Your Greatest Weakness is Your Strength

One thing I love about the Bible is the honesty in which it displays historic figures. No one’s flaws are hidden. Everyone’s life is pretty much laid bare — the good and the bad. And in certain places, the writer shares his own weaknessflaws, like the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians.

“I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” 1 Cor. 3-5

Paul admitted he was in weakness, fear, and much trembling when it came to speaking to the church of Corinth. Essentially, Paul feared public speaking. There are other instances in his letters where he admitted he wasn’t an eloquent orator. It’s odd because I always perceived Paul as a great theologian and preacher who commanded attention and respect when he spoke, but that wasn’t the case.

Public speaking ranks as one of the greatest fears for people. Most of us have suffered from it to some extent, which makes us much like Paul in that sense. Yet God knew Paul was weak in this area and He still called him to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, an assignment that regularly put him in front of complete strangers to share a radical message none of them had heard before. Way to set up a guy for failure, God.

But God did this regularly, on purpose. Think back to Moses. He tried to explain to God that he couldn’t speak for Him to Pharaoh because he stuttered. It’s not like God was like: “Oh, my bad, I forgot you stuttered, let me find someone else.” He knew speaking was Moses’ weakness and He called him anyway.

Today, we do so much to hide our weaknesses. We focus on what we’re good at and pursue interests in those areas and hone skills pertaining to our strengths. We are caught up in a culture that only displays its best — we retake photos on our phones until we have our best-looking selfie; we search through pics to use our best-looking one as our profile image; we use Instagram to make our sucky photos look professional, all in an attempt to display an image of strength, beauty, and competence to the world. But none of it is true.

I admit, only God and I know my weaknesses. I’m the king of playing it cool, faking it til I make it, and if need be, just plain frontin’. But God, throughout history, takes the opposite approach with us. He doesn’t want any of those weaknesses, blemishes, fears, or things that make us tremble hidden. He calls us into those areas. He pushes us into those areas. He uses us in those areas.

Why?

Paul said it in his letter to the Corinthians: So that anything we accomplish and any life we impact won’t be because of our wisdom or skill, but solely by the power of the Spirit so our faith (and subsequently others’ as well) will be in the power of God, not in our own ability.

Have you been concealing or shying away from a weak area in your life God is nudging you toward? Have you shut your ears to what He’s been saying because of fear? Have you been worrying about what others will think? Fearing failure? God knows what He’s doing. He’s calling you there for a reason — to display His power and glory.

Like Paul, embrace your weakness. It’s the only way to see what the power of the Spirit can do in your life.

 

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Today is a Good Day, If You Choose

Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once said hell is other people. You may agree to an extent, especially if you’re facing800px-Smiley.svg those kinds of people today at work, school, or wherever your day takes you. But I like what Christian philosopher Ravi Zacharias says: Heaven can be other people too, and we have the ability to bring a little of Heaven into people’s lives today (hat tip to Don Miller for this). We carry the presence of God within us. After all, Jesus said the Kingdom of God isn’t some ethereal place, it’s within us. This day we can bring a taste of Heaven to this world. What a way to begin the week!
Love is a response to His love, and happiness is a choice. Respond and choose well today, and let Pharrell get you in the mood with this:

 

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5 Lessons From My 80-year-old Self

On the heels of writing some tips to my 18-year-old self, I was thinking of what advice I could use now. If my older self,

photo by Andre Delhaye via compfight

photo by Andre Delhaye via compfight

say the 80-year-old Kevin, could give me some guidance on navigating life from here on out, I wonder what he would say? I wonder what lessons, tips, and words of wisdom he’d share.

He’d probably start by saying I know less than I think I know right now. Then he’d say my future is bright and I become filthy rich (OK, wishful thinking there).  Most of all, he’d probably focus on regrets he has and how I can change my life to avoid them. So here are five things my 80-year-old self would tell me to live a fuller life:

SPEAK YOUR MIND

You tend to be cautious, young Kevin (yes, you’re still very young). You speak up when needed, but you’re guarded with your words. You’re diplomatic by nature, which has been helpful in gaining friends, bridging gaps, and defusing conflicts. Yet, your opinion needs to be heard more — unfiltered and direct. It will catch people off-guard, and it may hurt some feelings, but as long as it’s done in truth and love, it’s worth it.

