Be moved. Be changed. Love because you are loved.

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Burning ship

Burn the Ships

In writing, the doorway of no return is the situation that pushes our hero into a new normal. In the story’s opening, a glimpse of the hero’s life as he knows it is depicted until something rocks his world. The hero is thrust, whether willingly or unwillingly, into a new normal. Even if he wanted to return to his old life, it’s now out of his reach. He’s left with no other choice but to press forward.

When Alexander the Great reached the shores of Persia in 334 BC, he ordered his men to burn the ships, stating they would “either return home in Persian ships or we will die here.” (Kanigan, Manner of speaking.org, Burning the Ships and Sailing Away, Jan 2015)  Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortez took the lead from Alexander, and when landing in what is now modern-day Mexico, he scuttled his ships to force his men inland, slamming closed the door of retreat.

The doorway of no return happened for Rahab in the Bible when she hid two Israelite spies. The King of Jericho demanded the men be brought out. Rahab could have given them up and gone on with her life. Instead, she hid them among the flax piles on her roof and told the soldiers that the Israeli men had already come and gone.

Rahab burned her ships.

A prostitute held little value to the King of Jericho and treason was a serious crime. The moment she chose to aid two strangers, failure no longer was an option. What put Rahab in the faith hall of fame was her trust in the God of the Israelites—a God she had only heard stories of but went all in to serve and trust (Joshua 2).

man looking back

Since Covid, many of us have been waiting for life to go back to normal, but we’ve passed through a doorway of no return. While it’s admirable to learn from history (Jesus often referenced those that came before and God’s prior works), it’s detrimental to remain stuck in the past. The time has come to decide whether we’re going to cling to the shipwreck that was 2020, be buried under the crumbled walls of Jericho, or choose to burn the ships. It’s time to step forward in faith and realize that God is doing a new and better thing.

We can’t let our trepidation of the unknown keep us from walking inland toward God’s purpose for our lives. If we keep looking back and holding onto the past, we miss what’s ahead of us. It cost Lot’s wife her life. She didn’t heed God’s warning and looked back. Doing so turned her into a pillar of salt.

We need to be turning to God to show us the way forward. What younger generation can we pour into? How can we get reinvested and reinvolved? It’s time to prepare to march into God’s promises knowing that He will never leave us nor forsake us. God’s making streams in the desert and paths through the wilderness (Isaiah 43:19), but we have to move forward to see it.

“Through every generation of the human race, there has been a constant war, a war with fear. Those who have the courage to conquer it are made free and those who are conquered by it are made to suffer until they have the courage to defeat it, or death takes them.” ~ Alexander the Great

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Snorkel diver

Go Deeper

Diver
Dig deeper is typed into the margins of my rough draft. I’m blessed to have incredible editors. They push me to draw emotions out of my characters, forcing me to place myself within the character’s head, see what they see, and feel what they feel. If they’re angry, then it’s my teeth that grind, my fingernails that dig into the seat of my chair, and the low rumble of a growl that builds within my chest. If they’re falling in love, then my stomach needs to flutter like migrating monarch butterflies, and it’s my blood that needs to zing as if newly carbonated.

If I’m lazy, I slip into telling: she felt, she hoped, she realized. Lazy writing creates distance between the heroine and the reader. The reader no longer resides within the heroine’s head. They’re now a fly on the wall observing the plot from a distance. The emotions fall flat no matter what flowery words or similes are used.

Even worse is being lazy with my faith. It’s easy to go through the motions, like praying because it’s expected or because we’re sitting down to dinner. It’s simple to say rote prayers where the words spill out without consideration of what they mean. Lazy faith keeps God as an observer from a distance instead of inviting him into our hearts and daily lives to experience true intimacy.

