Thursday, December 23, 2010

Best of 2010

2010 was an interesting year. More on that in a later post, perhaps. I saw a lot of people and a lot of places and a LOT of bands. I’m posting this now because I probably won’t have time later, which means that the last few days of 2010 (which will be spent in Colorado) won’t get included in this. Unfortunately, since I already know I can expect those days to be awesome.

I think it's good to look back at the cool things that happened. I think it reminds us that things like this can and will happen again.

Feel free to steal some or all of these categories for your own blog/facebook, by the way. I love hearing other people look back and remember as well.

First things first...

10 Things I Set Out To Do in 2010: (as mentioned in my 2009 blog post)
1. Learn to drive - Done
2. Learn how to use photoshop - Done
3. Go to less concerts and work more so I can save to buy a car - ...totally failed the first part (I saw more than twice as many bands this year). The rest of it (working more and saving for a car) has gone great.
4. See Switchfoot in concert - Done!
5. Learn to play guitar - Done!
6. See as many of my amazing friends as possible - Done
7. Be a better, more accessible older sister to my siblings - Done
8. Learn to love with Jesus's love, not my own - I probably failed even more spectacularly at this in 2010 than in 2009.
9. Get to know more people at school - Done
10. Let go of the fear of failure - Totally failed this one too.

The 10 Best [Or Most Significant] Events of 2010:
1. CleanPlace Moot 2010, August
2. Switchfoot and The Almost show, October 9
3. Tenth Avenue North show, September 22
4. Disciple show, March 4
5. Jon Foreman solo show, April 1
6. Shalana’s visit, January
7. Skillet show with Anywhere and Mikayla, July 31
8. The Great Snowfall, February 11 and 12
9. Getting my guitar, October 27
10. The Fern family’s two visits


10 Random Specific Moments:
1. Stephen Christian (lead singer of Anberlin) making my picture his facebook profile picture and then writing on my wall to compliment my pictures
2. Getting a high five from Drew Shirley at the end of the Switchfoot show
3. That night at the moot when Joy, Shalana, and I were so sleep deprived that everything we said was completely illogical and somehow completely hilarious
4. Walking around Stone Mountain park with my Opa
5. Being roped in to work merch for Disciple while waiting in line for doors to open
6. Nerding with Daniel (bass player for Hawk Nelson) about Jon Foreman and Switchfoot
7. Driving back from Sixflags with Flynn, Mercy, and Anywhere in middle of the night, getting lost, hallucinating, and talking about the most random things
8. Lying in a puddle with Nia, Jordan, and Angel, stargazing (well, the puddle part wasn’t so great, but everything else was)
9. Having Caleb over for dinner at the end of the Spring semester and watching him explain “melodramatic” to my youngest brother by performing a prolonged, donut-related death scene on the neighbor’s trampoline
10. The campfire at the moot

The 10 Favorite Albums of 2010:
1. Of Men and Angels, The Rocket Summer
2. Dark is the Way, Light is a Place, Anberlin
3. The Light Meets the Dark, Tenth Avenue North
4. Horseshoes and Handgrenades, Disciple
5. Life, Scars, Apologies, Since October
6. Disambiguation, Underoath
7. Pieces of a Real Heart, Sanctus Real
8. Vagabonds, The Classic Crime
9. Me in Motion, Me in Motion
10. For Those Who Wait, Fireflight
(This was absurdly hard. So many good records this year! The top 5 runners-up would be The Chase by Manafest, Who Can Know It? by Showbread, Untouchable by Before Their Eyes, The World is a Thorn by Demon Hunter, and Satellites and Sirens’ self-titled debut.)

