#2015RealBestNine

You know, because you journeyed with us, that 2015 was a horrendous year (feel free to nominate a better adjective – it’s hard to pick just one that encapsulates the general feeling of the year). I have no desire to hash out (yet again) all of the repugnance in the year. If you have some macabre desire to reflect on our year, please feel free to peruse our many rather depressing 2015 blog posts.

There’s this hashtag going around social media this week called #2015BestNine. It’s a compilation of the 9 most liked pictures users posted on instagram during the year. My “best 9” are all actually my worst 9. (chemo bald Adam, ICU… you know, the real downer pictures that got lots of likes because we were posting that Adam was alive despite some incredible odds).

In my non-cancer wife life, I typically use social media as my highlight reel – an opportunity to share the sweet things. This year, however, we were able to share with the masses the ugly truths and rope in community near and far into real life. We were so grateful for a wide platform on which to share about life this year, but there were a whole lot of lowlight reels.

But even in the midst of an overpoweringly awful year, there were glimmers of light, of fun, of joy. I’ve decided to honor the end of 2015 by highlighting some of my favorite things – The #2015RealBestNine if you will. I would love to hear from y’all some of your 2015 superlatives.

  1. Best Books: This year, I read 20 books. Given the intensity of the year, I will consider that an accomplishment. It pales in comparison to the 365 books one of my friends read, but we are all on our own journeys so I’ll cheers to the books we all read this year. Here’s to being part of the 76% of American adults who read at least one book this year!

Fiction: I used to be a strictly non-fiction reader. I simply couldn’t “get into” novels. Then I found young adult fiction a few years ago and my reading world changed. This year, fiction was a welcome escape. I read so many dear old books (shout out to CS Lewis and LM Montgomery) but the highlight of my fiction reading was certainly Harry Potter. Adam and I both read the series for the first time in our lives this fall and absolutely adored it. We’d like to take this time to apologize to our First Pres Monterey Koinonia group for not listening to you in 2006 and reading the books with you. Adam’s youth group illustrations would have taken on a whole new element. 2 admissions: Hermione Granger and I are 2 peas in a pod and I’m sad to admit that I’m probably a Hufflepuff even though I want to be a Gryffindor)

Nonfiction: I did squeeze in a few nonfiction books this year and Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson wins this category. While Stevenson is a lawyer, he is also a storyteller. This book weaves in story after story of glimmers of justice in an unjust legal system in America. Go ahead and add this to your 2016 book list if you haven’t read it yet.

Faith: Gold by Moonlight by Amy Carmichael was this year’s spiritual guidebook for me: A beautiful reminder of hope and truth in the midst of darkness.

  1. Best Food: So much of this year was holed up at home, eating bland foods and subsequently not caring about food. It’s been fun over the past few months to start cooking yummy food and get out and enjoy someone else’s cooking. Our favorite new Nashville eatery is Chauhan Ale and Masala House. We can’t stop eating here. If you live in Nashville or come for a visit, we insist you stop here.
  1. Best Movie: We didn’t do a lot of movie watching this year. You would think it would have been a good year for that, but no. We did, however, have a Harry Potter movie marathon after finishing all 7 books and it did not disappoint. Our friends drove in from out of state to enjoy the festivities. We ate and drank our way through all 8 movies (and two UK games) and had the sweetest weekend. Close second does NOT go to Star Wars. I realize the following statement may result in some broken friendships, but I don’t get it, y’all. We watched 4,5, & 6 and I’m not watching any more. Help me, friends, what is it that you love about these movies?Potter Movie Marathon
  2. Best TV Show: Well, we binge watched all of the Chuck seasons during surgery recovery (because why wouldn’t we?). But if we’re talking about new TV shows, this nomination goes out to Life in Pieces. I adore this new show. It’s funny and sweet and full of good characters. Have y’all seen it?
  1. Best Game: I don’t know what we would have done without Yahtzee this year. We wore out our dice on this game. It was a great low-energy pain-distraction game. Close second goes out to Farkle – but I always lose that one, so it can’t be my favorite.
  1. Best Activity: Gardening. I love our little raised-bed empire housed in #CasaBuYARD. Every year, I learn new things about our Creator, about our environment, and about sustainable food. This year, our garden was my safe place, my prayer place, my sunshine, and my joy. I’m missing my daily dose of vitamin D and fresh tomatoes these days. garden
  1. Best Pictures: Not chosen because of their artistic quality, but rather for what they represent, here are my #BestNine2015:

