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Enjoying Life

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Our dog, Bentley, has fallen deeply in love with my wife, Jenn. He has also become rather protective of her. I found this out the hard way when I leaned over to give Jenn a kiss while Bentley was lying beside her. Instead of the nice soft embrace of my wife’s lips, I got a face full of Bentley, who with amazing quickness and agility, sprang between my face and hers and pushed me away with his long, wet nose.

I jumped back with a start and stared at this crazy dog who was now suffocating my laughing wife under his protective paws. Not one to easily give up when it comes to getting a kiss from my wife, I leaned over once again searching for her lips. This time, Bentley started barking and positioned his long body completely over Jenn’s head.

By this time, Jenn was laughing hysterically and Bentley-the-Protector was barking madly to keep me away. The battle was on. Man versus beast. Passion versus protection. Crazy dog versus desperate husband wanting a kiss.

I cautiously circled the sofa. Bentley stared at me with his big, black eyes with Jenn safely secured under his paws. Tail wagging, he watched my every move. When the moment was just right, I jumped in, scooped Bentley up in my arms, ran the yapping dog into the other room with the tile floor. I put the frantic dog on the tile floor, held him back from running, and took off for the sofa to retrieve my kiss. As I ran toward Jenn, I could here the clatter of Bentley’s toenails flailing wildly on the tile floor desperately trying to get traction so he could beat me to the couch. His spinning legs gave me just enough time to race back to Jenn and win my kiss.

Man had won over beast once again.

Oh, the simple pleasures of life. Playing with a dog. Working hard for a kiss. Laughter. The list of ways to enjoy life is truly endless.

I am amazed by the entire concept of joy. It’s interesting, for example, that “joy” is both a noun and a verb. My dictionary defines joy—the noun—as, “intense and especially ecstatic or exultant happiness.” Joy—the verb—is defined as, “to take great pleasure; rejoice” as well as, “to fill with ecstatic happiness, pleasure, or satisfaction.”

I recently heard a wonderful message on creation. I was enthralled when the pastor suggested that God may have “sung” the world into existence. Of course, we have no idea if this is the case, but I love that imagery. Just imagine the beauty and joy of God’s voice singing as he creates stars, galaxies, and you and me…into existence.

Like love, joy is a part of God’s very essence. “God is love” as much as “God is joy.” The two are inseparable. The Tyndale Illustrated Bible Dictionary explains that joy is a “quality, and not simply an emotion, grounded upon God himself and indeed derived from Him.” Perhaps that is why famed author and professor, C.S. Lewis, described his conversion and ultimate belief in Christ, by simply saying, “joy.”

I have a friend who is battling cancer. Through emails, he keeps me up-to-date on what is going on through the various stages of treatment. He has endured many surgeries, medications with terrible side effects, long hospital stays, difficult setbacks, and endless doctor visits. Watching him fight this terrible disease is a reminder that none of us are immune from trials, sorrows, disappointments, and frustrations. “What a blessing,” he says, “that I have a basis for which I can experience God’s love, joy, and peace regardless of my situation.”

The famous preacher, Charles H. Spurgeon once said, “When you speak of heaven, let your face light up with heavenly gleam. Let your eyes shine with reflected glory. And when you speak of hell—well, then your usual face will do.”

So, here’s hoping more and more faces “light up with a heavenly gleam.” After all, there are far too many walking around with their “usual face.”

Back in the game 53 days after major surgery

The University of Miami’s final regular baseball series was agains the University of North Carolina May 16 & 17, 2014. The series included a 16 inning first game of the double header. Miami won the series to take first place in the ACC.

The series also featured my son, David, and his return after missing 32 games due to Venous Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. He was hospitalized on March 19th, had six hour surgery on March 24 (including having a rib removed), and returned to action on May 16th. A remarkable return just 53 days after major surgery.

David said, “Having a little rib removed isn’t going to keep me out of the game.” Amazing! God is good, all the time.

