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Sex, Lies, and Jesus

Thoughts from a child of God who became a stripper and lives redeemed

On The Track

Track – An area of town known for prostitution

I am writing this in response to going out on street outreach to meet with women working in prostitution.  It has taken me three days to begin to process all that I saw and be able to get some of it out on paper.

It was early evening; a time when families are cleaning up from dinner, unwinding, filling each other in on the day, and relaxing in the safety and comfort of their homes.  In my own home, the homework had gotten done, the kitchen was cleaned up, there was noise from the tv and from the chatter between my children and husband.  My cat was sleeping on the back of the couch, and my dog watched me with sad eyes as I made my way to the back door.  If I was staying in, I would soon be putting on my favorite sweat pants and oversized t-shirt.  Instead, I hugged my kids and husband goodbye and left the safe haven of my home.

I live in the suburbs.  The scenery on my drive towards downtown is beautiful.  The road is winding and the trees that line both sides of the road form a canopy above me.  Though the sun has begun its descent, rays of light find their way through the leaves to spotlight the beauty around me.  The radio is playing my latest obsession of worship music, Nicole Nordeman’s “Every Mile Mattered” CD.  Though I am nervous about the evening to come, I feel  peace in knowing that all the miles of my own life that led me here mattered, too.

As I drive out from under the trees, all that is around me is different.  The trees have been replaced by low income housing, tobacco and liquor stores, and businesses dealing in bail bonds.  Without a word it screams that one can find shelter, fulfillment of addiction, and a false sense of freedom…at a cost, of course.  The waning light no longer seems to spotlight beauty, but instead highlights the oppression of poverty.  Bus stops, not trees, line the streets now.  Tired and worn people surround the stops waiting to be taken somewhere else.  I meet up with my group on the outskirts of the inner city and we continue on together.

The foot traffic increases as we near our destination.  I see three people, two men and one woman, slumped over against the wall of a gas station.  They are huddled together on the filthy ground and they are high.  My thought is that they are probably on heroin, but I can’t be sure.  As they sit there oblivious to their surroundings, a mother and her small children walk by.  This is not my first trip to the inner city, and I wonder for the hundredth time how people stay safe in this environment.  At the same time, I love it here.  Because here is where Jesus is.

The driver takes a left turn and we arrive on the track.  A “track” is an area of town known for prostitution . It can be an area around a group of strip clubs, pornography stores, or, like the track we are on, a particular stretch of street.  We pull over to talk with a few women and we pass out food and hygiene kits.  I am a little surprised to see that the women working the street seemingly blend in with the rest of people walking along the sidewalks.  I see women in shorts and tee shirts, and others in tank tops and mini-skirts.  I see a subtle difference, though, in the eyes of every woman I am privileged to meet.

It is in this first stop that I meet a woman who changes everything for me.  She is grateful for the offering of food and toiletries.  She smiles and she laughs.  She is lovely.  She is hurting.  She is haunted.  She is broken.  She is strong.  She is tired.  She has perseverance.  She is 58 years old.  When asked if there is anything she wants to pray about, she turns her head and looks off in the distance.  I wonder what she is seeing as she looks at nothing.  She whispers, “My life.  Just my life.”  There are horrors she is seeing, I feel that as I watch her.  A sadness comes over her and her shoulders seem to cave a little at the weight of it all.  She looks back towards us and I grab her hand.  I tell her that she is truly loved by God and she is not forgotten.  As she stands there on the street I wonder if she even believes me.  I believe this with all of my heart, but even to my own ears this sounds like a hollow promise.

In the midst of this life she is living, she is concerned for her friend who is very sick.  She asks if we can give her an extra bag of food for her friend.  She worries that we don’t believe her, and she tells us that we can check on her friend who is resting down the street in a van.  We give her the food.  Of course we believed her, but we would have given her more food regardless.  We run into her friend later.  She has kidney disease.  Attached to her body is a port for dialysis.  The tee shirt she is wearing says “Blessed.”  She pulls the neck of her shirt down to show us the port. The area is not covered and I worry for her because I can’t imagine how it can stay clean.  She hasn’t been to dialysis lately.  She can’t get to her appointments.  Still, she works.  She walks away into the night, attached to something that can help her but isn’t.

