2017: The Year of Risk

Many people start a new year with a new resolution.  I’ve long disliked new year’s resolutions because they seem somewhat cheesy to me.  I also think that, while they can certainly provide someone with a renewed motivation to accomplish something or be a great way to set new goals in place, it can also lead to massive amounts of disappointment and discouragement when life happens and these resolutions fall away.  I like to leave room for grace (some might call it procrastination/laziness/quitting haha).  While losing weight, paying off debt, and other common resolutions are wonderful things to aim for, I tend to allow myself the flexibility to work on those goals as they come.  To me, those are on-going life goals that I don’t want to save for the beginning of a new year.

I do, however, love thinking about the year ahead and contemplating what it is that God might be asking of me, moving in me, or doing through me in the coming season.

It’s almost as if there is an overarching story taking place in my life, and it’s usually marked by words the Lord has given me at the beginning of each year.

 

In 2015 I pursued FREEDOM.

In 2016 I found new opportunities to ACTIVATE my gifts/passions.

In 2017 I am stepping into areas of RISK.

 

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RISK.

 

While I may be adventurous and a dreamer, my adventures are usually contained within a well-planned, thoroughly thought-out course of action.  Risk is typically not in my vocabulary, nor does it bring up comforting feelings for me haha.  Perhaps a better way to put it is I like to take calculated risks…. ones where the odds are in my favor.  So basically, not risky at all.  🙂

I hate feeling afraid, and I would say that usually risk has involved fear for me.  Fear of failure, fear of disappointing others, fear of rejection, fear of hurt, fear of embarrassment, fear of being abandoned.

Woah, that’s a lot of fear, right?  As I’ve gone through counseling, I’ve realized that a lot of those fears are rooted in a forgetfulness in who God made me to be.  They are built on the premise that I need to earn love, rather than the belief that God sees me as worthy, because he created me.  Those fears are also hinting at a lack of faith in God’s ability to do wild, crazy, and radical things in and through me in the areas that require risk.  One thing I do believe, yet often fail to remember, is that any risk that is asked of me by the Lord is sure to be backed up by his promises and with his provision.

That does not mean they will be easy risks to take.  Let’s just take a quick look at the definition of risk:

 

Risk

noun

a situation involving exposure to danger.

verb

expose (someone or something valued) to danger, harm, or loss.

 

 

Hah, just reading that I think no wonder there is fear in risk!  It’s practically written into the definition!  The verb definition of risk taps into a very real fear I think I struggle with:  to expose someone (or something valued) to danger, harm, or loss.

Loss.  Yep… THAT’S the word I hate.  This year as I’ve already seen areas where the Lord is asking me to risk, it’s the fear of loss that has come up quite a bit for me.  I’ve been fearful of losing emotional things… such as opportunities, relationships, love, and respect… as well as physical considerations such as losing my housing, money, job, or possessions.

Now, I am a tad more OK with wrapping my head around possibly losing physical possessions.  I’ve seen God do crazy thing in my life already when it comes to these things and so I’ve already experienced that kind of provision.  However, the area that holds more fear with me these days is the idea of losing emotional things… the things that can’t be bought… the things that have taken time to cultivate… the people who I hold dear… the experiences that I would love to have… the things that hold far more value to me than possessions.

This year, however, I’ve felt like I’m being asked to step into areas of risk at a new level.  So of course, it is natural that these fears would start exposing themselves more to me.  And it is also natural for me to wonder what God wants to say to me in the midst of these fears.

In what ways is he speaking to me?  What areas am I to grow in?  Why is risk necessary and good for me right now?  What can God do through my risk?

 

This uncomfortable season of risk has the potential to produce such good fruit, and I don’t want to miss out.

 

I’ve been reminded of 1 Timothy 1:7, which says,

 

For God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self-control.

 

BOOM.  ::mic drop::

Well there you have it.  God, when he created us, did not create fear in us.  That is not how we were designed to live.  In partnership with him, we were designed to have a spirit of power, love, and self-control.

Power.  Love.  Self-control.   These are things that do not dwell in the presence of fear.  These are things that dwell in the presence of GOD.  And when I read through scripture, I see these things in so many of the stories we know and love.  I see risk ALL. OVER. THE. PLACE.

 

  • I think of Ruth, who left her homeland and completely uprooted her life to stay beside Naomi.  God provided.
  • I think of the disciples who left their friends and family – dropping it all to follow Jesus.  Their lives were transformed.
  • I think of Peter who stepped out of a boat onto raging waters and walked on water.  He learned a massive lesson in faith.
  • I think of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who refused to bow down to statues, knowing the punishment would be to get thrown into a fiery furnace.  The Lord protected them, even in the raging fire.
  • I think of Esther, who spoke out to the king of Persia, in order to save the Jews from destruction… risking her very life to speak for her people.  God’s people were rescued and Esther was given favor.

 

There are so many biblical examples of risk, and I am learning little by little and day by day that risk, by nature, seems to lend itself to fear… but in reality, through Christ, can be accompanied by power, love, and self-control.

 

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you:

Take your everyday, ordinary life

—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—

and place it before God as an offering.

Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.

Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.

Instead, fix your attention on God.

You’ll be changed from the inside out.

Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it.

Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity,

God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Romans 12:1-2

 

There are a lot of reasons to be afraid in this world, reasons to shy away from risk and to keep ourselves hidden from possible danger, harm, or loss.  But when God is the one prompting a risk, you had better believe what Romans 12 says.  It is not only a command, but also a promise.  It is a command to offer ourselves as an offering before the Lord in ALL of our decisions – the mundane AND the risky ones – and to embrace what God does in and through us.  It is also a promise that God will continue to shape, form, mold, develop, and refine us to become more and more like the creation he had in mind when it all began “in the beginning.”

So there you have it.  2017 will certainly be an interesting year.  I may not have a resolution, but I have the word RISK that I will continue to meditate on, pray on, study up on, reflect on, and learn from.

Cheers to a new year, my friends!

