Friday, March 30, 2012

Jump In: A guest post

2 What are your thoughts?

I love the ocean. I always have. The amazing power of the waves and the vast immenseness of it never cease to create awe within me. I am not, however, a true ocean swimmer. I’ll swim like a fish in any pool but the minute I can’t feel the sand of the ocean bottom beneath my feet I panic. I’m suddenly adrift in an ebb and flow that is clearly larger than anything I can control. Suddenly the bigness of the ocean is too big for me and I just want to be back on steady ground.

I also love my Jesus. Always have. I grew up in a Christian home and started following him at an early age. I passionately loved and served him to the best of what I had in me. Looking back though I can see I always held a little bit back. There was something about God that was too wild for me. I would never have admitted it, but much like the deep of the ocean I got scared when I couldn’t control the God I was serving. When I couldn’t figure him out I stayed near the known comfort-zone of the shore.

God must see the path I’ve laid out for myself as a toe dip in the ocean of an amazing story he has designed especially for me.  I imagine he must laugh at the dreams I have for myself. Not a mocking laugh but an “I am so going to blow you away” kind of laugh.

For years I walked along the edge of God’s story for me with a toe dip here and a splash there. I spent my energy trying to outrun the waves that tried to sweep me in. Like a young child I would let the foam catch my toes and then run like mad for the shore. The shore was safe, the shore was known, and the shore was controllable.

Tattered and broken:

Then without warning the waves overtook me in the most devastatingly beautiful way. At the ripe age of 26 in the space of 15 months my life went from planned and controlled to tattered and broken. A debilitating incurable disease contacted on a mission’s trip to Asia, a severe birth defect discovered in both knees, and a lost job…. just to name a few. Not only had the waves overtaken me, but I was out to sea and barely keeping my head above water.

As pieces of my life fell down around me I had a choice to make. Either be swept under and live in fear or catch the wave knowing my Father was leading the way. I chose to swim. My life wasn’t in tatters because of things I had done, I had been living my life well and loving my Jesus faithfully. However, I had been living my life safe and as controlled and near the shore as possible. Many of us live our whole lives in safe and controlled mode. I believe God can bless us as we move along in that place, I also believe he blows the top off of the blessings when we let go of control and live in the unknown. Those scary waves are right where God desires us to live, for it is there that we truly begin to glimpse just a piece of all that he has for us.

Catching the waves:

If I’m in then I am all in. Once I made the decision to catch the waves and swim there was no looking back. I entered into four of the most scary, painful, and least-controlled years of my short life to date. I also experienced more of God than I ever imagined. I began to know Him as my Great Redeemer, as my Provider, as the Lover of my Soul, as the Author of my story, and as my Healer. As He gently guided and navigated the waves for me I found healing and wholeness in places I didn’t even know were broken.

For those of us who have ridden that wild unknown of an adventure with Jesus there is no going back. The adventure is not safe, it is not comfortable, and it is nowhere near the shore. However, I can testify that I would chose to be nowhere else. God has taken my broken tattered pieces and is creating a story unlike anything I could have ever imagined. When you are whole and healthy there is no limit of what God can do in and through you.

Swim my friends, jump in with both feet!

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:19
_______________________________________________________________________
After living in 10 different states and overseas in Austria Melissa currently makes her home in the great state of Iowa. As a children’s ministry consultant and coach she travels extensively training, speaking, consulting, and more in relation to kid’s ministry. Her first book collaboration was published this month and is available on Amazon. She’s passionate about being Jesus to a hurting world. She’s also passionate about reading on the beach, finding a good golf game, and eating froyo in every state she visits. You can find out more at www.melissajamcdonald.com .

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Picture Tells a Story

5 What are your thoughts?
Andi at Bringing the Sunshine shared 5 pictures from this year, "What My Eyes See...and What Photos Don't Show." I found her blog because she has a daughter with Cerebral Palsy and a son with Down syndrome. Once I visited her blog, I was there to stay. Her reflective post today made me think about the sweet moments this year I have had with my girls. I want to share those with you too.