We drive up and down the track several more times.  Each time I see the 58 year old woman walking.  How many miles has she walked up and down the streets tonight?  She is all alone, blending in with everyone else but needing to be seen.  I think how she may want to be noticed, because that means she will make money.  The johns know what they are looking for.  They will see her.  But I bet she also wants to disappear.  To hide.  I used to feel that way.  Each time I see her my heart breaks a little more.

The darkness is thick now, and we are on the final trip down the track.  I happen to glance over to my left.  I am actually searching for a woman who looked really young we have just seen.  Could she have been picked up by a trick that quickly?  I see instead this woman I have become so drawn to.  She is coming out from behind a building and walking down an alley towards the street.  I assume that she just finished a with a trick.  The light behind her casts shadows of darkness all around her small frame.  She walks into the light on the street and goes back to work.  I feel like I just got punched in the gut.

Back in my own car now I head home.  With each mile this horrifying world will become more distant.  In my heart, though, it will remain.  I am numb as I drive.  I see none of the details on this trip home.  I see the faces of women.  I see shadows and pain.  I am gripped by the busted up brokenness I have seen.   God has taken me a lot of places, but never has my heart hurt as much as it does in this moment.  I begin to cry.  The tears pour out of my eyes and I don’t even know what to say.  Sobbing now, I can only pray “Jesus, help these women.”

I feel the presence of Jesus so strong in this moment.  I think He has shown me a little of His heart, and I am overcome.  He is love.  He is healing.  He is comfort.  He is peace.  He is not just here with me, but He is on the streets with the women I left behind.  I know to look for Him.  I don’t think they do.  This is my prayer now.  That they will find Him wherever they are.  He is in the shadows and the alleys.  He is on the corners of the streets.  He is in the van where someone is resting.  He IS rest.

He is everywhere and all things to everyone.  He is waiting for US to notice HIM.  That lady’s port was there to bring life-giving medicine to her body.  But it is useless unless it is hooked up to the source of healing.  Jesus IS in every dark place most are afraid to go.  But WE must go so people know to turn to Him.  He is right there.  Go.  Find Him.  And help others do the same.

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Sold

Used. Betrayed. Manipulated. Discarded. Sold. I am not alone.

It started with one dollar.  A quick dance that took seconds was merely a sampling of what could be.  The dollar wasn’t the goal.  It was the hook…for him and for me.  If he decided I was worth more, we would move to a more private room where I had to live up to the brief show on the floor.  Each song costs $20.  That’s a lie packaged up in words to hide what was true.  I was worth $20.  As long as he enjoyed the dance, with every song he would give me another twenty.  I would sell more with every song, and he would greedily take all that I had.  He took all I had, and I gave all that I was.  I could walk back to the dressing room with fistfuls of cash, and still I was nothing.

One dollar, twenty dollars, one hundred…there was so much money and it was never enough.  Outside of the club there is a lot more to be made.  I sold myself for $500 and I sold myself for $1000.  I could be bought, but as hard as I tried no amount of money could buy back who I once was.

It is surreal to be sold.  Does that make any sense at all?  It’s like you are outside of yourself watching in horror.  You see the money on the table.  You see your hands clenched and feel your manicured nails digging into your palms.  You think of all the moments you could have walked away, and you wonder how you got here.  You wish you couldn’t feel what is going on, but you can. And you want to throw up.  As you walk away you cram the money into your purse, and you drive home as fast as you can.  You cry over what you have done and who you have become.  And you cry because you never want to do it again but you know you will.

It has taken me thirteen years to be able to bring these pieces of my past into the light.  Even now as I see the words forming in black and white, it is hard to fathom that this is what my life was like.  It is amazing to me that I am a woman who has been forgiven.  This Easter season, it has become incredible for me to discover that Jesus knew exactly how it feels to be sold.  

Thirty pieces of silver.  Jesus was not only betrayed by one of his own disciples, but he was sold for thirty pieces of silver.  Judas asked the leading priests “How much will you pay me to betray Jesus to you?  And they gave him thirty pieces of silver. “ (Matthew 26:15)  When I read these words I was heartbroken.  My Savior, the King of the world, was sold for an amount of money that could never come near his worth.  My Jesus, the One who has saved me, understands me.