So how do we not let our faith become stale? Isaiah 37:31 says, “Once more a remnant of the kingdom of Judah will take root below and bear fruit above.” When we dig deep and take root, i.e. through reading scripture, praying for revelation, and seeking the Holy Spirit, we’ll draw closer to God, and in turn, God will draw closer to us. When we lean into God, He solidifies our faith. When we press in, our convictions strengthen. Our roots anchor us into the fullness of God, and we feel Him on an intimate level.
Tree with large roots
Isaiah 37 tells us to take root below and we will bear fruit above. The more rooted we are in God, the more we reap the benefits of the fruit of the spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. Bearing fruit like all relationships takes work. The more you put into it, the more you get out of it. God is passionate about His children and desires to spend time with us. Jeremiah 29:12-13 states, “Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

Sometimes we have to push past our complacency and go deep to experience the richness of God.

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bandaged teddy bear

Walking Wounded

bandaged Teddy bear

My novels all follow a pattern. The heroine and hero are going about their daily lives trying to maintain the status quo when an inciting incident throws their ordinary world into chaos. This new struggle reveals wounds and insecurities and forces them to figuratively look at themselves in the mirror and realize they are broken. Up to that point, they’ve been either ignoring their issues or trying to fix the brokenness by themselves. The problem is, they can’t.

And neither can we.

I have tons of insecurities. My biggest involves my children. I’m constantly plagued by doubts that I’ve done the right thing to build their characters or trained them up in the way they should go. I’m always second-guessing whether I disciplined them enough or too much, whether I supported them or let them down, whether I blessed them or messed them up for life. It wasn’t until God impressed upon me that I wasn’t the only one who brought them into this world. My boys are His children too. There wasn’t anything I could do that He couldn’t undo or fix. He made them the way they are for a reason, and he made me their mother for a reason. I must try to do my best and leave some things up to Him.

We have self-doubt. We are all broken in one way or another. Some wounds are accidental, some are generational, and some are deep and put us on life support. We don’t get to choose our wounds, but we do get to choose how we heal.

I’ll never forget watching the movie Master and Commander when the ship’s physician is shot and has to pull the bullet out himself and stitch himself up while his shipmates hold a mirror. His work was messy, and he did a terrible job, but it’s because we weren’t meant to fix ourselves.

How often do we try to band-aid a gushing wound? Placing a bandage on a broken bone isn’t going to do the trick. We don’t know how to fix ourselves properly because we didn’t make ourselves. However, the one who formed us in our mother’s womb, our Creator and Maker does. When we surrender our lives insecurities, wounds, and brokenness, God will hold us in the palm of his righteous right hand and heal our hearts, minds, bodies, and souls.

Lion

Chutzpah!

Lion

I love feisty heroines who stand their ground, put their foot down, or dish it back out to the hero. I’ve never considered myself a gutsy person. Sure, I like rollercoasters, but I’ll climb the curtains if I see a spider. If someone says something negative, I have great comebacks—only a few hours later, usually alone in the shower. These great zingers tend to go unspoken. In the past few years, however, it’s as if I’ve been taking pointers from my heroines. My inner sass has blossomed, especially when it comes to fighting for my children.

My youngest getting ready to wrestle

My youngest son, my baby, who’s now taller than me, wrestles. It was his second year wrestling, and he was up against a kid who’d been in an elite wrestling club. The boy picked my son up and then did a pile driver (an illegal move) that slammed my son headfirst into the mat. My heart jumped into my throat as I stood on the ring’s edge, ready to rush in and call 9-1-1. My son got up dazed. His coach beckoned him over and asked if he was okay. My youngest took a moment, shook it off, and continued to wrestle. I could tell he was still a little rattled, and the other kid maneuvered him into an almost-pin. My son fought hard and held off the pin for what seemed like an endless moment. The other wrestler’s coach jumped up and stood over them, screaming, “Finish him! Finish him!”

I saw red.

I don’t know if I was filled with righteous anger or became possessed by a demon because little 5’3” me jumped in front of this bulky, vein-bulging-in-his-neck wrestling coach and screamed back, “Finish him? What do you mean finish him? That’s my son you’re talking about.” I was ready to throw down. I didn’t care who or how big this man was. He wasn’t going to hurt the child I bore, nursed, and spent sleepless nights caring for.