Orphan no more
Orphan no more: I recently wrote an article on adoption where I revisited the first time I went into Nina's room. Revisiting the reality of what her life used to be like as an orphan broke my heart once more. This little girl is not the same child I met 2 years ago. A blank stare in her eyes has been replace by a sparkle full of life, wonder, and joy.

Incredible measure of pride
Incredible measure of pride: I don't write about Ellie very much, but the truth is, I have an incredible measure of pride for this little girl. She brightens my life with a simple smile and a hug. She is wise beyond her years and her heart has more love and compassion than most people I know. She is amazing, absolutely amazing. We sit together and talk, laugh, and craft away. She has the ability to speak truth into my life, and she loves me regardless of my flaws as a mom. What a gift she is in my life.

So full of love
So full of love: These two girls have a sibling relationship like no other I have seen. Ellie's love for Nichole is so strong. There is no disability, there is no down side to having a sister with down syndrome, there is only love, and an abundance of it. I wrote a post about their relationship, you can read about that by clicking here.


Stand tall
Stand tall: To the eye this appears to be a little girl standing, no big deal at all. But this is a little girl with Cerebral Palsy that is beginning to stand, balance, and walk. Feet with heels on the ground, balancing to her best. A once orphan little girl that would have been sentences to life in a crib in a mental institution now has the sky as her limit. She is full of potential, and she is standing tall!

I'll make music

I'll make music: Nichole amazes me. Often times, she reminds us that we can make music, sing along, and enjoy life. She is also so full of potential, and I love to see her showing me through play what her future could look like. For all those times where I ask myself "Will She...?" Her answer is, "let me show you mom." You can also click here for a post I wrote about this.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Spring Flowers

8 What are your thoughts?

There are beautiful spring flowers at the front of our house, but these flowers to me are just as beautiful. Ellie, our little artist has a gift to create. She made these for my sister and we will be working on making some for our house.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Courage and Determination

13 What are your thoughts?
I have seen great people achieve great things. I have seen athletes push the limits and break world records. I have seen the sweat and tears that come with difficult tasks and the pleasure of seeing those things come to fruition.

Yet I have seen more courage and determination from a little once-orphan-girl that I now have the great pleasure, joy, and honor to call my own. Abandoned at birth, raised without a family, yet now loved and having a place to belong.

Cerebral palsy does not own my daughter. She is a fighter. She is courageous, she is determined!

Almost a year after her rhizotomy (SDR) and look at this girl go!








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Friday, March 23, 2012

Transformed by Truth: A guest post

4 What are your thoughts?

We've all seen the ugly gashes of pain across life and the raw bleed of sin. There have been seasons I've plastered over my own brokenness, and the wounds of others, with the stiff veneer of pride. Afraid of the brokenness spilling out and giving away my humanness. 

Life can be a broken tangled heap. Hearts lie in disrepair, hidden and hurting. Encountering people who are broken and messy challenges me. Little ones who have been soiled, wasted by loved ones and by the world, are hard for me to understand. I don't like brushing up against poverty. I resent ignorance. I like things neat and useful. I like people I can understand; nice, clean, tidy people. I like to pretend I am one.

Jesus' eyes search out broken ones, pierce the mess, reveal, and hold answers. He's not put off by messy. He delights in challenge, a chance to show his power, a time for glory. For years I straightened, tucked, and cleaned the rooms of my heart. But a puff of wind and the card house fell. As a young woman I searched for truth, licking my wounds.

I wore the label “daughter of brokenness.” My parents are real people and life caught up with them. Their story isn't mine to tell, but for years it wasn't pretty. Over time the thin scar of church wounds covered my heart, accumulated in service with my husband to God's precious bride. I wore the label, “not-enough.” Marriage had it's rough moments and at times felt more like a prison than a blessing. Empty from pouring my life out for the church and for my husband I found myself trying on the label “betrayer.”

But God's grace called out to me. My eyes raised, meeting his. The questions were forgotten. Answers were found in his face. The answer? The Cross. All around me, past, present, and future I see hopeless people, scary people, secrets locked in wounded hearts. I see broken mess, cast aside and useless. What does Jesus see? Beauty.