BE SILLY

There’s nothing more beautiful in life than being able to laugh at yourself. It’s more natural for the youngest and oldest among us, but it’s something you need to rediscover and embrace. Laughing is one thing, but being able to make a complete fool of yourself — and awaken the silliness in others — is a moment you’ll never forget, trust me.

TAKE RISKS

You’ll never regret taking a risk. Do they all pay off? No. Is there embarrassment or discomfort in the moment? Yes. But looking back, taking a risk was always the right decision. Risks always result in either the outcome you desire or a lesson learned. The only thing that holds you back is fear. And you’ll find out what you fear most about risks never happens. The greatest risk of all is the risk not taken.

SPEND TIME WITH PEOPLE YOU LOVE

You’ve been telling yourself to do this for years, and you’ve gotten better at it, but remember this: You can never spend too much time with the people you love. No one ever reached 80 years old and said, “You know what, I think I spent too much time with loved ones.” Take every second and every minute that they give you. Too many people let work, school, church, chores, sports, Scandal, and social media get in the way of real relationships. By the way, Facebook, Instagram, and Olivia Pope won’t last that much longer anyway. If your loved ones are really loved, prioritize time with them.

SAY ‘I LOVE YOU’ OFTEN

Those three words mean the world to people, Kevin. They don’t part your lips enough. The people you love — which include pretty much everyone — need to hear it. You’ll regret not saying it enough. Your words are sincere. You only say what you mean. If there’s anything people should remember about you, it’s that you loved them.

Enjoy the journey, young Kevin. You’ll be OK. Oh, and get off Facebook!

What do you think you’d regret most at an older age? What are some changes you can make to avoid those regrets?

 

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How to Live the Good Life

By Kevin Howell

Take two minutes to watch this video before you start reading:

A friend of mine shared hilarious video on Facebook. It’s a group of fathers rapping about the “Dad Life”: going to work, cutting the grass, doing yard work on weekends, taking their kids to different functions, driving minivans, and watching Disney movies. It’s comical and pretty much true.

I’m not a father, but having been around my brother and friends with children, that’s exactly what fatherhood is like today.

Obviously the video is a parody of materialistic hip-hop videos where rappers boast about luxury cars, mansions, money, hot chicks, jewelry and other stuff they really don’t own. Unfortunately, hip-hop culture causes the young people it influences to yearn for the “finer” things in life over practical things, like not spending your savings or refund check on $350 belts or $2,500 purses at Barneys (racial profiling aside, what the hell were they thinking?).

Though it would be cool to “ball so hard” like Jay and Ye, I desire the dad life more than the flashy life. And if they’re honest, I bet Jay and Ye are enjoying being new fathers more than entertaining millions (on second thought, it’s impossible to ever know what’s going through Kanye’s mind, so…).

I guess I’ve always been one to appreciate and desire the simple things. Desiring to be a husband and father is a noble goal. And whether you’ve achieved it yet or not, it’s likely the most important thing you’ll ever do. We tend to be fascinated with people who live celebrity-like lifestyles or do extraordinary things. Most of us want to do something extraordinary in our lifetime. It’s good to have big goals for your career, business, organization, etc., yet the simple things in life are often more fulfilling.

The Apostle Paul writes in 1Timothy 6:6 that being godly and content is a life of wealth. Whatever in life makes you content, treasure it. We’re all tempted to covet what others have or a particular lifestyle glamorized in the media. But for me, sitting at home on Saturday morning watching cartoons with the kids is the “good life.” I guess I’m more “Dads in the Suburbs” than “Niggas in Paris.”

You determine what the good life is for you. It may not involve kids, a spouse, and yard work. Just make sure you’re choosing what it is, not the Kardashians or Carters.

