Friday, December 30, 2016

Dressember 2016: Week 3 Recap + Last Chance to Give & Receive

There's only one day of Dressember left! I can't believe how quickly the month has flown by. I am so grateful for all the support I have received--from the 22 donors who have given to Dressember so far, to the ladies who have worn dresses with me.

If you haven't given to Dressember yet, please consider including it in your year-end charitable giving. It's tax-deductible and a secure process. Also, everyone who donates $10 or more to my campaign by January 1, 2017, will receive a surprise gift!

During week three we passed the half-way point of my fundraising goal! Even more importantly, information about Dressember continued to spread. I am so excited every time I get to tell someone new about the campaign and why I'm participating.

A few years ago I wrote this post before my first Dressember campaign and it's still true today. I participate in Dressember to be a voice for other girls, girls who don't have a voice or the ability to fight for themselves. Girls who have been easily overlooked and forgotten by society. Dressember is an opportunity to remind everyone that these girls exist and need our help.

If you know someone who hasn't heard about Dressember, please share my blog or my fundraising page. I would also love to talk with anyone who has questions.

Day 15

Fundraising Stats
Grand total: $742

Day 16

Fundraising Stats
Grand total: $742

My co-worker Kayla joined me in wearing a dress again today!

Day 17

Fundraising Stats
Grand total: $742

Day 17 and 18 were sick days. I still wore a dress and took a photo, just didn't include my face. :)

Day 18

Fundraising Stats
Grand total: $742

Day 19

Fundraising Stats
Grand total: $742

Day 20 / Team Tuesday

Fundraising Stats
Amount donated on day 20: $21
Grand total: $763

Today was my last "Team Tuesday" at work, at least for this year. This has been one of the best parts of Dressember--getting to do it with other ladies!

Day 21

Fundraising Stats
Amount donated on day 21: $50
Grand total: $813

Donate now!  |  Visit my Dressember Page

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Dressember 2016: Week 2 Recap + Survivor Story

I apologize that my week two recap is getting published at the end of week three. Needless to say with all of the holiday activities, it's been a little busy. But thanks to a cold, I'm parked on the couch with some free time to finally get this post published!

Before I get into my recap, I wanted to share a survivor story with all of you. These stories paint a picture of what your donation to Dressember can do. It's not just money being thrown around, it's money changing lives.

Elsa's Story

If you want to describe a survivor of sex trafficking in one word, use Elsa’s: Strong.

Just to imagine the nightmare Elsa* lived will require strength. Night after night, men paid Elsa’s boss to take her away to their hotel rooms. They could do anything they wanted to her there.

“I was treated as a slave who was required to follow orders whether I liked it or not,” Elsa says. Now in her early twenties, she speaks with a confidence that shows remarkable resilience.

“I had a happy childhood because of my adventures with my brothers and friends,” Elsa shares.

Everything changed for Elsa when she was 12 years old. Her father died suddenly. Elsa was told the sickness was a curse. Her mother left. Elsa and her brothers moved in with aging grandparents who couldn’t afford both food and school. So Elsa, the big sister, shouldered the responsibility and decided to make a way for herself and her little brother.

Amazingly, she managed to keep them both in school. She worked as a housekeeper, a janitor, a receptionist, a shop assistant—anything she could find. After high school graduation, she saw an opportunity to work as a nanny in Europe. This would allow her to support her family in ways she’d only dreamed of, but she needed a lump sum to offset the initial visa costs. This is when the traffickers made their move.

You see, someone had been looking for Elsa. Not her, specifically, but any girl like her. Commercial sexual exploitation is a profitable industry—upwards of $99 billion a year—and like any successful business, there’s a reliable model. In cities and slums around the world, pimps and traffickers recruit girls who are alone and afraid —teens who are desperate, shouldering a massive financial burden all on their own slender shoulders. The more frayed the support system the better. This is what vulnerable means.

A bar owner offered Elsa a job that promised good pay to jump start a new future. Maybe this was the chance she had been waiting for—the way she could ensure her little brother would finish school. So Elsa took the job. She was given a “uniform,” then made to dance for the customers. The girls took turns, half-hour shifts at a time.

Elsa explains: “I wanted to sleep and rest... Mamasan [the manager] would come to me and tell me to approach, entertain, and even hug customers to give me drinks and take me out. Usually customers would take me out to accompany them to another bar, watch other girls dance, and get drunk. Others take me straight to their hotel and make me do things.”

The pain at night gave way to shame in the morning. Traffickers often don’t need padlocks and bars to enslave young women like Elsa. They are clever businessmen who use loans and sham interest to trap girls in a cycle of debt. They are sly con-artists who propagate lies and prey on cultural stigma that makes girls feel guilty and ashamed for sexual behavior, that is in fact sexual abuse. They are hardcore criminals who will turn to physical violence if that’s what it takes.

In Elsa’s case, the bar managers used a complex system of fines and false debt to keep her and the other girls trapped there. She had to pay for everything—the skimpy uniform, the meals provided by the bar, even water. When a customer paid to take Elsa out of the bar and exploit her, Elsa got about $17, and the bar got $28. What Elsa didn’t know at the time was that the bar was under investigation for employing minors and coercing young women into commercial sexual exploitation.

Nearly three years ago, police staged an operation to arrest the suspects and free the victims. IJM staff were onsite to support the authorities and ensure Elsa and the 15 others rescued that night got immediate and expert crisis care. But this is not where the story ends.

Elsa resisted help. For so long she had lived on her own, managed the pain and shame on her own. She even ran away from the aftercare shelter at one point. But the IJM team that rescued her from the bar wasn’t going away because freedom seemed hard. Elsa’s social worker refused to give up, tracking down phone numbers of family members and even traveling to Elsa’s hometown to look for her.

Finally, Elsa responded to a text message. She said she wanted to try again. Soon after Elsa moved back into the aftercare home, she said she wanted to join the trial. “I thought of testifying to fight for my rights and speak of the truth. It was not my fault that I got there in the first place.”

Deciding to testify was a huge decision. It meant facing the traffickers once again. And in the Philippines, where courts are back-logged, it meant working up that courage multiple times only to show up and have the hearing postponed. When Elsa finally took the witness stand, she was brave, direct and strong. The trial against the bar owner and two managers is ongoing.