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On the Eve of 30

Here I sit, the evening before my 30th birthday, wearing my pajamas, a Taylor University sweatshirt, and wrapped up in a cozy blanket on my living room sofa.  I’m listening to my roommates try on dresses to wear for my birthday dinner / New Year’s celebration, popping in and out of the room with different outfits on, and striking poses in the mirror… a lot of laughter happens when we try on clothes for each other.

I’m sipping tea out of my “bloom” mug, listening to Amanda Cook’s song “Voyage”, while yet again my roommate chimes in with little spurts of singing (a completely different song) and makes hilarious commentary as she cleans up the kitchen after cooking dinner, saying how she’s convinced she’s the only one I really care about being at my birthday dinner and maybe it should have just been a dinner for two by candlelight.  Those two being her and I haha.

I love my home.

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But life isn’t perfect.  An hour ago I was icing my back, an injury I’m dealing with from a car accident I was in a few weeks ago.  Work has been getting a bit intense as we expand the company while keeping our corporate staff the same size.  I’m figuring out finances and how to move forward with goals in mind, while still living in this place that I love so dearly.  I am expanding my ministry as God reveals more and more inspiration to me of how to use my creativity to administer His love and joy and life to those I encounter.  Counseling is teaching me where I fall short, where I still need healing, where I must put in the hard work to see the results.  It’s an interesting season to be seeking growth and continued healing in so many areas.

I love what 30 years have taught me.
I love how 30 years have shaped me.
I love where 30 years have taken me.

There are changes up ahead, of that I am sure.  But what do they look like?  I will continue to trust and hope and seek and discover one day at a time.

You’re afraid, but you can hear adventure calling
There’s a rush of adrenaline to your bones
What you make of this moment changes everything

A lot of people dread turning 30, but I am so very ready and so very excited to see where God leads in the upcoming years.  I find it exhilarating to think of new adventures, new opportunities, new experiences, new challenges, and new things to celebrate.

Sure, I’ve had moments of feeling a bit apprehensive of stepping into my 30’s.  I don’t FEEL 30.  I mean, how are you supposed to feel?

Mature?  Accomplished?  Secure?  Confident?

I had an idea.  Why don’t I ask some of my closest friends to tell me a few words they would use to describe me?  Well, of course I waited until the last minute to write this post, and by now my roommates have migrated back to the living room, so I asked if they would be two of those closest friends to contribute to this experiment and they were willing to!

When asked, my roommates gave the following words to describe me:

Considerate.  Adventurous.  Brave.  Optimistic.  Expectant.  

You know what?  THAT describes how I feel.  And you know what else?  It feels so good to be known and understood and celebrated for who I am today.  I’m so glad I don’t have to live up to some unknown expectation, some “idea” of what it should look like to be 30.  I’ve begun to appreciate so much the crazy variety of stories God is writing in people’s lives.  I love that we don’t need to feel pressured to have life look a certain way.  We can be empowered to live our lives in a way that is healthy and fulfilling for each of us… but even more importantly, we can be empowered to walk confidently the path that God has given us!

What if the path you choose becomes a road
The ground you take becomes a home
The wind is high, but the pressure’s off
I’ll send the rain wherever we end up, wherever we end up

So going into my 30’s, I think I would have to say my hope is that I continue to fix my eyes on my Creator and refuse to play the comparison game.  That I remain faithful to the journey God has placed me on and commit myself to continual growth, learning, and self-care.  That I remember my ministry must come from an overflow, which means placing my relationship with the Lord as priority #1, and close behind it the priority of caring for myself so that I can then care for and breathe life into others in the abundant ways I desire to!  And in all things, that I view the act of surrender as beautiful and necessary to experience the fullness of God’s goodness.

I am the wind in your sails.

Here’s to 30!  I am ready.

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Your Words Matter

I’m sure you’re all well aware of the impact words can have on others. Most of us probably grew up being taught not to make fun of others, not to gossip, and to use kind words, not mean ones. This isn’t new information to us.
 
However, something I’ve become increasingly aware of is how I use my words when I’m sharing things about ME…. And how my words impact ME.
 
One thing my counselor has been pointing out to me as I’ve been expressing my feelings or sharing experiences I’ve had with her, is that sometimes I don’t use the right kind of language, and how that could be having a negative impact on my healing process. The very first time she brought this up to me, I wasn’t entirely sure what she meant. I felt like I do a pretty good job expressing myself. In fact, I’ve had people compliment on my ability to express things…. So it’s even been reinforced in my mind that I’m at least mildly gifted in speaking.
 
Pretty much immediately, she started calling me out when she felt like I was using language that was misrepresenting what I was trying to say… Or was perhaps damaging language that was sending me messages that were not healthy. She would literally stop me in the middle of a sentence and say, “Now, is that how you really felt? Let’s think about the language you’re using to describe this.” Sometimes I’d look at her confused, and she would start to describe for me what she’s hearing me say, but that her gut instinct is telling her that it’s not what I am meaning to say… or perhaps that she needs to help me unlearn some harmful language in my vocabulary. Now that she’s gotten very comfortable calling me out on these moments (hah), I’m starting to get better at recognizing for myself why she’s stopping me. 
 
For example, there is a pretty significant situation from my past that continues to be something I have to work through and process. As I recount the story to my counselor and share feelings I have related to it, she has pointed out that I tend to use words that indicate that I was somehow a part of the problem… that I am partially to blame for this other person’s actions towards me. I’d use phrases like “I should have known better” or “if I had known how to handle the situation maybe it wouldn’t have continued” or explain how “I changed the way I dressed and the way I lived to try and avoid this from continuing to happen.” 
 
Now, for the longest time, I didn’t see anything wrong with these phrases. To me, they were just facts… my regrets and my wishing that things had been different. But the implications, no matter how subtle they are, were that I feel somewhat guilty for what happened. Let’s unpack this a bit:
 
“I should have known better”…. First off, this phrase is probably, and unfortunately, rooted in the fact that I think of myself as a smart person, and so I feel pretty ticked off that I wasn’t smart enough to react differently as things unfolded in a particular situation that could have maybe prevented additional trauma. However, no matter how smart I am, I should not have to take responsibility for someone else’s choice to hurt me. I shouldn’t be implying that I share the blame with someone who was clearly in the wrong.
 
