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I’ve often found it interesting to watch vintage black-and-white TV programs that show old-fashioned traditions. One custom that I like in particular is the way a mother would measure her kids’ heights on a wall. The children would stand, backs straight, heels pressed to the floor molding, as she took a pencil and slid it over the top of their heads to make a mark. They could see how much they’d grown. The tradition of marking a child’s height is a visual way to show how time truly changes things.
I wish there were an equivalent way to measure one’s growth into purpose. If only I could measure how my character is refined with the passing of time and how my heart and head are sharpened as one experience builds on top of another and then another. All are reflections of my true purpose, but the growth and the management of our purpose can never be measured by etchings on a wall. One of the greatest indicators of our soul’s expansion into a life of purpose is how we choose to use our experiences and lessons as we move through the world.
“To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side, I learn who I am and what God’s grace means,” Brennan Manning, a Franciscan priest and author, wrote in The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out (Multnomah Books, 1993).
So often we are scared of the whole story. We buy into the belief that because we once failed, we will always be failures or the belief that because we were once ashamed, we should always be ashamed. Our past—both the beauties and failures contained within it—is essential to our present. We would not be who we are without our heartaches, our scars, and moments of despair. In fact, we can choose to use the exact difficulties that once wounded us deeply to become better human beings.
Spiritualists from various faith traditions contend that trials and tribulations have a purpose: to help sharpen us. We tend to get comfortable and complacent when everything is going our way. At such moments we usually take our eyes off our goals and lose sight of our purpose. This is what happened to the children of Israel who were on a transgenerational quest to find the Promised Land.
One of the Adinkra symbols of the Ghanaian people depicts a bird that has its head turned around, craning its neck to take an egg off its back. The egg symbolizes knowledge gained in the past. The symbol as a whole embodies the principle that we can reach back for the knowledge of the past that will help build a foundation for the future.
I love this principle because it reflects the concept that to know where you’re going, you must know where you’ve been. To live your life in alignment with your purpose, you must be willing to take the lessons, knowledge, and wisdom of the past with you on your journey. I also love the Sankofa imagery because the artist chose an egg, one of the most fragile items. You must be careful with an egg, or it will easily shatter and become a mess. The past is much the same. While it can serve as the most beneficial teacher, allowing us to grow, evolve, and stay true to our intended purpose, if we’re not careful it can become the heaviest load, stunting our growth as human beings and derailing us from that very same purpose. We must respect the past and its lessons. We must also be careful not to depend completely on what has come before. It can be a burden rather than a blessing.
Your purpose is a fluid, organic force that can become distorted if you only view it looking backward. Living solely in the past can make you a prisoner of it and strip your present and future of its full potential.
The following three chapters address three primary principles for purpose management of your past: forgiveness, wisdom, and balance. The chapters provide you with a framework for incorporating these elements into your daily journey of a purpose-filled life. Each of these three characteristics is intimately linked to your past and your perception of it. By unleashing the power of forgiveness, wisdom, and balance, you will be better equipped to face situations and best use your 86400. The precious and valuable lessons from your past, both good and bad, can help you master your unique purpose.
To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.
—Lewis B. Smedes
Forgiveness allows us to be better purpose managers. Forgiveness allows us to let go of things that block our discovery of our purpose.
If you’re at all like me, your greatest struggle, most likely, will be learning to forgive yourself, for the things you’ve done as well as for the things you haven’t done.
I’m slowly forgiving myself for some things I believe I should have done for my father during years of illness before his death. For far too long and for far too many 86400s, I have chosen to carry a heavy burden of guilt regarding my father’s death. As I’m compelled to write about this, to confess, I’m unsuccessfully holding back tears.
My father, Jimmie A. Red, died on October 5, 2008. He endured a number of health problems: heart failure, diabetes he developed later in life, and as a result both legs amputated in an effort to save him. It was not until the eleventh hour that I took his illness seriously, and by then it was too late to save him. I believe that if I had acted two, perhaps three, years sooner, many of his ailments could have been better managed.