Later we asked what she would want to tell the traffickers who hurt her: “My message for the bar owner and manager is: do not abuse women’s weaknesses, their desperation to find a job because of extreme need. Do not step on women’s dignity because it hurts. We are all the same; we are human, not objects nor animals that can be manipulated.”

You should see Elsa today. She is now in her second year of college studying business administration. Her dream is to open an ice cream shop—a business that would give her independence and a way to care for her family. Elsa is moving forward. Don’t miss the message she shared in her own words…

*A pseudonym.
Day Eight

Fundraising Stats
Total raised before day 8: $726
Amount donated on day 8: $16
Grand total: $742

My co-worker Kayla joined me in participating in Dressember today!

Day Nine

Fundraising Stats
Grand total: $742

Day 10

Fundraising Stats
Grand total: $742

Day 11

Fundraising Stats
Grand total: $742

Day 12

Fundraising Stats
Grand total: $742

Day 13 / Team Tuesday

Fundraising Stats
Grand total: $742

One day a week my co-workers are joining me for "Team Tuesday." Those who want to participate wear a dress for Dressember. I love having these ladies join me!

Day 14

Fundraising Stats
Grand total: $742
Donate now!  |  Visit my Dressember Page

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Dressember 2016: Week 1 Recap + Giveaway Extension

Dressember 2016 is off to an amazing start! As I'm typing this post, we are only $24 away from the half-way point of my $1,500 goal! To celebrate this successful first week, I have decided to extend my art giveaway.

Donate $20 or more to my Dressember campaign by 11 p.m. CST on Sunday, December 11, 2016, and I will send you a piece of my "famous" brush lettering artwork! This has been a beloved thank-you item in the past and once again I will be creating these original works of art for my donors. Each quote is selected and hand-painted by me, so you will be receiving an original piece, not a print. (All I need is your address so I can send your thank-you art on its way!)

Your donation will go toward funding the work of International Justice Mission and A21, two organizations fighting to end human trafficking and restore dignity to those rescued from slavery. Also, all donations are tax-deductible within the United States.

At the end of each week of Dressember, I'll be posting a recap which will include photos and information from each day. If you don't want to wait for the recap, you can get daily updates and photos by following me on Instagram @MrsEliseMance.

Day One

Fundraising Stats
Total raised before day 1: $335
Amount donated on day 1: $50
Grand total: $385

Day Two

Fundraising Stats
Amount donated on day 2: $84
Grand total: $469

Day Three

Fundraising Stats
Amount donated on day 3: $100
Grand total: $569

Day Four

Fundraising Stats
Grand total: $569

Day Five

Fundraising Stats
Amount donated on day 5: $127
Grand total: $696

Day Six / Team Tuesday

Fundraising Stats
Grand total: $696

One day a week my co-workers are joining me in wearing dresses for Dressember. We've dubbed these days "Team Tuesdays." It is so great having these ladies join me!

Day Seven

Fundraising Stats
Amount donated on day 7, at the time of publication: $30
Grand total: $726

Donate now!  |  Visit my Dressember Page

Monday, November 28, 2016

Dressember 2016 Kick-Off + Giveaways

Dressember 2016 kicks off in just two days! I can't believe it's almost here. As I look to this next month, I am excited for what's ahead, and I'm hopeful that many of you will help me make this Dressember a great one.

Dressember happens because of generosity. Because people believe in a cause and give what they can to make it happen. As I'm typing this post, Dressember donors have already given a combined $70,000 to the cause. That's 70k to fight human trafficking, to restore the lives of victims, and to prosecute those who make a living on exploiting the powerless.

I know during this time of year, money can be tight. But I also know that this season encourages us to be generous with what we have. It doesn't take a lot to make a difference. You don't have to give the largest amount of money to take a stand. Any amount you give goes toward the ongoing work of anti-slavery organizations International Justice Mission and A21. No amount is too small to be a voice for those who have none.

I am asking for your help to kick off Dressember 2016 well. Help me get started on the right foot as we head into the month of December. And to say thank-you for your generosity, I have some special giveaways. (All I need is your address so I can send your thank-you item on its way!)

Donate $30 or more to my Dressember campaign on Giving Tuesday (November 29, 2016) and I will send you one of my mini splatter paint journals! I have eight of these cuties to give away, and they make a great little gift for the journaler or artist in your life.
Each one-of-a-kind, hand painted, 3.5 x 5.5" Moleskine journal is filled with 64 pages of blank paper with 16 perforated sheets at the back. Each features a flexible navy, black, or grey cardboard cover and back pocket for lose papers. The front with be adorned with a fun splatter paint design in a surprise color! The small size fits easily into a pocket, purse, or backpack and is easy to take on-the-go.

Donate $20 or more to my Dressember campaign during the first week of Dressember (December 1-7, 2016) and I will send you a piece of my "famous" brush lettering artwork! This has been a beloved thank-you item in the past and once again I will be creating these original works of art for my donors. Each quote is selected and hand-painted by me, so you will be receiving an original piece, not a print.

Be one of the first 10 donors to give $10 or more to my Dressember campaign and you will receive a limited-edition thank-you card featuring one of the images from my #DressemberCollection of photographs. These images are also available for purchase, with proceeds going to Dressember. Please contact me directly if you are interested.

I will be sharing my Dressember Collection on my Instagram account throughout the campaign. My hope is that the images will cause viewers to reflect on the differences between young people who are free, and young people who are not free. All are deserving of the best life possible--full of dignity, vibrancy, and autonomy--and that is something worth fighting for.

Please consider what you can give to my Dressember campaign. Simply click the link below to donate. Thank you for your consideration and support. Let's do this!

Monday, October 3, 2016

5 Things You Should Know About Dressember

In a couple of months I will be participating for a third year in Dressember, a campaign that leverages fashion and creativity to fight human trafficking. As I'm getting ready to participate this year, I want to make sure you all know what this whole Dressember thing is all about. That's why I'm writing this post on five things you should know about the campaign.

1. It's about more than dresses.

Yes, Dressember involves wearing dresses throughout the month of December, but it's about so much more than that. It's a way to declare dignity and worth for the estimated 45 million people trapped in modern-day slavery. It's a way to raise awareness and funds for an issue that many of us too easily forget about. It's a way for the average person to make a difference in a global, billion-dollar industry affecting the lives of men, women, and children.