“if I had known how to handle the situation, maybe it wouldn’t have continued”…. My counselor pointed out to me that how am I supposed to know how to handle a situation I’ve never been in before? And even beyond that, how am I supposed to know how to handle a situation that most people don’t encounter, and therefore I had never been taught how to handle? Add on top of this that I grew up pretty much feeling like I couldn’t speak badly about someone, EVER, even if what they were doing was very much wrong. So when a situation presented itself that was obviously wrong, I felt like I COULDN’T say anything…. Because it’s “wrong” to speak poorly about others. THIS IS NOT TRUE. If someone is hurting you, abusing you, traumatizing you….. it is 100% valid to speak up. And here’s where I started to feel guilty. I started to feel like, “Wow, I should have done something differently.” And that’s where I start to share the blame. Yes, looking back, I’ve learned a lot from a horrible experience…. But that DOES NOT mean that I need to share the blame. Wrong is wrong, hurt is hurt, and abuse is abuse. I shouldn’t be trying to “take the hit” because of my lack of experience. THANK GOODNESS I had a lack of experience…. Some people aren’t so lucky.
 
“I changed the way I dressed and the way I lived to try and avoid this from continuing to happen.”…. This one is much, much more than just a mindset, or a few words that imply sharing the blame. At that time of my life, I actually changed physical things about me to try and change the situation. I thought that maybe my physical appearance was the problem, and so therefore I needed to find a way to hide my physical appearance. This is probably one of the results of my past trauma that has felt the most difficult to overcome… one of the parts of my story that I am still figuring out how to heal from. That year of living in fear did a number on me. I completely stopped working out. I stopped eating healthy foods. I changed what I wore to try and limit what was seen and what would make me be noticed. I hid. I avoided. I lied to find ways around encounters that would cause more fear. In other words, I felt like I played a part in what was happening, so I changed myself to try and change the situation.
 
As you can see, these seemingly innocent things actually have implications that go much deeper. I never realized that I was allowing myself to share the blame. Had you asked me if I felt like I was partially at fault, I would have never in a million years said “yes.” The logical side of me understands that I was a victim, and that the actions that happened towards me were not my fault. The deeper and deeper I dig into the emotional side of me, however, the more I realize just how much I’ve attached myself to being a part of the problem and have used my words to support that mindset over and over again.
 
Honestly, this recent realization has been fairly difficult to wrap my head around. I feel like I’m trying to learn an entirely new language! If I’m not even partially to blame for these things, what does that mean?  Yes, even I still have a lot of unpacking to do.
 
So let’s get back to the topic at hand. Your words matter.
 
What you say about yourself, or how you verbalize your thoughts and feelings, is actually very important. Without even knowing it, the language you use can dictate how you see yourself. It may be subtle, or it may be very obvious…. But how we care for ourselves can include the language we use about ourselves.
 
Do you choose your words carefully? Do you care for yourself in the way you speak? What are phrases you use often to describe yourself, your thoughts, your feelings, or your life circumstances that may be implying something that is not true? Are you using statements that decrease your value? Do you believe that you have value…. Enough value to speak wisely towards yourself and others?
 
I’m learning to choose my words more carefully…. And if I make a statement that isn’t the best fit, that I stop myself and correct it. It’s been pretty amazing to realize how often I throw words out there carelessly without thinking them through first! They are rarely obviously wrong at a first glance, but when I take a beat to think about it, perhaps there’s a better word to be used. It’s a relatively small change… but I’m learning that even little words can imply big things.  Right now I’m learning to correct myself, but my goal is to get to a point where the things I say have aready been “handled with care” and a correction is rarely needed.  

Until then, I will do my best to remember that yes, my words matter. 

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I’ve Turned Away

One of my goals lately has been to put myself out there a bit more lately with my creative pursuits.  In light of that, I’ve decided that I *may* start sharing more music on my blog!  Back in March I was home with a scratchy throat, but had the itch to do some songwriting. I whipped out my ukulele and wrote this little song, “I’ve Turned Away.”

Now, the fact that I’m sharing this and 1.) my voice was not up to par and 2.) I don’t necessarily feel like the song is finished and 3.) this is literally the one-take recording I did of it, on my cell phone, and so I’m totally self-conscious about it… should show you just how willing I am to put myself out there with this!

This song was written as I reflected on how sometimes it seems like my relationship with God can become very one-sided when things are going well in life.  God is still there, calling my name, and yet I turn away and do my own thing…. because when life is going well, doesn’t it feel like WE have it under control?  And yet when life shakes you up a bit, it’s then that you suddenly need God.  I was feeling particularly sorrowful about this, knowing it’s been a pattern in my own life and in so many others, and that is what inspired this song.

Hopefully this won’t be the last time I share some music with you, but for now have a listen to my folksy, bluesy lament, “I’ve Turned Away”…

 

“I’ve Turned Away”
(c) 2016 Megan Sauder

LYRICS:
You’re calling my name
In the midst of the night
Oh I long to embrace
The words that you say
Ohhh

It’s been twenty-nine years
With you by my side, ohhh
And you’d think that by now
I’d made up my mind

To stick with you
Oh, to love you
Oh, to run away with you
Every night

But I turn back
Only when nighttime falls
But when daylight breaks
I go on alone
Ohhh

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The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

“Train your mind to see the good in every situation.”

I read this quote by a respected leader I know, and I felt myself feel tension in my thoughts towards ideas like this.  

200

 
 
You see, over the past year I’ve been learning what it means to feel pain, to acknowledge hurt, to understand disappointment, and to allow myself to sit in those moments WITHOUT trying to see the positive side.
 
I grew up believing and being taught to always see the positive, and not to dwell on the negative.  That we must never be sad or angry or frustrated or discouraged for too long, because that would somehow be a reflection of a lack of faith.  And while seeing the positive in all situations that doesn’t necessarily sound like a bad thing, let me share with you how that impacted me as I developed into an adult.
 
As I got older, I found myself unable to relate with people when they were hurt or angry or upset or frustrated, because I had never allowed myself to feel those things.  On top of not being able to relate, I found myself feeling impatient when someone couldn’t “pull themselves up” or “see the positive”.  I would spend my energy trying to convince them that everything happens for a reason and that God had plan.  
 