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How Heartbreak and Grief Help Us

By Kevin HowellHow Heartbreak and Grief Help Us

Pain sucks.

I’m not talking about physical pain (though I’m pretty sure that’s high on the suck level as well), but emotional pain. When I think back to the hardest times of my life, they came from heartbreak, grief, and loneliness.

Though I learned lessons from those experiences, I couldn’t find a benefit of going through them.

Though the pain from those emotions pierces our hearts, we can’t avoid them. If we live long enough, we’ll experience heartbreak, grief, and loneliness multiple times to various degrees. They are a part of life…an unwelcome part of life.

I’ve been wrestling with this topic lately after hearing comments on the subject from a pastor and a comedian.

Rick Warren, a renowned pastor and author of Purpose Driven Life, was interviewed on CNN a few weeks ago, talking about the death of his son, Matthew, who committed suicide. It was a touching interview with Warren and his wife as they shared their heartbreak.

In explaining his grief, Warren said he has cried every day since his son died, and he sees that as positive. Yes, he believes those negative emotions are good: “Grief is a good thing,” he said. “It’s the way we get through the transitions of life.”

That statement stood out from everything else he said in the interview. It’s so profound, and honestly, I still don’t fully comprehend it.

How can grief be good?

Inherently, it isn’t good because it comes from some sort of loss. But it’s good because of its purpose, as Warren explained. It helps us transition. It’s the way we move on. We let it out. We hurt. We let it burn — Usher style.

The alternative is burying the pain somewhere in our psyche to avoid the onslaught of negative emotions. The bad thing about that is it delays the transition. Comfort, peace and joy await on the other end of grief. The longer we hold the emotions in, the longer it takes to arrive there. Though we can arrive there partially by bottling up emotions, the pain still emerges without proper grief.

Experiencing negative emotions makes us human. Ironically, comedian Louis C.K. explained this perfectly — and quite off-color — during an appearance on the Conan show. He said sadness is poetic and we’re lucky to live sad moments. It’s a human emotion. It’s a part of the human experience. Yet, most of us do anything to avoid it — including occupying ourselves with our cell phones to avoid feeling lonely.

I’m no different. I’m a pro at bottling up emotions and avoiding pain. Ultimately it catches up to me. Pain sucks. But it doesn’t last forever. It eventually dissipates. Contentment and joy settle in.

I don’t think I’ll ever welcome grief, heartbreak or loneliness. But they will come. And when they do, I know the pain is simply a vehicle to help me transition. It is healthy. It heals. It makes way for peace and joy to return.

After pondering Warren’s statement that grief is good, I wonder if God created grief. We know every good and perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17), and if grief has a good purpose, is it godly? It’s weird to think God would “create” grief, but I know what God calls “good and perfect” doesn’t necessarily mean comfortable and easy.

Whether He created grief or not is probably not important. What’s important is how He uses it and how we respond to it. Our response determines whether, in our lives, grief is good.

Kevin is the founder and editor of Transparency. Connect with him @transparencymag or kevin(at)transparencymag.com

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Your Past has a Purpose

By Kevin Howell

The Past

photo by kusito via compfight creative commons

Your past has a purpose.

I know we’ve been told to move on from the past in order to grow, and even a certain R&B singer hates it when we bring up the past, but what we’ve been through shouldn’t be forgotten or hidden.

The Apostle Paul says in 1 Timothy that God shows him off as proof of His mercy and patience to those who have yet to trust Him.

His past had a purpose.

As wrong and forgettable as it was, his past pointed to a beautiful attribute of God. Your past and mine are no different.

If you’ve been around the church, you’re familiar with hearing testimonies of what God has done in people’s lives. You may have even shared your testimony with a friend, relative or co-worker in hopes of changing their lives.

But that doesn’t come easily for everyone. Some of us don’t freely and confidently share our past. No matter how much we’ve changed, no matter how much we’ve grown in God, it’s still difficult to reveal our “past life.”