2. It benefits the work of some great organizations.

Every donatation to Dressember goes toward the work of two anti-slavery organizations, International Justice Mission and A21. Check out their websites to learn more about the work they do, and exactly what your donation will help fund. You can also follow them on social media to get the latest updates on their ongoing work. In addition, donations to Dressember are tax-deductible within the U.S.

3. It's not as difficult as it sounds.

Wearing a dress every day in December can sound difficult. But the truth is, the "sacrifice" of wearing a dress is nothing compared to what victims of human trafficking face on a daily basis. (Read stories of victims, survivors, and the work of IJM.)

Rather than focus on the parts that seem difficult, I encourage other participants to think creatively about what they can do to stay warm and still participate. The more you challenge yourself, the more solutions you'll be able to find. A simple solution to help you participate can help lead to bigger solutions for victims of slavery.

4. Men can participate too.

I love seeing posts from different Dressember participants on Instagram--the cause brings together a great community of women and men who find creative ways to participate. A quick browse through the hashtag #DressemberMen on Instagram will give you a glimpse into how men can join the cause. Some wear bow ties every day of the month, others create and sell art, and others pose with signs that say "Real men don't buy girls."

5. It's easy to join.

Every year I have more friends talk to me about participating and I love that! It's a simple process to join the cause and participate in Dressember. If you don't want to raise money, you can participate by wearing dresses (or ties for the men) and sharing the cause with your friends face-to-face or on social media. You can direct them to an individual page if they want to donate, or to

If you want to raise money, you can follow this link and click on the "Become an Advocate" button, then click "As an Individual." The process to set up your page is quick and simple and the site will walk you through it step by step. After you've set that up, if you want, you can join the team I created, called World Changers. Just go to the team page and click the "Join Team" button.

If you decide to participate, however that looks for you, please let me know! I would love to support you and maybe come up with some creative ways for us to raise awareness together.

{Check out more of my posts on Dressember here.}

Thursday, August 4, 2016

A Command for Husbands: Looking at Ephesians 5

This year I've been tackling some different topics surrounding faith and relationships. I've had this topic on my mind for even longer and I'm finally getting around to publishing my thoughts on it.

We all know marriage is a common topic within the Church in America, and within in that conversation, the topic of submission. It's a hot-button subject that many churches don't shy away from, and it has the potential to become the focal point when studying Ephesians 5. In my experience, churches sometimes camp on the topic of submission, what it looks like, how to do it, etc. But it's not the only important topic to consider when looking at biblical marriage.

Also in my experience, I've found the lack of dialog on a husband's calling--in the same Ephesians passage--disheartening. I think it's beyond time for leaders in the Christian community to step forward, and truly challenge married men to model the Ephesians 5 husband. It's not enough to simply be "in charge," there is a larger, more encompassing command present. I've also seen young women get a poor concept of biblical marriage as they are left with the command to submit, and not much more.

Married members of the Christian community should be seeking to give an accurate representation of both the roles of wives and  husbands within marriage. The call is not for women to blindly submit and men to tyrannically rule, but for there to be a two-person relationship that paints a broader picture of Christ and the Church. How can we model that if we don't earnestly seek what we are called to?

In an effort to do just that, I'm looking into the instruction of Ephesians 5:22-33, specifically looking at what husbands are called to. Based on the comparison and the position in which husbands are placed, I believe they have the greatest responsibility within marriage, and that is to model Christ. I will, for the sake of study, not ignore instruction for wives.

The Breakdown

Right away, this passage starts off with submission (v.22), but it is not devoid of a reason. Submission is a natural response to the husband's role, which is to mirror Christ's headship of the church. (v. 23) Wives are called to submit to their own  husband (not all  husbands/men), as to the Lord, because of the husband's role and position in marriage. Husbands are called to be a living picture  of Christ's headship over the church and His role as Savior of the body  (i.e., the church at large). (v. 23)

Immediately there is a picture being painted--God has intended for the husband-wife relationship to mirror that of Christ and the church. Marriage in and of itself is a God-ordained symbolism. Within that picture, there are distinctly defined roles. Just as the church submits to Christ, so wives are called to embody that by submitting to their husbands. (v. 24) The next six verses go on to contain instruction strictly for husbands.

Husbands are called to love their wives (v. 25a), and before you think that is a simple, easy calling, the rest of the verse explains what that love is to resemble. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. (v. 25b) In other words, to love their wives, husbands are instructed to lay down their lives. Christ died for us, the church, to make us holy, cleansed, so that we could be presented to Him in splendor, holy and blameless. (vs. 26-27) His sacrifice is life-giving and selfless, with a goal of reconciliation to bring us close to Him. This is the type of sacrifice husbands are called to, to love is to give of oneself as Christ gave of Himself. He is the very definition of love. (1 John 4:8)

Ephesians 5:28 goes on to detail another aspect of the Christ-like love husbands are to emulate, loving their wives as they love themselves. Just as a man would provide and care for himself, so he must provide and care for his wife. (v. 29a) Again, this is to be a picture of Christ's provision and care for the church, because we, as the church, are members of His body. (v. 29b-30) And if you look at Christ's example, He gave up His literal, physical body on the cross, so He took it a step further  and valued the church over His own life. (John 19:16-30)

The passage wraps up by discussing how the husband-wife relationship is set apart and unique. A husband is called to leave his parents and be united to his wife in a profound mystery, mirroring Christ and the church. (vs.31-32) In that we see that a husband's responsibility is to his wife, not his parents, or extended family, or others. His primary role is to love his wife, and she is called to respect him. (v. 33)

The Response

I think a lot of women get hung up on this passage right out of the gate. It begins with wives and submission, and if you stop there, it can seem frustrating and one-sided. But you have to read the entire passage to find what is paired with that calling. With the call for wives to submit is the call for husbands to live like Jesus, a huge and challenging command that husbands cannot take lightly.

Before I go any father, I want to affirm that, unfortunately, not all husbands model Christ in their marriages. A husband is not automatically Christ-like just by getting married or by being male. Nor is a husband godly in his words and behavior at all times. Because of sin, men and women are fallen, sinful, unable to do good on their own, which is why we need Jesus all the time.

