Author Archives: elizabeth

Ebenezer

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Samuel then took a large stone and placed it between the towns of Mizpah and Jeshanah. He named it Ebenezer–the “stone of help”–for he said, “Up to this point the Lord has helped us!” I Sam. 7:12, NLT

As soon as my feet touch the sand, I feel myself relax into this space–this holy space.

The ocean and seashore have always felt like my soul-home, a place where my spirit finds rest. The rhythms of tides, the sound of rolling pebbles and crashing waves. I can breathe, here.

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My children scatter in all directions. The twins run back and forth along the edge of the foamy whitewater. They open their arms like birds, running full hearted and free into the wind. The boys dig for crabs and write silly messages in the sand with long sticks of sun-blanched driftwood.

My ballerina dances barefoot ballet, her body moving lithe and graceful beside the sea.

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Me, I just watch the ocean and breathe. Exhale pain and the past. Inhale peace and grace.

I sink my toes and body into the sand, grounding myself.

And then I build a little altar of rocks, my own Ebenezer.

The children come by adding bits and stick, several feathers. James draws lines around my Ebenezer using his toes–a sort of Zen sand-drawing. One by one I ask them what they’re grateful for and why. I ask them to remember how far the Lord has brought us. I ask them to remember this.

Remember this.

Remember God loves you, always and unconditionally. Remember God with us. Remember God has a beautiful plan for your life and no matter the pain, suffering or abuses we suffer–LOVE is stronger.

And then, I stand and dance myself. I dance for freedom, I dance for hope, I dance for the future.

My feet make a question mark in the sand.

And so, I dance the question.

I embrace the mystery.

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I am Elizabeth Esther. I am courageous. I am a survivor. I am free and I am strong. My story is broken for you.

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This evening at Easter Vigil, my three oldest children will enter the Catholic Church through baptism, confirmation and First Communion. Tonight is a milestone in my family history, another Ebenezer. Your prayers for peace, unity and continued reconciliation within my extended family would be deeply appreciated. Much love, EE.

 

 

“Spiritual Misfit: a memoir of uneasy faith” Book Giveaway!

UnknownToday I’m honored to host the lovely Michelle DeRusha whose book “Spiritual Misfit: a memoir of uneasy faith” releases today. We are publisher-sisters. Her book and mine are both published by Convergent Books. Michelle is offering three copies of her book to my readers. To enter, please leave a comment. Much love, EE.

 

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He drops the bomb at dinner, over meatloaf and baked potato. “I think I might be in a not-believing-in-God stage,” he announces.

My heart sinks. “Really?” I ask, peering at Rowan, my nine-year-old, across the table. “What makes you think that?”

I try hard to sound nonplussed, but inside, I’m panicky. I’ve wrestled with doubt and unbelief for most of my life; I know the hopelessness and loneliness of that road. The last thing I want is for my child to travel the same path.

“I just can’t get over the idea of being dead,” Rowan explains. “It seems so weird to think that once you’re dead, you’re just gone, like, not existing at all.” Now he’s trying to sound casual. But his eyes are wide, unblinking. He stares at me hard across the dining room table. I know he is afraid.

“It’s okay,” I tell him, spooning sour cream onto my potato. “Everyone doubts from time to time, everyone wonders about God and death and how it’s all going to work out in the end. It’s going to be okay, honey. God is still there, even when you can’t see him or feel him. ”

The truth is, the reassurance I offered to Rowan that day I still offer to myself, more often than I’d like to admit. While I’m not stranded in the no-man’s land of unbelief like I once was, I still wrestle with my faith; I still question. Skepticism is woven into my fabric.

Not long ago I read the story in Luke 24 about Jesus and the two travelers on the road to Emmaus. As I read the text, I kept stumbling over verse 16: “But God kept them from recognizing him.”

Why, I wondered, did God intentionally keep the two travelers from recognizing Jesus? What was the point of that? Why would God do such a thing? I searched Bible Gateway for other translations, hoping for a different interpretation. But nearly all the versions I read translated the verse the same way or similarly. God kept them from recognizing him.

I admit, I didn’t like verse 16 much. I wrestled with it for days, re-reading the passage, mulling it over, until finally I reached a conclusion that made some sense. Sometimes, I realized, God uses our doubt as a means to bring us closer to him.

Doubt is difficult, no question. But wrestling with doubt also often motivates us to dig more deeply into our faith, to yearn for and to seek Jesus in a fresh, new way. In fact, that’s exactly what happened to the travelers on the road to Emmaus.  God used their doubt as an opening, a window, to lead them back through Scripture, to remind them of his promises. God knew exactly what they needed to hear.