Life of an Athlete’s Parent

DT on 2nd

The late George Carlin had a wonderful routine about the differences between football and baseball. “The objectives of the two games are totally different,” he explained. “In football,” Carlin said in a tough military voice, “the object is for the quarterback, otherwise known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz even if he has to use the shotgun.” Carlin then switched to a much softer, kinder voice and said, “In baseball, the object is to go home and to be safe. I hope I’ll be safe at home.”

At a recent University of Miami game, I was talking to a few other parents of athletes about what it’s like to watch our kids perform “on the public collegiate stage.” We sit in the stands amongst emotional fans and can’t help but overhear both praise and disparagement spewing from strangers’ lips. At any particular moment, your child is either great or terrible. “There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground” was an agreed upon statement. Sometimes, we wish we could just grab up our kids and like Carlin said, “go home and be safe.”

Of course, our young athletes would have nothing to do with that. They are competitors and something deep inside them drives them. They are always their own biggest critic; demanding more of themselves than any unreasonable fan. No one is more disappointed with a poor performance than the competitor his or her self. And while we parents sometimes wish we could whisk our children home to safety, the truth is, we’ll stand in the fire with them. We fully understand that all too often, the only encouragement they hear, is from mom and dad.

As I watched the Olympics this year, I felt a new kinship with the parents of those amazing athletes. I could appreciate the tremendous sacrifice both in time and money that was invested to help their child get to this incredible pinnacle. I could better understand their sleepless nights as they worried, consoled, and encouraged. And when one of the olympians would falter after all those years of training and sacrifice and their dreams slipped away in an instant, I could imagine the tearful meeting with a mom and dad whose hearts were equally broken. I wondered how many said the same words I have repeated more than once knowing full well their answer, “You only have two choices: quit or persevere.”

The other side of that coin is equally emotional. I truly understand the expression of being so proud “your buttons might pop off.” Few things are more exhilarating or fill us with more pride than the achievements of our kids. In those moments we know it’s been worth every sacrifice and every struggle and we’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. Lou Holtz added some excellent insight when he said, “You’re never as good as everyone tells you when you win, and you’re never as bad as they say you are when you lose.”

So we parents sit in the stands running the gamut of emotions right along with our children. We disregard critics who callously offer opinions with little understanding of what is really taking place, how hard they are working, and how badly they want to succeed. Rather, we welcome the caring eyes and embraces from those who truly understand the struggle. We watch the body language of our kids, read their faces, and pray for wisdom as to how best to respond whether they succeed or fail. Then we pray some more.

It’s not easy being the parent of an athlete. But we wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Christmas, Cuba, Baseball & LOGOI…a great combination

Another LOGOI Side Road Adventure during our teams Cuba visit in December 2013. Thanks to a generous gift from Emil Castellanos in Miami, David Thompson (who plays third base for the University of Miami) brought in three large bags filled with baseball equipment. Much of the equipment was brand new thanks to Dicks Sporting Goods. This special visit included players from Cuba’s Sancti Spíritus national baseball team. The pastor of this church is a LOGOI/FLET Bible school graduate and one of LOGOI’s Five Dollar National Missionaries. What a wonderful Christmas present for us all. God is good!

Jesus Fixed My Lawnmower

Jesus fixed my lawnmower.  I realize that sounds sacrilegious, but it’s true.  He did fix my lawnmower.  In fact, I see and talk to Jesus just about every day and believe me, it’s quite comforting.  He’s always warm and friendly, eager to listen and help, and is very good at fixing things.

He lives in the house next door.

IMG_0399A YouTube video suggested my lawnmower problem may be the carburetor, so while I was standing over my lawnmower wondering what a carburetor actually looked like, Jesus walked over to offer help.  He quickly found it, took it apart, cleaned it up, put it back together, and started it up.  My job was simply to stand there and offer words of wonder, appreciation, and amazement.

It’s great living next door to Jesus.

Just like within the Hispanic community today, Jesus was a relatively common name back in the first century.  Historians and Bible scholars explain that Jesus is the transliteration of the name Yeshua (or Jeshua) from Greek.  From Yeshua we get Joshua or Jesus.  Yeshua means “Savior” or more specifically, the “salvation of the Lord.”  Pretty cool.

