Friday, July 30, 2010

The Bargain (In Memory of Lawrie Jonat) - Arends

My dad, Lawrie Jonat, passed away July 12, 2010.  In honour of his memory, I thought I'd use my TWG blogpost this month to tell you a story about him.  (This story is excerpted and adapted from my book WRESTING WITH ANGELS.)  Thanks.

The Bargain

Sometime in the early 1980s, my father announced at dinner that he would selling our blue four-door Impala.  It was a momentous decision, and the entire family was very excited by the news.  The most spectacular part was my father's promise that, provided he got a good price for the old car, he was going to go out and buy another vehicle--brand-new, right off the lot.  He placed an ad in the local paper and we all started hoping and praying for a cooperative buyer.

The ad had only been out a few days when a man called to say he'd be very interested in having a look at the car.  My dad invited him to come over early that evening.  The Impala was parked in the street in front of the house, so my brothers and I determined there would be a pretty good view of the proceedings from the bay window in the living room.  The three of us were lined up as inconspicuously as possible on the living room couch when the man arrived.

He seemed decent enough, open-faced and unassuming, and he brought his family--a jumbly brood of giddy kids and an only slightly harried-looking wife.  They came spilling up the front walk to our house, but my father headed outside before they reached the front door.  The grown-ups shook hands while the kids bounced around them in anticipation.

My brothers and I tried to assess the prospective buyers from our lookout on the couch.  The entire family was dressed in clean but threadbare clothing.  One of the boys was in a pair of shorts that were obviously too big for him, cinced up at the waist with a belt that was tied in front like a rope.  Two of the other children had clearly outgrown their jackets; their skinny arms extended like pipe cleaners past the cuffs of their sleeves.  One could only assume that the family's hand-me-down system had fallen a little out of sync with each child's rate of growth.  It seemed that maybe they weren't rich.

From the way the family approached the car, you might have thought it was the Holy Grail.  They circled around it reverently--from our vantage point it appeared they might actually be oohing and aahing--and even when the boy in the gunnysack shorts kicked a front tire he did it with respectful restraint.  We saw the man ask our dad something--our father nodded and handed him the keys.  The entire family jumped into the Impala while the man started the engine and then the car began to slowly roll down the street for a test drive.

My father came back up to the house rather nonchalantly, but when we stepped inside the front door his excitement was visible.  "They're really interested.  I'm pretty sure they're going to buy it."  My brothers and I started to gleefully debate the make of our brand-new car.  After only a few minutes, the Impala came creeping back up to the front of the house.  We scrambled back to the couch as our father headed outside.

The kids poured out of the car and stood vibrating together in a nervous huddle.  The man and my father began to talk.  They kept turning to face the car, so we couldn't read their lips.  The conversation seemed to be taking a long time--our tension was mounting.  My dad was shaking his head, and then he walked back towards the house.  No money had changed hands.  Our hearts began to sink.

"Joy!" my father hollered, summoning my mother from the kitchen.  "We have a problem."  My mom met him in the front hall.  "Don't they want it?" she asked, sounding as dejected as we felt.  "No, they want it," my dad replied tensely, and he started shaking his head again.  "They want to pay what I asked for it in the newspaper.  That's way too much!"

My brothers and I were incredulous.  Our father was upset because his buyer wanted to give him too much money?  It didn't seem possible.  This was the same man we had seen haggle relentlessly for better deals with everyone he'd ever done business with.  We'd watched him bring Tijuana leather and pottery vendors to their knees.  He was a banker.  He liked to save and earn money.  It was his sport.  What was going on?

"They're supposed to negotiate," my father said petulantly.  My mother thought for a minute.  "Tell them the AM radio doesn't work, so you're taking off 200 dollars," she suggested.  My father looked relieved.  He went back outside.

My mother returned to the kitchen.  My brothers and I sank back onto the couch and watched, stunned, as our dad went on a mission to talk his buyer into a lower price.  He conversed with the man and woman for a couple of minutes.  Then he turned on his heel and strode purposefully back up to the house.  We still hadn't seen any cash.

"Joy," called my dad as he came through the door.  She reemerged from the kitchen.  "Did you reduce the price?' she asked, the beginnings of a smile tugging at her lips.  "Yes," he said with a sigh of exasperation, "but it's still too much.  I really don't think they can afford it.  And I've just found out they're missionaries up north, for crying out loud.  They're so excited because they'll be able to use the car to drive families back and forth to Sunday school."  By this point in his monologue, my father had begun to appear a little desperate.  He was pacing across the tiles in the entrance way, and there was sweat on his forehead.  "Joy," he said, an edge of panic in his voice, "they think the Impala is the most amazing car they've ever seen because it has electric windows."

My mom was laughing, just a little, very gently.  She kissed my father on the cheek.  "Tell them one of the air vents is blocked.  And we don't know where the passenger-side floor mat is.  Take off as much as you want, honey."  My father nodded, raising his head and straightening his back a little, happy to have the weight off his shoulders.  He headed back outside.

There was a mild argument--the man no doubt trying to talk my father into a higher price.  After a few minutes of discussion, the man pulled out his wallet (finally!) and handed my father some cash.  My father did not even count it.  The man grabbed my father's hand and shook it enthusiastically.  The kids began arguing about who was going to go home in the wreck they had come in, and who would get to ride in their "new" Impala.  My father strolled back up the porch steps, looking just as delighted as he had the time he got three huge Mexican flowerpots for 70 percent off.  "They love the car," he said, beaming his way into the house.  "To them it's a Cadillac.  Better than a Cadillac.  It's like the Bond car or something." 

We turned back to the window as the family floated away in a two-car parade.  And even as watched our brand-new, right-off-the-lot vehicle drive away with them, my dad was grinning from ear to ear, and I'm pretty sure we were too.

- Carolyn Arends

In memory of Lawrence Dwight Wildfred Jonat, August 5, 1941 - July 12, 2010

Story excerpted from WRESTING WITH ANGELS, by Carolyn Arends (2009 Winner for Book - Life Stories at The Word Guild Awards).  The book is available HERE

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

How the Lilies Grow – Lawrence

Jesus said, "Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are." (New Living Translation.)