Here’s the problem.  It’s not very comforting when you’re in the midst of deep hurt or anger and someone tries to put a God-spin on it… when you’re feeling very REAL, VALID emotions, and someone seems to not care and instead tries to force you into a happy place.  Sometimes as Christians we can be pretty lousy friends.  We’ve trained ourselves to rebuke, to challenge, to resist, to persist…. but what happened to sitting quietly next to someone in pain and allowing ourselves to enter into that with them?  What happened to empathy, compassion, mercy, love, kindness, gentleness, patience…?  These were things that were sadly lacking in my interactions with people who were hurting.
 
Thankfully, God started opening my eyes to these things, and began showing me how to change the ways I interacted with those who were hurting.  Instead of trying to find the solution, I let them cry, rage, vent, sit in silence, question…. All the things we may need to do in order to release what we are feeling.  
 
However, there remained a missing link in my own story.  While my response to those in pain changed significantly, internally I felt blocked off from them because I was having a difficult time relating to the feelings they were experiencing.  I knew I had things in my life that should have made my angry and sad and hurt and traumatized… But I had never felt the emotion, and started to realize that wasn’t healthy.  For about 27 years of my life I didn’t allow myself to feel the weight of those difficult emotions.  I had it so engrained in my mind since childhood that those not-so-lovely emotions were bad, and therefore best kept hidden inside to never be seen by others.  I didn’t know what it looked like to express those emotions and not feel guilty about it.  
 
Once again, God gently showed me the ways in which ignoring my own hurt was actually unhealthy.  For being someone who aims to be genuine and authentic, there was a big, gaping hole when it came to my pain.  I felt guilty to say I was upset, I felt ashamed to admit I’ve had traumatic experiences in my past, and I felt fear of what people would think if they knew that alongside the deep, tremendous joy I have in Christ, there also lies mourning and sorrow for the difficult roads I’ve walked.
 
One of the ways God revealed this missing link in my life was through loneliness.  I started feeling like I wasn’t fully known…. that my friends were only my friends based off of the good things about me, and that if they truly knew the areas I was broken that they wouldn’t see me the same way.  But I came to a point where I realized that I’d rather be fully me and know that I am being the most real, authentic version of myself I can be, than continue feeling like I am not fully known.  
 
So I began letting people in.  I started introducing more difficult truth into my vocabulary.  I began taking steps towards healing and freedom through counseling.  
 
For the first time, I’ve heard friends use words like “brave” and “courageous” and “real” and “strong” and “beautiful” and I’ve believed them.  You know why I’ve believed them?  I believe them because they have seen me cry.  Not cute, sniffly teardrops…. but full on snot-filled uncontrollable sobs that contain so much hurt and doubt and fear and shame and pain that I KNOW they have seen the true me.  Boy have they seen the true me.  They’ve allowed me to recount painful memories.  They’ve allowed me to express intense emotions.  They’ve allowed me to question.  They’ve been silent when I needed a moment to process, spoken gently when I needed care, and encouraged boldly when I needed truth.  
 
Now these moments aren’t shared with everyone.  I’ve chosen who I’ve allowed myself to enter into these difficult emotions with, and in the right timing… but in those moments it’s been transformational.  My eyes have been opened and as tears have fallen, a weight has been lifted and new life has been given.
 
“Train your mind to see the good in every situation.”
 
As I go back to this phrase, I come to this conclusion:  As we train our minds to see the good, let’s also train our minds to acknowledge the bad.  We live in a fallen world, where sin and destruction are present.  They affect our lives in very real ways, and ignoring them is an unhealthy way to react.  
 
However, we are not without hope!  This process of me revisiting the hurt in my life has been anything but hopeless.  In fact, the further I’ve leaned in and wrestled with these things, the more I’ve seen God at work.  I’ve experienced his love in entirely new depths.  I’ve understood his mercy in completely new ways.  I’ve relied on his gentle strength like never before.  I’ve seen my vulnerability breed authenticity in relationships.  I’ve felt the weight of my brokeness, but the beauty of his redemption.  
 
We will never truly see the good if we can’t acknowledge the bad.
 
You see, the more I understand pain and brokenness, the more I see God.  Somehow, in the midst of this chaos of life, God has shattered every human understanding of cause and effect, and redefined the good that can come from the bad.  It shouldn’t make sense that as I acknowledge my hurt, I feel more joy… and yet that is exactly what God is doing in me!
 
So to all of this I say:  embrace who you are.  The ugly, messy, sinful parts, along with the beautiful, redeemed, gifted parts.  Seek to be authentic, even in pain, and train your mind to know the truth of who God is and his heart to see redemption in His people.  That is the good we can see in every situation, my friends.  

And now I leave you with this video clip of the movie/song I named this blog post after:  The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.  Random fun fact:  I used to (ok, sometimes I still do) play a version of this song transcribed for piano and it was one of my favorites to play on piano.  

#nerdalert  #forthesakeofauthenticity
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What My Tears Have Taught Me

Over the past year I’ve been on what I’ve been calling a journey of healing and freedom.  One of the areas that I’ve been growing in is my ability / willingness to cry.

 

To some, that may sound a little strange.  Why would you WANT to cry?  Doesn’t that mean something bad, sad, or some other “negative” emotion is happening?  What good comes from crying?

 

Let me tell you… a LOT of good has come from my crying.  I have learned so much… SO MUCH… from my tears.  I feel like my eyes have been opened up to a completely new world now that I understand my tears can teach me something.

 

Every time I would cry in my counseling sessions last year, my counselor would pause to investigate.  What are you feeling?  What does that bring up for you?  What kind of tears are those?  Why do you think you are crying?  Does it feel good to cry, or is this hard?  What do you think triggered those tears?  Why are you crying about this now, but you didn’t cry about this last week?  What is different?

 

What she did was teach me that my tears can tell me something about myself.  My tears can teach.  My tears can provide clarity.  My tears can speak in ways that sometimes words can’t.