Jesus was sold, and in doing so he then had to pay a much greater price to buy me back.  I couldn’t do that on my own.  I tried.  So what happened to him once he was taken away from the leaders who purchased him?

He was mocked.  At a farce of a trial, Jesus was the one the crowds wanted to crucify and a real criminal was released.  Jesus knew what if felt like to be rejected, and he understood injustice.  He was spit upon.  My Savior was demeaned.  Jesus was beaten.  The whips tore his skin to the bone.  The Prince of Peace was a victim of violence.  A crown of thorns was pressed into his head, and the blood must have stung his eyes as it fell from his brow.  He knew humiliation.  The heavy cross was his to carry to his place of crucifixion until he could carry it no more.  Jesus knew what it was like to walk a path of pain and misery.  His wrists and his ankles were nailed to the wood of a cross, and on that cross he hung in agony.  As he hung there dying, people shouted at him and made fun of him.  He knew what is was like to be hated. Jesus felt fear and he felt pain.  The most amazing thing of all is that as he took his final breath, he knew love.

Jesus loves me.  Jesus loves you.  He died knowing that many would still reject him.  He died knowing that I would reject him over and over until I came to the end of myself and turned to him.  That is love.  “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)  Death did not claim Jesus, for he rose again in three days.  It is in his resurrected life that we can be made new.  Because Jesus died, I am no longer who I was.  It took hours for him to die.  It only took a moment and a simple prayer to Jesus for my life to be forever changed.

Maybe you have never felt loved or understood.  I get that.  But that is a lie.  There is no love on earth like the love Jesus has for you, and he understands everything you have gone through.  He gets you.  He loves you.  You are chosen.  You are a treasure beyond measure.  You are a child worth dying for.

“But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins.  He was beaten so we could be whole.  He was whipped so we could be healed.”  Isaiah 53:5

 

Dear Stripper,

I REMEMBER YOU.  You weren’t who I expected you to be.  I had never been inside a strip club before I met  you.  You were beautiful, of course.  You were talented.  You would have to be to dance and work the pole, while making it all look graceful and effortless.  The costumes you wore were sexy, and the shoes on your feet looked entirely intimidating to me.  None of these things, however, were beyond my expectations.  What, then, surprised me?  You.  You surprised me.

You were kind to me.  I am sure I looked as lost as I was, and you took me in.  You showed me the ropes, and you taught me the dynamic of the club and the rules of the job.  Carmen is the name you knew me by, and, though I only knew you by your stage name, we were friends.  I was sorely lacking in people in my life  who understood me the day I walked through the club doors.  I didn’t know that in that dark space I would find a friend.

Your hair was blonde, brunette, it was straight or full of curls, it cascaded down your back, or it brushed your shoulders.  You were only 18 with braces on your teeth, you were celebrating your 21st birthday , you were single, married, you had children, or you were pregnant.  You were in your 40’s and wondering why you were still there, or, like me, you were 30 and wondering how it is you got there.

As a pregnant woman, you wore my dress every night because it made you feel beautiful as your belly grew.  A party girl, you moved to California and I always wondered what happened to you.  You moved on, you started your own business, or you are still in the clubs today.  I never forgot any of you.

I WANTED TO FORGET YOU.  When I walked away from the life, I wanted to forget everything.  It wasn’t really you I didn’t want to remember…it was me.  I didn’t want to see myself for who I had become.  I did things I never thought I would do.  I sacrificed so much of myself for the quick cash.  You knew what I had done inside and out of the club.  I had hoped I could forget.  I am so glad that I couldn’t.

Remembering where I was, who I was, allows me to see the fullness of the grace of God.  It affords me the opportunity to understand the depths of despair one can be in and still find her way out.  I understand what it feels like to be made clean, because I was once so dirty.  The light is bright to me because I spent so much time in darkness.  I once thought my life was over, and now I am filled with hope.  Becasue I lost everything, I can grasp what true restoration means.  If all of these things are true for me, my precious friend, they are true for you.

 

WHERE ARE YOU NOW?  Because God did not allow me to forget where I once was, I have the joy of continuing friendships with women who work in strip clubs today.  These friendships are treasures to me; not just because we share a common bond, but because I now know about the hope that is in Jesus, and I get to share that hope with women I love.