When I see the variety of beautiful lilies in our garden at this time of year, my mind turns to the more familiar translation of the words of Jesus, "Consider the lilies of the field how they grow…". These words of Jesus and the previous ones about the ravens, are meant to show us how we ought to have faith and not worry about our physical needs. "If God cares so wonderfully for flowers,…he will certainly care for you." (NLT)

Even more than showing us that we should have faith that God cares what happens to us in this life, Jesus reminds us, in the words prior to those about the ravens and lilies, how foolish a person is if he stores up wealth but doesn’t have a rich relationship with God. Luke 12: 21.

It is sensible and a good practice to be careful about our money—to save and not be frivolous with it; to make sure that family, food, bills, and housing are taken care of first before money is spent on entertainment, candy, and toys. Christ does not fault us for that. However, if all we worry about is building up our wealth and give no thought for our relationship with God then, in the words of Jesus, “We are fools.”

How much thought do we give to our relationship with God? Is our connection with God a Sunday only connection? Is our time of communication with God only when we have a need; when we or a loved one is sick; when we are in a difficult situation or the earth is experiencing another disaster?

We need to build up our relationship with God; our time with God should be one of daily presence with him in good times as well as bad. Spending time with God should be one of great joy and desire—reading his word and meditating on it, speaking to God and listening for his guidance, and interceding for those in need.

Let us follow Christ’s suggestion and have a rich relationship with God; and let us have faith that God cares for us as much as he cares for the lilies and the ravens and all other parts of his creation.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Not Quite Heaven - Austin

The setting and characters of this story are fictional, but most of the janitor's story is adapted from actual journal entries.

Not Quite Heaven

I don't know what the fight was over. Something stupid. But I don't take crap from nobody. So pulling the knife wasn't a smart move. What did I care? I mean, I wasn't going to use the stupid thing. I got a temper, but I ain't dumb. For all the trouble it caused the fool shoulda been looking down the hole of my piece.

Forty kids started screaming at me. The janitor -- old fool, walked between us cool as an iceberg. He didn't say much. Just held out that big clumsy hand for the knife. Funny thing 'bout that hand I never saw before. It was hard and knobby and looked like it would knock down an elephant. He marched me to the office where the principal worked himself into a red-faced sweat. Finally a cop came and told me a whole lotta lies about jail.

"I know about jail," I said. "They got TV's, weight rooms and gyms, and steak every night. I just let them rant and rave.

The janitor sat without a word through all the hot air from the principal and cop. In his baggy green pants he weren't nothing impressive, even with fists like clubs. I figured he didn't have enough smarts for anything besides pushing brooms.

"Yes," he agreed. They do have TV's and weight rooms. But it might come a little short of your idea of heaven." He paused. "Steak? Well, I guess you can dream in jail."

I sneered at him. What did he know?

"I was younger then. Thought I was pretty tough. Thought I could face anything you could throw at me. But I didn't know!" His voice broke. "I couldn't know -- what it was really like." He didn't have a story-teller's voice. He was a broom-pusher. But the old guy triggered something in me. I listened.

"I can see it still," he said. "Two men in their underwear dancing to a steel band on the radio. A dozen men, most without shirts, spread long a group of steel tables. They watch TV or play card games. Quite a few sit in their underwear, boxer shorts with flies that gape. Two or three openly finger themselves." His face twisted like he had tasted something rotten.

"Thirty-four bunks line three walls. Men sprawl on a number of beds. The whole room is painted a drab pale yellow. It's a dead colour, empty and cold." He shuddered, like he'd just got a surprise look into a coffin.

"The air is thick with tobacco smoke." He stopped and seemed to interrupt himself. "Don't think they allow that now, but they did then." He coughed and then continued. "It was supposed to be one of the better jails. But if you're on the wrong side of the bars, what's better mean?" He stared at me.

I shifted in my chair. I didn't need a staring contest with no bleeding-heart old man. The vertical blinds threw hard shadows, like bars across the floor.

"I thought I had seen the dark side of life." He drew a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. "Strip-searches!" He almost spat the word. "Where is there room for pride when you are bent over, naked, while they look at every crack and crevice of your body? Where is there room for pride when you need to go, but the toilet, out in the open, is smeared with excrement, and the only tissue in sight is in a puddle of urin on the floor?" He got up and tried to pace in the crowded office.

He yanked a Kleenex from the box on the principal's desk, blew his nose, then turned and stopped in front of me. "You should know what goes on in there," he burst out. "You're helpless in an unfeeling system. There's the hopelessness of broken lives, the demeaning, belittling nature of a man-made hell." He bit his bottom lip, then continued. "You want a fair fight? Wrong place! They carry the loser out. They drag the winner out under guard. They're afraid of violence, but they love it. If a fight breaks out in a TV hockey game, men shout encouragement. They swing their fists in a kind of visceral involvement. If someone is carried off the ice they crowd around the TV and scream and dance and cheer. In a movie the blood brings laughter." His voice dropped.

He wiped a tear away with a big fist. "Jail is a strange place. The strong prey on the weak, so tears are shed in an awful aloneness in the small hours of the morning, stifled by a pillow."

He clammed up for a long time and I thought the story was over. The cop and the principal sat like somebody had nailed them to their chairs. I couldn't get a handle on what I was feeling.

He stood and stepped to the door. His fist tightened over the doorknob as he turned back to me. "You're a tough guy with a whole life ahead of you. I'm just a janitor, picking up garbage behind 300 kids." He shook his head. "The way those big steel doors sound in a movie is about right. But you hear them different when you're on the wrong side of the bars." He swung the door back.

"I don't have a lot of pull. I can't make any promises. But just maybe, if you'll let me dispose of that bulge in your jacket, it will be one less thing they have to question you about."

The cop got real busy staring at the closet door. The pricipal picked up a paper and studied it. The janitor moved close, screening me with his body. I didn't need no more trouble than I already had. I guessed I wouldn't need the piece no more neither, even though it was just a fake. I pulled it out and handed it to him. His eyes got warm like I'd given him tickets to the Super Bowl. He nodded and the gun disappeared into some pocket on the baggy pants he wore.

"Some of the toughest guys in jail cry in the middle of the night." He spoke just above a whisper. "Not quite heaven, I don't think."

