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EPISODE 82: Our Longing for Home

Jess Archer moved more than a dozen times before she reached the age of 15. As you might guess, that created a fair amount of anxiety in her life. She finds peace in the midst of anxiety through her relationship with the Lord. But it’s far more complex than a simplistic solution.

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Welcome to Questions That Matter, a podcast of the C.S. Lewis Institute. I'm your host, Randy Newman. We pursue the discipleship of the heart and mind. We try to think as deeply and as Christianly as C.S. Lewis thought about everything. And I'm delighted to welcome my guest today, Jess Archer, and we're going to explore a theme in her book, the theme of finding home. Jess, welcome to Questions That Matter.

Thank you. It’s so fun to be here!

Well, people need to hear the title of this book first and then dig in and hear some more about your story, but I love the title. It's called Finding Home with the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Billy Graham. And the subtitle is “A Memoir of Growing Up inside the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.” So we've got to hear a little bit of the back story. What’s your connection to Billy Graham?

Yeah. Well, I like to say he's the voice of my conscience, mostly because he was the central figurehead of my childhood. My father was the director for Billy Graham's North American Crusades for twenty-five years, from the time I was three till the time I was in my 20s. So my father's job with Billy Graham spanned the entire course of my childhood and young adulthood. And so being the director of Billy Graham's Crusades, as they were called back in the eighties, switched over in the nineties to missions, being the director meant that my family, we moved every single year in the service of preparing a city for Billy Graham's meeting nights. And, Randy, if anyone's ever been to a Billy Graham crusade, they are five nights of meetings, where Billy Graham speaks and presents an invitation to receive Christ, he presents the gospel, and so what people don't realize is that those crusades took about nine months to organize. It took nine months to organize five nights.

Yeah. And I don't think people realize—I certainly didn't until I read your book—it meant that some people, and in this case your father and your family, would move to the next city and spend those nine months on the ground, there would be the five day, five night event, and then you’d pack up and move again.

That's right.

And again, and again, and again. You moved how many times in your first twenty years of life?

I moved twelve times by the time I was fourteen. And then, of course, some later on, but not having to do with the Billy Graham Crusades. Yeah, twelve times. So we moved every single year except for one time, in the late eighties, we lived in Rochester, New York, for two years. And it was so exciting to be such a local.

Well, you tell that bit in your book so beautifully, of, “Here’s what was different about being in the same place a second year in a row and going back to the same school,” and people knew you. And the first day of school was not, “Oh, who's the new kid?” And again, we just take it all for granted. I grew up in the same town. I didn't move until I went away to college. And so I went to the same elementary school all those years, and I just took all that for granted. But then reading your book, and you really paint…. There was this desperate—I hope that's not too strong. I don't think it is-

No. It’s accurate.

… longing for home here. Listen, listeners, here's what Jess writes: “Of my parents four children. I struggled the most to reconcile myself to the transient life we lived for fifteen years. Growing up in a Christian home, I knew that I should long for heaven one day. But of all the shoulds of Christianity, this was the one I wrestled with most. I was never very good at longing for a heavenly home because I was too busy longing for an earthly one. Tell us more about that. What else is in there?

Just hearing you say, I grew up going to the same elementary, same high school, even just you saying that, now I'm an adult, in my forties, even now it creates this longing in me. I'm jealous of that.

Sorry, but people need to hear your story, and they need to hear the larger story of longing for home, but keep diving further in for us.

Sure, so God wires things in our hearts, and as a child, because we moved every year, I had this longing to be a part of a community, to know the streets, to be known, to have a house that I never had to leave that I knew was mine, that every corner was mine, and I had history with every part of that house. And that was my longing, because we would rent a house, and it was not ours, and it never felt like ours, and the city never felt like ours. We were truly just passing through. And I was such a sensitive kid and that created almost a chill in me from such a young age, that I wanted so badly to never leave a place. And my longing for home, it was like it dovetailed completely with a predisposition toward anxiety that I had and still have. I was born with. I won the genetic lottery in our family's history to struggle with anxiety. And there were four siblings in our family, and I was the one who won that lottery, and my siblings seemed not bothered at all with the idea that we unpacked boxes every nine months. To me, they didn't seem bothered by it at all. I walked around with all the emotion for everyone, and I was so upset by it. It was such a lifestyle that was upsetting to me from such a young age. So I grew up watching people in cities where we lived and watching friends and wishing that I had their lives. All the while, they would look at me and think, “Oh, my goodness! You just lived in Paris, France? I wish I had your life.” And it was truly like the grass is always greener.