The 10 Best Places I Visited in 2010:
1. Manitou Springs, Colorado (it was totally awesome, even with the hippies and druggies)
2. Bear Trap Ranch, Colorado
3. That rad little Starbucks in Nacogdoches
4. Stone Mountain, Georgia
5. Sixflags Over Texas
6. The Prophet Bar venue in Dallas (the small room, which is actually clean, not the big one)
7. The Starbucks in Terrel where we always stop when picking people up from the airport
8. The park with the fountains in Shreveport, LA
9. House of Blues, Dallas (whatever else you can say about the atmosphere, it’s a cool venue)
10. Mangy’s house (yes, it gets its own entry)

The 10 Best Things About School in 2010:
1. My professors
2. Music in chapel
3. The February day when it snowed epic amounts and we made a snow pac-man
4. Hanging out and talking with Caleb and Basil at chai parties
5. Conversations (this past semester has been the first one where I actually had those. Radical concept)
6. Prayer and praise
7. Classes where I can enjoy learning rather than seeing it as an obligation
8. Going to see the opera broadcast (and eating Mexican fast food while dressed up)
9. The English department, both students and faculty
10. The library-- especially my amazing supervisor

10 Awesome People I Met for the First Time in 2010:
1. Yukioh
2. Raine
3. Mimsy
4. Kalessin
5. Mikayla
6. Heather
7. Jon Foreman (yes, musicians count)
8. Kevin Young
9. Soul Glow Activator
10. Amanda

The 10 Songs that were the Most Special to Me in 2010:
1. Dare You to Move, Switchfoot
2. September, Daughtry
3. The Shadow Proves the Sunshine, Switchfoot
4. Believe, Skillet
5. She Says (The Black-eyed Blues), Switchfoot (though it’s not technically released or even officially recorded yet)
6. Dear X (You Don’t Own Me), Disciple
7. On Fire, Switchfoot
8. The Cure for Pain, Jon Foreman
9. Times, Tenth Avenue North
10. Storm, Lifehouse
(Also a hard one. Runners-up would be Thank the Watchmaker (Acoustic) by And Then There Were None, Rebirthing by Skillet, How He Loves by David Crowder, No One Really Wins by Copeland, and Invisible by Disciple.)

10 Good Books I Read in 2010:
1. Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller (re-read)
2. The Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis
3. The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis
4. The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
5. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (10th complete read through)
6. Stuff Christians Like by Jon Acuff
7. Drops Like Stars by Rob Bell
8. The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis (re-read)
9. A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis
10. Miracles by C.S. Lewis (still in progress)
(It’s a little weird that half of these books are Lewis books. It’s even weirder that I’ve read more than half of them within the last week.)

10 Miscellaneous Things I Learned in 2010:
1. I am not a savior.
2. I am in fact human, and can’t accomplish infinitely more than other humans, no matter how hard I try.
3. Surrender (the process of letting go of ourselves and our ideas and our wants) is vital, painful, and at time feels impossible, and yet is the only way to experience grace.
4. At the end of the day, music can only mean as much as the intent behind it.
5. Love is closer than we think at any given moment. We just have to be willing to say yes. Usually, the only thing holding me back from peace is me.
6. What we happen to feel in a given moment of time is not eternal, and feeling alone should certainly not ever dictate our relationship with God.
7. We cannot make a mistake too big for God to fix.
8. Faith is not just about believing that God is. It’s about believing that He is actively involved in your situation, no matter what it is, and He is going to bring beauty in ways you could not possibly imagine. Maybe a better way to say it is that faith is weak if it only believes that God can act in situations outside of yourself. It’s easy to say “God is strong,” since there is no consequence to that-- that is easy faith. It’s much harder to say “my life is falling to pieces, but He will hold it together according to His love and His faithful character,” and then act as if He will. That is the kind of faith I want.
9. Pride can disguise itself in a thousand clever ways-- even in pain, and especially in insecurity.
10. Sometimes to love somebody means to let go. And I don’t mean to stop loving them; that’s contradictory. Sometimes love means abandoning our control or our right or our desire to own pieces of a person’s life.

11 Goals for 2011:
1. Meet Skillet (seriously, I know it’s shallow, but I’ve waited 3 ½ years already)
2. Get a decent internship
3. Buy a car
4. Write more poetry and songs
5. Learn to play electric guitar
6. Get involved with something at school that is not going to class or going to work
7. Get songs written and polished to the point where I can record and upload them
8. Find a way to get over this absurd leg injury so I can run again
9. Read more
10. Keep in contact with more friends better
11. Find a better balance between work, school, family, and friends

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

High and Low

"I don't deserve it, but grace is attached to my shadow. It follows me wherever I go reminding me that I'm loved when I don't love myself. It corrects me when I'm out of line yet then pulls me in to give me a loving embrace. It's sometimes hard for me to understand because it's so unlike me."
- Bryce Avary