My beautiful friends, from past and present, let me ask you a question or two.  Are you still in a club?  Are you in school?  Are you working in what the outside world would call a “real job”?  Have you gotten married?  Are you still lost?  Have you stopped believing in yourself?  Where are you now?

I love you.  I have loved you for years.  You are not forgotten, not by me and certainly not by Jesus.  You are treasured and are loved with an everlasting love.  Wrap your head around the word everlasting.  It is a love that never ends.  People may love you for a moment, or for what you can do for them, but the love of Jesus never ends and never changes.  It’s not dependent on who you are or what you have done.  Like me, you may have been abandoned.  God, the creator of the universe, will not abandon you.  Someone may have made you feel worthless.  You are worth everything.  To Jesus, you are worth dying for.

Thank you, my friends, for surprising me with who you are.  You know what the greatest surprise of all is, though?  Not only did I make friends in the darkness of the clubs, but in that same darkness I found Jesus.  He is there for you, too.

With So Much Love,

Stefanie Jeffers

Continue reading “Dear Stripper,”

Necessary

For a dance…for a song…for how long?

NO LONGER NECESSARY.  These words were spoken over me recently.  It was said that, though my story and my knowledge had once paved a way for others, I was no longer necessary in a particular arena.  On the surface, this may be true.  Life goes on.  My presence is not essential to God’s success.  I trust in the power of Jesus and the life-changing message of the gospel, and I truly believe that God has gifted many people to be carriers of His light.  However, far below the surface, this declaration of my necessity to something that was birthed from my own story hurt my heart and reopened wounds I had believed were healed.

 I had poured out three years of my life reliving three years of the hardest time in my life to bring the love of Jesus into strip clubs, and used my unique experiences to train other women to do the same.  Though God has moved me into a new season of working together with women in the sex industry, walking away from this ministry was one of the hardest things I have ever done.

I have many memories of working in the clubs and, thirteen years later, I still have nightmares that sometimes linger in my heart for days.  There were times when I would see something as simple as a woman wiping down the pole, and suddenly I could remember clearly how it felt to be on the stage.  The creak of the dressing room door and the smell of perfume in the air would remind me of nights when I believed there was no hope for something different.  But those three words…no longer necessary…have brought back the reality of life in the clubs for me more than any experience I have had in the last three years.

  In the clubs, I was “necessary” over and over again in the course of a night.   For a quick moment at the edge of the stage, for a dance, or for several songs, I was needed.  And then I was tossed away.  Who I was began to fade.  I disappeared.  Hidden in the dark, I would reappear when I would catch someone’s eye…and then I became “necessary” once again.

WE ARE ESSENTIAL.  I have spent the last couple of weeks reminding myself of this truth, and I want to remind you how incredibly precious you are, too.  The truth of who we are doesn’t come from people.  It doesn’t even come from who we see in the mirror.

“In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary.”  1 Corinthians 12:22

The Word of God says that we are necessary!  THAT is what you need to cling to.  It doesn’t matter if you are still working in the club, if you use drugs, if you are a thief, an ex-con, if you have never known God or if you have walked away from Him…you are loved by GOD and you are ESSENTIAL.  You are not forgotten.  You are seen.  You are remembered.

“He remembered us in our weakness.  His faithful love endures forever.”  Psalms 136:23

WE ARE NECESSARY.

Lost Child, Child Lost

THIS WAS THE FIGHT THAT ENDED EVERYTHING.  I was standing between the couch and the coffee table, and he was in the middle of the small family room.  Even our positioning demonstrated that he was the one who was powerful.  We were yelling, though I can’t remember now about what, and he was leaving.  Maybe I hoped that if I kept on fighting, he would stay.  I was fighting with him, but in my heart I was fighting for something that was precious to me…I was fighting for family.

The phone whizzed past my face and crashed into the wall behind me.  I stood, feet rooted to the floor, in disbelief and shame.  But the overwhelming emotion I had was fear.  I could feel it creep up from where I stood, wrapping me so tight it was hard to breathe, and still I kept fighting.  I lost the battle that night, and I watched him walk out the door.  I ran to the door and locked it, hoping to keep him away and wishing he would return.  I turned back towards my family room and stared at the wreckage of my life.