As the slap of his shoes blended with other school noises in the hall, I wanted to scream at him to come back -- to take the knife too -- to not let them take me there. I swallowed hard and rubbed a hand across my eyes -- which were watering -- from dust, I told myself.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Same Trip, Different Attitude by Ruth Smith Meyer

Once again, we traversed the highway around beautiful Lake Superior to Thunder Bay--probably at least the twentieth time in the last forty-five years. (Oh dear, I can scarcely believe I'm even that old!)

One would think after doing the same route that many times, it would be growing old and boring. Not so! I've done it in the middle of winter, in the early spring, in the summer and in the autumn. It thrills me every time. Each season holds it's own special colour and beauty. For many years, we managed to have sunny weather most of the way. A few times in recent years we had fog when I have had to imagine the water out there in the lake and the trees high on the hills. Today we had everything from fog to light sprinkle to bright sun, to heavenly blue skies, to heavier rain. The varied greens of the spruce and pines, the poplar, birch and other species were rich and lush in the damp. The lake lay in deeper shades of blues and grays under brooding skies or reflected the sunlight and shadow. Sometimes, even while we drove through light mist, we could see ahead, the sun shining on the side of a distant hill. At other times, as we moved through sunshine, the shadow of clouds or sweeping rain were seen far ahead. It seemed we had a bird's-eye view of various types of weather.

Before we reached the most scenic part of the route, I had been reading aloud, bits from Stan Toler's book, The Buzzards are Circling but God isn't Finished with Me Yet. That reading already made me aware of the various challenges of life and the difference our attitude makes when facing those challenges. I guess if got my mind ready to see the scenes before me with different eyes. Instead of fretting because the sun wasn't illuminating each new sight with every single curve in the road, I was able to see the beauty of the lush green in the mist. The play of sunlight and shadow, bright moments and cloudy ones, the sweep of approaching rain and sudden downpours or moments of dense fog that obliterated all exept the close view, all became a reflection of life.

How often in the sunny periods of our lilves are we surprised at the turn in the road to be met with drops of rain on our parade? How often do we see ahead the sweep of rain, knowing that very soon we will be in the midst of another challenge? How often do we come upon a thick fog where we can only see a short distance ahead, not able to know for sure where the turns, the ups and downs await?

Now on our trip, as in life, would we not have had a goal in mind, we may have been inclined to just wait it out until the sun shone once more, or to have turned tails to flee the oncoming storm. In severe weather or road conditions, that may be the advisable and wise thing to do, but today it wasn't dangerous to go on, so we kept travelling. We had a goal in mind. We had reservations for the night ahead and a destination that called us for tomorrow. We had lots of time to make our day's journey, we didn't need to hurry. The goal gave us impetus to continue our journey and we found pleasure and benefit in the going. We would have missed the blessing of seeing the scenery in a different light had we avoided journeying through. The goal made the difference.

Think about it. What does that tell you about your life-journey? I know today will make a difference in my outlook in life.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Absence Of - Ayotte

I know…you’re never supposed to end a sentence with a preposition, but perhaps I can make an exception in this case because I have merely ended a title with one. I find that when I write, I take a few creative liberties and bend some of the grammatical rules as I see fit. Some fellow authors may very well choose to do the same. I hope so, because as liberal minded as I may think I am, it’s always good to feel that I am not totally alone with any particular point of view.

Today, I am about to express one of those views. I read a neat e-mail the other day sent to me by a long time Christian friend. This article really got me thinking about some of my own “isms”. The theme of the article had to do with opinions on science versus the existence of God. I’m not going to go on and on about what I read. I want to zero in on what captured my attention the most.

First of all, it was the concept of the description of death as the “absence of life”. The article mentioned that you cannot scientifically measure death so therefore, death should be referred to as the “absence of life”. As I continued to read, it was obvious to me that this article was becoming more philosophical than scientific because God was described as the Light, while evil was described as the “absence of Light”. In other words, those of us without God in our lives would be living in darkness. I’m pretty sure we have all heard this phrase before to describe different aspects of Christian faith or lack of it.

This concept made me look at my faith from another angle. It reminded me of the story about Jesus fishing in the stormy waters with His disciples. When they kept their eyes on Him and had faith, the apostles knew no fear. The exact opposite happened when they lost their focus. Perhaps, the same theory holds true for us. The “absence of faith” results in fear. When we are afraid, when we feel fear…is it because we really have something to fear or is it because we have taken our eyes off of Jesus? Do we give the concept of fear “life” and let it have power over us and what we choose to do or not do?

It is very difficult to overcome fear. I try my best to remember what Jesus taught us about perfect love casting out fear. Jesus offers this perfect, unconditional love. I do not want to be afraid. I want to know, love and serve the Lord with a deep abiding faith with the “absence of fear”. When I feel fear, it seems like I have taken my eyes off of Jesus and I experience the “absence of faith”. I much prefer it the other way around. I also need to remind myself that the word “fear” can mean “to be in awe” or “to have reverence and respect” in some instances. My relationship with God is one of those instances. I have every desire to be in “awe” of the God who created me out of love rather than to be afraid of making mistakes and fearing retribution for my human weaknesses. I do not want to have the impression that I am constantly being judged by my Creator who is ready to punish me if I take a wrong turn. For in reality, He wants to show me nothing but His infinite love and mercy, not only for me, but for all His creatures.

Author of “I’m Not Perfect And It’s Okay”
Website –
Blog site –

Thursday, July 22, 2010

How to Improve your Blog by Kimberley Payne

Lisa Wojna entered the wonderful world of blogs with her Mom Again blog. She asked other bloggers for their thoughts and advice on making this adventure a grand success.

Bruce Atchison suggested that she add something of value in each post. “You could pass on tips and use your experiences to back them up.”

Violet Nesdoly has been blogging for over five years and has offered these five tips:

1. Focus your blog - which you've done. You know you're going to be writing about the grandparent/parent experience.

2. Decide on frequency and blog regularly so your readers aren't disappointed when they come for their expected read.

3. Do a variety of posts - always with the reader in mind. We blog readers are a selfish lot. If we don't find something of value to us (like humor, advice, news, anything relevant to us) we'll probably soon check out.