“'Grace is high AND low.' The simplicity of that truth always speaks to me. This is the nature of God's grace. This is found in the highs and the lows – on the peaks and in the valleys. This truth is so difficult to accept in it's entirety: that fools like us have been 'given innocence again.'”
- Tim Foreman

I am beginning to wonder if I ever understood grace. If I did, I am not sure I would be where I am now. I think I did understand it to begin with, and even a few months ago I may have understood it (or at least, as much as any human ever can-- perhaps “accept” is a better word than “understand” here). But when I lock myself up in my own head and refuse to listen to any outside voices, maybe it’s natural that my failures would be louder. The failures are mine; the grace definitely is not.

I live a life that looks very good from the outside, if we look at facts alone. I have two jobs that pay decently. I am going to an extremely high-quality University, making very good grades. I have a massive network of friends. I am able to do a lot of things (photography, web design, graphic design, writing, play two instruments, so forth), and though I am not necessarily good at any of them, I am at the very least competent.

So perhaps it would seem odd that I am still so desperately incomplete. Four years ago, I never would have dreamed I would have made as much progress as I have now. And yet I need grace as much now as I did then-- perhaps more, because as my world grows I need more grace to cover all of it.

Lately this issue has come down on me a lot harder than usual, because I have tried to change so many situations and cannot. I get desperate and try harder, but it’s like throwing myself against a brick wall-- the wall doesn’t budge, but I come away bruised. And it makes me wonder why I bother trying at all if I can’t change anything. How do I love people if the purpose is not to help them (since apparently I can’t help them)?

I have had a lot of time for thinking, now that I am done with finals. I have read three C.S. Lewis books and started on a fourth in the last 48 hours, which helps. One thing I had to admit to myself is that for the past few years, 99.9% of my interaction with people has been based on a simple principle: what I think they need. Someone needs me to smile, so I smile. Someone needs silence, so I am quiet. Someone needs me to talk and appear confident, so I do so.

I am not sure anymore that this is right. First of all, I could pretend (and have) that it is selfless, but it’s not. It is pretending that I can truly fulfill any kind of need in someone, which is very self-centered and also impossible. There is no more of me than the people around me-- to try to give them part of me to make them whole is foolish, and will only end with one or both of us still incomplete. The only way any sense of completion can occur is if something from outside, Someone who is more, comes in and fills the holes. For me to assume I can fulfill any kind of need-- indeed, to pretend that I can even understand what someone really needs at the core of their being-- is a form of intense, sickening arrogance.

And yet in spite of this difficulty we are called to love. I am beginning to wonder if this is less about reaching down and trying to pull someone up as it is about crawling beside them, lending an arm to support them if necessary. There is nothing else I can do. God is the only one who can do any lifting, because He is the only one who is really higher anyway.

And yet I am not content with that. I don’t know if it’s habit or if I am simply a fool, but I can’t accept that it is not my responsibility to change someone. I spend hours thinking about it until I begin to go mad. The result is that as of late, everything has brought condemnation. I go to school and feel awful because my grades and my accomplishments make people feel inadequate and intimidated by me. I go to work and feel certain that there is something I’m supposed to be saying to the patrons or my coworkers that I am not saying. I talk to my friends and if they have had so much as a bad day I hate myself for not being able to turn it around.

Home is the worst right now. Every broken behavior I observe in my siblings is a direct reflection of my failure. Yes, they love me, but that’s not what I want. I want them to understand who God is, and in response to love each other. I don’t care if they hate me; they used to, and I know how to handle that. I would give up everything I have just to get them to love each other for even one day.

And of course I know the answer to all this. I know the theory backwards and upside down and inside out. I have to accept grace. I have to accept that God is strong in my weakness. I have to accept that I cannot change people, but that God working through me might still be able to touch their lives. There was a time, not so long ago, when I did accept this. I’m not sure why I can’t now.