To be able to live like Jesus, we must be in constant pursuit  of Jesus. It doesn't come naturally, it's not easy, and honestly, it's not always fun. But it is the best, most rewarding, most fulfilling  way any human being can live. (Please know: If your husband, or any man for that matter, is treating you poorly--physically or emotionally--you are not  called to be a doormat and accept abuse. Please tell someone whom you trust, who can help you, and give you godly advice and council.)

The challenge for husbands is to singularly be in pursuit of Christ-likeness. Only through seeking Jesus--to know Him and become like Him--can a husband honor his God-given mandate within marriage. That mandate is, as stated in Ephesians 5:25-32, to love his wife as Jesus loved the church. To get a full grasp of that, I encourage you, read through the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and study who Jesus was, how He lived, and what He did to bring people to Himself. Really the entire Bible will point you to Christ, but the Gospels are a great place to start.

The Results

If husbands truly seek Christ-likeness and strive to emulate Him within their marriages, I believe they will begin to see certain, specific results.
  • Denial of self. Jesus said in Mark 10:45, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many." Jesus' very mission was to give up Himself. To be like Christ is to deny your selfish desires, to put the needs of others before your own. Within marriage, this manifests itself when a husband looks to care for the needs of his wife over his wants, desires and needs. To be truly Christ-like in marriage, a man cannot be selfish.
  • Elevation of others. When you spend less time concerned with your own needs and more time serving others, you begin to elevate others. You see their value and worth and your actions help to underscore that value. In the marriage relationship, the husband elevates his wife to a place of honor and esteem. This is an equalizing position, one where a wife is highly valued, both for who she is and what she does. (See Proverbs 31:10-31 for an example of a man honoring his wife.)
  • Strengthening of the family and the church. A relationship that exemplifies that of Christ and the Church will have a profound impact on both the family and the church body. A husband and wife who are striving after Christ together will set an unmistakable example of a godly marriage for their family and their church. This example can help guide others in marriage and in ministry by demonstrating a singular focus on Christ and His calling.
I also believe that if a husband is truly striving after Christ-likeness, submission becomes not merely a requirement but a joy. It becomes a natural response to the love and sacrifice of a godly husband. (For more on the topic of submission itself, check out this blog post.) And what is better than mutually encouraging each other toward a life, a marriage, that honors the Lord above all?

Monday, June 13, 2016

Dear Future Moody Student: An Open Letter

To be totally honest, this letter is more to my brother than anyone else. But I like to think that anyone heading off to Moody, or a Christian college in general, could find something of truth in these words. I hope I can pass on a bit of advice that, maybe in the good and hard moments alike, will stay with you.

To Michael (and other incoming Moodies),

Part of me is questioning why I'm even writing this. If I were honest, I'm not sure that 18-year-old college-bound me would've paid much attention. My head was in the clouds--I was just excited to be striking out on my own, to see what I would become and what I would do. At this point in life, you feel limitless. You can become anything, go anywhere, do anything. The world is at your feet.

But eventually, in four short years you will (hopefully) be an alum, like me, with a real-world job, real-world experiences, and real-world problems. You'll have wisdom and advice that you'll want to share with those who follow, and you'll hope that they will listen. Because life is fast--it's gone before you know what it has been. And you'll have the rest of your life to think about all the things you wish you had (and hadn't) done as an 18-year-old college student.

So this is my advice, the few things that I think are most important to pass on from my experience at the school that D.L. Moody founded.

1. People matter. You might forget this as you're sitting in new student orientation and they're telling you how much time you should devote to homework. Or when you're thinking about dating someone for completely selfish reasons. Or when you know and understand more about theology than most of your classmates. Or when someone is crying in your room but you're late for class, or dinner.

What they don't tell you, as a bright-eyed incoming freshman, is that ultimately, all you take with you are human souls. You get a degree for a few years, maybe 80-some if you're lucky. Maybe it helps you land your dream ministry job, or maybe it hinders you from securing the "secular" job you need to pay the bills. Either way, it's a piece of paper and you can't take it with you when you go. When "the roll is called up yonder" all you'll be seeing are people. And trust me, you want to see faces that you've cared for, not faces that you've walked over.

My advice is to make the most of your relationships and interactions. Remember that everyone is an image-bearer of God and immensely valuable, just like you. The people you'll meet, they don't care about how impressive your internship was, or how much you know about Calvin, or what your GPA was this semester. They will just long to be loved--Moody student and non-student alike--and you will have the opportunity to love them well. Don't miss out on that opportunity.

2. Keep your priorities straight. It will be really easy to get distracted, so set your priorities now and stick to them. There will be a million different groups and clubs and activities for you to join the moment your feet hit the plaza. And some of them might be really great things that you should definitely try, but not at the expense of what's most important.

I would rank priorities in this order: God, people, everything else. And within everything else will fall your classes, homework, a job or two, PCM, sports, clubs, the list goes on. And the thing is, lots of times at school, the priorities get shuffled to everything else, people, and then God.

Because at Moody, God is in so much of what you're doing every day, it can be easy to forget about making Him your top priority. You talk about Him in class, in chapel, in the dinning hall, in your dorm room, in your 20-page paper, at church, on the phone. And you read the Bible just as much. Eventually it will feel like the Bible is a textbook and God has enough of your time, He doesn't need any more. The struggle is in keeping Him the main thing all the time, and not losing your personal time with Him.

Fight for God to be a priority in your life, even when you don't feel like it. Even when you're jaded by Christian legalism, hypocrites, gossips, and unkind professors. Even when you're tired and just want to sleep. Even when you're not sure if this whole Christianity thing is for you. Even when everyone else is doing it, whatever it is. Don't lose your dedication to the Lord, He's what matters most.

3. Do your best. I'll be totally honest, some classes you'll be tempted to skate through. You'll want to take as many short cuts as you can find, especially when you're taking 18 credit hours, working 30, and sleeping four. But don't forget why you came to Moody. You're there to become a minister of the gospel, well-equipped and wise. You're there to be trained, to grow, to learn as much as you can and use it in the future. You're there to be sharpened and shaped into a better version of yourself.

Remember that when you want to cut corners, to sign off on the reading but not actually do it, to take a power nap in class. You might be able to pass, but it won't help you in the future. The less you dedicate now, the less you'll have to give later when you're relying on your training to do your job. And at that point, you'll wish you hadn't been texting through class, playing kitten cannon on your laptop, or sleeping instead of studying.