God's word holds the promise of a mess made straight. Promise of wounds healed, of chains loosed. Freedom. Do I hope in, find comfort in, and extend his promise of life? I want to see beauty behind angry eyes. I want to see fear turn to love right before me. Reaching out to take a marred, quivering world by the hand scares me. I pray for love to turn my fears into bold belief. Our Heart Tamer challenges, "I am the way, the truth, the life no one is made right with the Father by anyone else; come be set free by truth." (John 14:6, John 8:32)

Do you believe God's promise for your brokenness, for the brokenness you find in others? Do you believe the promise that there's beauty on the other side? Only Jesus' love turns broken days, and broken people into works of beauty. It's what he has planned for his children. He invites us first to apply the truth of his transforming grace to our own lives. Beauty only grows in the soil of truth.

Until I knew the power of God's love to transform my wounds into beauty I had no hope to hold out to others. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails,” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. True love transforms. His love invites us to offer our brokenness up for transformation. And then, most beautiful gift, he invites us to join him in his work of applying truth to the pain of the world. He calls us to be lovers, transforming the broken into beauty.

Where are you in need of beauty? Brokenness is made beautiful by clinging to the truth of God's word. What God promises are you holding on to today?
______________________________________________________________
Beck Gambill blogs at Beck Far From Home. You can read her thoughts on pursuing God there as well as download a free copy of her ebook Sister to Sister; a Mentor's Handbook. She has served with her husband, Chris, in ministry for ten years. Together they are raising God's precious gifts Max and Maggie.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Guess what day it is today?

4 What are your thoughts?
It is World Down syndrome day!
To celebrate, Nichole actually posed for a picture.

It was a busy, fun, and exciting morning. Let me tell you a little bit about what Nichole and I were up to today. Especially since, you know, she is the reason why we celebrate this day.

Nichole, my friend Robin and I went to Nichole's school to talk to all the kids K-5 about Down syndrome. There are about 300 students, so I wasn't sure how it would work to talk to such large groups (3-5 graders first, then K-2) The kids were amazing!

We talked a little bit about Down syndrome, and how the extra chromosomes makes the information in our body get a little bit confused so it results in some things being a little bit harder for kids with Down syndrome. In order to explain some of the challenges better, I invited some volunteers to come up front.

We put a large marshmallow in our mouth and we tried to answer some questions. It was hard!
We put socks on our hands and tried to pick up beans, one at a time, and put them in a bowl. It was hard!
With the socks still on, we had to pick up a card from a deck of cards and flip them over. It was hard!
Finally, we did some jumping jacks, but then we held weights on our hands and tried to do jumping jacks again. It was a lot harder with the weights!

You can click here and see where I got these wonderful ideas!

Although there are some differences, we then talked about all the things we love and like to do. Kids with Down syndrome love and like the same things kids their age like to do. We realized then that we are more alike than different!

To finish our time, we watched a short video called: My Friend Isabelle. It was originally a book and was adapted to be presented to larger groups of kids. You can click here and watch the video.

I made a display for the school so that kids can stop by and look at all the things that kids with Down syndrome can do and like to do. All the kids thought it was great! 


All kids will take a letter home to show their parents. This is what it says:

Dear  Parents:

Today I had the privilege to come to (Our Elementary School) and talk to your child about Down syndrome. March 21st is World Down syndrome day (3/21) because people with Down syndrome have 3 copies of the 21st chromosome.

What did we do?

We watched a short video about Charlie and his good friend Isabelle. Isabelle has Down syndrome. We then got to do some fun activities involving weights, socks, and marshmallows so that we could better understand what are some of the challenges that people with Down syndrome have. Finally, we talked about all the ways in which people with Down syndrome are more alike us than they are different. 

But what was most exciting, is that they got to meet Nichole, my daughter.

Nichole is 4 years old and she attends the EC program at school. She loves princesses, Barbies, Strawberry Shortcake and Curious George. She loves to play pretend and dress-up. She is also a little performer, and likes to make people laugh. Sometimes, when other people are sad, she gives hugs and pats their backs to make them feel better. She adores her big sisters (they are in Kindergarten). 