I have a friend who has known me for most of my teen years. This friend is one of the major reasons why I can even grasp the concept of grace, because he has a habit of eternally giving me kindness I don’t deserve in spite of the fact that he knows me very well. This has baffled me over and over, but he doesn’t seem to want to stop offering grace even when I get mad at him for doing so, so I’ve decided it’s better to give up and accept it. This is just a tiny, incomplete reflection of how God is.

In a similar way, as I have been moving to my new room over the past few days, I have been struck with something fascinating. I was cleaning out my desk and found that probably 75% of the things I found were things I had been given by people I love-- people who love me, as baffling as that is. If I am honest, there were other things on my desk too, things I sent through the shredder because I couldn’t stand what they reminded me of. And yet for everything I shredded, there were at least 20 things I had been given out of love... notes and pictures and knitted things and more than I could mention. It also struck me that most of the people who have poured into me most are the ones who I have done a terrible job of loving.

And maybe that’s part of getting over all of this mess-- looking at the love letters God has sent me, not the wads of shredded paper from my own attempts to love. It’s not about me or what I think, and it’s definitely not about what I feel. If I say I believe in grace and then refuse to accept it when I actually need it, then I am either a liar or a fool. Grace is high and low. No, it’s not an equation that makes sense. But, as I quote so often when people ask me about grace... “the beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair.” No, grace is not fair, and no, it doesn’t make sense. But it is beautiful... and maybe it is worth trying to understand.

“In the economy of mercy, I am a poor and begging man. In the currency of grace is where my song begins. In the colors of Your goodness, in the scars that mark Your skin-- in the currency of grace is where my song begins. These carbon shells, these fragile dusty frames, house canvases of souls. We are bruised and broken masterpieces, but we did not paint ourselves. And where will I find You?”
- Switchfoot

- Elraen -

[Sidenote: This is one of those posts I was hesitant to share. But I figured that only being honest when it doesn’t cost me anything really isn’t honesty at all. And perhaps as a disclaimer, I have no idea if there is any truth in this post aside from that these are honestly my thoughts, which may or may not be correct. I have edited this post like a million times.]

Saturday, December 4, 2010

My Favorite Disease

A couple years back, I picked up a record titled The Flame in All of Us by Thousand Foot Krutch. I listened to it a lot before I ever read through the liner notes (and yes, I do read the liner notes of pretty much every album I buy). I found an extremely interesting paragraph written before the lyrics of one of the songs. Here is a part of what Trevor had written:

The idea of having a ‘favorite disease’ is obviously a little contradictory... A person’s passion and the thing that drives them can be given many names. I like to refer to it as a God given passion, and a blessing, and not something I have achieved, or obtained. If you’re passionate about something, it drives you, and sometimes even consumes you. If something consumes you, than other things in life, even if only for a brief period of time, take a back seat to that thing. In my case, music is one of the things I’m passionate about, and at times it has consumed me. In those times I remember feeling like the thing I loved so much, and have always used as a tool to heal, confide in, and share my life with, was actually killing me. It’s a very confusing feeling to have when you’ve spent your whole life devoted to a gift.

I can’t predict how meaningful this post will be to anyone. This is more my confused ramblings than anything else, but I felt like I needed a platform for it aside from the many thousands of words that have been written in my journal. You’re probably all tired of reading my thoughts on music by now, but it's so integral to me that it's a given that it would have a strong presence here.

The first time I read Trevor’s words in the liner notes, they didn’t make sense to me. But about two months ago I remembered them, dug through my piles of CDs, pulled out the liner notes and re-read them. And it was like a beautiful punch in the chest, that shaky and somehow peaceful moment of realizing “someone else gets it.”

A week ago I went to see The Rocket Summer (a one-man band created by Bryce Avary). It was a very different show than what I usually attend-- it was mostly acoustic, and it was a special tour where Bryce was purposefully booking small venues and then playing a bunch of his old songs for his fans. We were packed into a tiny club on a cool late November night, and we were all singing along so loud that at moments Bryce was drowned out. He was recording for a live album. I wonder if they’ll be able to use any of the audio-- it will be all us.

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There is something about those moments. Sort of like when Bryce leans back and sings out “And when You heal my broken wings, You heal my everything. You tell me to live.” It’s something that feels a lot like hope, though I’m still figuring out why.