With that said, you can't do it all. You will have to let some things go. You won't be able to go to every party, every downtown adventure, every on-campus event. And trust me, in the long run, those are the things you'll want to sacrifice over your papers, projects, and grades. You don't have to be a hermit, but you'll have to know how to prioritize and when to say no.

4. Have fun. So yes, there are lots of really important things like grades and jobs, but you also need to have fun. Making time for friends, activities, and exercise will help keep you sane. My biggest stress reliever in college was going to the gym. Sometimes it would be playing basketball, other days I would just run as fast and as far as I could. I needed that on the days when I felt frustrated and out of control (aka, most days).

My other stress reliever was having a close friend or two who knew me really well and loved just the same. I made a lot of mistakes, before college and in college. Having a best friend to be around helped me to open up and be honest about myself and my feelings. And let me tell you, you go through a lot of different emotions and situations in college. Having someone to help navigate that means the world.

Life is really short and you've only got one shot at it. Make it a good shot. You may fail sometimes--on tests or in relationships or at jobs--but that doesn't mean life is over. All it means is that you have a chance to learn something, to grow, and to become great.

I hope you love your time at Moody and that it's everything you hope for and more.

- Elise

Monday, March 7, 2016

Tips for Lettering with a Brush Pen

I've noticed a lot of beginning typographers have questions about how to create the look of calligraphy with brush pens. I do believe it is a learned skill--it takes practice to master it--but there are some tips that can help you get started.

For this example, I used the Faber-Castell PITT Artist Pen Soft Brush (SB) in black. I wrote the letters on a Strathmore Mixed Media notebook. You can use any type of brush pen. I also highly recommend Tombow Duel Brush Pens (one end is a soft brush tip, the other end is smaller and firmer) as the brush tip is a little firmer than the Faber-Castell pen and can be easier to control.

The key to creating the appearance of calligraphy, with thick and thin lines, is using varied amounts of pressure. Apply little to no pressure on all upward/sideways strokes and heavier pressure on all downward strokes. Another way to think about it is in terms of the brush tip. Use the flat, long edge to create a thick stroke and the pointed tip to create a thin stroke.

In the above example, I used virtually no pressure to begin and end the letter "C." I simply rested the tip of the pen on the paper. As I arced over the top, I applied more pressure on the down-stroke, and ended with no pressure to complete the letter. The key is to switch up the pressure at the right moment to create the desired shape and style of the letter. This is the main difference between calligraphy with a brush pen and lettering with a standard pen in which you would use uniform pressure for all strokes.

I think the hardest aspect to learning brush lettering is mastering this concept of varied pressure. The best thing you can do is practice regularly, working through the alphabet or different words. Take the time to learn how much pressure you need to apply to achieve your desired down-stroke thickness. For some, a little pressure and a thinner line are best, while others (like me), prefer a thicker down-stroke.

The thin strokes are also what you will use to connect letters, as shown in the word "hi" above. As a visual guide, see the image below for which strokes have no pressure applied and which have heavy pressure applied. The double-line arrows represent the heavy down-strokes while the single-line arrows represent the no-pressure upward-moving strokes.

Most letters will begin with an opening light stroke, like the start of the "H" above. In my alphabet at the beginning of this post, the letters J, O, T, U, V, W, and Y are exceptions. Your lettering style will affect your starting strokes. If you start in a downward motion, you will start with a thick stroke. Any sideways or upward movement of the pen will be a light stroke.

In the letter H, the light stroke loops around and comes down in a heavy stroke, intersecting with the opening light stroke. From there, you will come back up with a light stroke and end downward with a heavy stroke. To transition into the letter "I," enter with a light stroke and come down with a heavy stroke, ending in a light upward tail.

As you are lettering, you may find it helpful to pick up the pen at transition points. The best times and points to do this are typically at the end of a thick down-stroke. You can lift the pen and continue with a light up-stroke to complete the letter or connect a new one. You can lift after a light stroke, but make sure it's at an ending point or at a place where you will begin another stroke. If you stop in the middle of a stroke, whether light or dark, it will cause your lines to look disjointed rather than smooth.

In the word above, I picked up the pen at the end of the first down-stroke in "H," and again at the start of the down-stroke in "I." The rest of the strokes were continuous. As you practice lettering words, you will begin to get a feel for when you should lift the pen and when to keep your strokes continuous. As with any form of typography, give yourself plenty of time to practice in order to master the skill.

I share my typography on Instagram and Periscope @MrsEliseMance. Follow along for ideas, inspiration, and tips.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

How I Feel About Turning 30

Have you ever had a moment when you finally understood that life was going to change, whether you were ready for it or not? I first had this moment when I realized the 90s weren't going to last past 1999. Somewhere in my kid brain I thought it would be the 90s forever. Then when I realized my senior year would fall in the 2000s, my mind was blown in a slightly disappointed way. I wanted to be a "class of 90-something" not the class of 2004.

I feel like life is made up of many of these little moments where we have to adjust our perspective. High school won't last forever and neither will college. These huge life milestones sometimes feel insurmountable, but before you know it, they're over. That's how I felt about my twenties until this past year. They were a season I spent a decade in, they were my life, I guess some part of me didn't expect them to end.

Yet here I am, 29 and on the home stretch to 30. Soon this season I've been existing in for so long will just be a memory, like high school and college. And as scary as it is to move on, I feel like I'm finally ready. I guess that's what this past year was for. It led me gently into a transition I couldn't get away from. I thought I'd be fearing my 30s and all that they represent, but it turns out I'm excited.

When I look at my 20s, I see messiness. I see a lot of striving to become something. I see many mistakes. I see disorder and my attempts to control my life (which failed miserably). I see the missteps I've taken, the frivolous things I've pursued. I see the people I should never have run after, and the ones who changed my life. I see some triumphs sprinkled with failure and doubt. I see loss, tears, and temptations. Much of my 20s were troubling times.

And while there were definite highs, successes, and joys, I am happy to leave the tumult of my 20s behind. They were a season of painful growth, like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon. As I look to 30 and see a fresh start in a new life season, I see opportunities to grow from the person I was to the person I hope to be.