 

Coincidentally enough, my good friend (I wish) Donald Miller over on the Storyline Blog posted this fantastic post titled A Surprising Way to Discover the Secret of Who You Are.

 

He opens the post with this great quote that I just needed to steal for my own post:

 

Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if you soul is to be saved, you should go next.

Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark

What I discovered in counseling is that God made me.  Of course, I knew this before… but a completely new revelation to me was that God purposely wove into me sensitive spots.  Things that would respond.  Things that would hurt.  Things that would yearn.  Things that would empathize.  Things that would ache.  Things that would question.  Things that would carry weight.

 

Things that would cause tears.

 

And not only that, but God gave us feelings and emotions.  God, the CREATOR, decided that emotions… the full spectrum of emotions… were important pieces to us being human.  He didn’t create anger, sadness, frustration, loneliness, sorrow, grief, pain, hurt, and all of those other emotions that get a bad reputation just to give us something to avoid.  No… God gave us a tool.  A sometimes difficult tool, but a tool that could reveal and teach and refine and release.

 

If you start to pay attention to where your tears are coming from, your eyes will be opened up to so many things about yourself.  The beauty of this is that once we understand ourselves better, we can better understand how we interact with God, man, and life.  Don’t we all want to make just a little bit more sense out of life some days?  Well… oddly enough… tears can be very eye-opening.
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I’ve spent some time reflecting this week on what exactly I’ve learned from my tears.  A “study of myself” if you will.  Here are a few of the things I’ve learned:

 

    • I am human.  Well duh, Megan.  No really… I had to relearn that I am not, in fact, capable of being anything other than human… and that means all of the emotions and feelings that come with it.  I do get angry.  I do feel sadness.  I sometimes want to punch the punching bag a little bit harder.  I do get hurt.  I have felt pain.  Some moments in life don’t have a “positive outlook” angle.  And you know what?  THAT’S OK.  I was getting tired of the phrase that “everything happens for a reason” anyways.  That phrase has never helped anyone, ever, feel better in life.  Sometimes life gets messy, and I’m learning to embrace the messy and do a better job of learning from it in the process.  These difficult emotions are all a part of the human experience, and yet I somehow was mentally blocking myself from acknowledging and accepting that.  As a result, I was blocking myself from fully understanding how God created me and what it means to be his creation.

 

    • I care deeply.  This is the one area that I have occasionally over the years been able to see this through my tears.  In times of prayer, in times of worship, in times of counseling…. I’ve seen just how deeply I care about others.  God has gifted me with the gift of empathy, and it allows me to enter into other people’s stories in a deeper way.  There have been specific times in my life where I have even been surprised at how much I’ve felt on behalf of someone else, and it has been those tears that have revealed the people I care about.  Tears are a door to my heart, and rooted in me is a desire to fight and care for others.

 

    • …But sometimes I don’t care enough for myself.  Tears of exhaustion, tears of uncertainty, tears of being drained…. I’ve learned that I am not the best at self-care!  “Boundaries” has become a new word in my vocabulary and one of my favorite ones!  I’ve had to take a step back and start recognizing those activities which drain life and those which give life.  I’ve learned that saying “no” to the unnecessary commitments (no matter how wonderful and good and Jesus-honoring) and fighting against a life a busyness actually pays off in huge ways.  I’ve also started (probably overusing) the phrase “introvert time” because it’s typically my favorite time of any given day or week…. but man, has it made a difference in my soul.  When the tears come from exhaustion, I know I’ve neglected my own needs and need to reevaluate my schedule.  Seriously life-changing stuff you guys!

 

      • I’ve experienced pain.  I’ve officially given myself permission to own it, to name it, to learn about what it’s done to me, to take steps towards healing…. and to no longer let it rule over me as an unspoken, hovering weight over me.  I’m giving myself permission to TELL people about my pain and even cry while saying it, knowing that their reaction is their own choice, but that I am better in the process because I am allowing myself to release the fears of what people might think and step into greater authenticity.  There is a specific pain from my past that has had such a tight grip on me for 9 years, and it’s because I’ve believed the lie that I needed to be strong, to ignore the hurt, to muster up the courage to get through it, and that nobody would understand… and therefore nobody would care… enough to actually walk beside me as I wrestle with these things.  LIES LIES LIES!  My community has loved on me so faithfully and carefully and tenderly and patiently and passionately this past year.  The more I’ve been real with people about where I sit in the midst of this pain, the more understood I’ve been.  I’ve been met in the hard place, and seen God’s strength pick me up so lovingly and carry me to those who will show me love and safety and grace and empathy.  My tears have been honest to what I’ve been through.  My tears have acknowledged and mourned those hurts, and my tears have shown hope for what’s to come.

 

I’m sure I could write so many other examples of what tears have taught me, but I guess what I’m getting at is that we need to stop pretending we’ve got it all together.  There is something incredibly beautiful about people who are willing to step into the difficult emotions and wrestle around in the mud a little bit with them. We may get a little dirty, but we’ll come out more refined in the end.  (I’ve heard that mud baths are incredibly good for removing impurities.  Does this analogy work???)

 

The next time you feel yourself holding back tears, tearing up, or full-on sobbing your eyes out… take a moment to ask yourself a few questions about those tears.  Engage in the moment, engage in the emotion.  There’s a lot we can learn about God and ourselves when we start to dig a little deeper.

 

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The Risk and Reward of Vulnerability

The risk of vulnerability is not an easy risk to take.  Being vulnerable means sharing a piece of yourself with someone else, or a group of people, that they may not know about.  It can take on different forms… an emotion expressed, a spoken thought, an action taken, an experience shared, or even a look given.  When we are vulnerable, we are allowing someone to see a new side us, and that can be scary.

 

I think the risk factor is largely centered around the fact that we don’t know how the other person will respond.  Our vulnerability can be accompanied with a feeling of fear, shame, guilt, failure, insecurity, uncertainty, or something else of great depth such as love, hope, calling, or desire.  Sharing that with someone invites the question, “How will they respond?”.

 

Will our moments of vulnerability be met with understanding, care, reciprocation, love, support….?  Or, will our moments of vulnerability be met with judgement, disagreement, or a complete inability to relate or react in a healthy way?