The primary culprit is shame. We’re ashamed of what we used to do and who we used to be. That’s understandable. But if we keep letting shame of the past impede us from sharing our lives in the present, it not only hinders our growth, but also the growth of others.

OVERCOMING SHAME

If anyone had a shameful past it was the Apostle Paul. His mission was to persecute Christians, throw them in prison, and rid Israel of what he considered heresy. I’m sure along the way he may have cursed Jesus and His followers. He was anti-Christ in many ways.

After his dramatic conversion, Paul probably felt a sense of guilt. And even when God called him to share the Gospel, he felt inadequate, unqualified, and unworthy because of the shame of his past. Yet, he recognized Jesus made him adequate for the work, and “grace mixed with faith and love” cleared the shame that hindered him from ministry.

His testimony became his greatest tool in ministry. He realized his past was not about his mistakes but about God’s character. Paul’s past is evidence of God’s “endless patience to those who are right on the edge of trusting God forever” (1Timothy 1:16).

Paul began to freely share his testimony because it could help others who felt shame. Those who felt they weren’t good enough for God. Your past can do the same. It can help those who think they need to get their lives together before they can go to church. Those who think they’ve done too much to be forgiven and accepted by God.

SECURE TO SHARE

We carry shame of the past because we haven’t given it to God. Either we haven’t fully accepted His forgiveness because we haven’t forgiven ourselves, or we still feel the sting of past hurt so we can’t bear to bring it up.

Security in our relationship with God buries shame. It gives us confidence in His forgiveness. It helps us find a redemptive value in our past. Once we do, the past no longer becomes shameful, but useful.

God has made us adequate. Adequate and strong enough to share our past without fear. Our past, no matter how bad or hurtful, doesn’t hinder our purpose, it empowers it. So go ahead and bring up the past. It points to God’s redemptive work and will help set someone free.

Kevin is the founder and editor of Transparency Magazine, and yes, he used the Shaliek song as partial inspiration for this article.

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Why Your Destiny Doesn’t Matter

By Kevin Howell

photo via Creative Commons

photo via Creative Commons

I was reading the book of Jonah recently, and my eyes were opened to just how meaningful of a story it is. For the most part, Jonah is taught in children’s church, seen in Bible cartoons and whatnot. But there are powerful, relevant lessons in this Old Testament prophet’s life.

Many times when we hear a message based on the book of Jonah, a minister will point out that no matter how much you run, God will get you to your destiny. Or that nothing can stop God from seeing you fulfill the plan He has for your life.

Those messages are encouraging and inspiring, but that’s not the theme of Jonah.

The book of Jonah is not actually about Jonah. Sure, he’s the central character and involved in every scene, but the book is about the people of Nineveh.

It’s not about Jonah’s calling to preach. It’s not about him running from God. It’s not about him eventually fulfilling his destiny. Jonah is a love story. A story about God’s love for a city of people. A love so strong that God had a big fish swallow and spare a prophet so the people could be saved.

The people of Nineveh were wicked. They probably deserved judgment. But God was so slow to anger, merciful, and rich in love — yes, even in the Old Testament — He not only sent a prophet to preach to them, but He ensured that they’d hear the message.

We know Jonah was quite resistant to going to Nineveh. In chapter 1, he’d rather die than obey what God said. When he was swallowed by the fish, he then thanked God for rescuing him. Then he finally obeyed God, preached the message in chapter 3, and the people of Nineveh listened and repented.

Jonah’s attitude is quite similar to ours. Well, at least mine. Sometimes I resist obeying God and sharing the faith because of how people will respond. I think this person is so far from God, there’s no way he/she would receive the gospel. The truth is, just like the people of Nineveh, people we encounter today will listen and respond to the grace and love of God. People desperately need the grace and love of God.

The last verse of the book of Jonah, the conclusion so to speak, sums up what the story is about. God calls the people of Nineveh “more than 120,000 childlike people who don’t yet know right from wrong.” That’s the heart of the Father. That’s how He sees the lost.