I want my 30s to be a season marked by a constant movement toward holiness. I want to step farther away from myself and into a life devoted to godliness and Christ-likeness. I want to see less of me and more of Him. I don't want to see the reckless selfishness of my 20s. I don't want to constantly relive the past in an attempt to "stay young." I want to move forward boldly into whatever God may hold. And I know He holds much that I have yet to discover.

I have a lot of hopes and dreams for my 30s. I'm letting them all go for the dream of pursuing God harder than I ever have before. Rather than looking to my goals and being sidetracked by selfish hopes, I'm looking to what God has for me. I know that will take constant refocusing, because if I didn't learn anything else from my 20s, I learned it's easy to become derailed by your own desires. I don't want my 30s to become marked by the same mistake.

Whatever life phase you find yourself in, I want you to know, it's not too late. You're never too old, too young, too lost, or too far-gone to pursue a life with Christ. All it takes is a small step--choosing Him over everything else--to transform your life. And the best part is, you won't be alone. He will always be with you, and so will those who have also committed their lives to Him. Let's go on this crazy journey together and see where He will take us.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A Real Love Story: When Life is Hard

The #RealLoveStory series is not done! I'm shifting away from discussing relationships specifically and talking about personal details that will affect relationships.

If I know nothing else about life, I know this: it is hard. It doesn't matter what stage you find yourself in, there will always be hardships, there will always be pain. And when there is an unknown to why bad things are happening, it can make you want to give up.

I've never been a quitter, it's just not in my nature. The first time I thought about suicide was in high school. I didn't think there was any end to the pain that I felt. At that age I was dealing with more things than the majority of people realized. Inside, I was depressed and confused, I felt invisible, unlovable, like I was drowning and couldn't come up for air. Outside, the smile and sass hid the knowledge that I was ugly, geeky, and dealing with abuse from classmates. I contemplated ways to end it. Who could live like this?

The first time I felt real, complete rejection from someone I thought I loved was in college. It was one of those rejections that came without an explanation. The attention and relationship just stopped in silence. It felt like searing pain to see this person, and to walk away without knowing what was wrong. Was it me? It must've been me. I wasn't pretty enough or good enough, and he didn't want me.

The first time I felt truly, completely alone, was after I moved to Colorado. I got dumped two months into moving there and I had no one. No family to fall back on, no one to help take care of me. The pain of losing a relationship I thought would lead to marriage was compounded by the vastness of my separation from all that was familiar. Like the mountains I passed every day, I felt like I was alone in a wilderness of confusion and pain. I looked for ways to numb it because who cared what happened to me now?

Life has been a series of painful pricks, like a needle repeatedly pressed into my skin. Whether it was betrayal by members of the church body, bad choices that led to worse decisions, rejection by those closest, or the feeling of being unacceptable, there has always been pain. And the reality of life tells me, there always will be pain. But somehow, I'm still here. It's a choice to live life in the midst of hurt, it's a choice to go on when you want to quit, it's a choice to overcome.

I don't like to let a bad experience go without getting something good out of it. One little shred of goodness, that's all it takes. I have to learn from it, I have to grow. I have to find the redemption. Maybe it takes years, but I am determined to always make the bad produce something good. These are some of the things I've learned from pain.

Don't give up.

Life can seem really bad at any given time. Friends and family will fail you, your spouse will fail you, and sometimes, you will fail. Life may feel like a dark pit you can't climb out of and it may seem like it's been years since you've seen the light of day. There will be seasons of desolation, of depression, of loneliness, of pain. Unfortunately, that is the nature of life and humanity.

But no matter how hard it gets, I'm telling you now, in writing: you are never  allowed to give up. It's easy to just see what's here, what's now. We can only see this moment and what is past, but we can't see what's ahead. There may be even harder times ahead, it's true, but there will also be things that you won't want to miss, that you shouldn't  miss. It's true that this world needs you, the people in your life need you. You have something to give, to contribute, and a story to tell.

I know it's not easy, but resolve in the good moments to fight through the bad. Hold onto that resolve. Know that you are strong, you will overcome. Life will change, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse, but you can do it. Find a small group of close friends to come alongside you in all that life brings. Friends who will remind you of your worth and value, their love, and that life will get better again.

God uses broken people. 

I think a lot of times we put pressure on ourselves to get things right, to look like we have it all together. There's this unspoken belief that we're "better" if we have a handle on our lives, if we project an image of perfection, and if we don't have any big-time screw ups. But if you dive below the surface, you'll see that's not really true. The truth is that broken people can be used for big things.

There are a lot of really screwed up people in the Bible. They're some of the most prominent characters--King David slept with another man's wife, then had him killed; Abraham passed off his wife as his sister; Rahab was a prostitute in a pagan city; King Solomon was a sex addict in love with many women. I think these individuals show us that God has used and continues to use imperfect people. David was called a man after God's own heart. God made a covenant with Abraham, and Abraham's belief in God was credited as righteousness. Rahab became one of five women included in Jesus' genealogy. Solomon asked God for wisdom and was given insight greater than all of Egypt. These people weren't perfect, but that didn't negate them from great things in service to God.

Don't let your past mistakes keep you benched. The best thing you can do is learn from them and let that knowledge equip you to help others and to live a holy life. God can use you, no matter where you've been, no matter what you've done, and no matter what's been done to you. You're never too "far gone" or too broken to do great things.

Understanding can come with time.

Sometimes we will never know why a bad thing happened. I don't have specific answers for why certain things happened to me in my past. In some cases I've just accepted that the sinful choices of others led to them inflicting pain on me or trying to use me. That's the nature of having freewill and the ability to choose wrong. It's painful, but I'm thankful not to be a robot.

In other cases, I've been able to see some good come from the bad or at least reach an understanding for why something happened. Sometimes it's the ability to connect with and encourage another person, or the opportunity to see that it was a good thing a relationship ended. It comes back to that decision to work hard to find the good in the bad. If I make a mistake, I want to learn from it. If something happens to me, I want to find even a tiny spec of good that could come from it. It's a choice to not let the bad things win.

Don't expect to find good or understanding right away. Don't ignore the pain or try to avoid being sad. But don't stay in sadness forever. Let people in who can help you and who need you. Look for something you can learn. Begin to search for the good that you can take back from the bad. Maybe some things will never make sense, but don't let that stop you from making the world a better place for someone else.