Nichole’s favorite snacks are Doritos and M&Ms. She is a dancer, a trampoline jumper, and a rascal. Although she has some trouble with her words, Nichole is more alike other 4-year-old little girls than she is different.

Although it was hard to deal with Nichole’s diagnosis at the beginning, there is nothing about her that our family would change. She has brought more joy to our lives than we ever imagined. She is absolutely perfect!

I hope your child shares with you what they learned today about Down syndrome. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me. I always love to talk to other parents about Down syndrome and other special needs.

On the back of this page, you will find some quick facts about Down syndrome.
Sincerely,
Ellen Stumbo
Facts taken from the National Down Syndrome Society
• Down syndrome occurs when some or all of a person’s cells have an extra full or partial copy of chromosome 21. This additional genetic material alters the course of development and causes the characteristics associated with Down syndrome.
    
• Down syndrome is the most commonly occurring chromosomal condition. One in every 691 babies in the United States is born with Down syndrome. About 6,000 babies are born with Down syndrome every year.
    
• There are more than 400,000 people living with Down syndrome in the United States.
     
• Down syndrome occurs in people of all races and economic levels.
     
• The incidence of births of children with Down syndrome increases with the age of the mother. But due to higher fertility rates in younger women, 80% of children with Down syndrome are born to women under 35 years of age.
      
• People with Down syndrome have an increased risk for certain medical conditions such as congenital heart defects, respiratory and hearing problems, Alzheimer's disease, childhood leukemia, and thyroid conditions. Many of these conditions are now treatable, so most people with Down syndrome lead healthy lives.
     
• A few of the common physical traits of Down syndrome are low muscle tone, small stature, an upward slant to the eyes, and a single deep crease across the center of the palm. Every person with Down syndrome is a unique individual and may possess these characteristics to different degrees or not at all.
    
• Life expectancy for people with Down syndrome has increased dramatically in recent decades - from 25 in 1983 to 60 today.
     
• People with Down syndrome attend school, work, participate in decisions that affect them, and contribute to society in many wonderful ways.

Most people with Down syndrome have cognitive delays that are mild to moderate. Children with Down syndrome fully participate in public and private educational programs. Educators and researchers are still discovering the full educational potential of people with Down syndrome.
    
• Quality educational programs, a stimulating home environment, good health care, and positive support from family, friends and the community enable people with Down syndrome to develop their full potential and lead fulfilling lives.

People with Down syndrome have feelings just like everyone else in the population. They experience the full range of emotions. They respond to positive expressions of friendship and they are hurt and upset by inconsiderate behavior.

People with Down syndrome have meaningful friendships, date, socialize, form ongoing relationships and marry.

***Also, for Down Syndrome Day I have a guest post on "Different Dream for my child" site. Click here and check out my post where I highlight the beautiful relationship between my daughters and how Down syndrome affects siblings.***


 Last, I want to share with you the letter I wrote to Nichole last year on this day.


Dear Nichole,

When you came into my life, your diagnosis of Down syndrome threatened to crush my heart. That tiny extra 21st chromosome seemed too powerful for me to stand up against. I cried constantly, and I feared our lives would be covered with limitations. I wanted to wake up and find that you were a "normal" baby, that Down syndrome was only a part of a bad dream. But it wasn't a dream. You almond shaped eyes looked straight at me. Then one day, I thought you were looking not just at me, but straight into me.

I don't know how to describe this to you, so I will do the best I can. It was as if I had been dreaming for most of my life, and then you came in and you woke me up. Love, joy, and peace became almost tangible. I felt as if my eyes had been opened to the real things that matter in this world. Maybe I simply had a "weak heart" and then you showed up ready to fix it.

Not only did you awaken something inside of me; you changed me. God, using you, a little baby girl with Down syndrome, to touch the places of my life that needed to allow Him in.

I look at you now, and  Down syndrome, although it does not define you, is something in you that I cherish. It is something that I celebrate. I would not change a thing about you. Every single chromosome you have is absolutely perfect! You are exactly how God intended you to be, He created your inmost being.