Best 9

Top Row (left to right)

Game marathons with Adam, planting #CasaBuYARD 2015, canoeing during our #MonthOfFun

Middle Row (left to right)

Speaking at a conference in Chicago (work has been such a fun challenge this year), living it up on a Jamaican beach, our Harry Potter movie marathon menu

Bottom Row (left to right)

Books and journaling, fun time with friends during our #MonthOfFun (we could have posted many more sweet moments between yuck with friends this year – our 10 year reunion was in this highlight reel), and New Year’s Even when we put on our dancing shoes and sipped champagne and welcomed in a new year.

  1. Best Silver Lining: While frustrating many days, this year forced us to slow down and stop buying into the culture of busy. This year, I found glimmers of joy in simplicity, in quiet unplanned nights, in reading in front of the fire, in endless Yahtzee tournaments, and in an uncomplicated calendar. I found time to think and write some letters and rest. We’re ready to embrace a little more zest in life, but I truly hope we can maintain rest and Sabbath in health.
  1. Best Surprise: Our friends got together and sent us on a GOURMET vacation to Jamaica. We had our own personal butlers (yes, you read that right, we had more than one personal butler). We rested and read and lounged and ate and cried and took in so much sunshine. It was amazing.

Jamaican Paradise

So there you have it. Those are my #2015RealBestNine. What were yours?

Happy New Year, friends!

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Cancerversary

Not all anniversaries are happy ones. We celebrate some anniversaries, we mourn others, and we loathe still others. Today is a hard anniversary in the Buzard house.

One year ago today, after an agonizing month of testing and waiting and speculations, Adam was officially diagnosed with cancer. The expanse between October 2, 2014 and October 2, 2015 feels far greater than a year should, and yet my memories are all so sharp.

I can call to mind where each of us sat with feet shaking to the sound of the white wall clock ticking, ticking, ticking as we waited hundreds of seconds for the oncologist to enter the room and deliver concrete news. I remember the boulder in my stomach and the tears that choked my vocal chords as phrases like, “stage 4”, “aggressive chemo”, and “we don’t have time to wait” spilled out of a stranger, who is no longer a stranger. I recall walking out of the exam room, grasping Adam’s hand tightly, and walking toward the receptionist desk to schedule chemotherapy with tears racing down my cheeks.

I remember the silent slow walk toward the park across the street from the hospital and I remember the sound of the sobs that escaped in turns from each of us over the next three hours. I remember delivering news to family and friends through texts and calls, and I can call up the sounds of our friends sobs, too.

While this year has felt like a million years, it hasn’t been a blur. The memories from this year are incredibly vivid. I remember the sounds and smells and feels on Adam’s first day of chemo, I remember blubbering in the bathroom watching Adam take control of his hair loss before chemo did, I remember the weeks of battling nausea and anxiety in supportive silence, I remember the feeling of exhausted accomplishment on the last day of chemo, and I remember the lonely cold winter. And the surgeries: Even if I tried, I will never forget the nausea-inducing surgical waiting room, the plastic pull-out sleeping chair, the whirring of the IV machine, and the countless complications.

But I have other powerfully distinct memories from this year, too. I remember the friend that came and cried with us over Chipotle on the first day of chemo. I remember the consistent presence of my sister in every surgery waiting room and in between. I recall the friends who were with us while Adam buzzed his head. I remember the meals, the gutter cleanings, the full mailbox, and the amazon wish-list delivery extravaganza. I remember the presence of Adam’s parents on all of the hardest weeks. I remember the friends who drove long distances just to sit with us because that’s what friends do. And I remember the other friends who kidnapped Adam for a 2-hour road trip against doctors (and my) wishes because laughter and friends are really good medicine.