 

Yes, there is great risk in being vulnerable.  We risk our reputation… what people think of us, what people know about us.

 

And yet, I think of how often we try to live such shiny, perfect lives, that nobody can relate to us.  We tend to put up walls that protect the most truthful… the most sacred… parts of who we are for the sake of maintaining a clean reputation.  We think that if people see us as good, healthy, and happy that we will be seen as valuable or as someone people would want to be around.

 

So great, you’re seen as good, healthy, and happy.  How does that make the person feel who has made mistakes?  How does that make the person feel who is struggling with healthy decisions?  What about the person who is depressed, alone, and in need of a friend who can relate?

 

While a reputation of being good, healthy, and happy can be something admirable to aim for, I think there is a tragic loss when there are missing pieces in our story that we aren’t willing to invite people into.  Those missing pieces are often the ones that tell the story of how God is healing, redeeming, restoring, or repurposing us for something greater.  So if we aren’t inviting people into our full story, are we also neglecting the God piece in all of this?

 

I’ve been trying to step out and take more risk in the ways I allow myself to be vulnerable, and the reward of taking those risks has been incredible.  It’s felt slightly terrifying at times to share things I’ve experienced in the past, and even more terrifying to admit things I’m experiencing in the present.  But little by little, I’ve seen progress in myself.

 

The first step for me was getting back to the basics.  I needed a reminder that my identity (a.k.a. “reputation”) should not be dependent on man.  My identity is in Christ, and it is only his opinion or perception of me that matters.  What is great is that I already know what those things are.  I know that I am loved, I am valued, I am forgiven, I am gifted, I am unique, I am chosen, I am called, I am free, I am beautiful, I am capable, and I am HIS.

 

Nothing else matters.  When you strip everything else away and leave yourself with the truths God has placed over your life, suddenly your fears of sharing your true self with others become far less significant.  Vulnerability starts to become something you aim for, not something you shy away from.

 

Lately, as I’ve admitted difficult truths to people in my life, I have started to see a pattern.  I have had people pull me aside and say that they can relate…. or that they were touched by my story…. or that I am brave…. or that they can see God working…. or that they felt understood…. or that they feel like they know me better…. or they were inspired.  Those reflections have often been followed up by getting to hear pieces of THEIR story, and wow what a privilege it is to be invited into someone’s story!  While I entered into those moments of vulnerability simply hoping to be a more honest and true person to those around me, I have left them seeing relationships grow deeper.

 

So that is the great, so-crazy-worth-it reward we get from being vulnerable.  We get to be known and we get to know others more authentically.  We get to experience what our hearts long for…. what we were MADE for…. and that is greater intimacy with Christ and with each other.  We get to let go of what people think and get surprised by how people react.  I think you’ll find most of the time people will appreciate, cherish, and value those vulnerable moments.

 

It’s a muscle we need to exercise, and you can always start small.  Maybe it’s offering up an opinion you may have kept to yourself before.  Maybe it’s allowing yourself to cry, even to just cry alone.  Maybe it’s sharing a more difficult piece of your story with a close friend you trust.

 

Being vulnerable doesn’t have to mean you suddenly are letting everybody into every piece of your life…. but it does mean choosing to remain truthful to who you are, even if that means speaking or acting in ways that may change people’s perception of you, for better or for worse.  The only way we can experience the reward is by taking the risk.

 

Vulnerability breeds authenticity, and I think that is an admirable thing to strive for.  I’d like to invite you to join me in taking the risk of vulnerability so that we can experience the reward of depth and intimacy.  Let’s let go of what people think and step into the truth of who we are in Christ.  Let’s place value in going to the hard places with one another.  Let’s respond to people as we would want to be responded to in moments of vulnerability.

 

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The Year of Freedom / Wildly Single

A reflection on 2015…

This is the first year I’ve experienced a little tinge of sadness around the holidays.  It seems that as each year passes life gets a little more “real”.  As I’m getting ready to enter into the last year of my 20’s, those difficult things that we all walk through in life have seemed to have added weight as I realize I expected to be walking through these things with someone by this point in my life.

Yes, I am still wildly single.  I say wildly because it sometimes feels like a wild ride, this whole single existence. What has it been… 8 years?!… since I’ve been in a relationship?  Yikes… this is real life, people.

But oh, the things I have done while being single… I have made sure not to waste these years!  I’ve moved across the country, learned new skills, traveled, poured myself into 60 hour weeks at a job I loved, experienced the loss of a job I loved, made new friends, tried online dating (yes, I have stories), lived in seven houses/apartments in four years, served in new ministries, started a job in an entirely new field, been kicked out of a jacuzzi by the cops, experienced the joy of getting rewarded for my hard work, led missions trips to Europe and Asia, mentored students, taken cooking classes, gone through counseling, created art, and so much more.  No, these years of singleness have not been wasted.  I have lived so much life!

But this year something changed.  Early in 2015 I recognized something different about me.  My usual acceptance of my singleness and ability to be content in this season shifted into a very uncomfortable state of feeling ready for something more.  This was uncomfortable because in the past I have lived in (what I now realize was probably a pretty uncommon state of) peace and contentment with my singleness.  All of a sudden, out of nowhere, I was no longer satisfied with being alone… and boy did that freak me out.  I so badly wanted to continue to embrace my independence as I always had… and yet I found myself unable to coax myself into that state of mind anymore.

Thankfully, God had something pretty great to say to me right then and there, back in January/February of 2015.  I think the conversation went a little something like this:

Me:  Hey God… soooo, what the heck?!  How come all of a sudden I’m no longer content with being single?  I’m not used to feeling this type of pain… the pain of being alone.  This actually really sucks.  How do people go years and years and years feeling this way?!  Holy crap, are you going to make me be single my whole life?  That would just be mean.  Haha. (nervous laughter)  God?  Seriously.  Where are you doing here?!  You know I’ve always wanted to find a great guy and get married, and I’ve tried so hard to be patient all these years, but for some reason I feel impatient right now.  The desire to be married and start a life with someone has grown insane amounts, and I don’t know what to do with that.  Is this a reflection of me not trusting You?  It doesn’t feel that way… I still believe you are writing my story and that it will be beautiful… but today, something changed, and I feel ready for something different than the life of being single.  The single life has lost some of the charm it once had… so where do I go from here?