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Recently part of one of my calluses chipped off. I started playing guitar, and due to the lack of protection, my finger burned. I used to get lots of blisters and be nearly bleeding by the end of my long guitar sessions, but now usually I never even feel the strings anymore. Now I had a raised blister again, and the familiar burning was back. I played for nearly an hour anyway.

And I had a thought as I did so. I think sometimes we need to lose the calluses. I have started to pray that my fingertips will never get so callused that they cease to burn when they brush against music. And that’s because music is beautiful, and it is a gift, and when God uses something to show me more of who He is, I should never, ever take that for granted.

The past few weeks I’ve been losing myself again. I have looked at my life and seen that perhaps every situation I am involved in would be better if I were not there. I have seen how greatly I have failed, and I have faced the consequences of some incredibly foolish decisions I made in the past year. And in the midst of this, I find myself crawling back again and again and curling up inside the melodies. I come alive when I hear You singing...

I have no idea why music has taken such strong roots in my life. I don’t know what God will do with it, because my life is so completely directionless right now. And there have been times when I have been completely consumed by it, which is not healthy either. Sometimes I wonder if it’s all wrong, and if I am a fool for even pretending I could share in the beauty I see in the songs. But then I remember nights like last Saturday, singing and hoping with a few hundred other beating hearts, and I realize that no matter where I go from here or how many times I do things wrong, there is still the blessing and the gift. Sometimes I need to focus more on the fact that grace is real, rather than the reality of how little I deserve it.

In the past few months I have heard some incredible songs sung in a variety of places. I have been in well-lit churches with families and kids singing along. I have been in dirty clubs surrounded by drunk 20-somethings trying to make sense of life. I have been in massive auditoriums working with huge crews to make everything fall together. I have stood on blurry street corners in middle of the night after shows, still drowning in the wonder of songs.

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One of the shows I haven’t talked about here is the Anberlin show, which was on September 29. My sister and I stood in one of the most famous venues in Dallas to hear some of our very favorite songs live for the first time. There were a few drunk girls on one side of us, some cynical teenagers behind us, some crowd surfers who got kicked out, and some guys on the balcony who got into a fist fight half way through. That probably doesn’t sound like much fun to most of you, if I had to guess. But it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen-- not because of the audience. Not because of the broken glass and spilled beer that we walked over to get out. Not because of the noise. It was because as I listened to Stephen’s piercingly beautiful vocals drift over and under and around us, I saw something amazing... I saw God as being bigger than I’d ever imagined. He was there, in the mess, in the ugliness. He was singing and reaching and moving.

Music is and always will be my favorite disease. These blisters on my finger tips remind me of the pain that passion so often requires and the wonder that makes it worthwhile. Working out a relationship with something so powerful, something that has become such a huge part of my life, is never easy... but it is a gift. And I am so, so grateful for these things that move us and make us hope. It is not a bad thing to cling to the things that make us come alive.

"Still we have our common ground, which can never be annulled: to sing of the One who made us both, for He is wonderful. He is wonderful..."
- Dear Music, Showbread

- Elraen -

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Shadow Proves the Sunshine

Last week, it was a few hours past sunset on one of the coldest night of the Fall thus far. I was working on homework after a long day at school when I got a text from my 15-year-old brother, informing me of a great photography opportunity that I could see from my University’s campus. I am usually hesitant to head back onto campus after I’ve left for the day, and it was raining and cold outside. Despite these hindrances, eventually my artistic curiosity won, and I pulled on my hoodie and set out.

My brother had informed me that the nearby chemical plant had its torch lit, which resulted in lighting up the entire south eastern corner of the sky. I walked all the way across campus to the pond near the soccer fields to get a good view. My brother had been correct in his assessment of the sight. The torch’s light was catching the ragged bits of storm clouds, kindling them orange and yellow and red. It looked like a brilliant sunrise at 10:00 at night.

I stood by the pond in the wind, trying to shield my lens from the rain in order to get some decent pictures. After a while I just stood and watched it with the stillness of awe.

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As I turned away from the glow and headed home under the chill glare of streetlights, I started processing some thoughts about what I’d seen. I stood there like a traveler wondering at a marvel, taking pictures of the light in the sky. And yet the sun rises every morning and produces much the same effect. More than that, I was marveling at one corner of the sky being lit up, and yet during the day the sky is lit up all over constantly. So what made the light amazing enough to trek across campus in the rain to bask in its glow? It was the fact that the sky was lit up at night.