I placed my hand on my stomach as I sank into the couch.  I was 16 weeks pregnant with this man’s child.  I really was fighting for family, even though I was doing it all wrong.  I had this baby, and I had a beautiful daughter who deserved to have a family that was whole.  I believed through all of the abuse that this was the way to put back the pieces of brokenness.

Continue reading “Lost Child, Child Lost”

Cross, My Heart

THE CROSS DID NOT BELONG IN THE DARK.  It was a thin silver chain I wore around my neck.  From it hung a cross made of glass squares cut to look like small diamonds.  Each piece of glass reflected the light of the sun around me, though my world had become very dark.  A gift from my daughter, this necklace was a treasure to me.  It represented love and hope; it stood for forgiveness I didn’t believe was mine; it was a tangible piece that tied me somehow to a past I had walked away from.

I never wore my cross necklace when I was working in the club.  I would gently remove it from my neck as I prepared to leave for the night, carefully leaving it on the bathroom counter of the condo where I lived alone.  When I returned in the early hours of the morning, my skin no longer feeling like my own, I would clasp the necklace safely around my neck once again.

I believed I wasn’t worthy of what the Cross represented, and with every opening and closing of the clasp I thought I could separate myself from the love and goodness it held.   Continue reading “Cross, My Heart”

A Face With No Name

HE NAMED ME CARMEN.  I didn’t know that the first piece of me I would lose inside the dark walls of the strip club would be my name.  I had already auditioned and been hired (that’s a blog for another day), and now I stood inside an office in my pink Abercrombie t-shirt wondering what would happen next.

My clothes back on, I could still feel the hands of unknown men tucking money into my thong.  My head was buzzing with frantic thoughts while I stood there struggling to look like this was a normal afternoon.  I had this moment where I wanted to flee, to pretend like the last hour had not happened, but I instead stood frozen to the floor.  I was present, but I see now that I had already started to disappear.

There were television screens showing different places inside the club where management could keep an eye on what was going on; where they could watch women sacrifice themselves over and over to men who never saw them at all.  I looked at the screens, seeing images I had never seen before, and somehow I couldn’t see that soon that would be me.

“What will your stage name be?” he asked.  The question broke the silence in the room and the noise inside my head.  I replied that my name was Stefanie.  Because I had never been in a strip club before, I didn’t know about stage names.  It was explained to me that women use a different name and that it was for their privacy and protection.  I could pick any name that I wanted.  As I stood there trying to come up with a name to replace the one I had known for thirty years, the manager opened up a book.

The book was full of names of dancers who had come and gone; a log of the lost.  I began to wonder about them.  What was their story?  Where did they go?  What were their real names?  How soon will it be before I, too, became an entry in a journal of lost women?  He chose Carmen.  So that is who I became.

It took only a couple of weeks to begin to respond to the name of Carmen more quickly than I responded to my own name.  In no time at all, Stefanie became the mask I wore when I was out in the “real world.”  I wanted the people who loved me to believe that this job wasn’t changing me, so I pretended I was okay.  Carmen began to rule, though, because the darkness is a powerful thing, and in the dark it is very hard to see the truth.  In the end, there was nothing left that was recognizable of my life.  And it all began when I lost my name.

WHAT IS MY REAL NAME?  Stefanie means crown  and victorious.  I willingly threw away my name and in doing so I forgot who I was.  Living in the darkness, I lost sight of the life I had once dreamed for myself.  Taking back my name, taking back my life, was the beginning of a life of freedom.  It is not easy, but it is worth it.

The more important question to ask is who does GOD say that I am?  Who does God say that YOU are?  I am not the sum of what I have done, and neither are you.  I am not a fantasy here to make the dreams of others come true for a price.  I am not a whore, I am not dirty, and I am not nothing.  GOD calls me chosen, redeemed, beloved, daughter, forgiven, new, whole, clean, worthy, restored, precious, a jewel, a treasure, and he calls me a CHILD OF THE KING.  And NOTHING and NO ONE can take that away from me or from you.  I encourage you to get to know God, and in doing so you will get to know the precious person He created you to be.