But I think that the longing for home was something God just… it was like a stamp in me that He put in me. And that longing is what eventually drew me to Him, and to His word, which, when He says, I will come in, and I will make My home in you.

Ah, good, good.

And that, to me as a teenager, hearing those words, which were scriptures that I had grown up hearing, probably, but my heart was primed and ready by the time I was thirteen and hearing those words. And I write about this in the book, a real moment where I had a conversation with Jesus that really had to do with Him coming in and making His home with me, so that I would not be anxious.

Yeah. Well, I want to come back to this theme about anxiety and longing for home, but I want to step back a little bit. Tell us about how the Beatles and Bob Dylan got into the title and in your book. And in your life.

Right. Yeah. Those were the three big influences in my childhood, because my father…. My father grew up in Michigan. He was a child of the sixties, you know, war protester in college. Vietnam War protester. He was heavy into drugs in college, and he became a Christian really dramatically in college, and he really radically got rid of a lot of influences in his life: Drugs, a lot of dark music, and things like that. But he kept one thing, and he never let go of his favorite music, which was the Beatles and Bob Dylan.

Ah. Okay, yes.

And so, when we would travel from city to city by road, if we were going to be living in a city that we could drive to, we would always have these really ugly Billy Graham vans. They were like cargo vans, and we’d all ride in this cargo van from one city to the next, from the city where we had lived to the city where we would be moving. And when we would ride in those vans, my father would only ever play the Beatles or Bob Dylan tapes. And so my little imagination as a child connected Billy Graham with the Beatles and Bob Dylan, and those things intertwined in my imagination and in my reality. And so, I truly feel that the Beatles music and Bob Dylan, even now when I hear the Beatles and Bob Dylan, I can't turn the radio station. It’s like I’ve got to let it play. It's just part of the way I think, you know?

Well, I think you say in the book that the music provided a kind of home or homeness. That’s not a real word. But a sense of stability in the midst of moving around and traveling in cargo vans or whatever. It's, “Oh, there's that song. I know that song.”

Absolutely.

“I know the lyrics of that song so well that that is a sense of home.”

That’s right. Exactly. I mean we all have that experience with music, right? Where we hear a song, and it takes us back to a certain time or a place or memory. And so, when my father would play the music of the Beatles and Bob Dylan, it was like a bridge. The music was this bridge from one place to the next, and I could really kind of rest myself in the music. And so the lyrics of the Beatles and the lyrics of Bob Dylan, especially in his albums when he became a believer, really became touchstones in my life.

You know, this is important for recovering Pharisees like me to hear, because I think some people may hear, “The Beatles? I mean, they were just decadent. Do you know about their lifestyles? I mean, you talk about drugs. They didn't just fall into drugs. They celebrated drugs. And Bob Dylan. I don't know. There's not enough Tylenol in the world for me to figure out Bob Dylan’s psyche.” So some of us think, “No, you shouldn’t listen to that music.” And for some of us, there are certain musics and artists, no, we probably shouldn't listen to, particularly if it takes us to places that are temptations and sinful. But part of God's general revelation can be songs, even if they're sung by people who don't share our view about God, but can be… well, they're capable of producing the good, the true, and the beautiful, even if that isn't necessarily their intent.

Absolutely. I said in the book, in all God’s mystery, that music became something that helped lead me to Him. And I think there's just a mystery there.  We always want to put a stamp on something or just label something a certain way, but it was a mystery. I don't know why, but that's how God worked. And He uses so many threads in our lives that we don't even know about to draw us to Him.

Yeah. And we certainly may not be realizing it at the time. And then, twenty years later, we look back, and you go, “You know what? There was something going on there.

Exactly.

There are two Broadway musicals in my mind that God used to draw me to Himself. And neither one of them are Christian at all.

Which are the two?