Much has been written about how our name influences our character.  Psychologist Richard Wiseman says, “We have strong perceptions about first names and associate them with success, luck and attractiveness.”  Perhaps that’s why Amazon.com lists 32,727 different books about “baby names.” One is titled, The Baby Name Bible: The Ultimate Guide by America’s Baby-Naming Experts.

There are baby naming experts?

I decided I needed a detailed analysis of my name, “Edward.”  The Kabalarian Society offers a very interesting and instant analysis which you can find here.  While much seemed like those generic horoscope comments that can be applied to just about anyone, anytime, there was much that rang true.  So I typed in my wife’s name and then the names of my kids and found similar results.  They really blew it, however, on my dog’s name, Buster.  The only thing they got right is how he tends to treat “new and unfamiliar ideas with skepticism.”

Then, I typed in the name, Jesus.  While there were some things that could perhaps describe my neighbor, there was nothing there that described Jesus of Nazareth.  Of course, how does one go about describing whom the Bible calls, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

But, back to my lawnmower. My wife was out running errands and knew I was home trying to fix that lousy machine.  She called just after the repair work was done.  I must say I rather enjoyed telling her, “Jesus fixed my lawnmower!”

There was a short pause and then she simply answered, “Amen!”

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World’s Greatest Dad

Perhaps you have heard of a man named, Dick Hoyt.  Many have described him as, “The World’s Greatest Dad,” and for good reason.  His son, Rick, suffered severe brain damage at birth and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.  Understanding the tremendous difficulties that lay ahead, doctors encouraged Dick and his wife to put their son in an institution. “He will be a vegetable all his life” they explained.

If you know their story, you know that Dick and his wife paid no attention to that advice.  In fact, they did the opposite.  Although their son could not speak nor use his arms or legs, they raised him just like any other child. Rick not only graduated from a public high school, he also graduated from Boston University.  Today, he lives in his own apartment aided by personal care givers.

Team Hoyt

Team Hoyt

What makes their story even more remarkable, however, are the almost impossible to believe feats they have achieved together. They are known as “Team Hoyt” and I encourage you to watch Mary Carillo’s “Real Sports” special called, “Labor of Love” regarding this father and son. You can find it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=roZrT_tciKA

Their running together began some 32 years ago in a 5 mile charity race to help a paralyzed boy in their community.  Rick wanted to be an encouragement to others like him and got his dad to push him in a modified clunky stroller. Most assumed “Team Hoyt” would simply get to the corner, turn around, and come back. But when they got to the corner, they kept going.  They didn’t stop until they finished the entire 5 mile race coming in second from last. (They have never finished in last place.)

When they got home that night, Rick wrote on his computer, “Dad, when I’m running, it feels like my disability disappears.”  Dick was so moved by the joy his son experienced during the race that from that point forward he told his son, “I’ll be your arms and legs.”

The lengths to which Dick Hoyt has gone to fill his son with joy are truly remarkable.  To be more precise, Over the last 30 plus years, Dick has pushed, pulled, and carried his  son in close to 1,100 races — most of them being marathons, triathlons and ironman events.  If you are able to watch the video, you will see how their story has touched and inspired thousands of others — especially those whose children suffer from disabilities.

As a father, I couldn’t help saying “thank you” to the Lord for healthy children as I watched the video.  I also couldn’t help but wonder to what extent I would go to for my children.  And then, I couldn’t help but consider the unimaginable extent to which my Heavenly Father went for me…and you

“Since He did not spare even His own Son but gave Him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?” (Romans 8:32)

I remember a conversation I had with my dad about Lazarus.  We wondered if he was upset when Jesus called him back from the dead (see John 11).  Lazarus’ loved ones were, of course, overjoyed.  But Lazarus?  And then Dad said something I’ve never forgotten, that “…Lazarus had to die again.”  Now that would stink!

Dad then went on to discuss with me how Jesus came to save us, the real us, our souls — not our weak and broken bodies.  Lazarus didn’t need or want that broken down body anymore.  In my minds eye, I think of him going privately to Jesus and saying, “Hey man, thanks, but did you really have to bring me back?”