I am not very wise-- I am in fact an antisocial college kid who has an unhealthy obsession with coffee and converse and hoodies. I am not a theologian or a philosopher, and most of the time I’m not even a good friend. But occasionally I have moments where I hear an echo of an idea or concept that seems beautiful to me.

I think that sometimes light is like that-- the light that is hope, love, grace, God. We’re surrounded by it so often. It presses against our skin at every moment, all around us, inescapable. We have to shut ourselves away in dark corners to hide from it, and still it slides through the cracks in our closet doors. And yet we take it for granted. We accept that the light is supposed to be there. It’s not until the darkness falls that the appearance of light is marvelous, indeed almost miraculous.

And it shouldn’t be this way. I think that if I was wise, then I would delight in hope and I would praise my God simply because He is. His light is around me so often, and yet I rarely run to it except when the darkness falls and I realize how desperately I need it. And sometimes I do praise God when life is “good,” because it can be easy to understand the brightness of the sunlight when it is full on your face. But the way I praise God in the light is different than the way I praise Him in the dark. In the light I am more willing to thank God, and less willing to surrender. In the dark I am more willing to surrender (because it becomes a last resort and a final necessity), and less willing to thank Him. But I would argue that the character of light isn’t different depending on the time of day or its surroundings.

Here I go into territory that I cover often, and yet still often need to repeat to myself. Sometimes I think we have to step into the night and watch God light up the sky to really understand how powerful light is. Contrast can show us so much about the character of both light and shadow. Sometimes the contrast is required, because we can’t see at all otherwise.

The past three months have been the best three months of my life. That is not something I would say lightly. It is also not a conclusion that many people would draw. The interesting thing about growing stronger is that it sometimes means being given heavier burdens to carry than before. I don’t say that the past three months have been beautiful due to an absence of pain. That would be absolutely absurd. I have known some of the deepest heartache of my life in the past three months-- enough at times to make me sick and weak and weary, awake at 4:00 a.m., surrounded and afraid. Enough to prompt me to spend hours praying through the piano keys because all my words ran dry. The first night I got my guitar, we stayed up through dark and bitter hours together, finding songs to make sense of a world eternally caving in. And yet I have come to understand that “easier” does not always mean better, and for that matter “happy” does not always mean better. In the midst of the chaos in the shadows I have fixed my eyes on a light bright enough to set the night sky on fire. And that has changed everything. Even as the battles I tried so hard to win and the human standards I tried so hard to achieve crumble to dust under my weary hands, there is something in me that shines brighter and brighter as all the rubble and obstructions fall out of the way. There is a joy and a peace in that reality that has the power to completely redefine who we are... and so it has.

There is a Switchfoot song that I have listened to nearly every day for the past month. It has become the undercurrent of this semester for me.

Sunshine, come and be my mother, sunshine, come and help me sing. My heart is darker than these oceans, my heart is frozen underneath. We are crooked souls trying to stay up straight, dry eyes in the pouring rain when the shadow proves the sunshine, the shadow proves the sunshine. Two scared little runaways, hold fast ‘til the break of daylight when the shadow proves the sunshine, the shadow proves the sunshine.

And this is all is a part of a concept that began to be real to me a few months ago... praising God because of who He is, regardless of whether it’s day or night. Seeing that there is in fact a light bright enough to burn through our skies, even when they are darkest (behind all clouds there are stars at night). In fact I might argue that the light’s strength is proved best in the midst of the darkest and most clinging shadows.

Maybe an important closing note is that I think we need the day as well as the night, and that’s not something I’m trying to deny. I’ve seen some beautiful daylight over the past few months, brighter than what I had imagined possible before. But I think sometimes we as humans desperately need the reminder that the shadow has a purpose. I think we need the reminder that the light is still bright enough to break up our storm-torn night skies. I think we need the reminder to look up and see it when it does so.

In the words of a friend... “the darkness should only be there to show the brightness of the light.”

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Let my shadows prove the sunshine.

- Elraen -