Today is World Down syndrome day. Thanks to you, I realize the significance of this day because I know that Down syndrome is something to be celebrated, something that we could all use a little bit more of. I wish I loved more like you, and that I gave my hugs as freely as you do. I wish I celebrated others with the same excitement you show. I am blessed to have you my sweet girl.

Happy day to you my little rascal, and thank you for making ours happy because you are you!

 I love you my little rascal Nichole. I love you more than you will ever know!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Day I Called Poison Control

14 What are your thoughts?

We have a large windowsill planter at the front of our house. The ants in there are ridiculous. I mean, slice-the-earth-with-a-stick-and-the-ants-come-spilling-out ridiculous. Gushing. Crawling. Run for your life, they are going to get you!

Okay, maybe you don't have to run, but seriously, I have never seen a larger ant colony before.

We had ant problems in our back yard last summer too. A couple of large ant hills that kept my girls screaming high-pitched screams. Then one day I was cleaning an old plastic swimming pool and I added some bleach. When I was done scrubbing, I did not want to dump the water on our grass since we only had so much nice grass growing in the yard. This is where I got really smart. Hmmm, I wonder what would happen if I dump this bleachy water on those ants. So I did. A couple of days later and grass was growing over the ant hills. The ants died. Bleach has many purposes.

Any little ant hill I saw was fiercely attacked with the power of bleached water. It worked. Every. Single. Time.

That is, until the "planter ants" showed up while I was digging-in to plant some "Disney princess" flowers from Home Depot.

Bleach water was like honey to those ants. 

So I got searching some home-made remedies to rid myself of those planter invaders. I ate some oranges and spread the peel. It didn't work.

I poured a water and vinegar mixture on the ants. I even added a couple of peppermint oil drops. Nothing. Nada. Zilch!

Well then, what if I mix the bleach and the vinegar together?

And this is when things turned bad and I realized instead of getting that psychology degree maybe I should have stuck with Chemistry.

As soon as I saw fumes coming up the bucket that carried a very potent smell, I knew this was a very bad chemical reaction. It only took me a few seconds to kick it in gear, grab the bucket tightly and get it out of my house.

"Girls, get out of my way, I made poison...and I need to dump it on the ants!"

So I got it out the door and poured it on the dirt on the planter. This better kill them because this is not good!

In a mad dash I made it into the house and started opening windows.

"Mom...what is that smell?" Ellie asked

"Bad poison Ellie, bad poison! I need all the girls to get their shoes on and we need to get out of the house!"

Which really means Ellie needs to put her shoes on because Nina usually has her braces on and Nichole's shoes stay on for a total of 32.4 seconds.

I opened every single window in our house...except the ones by the planter.

"Don't breathe! Everyone in the car!"

So we got in the car and we took off. I figured we needed fresh air and the park would be a great idea. But the thing is, I have never been able to take all 3 girls to the park on my own. With a girl with Down syndrome and one with Cerebral Palsy, it is just difficult. One runs, one...doesn't. But we needed fresh air.

So to the park we went, and I called my friend and I asked her to google if what I made was bad...or really bad. It was really bad. Some people can die from those fumes. Nazi's used that concoction to kill people. But it was a great thing that I left the house right away. So I asked for the number for "Poison Control" and in case you don't know it, it is 1-800-222-1222. I don't think I will ever forget that number.

The lady I talked to was really nice and extremely helpful. She asked quite a few questions to determine if we needed to go to the ER or not. Turns out I did everything I was supposed to do. We were not in our house longer than 10 minutes, and that is a stretch, I got us out fast! I opened the windows which we were supposed to do, and we needed to at least get 20 minutes of fresh air. I figured we would stay there as long as the girls were playing and I wasn't losing my mind chasing one while the other one bounces stiffly on my hip while holding on to dear life.

You know the "Fight or flight" theory? Well I freeze. However, I think today I saw that I can actually think clearly and do something!

And because of that experience I can tell you that it was a  sweet realization that I can now take my girls to the park by myself. This is huge! I can be like other moms and take my girls out to play. Really awesome feeling. My rascal is not so rascally anymore. And Nina...she walked with her bare feet on the sand. Yep. Incredible, indescribable pride I have for my 2 girls.