Jonah didn’t get it. Even at the end, he still didn’t get it. It’s not about punishing wickedness. It’s not us against them; saints vs. sinners; the church vs. the world. It’s not about our fears or our abilities or our knowledge. It’s about having the heart of our gracious, merciful Father. The same way He described Nineveh is the same way He sees the lost today: childlike people who don’t yet know right from wrong.

The principle of the story of Jonah applies to your story and my story. Your story is not about your destiny or call. It’s about those people around you. The hundreds of childlike people you encounter who don’t yet know right from wrong. Your life is about their destiny more than yours.

Kevin is the editor of Transparency Magazine. You can connect with him on Twitter @kevbhowell or email kevin(at)transparencymag.com

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The Beauty of Being Unique

By Kevin Howellunique

God is a creative being. He made us creative. Even from the beginning, when God commissioned Adam to name the animals, God was empowering man to be creative and use his imagination.

In being creative, we display a characteristic of God. It’s not something the church champions as much as love, peace, forgiveness, mercy, and patience, but it is an essential part of who God is and who He made us to be — unique, creative individuals.

The Message Bible uses the word “creative” interestingly. In the context of living a life led by the Spirit and bearing the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, the translation tells us to live creatively. Back when Paul wrote his letter to the church of Galatia, human nature was no different than it is now: We compare ourselves to each other. We get jealous, we envy, we have pride, we ego trip.

No matter the area of life — career, family, spiritually, financially, intellectually — we tend to measure ourselves against others or popular society. We determine our progress and success by where we are in relation to others:

I’m still single at 28 while most of my friends are engaged or married.

I’m not working in the career field I want to be while everyone else appears to be established.

I don’t study the Bible or know scripture as much as others in church.

I struggle with sins while everyone else is living free.

I should be making as much money as this person.

And on the flip side, we can think more highly of ourselves because we are so-called “ahead” of our peers because we were the first to own a home, get a promotion, or have a title at church.

Paul says that we have “far more interesting things to do with our lives” than compare ourselves with others. He says, “Each of us is an original” (Gal. 5:26)

He then challenges us to “live creatively” (Gal. 6:1). I’m pretty sure he isn’t calling us to be artists or designers, in that creative sense. But he is saying, as individuals–uniquely gifted and crafted and anointed by God — to live in a manner free from the standards of others, and the standards of society.

It’s not by happenstance that we’re warned against comparisons after Paul teaches on the fruit of the Spirit. It’s easy to look at those traits and determine our proficiency based on how we compare to others. But comparison chokes the life of the Spirit within us. Creativity allows the character of the Spirit to uniquely flourish within us.

So what does it mean to be creative?

It means to be ourselves. It means to love like no one else can. Serve like no one else can. Be kind like no one else can. Be compassionate like no one else can. Not because you can do those things better than anyone else, but because no one else can do them the way you do.

Embrace your uniqueness. Live creatively, in the Spirit.

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life. (Galatians 6:4-5)

 

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How Fear Helps Us Dream

By Kevin Howell

Discovery Channel

Discovery Channel

This past Sunday night was a slow TV night. The NBA Finals were over, the Sunday Night baseball game on ESPN was in a rain delay so, unless you’re into Lifetime or Oprah’s OWN network, there wasn’t much to watch.

But lo and behold, the Discovery Channel came through with a can’t-miss/can’t-bear-to-watch event — Skywire.  Daredevil tight-rope walker Nik Wallenda was attempting to walk on a tight wire across the Grand Canyon. Yes, you read that right. And he was doing it without a harness or safety net… on live TV. I wasn’t sure how the FCC would approve the live airing of a man plummeting 1,500 feet to his death at the bottom of the canyon.

The walk was a quarter of a mile long and, yes, he made it. Throughout the walk, Wallenda, who had a mic on, was praying to Jesus — constantly. I’m no theologian and I don’t judge others’ relationships with God, but there has to be better ways to bring glory to God. Sure, he was exalting Jesus on national television, but at the same time scaring the hell out of everyone else. Anyway….