So one was Candide, with the music and drama written by Leonard Bernstein. And then the other one is Pippin, music by Stephen Schwartz. I hope I'm getting that right. I think that's right. And so they're not Christian musicals at all. Nothing. But they both had this wrestling with why are we here, what's the whole point of life, and they both come to conclusions that I found tremendously disappointing. For Candide, it was, “Well, just make your garden grow.” And with Pippin, it’s, “Well, just find someone you can love and settle down and have a normal marriage and family.” And I remember, after both of those, with this, “Really? That's the best you got? I don't know. I don't think so.” And then again, it's also for me a whole lot of classical music pieces and concerts that I went to that left me disappointed. So, as I was reading your book, I kept hearing that quote by C.S. Lewis that's one of the most important in my life: “If I find in my life a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

Yes.

And that is the theme of your book. I didn't find home here, here, here, here, here. And it wasn't just because we only stayed around for nine months. It's because there can't be a full sense of home there, because we're meant for another home.

That's right. That's right. And I think I would have… This is projection, but it's almost like I would have decided I could find a home. When we stayed in Philadelphia, I think I would have said, “Okay, now I'll know what home means.” And really gravitated to that, except that I had anxiety always, and so the anxiety element is what caused me to need inwardly the peace that I longed for about home. It's like I associated home with a place where you would have peace. And, as a child, I thought that that peace would come from being in a house that I never had to leave, and it knew me. And I was always so anxious in cities, because I'd sit in the classroom and think, “I don't even know how to get back to my house.” And I didn't. I didn't know the street names. And this was pre-internet. So I didn't know street names. I barely knew the phone number of the new house where we were living. And so I thought that a home would give me that internal peace. But it didn't, because I struggled with anxiety, and so I needed a greater home. I really needed it.

Yeah.

And that's what God continues… that’s just a theme. And the older I get, the more I meet people and talk with people who’ve read my books, “Oh, I’ve gravitated to this topic, this theme of home,” the more I realized I wasn't the only one. I felt like the only one, because our lives were so different, but I'm certainly not the only one who's wrestled with this longing for home.

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Right, right, right. Well, on some level, I think everybody does. Because we're not made for this world.

Yes.

But some of us have circumstances that accentuate that. So, for yours, moving around. I imagine there's lots of people who were raised in military families who packed up and moved every three years, that they would resonate with this. Or people who, “Well, we stayed in the same home, but it was volatile, and I never knew who was going to be there and who was going to be leaving.” So let's explore two sides of this: So how did coming to faith help you with anxiety? But then fast forward to today. How do you deal with it now on an ongoing basis. Let's go back in time first. So how did your coming to faith address the anxiety issue?

Mm-hmm. You know, I got to hear the gospel preached by maybe the best preacher in the world, Billy Graham, every year of my childhood, and I watched… I watched what I said in the book can only be described as a movement of the Holy Spirit. I watched, every single year, how Billy Graham would preach the gospel, and thousands of people's hearts would be moved, and I would watch them come forward and… come forward meaning get out of their seats in the stadiums and go down to the floor of the stadium, and I would watch them cry and weep and wrestle with the parts of their lives that were just hurting and broken. And it was so marvelous! I loved every minute of that as a child, but you can watch those things and it not be your story yet. And so it wasn't until I was a teenager and we were living in Scotland, and it was all of the awful things coming together, living in this country where there was no sun. The sun never shined. I was thirteen, going through puberty, and I was constantly longing for home, and I think all those things came together and caused me—and my anxiety was at a pinnacle that year. And so that's when I really… I began having more frequent panic attacks. And if anyone has ever experienced a panic attack, it’s truly torture. It's a form of torture. It wrecks the body. It just physically wrecks you. And I was having panic attacks more frequently at that time. And I had an encounter.

I had a day in my life where I—I write about this in the book—I was in the nurse’s office at my school, and I really cried out to Jesus, and it was the first time that everything clicked. The same message Billy Graham spoke all those years was suddenly the message for me. And I heard it through the lens of the anxiety. “I need peace. I have to have peace.” And so that was the first time I felt that the Lord was saying, “I will come in, and I will be your peace. I won’t just give it. I will be it in you.”

Yeah.

And that began my real conversion.