Of course when we came back home I realized I left the screen door open. So here is hoping to no surprise critters making themselves comfortable in our house. I do remember the irrational thought: The air will circulate better without the screen. I mean, what was I thinking!

And I figured if the ants survive this odyssey...I am giving them a break...and feeding them some corn starch next!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Down syndrome: What we would tell ourselves

2 What are your thoughts?
On behalf of the IDSC for Life:



This Wednesday is World Down syndrome day. What an honor to be a member of this family!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Mommy Guilt: A guest post

2 What are your thoughts?

Mommy guilt clenched its tight grip around me, making it difficult to breathe. There, in my hand, was the soggy google eye I had retrieved from the depths of my baby’s mouth. Earlier that day it had been a Lego and I had snapped. My children stood agape, eyes wide open, as I flew into a rampage scavenging for any remaining Lego that dared to traipse away from its appointed bin. I admonished everyone in my path. Don’t they realize that one stray Lego could kill their baby sister? There is a reason I ask them to clean up their stuff!

As I once again washed my drool-covered hand, defeat washed over me. Lecturing hadn’t worked. Neither had sweeping 16 times.

And where had I been anyway? Making lunch? Listening to my Kindergartener read? Cheering on my newly potty-trained darling? Searching for another Lego in the other room?

Guilt of what could have happened stabbed my heart.

I should have picked up that google eye before my little lady even saw it glistening from across the room. I should have seen her clench it in her tiny fist and put it in her mouth. I should have at least noticed that her malformed facial expressions told of her little feast.

But I hadn’t, and I wanted to crumble into a broken mess on the floor!

How many times have I wanted to be there for one of my dear children, and I wasn’t? How many times have I completely missed the evidence right in front of me and let my family down? How many times have I found myself snapping at my children instead of pouring out grace?

This guilt…it hurts, and it keeps me frozen.

Even when things go the way I think they should, that guilt is there reminding me that I am not perfect.

Yet, beauty is found in these shattered pieces, for it is here that God’s truths flood my heart (and hopefully yours as well)! As I try to pick up each piece and glue it back together, I realize that stuffing my “mommy guilt” to the side just isn’t working, it is a reflection of something deeper.

I have stumbled at more than one point. I have wallowed in self-pity, put other things above God, spoken harshly to my children, not taken time to care for my home, pushed my children aside so I could check just one more email, let fear reign instead of trust in God. Yes, I am guilty. I can quote along with the Psalmist- “My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear.” (Psalm 38:4)! This burden of guilt is often God’s way of getting my attention and leading me to His throne, for it is there that

God has taken away my guilt.

“Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”— and you forgave the guilt of my sin.”
-Psalm 32:5
  
Beauty is found when I’ve stumbled and am broken, and I pour out my confession to the Lord. He cleanses with His grace. I am forgiven, completely free of guilt. I should no longer hold on to that guilt.

And the rest? The times I’ve let others down, broken a child’s favorite toy, not realized a daughter needed glasses, failed to pick up the stray google eye off the floor, finally rescued time to spend with God- only to hear a diaper change calling?

The rest I lay at His feet.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
-Philippians 4:6-7

What would happen if each of us stopped worrying about being perfect? If we stopped fretting over getting our children into the best programs? If we stopped agonizing over all the things we could, should, would have done, and instead fell on our faces before our God, seeking Him and His ways? Soaking each situation with prayer as we relied completely on His Spirit, His strength, and His grace?

That is where we find His peace, His joy, and His beauty!
_______________________________________________________________________
Jessica is the wife of her ministry-minded best friend and the love of her life. She is a blessed homeschooling stay-at-home mommy to 6 precious children- Alyssa, Elliana, Kayla, Isaiah, Annabella, & Ariya- all ages 7 & under! She is your every-day mommy that longs to be full of grace, but often needs to ask for forgiveness. She has a passion for seeking & following hard after God, loving on her family, leading little (and big) hearts to Christ, and encouraging others along the way! She shares her heart & her life at Our Family for His Glory.


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