My brother Greg was constantly warning me, “We have to do something. He’s not taking care of himself.” On some level, I did not believe him. My brother had been saying that for years, and my father was still here after having triple bypass surgery fifteen years previous. I always talked to my father in a joking way, not really getting serious enough to tell him he had to do better with his eating and overall health habits. My brother got so mad at me because of my nonchalant attitude regarding my father’s health that he did not speak to me for a long time.
In my family, my schedule is probably the most flexible. I could have prepared my father’s meals and spent more time getting him to understand that he must eat properly. I’m the queen of low-calorie healthy cooking in my family. I still don’t understand why I didn’t insist on doing more.
One day my father was looking ill and not feeling well. He fixed himself a plate of food, ignoring the no-salt dishes my mother prepared. He piled his plate high with mac and cheese and other things he shouldn’t have been eating. Though I normally joked with him about such habits, that particular time, for some reason, I snapped. I stuck my bare hands right in the middle of his mac and cheese, grabbed it, and threw a great deal of it away. My father got so mad that he said a few choice words to me and refused to eat what was left. Perhaps if I had done more mac-and-cheese grabs he would have lived longer.
I could have done so much more, and I don’t know why I didn’t. Losing him is so painful. I can’t believe he is no longer here. I had the resources to get help, a psychologist, a nutritionist—something. However, I didn’t.
The sicker he got, the more I didn’t want to face it. I didn’t want to think about it. I convinced myself that his sickness would pass with time. Instead, he passed. The hardest thing for me to do is forgive myself for not doing more, but I can’t be productive with this weight. I have to move on. I’m not totally free from the “what could have and should have been,” but each day I’m dedicated to lifting off the weight. Each new 86400, I grow more dedicated to refusing to spend my seconds worrying about the past.
I’ve given myself permission to forgive myself, right now, right here. I’m choosing to forgive me, so that I can face the pain of my loss. I can move forward to make the most of, not to waste, precious moments with the family that I still have. I’m not forgetting my past, but I’m choosing not to dwell on what I can’t get back. I was given the blessing of time and experiences with my father, and I have the memory of all the seconds he gave to me and I to him. I have everything about him that was good, that made me who I am. I know in my heart that he would never blame me for what I did not do. I know he loved me, and I know he was proud of the woman I had become. I know that in order for him to continue to be proud of me, I can’t stop. I can’t let guilt and an inability to forgive myself continue to strangle me. I have the power to forgive myself, move forward, and use my time in a way that would make him proud, in a way that reflects my purpose.
We are all faulty. What is important is how we cope with our transgressions, failures, and flaws. As sinners who continually stumble, we need to stop pigeonholing ourselves in our past sin. Instead of letting past mistakes bury us in purposeless pursuits, let us realize we have a choice: to kneel at the feet of our sin or to drop-kick our sin in the face and do one of those phenomenally triumphant touchdown dances we witness on Monday Night Football.
We can conquer and move forward from our heart’s greatest aches by forgiving ourselves and recognizing that Jesus spent far less time condemning than forgiving. He was clear about his purpose and used each of his 84600 seconds to the utmost. Jesus was on a mission to uplift and remind each of us that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. He did not harp on past misdeeds or present circumstances, but celebrated what could be, what everyone can become.
Focus your attention on your purpose, a task greatly assisted by your willingness to forgive yourself and others. View each new 86400 for what it is: a blessing and gift from God to continue on your journey to maximize your purpose. Understand and truly believe that U-turns on the road of life are always possible, even in what might seem to be unstoppable rush-hour traffic.
The Bible is explicit in Christ’s hope for us and the battle He is willing to wage to bring us back from our ways to His kingdom. Consider Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. His Disciples were surrounding Jesus when the soldiers came to arrest Him. When they said they were looking for Jesus of Nazareth, without hesitation, Jesus responded, “I told you that I am he…. If you are looking for me, then let these men go” (John 18:8).
Christ demonstrated an unthinkable dedication to us. He knew Judas had betrayed Him. He knew Peter would deny Him. He knew that all men would run to protect and care for themselves rather than stick their necks out for their Savior. It is for that very reason and our faults that Christ commits to us. Daily, on our behalf, He says, in effect, “Let them go.” If we follow Him, He will love us unconditionally. He will save us.