I remember the loving text messages and the videos of our friends’ kiddos praying for Adam. I will never forget the joy and love at Adam’s chemo finish line party. I remember all the sour patch kids and chipotle gift cards and essential oils (and all the wine and chocolate that was delivered just for me).

And I remember the pervasive, goodness and faithfulness of God this year. In the silence, in the dark of long nights, in the waiting rooms, and in just the plain old waiting, God’s goodness has been evident. God’s faithfulness has been present through his people, through His quiet presence, through the miracles, and through the setbacks.

In the Old Testament, Samuel commemorates the end of a battle by raising up a large stone and naming it Ebenezer (which means stone of help) to remind him and the Israelites of God’s help and faithfulness. I don’t know if we’ll go out in search of a big rock, or if this blog post will suffice, but as I remember this awful, heavy, unbearable, unbelievable year, I will also remember beauty in the ashes and pain dotted with grace.

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The Tension of Today

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I went on my first short-term mission trip when I was in high school. I packed ankle length skirts and modest tops (and matching bandanas for my hair, of course) and headed to Managua, Nicaragua. In my short week there, I observed a culture very different from my own, I experienced what it felt like to be a foreigner, and I was exposed to extreme poverty. As I walked through the tents of a refugee camp that housed families who had been displaced by a devastating hurricane, I began to grasp my own privilege.

When I landed back on U.S. soil, I was simultaneously relieved and uncomfortable with the things that had previously been my normal – from meals to clothes to social norms to routines. It took me a long time to fully comprehend what was happening in my heart and mind and soul; I was somehow changed. The things that I had seen had impacted me deeply; they had begun to shift my worldview.

IMG_1603The tension was that while my worldview had shifted, my real-life non-mission trip world as a high-schooler hadn’t shifted. I had to return to school, to my part-time job, to friendships, and normal teenage social pressure, but my normal life didn’t feel quite so normal anymore. I had a hard time sorting through how what I had experienced and what I was thinking about fit back into everyday life.

I’ve been having a hard-time articulating how I am feeling as of late. And because we have the best people in our lives, we are getting asked how we are doing a lot these days. As I’ve been doing some emotional self-assessment, I have decided that I’m feeling a lot like 11th grade post-first mission trip Allison. I have experienced, observed, and been exposed to some incredibly heavy things this year as I have walked with my husband through cancer treatments. And now, while we’re on a break from treatments and normal life can resume (at least temporarily) I am experiencing that familiar tension. I’m not sure how what I have experienced fits in with pre-cancer life.

I’m doing a lot less “cancer-wife” activities these days and a lot more “normal-life” activities. Life is starting to look more like it used to – it just doesn’t quite feel like it used to. I know that, at least with mission trips, the fusion of new experiences with normal life does happen. Normal life shifts a bit to accommodate new world views, and world views shift a smidge to accommodate the mandatory normal and somehow, in time, there is less incongruence. But ‘in time’ is the key phrase.

And so here I am, in the middle of waiting for normal life and cancer life to fuse into something that feels normal-ish. I’m waffling between cancer-shock and acceptance that this will forever change me. So in the spirit of honesty, I’ll leave this post in the tension that I’m feeling without a nice summary or Scripture-bow on top – maybe those will come with future posts.

Reflections on 11 Years

Vows11 years ago today, we stood facing each other; hands clasped, gazing into one another’s youthful-faces at an alter in a little white country church. We pledged our vows to one another in front of our God and our dearest friends that we would love and cherish each other in good times, in healthy times, in times of abundance, and also in the times that were not so good, not so healthy, and not so abundant. We also declared on that day, through verse, song, and homily that we wanted our marriage to be a story of God’s faithfulness.

Wedding ProgramWe had everyone leaf through the blue hymnals in their pews and sing our favorite hymn, ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness’ as a testimony and prophetic anthem over our marriage that God’s faithfulness would be our theme. The verse on our not-so-cool wedding program (Thanks Pinterest for being a decade too late) was Psalm 115:1 “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name be the glory because of your love and faithfulness.”

We didn’t know much as wrinkle-free, and nearly carefree 21 year olds, but we knew that we wanted our marriage to serve a greater purpose than ourselves –We wanted our marriage to be as much about loving others as it was about loving each other. We wanted to serve God better as a couple than we would individually. We wanted our marriage to glorify God and point to God’s faithfulness.