The Yiddish word for what I did is called chutzpah. It means bravery that borders on rudeness (or insanity—my definition). Jesus encountered a Canaanite woman with a lot of chutzpah whose daughter was demon-possessed. She followed Jesus, crying out, “Lord, son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering greatly (Matthew 15:22).” Jesus didn’t say anything, but eventually, the disciples became annoyed and asked Jesus to send her away because she kept shouting after them. Jesus told his disciples that he was here to save the Jews. It wasn’t his time yet to start helping the gentiles. The woman, however, knelt before Jesus and begged him to help her.

Jesus said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

 “Yes it is, Lord,” she replied in her relentless mother-bear-mode chutzpah. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Part of me thought, whoa now. Did she know she was talking to God’s son, who was there at the creation of the earth? The man who commands the angels and controls the wind and the waves? The other part of me cheered for her bravery. Her daughter was suffering, and this mama would pursue the man who had the power to heal her child. She would beg for his mercy and go to any length, even if it meant convincing him to change his plans. She knew Jesus was the only hope.

Jesus saw her faith, granted her request, and the Bible says, “Her daughter was healed at that moment (Matthew 15:21-28).”

Our children and grandchildren are watching. They are waiting to see if we have the chutzpah to stand up against the bullies that try to influence them. They are learning from us how to face down demons. Are we doing it with faith and God’s authority?

The length of our love and the depths of our devotion will be what makes a difference for their future. They are worth fighting for, so let’s muster our chutzpah.

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Seasons Vs. Cycles

Fall trees

The changing seasons in New England are gorgeous. Fall is one of my favorites, with all the leaves setting the skyline on fire with color. Winters can be a little long and cold, but as I learned after my first snowfall here, you layer up and wait for spring. There’s nothing like snuggling up in a blanket with my laptop to write as snow falls softly out the window.

Seasons are each unique, charming, and challenging in their own way. Life’s seasons can be the same. My youthful innocence held the peace of unfettered responsibility along with a struggle to learn identity, life skills, and a sense of belonging among peers. The season of parenting meant the joy of holding my precious babies in my arms but also such sleep deprivation that I could barely function at times. My husband and I are heading into a new season of our children becoming grown men where we see the fruit of what we’ve worked hard to develop within them, but with a sadness that they will soon be leaving the nest.

In seasons we learn and grow as God uses it to mature and mold our character. We pass through them and come out stronger for it. However, it can be challenging to distinguish whether we are in a season or a cycle.

One of the more famous cycles, the Crazy Cycle, termed by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs in the book Love and Respect, is where a woman seeks love, but a man seeks respect and vice versa. When the woman is feeling unloved, she reacts by acting without respect toward her husband. He feels her disrespect and, in turn, acts unloving toward his wife. They end up in a vicious cycle of unloving and disrespecting, with hurts building upon hurts.

cycle

Cycles go around and around, repeating the same thing seemingly without end. Sometimes we don’t even realize we’re in a cycle until we’re so dizzy, we lose our lunch and with it the nutrients that our souls and lives need. Cycles seem like they should be easy to break—just stop and get off. But often, we’re stuck. It can feel like the seatbelt button won’t release or centrifugal force is holding us in place. We’re not learning from our past and keep repeating the same mistakes.

Dance instructors will teach their students how to spot a turn and not become dizzy. As they spin, the dancer will keep their eye on one spot until their neck strains. Then they whip their head around, locking eyes on that same spot. When we’re in the spin of a cycle and tired of going around the mountain again, we need to fix our eyes on God. He is the only one who can bring us out of a tailspin.

If you don’t know whether you’re in a cycle or a season, look up. God will spot you. He’ll make a way to get off the crazy cycle. It says in Daniel 2:21, “He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.”

His righteous right hand can pull us out of cycles and guide us through seasons.