God:  Hey Megan… you’re right, I am still writing your story and it WILL be beautiful.  I knew this day would come – the day when you’re ability to fully embrace the single life would get harder and you’d long for something more.  Know how I know this?  Because I made you!  I made you to be strong in your singleness… but I also made you to love people and to long for intimacy.  Megan, there is still work to be done.  There are things you need to grow in, heal from, and be free from before you will be ready to fully be in relationship.  I’ve seen the journey you’ve had and I know the pain you’ve experienced.  Life handed you some unexpected turns and I’m glad you’ve allowed me to walk with you in those things… and this is one more thing I am asking you to trust me in.  I am going to ask some things of you this year… things that will be uncomfortable, even painful, and things that will take commitment.  But, in return, I am promising you FREEDOM.  That is your word this year.  I desire freedom for you…. freedom from what other people think, freedom from how other people have hurt you, freedom from religious attitudes that have shaped you, freedom from insecurities that have hidden you, freedom from men who have abused you, freedom from the chains that have bound you, freedom from any voice that has spoken lies to you, and freedom TO BE FULLY YOU.  You will experience freedom this year, but it will be a process that is difficult.  You will learn to love more deeply, feel more openly, relate more intimately, speak more daringly, and sacrifice daily.  You may feel intimidated, overwhelmed, uncertain, scared, ridiculous, embarrassed, surprised, and impatient.  Take it one day at a time.  Allow me to work.  Trust in my promise to you.  Keep your eyes on me and never lose hope.  You are not alone.

So it was pretty clear to me at this point that God meant business.  You don’t get a download from the Lord with that type of verbiage and think, “Meh, should be an interesting year.”

Nope, I knew immediately that action was required.  First, I knew that I needed to go to counseling.  Actually, I’ve known for about 7 years now that I needed to go to counseling, but I guess this year God knew I would actually be ready to put in the time, money, and energy to really dig in… plus, like I said, I knew God meant business so I figured I better “grow a pair” and actually take the leap.  I also knew that instead of the plans I had to travel to Australia and New Zealand, that I needed to be a part of the Ex Creatis missions trip that would keep me focused spiritually and artistically… rather than traveling just for the sake of traveling.  Finally, I knew I needed to be willing to cry, and cry in front of people, and cry about things that I feel stupid crying about, and to feel all the feelings that I hate feeling and learn from those feelings.  (insert annoyed acceptance of the fact that I am human… a human who has lots of emotions and feelings and needs to express them for the sake of my own health – and others haha).

So what I just described pretty much sums up the last year of my life.  I’ve gone through 7 months of counseling, ended up being a co-leader on the month-long Ex Creatis missions trip to Spain and Berlin, and have done oh-so-much crying and have felt oh-so-annoyed about it…. but have learned OH SO MUCH because of it.  And no, I can’t sit here and say that everything has been solved and my life makes perfect sense and all of those longings and desires have left me (nor do I want them to leave me)…. but what I can say is I am day by day and month by month stepping into greater amounts of freedom!  I’m a work in progress… we all are… and the sooner I can accept myself for who I TRULY am, the sooner I can accept others for who they TRULY are.

There’s this fantastic quote that I’ve long loved, and it has become so appropriate for me this year:

As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.
-Marianne Williamson

I’m still praying about what God’s word for me will be this upcoming year… but I already know that it will be a continuation and a response to what has taken place this past year.  As I get ready to step into a new year, I am praying that the freedom, restoration, and liberation I’ve tasted this year will continue to grow and spread into my relationships.

I am praying that you will seek the freedom that is found through Christ, recognizing that sometimes it takes a lot of work… but that it is so worth the sacrifice.  I also pray that you will grow in your grace towards others… that you will recognize that we are all on different journeys, but none of us are perfect.  I pray that you’ll acknowledge the messiness of it all, and still commit yourself to loving yourself and others selflessly and beautifully.

And for those of you who still find yourself wildly single… I pray that whether you are loving or hating it, that you would seek intimate and raw relationship with Christ first and foremost, because that really, truly is the only relationship that can satisfy.  I feel like christians and/or the church have done a good job of making that sound really cheesy… but I think you could talk to married couples who would say the exact same thing… that no matter how much they love their spouse, the only relationship in their life that is never failing is the one they have with Christ.  So I say we start practicing that now, while we are wildly single, and wildly uncertain of the future.  Let’s commit ourselves to intimacy with Him.

So long, 2015.  It’s been a wild ride.  Thanks for the life-changing memories.

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Art on a Mission

I’m late to the game on this post, but I’m excited to share about an opportunity I had in August!  I was so honored to have my Floral Gathering story shared in the bulletin and online with Saddleback Church as I returned from Europe this summer with my PEACE team.  I would love to share with you what our wonderful Storytelling Intern, Kayla Johnston, wrote about our trip!

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Art on a Mission

08/20/2015.

Kayla Johnston  .  Storytelling Intern

The beauty of art is found in its ability to bring together people of all ages, ethnicities, classes, and genders. Regardless of background, art exists to create a space of peace, beauty, and truth within those who experience it. Ex Creatis, Saddleback Church’s arts initiative, hopes to do just that. By providing a creative space for artists to paint, draw, sculpt, dance, and everything in between, Ex Creatis aims to transform the community through creativity.

In an effort to engage the global community, Ex Creatis gathered 11 artists for a monthlong training and teaching trip to Europe. The first half was spent working with EDGE Project, an annual summer mission project in Altea, Spain for artists to grow their faith, community, and skill. From there, the team moved on to Berlin, Germany, the art capital of Europe. Working with Saddleback Berlin, the team trained volunteers and spent time with the local community in order to gather a group of artists hoping to create their own arts initiative.

Though the goal of the trip to create and launch an art ministry, the team spent time in the streets of Berlin, ministering to anyone willing to stop and watch. A hip-hop artist dancing along the sidewalk, sketch artists drawing portraits, and musicians playing guitar for anyone to listen – this is Ex Creatis.