Forgiveness means to seek healing and cleanse self—to let go of hurts and grudges—so you can live free and unencumbered as God intended. You don’t like to dwell on your negative aspects, your bad habits and characteristics, but you cling to them. Ridding yourself of them is essential. This cleansing of self-forgiveness is a necessary first step before you can arm yourself with positive and effective tools that will help you manage your purpose. If you were planning to attend a lavish dinner party and spent the first part of the day working in the garden and mowing the lawn, you wouldn’t slip your fancy eveningwear right on over your dirt-covered body. You would first take a long, hot shower before you got decked out in your designer gown or tux. Cleanse your daily practices and life outlooks with life’s most powerful cleaning agent: forgiveness.
Forgiveness is one of the most difficult tasks we’ll tackle in our lives. Fear of confrontation and a lack of belief in God’s providence lead us to ignore forgiveness; we pretend mercy isn’t necessary in this world abounding with hurt and mistakes. We trick ourselves into believing that we can’t forgive others or forgive ourselves. We believe that things we have done are unforgivable even though God says he has “rescued us from darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, and the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:14). We continually choose to believe mercy is inadequate.
Our lack of understanding about the power of forgiveness is a huge deterrent to managing our purpose, to living the life to which God has called us. When we choose to bypass forgiveness, we strip ourselves of so many essential elements of our future.
Think about it in terms of sickness and health. When we’re not physically feeling well, we have to take steps to improve our well-being. One of those steps involves taking medicine. Most of us detest gulping down spoonfuls of cough syrup or swallowing pills, but it’s often the medicine that heals our pounding headaches and aching bodies.
Forgiveness is the same antidote to our emotional sicknesses. Until we treat the hurts and pains in our lives, they will gnaw away at us. They will deprive us of a ripe present, wasting today’s 86400: relationships with our family and friends, promotions at work, our drive to meet goals. We are stripped of our future hopes when we cling to our past wounds, wasting a significant portion of our hours, minutes, and seconds on the worst human activities—self-pity, guilt, bitterness, and anger. The result of becoming buddy-buddy with anger and resentment is an inflated image of self and a loss of life’s true joys. Only through forgiveness can we heal hurts and move forward. We must learn to forgive others sincerely and forgive ourselves.
Emotional pain at its core derives from two primary sources: the people closest to us and ourselves.
When others wound us deeply, it is because they understand the nerve centers of our soul. They know how we tick. They’ve seen our buttons. They’ve witnessed our Achilles’ heels, and they are tied, quite intimately, to the strings of our heart. What they say or do hurts all the more because of their proximity to our lives.
Friends will call me and ask if we can meet for coffee. They grab a dark roast and I sip my green tea while they tell me what has happened, perhaps how a close friend has wounded them deeply. “How could they possibly do this to me?” I can tell their hearts are truly bleeding. Later, I’ll get the call again and, once more, sit across the table from them as they tell me a similar story and repeat the words, “How could they possibly do this to me?” I ask my friends, “Have you addressed the situation, have you confronted the individual?” Typically, they shake their heads and say, “I just don’t know what to say to them.” My friends are writhing in self-pity. They are playing the wounded victim and holding on, with severe passion, to how they’ve been wronged.
In the throes of victimhood, maximizing your 86400 is impossible because living your purpose is the farthest thing from your mind. Often we fail to forgive because we find a perverted empowerment in the victim role. We can claim the moral high ground and tell all who will listen to our sad story that we are right and the victimizer is wrong. We continue to suffer the pain of a broken and fractured relationship because we find it easier to claim victory in declaring “woe is me” than to confront the situation and find solutions.
The problems with this scenario are many. Foremost, when you choose victimization over forgiveness, you decide to remain chained to an unhealthy reality. Your time, energy, thoughts, and ideas are siphoned away from productive, purpose-focused activities. Potential and possibility are sacrificed to ego and fear. You give your all to a dying situation (victimization), rather than to your purpose.
I understand the peculiar power in playing the victim because I have done it so many times myself. We feel someone owes us a debt, but we are wrong.