As enthusiastic not-yet-college-graduates, we had vague grand dreams of what that would look like and ambition to fill in the plot holes. We envisioned that we would do significant things as a couple that would be a story of God’s faithfulness in mending our broken world.

What we forgot, in our grand, innocent, well-meaning pre-marital vision, was that we were the characters in God’s story, not the author – and characters don’t get a say in their own story. Thus far, the Author of our story has seemed far less interested in compelling plot lines and heroic daring adventures and far more interested in character development.

It seems as though the majority of our 11 years of marriage have been spent on developing our character – individually and as a team. Committed, long-term relationships have a way of developing character, don’t they? For that matter, life stuff has a way of developing character. But marriage has a knack for drawing out the hidden, dark, flawed stuff we can hide from most friends and it also has the potential to draw out the deepest reserves of beauty, strengths, and gifts. Through our married years, character has been forged through fire and desert and valley and straight roads, too. We have learned about perseverance, faith, faithfulness, trust, forgiveness, fortitude, and selfless love.

12 years ago, our soon-to-be married selves didn’t realize how much we needed our own restoration individually and how much we would need it as a couple. We thought God’s faithfulness would be more evidenced through our marriage, but instead, His faithfulness has been most evidenced in our marriage. And while that type of story rarely makes a best-seller list, it’s a powerful story best told around tables filled with good food, on couches with dear ones, and sometimes over coffee with a friend of a friend who needs to hear that story. We have found that as we allow others to see God’s work – the messy, arduous, refining work of restoring us as individuals and as a couple, His faithfulness is most evident.

And so, after 11 years, our story isn’t one about a power duo changing the world, and it isn’t a top seller – in fact, our story doesn’t even have a terribly coherent plotline. But really, isn’t it the messy, imperfect, broken, vulnerable stories that make the best backdrops for stories of God’s faithfulness and not the strong, perfect, neat, and tidy ones?

We couldn’t have imagined the chapters that would emerge when we chose “Not to us, O LORD, but to Your name be the glory, because of Your love and faithfulness” as the back cover to our story. But we are grateful that our story is our story, and more, we are so grateful that God is faithful.

Here’s to 11 years of character development and God’s faithfulness and the cherry on top of friendship, joy, and laughter. Here’s to our marriage and our story and the stories that have yet to be written. I love you, Adam.

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Dark Night in the Woods

Sometime during the course of late night conversations sophomore year of college (which no doubt took place over greasy Dominoes pizza or handfuls of microwave popcorn), my girlfriends discovered that I had never been camping before.

That’s not entirely true. I had been sort of camping once before. My non-outdoorsy parents agreed to embark on a camping trip with family friends one summer but we bailed when the tents started buckling during a torrential downpour and we landed at a hotel.

IMG_9339So back to college: My gals decided that we should go on a fall camping trip to give me a proper first camping experience. The idea of camping didn’t seem awesome but the idea of missing out on time with my friends seemed less awesome, so I conceded. A few of the camping experts set to planning out supplies, meals, route, and campground while I took to planning my most outdoorsy-looking outfits (nailed it, right?).

Camping 2012One Friday after class, when the trip was planned out, we loaded up our old college cars and shipped off to The Gorge. I don’t remember what caused the delay; maybe someone couldn’t skip her last Friday class or we took too long packing (or posing for pictures of packing) or there was a traffic delay, but somehow we got to our parking site later than our resident camping experts had hoped and we were almost out of daylight. We loaded up our backs with big supply packs and set out on the long hike down into the gorge to our campground.

IMG_9338We had fewer headlamps than campers so the expert campwomen geared up, and us rookies lined up every other headlamp and kept close. Very shortly into our descent, we were in total darkness except for the light of the few headlamps. I was told to keep close, to not veer too far to the right or left (because of a drop off), and to trust my friends.

Two of the girls had grown up exploring and camping in the very woods we were slogging. They knew the path even in the dark. They wouldn’t let me and our other pals get hurt.