One of these artists is Megan Sauder, a musician and, more recently, a floral designer. In the year prior to the trip, Megan began experimenting with flowers. “I got a bouquet of flowers from my mom on Valentine’s Day, and just stared at the flowers one afternoon,” Megan says. “I started picking off petals and arranging them in different ways. I realized how easy it was to create something beautiful.”

Megan thought about how she could use flowers as an art form, and after talking with her friend Mandy Hinkle, it all became clear. Mandy is an incredible chef hoping to launch her own business centered around the idea of food bringing people together. With this vision in mind, Megan knew she and Mandy could team up using their skills in floral work and cooking to create a gathering for women in their community.

After weeks of prep, their first floral gathering was a hit. The women in attendance sat on colored blankets in the backyard crafting floral crowns while eating various hors d’oeuvres and desserts. As Megan saw how the gathering allowed for authentic conversation, she knew it would be a great opportunity to connect with the the people of Altea and Berlin.

Although their resources were limited overseas, members of the Ex Creatis team came together to put on a floral gathering in Spain for members of the EDGE project. After all the prep work had been done – flowers purchased, room decorated, food cooked – only two people showed up. “We were a little discouraged at first, but the women loved it. We were able to have great one-on-one conversations with them that we wouldn’t have been able to have if more had come,” Megan says.

As the team migrated to Berlin, Megan and Mandy decided to put on another gathering for the women of Saddleback. “It’s such a special to time to encourage these women and pour into them, then see them leaving uplifted. You can tell they feel beautiful.”

Megan and Mandy saw the impact the gathering had on so many women, and Isaiah 62:3 soon became their mission statement. “You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.”

“We want this floral gathering to be a place for women to create something beautiful to wear and be reminded of the beauty God sees in them,” Megan says. “God has placed this crown of beauty upon us and that’s what we want to do for them.”

Megan pulled one young, German woman, Feli, aside after the floral gathering. “I hope you feel so beautiful wearing this crown,” Megan said to her as they stood clutching hands in the middle of the street. Not thinking much of the conversation, it wasn’t until a couple days later, as Megan and Feli were saying their goodbyes, that it was Feli’s turn to pull Megan aside. “I want you to know how much that floral gathering meant to me,” Feli said through tears. “I left feeling so loved and valued. I felt so pretty. Thank you.”

It is conversations like these that motivate Ex Creatis to continue sharing the value of art. “Dancing, sketching, painting, floral work, we have an opportunity to reach out to these people,” Megan says. “Art allows us to open up a window of conversation that we wouldn’t have by just approaching people about Jesus on the street. With art, they come to us.”

If you are a local artist, or want to try your hand at painting, drawing, sculpting and everything in between, Ex Creatis would love to have you. Ex Creatis meets each Saturday for “Open Create,” a time for artists to come together at the Lake Forest studio and create together. Visit excreatis.com or email jasonl@saddleback.com for more information.

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Follow the journey on Instagram:
@florallyyoursco
#florallyyours
#afloralgathering

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Ex Creatis Arts Initiative PEACE Trip 2015

Ex Creatis PEACE Trip2

Altea & Berlin | Creative Arts Outreach

You’re invited to partner with Saddleback Church’s PEACE Plan as Ex Creatis Arts Initiative and Edge Project join forces to train church members from SoCal & Berlin and to engage the lost of Europe with arts- focused outreaches.

Past: For a majority throughout Europe, an unengaged church and the rise of atheism have led to loneliness and absence of meaning. In addition, the unique histories of fascism in Spain and Germany have left their own scars.

Present: Our goal is to use the power of creativity to draw these lost people into
a community of love and meaning that they can find in Jesus and His Church.

Like nothing else, the arts cross language, religious, and cultural barriers with ease.

Our three-week trip, this June 27th- July 20th, begins with a two-week intensive in the city of Altea, Spain where artists of both Saddleback Berlin and SoCal campuses will come together under the mentorship of EDGE Project to:

  • deepen the integration of our faith, calling, and creativity,
  • bridge culture and cultivate deep relationships,
  • develop our arts expressions toward ministry purposes.

For the final week in Berlin we will further put into action what we developed through our training in Spain to:

  • build up the church community of Berlin
  • empower use of art as outreach in Berlin, Europe’s art capitol.
  • invite others into the family of Jesus through our art outreaches.

Future: When we head home, we will continue to use what we developed on our trip to catalyze and implement our now more focused art ministries. In the communities where Saddleback serves, both in Berlin and SoCal, we will continue to use creativity to reveal Jesus and to call people to Him.

My Story: When I went to Berlin in 2012 on my first PEACE trip, I fell in love with the city and the people, and knew I wanted to return someday to use creativity to reach a dark city that is desperately need of the light of Christ. On my PEACE trip to Tokyo in 2014, I saw how powerfully music can break down cultural barriers and open up doors for sharing the hope of Jesus. It is with great excitement that I am joining the Ex Creatis team to continue using the arts as a way to reach people in Altea and Berlin.   I have received confirmation from family, friends, and pastors that this is an opportunity worth pursuing, permission from my job to take time away from work to do this, as well as complete peace of mind that the Lord is calling me to continue using the gifts He has given me in a cross-cultural setting. The commitment is big, but I believe God has amazing things in store for our team of artists this summer! It would be an honor to have you partnering with us!

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You can join me in this movement to bring the Hope of Jesus to the unengaged people of Europe through the arts.

Prayer Team: We need a team committed to pray for the people of Altea, Berlin, the team, and our outreach. Please respond if you would like to be included and want to commit to regular prayer.

Financial Team: We’ve already seen that God is behind this trip! I am trusting Him to help me raise about $5,000. If you feel led to support financially, please make any checks out only to “Saddleback Church” with trip #9240 in the memo line (not my name) and mail to the address below. For my team’s ability to stay on track, please send a check, or give notice of any checks coming, by: March 31.

Address:
Berlin Peace Trip 9240
c/o MEGAN SAUDER
3 Riverrun
Irvine, CA 92604

Thank you for your support!

   Megan
       Sauder

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