We focus far too much on what others say and do, and far too little on our own actions and words. It creates an unbalanced, unhealthy perspective that skews our point of view. Matthew 7:3 says, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” When we stop seeing ourselves as victims, we look at the situation and realize our own participation in the wrong or understand that we could make the same mistake, and it becomes possible for us to forgive the other person.
When we cling to our anger toward others, we miss life’s true purpose. Our anger consumes us. It demands our thoughts, our time, and our hearts. If we give all our time and energy to anger, we miss the precious opportunities to invest it in our real treasures: our families, our passions, our callings, all those things that reflect our God-intended purpose.
Think of all the energy you’re investing in your anger and pity. Now visualize how you can invest that energy into your passion, potential, purpose. Forgiveness frees you to truly be yourself and make your 86400s purposeful and joy filled.
A common misconception about forgiveness is that its power and intent is for the person being forgiven. But forgiveness is for the forgiver. How many times have you held on to a grudge against someone, and while you have been stewing in your anger, that person has been living life to the fullest, oblivious to your sullen state? Most of the persons you feel have offended you are unaware that they did anything you thought was harmful or egregious. Even if they are aware of your pain, they may not care. Your hurt, anger, frustration, depression, and raised blood pressure have little or no effect on the person with whom you are angry, but that anger has a devastating effect on you.
This Christmas, my friend went to a candlelight service at a local church. The sanctuary was old, and its roof was undergoing construction. When she pulled into the parking lot, the work on the church was visible. Scaffolding surrounded the church on all sides, and the shiny, copper piping had been plucked from the structure and set visibly aside for recycling. She thought nothing of it as she parked, walked inside, and took her seat in the candlelit pews.
Much to her surprise, that night the preacher didn’t tell a story about Jesus’ birth, but rather about the copper. The old piping would secure roughly $5,000, a none-too-small sum, particularly during a season when the congregation’s ability to give had dwindled. However, a week before Christmas, the pastor had come to the church to find the copper stolen from the premises. The thief left a number of tracks, and within a few days the copper was returned to the church and the man who had stolen it was read his rights, charged, and released on bond.
Desperate not to face a trial and conviction, the thief came to the church and begged for lenience from the pastor. He apologized for his actions and asked for mercy. Seeing the man’s genuine repentance, the pastor forgave him and didn’t press charges. But before letting him go on his way, he insisted on a point. “When you drive by this church from now on,” he said, “remember not that you are guilty, but that you are forgiven.” The pastor reminded the man that how we choose to identify ourselves in situations is an essential component in leading a better life. We are forgiven. We are not guilty. We are new creations.
My friend’s tale touched me deeply, especially since I was wrestling with my own issues of guilt about my failure to do more for my father before I forgave myself as the thief was forgiven. So often in life, we, like the thief, are haunted by daily reminders of our past transgressions, the mistakes we’ve made or the things we should have done. But dwelling in guilt and shame is certain to halt personal growth because it saps energy for the pursuit of our purpose. If we take refuge in our failures, the world is a still, somber place. When we choose to forgive, we discover new opportunities to succeed.
I am reminded of the Robert De Niro movie The Mission. In it De Niro played an eighteenth-century slaver whose lavish lifestyle was paid for by the pain of the South American Indians he kidnapped and sold into slavery. De Niro’s most beloved relative was his brother, but De Niro’s character discovered that his wife was sleeping with his brother. The character ended up killing his brother by duel, viewed as justified during that time. De Niro had the opportunity to go on living his life as a free man. However, he became a victim of his own guilt over killing his brother. Distraught, De Niro’s character chose to stay locked up in a cell, refusing food or water because he felt unworthy of life.
As long as the man held on to his unforgiveness, he had no time or energy for productive pursuits. A priest offered a way out: penance. De Niro’s character chose to carry the heavy armor he used for kidnapping up steep, treacherous mountains and give it to the very people he spent his life enslaving. Only after he completed his trek, presented the armor to them, and offered himself in their service was he able to forgive himself. However, to his surprise, moved by his actions, the people the man once enslaved forgave him. He then dedicated the rest of his life to protecting the people from others who sought to rob them of their freedom. He was able to live a worthy and powerful purpose. Forgiveness is the beginning of our management of our purpose. Forgiveness frees us to focus not on what once was, but on what can be, what we can do right now to make that future a reality. The Lord takes our transgressions, acknowledges them, and cancels the debt. Then He does an amazing thing: He forgets them. He proceeds to love us, care for us, and intercede for us as though we were always clean, blameless, and loyal. But He doesn’t stop there. He takes our life, puts it in the palm of His hand, and begins to mold us toward His purpose for us. He aims to give us a future that separates us from the pain and sin of our past. Titus 3:3–5 says, “At one time we were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.”