I trusted but I was uncomfortable. I wasn’t in control; I had no idea where I was, what was around me, and what was ahead of me. I didn’t even have charge over what I could see.

I trusted but I was fearful. No doubt my anxiety (i.e the ability to conjure up the grimmest of all possible scenarios) played out ugly scenes in my mind as we hiked in lightless silence.

I was reminded of this trip as I was reading treasured words of Amy Carmichael this week: “There can be no difficulty of travel that he does not understand. We are never alone as we penetrate the unknown. We cannot be lost there… He knoweth the way that I take… There is no darkness where He cannot find us.”

I’m feeling a lot these days like I did that dark night in the woods. I trust God, but I am uncomfortable with how little control I have. I trust God, but I am still fearful. My steps feel unsteady and I have little idea what is beside me or in front of me. I would really, really like to know what the woods look like. Walking in the dark is exhausting.

But I take solace in the knowledge that there is no darkness where He cannot find us and even more solace in the knowledge that He can see even when I cannot.

“Even the darkness will not be dark to You;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to You.” (Psalm 139:12)

IMG_9340We made it safely into the gorge that night and had a delicious dinner of steak and nearly raw potatoes. (Fire-roasted dinner takes time and hunger doesn’t breed patience). We set up our tents, roasted something sweet over the fire, learned how to pee in the woods, told ourselves that no bears or scary mountain people would attack us until we finally fell asleep.

When I woke up in the morning and emerged from my tent to the smell of pancakes over the fire, I couldn’t believe the view. We were deep in the heart of a beautiful valley, with autumn-toned trees decorating the canopy above. I looked up at the narrow, steep path we had trudged in the dark and thought that perhaps it was better that I hadn’t been able to see where I was walking. I thought perhaps the scary walk in the dark made the morning all the more beautiful.

Maybe one day, when this dark cancer trip ends, I will feel the same way.


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Snow and Silence before Spring

My husband was diagnosed with cancer in early October just before the weather cooled. He began intense chemotherapy treatments as frost began to make intricate designs on car windows in the dark hours of early mornings. Cold days were a perfect backdrop for the chemo days. Internally things felt cool, slow, and painful, just as they did outdoors.

During the first few weeks of treatment, as my partner’s body struggled to process all the chemicals being imported into his veins, I struggled to find words. I struggled to find words in my own head, I struggled to find words with friends, and I struggled to find words for God. After awhile, I was able to surrender the notion that I needed to say things to God and I found a quiet comfort in silence.

But after days of silence, maybe even weeks, I started to wonder why God was being so incredibly silent. I knew why I was being silent, but I expected that He could find words. I’ve been taught over the years “The number one reason that we can’t hear God is that we aren’t listening.” But there was plenty of silence, plenty of listening, plenty of wanting to hear God speak. Of all the seasons in my life that I thought I needed to hear from God, this was paramount.

Yet God remained so incredibly quiet: Present, but quiet.

One day, when I found a few words, I asked God, “Why are you being so quiet?

And an answer came. “I’m here, I’m just being silent with you. You don’t need any more noise, so I’m sitting in quiet with you. You know who I am and what I am capable of – I don’t need to remind you – so I’ll just sit here with you, instead.”

God with me, Immanuel: This revelation left me speechless in a totally different sort of wordlessness.

This winter was rather severe for the south. We had cold, ice, and snow that rivaled records. Southerners are good at hibernating in the winter but this year, we were all especially reclusive. Our bustling town was shut down for several weeks for unsavory road conditions, and all was quiet.

A quiet city was a good backdrop for my quieted prayer life. As God sat with me in mostly silence, there was a deepening trust, a deepening strength, and a deepening peace. Good things were happening deep in the soil of my soul in quiet and waiting.

“The snow-time is full of quiet secrets, too, for we are carefully keeping secrets with God about the growing things under the snow… There is no dancing with the daffodils. That comes afterwards. But there is trust.”– Amy Carmichael, Gold by Moonlight

I don’t suspect the breaking of silence had anything to do with the breaking of winter. But the timing is serendipitous. Somewhere in the ICU in the dark of night, I found my words again. Just as the daffodils are breaking through the callous soil and birds are finding their songs again, I have words for my thoughts and feels and longings and I am quite enjoying conversing with God again. Perhaps the conversations wouldn’t be so sweet had it not been for the long and quiet winter.