In this vein, in addition to your personal experience pieces, I'd suggest things like:
- interviews of other grandparent-parents to illustrate how they cope.
- links to articles and resources designed to help the grandparent/parent.
- links to news stories that relate to your topic + your reaction to them (it's a blog, after all).
- links to web sites that offer help and resources to people in your community (to across Canada - if there are such organizations).
- reviews of books relevant to your topic.
- practical things you do to make your life as a grandparent/parent easier.

4. Publicize your blog in places where people of your age group and interest gather. By publicize I mean read and comment on other blogs that speak of similar things. Join blog carnivals, and networks, and generally do some hanging out where the grannies with kiddoes are found. Become one of them. Because blogging is as much about community as it is about getting people to read your posts.

5. There's lots of advice out there about blogging. One of the best blogs on blogging is written by Darren Rowse from Australia - Problogger. He talks a lot about making money with a blog - but also about getting and keeping readers, blog etiquette and a whole slew of things.

Janet Sketchley agrees with all the tips Violet provided and added this tip, “If you register your blog with Facebook's NetworkedBlogs application, then each time you make a new post it will show up on your FB profile. The setup instructions are simple.”

Karen Toews offers some final thoughts on blogging, “As writers we strive for literary excellence with our work - but sometimes the only way a blog gets done is to just write it and get it out there. This two-edged sword can be a deterrent for consistent blogging (speaking to myself) but on the other hand, I've seen other bloggers' writing improve by that very exercise. Blogs often include photographs - one of you sitting cross-legged on the floor, or doing your workout would add some real punch to your post!”

Do you have any other suggestions on making a blog a grand success?

Monday, July 19, 2010

A New Kind of Rock Concert - Boge

This weekend I played in a rock band for the first time in my life. It was a truly incredible experience to share the Gospel in this way.

For the past four years our family has held evangelistic outreach services at the small community church at Victoria Beach, Manitoba. These were fun, Bible-based evenings where we invited people from the community to come hear about Christ. What we found in the fourth year was that the numbers were dwindling and it was largely Christians who were coming.

So, what to do?

We decided that instead of asking people to come to church, that we would go into the community. There’s a band stage set up in the park at the beach and the Beach wanted to have people come and put on concerts. I asked my brother, dad, and some friends from church (including a 14 year drummer!!) and we formed a band.

So how do you reach people with the Gospel at the beach?

We decided to tell the story of Winnipeg Inner city activist Harry Lehotsky by using small one minute segments of his life and bridging those short talks with popular songs. Harry overdosed on drugs in New York City as a teenager, recommitted his life to Christ, came to Winnipeg where he started an inner city church and became a huge force for change in the West End by helping drug addicts, prostitutes and homeless people and confronting drug dealers, challenging the effectiveness of the welfare system and living out what it means to love your neighbor as your yourself.

So we played Tom Petty “I won’t back down” because Harry was never one to back down from a fight. We played the Proclaimers “I met you” which describes Harry’s experience in recommitting his life to Christ after overdosing. We played 500 Miles by the Proclaimers because Harry would easily go the second, third or 500th mile to help someone. Traveling Wilburry’s Handle me with Care. Stand By Me. The Mavericks, The Beatles, The Beach Boys and a bunch of other fun, clean songs that helped people connect popular songs with Harry’s ministry and the Gospel. And we ended off with YMCA because Harry loved to play basketball there.

The event went amazingly well. We set up a couple hours before the concert and in a week full of good weather, Saturday was full of rain. We prayed all day for the rain to stop and ten minutes before the concert started it all stopped and five minutes after the concert it started again.

The next day some friends at the church who were at the concert mentioned that it was an excellent way to help them explain Christ to some friends of theirs who weren’t yet saved whom they invited to come to the concert with them.

It was such a fun way to share the Gospel.

Paul H. Boge is the author of The Urban Saint: The Harry Lehotsky Story

The Mosaic - Eleanor Shepherd

The sun was still low over the Niagara River as we found comfortable chairs in the family’s prayer room and introduced ourselves to each other. We were visiting friends in Niagara Falls and they invited us to join them for the early morning prayer meeting in their home. They wanted to pray for us and our ministries.

As I looked around the room, I saw that we were a microcosm of what the Church is. The focus of many prayers, were Glen and me. Lifelong Salvationists, we are working in interdenominational NGOs. Folks coming from Anglican roots, a former Sikh, a Lutheran and a couple of nondenominational charismatics lifted up prayers for us. As we closed our eyes and joined in intercession not only for the work that we are doing, but also for the things God is doing throughout the world, we sensed a unity that comes when hearts are joined together by one Spirit.

For an hour and a half, we opened our hearts to one another as we opened them before our Heavenly Father. We expressed the joy we sensed at being part of something much bigger than ourselves that was taking place today, even as we prayed. All around the globe people were meeting, had met, or were preparing to meet in worship. As we met together, we offered thanks that we were a part of this much larger entity, those who share our common faith. I thought of the words of the old hymn we sang when I was a child, that says, “the voice of prayer is never silent, nor fades the strain of praise away.”

Our thoughts turned to the needs of the world that often boil down to issues of social justice. We prayed for those who often suffer through no fault of their own. We were conscious so many of these concerns that often weigh heavily on our hearts are complex. There are no easy solutions, yet our diversity enabled us to address various elements of the problems in our prayers. One after another prayed, interceding for those in political leadership, for those who seek to offer help and encouragement by offering their skills and assistance, and for those who in their own culture claim to follow Christ- that they might live out their convictions with the power of the love of Christ as their hallmark.

As prayers continued the thoughts lifted up reflected the perspectives of the various individuals around the circle: film maker, architect, doctor, retiree, CEO and director of philanthropy. Each was able to formulate their petitions about particular needs in the developing world from their own perspective and in so doing; we created a mosaic of petitions, expressions of gratitude and thanksgiving.

Authority was added to this mélange of prayers by interspersed selections of Scriptures that were prayed back to the one who inspired the words. A thought would come forth from the mouth of one person and as they paused for breath would be picked up and expanded upon by the voice of another. A sense of being coordinated parts of a unique organism emerged.

The predominant theme of our intercession became the desire for wisdom to be good stewards of the resources that have been entrusted to us. Our tasks are daunting, yet to have access to divine wisdom gives us courage to dare to move forward.

As we concluded, we were aware that a new identity had emerged for us. A roomful of strangers were cognizant of being members of the same family, able to support and encourage one another to take the risks of following Christ, in our everyday lives.