So I rejoice with “Team Hoyt” and the inspiration they bring.  But just like us, the only ending to their story that will make it all worthwhile is knowing the one who brought Lazarus back to life just by calling his name.

The truth is, as strong as we Dads would like you to think we are, we are very weak, imperfect people with all sorts of issues.  There is only one Father we can truly rely upon.  And this Father loves us so much, He didn’t spare His own Son so that we could live with Him…forever!  There is no other competition.  He is the World’s Greatest Father!

Happy Father’s Day!

Expectations

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“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right,” so stated the famous American industrialist, Henry Ford.  Of course, he also thought the Edsel was a good idea, so he wasn’t right about everything.

I’ve been thinking much about expectations these days. My youngest son, you see, is a student-athlete at the University of Miami.  He enrolled this past June with many ascribed “high expectations.”  And they weren’t talking about his GPA.

I’ve yet to meet a parent whose hopes for his child are that he or she grows up to be a disappointment, so like other Dads, I have very high hopes and expectations for my kids, too.  Naturally, all three of my kids are pursuing completely different paths, but the expectations for each of them to have success in their chosen fields are very high.  Not one of my children, by the way, are named “Edsel.”

The path our youngest son is taking, however, is a bit more public.  If one cares to, his success or failure on the ball field can be followed and pontificated upon from week to week.  And I must say, I’m rather intrigued by the vast number of self-proclaimed “experts” who really seem to enjoy pontificating.

“Expectations have long been a topic of psychological research,” says Jonah Lehrer in an article in the Boston Globe, “…but in recent years, scientists have been intensively studying how expectations shape our direct experience of the world, what we taste, feel, and hear.”  The article goes on to explain, for example, that a generic drug–which has the exact same ingredients as the brand name–is often proven to be less effective merely because it costs less.  In other words, the expectation is that the less expensive drug can’t possibly be as effective as the more expensive one.

“The human brain, research suggests, isn’t built for objectivity,” Lehrer explains.  “The brain is ‘cooking the books,’ adjusting its own inputs depending on what it expects.”  Lehrer reports, “Science suggests that, in important ways, people experience reality not as it is, but as they expect it to be.”

Science, it would seem, agrees with Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can, or can’t, you’re right.”

I thought about this after a particular game where David blasted a towering home run in the top of the eighth inning to tie the game.  It was a clutch hit that propelled the team to eventually win in eleven innings.  After the game, David confidently said, “I knew I was going to hit it out before I came up to bat.” I mustered a deep and powerful philosophical response to my son’s heroics by saying, “Wow!

ImageThe problems come, of course, when our expectations for ourselves or others are not realized.  Calvin, of the famous “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strip said, “I find my life is a lot easier the lower I keep everyone’s expectations.”

Calvin was right, life is a lot easier without expectations.  But without them, I wonder if we would ever have heard of Neal Armstrong, Thomas Edison, The Wright Brothers, Babe Ruth or LeBron James?  We are an impatient society and don’t have much time for the close relatives of expectations such as dedication, talent, and tenacity.  We want our expectations met and we want them met right now!  But life doesn’t always cooperate.

You may remember the popular bumper sticker that read, “Please be patient, God is not finished with me yet.”  It was basically a paraphrase from the Philippians 1:6 Bible verse which reads, “…and I am confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Ruth Graham, the loving wife of evangelist Billy Graham, fully understood this Bible promise.  If you were to visit her grave sight, you would see the following inscribed on her tombstone, “End of construction. Thank you for your patience.”

Expectations fully achieved!

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Groupon Daze

My wife and “Groupon” have become good friends. And now, with places like Amazon and Living Social vying for her online coupon attention, we are happily buying $30 worth of food for $15 at restaurants all over Miami.  And while I’ve never been one to “clip coupons,” I am rather fond of eating.  I’m happy to say this modern arrangement is helping keep both my belly and wallet full.