Wallenda is a pro at this stuff (he did the same stunt across Niagara Falls). His family has tight-roped walked for generations. He said he dreamed of walking across the Grand Canyon since he was a teenager.

FEARS VS. DREAMS

Wallenda’s stunt helps illustrate the unique relationship between our fears and dreams. Often times these opposing factors are quite related. What we fear most points to what we desire most. If you are afraid of being alone, your dream probably has something to do with family or community. If you are afraid of failing, you likely dream of success.

courtesy of fearsvsdreams.com

courtesy of fearsvsdreams.com

The organization To Write Love On Her Arms, which supports those struggling with self-injury, suicide and depression, started a campaign called “Fears vs. Dreams” where it asks people to write down their biggest fear and their greatest dream. The purpose is for people “to feel less alone in reading the words of others.”

One of my biggest fears is embarrassment and humiliation. Conversely, my greatest dream is to impact and encourage many lives through my words (both written and spoken). With the dream comes the risk of embarrassment, the risk of humiliation. But our greatest dreams will never come to fruition until we conquer our biggest fear.

Nik Wallenda said he doesn’t fear doing crazy stunts. He said you can decide whether you want to fear something or not. Though I wouldn’t even tight-rope walk 15 feet in the air, Wallenda chose to walk 1,500 feet high. That was his dream, and he conquered fear to do it. What’s your biggest fear? It will likely point you toward your greatest dream and let you know what you have to overcome to get it.

“Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. … the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul.” –Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

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Finding Purpose in Past Pain

By Kevin Howell

photo courtesy of compfight creative commons

photo courtesy of compfight creative commons

I’ve been doing some life reflection lately. It’s something I like to practice regularly, at least every couple of months or so, though it doesn’t always work out that way. But it’s imperative to do. It helps refocus my life, shape my priorities, and clarify my goals.

An inevitable part of looking back is realizing the mistakes you made, the bad experiences you endured, and the negative turns your life took. It’s painful to look back sometimes. The past still stings. The pain still lies underneath your smile, underneath your daily activity, underneath everything you piled on top of it in order to forget about it.

Some things we think we’ve forgotten about subliminally affect us in some way. A bad relationship from the past may affect the way you relate to the opposite sex. An embarrassing or shameful experience may keep you from speaking up in public any more. Our past hinders us in sneaky ways.

But those means can never be exposed if we don’t reflect. If we don’t think about what we’ve been through, how it has affected us, and what we’ve learned from the experience.

God is a redeemer. That’s His M.O. He doesn’t leave us hanging out there to battle with the demons of yesterday. But we have to confront them. Confront the emotions. Look at the consequences in the face. Not to relive the past, but to progress.

In his book Storyline: Finding Your Subplot in God’s Story, Donald Miller explains the importance of finding a redemptive perspective to our suffering. He says in every tragedy, we have the ability to find something good. “The negative turns in our lives remain negative turns. But if we are going to heal, we must find something meaningful that came to us because of our tragedies.”

In reflecting on the negative turns in my life, I have plenty of regret for my actions and inaction. But as I look over how everything transpired, I wouldn’t necessarily change anything. Because within every negative was not only a great learning experience, but an opportunity for God to show off. Many of my negative turns involved romantic relationships. Mistakes and breakups left me hurt, confused, and sometimes bitter. But in every circumstance, God brought a group of supporters in my life: new friends, a church group to serve with, a renewed bond with family. Loneliness was always followed by a sense of purpose and belonging.

When we find a perspective of purpose in our negative experiences, it allows us to let go of the hurt, heal our wounds, relieve the pain, remove bitterness, and — most importantly — forgive ourselves and others.

As psychologist Viktor Frankl said: “When we find a redemptive perspective toward our suffering, it ceases to be suffering.”

So take time to reflect on your life — where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going. Look at the good and the bad and realize how God is at work, redeeming every experience with purpose.

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

I encourage you to check out Donald Miller’s book Storyline. It’s a workbook to help you create a life plan that will give you clarity and direction for living a great story.

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