By the time I met with our host’s congregation for worship at their church service, I was already in a place where I was able to listen to what the Lord had to say to me in my inner sanctuary. Time spent together in intercession readied me to listen. As one of my new found brothers said to me, “How we listen to others, is a reflection of how we listen to God.” Listening attentively to these members of my family in prayer, equipped me to listen to the Spirit as I gathered with others in corporate worship.

Eleanor Shepherd
More Questions than Answers

Friday, July 16, 2010

No 'Bull'! - Black

Our telling one another’s stories can be a means of extending each other's reach in touching lives, and raising the listening, reading, or viewing audience’s gaze to the wonder of divine grace.
I’m grateful to M. ‘B’. Roberts for his affirmation of the following piece, despite any (hopefully, slight, inaccuracies it may contain). The original version was published in The Watford Guide-Advocate, July 1, 2010, issue.

“And the winner in the Book – General Readership category is Michael ‘Bull’ Roberts of Mississauga, Ontario, for 'The Tender Heart of a Beast.'” Emcee Herbie Kuhn (a.k.a. “The Voice of the Toronto Raptors”) beamed when making the exciting announcement.

A huge form, with tattoos over his face and a black hat (kind of looked too small!) perched on his cranium, rose from the audience to make his way in a rolling gait to receive his award, while a small cheering section hooted and whistled their delighted support. His suit and hat hid the tattoos on his body, although those facial ones were still very visible in the muted lighting of the auditorium.

The annual Awards Gala of The Word Guild, hosted at the World Vision Centre in Mississauga, was attended by an audience of several hundred people comprised mostly of Christian writers and editors, plus supporting family or friends. Later, Roberts was again called up, as his book received Award of Merit in another category.

But, Michael “Bull” Roberts – who’s he? . . . He’s a former gang leader in the illegal drug trade, and was high up in Edmonton’s criminal element. His life was characterized by the violence, money, immorality, and excess that goes along with it. One day his own people turned on him. He was left for dead, and found himself with multiple injuries and smashed legs on a floor in a pool of his own blood and urine. It was then that he called out to God for help.

That cry was heard, and over time his injuries healed, although he still bears the marks. More important is the spiritual and emotional healing taking place in his life from that time on. Michael, like any other, is a work in progress and in need of much support. His past haunts him, chickens come home to roost, and he’s received threats on his life from old associates.

Hard living takes its toll. The brutal beating left his knees in bad shape. Roberts, older-looking than his thirty-five years, faces serious health issues, requiring him to reduce bulk from his six-foot-four, 450 pound frame. An author friend assisted him in writing his book, in which he tells his story. She and her husband – among others – have helped mentor him in his new way of life as a follower of Christ. His news bulletin provides encouragement to incarcerated people in Canada and the United States.

Michael has struggles. Fresh challenges appear suddenly from life’s ocean mists, looming like great icebergs, threatening to sink him. I told him that our friend Donna keeps him very much in our thoughts and prayers. He highly values prayer.

We’ve heard of ex-cons and people from various walks of life – whether the entertainment industry, the world of sports, et cetera – who rise quickly to celebrity status as ‘born-again’ Christians, only to be disappointed when some fall by the way. Eyes roll with an Oh, not another one of those ... sentiment.

With all due respect, Roberts is a spiritual infant; however, he’s on the right track to grow in his faith, and is unashamed to cry, “Help! It’s tough! Pray for me.” Will he make it? Or will he too, fall by the wayside? He doesn’t have to, and neither do we. God hears the cry of a humble, penitent, and sincere heart. And that ain’t no ‘bull’!


© Peter A. Black, 2010.
Black continues to write a weekly column in The Watford Guide-Advocate, and is the author of the children's / family book. Parables from the Pond.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Joy of Distressing Circumstances - Boers

My father was being prepped for surgery. My wife, mother, and I waited in his hospital room. This was in the very building where my mother gave birth to me decades earlier. An old brick institution, its walls and steel radiators were coated in so many layers and layers of paint that all the corners and angles seemed rounded.

Lying under the stretcher’s white sheets, my father looked old, frail, and pale. He hadn’t shaved that day, unusual for him. As I kissed his cheek, thick black stubble jabbed my lips. I wished him well. I studied his eyes intently and would not look away, probing their deep blueness. Was this the last time I would speak to him and he to me? He was never one for being touchy-feely so I did not ask these questions out loud.

I was scared. I never take surgery for granted. My wife was an operating room nurse for years. I’ve heard stories. Unexpected things happen. Anesthesia can go awry. When my father’s father had surgery for lung cancer – he was a heavy smoker too – the procedure’s complications killed him. They removed his cancerous tissue, the surgery was “successful,” but he perished anyway. He was 57 at the time, only a few years younger than my father now was.

Two white garbed attendants and sneakers matter-of-factly wheeled my father away, rubber soles squeaking on the linoleum tiles. I did not blink as I wanted to memorize what he looked like. If this was the last time that I saw him, I would remember it well. While the wheels creaked around a corner and my father disappeared from view I wondered what would happen. I had brought my one good suit along on this trip, in case there was to be a funeral.

But here’s the thing, the strange thing. I felt contented, almost happy. Not because I might lose my father. That idea terrified me. But I was deeply satisfied and calm because I knew that I was precisely where I ought and needed to be. Nothing else counted. Nothing else mattered. Not the work of the local church that I pastored a couple hundred miles away, as important as that ministry was. Not all those to-do lists that always haunt me with undone tasks at home or on the job.

In that hospital room, with all its frightening uncertainty, I was precisely where I belonged. With my wife and mother, waiting and praying for my father, uncertain about what the next hours or days or months might bring. Not knowing what the future held.

Nine months or so after that surgery, I tended my father on the final night of his life and the next morning my mother, Lorna, and I sat by his bed and held his hands as he breathed for the last time. As a pastor, I sat with Joan and her children as cancer finished a life that had been haunted by abuse and addictions and the suicides of loved ones. In one memorable week I was with two beloved congregants in their last moments. I prayed for a small boy, Matthew, as his life support was removed and his parents and I cried for him and then some days later was beside the hospital bed of aged Oliver with his spouse and children as his frail body capitulated to the Parkinson’s Disease that had plagued him for years.

