasks are more stress free when I approach each day this way. And, research has shown that all of these are associated with better health and a longer life.

The significance goes deeper than this, though.

Instead of dwelling on the past or fearing the future, improving present moments does more for us than creating a healthier body. It’s a wise investment of our time that brings inner peace and a sense of purpose and meaning in life.  This also makes the world a better place for others.  To me, it is a natural expression of the Divine amongst us.

How are you using your time?

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A Higher Walk To Better Health

It’s pretty simple.  If you walk regularly you will be healthier.  At least that’s what some researchers have concluded. My colleague in the UK asks, however, if that’s all there is to it. He found that there’s a spiritual dimension that adds benefits not only to walking but all aspects of life, including health. His personal experience provides a tangible example of how prayer heals.

“…I was limping painfully with each step, and a pending week in Paris with my wife loomed as a nightmare trip rather than a dream holiday. Yet from previous experiences I’d had I realised a mental shift could make the difference to my body, because pain can be more thought-based than we generally recognise.”

Read more…

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The “Art of Being Alone”

As a tween I was enthralled with the book My Side Of The Mountain by Jean Craighead George. The idea of living in the woods by myself seemed romantic and adventuresome. Not having to account for my actions was appealing. Living off the land and communing with nature was something I could connect with, at least in my fantasy world.

Sam Gribley, the young boy who basically runs away from his home in New York City to the Catskill Mountains to live on his own, sometimes yearned for companionship even while simply trying to prepare for and survive the winter. As the story unfolds, though, it’s clear that his times of solitude have contributed to deeper thinking and to his personal growth. They’ve also made him appreciate others more.

My practice of alonetime is inextricably connected to examining and evaluating my thinking too. The positive side effect is that this deeper thinking also promotes better health.

For example, last winter I began to experience flu symptoms. It was a busy time and the last thing I felt I could do was take time alone to pray about it. But I took an inventory of my thoughts. I examined them to see if they were reflecting a Divine nature instead of being negative and self-centered. I made a course correction and focused my thinking on the good in my life and the good in others! I thought about how much I appreciated other people and worked to express that gratitude. Within one day all the symptoms were gone.

This isn’t getting rid of all thoughts or focusing on my human mind as practiced in some forms of yoga and meditation.  Rather, it’s a communion with and affirmation of Spiritual connectedness, goodness and completeness. It’s a form of prayer.  And in this sense I’m truly not alone but connected more firmly to God.  It’s a process that doesn’t remove me from this world of activity but helps me be an active participant.

I find this Biblical text especially helpful to guide my alonetime prayers:

“… whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Phil. 4:8)

Others have found that aloneness is good too. Former director of NYU Steinhardt Department of Applied Psychology, Esther Buchholz tells us from her extensive writing and research on the human conditions of attachment and aloneness:

“Now, more than ever, we need our solitude. Being alone gives us the power to regulate and adjust our lives.”

Still, some people find the prospect of being alone with their own thoughts a frightening proposition.  So much so that they would rather suffer some form of physical pain than be alone, as Timothy Wilson, psychology professor at the University of Virginia, found in his recent research.

What would make the difference for any one of us between a frightening versus a health-giving experience? I’ve found that it’s whether we entertain thoughts that make us feel isolated and lonely or cosmically connected to something larger than ourselves.

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We Don’t Have To Conspire Against Good Health

Shortly before an election, a spin-doctor and a Hollywood producer joined efforts to fabricate a war in order to cover up a presidential sex scandal. That’s the conspiratorial plot of a dark comedy in the late nineties called Wag the Dog. Conspiracy theories had a dominant presence in public thought at the time.

Wikipedia notes that “A conspiracy theory is an explanatory proposition that accuses two or more persons, a group, or an organization of having caused or covered up, through secret planning and deliberate action, an illegal or harmful event or situation.”

A conspiracy we often fall prey to is being afraid of what our bodies are up to.

Even though Wag the Dog was a fictional story, it did reflect how many people view why bad things happen. It seems to be human nature to let the unexplained or hard to accept fall on the shoulders of some perceived power “out there.”  We see ourselves as being victimized in some way.

I’m not so sure, however, that the conspiracy we should be most concerned about is the one contrived by the public thinking and discourse. Maybe looking into our own individual thought to see what might be conspiring against our health and happiness would be more useful.

A conspiracy we often fall prey to is being afraid of what our bodies are up to. Wondering about this symptom, that ache, or a sleepless night can be paralyzing.

By doing this, it seems to me that we do, in a way, fall into the belief that there are many forces – which we have deemed “health laws” – outside of our control that directly affect our health. We can’t see these so called laws and yet we buy into many theories and dire predictions without question.  We accept them as de facto, and sometimes sinister, rulers of our bodies and our experience.

There’s an engaging allegory that depicts a criminal trial of someone accused of violating prevailing health laws by nursing an ill friend for long hours without rest or a regular proper diet. Contemporary health beliefs conspired against this generous but hapless man for helping his friend.  Eventually, he was framed by his own fear and got liver disease. As the story plays out, however, the counsel for the defense introduces evidence that this man’s fear was based in a conspiracy to make him ill. But, a higher law of God – that says we are blessed for helping our neighbor – acquitted him once his fear was revealed as the culprit, and he recovered.

The purpose of the allegory is to make a point. Perhaps the Good Samaritan in the allegory could have avoided the arresting situation in the beginning. If he recognized the conspirators as his own thoughts before he fell ill he would never have found himself in court. He could have claimed his freedom from the beginning if he hadn’t conspired against himself.

The trial scene as an allegory is fine for storytelling, but what about our everyday real life experiences? For example, as we age public discourse says we must expect certain negative changes in our health due to biological processes associated with this aging – right?

But, must we?

If we accept this premise without challenging it, we are conspiring against ourselves.

The author of the trial allegory, Mary Baker Eddy, makes this observation about our so-called laws of aging:

“Time-tables of birth and death are so many conspiracies against manhood and womanhood. Except for the error of measuring and limiting all that is good and beautiful, man would enjoy more than threescore years and ten and still maintain his vigor, freshness, and promise. Let us then shape our views of existence into loveliness, freshness, and continuity, rather than into age and blight.”

Time-tables, or predictions that go along with commonly held beliefs don’t always hold up when we don’t hold them up in our own minds.  Researchers have found that to be the case.

Ellen Langer, a psychologist at Harvard University has done extensive research on …”[c]onscious and nonconscious influences regarding the general areas of health and happiness, decision making, aging, and perceived control…”  Her research has shown that thinking differently about aging (and other commonly held beliefs) has a marked effect on health. By refusing to let our own thoughts conspire against our good health and happiness, we can directly affect our aging experience.

Langer’s work goes a long way towards uncovering the conspirators in our minds, but certainly we can go further in getting at the heart of the issue.  It really is a spiritual matter.  As we pay more attention to the ageless spiritual qualities we possess, such as compassion, love, kindness, charity and at the same time challenge our own mental conspirators, we can upgrade our experience of happiness and health.

When we choose a Divine view of things, we don’t have to conspire against our own good health and happiness.

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    Karla Hackney

    A lifelong resident of Oregon, Karla Hackney writes about the connection between spirituality and health from her perspective as a Christian Science healer. She also serves as the media and legislative ... Read Full
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