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It seems to me, however, that many restaurant employees have been caught in a coupon daze. Just the other night, for example, my wife ordered take-out from a nearby Groupon friendly restaurant. As a savvy coupon shopper, she scanned the coupon carefully to see if there were any restrictions. Finding none, she sent me off to collect our meal.

So, with coupon in hand, I cheerfully walked into the restaurant pleased to see our order waiting on the counter.  “I’m sorry sir,” the friendly cashier responded as I handed her our coupon, “but this is good only for eating in the restaurant”.  I responded with a pleasant, “Nuh-uhh.”

A bit caught off guard by my eloquent reply, she started to hand me back the coupon when I added, “There are no restrictions on this coupon”.  She pulled it back and slowly read it over.  She seemed a bit confused, but once again shook her head saying, “But we only accept coupons for eating in.”

Without altering the pleasant smile still on my face I responded, “Well then I suppose I need to talk with the manager.”  She gave me an awkward look which clearly meant, “The manager is the one who told me the coupon rule, you knucklehead,” but went to fetch the manager anyway. I couldn’t help but consider how our nicely discounted hot meal was rapidly cooling on the counter.

A minute or two later, the pleasant cashier returned with a confused look on her face.  “The manager is sleeping,” she said, “and I don’t want to wake him.”  With those magic words, a LOL snort escaped my lips before I could catch it. “We’ll I guess we’re right back where we started,” I said pointing to the once hot meal which would now require microwaves to reheat.

She looked over the coupon once again, let out a long sigh, and rang up the order.  It came to an even $26.  “I’m sorry sir,” she said looking at me, “but you need to buy $30 of food for this coupon.”  I must admit that I was now rather enjoying this bit of free entertainment. “And why is that?” I replied bemused.  She looked at me confused and said, “Because the coupon is for $30.”  Another snort escaped.

“Well, here’s what I was thinking,” I said to the nice young lady, “I’ll give you this $30 coupon which, in this instance, is the same as giving you $30 in cash. Then, I’ll take the $26 dollars worth of food we bought and go home. You can keep the $4 left over for your tip.”  I let my suggestion sink in for a moment hoping it would take root, but had no such luck.

“I’m sorry sir,” she said looking as if she was reconsidering waking up the manager, but you have to order $30 worth of food.” I countered, “So, let me get this straight.  You’d rather have me buy more food instead of getting a $4 tip just for reaching over the counter and handing me my cold dinner?”  Once again, she took a moment to mull this over making me wonder if her elevator was going all the way to the top.  “Yes, I guess so,” she said unconvincingly.

“Sold!,” I said with a hungry smile. “What have you got for $4?”  Her countenance seemed to brighten as she suggested a fine sounding appetizer.

Several minutes later, as our food was being reheated in the microwave, I recounted my coupon experience  to my wife.  “So did she get a tip?” she asked feeling a bit sorry for the cashier.  “I hope so,” I answered.  “I sure hope so.”

Turning 50

I turned 50 today.  Half a century.  I’m already familiar with some of the “over-the-hill” jokes because I’ve been saying them to my older friends for quite a while. Things like;

“If I call you at 9pm, will I wake you?”  Or, “You’d better start eating more preservatives,” and “Did you know Burger King when he was just a prince?”  Yea, yea, and watching Jurassic Park brought back memories.

It’s a bit strange to think of myself as 50. For some reason, it just doesn’t sound right.  Perhaps it’s because age and maturity don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand.  I have noticed, however, some obvious changes in my life.  Several weeks ago, for example, my wife, Jenn, and I were in Colorado and had the opportunity to do some hiking.  One of the rock formations we came across just begged to be climbed up on and would make a great photo-op. So leaving the safety of the path, I ventured off-trail to make my climb.

Ed in the Rockies

Following an obvious track up the back of the enormous boulders, I got about half way up when the trail required a short but precarious jump from one boulder to a narrow ledge on the next.  Footprints revealed the jump was commonly made, but the rocks and bushes 25 feet below seemed to also reveal there were those who had missed. As I stood there weighing my options, it occurred to me that not too long ago I would never have even considered that if I missed the jump, I would be spending the next week trying to remember the names of my nurses at the hospital.