These were moments of intention and attention. No distractions. No ambivalence. All of us were fully present and we knew that something holy and hard was happening. Just this strong sense that I was exactly where I needed to be.

It is not only in crises, of course, that we get to see clearly and order rightly. I think of days and weeks at monasteries or other retreats. Or being at a cottage with my family. Or long distance hiking, once for a 500 mile stretch along a pilgrimage trail in Spain. Or sometimes in Sunday morning worship.

I love and savor those moments of clarity. I want all my life to have such qualities of presence and mindfulness. But I am not always so good at that. And I know that I am not the only one.

Arthur Boers is the author of The Way is Made by Walking: A Pilgrimage Along the Camino de Santiago (InterVarsity) and holds the RJ Bernardo Family Chair of Leadership at Tyndale Seminary, Toronto.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Once you see it, then you don’t – MANN

Over the last few weeks, we’ve had many occasions in Ontario to view on the walk, in the newspapers, through the television camera or on Internet. Certainly, the G8 Summit in Huntsville along with the G 20 Toronto Summit, then quick flashes of Queen Elizabeth on her walk-about, the announcement of David Johnston’s appointment of Governor General, along with various parades and carnivals have kept the geographical area under the media’s eye. I no sooner saw the Queen chatting with the people and accepting flowers then she was gone. But, it’s like that with most things—you wish you just had a few more minutes to enjoy the moment and you find yourself being thankful for small mercies.

Recently I’ve had a few experiences like that in my writing life. Just last week, I hurriedly began to write a thought, explaining, defining and developing an unforgettable concept, and then for a fleeting moment, something different filtered into my mind and caught my attention. I regretfully listened to my inner voice and said, “Oh, you’ll remember that,” or “That’s a good one, but press on.” Therefore, I returned to my great scheme of things watching ‘the good one that I’m sure to remember,’ fade away into the recesses of my mind avoiding recovery. A frustrating feeling arrested me, left me helpless, regretful and almost ready to kill just to capture that significant thought once more. The memory of that one reflection almost captured, reminded me of its absolute potential of taking my story to the editor’s desk.

I walked, sat, extended my hands with palms out to limit anything else that would dare intrude into my private mental space and I waited. I promised, I pledged, I bargained—anything to get my mind to back track.

And then my cat walked across my computer keyboard and by accident or canine appointment, saved my document into cyberspace by stepping on just the right progression of keys. I didn’t have to wait for that thought—I had no place to put it.

After I got over the shock, I began the task again and was able to finish the piece without much difficulty. This was of course after gently positioning the cat in the windowsill rather than in her favourite position of sprawling across my desk with her tail hanging across the keyboard. Nicely arranged thoughts began to fall into place quickly and with ease ready for its first edit—and even with a much shorter word-count. Now, I find myself definitely feeling thankful for this small mercy.

Check out Take Time to Make Memories; WinterGrief; Aggie's Storms at Alibris Books
2nd in the Aggie's series launching in September: Aggie's Dream (The Brucedale Press)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Will they know? - CARLETON

 “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes, they will know we are Christians by our love"

Cj CarletonThat phrase has been going through my head a lot lately. What does that phrase mean? First of all, who is "they"? It could be referring to non-Christians or as some would like to call them "pre-Christians". Or maybe "they" are anyone we come into contact with on a daily basis. So that makes we wonder, do people I come into contact with know that I am a Christian? Did the very patient lady at Superstore today know that I am a Christian? Should I have preached to her, so that she would know? Of course not! What does that lyric say again, by our love? How did I show Christ's love to her today? Good question.

As I ran around town today doing errands with both girls in tow, how did I share/show God's love for the people I came into contact with? I don't think I did very well today. Actually, to say I blew it would probably be good way to describe my behaviour today. Which I am thankful that I am now recognizing and I can try to do better tomorrow.

I am the role model of this for my girls. Well, my husband is as well, but since we have two daughters, it will be more from me. So what did I teach my daughters today about showing Christ's love to people? Not very much! Thank God, I have tomorrow. We have to make a conscious effort of how we are going to choose to behave and what we choose to represent, or who we want to represent.

When I was in the modelling industry we were told that before we ever left the house to look in the mirror and evaluate if we were representing ourselves and our agency appropriately as models. Now when I wake up in the morning and I am looking at my reflection in the mirror I think I need to be asking a better question. “Am I going to choose to represent Christ today?” When I come into contact with “they” will “they” know that I am a Christian by my love? I hope and pray that tomorrow will be a better day!

front cover 

Cj Carleton is the 2008 Canadian Christian Writing Award winner for her first book “What Makes You Unique? Discover the Truth or Believe the lie”.  Learn more about Cj by visiting You can also connect with her on Twitter or Facebook.

Monday, July 12, 2010

My Red Hot Keyboard - Ayotte

From my fingertips to your eyes, I send my greetings to you.

At one time, we could only communicate with those that lived nearby. In this situation, my greeting would have been from “my lips to your ears”.

Now with all the advanced technology, one of the best ways to communicate seems to be via the computer in one format or another. If it isn’t by e-mail, it’s on Facebook, Twitter, My Space, blogs, chat lines, cell phones, and so on. These methods of communication are all great but have we lost the personal touch? Are we always able to interpret moods, facial expressions, body language, voice intonation, and any other forms of communication, if we choose to mainly communicate the techie way?

Please let us try to remember the personal touch. It’s difficult to hug and embrace the “old” way with all the “new” technology. Give someone a smile or a hug today. You’ll both feel better for it!

“We cannot rebuild the world ourselves, but we can have a small part in it by beginning where we are. It may only be taking care of a neighbor’s child or inviting some one to dinner, but it’s important.” (Donna L. Glazier)

Author of "I'm Not Perfect And It's Okay"
Previously posted on my Blog Site - June 3, 2010

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Mom, May I Borrow Your Purple Sweater? - den Boer

“Mom, may I borrow your purple sweater?”