“Sometimes there are beautiful things that would not have been if there had not been snow.” – A.C., Gold by Moonlight

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“O Thou beloved child of my desire,

Whether I lead thee through green valleys,

By still waters,

Or though fire,

Or lay thee down in silence under snow,

Though ay weather, and whatever

Cloud may gather

Wind may blow –

Wilt thou love Me? trust me? praise me?”

A.C., Gold by Moonlight

Fears and Darkness and Maybe a Little Bravery

For most of the childhood years I can remember, I lived in a little white cape cod parsonage that bordered the property of the church my dad pastored. There were loads of windows in that home and bright light streamed into almost every room – except for the basement. I know that most basements are scary, but believe me when I say that this one was especially eery. Perhaps it was the dark wood paneling that accentuated the lack of natural light, or the damp basement smell that permeated the space, or the narrow poorly-lit hall that led to a haunted-house-esque closet, or perhaps it was just all the centipedes (shudder).

I don’t think I ever knew exactly what I was afraid of in that basement, I’m not sure I even let my mind wander to all of the possibilities that I was worried actually existed there. But I was, undoubtedly, afraid of that place.

As much as possible, I avoided descending into the basement by my lonesome, but avoidance was inescapable on Saturday mornings. Saturday mornings were cleaning day at the Shuey Shack and vacuuming stairs happened to be on my chore list. I have incredibly distinct memories of getting out the trusty dust-buster and trudging to the top of the basement stairs. I remember my heart rate increasing as I inched further and further down the stairs, further into the darkness, further in to the scary possibilities that I couldn’t hear sneaking up behind me because I was using a noisy vacuum.

I’m not sure when it started, but at some point during the Fear-Fest-Vacuum-Sessions, I started singing a Scripture song my mom had taught me (to the tune of row, row, row your boat so you can get the full picture) “What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee, Psa-a-a-alm 56:3“.  I wore that song out on those stairs.

You know, I’m not sure that I ever got less scared to go in the basement. I don’t think the song made the dark any less scary. The song/Scripture was a reminder that God is trustworthy even when the dark is scary.

Through basement avoidance, cancer wards, and other hard places in-between, I have learned that trusting God doesn’t automatically turn dark places into light places.

As Adam heads into his 5th surgery this morning, I find myself again in the juxtaposition of faith and fear. Some Christians might argue that there is no fear in faith, and maybe that’s true. It’s not true for me. I trust God and I am afraid.

Nearly every day in February, I read Psalm 34 and as the words became more and more familiar, different themes emerged. One of those themes was that there are 2 kinds of fear:

I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.
This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him,
and he delivers them.

(Psalm 34:4-7)

I am afraid of cancer and surgical complications and scans and future unknowns. And I’m also afraid at times of a God whose ways are higher than mine, Who doesn’t always answer prayers the way I wish, Who isn’t a puppet manipulated by my directions, Who allows cancer and healing and death and life.

I trust God, and I fear God.

I have (what I think are) healthy fears and I have (what I know are) unhealthy fears. I entertain worst-case-scenarios and I battle anxiety and I fight panic – not just about, but definitely including, cancer.

For those unhealthy fears, I am seeking the LORD and waiting to one-day say, “I was delivered from all my fears.” I don’t imagine healing from anxiety will happen like a flashy disappearing magic act, instead, I think it’s happening in small moments, as I choose to trust in the dark places. I imagine healing from fear will feel something like an interaction I just read about in CS Lewis’ Prince Caspian. The interaction occurs between Aslan and Susan, when Susan was feeling afraid:

“You have listened to fears, Child,” said Aslan. “Come, let me breathe on you. Forget them. Are you brave again?”

“A little, Aslan,” said Susan.

Little by little I am being delivered from fears. Maybe deliverance from fear will turn into Holy fear? For now, deliverance looks like moments of trusting God’s goodness even in the dark, scary places. For now, deliverance from fears looks like God breathing bravery into my weary soul.

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