We are in the grip of His mercy and fully aware of the power of forgiveness. Because of this, the seconds, minutes, hours, and days before us hold more potential than we ever allowed ourselves to believe. God has placed divine purpose within each of us. It is our responsibility to live it, share it, master it, and celebrate it.
A few years ago, the Reverend Rudy Rasmus of Houston, Texas, found his own faith tested. He had discovered that his daughter, who was then eighteen years old, had been molested by a family member when she was four. Not only could he not forgive the offender, he was not even willing to preach about forgiveness, one of the most fundamental teachings of Jesus.
Just learning about the transgression “put me in such a difficult position,” he said.
“On one hand, as a pastor, I’m responsible for the faith development of a group of people and the Bible is explicitly clear about forgiveness. One of my responsibilities is to encourage people to practice forgiveness. During that time, it became virtually impossible for me to talk about forgiveness because I wasn’t willing to do it.”
With his wife, Juanita, Rasmus co-pastors one of Houston’s most dynamic and life-changing fellowships, St. John’s United Methodist Church. He is an emergent messenger, an urban prophet and global humanitarian with a passion for outreach to our world’s poorest citizens. Beginning with nine members in 1992, his church, known to many as St. John’s Downtown, has grown to more than 9000 members (3000 of them homeless or formerly homeless) in sixteen years. It is one of the most culturally diverse congregations in the country, where every week people of every social and economic background share the same pew.
Its shepherd has preached and written about ministering to the wounded. Now, this powerful preacher and compassionate minister was in need of healing. As his feelings about the violation of his daughter ricocheted from “homicidal tendencies to deep feelings of remorse and guilt for allowing it to happen,” the preacher who was a beacon for so many began to see a therapist. He said the counselor “began to help me appropriate the action; to put the action in perspective with the goal of moving forward.
“So you ask me, ‘What is forgiveness?’ ” he told me. “Forgiveness is the act of moving forward.
“I’m in the business where the icon, the founder of this business (God), tells folk all the time that it is most advantageous to forgive,” the minister said. “How can you be forgiven unless you forgive? The icon of this faith (God) has repeated concepts around the need for forgiveness. But I have found that process and that practice difficult when it is time to do it.”
The pastor is a firm believer in the power of forgiveness in helping people better manage their 86400. He knows from personal experience that forgiveness will free you up to live your purpose once again.
Failure to forgive, Reverend Rasmus told me, would be like going through my 86400 with the offending person on my back. Visualizing this, I could feel myself being weighed down and unable to do those things near and dear to me. I could feel myself being blocked from living my purpose.
“And we wonder why we are tired and can’t sleep,” he said. “Imagine going to sleep with four people on your back. First off, you can’t find a comfortable position. Imagine just trying to move through your day with people on your back. So forgiveness is moving forward without the encumbrances of the person, offense, or deed or act as a part of your being, your spirit. When we forgive, we are saying to the people on our back, ‘No longer can you ride into the future with me. No longer will I carry you into another day. I’m going to release you right now.’
“When you get those folk off your back, you become far more productive,” preached the preacher extraordinaire. The sheer fact of not having that human being riding with you into your future means that your load is lighter. A lighter load is representative of a brighter future—more time to do what you got to do, more ways to use that 86400 seconds.”
To forgive does not mean we must forget, as so many people might think. “I believe that you should forgive and remember to keep from repeating the same scenario—committing the act to memory that needs forgiveness, committing the person to memory,” said Pastor Rasmus.
When he released the person who committed the offense against his family, his load lightened and his soul lit up.
“In that situation with my daughter, from the time I released that person, the light began to come back on in my own spirit,” he recalled. “I had turned the light out.”