“Why not? You’re not wearing it. I need something that looks good with this. You should let me borrow it. My sweater is in the hamper and I need a sweater. This is stupid. Why are we arguing about this?”
“I’m not arguing. I said ‘no.’”
“Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” Matthew 5:42 NIV
Where does that verse leave me? My purple sweater was a gift. I wear it when I want to feel special. My daughter would simply wear it out.
What’s that hollow sound?
Marian den Boer is an author and speaker who lives in Hamilton, Ontario. Visit her at Blooming, This Pilgrim's Progress.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Time for a Little Good Press for Christians - Gibson

The Edmonton Journal published this a month or so ago...interesting that they changed the title to "Universal Generosity Holds Couple in Its Embrace"


Christians get a lot of bad press.

What mainstream media seldom reports, however, is that in times of crisis God's primary means of bringing aid is through the Body of Christ followers that comprise the church.

Onward Christian Soldiers type of people, working through organizations like World Vision, the Salvation Army and Samaritan's Purse are generally among the first to provide assistance in times and areas enduring major upheaval. They also stay the longest and offer the most concrete aid -- witness the most recent natural disasters, including Haiti's recent earthquake.

But it isn't only the big para-church organizations that mobilize the troops so efficiently through which God works. God uses more often the steady sweep of compassion, the unexpected individual kindnesses that flow inexorably outward from hearts brimming with Christ-like care for ordinary people enduring personal crises. God's church can and often does bring those people a tsunami of blessing. It's a wave that gently covers unprepared victims of circumstances, bracing and equipping them on life's most difficult journeys through loss of many kinds.

I should know. My husband, Rick, and I have experienced that blessed tsunami.

By the time blood tests determined that a mosquito was to blame for my husband's bizarre illness, he was paralyzed in both legs and his left arm. Struggling to remember his name. Calling me George.

When West Nile first struck in mid-August of 2007, Rick was the pastor of a small church. Its children painted pictures for his hospital-room walls. Its members and friends, often at great inconvenience, provided for and loved us in myriad ways. Though he was not able to return to that pulpit, several members continued to do so and do to this day, two and a half years later.

But Jesus founded a far broader church, with no doors and no walls. Its membership list includes Christ followers "of many stripes and tribes" around our community, province, country and world.

Those church members also sent flowers and gifts to help and cheer us. They extended encouragement to bolster us, knitted prayer shawls to warm us, provided food to nourish us. They wrote cards, e-mails and letters to remind us of God's healing power. Made countless phone calls to tell us they hadn't forgotten us. Sat and cried with us, held our hands, prayed with us and eventually helped us move -- two times.

Members of Christ's universal church, even from within their own crises, losses that make ours pale in comparison -- reached out to encourage us. Many skipped meals to pray for us instead. Drove for hours to visit us at the hospital and rehab centre. Helped with transportation when I was too distracted to drive. And planned a fundraising event so that others in our city who wished to help could do so.

That church includes Christ followers we know only barely, some not at all. Strangers reaching out in Jesus' name. The hospital receptionist who sent her prayers in a card. The elderly couple who tucked a well-worn (and crucial for their own needs) $5 bill into an envelope and sent it our way. The mere acquaintance who reached deeply into her own resources to share them with us, because she felt God nudge her.

In the midst of the maelstrom that the mosquito manufactured, and in its ongoing two-year aftermath, Rick and I have learned something we previously knew primarily from the other end: As Christians, we make an immense difference in the lives of people in crisis when we don't shun the small things we can do, because of the large things we can't.

What does that mean? It means we don't refuse to send a quick note or e-mail because we don't have time to write a long letter. It means we don't neglect sharing a wide smile just because we have nothing else to offer. Or forget about popping in for five minutes because we're too rushed to spend an hour.

It means we pick up the phone to say "I'm sorry you hurt," even though we don't know what else to say.

Christians who impact others most -- and they are many -- are those people: the ones who, when faced with need, do the wee (and big!) things God prompts even when they think they'll be barely noticed.

Folks like that don't make the news very often. And that's too bad ... because it happens so very often. And because that's the kind of genuinely newsworthy stuff for which our founder said we should be known.

Read the above online at the Edmonton Journal.

Kathleen Gibson
author, columnist, speaker
Find me on Facebook

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Defining Success - Atchison

How do we define success? Is it what we perceive from other people? Is it by the congratulations we receive from others for our achievements? Is it by the awards and certificates we receive? Or is it by how we help in service of the Lord, and the good we do for others?

Success is defined by what we feel in our hearts. It is as individual as the differences in snowflakes. We use many measurements to define success. A professional might use promotions to determine their success. A salesman the number of sales they’ve made in a given time period. An author by the number of books published, or contests one.

Those are outside successes, but what about the internal ones. Like the success felt after helping your child ride his first bicycle. Or, when a teacher sees what his student’s achieved and learned throughout the year. Attending a university graduation and feeling proud as your child walks across the stage, knowing partly they are their because of your encouragement, love and support. Lending a hand at a fundraiser and finding out this is the most the organization has ever made.

God helps us with these successes. Opportunities are put in place to help us attain our goals. Events magically fall into place. It takes courage to reach for success, but should we care? Does it matter that we are successful? In part, yes, because successful moments are defining moments, they help us with who we are and who we would like to become.

In part no, we don’t need to use success as a benchmark in our lives, because as long as we are productive, loving and helping individuals in society, we are successful.

Look for those little moments in life that bring you joy and know you are successful. Know you are following God’s will, as the joy would not be there. Any feelings of love, gratitude, joy, happiness, satisfaction, and passion at something you are doing will bring you moments of success. It need not always be in the form of a certificate, or promotion, but in feelings of the heart and because of your love for God and in doing His will.

Patricia L. Atchison
Writing & Publishing Blog:

Monday, July 05, 2010

Sneak Peak at upcoming Kingdom Poets posting — Francis Thompson — Martin

English poet Francis Thompson (1859–1907) did not have a promising start. When he attended medical school, he was not interested in his studies, but instead by 1885 moved to London to become a writer. He lived as a vagrant, selling newspapers and matches, and during a bout of ill health became addicted to opium. When he submitted poems to the magazine, Merrie England, its editors, Wilfrid and Alice Meynell, recognized his potential, rescued him from the street and arranged for the publication of his first book, Poems (1893).

Francis Thompson’s most famous poem “The Hound of Heaven” describes God pursuing a reluctant man.

--------I fled Him down the nights and down the days
-----------I fled Him down the arches of the years
--------I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways
-----------Of my own mind, and in the midst of tears...