I do think…. Well, it’s a peace in the midst of the storm. It's not always the removal of the storm. We know that story where Jesus calmed the storm, and so the storm was over, and we think, “That’s what I want. I want Him to calm the storm,” but you kept moving around, and you were going to keep moving around, and those dynamics weren't going to change. But I think what the Bible teaches…. Sometimes He takes away the storms. Thanks be to God for those times. But more often it's a peace, a stability, a calm, even while, in the periphery, all hell is breaking loose, perhaps in the fullest sense of that. And that's an important issue. And there are all sorts of people who are documenting and writing that this problem is getting worse. The level of anxiety in our world is really rising, particularly among younger people, and there’s all sorts of things about social media causing or stimulating or making it worse.

Absolutely. And I would continue in my life after that. I still wrestle with anxiety and particular periods where I am just working all of my tools to keep from having panic attacks. I have struggled with them. In the last two years, I've had a couple of panic attacks. And now, as an adult, I have all of these tools I've learned, for how to help my body to slow down and to work on breath. And I often feel sad when I think about me as a young girl. I wish that there had been someone who could have bent down and come alongside me and given me just tools for how to…. Truly how to breathe through panic and fear. And I’m a teacher by degree, that was my degree, and so I would teach in schools, and I would watch kids. I've watched kids and thought, “That child is totally struggling with anxiety.” And a lot of times, Randy, kids are labeled ADHD when they’re struggling with anxiety. Attention deficit is the symptom of anxiety.

Oh, okay. Good definition there. Good. Yes.

Because kids who are battling anxiety, they often manifest their behavior in the same way as attention deficit. They can't concentrate. They fly from one thing to the next. They look tired. They look sleepy. They look distant, removed. They are not sleeping. These are all the things that I definitely experienced as a child, and I know that other people are and have, too. And you’re right, it's on the rise. I can't imagine having had social media when I was a kid.

Well, so say a little bit more about these tools. Give us one or two tools that you say that you use to help you.

One thing that has really worked for me is the theory of compartmentalization. This is, again, something I wish I had known as a child, because what we all tend to want to do, when we have a thought, a thought comes to us that makes us anxious, we want to unpack it all the way so we can then solve the thought and be able to be done with it, and then we can say, “Oh, that’s something I don't have to be anxious about,” but we all know that thinking can grow a thing.

Sure, sure.

Thinking about something tends to make it grow, and so I wish that I had been taught younger—but now I know—that I can train my mind to say, “No, I'm not going to think about that topic. I can move away from it, and I can get busy doing something else.” Particularly something active, particularly like go take a walk around the block, go dig up some weeds in the garden, go cook something, get busy doing something else. And when the thought comes, you gently push it away. And then you also decide on a…. This is counterintuitive, but it really helps to decide when you're going to let yourself think about that thought.

Oh! You schedule it?

You schedule it. Truly. And I know it sounds strange, but it works. And when you say to yourself, “No. The time when I'll think about that is when I go to the doctor, and that's when I'll talk about the worry that this thing is cancer.” Because you want to think about it and solve it yourself. But then if you schedule it, if you say, “No, I'll call my best friend, and that's when I'll talk about it. I'm not going to now.” You can kind of like—I know this is a weird word, but you can kind of suffocate the anxiety and put it in its place.

Oh, man! This is really helpful. There's two thoughts that come to mind for me. There’s two scriptures that come to mind. One is, “Cast all your cares upon the Lord.” So there are times when I have to say,   “You know what? I'm not qualified to take on this issue. I'm going to cast this upon the Lord.” And then take a moment of, “He can handle this. He can handle this.” So, “Lord, I'm casting this on You. If there are parts of this that I need to deal with, solve or whatever, then cast those parts back to me.” Usually it's, “Okay, He’s taking care of this.” Because I have to de-throne myself of thinking I'm capable of resolving world peace issues.

Yes. Yes. And then the other scripture I wonder if you were going to say is: “Take every thought captive.”

Oh, good, good, good! Say more about that. I was not going to talk about that, but yes, please do.

And that one goes with this idea of compartmentalization. Take the thought captive, and put it where it belongs. It does not belong on your horizon right now. Take it captive. Put it in its place. And it really helps to have sort of a visualization in your own mind.

Yeah.