Thanks for checking out the #RealLoveStory series. If you have an idea for a topic, question or comment, please leave a comment below or email me.

Friday, February 12, 2016

A Real Love Story: About Marriage

In this post I'm continuing the #RealLoveStory series by writing about marriage. This isn't a post about MY marriage, but what I've learned about marriage throughout my life. I feel like I wrote this post for myself as much as I wrote it for anyone else. I need to remember what I've written here as I walk through life. 

Leading up to writing this post, I kept questioning what I should say about marriage. I'm not an expert. I've got two and a half years under my belt and that's it. Not much of a resume. But I do have a knowledge of the Bible, which is where I think we can get the simplest and best marriage advice.

We get input on marriage from all kinds of sources--family, friends, media, entertainment, the list goes on. I feel like a lot of information is misguided, or just straight up wrong. A lot of times the potential or imagined negatives are highlighted over the positives. Marriage is often downgraded to a boring life stage in which people struggle with child-rearing and a non-existent sex life.

In reality, marriage is the opportunity to partner with another person to exemplify God's design for relationships and family, and to also model Christ's relationship with the church. It's an opportunity to make your life a living picture of sacrificial love, humble servanthood, unconditional respect, and life-long commitment.

So in short, marriage is quite possibly the hardest thing you will ever do for all the right reasons. It can turn you inside out, changing you into a man or woman dedicated to God's call to live out a model of the Gospel. It can change your life in places you never knew existed and become about more than society's view and definition of marriage. The challenge is to keep the main thing, the main thing.

Marriage is an enormous responsibility.

When you enter into an institution ordained by God, you have the responsibility to honor that institution in the way God has designed and instructed. When it comes to marriage, couples have the responsibility to know what God says about marriage and to exemplify His commands through their relationship. And should you think that's simple, easy, or possibly boring, check out what Ephesians 5:22-33 says about it:
Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of the body. Now as the church submits to Christ, so wives are to submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word. He did this to present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless. In the same way, husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own flesh but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, since we are members of His body. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church. To sum up, each one of you is to love his wife as himself, and the wife is to respect her husband.
This is the type of lifestyle married couples are called to by God. A life marked by selfless acts of submission, love, sacrifice, care, commitment, unity, and respect. It's a life against our natural inclinations, truly opposite of ourselves. But committing to a godly marriage means committing to God's instructions for marriage. It's committing to living out marriage as defined by God to the absolute best of our ability.

Marriage is selfless.

You can't exemplify the marriage described in Ephesians 5 and live selfishly, it just doesn't work. Those acts of submission, love, sacrifice, care, commitment, unity, and respect are all selfless actions. In fact true, Biblical Christianity is a call to selfless living, from submission to Christ to the building up of the body of believers. That's why the Bible talks so much about dying to self. To live as Jesus lived, to honor God, we have to put ourselves aside. It's no different with marriage.

Society does a good job of helping us focus on ourselves. Even the way marriage is presented is selfish. It's about what we want--to spend our life with the person who makes us happiest, who adds the most to our existence. And if that doesn't work out, scrap it and look for someone who is better. There's no challenge to move beyond selfishness, to be more concerned with the needs of our spouse than our needs. But that is exactly what the Bible calls us to--to live counter-culturally and selflessly in marriage and in life.

Marriage is serious business.

A wise person once told me, "Marriage is like a business transaction." I think that's a great picture for capturing the seriousness of marriage. It's not just a fun, flippant thing. It's a serious decision that will affect you in more ways than you'll know. It's a decision to merge two lives of two individuals in a life-long commitment and union. This will be the person with whom you will do life, who you'll share a bank account with, who will be a parent to your children, who could squash your spirit or elevate your worth.

It can be easy to act on your feelings, but when it comes to marriage, it's best to think logically, just like you would in a business transaction. Take the romance and sentimentality out of it and decide if this is the person with whom you truly want to become one. Ask yourself if this is a wise decision, one that will bring about the best for you and this other person. Are the qualities and character of this other person ones that you want to see lived out in your life together? Take the time to think seriously about marriage before you enter into it.

Marriage is not an island.

I've watched a lot of people get married in my life. I've watched a decent amount shut out many of their friends after they got married. Unfortunately, some couples adopt an "us against the world" mentality. Or think they don't really need friends any more. While your marriage and your spouse are huge priorities, and your spouse should be your closest friend, I think it's a mistake to shut others out of your life.

People are designed to be relational, we need  each other. We don't stop needing other people when we get married. Things may shift, but we still need strong friendships to help us navigate life. I am so thankful for friends--single and married--who have helped keep me focused, encouraged me, been there to listen, and challenged me with different perspectives. Each friendship is so unique and valuable, whether it's another couple walking a similar road or a single girl friend I've bonded with over shared experiences.

Friends can help keep you accountable to your marriage commitments. Friends can give you that outlet you need when times get tough and you need to talk it out. Friends can remain more objective than family can when you and your spouse are having a disagreement. Friends keep life interesting. And your friends need you. After you get married, they don't check you off their list. They want to maintain that friendship; they need you just as much as you need them.

Marriage is a journey.

Marriage isn't just a picture-perfect wedding. It's not constant romance, a piece of cake, or an instant success. It's not about sex or the perfect house or never having an argument. It's made up of two imperfect people, which means that struggles, fights, issues, and disappointments are going to happen. You're going to do something wrong, you're going to fail at something, you're going to make mistakes, and so is your spouse. Marriage will include hard times because it happens in real life.

Marriage is a journey, for you on your own, for your spouse on his or her own, and for both of you together. It's a journey toward becoming the best spouse you can be, and remembering that the only person you can change is yourself. It's about forgiveness, constant  forgiveness. It's about patience, attentiveness, growth, and being willing to adjust yourself and your way of thinking. It's walking alongside someone, whatever may come, and vowing to stay beside that person at all times.

You don't have to try to be perfect and do it all, because you can't be perfect, and you can't do it all. But you can work on one little piece at a time. You can learn from others; you can put aside your selfishness; you can focus on your spouse; you can make time to do the big, important things and the small, special things. You can work toward the person you need to be and the marriage you want to have. The biggest key is to never give up. Never stop working on yourself, on your marriage, on your journey.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Real Love Story: Friendship First

This post is a continuation of the #RealLoveStory series in which I'm telling the truth about love, relationships, and marriage. As we're heading into a holiday focused on romance, I want to write about love in real life.