“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.  I have called you by name; you are mine.”  Isaiah 43:1

Continue reading “A Face With No Name”

Stripping Shame

“Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”   Brene’Brown

SHAME IS A LIAR.  Shame can take many forms, but its intent is to destroy.  It can be the noose around your neck, robbing you of the precious breath of life  while pulling you down dark paths.  It can be the heaviness of years of pain that leaves you right where you are and unable to move forward.  Shame is the blinders over our eyes, leaving us unable to see the truth.  It is the truth that sets us free, and shame is the door of our prison.

I can still picture myself sitting in my forest green Sebring convertible the day I drove myself to a strip club for the first time.  I was wearing a light pink T-shirt that had the words Abercrombie in red across the chest.  I loved that shirt.  I wore faded jeans and flip-flops.  My hair is naturally curly, and that is how I wore it that day.  I sat there for a long time, understanding that what I did next would change my life and not sure that I cared.  As I turned off the ignition and opened the car door, the noose tightened and I allowed it to lead me into the darkness.

Is it surprising to know that I was covered in shame before I became a stripper?  I must have been, right?  A really broken and busted up women sat in that parking lot, and the woman who emerged three years later was unrecognizable.

I didn’t know what to do with the shame of my youth, so I buried it deep in my heart.  It took root and, as I got older, it grew.  The fruit was sin, more and more sin; and so, of course, there was more shame.  There were times that I was walking in the light, and there were times of darkness, but with every step I allowed shame to be my guide.

Shame has whispered to me that I am nothing.  It has screamed inside my head that I am the sum of all of my sins.  It has driven me to places I never believed I could go and laughed at me as I did things I could never imagine doing.  And do you know what shame’s biggest lie has been?  Shame has reached up from the roots that have been buried down deep in my heart to try and make me believe that no matter what I do, no matter how much my life has changed,  I am still not good enough.  SHAME IS A LIAR.

I can’t look at my life through the lens of shame anymore.  Someone else’s lenses don’t work either.  If I look in the mirror wearing someone else’s glasses, the image is distorted. It is either too big, too blurry, too small, or I can’t see the truth at all.  The only way, the only true way, to see myself is through the eyes of Jesus.

“Fear not; you will no longer live in shame.  Don’t be afraid; there is no more disgrace for you.  You will no longer remember the shame of your youth and the sorrows of widowhood.”  Is. 54:4

I will no longer be afraid.  I will no longer live in shame.  Jesus sees me, and there is not disgrace upon me.

“Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces.”  Ps. 34:5

I looked to Jesus for help the day I walked out of that strip club.  and He sees me as radiant with joy!  The only shadow of shame to darken my face has been of my own making.  There is no darkness in the presence of Jesus.  This is the truth…for me, and for you.  In Christ we are capable.  In Christ we are made new.  In Christ we are pure and blameless.  Shame is the enemy and Jesus remains victorious over all of our enemies.  Jesus shook the foundations of the prison I made for myself as He took His final breath on the cross, and I AM FREE.  And so, my friend, are you.

Continue reading “Stripping Shame”

Am I Enough?

I have been thinking a lot lately about what is true and what is a lie.  What I choose to believe affects every decision I make, whether consciously or otherwise.  A woman who is in her mid-forties (how can that possibly be???), I have bought into a lot of lies.  You don’t just quit a job as a paralegal one day and become a stripper the next believing only the truth.

I AM NOT ENOUGH.  I have believed this to be true for a very long time.  There was a time, when I was very little, that I knew without question that I was loved.  I had a pale yellow t-shirt with a shiny iron-on picture of a stuffed animal, and on it said “God’s Little Charmer.”  I believed this to be true.

At some point, I learned to perform to gain affection.  I loved to make people laugh.  Being lovable made me feel…well, it made me feel loved.  My actions and the response of others became the measure by which I assessed my value and worth.  Inevitably, and understandably, I often fell short.  I believed I was as good as my most recent “performance” and anything I had done before was forgotten.  I was as worthy as someone thought I was.

My dad, when I was fifteen, left.  He began what seemed a steady stream of people to be in my life and then leave.  Over and over again it was pounded into my head, my heart, and my soul that I wasn’t enough to make people Continue reading “Am I Enough?”

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