His willingness to forgive was even tested one day when, he said, “that creep walked out in front of me” at a crosswalk while the pastor was driving to meet some people for lunch.
“That was a test,” he concluded. “I’m at the corner, and I’m thinking, ‘Hmmm.’ But you know my Facebook status that day read, ‘I’ve passed the supreme test, and unconditional love won.’ ”
Vengeance is not compatible with forgiveness. Unconditional love must keep winning over our spirits.
“Does it mean that the person is no longer a creep?” asks Reverend Rasmus. “Heck, no! Does it mean that that person won’t commit the offense again if given the opportunity? Absolutely not! That person is a creep and will do it again. You are not responsible for that person’s next 86400. You are responsible for yours.”
To keep running through your 86400 without encumbrance, without the weight of others on your back, you have to leave behind the burden of an unforgiving spirit.
Rasmus believes being conscious of your 86400 frees you from the bondage of past mistakes and future worries so that you can manage your purpose.
“Forgiveness is the most difficult concept in the human condition,” the minister said. “It requires you to prioritize memory, to be selective in appropriating drama.”
His candor made the concept of forgiveness and how it relates to purpose come alive. “We only have the moments, the seconds in front of us,” the pastor said. “You know I can’t do anything about the moments that have passed, but my 86400 in front of me are for me to govern, and those are the most important.”
What he does to ensure that his purpose is being lived is to define daily victory for himself. “When I wake up every day, my question to God is, Who are we going to help today? And before I finish my day, it is a successful day if somebody got helped. It is important that you define victory for yourself, or else you will never be finished; you will never get anything done.” Forgiveness is a powerful tool to enable us to let go of things that impede progress and keep us from moving forward toward our purpose.
“Something that I have learned in the midst of trauma and trials is the importance of living in the absolute moment,” Pastor Rasmus said. “I can’t even live in the week ahead, but I can be the most effective me right now. I can be the most loving me right now. I can be the most passionate and compassionate me right now, and the mistakes I’ve made prior to that, I can’t do anything about those either. So my advice to folk that are struggling is to value the moment you are in right now. Your ‘right now’ controls your future.”
The growth of St. John’s was possible because its pastor is amazingly clear about his purpose. He attributes the success of the church to a compassionate congregation that shares his purpose and vision of tearing down the walls of classism, sexism, and racism and building bridges of unconditional love, universal recovery, and unprecedented hope. Rasmus also co-founded Bread of Life, Inc., a not-for-profit corporation that provides more than 7000 hot meals each month to homeless men and women.
Although I had heard of “Pastor Rudy” over the years, I was formally introduced to him by my friend Councilwoman Ada Edwards, who told me St. John’s was so awesome that I just had to come worship with her one Sunday. I agreed, knowing that something really special must be going on at St. John’s to get my friend to attend both the 8 a.m. and the 10 a.m. services practically every Sunday.
After visiting and getting to know Pastor Rasmus, I, too, decided to get involved at St. John’s and to share my passion for literature through a book club for individuals that its homeless ministry serves. I am not a member at St. John’s, but I attend services there about once a month.
The minister’s example of overcoming and forgiving is a daily reminder that the way to let my light shine is to release all negative baggage by forgiving myself and others. Then, and only then, can I truly live my purpose. I can remember these words from the pastor: “At the end of the day, when I love someone, regardless of what he has done to me or mine, I am released to love not only that person but everyone else in my path. With that comes an incredible and amazing freedom.”
Devote your next 600 seconds to understanding how forgiveness can help you make the most of your God-given time by living your purpose. Think of someone you have not been able to forgive. Can you forgive that person at this moment? Right here. Right now. If you can do so, tell that person as soon as you can of your decision to forgive. If you can’t forgive now, pray for the ability to forgive this person. Is there something for which you have been unable to forgive yourself? Tell yourself now that you forgive you. Use these ten minutes to discover how you can move from thought to the act of forgiving. Reflect. Evaluate. Plan. Act. Remember: It is your time, and you have the power to make the most of it.
“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11:25).
Excerpted from 86400 by Lavette, Lavaille Copyright © 2011 by Lavette, Lavaille. Excerpted by permission.
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