You know, where you put that. Is that you put that in… For children, it helps them to think of put it in a box and lock it.  And then, when it's time to talk about it, we can take it out, and we can look at it. And what is so amazing about the human mind that God has created is that, by the time it's time to talk about it, usually you have a different perspective because you got busy doing something else.

Yeah. It does seem to me, though, that we need to be careful. You're not just saying, “Oh, I have to distract myself.” It's not that.

No, no.

It’s, “I'm taking this thought captive and saying, ‘I don't need to address this now. I'm going to address it another time, and I'm going to do other things.’” But not as an escape, but as a conscious decision of, “Here’s how I need to deal with this anxiety.

That's right. Exactly. Because sometimes we need to…. My tendency is always to—and maybe you feel this, too, and others do, too, that when a thought makes me anxious, I go into this very alone space, where it's like I am blind to the rest of the world. All I can do is sort of obsess over this thing that's making me anxious.  And so, by putting it in its place, then I have the control to say, “I'll invite someone later to talk about this with me.” Maybe it's a pastor or a trusted friend or something, but, “I'm going to put this over here, and I'm going to get busy doing something else until it's the right time to allow someone else,” and maybe that's just a prayer time with the Lord. Invite communication about this topic that's making me anxious.

Yeah. Again, taking the thought captive, there could be a sense of, “You know what? I'm not going to be able to handle this just on my own, and there's nobody here right now who can help me, so I'm going to put it over there. I'm going to schedule an appointment to deal with it later with a certain person who is very helpful.” Because sometimes just thinking out loud with it and having the other person listen and look and say, “Oh, yeah. I can see why this is difficult, but how about this angle?” and they're looking at an angle that you didn't see.

Absolutely. Absolutely. And that's where…. I'm a big proponent of counseling. Counseling's been a good friend of mine. A good Christian counselor who you can really share with and be honest about the things that make you anxious. It's amazing how just hearing yourself say things out loud to someone who is really listening can really open up space where you didn't think it was possible.

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Yeah. Or they ask a question that digs into a certain aspect of it, that, “Oh, I hadn't even thought to ask that question, but okay.” By the way, you said about visual images. One that's very helpful for me: There are times when, if I'm facing a very complex situation and I'm feeling overwhelmed by anxiety or fear about it, it’s because I'm taking on too many aspects at once. It's like, “Well, who's going to pay for this?” And, “When am I going to have the time for this?” And, for me, it helps to think of a bookshelf with lots of different books on there, and each book is a different aspect of this complex issue. And you know what? The problem is, all the books are falling off of the shelf at the same time, and they're burying me. I need to just put them back up there and say, “You know what, I'm just going to take one of these books off the shelf right now. And let me look at this aspect of it and pray through that. And there's the other ten books up on the shelf, and I'll get to those.” That's a very helpful image for me.

It is. It's funny you say about the books idea, because, when B. Sterling, when my husband and I were dating, and it was this question of, “Is this the person I'm supposed to marry?” that question gave me such enormous… it really… it was like it lit the fire under the anxiety part of me, and I struggled deeply with anxiety about that. And then I wasn’t sleeping. I wasn't sleeping well. And then, as the tricky mind works, I started to get anxious about sleeping, and if you've had the pleasure of being someone who's ever been worried about sleeping, you know that it is its own self-fulfilling nightmare, right?

Sure. It becomes this cycle that just keeps getting worse and worse.

Worse and worse. And so I found myself, when B. and I were engaged, I was just in the worst cycle of sleep anxiety, and I couldn't see how to get out. It was like I was stuck, and I couldn't extract what was the main problem and what was the secondary problem, and the secondary problem of sleep became the main problem. I was concerned about the will of God. Should I marry this person? But in my worries at night, sleep became the main thing, the main problem. So anyways, one thing a counselor said that was so helpful to me, again about compartmentalizing. She said, “You’re allowed to leave the library called sleep, Jess. You're allowed to leave that space that you keep thinking about constantly. You're allowed to leave it.” And it was the imagery I needed. I’ve read everything now about sleep. I've talked about it so much. I've counted how many hours I'm getting. And she's like, “I think it's time to just leave the library.”