Knowing Thompson’s story, the following lines from the middle of the poem ring so true.

--------In the rash lustihead of my young powers,
-------------I shook the pillaring hours
--------And pulled my life upon me; grimed with smears,
-------------I stand amidst the dust o' the mounded years—
--------My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap...

I hope that taste will cause you to seek out the entire poem. Below is a shorter poem, that also expresses the truth of God reaching into our dark world.

In No Strange Land

----The kingdom of God is within you

O world invisible, we view thee,
O world intangible, we touch thee,
O world unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!

Does the fish soar to find the ocean,
The eagle plunge to find the air—
That we ask of the stars in motion
If they have rumour of thee there?

Not where the wheeling systems darken,
And our benumbed conceiving soars!—
The drift of pinions, would we hearken,
Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.

The angels keep their ancient places;—
Turn but a stone and start a wing!
'Tis ye, 'tis your estrangèd faces,
That miss the many-splendoured thing.

But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
Cry;—and upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob's ladder
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.

Yea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,
Cry,—clinging Heaven by the hems;
And lo, Christ walking on the water,
Not of Genesareth, but Thames!

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at:

Visit Kingdom Poets, and become a "follower" or post a comment!

Friday, July 02, 2010

Pepper Flecks - M. Laycock

“In holes and lostness I can pick up the light of small ordinary progress, newly made moments flecked like pepper into the slog and the disruptions.” Anne Lamott

I watched The Soloist the other night and it made me think of the quote above from Anne Lamott. It made me think about all the brokenness in the world and how easy it is to be overwhelmed by it. Some of the images in the film brought tears to my eyes and made my spirit cry out, “O Lord, how long will you linger?”

Yet, as Lamott says, there are those flecks of pepper, those “newly made moments” when the light of Christ breaks through, when men and women succeed in overcoming the selfishness in their nature enough to reach out and be part of the “small ordinary progress.” Perhaps that’s why He lingers – to give us the opportunity to receive the blessings of such moments and such service.

Writing is vital in that process. Words created in obedience and submission to Christ can help to stimulate and even create those newly made moments in someone’s life. Like the young girl who was raped as a teenager who read my novel and said, “I think I finally believe that God really does love me, in spite of everything.” Small, ordinary progress, a step toward the love and light of Christ, a step toward truth.

That is why we, as believers in Christ, must keep writing, keep broadcasting the flecks of pepper God gives us. We may get discouraged by low sales, by all the changes happening in the industry. We may even be bitter because we don’t have the support we feel we should have from friends, family and even our churches. But we must fight against these barriers. We cannot quit, because it is the pepper flecks that count - the tiny specks of hope we throw out every time we write in Christ's name. Until His return.

“And now, dear children, continue in Him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at this coming” (1John 2:28).


Marcia Lee Laycock writes from Central Alberta Canada. Her novel, One Smooth Stone won her the Best New Canadian Christian Author Award in 2006. Visit her website -

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Happy Canada Day! - Nesdoly


"National flag of Canada
two by length and one by width, red
containing in its center a white square
the width of the flag
with a single red maple leaf
centered therein"*
flies majestic since 1965
over town squares
by cenotaphs and schools
from Cape Spear, Newfoundland
to Beaver Creek, Yukon
Alert, Nunavut
to Middle Island, Ontario.

Proudly raised at Olympics
wrapping the grim coffins of soldiers
feted on Canada Day
marched in to the skirl of bagpipes November 11th
this silk-screened symbol
stitches together
our experience and destiny
sea to sea to sea.

When so plentiful at home you no longer see
till it's reincarnated into jester caps
umbrellas and wind socks
painted on faces, stamped on T-shirts
decaled onto mugs and beaver pens

abroad even one
grabs your homesickness
like the initials of a sweetheart.
Meet someone with your flag stitched on his pack
and you know he'll understand Tim Horton's
hockey, Z that rhymes with bed
loonies, toonies, Bruce Cockburn, Diana Krall
why "insurance premiums" and "health care"
don't belong together
Air Canada, Air Farce, Red Green
How great is it to have found someone
who speaks your own language, eh?

* Official description of the flag taken from the Canadian Heritage website.

© 2008 by Violet Nesdoly
First published at Utmost Christian Writers

I was thrilled when I discovered it was my turn to post on Canada Day. July 1st has been a red-letter day in our family from as far back as I can remember. My mom, a patriotic Canadian to the core, would never let a Canada Day pass without a celebration of some kind.

The year Daddy was in hospital with a broken leg, she (not in possession of a driver's license) packed a picnic and we (she plus six kids) trotted off to the Log Cabin Bush on our Saskatchewan farm. Before we left to go back home, we carved the date into the trunk of a poplar tree. That hunk of wood is still part of our family's memorabilia.

After Mom was widowed and retired, she celebrated every Canada Day for about ten years with a brunch. She'd invite friends (as many as there were provinces and territories), set the table with all the Canadiana she owned (province and territory place-mats, glasses with provincial floral emblems, anything flag or maple leaf) and serve Canadian food (Armstrong cheese, Canadian bacon, Fraser Valley butter, eggs, and milk, Abbotsford strawberries -- that sort of thing). Then she'd round out the occasion with a Canada quiz.

One of Mom's Canada Day parties. 
Even she (right) has a maple leaf tattoo on her arm--washable of course!

She died on the eve of Canada Day four years ago (June 30, 2006). It seemed right, somehow, that her first day in heaven was Canada Day. Here's what one of her granddaughters wrote about that:

"I think, for grandma, maybe God will have a Canada Day Celebration party for her in heaven... for the best "quilting/quilling/never-quits-creating" Mother/Grandmother/ Great-grandmother
... think of all those who are already there who would be around her at that table...maybe He'll send for her floral emblem glassware and He'll make her a very special cocktail from all the fruit juices He's saved up in His fridge, maybe He'll put in an order for Krause /bros. berries 'just picked' by Jane, and Canadian back bacon, ah yes, and add Russian pancakes (Big pancakes for Big Grandma) to the menu. Maybe we should put in an order for her?!
What great memories she has created for everyone, eh?? We will so miss her but we can carry her in our hearts forever and we have the hope of joining her someday!!" - Rosie S.
Here's to her and her generation, who loved Canada and passed that baton on to us.



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