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Hero embarking on a journey

Into the Unknown

Hero embarking on a journey

The Hero’s Journey

What do Froto Baggin’s from Lord of the Rings, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, Marlin from Finding Nemo, and Luke Skywalker from Star Wars all have in common, besides being movie characters? They’ve all experienced the Hero’s journey. I’m in the plotting process of book six of the Leeward Island series (The Marquis’s Pursuit is off to the editor), so my brain is focused on character arcs or what’s also called the Hero’s journey. It got me thinking about how God plots a similar path for us.

The Hero’s journey is a cycle where the Hero starts in the known world, journeys into the unknown, and returns changed into a new known. It’s comprised of three acts: 1. the separation or call to adventure, 2. initiation or death/rebirth, and 3. the return or resolution. For example, in The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s separation is physically done by the tornado that drops her house into Oz, where her adventure begins. Her initiation follows as she follows the yellow brick road, and she meets the scarecrow, lion, and tin man. Through trials and triumphs, she discovers a way to defeat The Wicked Witch of the West and return to Kansas. However, Dorothy goes back a changed woman. As part of the resolution or new normal, she holds a new appreciation for her family and friends.

We relate to the Hero’s journey so well because God propels us on our own journey to better walk in His purpose. He coaxes us out of our comfort zone to step into the unknown, where He uses trials and triumphs to mold us more and more into his image. In 2 Corinthians 3:18, Paul says, “We all show the Lord’s glory, and we are being changed to be like him. This change in us brings more and more glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” To become more like Christ and reflect Him more and more, we must allow ourselves to be refined. Sometimes it’s a quick journey, but other times it takes multiple trips around the mountain, painful backtracking, and even psychological death to old ways of thinking to come home as a new person. Romans 8:18 states, “We have sufferings now, but these are nothing compared to the great glory that will be given to us.”

Helper up a ramp

We aren’t journeying alone. If suffering, trials, and the thought of psychological death, have us crawling back to the couch to hide under a blanket, do not fear. We must remember a vital aspect of the Hero’s journey. A helper comes alongside the Hero to guide him along his path. For Dorothy, it was Glenda the good witch, for Froto – Sam Wise, Nemo – Dora, Luke Skywalker – Obi-Wan, but for us, we get someone even better—the Holy Spirit. We are not alone in our journey. The Great Comforter walks beside us, guiding us towards our purpose, urging us to stay on the path, picking us up when we stumble, and redirecting us when we lose our way.  

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Young woman with megaphone

Find Your Voice

Young woman with mega phone

Finding one’s voice in writing means discovering your unique writing style. It’s a blend between the types of vocabulary used and how you play with sentence structure. Some authors mince words with short, straight-to-the-point sentences, while others may elaborate on a verbose soliloquy of description. Some may use a blend depending on the tension level. A writer’s voice is what makes them unique. Many authors have written under different pen names only to be linked to their other works by their writing voice. For example, J.K. Rowling wrote as Robert Galbraith, Steven King wrote under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, and C.S. Lewis wrote poems under Clive Hamilton.

Discovering our distinct voice can be not only challenging but also scary. What makes us unique makes us dissimilar. To stand out can also mean to be exposed. There are a variety of different reasons why authors chose to write under a pen name. Dean Koontz used more than ten pen names because publishers in the 1970s warned about writing in different genres out of a fear he’d lose readership. Mystery writer Agatha Christie wrote romances as Mary Westmacott because she viewed writing mysteries as work but playtime was writing romance. Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov hid his identity by writing as Paul French because he was embarrassed to be known as the author of a young adult sci-fi book that was to be made into a TV show.

boy singing into microphone

Finding our voice reminds me of Blind Bartimaeus, who sat by the side of the road as a large crowd was leaving to follow Jesus. When Bartimaeus overheard Jesus was near, he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” The crowd immediately tried to silence him and told him to stop, but Bartimaeus was determined. He knew he needed Jesus, so he shouted louder.

Jesus heard and called him over. While the crowd tried to coax him, telling him not to be afraid and it’s going to be okay. Bartimaeus jumped up, threw off his coat, and ran to follow the voice of Jesus. Jesus told him, “Your eyes are healed because of your faith,” and immediately Bartimaeus could see.