I die a little bit inside every time I hear someone dismiss a relationship because they're "too good of friends" with someone to start dating them. Whoever sold that lie should be forced to publicly rescind it. It was probably the same person who coined the terms "fall in love," and "follow your heart." These ideas have been misguiding people for years and it's time to make it stop.

I grew up hearing that you should marry your best friend, but I never really understood what that meant. It can be hard to comprehend something when you can't get a solid picture of it. Society makes love look like sex, romantic helicopter rides, and unreal moments that take your breath away. It's a pretty sad picture when you hold it up to real love. Sadly, real love doesn't get the representation it deserves.

The first time I finally, fully understood what "marrying your best friend" looked like was on a trip to Dallas to visit my best girl friend. She had recently married her best guy friend from college, a relationship that was platonic for a long time before it finally turned into a romantic relationship. That time of friendship set a solid foundation on which they could build their marriage. And their marriage was hands-down one of the most desirable marriages I've ever seen.

Strong friendships are the most underrated determinant for lasting relationships. The world instead likes to look to appearances, chemistry, and again, feelings. All things that are nice, but can and will fade with time. Friendship, however, spans oceans and decades, fights and family crises, beauty and pain. It is through friendship that we learn how to be there in the best of times and the worst of times. It's where we learn to give of ourselves for another, despite their deepest, darkest secrets and hidden wrongs. It is where we can know and be known for who we are right down to our soul.

Friendship is a level beyond romantic feelings and pretty faces. It takes us to deeper levels of intimacy than sex alone. It is stronger and more fortified than temporary attraction. I maintain that friendship is the singularly best way to build and form a relationship that leads to marriage, and this is why.

Friendship leads to knowing and understanding someone.

Who doesn't want to be known and understood at their core by the person they're going to spend their life with? Friendship is the gateway to truly knowing someone for who they are. Friendship often removes the barriers that we put up in romantic relationships because we're not worried about impressing anyone. We're just ourselves, and when a friendship forms, we're enabled to continue being ourselves because we know we're liked for who we are.

In my friendship with Nick, I felt free to admit to who I was. I knew if things ever turned into a romantic relationship, I'd rather he know about my past mistakes before things got too serious. I figured he should know what he was getting into. Having six years to get to know each other, we didn't have a lot of questions going into marriage. We knew we were like-minded on important things like family and marriage, religion and theology, life goals and expectations. It was an awesome transition to go from being long-term, close friends to being in a relationship.

Friendship leads to reliability and loyalty.

I don't know about you, but I am loyal to a fault to my friends. I don't care what the situation is, I will stick up for any friend who is being mistreated. I am always going to be on their team, supporting them to the best of my ability. Friendship teaches us how to consistently be there for someone, not just in the good times, but also the bad.

Having that as a foundation will absolutely help in marriage. You want to marry someone who will always be in your corner, loyal and dependable. You want someone who will show up, everyday, and fight for your relationship. Loyalty in friendship can be stronger than loyalty in romance, when feelings can fade and desires can change. Friendship can help you weather those storms.

Friendship leads to commitment and dedication.

Similarly to the point above, friendship compels us to remain dedicated to the people we are close to. There is a desire, not a compulsion, to remain a dedicated and true friend. That leads us to sacrificing some of our wants and desires for the betterment of our friendship. Friendship can help you stay committed to your spouse in the hard seasons when you may feel tempted to stray. If you can't walk out on a friend, you can't walk out on your spouse who is your friend. That close, friendship-level commitment can help you keep the vows that you make on your wedding day. The ones that go, "for better or worse, in sickness and in health."

Let's be totally honest here for a moment. Life can get boring. Marriage can get tiring. It's not always exciting and full of romance and good feelings. There are absolutely dry seasons where you're just waiting for something good to happen. There are days when all you do is watch TV on the couch in your pajamas and never see the light of day. In those times, you want to be spending your days with your best friend. You want to be able to enjoy life as it is, stripped of all the excitement and hoopla. Regular old life is still special when you get to spend it with your closest and dearest friend.

Friendship leads to acceptance.

Friendship teaches you to accept someone for who they are, not who you want them to be. There's typically no pressure to try to change for someone because in friendship you can simply be yourself. Granted, there can be times when you want to impress a potential friend, but usually that's not a solid, deep friendship. Solid friendships typically form around the people with whom you are most comfortable, and able to show your true self. These types of friendships enable us to be vulnerable, to open up about struggles, fears, and insecurities. They teach us how to be present, to care for others, and to listen, all qualities that contribute to a solid marriage.

Friendship is solid in the midst of trials.

Hard seasons and difficult times are often what rock marriages. And it's understandable, many of life's hardest experiences can come about during that season of life. It can be hard to communicate, to understand, and to stay strong in life's hardest times. A foundation of friendship can help you weather the impending challenges you will face. You've already learned how to communicate, how to remain loyal and committed, and how to understand your spouse. No, it won't be easy, but you can come out stronger as a couple.

Nick and I have only been married for a couple years, we haven't faced huge, earth-shattering challenges yet. But we have had to overcome some obstacles early in our marriage that would be tough for anyone to deal with. We had to tackle getting married, moving in together, losing a job, getting a new job, moving to a new city, losing two more jobs, financial struggles, health issues, and getting another new job, all within the first year of marriage. It was challenging most days and I struggled with identity a lot that first year.

I was thankful that Nick and I had already learned how to be there for each other in challenging situations. We had spent a majority of our relationship long-distance, which taught us how to communicate well. We had helped each other tackle different problems that sprang up in our lives when we were just friends. And with the time that it had taken for us to finally reach the point of marriage, we knew this was right and were ready to fight for each other.

I don't think our lives will be perfect from this point on. I don't think we'll be a perfect couple and never encounter marital problems. So please don't read that in what I've written. But I firmly believe that friendship, after God, has been the biggest factor for the good that has happened in our marriage. I want other people to experience the benefits of a marriage built on friendship, which is why I am and will continue to advocate for it.

Thanks for checking out the #RealLoveStory series! As always, I welcome your feedback and questions. If you have a topic you would like to see covered, you can suggest it below or shoot me an email.
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