The various projects I was working on at work as well as the road trip to visit my daughter also whisked through my brain.  The more I thought about these things the greater the distance and the narrower the ledge became.

That’s when I realized I was half a century old.  After all my years on this planet, a grain of wisdom had indeed ebbed its way into my brain.  I turned and headed back down to the safety of the path.  “What happened?,” Jenn asked a bit surprised to see me back so quickly. “Oh,” I said rather sheepishly, “I just remembered we have PhotoShop”.

I’m glad the Bible has much to say about getting older.  “Happy is the man who finds wisdom and who acquires understanding… She is more precious than jewels; nothing you desire compares with her.  Long life is in her right hand; in her left, riches and honor (Proverbs 3:13, 15 &16).  Then, this matter is so important to God, he made it the fifth of His Ten Commandments, “Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life…” (Exodus 20:12).  And who of us would not long for this epitaph, “David son of Jesse…died at a good old age, full of days, riches, and honor…” (1 Chronicles 29:26, 28).

So, I shall begin this next half a century looking for even more opportunities to use my new found wisdom.  There are many more trails yet to hike.  It should be quite a ride.

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Surviving the End of High School Athletics

When it comes to recalling my athletic exploits, the axiom is true, “The the older I get the better I used to be”. The truth is, however, most of my athletic memories involve hospital rooms, casts, crutches, and Extra Strength Tylenol. I had a heart for football but knees for X-box.

My wife, Jenn, never actually saw me play football when we were students at Wheaton College. She did, however, visit me in the hospital where I slightly embellished how I sustained my season-ending knee ligament tear.  If memory serves, it was whilst tossing a perfect 127 yard touchdown pass between 8 defenders while being tackled by 14 rabid linebackers, the opposing team coaches, and a few cheerleaders.  It was quite a play.

David surrounded by family on Senior Day

I exchanged my football cleats for a seat in the bleachers long ago.  And what a great seat it has been.  Front row and center for the past twelve years; a constant barrage of football, soccer, basketball, volleyball, baseball games and practices.  But then, in an instant, it came to a jolting stop.  Our youngest played his last high school game and suddenly, it was all over.

We knew this day was coming.  It had to.  It took a slow, inevitable route beginning with our oldest.  I distinctly remember his last high school football game and the slow, agonizing walk off the field. Shoulders were slouched giving way to heavy sobs.  And my son wasn’t doing much better, either.

But when our eldest son’s high school athletic career came to an end, we still had two more to cheer on.  That meant our calendar remained full of football, soccer, basketball, volleyball, and baseball.  Then suddenly, my daughter’s soccer games were over; then her volleyball.  The writing was on the wall the entire time, but with one kid still in the system, the busyness continued.  Then, on a normal day, our last high school game was played and just like that, it was over.

Erma Bombeck said she took a very practical view on raising children.  She put a sign in each of their rooms which read, “Checkout time is 18 years”.

My wife continues to remind me that our job as parents is to prepare our children for “checkout time.”  As custodians of God’s prized possessions, we hope and pray we’ve filled them with confidence, dreams, determination, and faith and trust in a loving God.

When checkout time arrives, the ones with the biggest adjustments are often us parents.  We go from years of whirlwind activity to the unfamiliar territory of calm and quiet.  Suddenly, it’s just the two of us again and that’s both exciting and a little scary, too.

As it turns out, hanging out with my wife is pretty awesome.  And to my great relief, I think she likes hanging out with me, too.  So, it appears we’re going to survive the end of high school athletics. And if our recent trip out west is any indication, this new chapter  in our lives is going to be rather fun and exciting.

Today, highlighted on our calendars, are those wonderful college break visits and vacation days.  And of course, just because they’ve “checked out”, doesn’t mean they won’t be visiting.  After all, right next to that “checkout” sign is another sign that reads “welcome home”.

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P.S.  To our great delight, our youngest (David) is continuing his athletic career at the University of Miami.  We have many football and baseball games yet to enjoy.

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