Nice! Well, this is really very helpful, and I'm sure that…. Well, I'm not sure, but I would certainly imagine that a whole lot of our listeners are dealing with this issue. You know, anxiety is addressed in the scriptures quite often. And you get the idea, hat if it's addressed this often, well, it's probably a common problem. And in fact, maybe it's the essential problem of the fact that we are spiritual beings living in a physical world, we’re eternal beings living in a temporal world, and this place is not the place of ultimate peace and at homeness. So of course there's going to be anxiety. Well, I want to go after one other aspect that's not really addressed in your book, but I kept thinking it as I was reading it, so I would imagine, if there was somebody else in your situation, who traveled around this much, with this Billy Graham thing, and you know, different city, different city, and it caused so much anxiety, I would imagine that some person might go, “I'm done with this Christian stuff. It just wrecked my life. I don't want anything to do with it.” But you didn't. You didn't. You came to faith, and you stuck with it. Is it okay to go here with this question?

Yes.

Why did you stick with it? Why didn't you run away? And if there's someone who's listening who, that's what they're tempted with. “There’s a whole lot of this Christian stuff that really caused a lot of problems for me. I'm thinking about bailing on it.” Why did you stay? And what might you say to someone else in that situation?

Well, truly, I think, as I’ve said, my experience with Christ has always come back… it always comes back to Him being the peace in this world for me. I’m someone who's so rattled by this world, and maybe I'm just an overly sensitive person. But Christ dwelling in me is the only peace. It's truly like the only peace I've ever experienced that lasts and is true, and it resonates like a drum. So I look at people in my life. I look at the moms in my neighborhood, and they're struggling. They’re struggling with anxiety and wanting peace, and so I have tried—and they’ve all read my book. So I have tried, and I continue to talk to them about Christ is my only peace.

Yeah. Good. I hope it's okay, but I think maybe that's the place for us to bring this to a close. Are you okay about that?

Yeah. I hope I answered some questions well.

Yeah. Oh, very much so. Yes. I found this…. Your book is great. I'm going to put the link in the show notes. I think this longing for home might be a theme we use more and more for talking to people about the gospel, because I think people will resonate with it. They'll say, “That’s it! You put your finger on it. I couldn't quite put my finger on it. I thought I was going to find it in a person or a job or a place or an experience.” And, no, those things are pointers to the fact that there's a greater person we're longing to connect with and a bigger place that God has prepared for us.

I know. Exactly, Randy. I would even encourage you to use it as one of those stem questions, “What does longing for ultimate home look like for you?” Because it is written in our DNA. This is how we're wired. Just last night, I drove through my neighborhood, and I saw someone's open window, their living room window, and they had already put up their Christmas tree, which I have issues with…. another topic entirely. But I saw the Christmas tree in the window, and it hit me again, like it just hit me in the chest, the longing for home. There it is.

Yeah. Yeah.

The Christmas tree in the window.

How about that. Yeah.

We all want to be invited into that. That's a symbol of our longing right there.

Right. Well, this has been great and great fun. And I'm going to recommend your book to people and recommend that more and more of us explore this idea that we have a greater home and that this home that we have here has all sorts of nice things about it and gifts about it, but they are not the final stop on the journey, and they point to the ultimate. Again, I keep coming back to that same C.S. Lewis quote, that we were meant for another world, and that's just such a beautiful image.

It’s been so fun. I was going to say: There’s so much more I could talk to you about. I also was a part of a project about three years ago. I joined with a great photographer and a filmmaker here in Austin, and we interviewed over forty adult refugees from around the world who have been resettled in Austin. And again, the Lord used my longing, and this theme of home was why I realized I even wanted to be part of this project, because here are people that have been displaced-

Yes, truly.

… and now are hoping to find a new home. And God did a lot of work in my life over that course of talking to refugees and telling my heart how much He loves refugees. And their longing for home is something that points to God.

Well, maybe we need to have another conversation sometime and talk about this refugee project that you're involved in.

I’ll send you the link to it. You can see it all online.

Great! Well, to our listeners, I want to say thank you for tuning in, if that's an accurate term. We hope that our resources at our website are really helpful for you in your own personal discipleship. May the Lord use our work together, so that we all would love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, strength, and mind. Thanks.

 


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