Focusing on and following God’s voice will help us to find our own. When the crowd public opinion tries to muzzle us to stop speaking, we need to find our voice. When the crowd tells us to quiet down as they did Bartimaeus, we need to shout louder. When society tells us to be afraid of retribution or public shame, we need to stand firm on the solid rock of Christ Jesus and speak of the grace and love of the one whose opinion that truly matters—the Lord God Almighty.

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Miss Dodd Meme from The Captain's Quest

Shocking the System

The Captain's Quest, Miss Dodd Meme "If you ever consider drugging me, it better be with poison."

All authors today, whether traditionally or independently published, are expected to do some of their own marketing. The creativity it takes to capture readers’ attention spills over somewhat into the marketing realm, but we only get one or two lines to grab the reader. I used the above quote, “If you’re going to drug me, make sure it’s with poison,” from Miss Dodd’s character in my recent release, The Captain’s Quest.  As part of my marketing strategy, I created it into a meme to shock the reticular activating system of people’s brains in an attempt to gain their attention.

The brain’s reticular activating system is a bundle of neurons only about two inches long at the base of the brain that acts like a nightclub bouncer or gatekeeper for the brain deciding what stimuli pass through into our conscious. For example, as I’m sitting in my quiet office, I can hear the muffled song of my son’s video game, the shower running, a tiny house wren chirping outside the window, the cars passing by my street, and the clacking of the keys as I type out this sentence. In order to concentrate on what I’m writing, my reticular activating system will filter out most of these sounds, keeping them corralled in my subconscious. However, if my son turns off the shower and the sound of water dripping continues. My reticular activating system will release that stimulus into my conscious, alerting me that a pipe is leaking.

 It’s also why in restaurants, we can drown out the other conversations going on around us until someone’s conversation gets heated or the waiter says our name. Suddenly our attention locks on those things and starts to block the person to whom we had been speaking. The same goes visually for what is out of place. We can see rows of pink bunnies, but our eyes will be drawn to the purple one. Or, with a row of pencils, our eyes will hone in on the one that is out of alignment.

God made our brains amazing in this aspect. Think of the onslaught of stimuli that we feel, taste, touch, hear, and see within even a few minutes. Despite the bombardment, we can focus on attention or be alerted to danger. As God’s children, we are called to be salt and light. We are challenged to stand out and live differently to be a beacon for the rest of the world.

shocked man

Today society has made it easier than ever to shock people’s reticular activating system. One of the ways my husband does it in his industry is by not swearing. In construction, it’s so rare for a company not to use foul language that his business stands out by comparison. He doesn’t have a formal rule about not swearing. He merely leads by example, and others follow suit. For the past three years, his company has won Best Places to Work in the Boston area.

It’s sad to say but speaking the truth stands out nowadays enough to shock someone’s system. This might not have been the same in years past, but now telling the truth and showing love instead of hate are reticular activating catchers. An act of love, especially when it isn’t deserved or anticipated, not only makes us stand out, it makes others take notice. People will see the light of Jesus in you. Love can stir dead hearts back to life. Speaking truth creates a craving, awaking a hunger for more.

People not only desire salt and light, but they also need it. So go ahead and show them some love–shock their system.

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Stranger than Fiction

Kids reading books - funny fiction

Inspiration for my books typically comes from real-life experiences: my own, from history, or friends’ stories. Reality, however, can be stranger than fiction. Just because something happens doesn’t mean an author can write about it. Some events, situations, or occurrences wouldn’t be considered believable to readers. The challenge is that there isn’t a defined list of what is deemed realistic and what isn’t. For example, in 2020, here are a few real happenings that authors (other than Science-fiction) probably couldn’t get away with writing:

boy hiding in box

The first thing we try to do when dealing with bizarre events is to rationalize them. We take something extraordinary and break it into ordinary pieces so that our brain can make sense of it, but we can lose grasp of the astonishing happening in the process. Often, we do the same thing for God, but God refuses to be neatly categorized in a box or classified into specific acceptable social norms. In the Bible, it seems as if God went out of His way just to show us His power has no limits. Take a look at some Biblical examples:

  • God tells Noah to build a boat because it’s going to rain for forty days. This doesn’t sound unbelievable until you think about the fact it had never rained. Before the flood, water came up from the ground. Noah probably had to ask God, “What’s a boat?” and then “What’s rain?”
  • Jesus spits in the mud and rubs it over the blind man’s eyes, who then regains his sight. I know the blind man couldn’t see what Jesus was doing, but I’m sure he heard Jesus spit on the mud and then felt it smeared over his eyes.
  • A young boy with only a slingshot went up against a nine-foot, armor-wearing, sword and shield-wielding giant. (This is a mother’s worst nightmare. David’s mother is only referenced briefly in Psalm 86, but thank God she wasn’t present at what can only be called a miraculous underdog showdown.)
  • Jonah was swallowed by a whale and then spit out on the shore. Supposedly, this just recently happened to lobster diver here in Massachusetts, too. However, it was only for a few seconds, and he had on scuba gear and a buddy nearby to rescue him. Jonah stayed in the whale’s belly for three whole days.

Why are we waiting on the natural when God can do the supernatural? If God works in mysterious ways, then why do we confine Him to the physical? Are our prayers small when they should be audacious? Do we expect God to do things our way when His way is perfect and remarkable? Are we so afraid to appear foolish that we’re blocking God’s miracle?

Perhaps we need to suspend our disbelief and grow in our faith. Dare to pray for the impossible. Go head and ask the outlandish request. Even the impossible is possible with God.

“Truly I tell you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you can Ssay to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” – Matthew 17:20

Mountains

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muscled arm

Muscles Not Required

I can write about chiseled features, a shirt stretched across broad, muscular shoulders, a lithe, athletic build, and thick waves of dark hair, curling slightly at the ends, but that isn’t what makes a hero sexy—at least not enough to keep readers flipping pages.

Three thousand people surveyed by a British Health Care Company found a man’s chest to be the most attractive male physical characteristic, followed by hair and arms. While I did notice my husband’s broad shoulders and tall physique, it was his self-confidence and the way others looked to him for leadership that woke something inside me, like the delicious smell of coffee in the morning.

muscled chest

A muscular chest and thick hair may turn heads, but it is a firm sense of integrity and principles that turns women’s hearts. They don’t have to be able to bench 200 lbs. or drop and do 100 pushups. They don’t need muscles bulging on top of muscles. It’s inner courage and strength of conviction that’s sexy.

One of my favorite books of the Bible is Nehemiah. Nehemiah is an attractive character. He was a cupbearer to the king, which was a distinguished career at that time. It would have come with prestige and a nice income, but that wasn’t his allure. Nehemiah was unafraid to show his feelings in his passion for his homeland and anguish that his ancestorial city lay in ruins. His ability to display and understand emotions, while an admirable quality, wasn’t what made Nehemiah so captivating

What’s attractive to readers and heroines is the confidence the hero exudes (albeit not always right away) that he will stand his ground to protect his beliefs and loved ones. Even against opposition, Nehemiah showed leadership in directing his men on how to rebuild the wall and a devoutness toward God, instructing his men, “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families (Chp4. v14).” This is the point when I need to turn down the AC because my Bible was getting hot.

Nehemiah continues to impress by standing firm against Sanballat and other enemies. His dedication to his principles showed when he told Sanballat’s messenger that Nehemiah was doing a great work and he wouldn’t come from his ladder. He displayed integrity and wisdom when he saw through the lies of the false prophet sent by Tobiah and Sanballat and rebuked them. “Why would a man like me run for cover? Why would a man like me use The Temple as a hideout? I won’t do it.” Nehemiah drew a line in the sand that he would not cross and communicated that others would pay the price if they crossed it.

This don’t-mess-with-me-or-you’ll-regret-it is what I call a Nehemiah moment—an amazing display of inner courage and fortitude that makes for a swoon-worthy hero.

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