As “the stranger” led his traveling companions through the Old Testament, they were reminded of the promises God had made to his people, from the time of Moses and the prophets to the present day. In the midst of their devastation and loss, the travelers needed to be reminded of these promises. They were hungry for hope, hungry for answers, and their doubt, ironically, opened the way back to faith.

My son’s declaration of doubt took my breath away that night at the dinner table, and part of me still worries that it signals the beginning of a lifelong struggle with faith for him. But I also know that God can work within any circumstances, even the empty, cavernous spaces of doubt and unbelief, to bring us into a deeper relationship with him.  That’s his promise, and I’m holding onto it as tightly as I can.

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DeRushaheadshotA Massachusetts native, Michelle DeRusha moved to Nebraska in 2001, where she discovered the Great Plains, grasshoppers the size of Cornish hens … and God. Michelle writes about finding and keeping faith in the everyday at michellederusha.com, as well as for the Lincoln Journal Star and The High Calling. She’s mom to two bug-loving boys, Noah and Rowan, and is married to Brad, an English professor who reads Moby Dick for fun. Her first book, Spiritual Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy Faith, will be published April 15, 2014.

How Loving Mary Helps me Love Jesus #StoriesofEaster

This year, as I journey toward Easter, my eyes are fixed on the ultimate act of love: Jesus giving His life for us. But I also remember to see the whole picture, and so I look to the foot of the cross.

There I see the Mother of God kneeling before her Son, staying with Him, suffering with Him.

As a mother, I can relate to her pain. For me, there is nothing worse than watching my children suffer. I want to kneel beside Mary and comfort her. I want to thank her for raising such an amazing Son. I want to walk each painful step with her. I want to love Mary, for she is my Mother, too.

This Easter, I believe what St. Josemaria Escriva once wrote: “The beginning of the way, at the end of which you will find yourself completely carried away by love for Jesus, is a trusting love for Mary.

READ MORE ON THE CONVERGENT BLOG…plus! Write your OWN Stories of Easter and join us for synchroblog on Good Friday!

Complete Home Maintenance for All the Single Ladies

I think we need some levity up in this blog. Because WEEKEND. Today I’m thrilled to bring back the author of A Curvy Girl’s Guide to Buying Pants, Kat Ray. Her post has remained in my Top Ten Most Read Posts for nearly 3 years. I’m convinced Kat is an undiscovered comedic genius. She’s so super stealth she doesn’t even blog. Or, as she says: “I’m so hipster that I’m on some Internet platform you’ve never heard of, like FaceSnapChatBook, #yoloswag.” Today she’s writing about the hilarious perils of home ownership. Enjoy! xo. EE.

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All I wanted to do, honest to God, was just touch up some spots on my bedroom wall.

Tan. The color of my wall is tan. I’m a grown woman who has been identifying colors for most of her life, so certainly I can find some paint that MATCHES TAN.

Except I cannot. I’ve been on a month-long quest for the holy-grail of TAN PAINT because evidently, the color on my bedroom wall was blended by monks in Nepal with the blood droplets of unicorns.

It all started the day before I moved into my newly purchased condo. The former owner informed my realtor that the black headboard in the master bedroom was, in fact, attached to the wall, and didn’t I just want to keep it?

As I am not a swinging bachelor from 1978, no, I did not. 

So, the owner removed the headboard, leaving behind some pencil marks and dings on the wall. NO PROBLEM. I actually had a small can of brownish paint, and a small can of white paint. I thought: hey, I’ll just mix until I get the correct color, paint over the spots, and go on with my life!

Ha-ha-ha.

The first time I mixed a batch and tried it on the wall, too light. Added some more brown paint. Still too light. Added a bit more brown paint. TOO DARK.

So, now instead of just some pencil marks, the wall looks like it has a rare form of Wall Disease. Fabulous. 

Next idea – color matching iPhone app! Take a picture of the wall, touch the spot that you want to match and….MAGIC! the app tells you what color to pick!

I take 492 pictures until I get one that is close to the actual color of my wall. Problem is, each time I touch a spot, the exact SAME spot on the picture, I get a different color recommendation.

Faint Coral. White Truffle. Intimate White. Gorgeous White. Unfussy Beige. Warming Peach. (Can we talk for a minute about these out of control names for paint? If there’s not a Tumblr called “Paint Color or Porn Star? You Decide.”, there totally needs to be.) 

In desperation, I email my realtor: Is there any way that the former owner remembers the name or the brand of the paint? He doesn’t, but she suggests that if I flake off a paint chip, a paint store can then match the color.

YES! I will just flake off a paint chip and match the color! 

Two quarter size gouges in the dry wall later, I take my baggie of paint chips down to the paint store.  The very nice paint color expert informs me that the PAINT CHIPS AREN’T BIG ENOUGH TO MATCH. I almost lie down and cry in the store.

Taking pity on me, the Paint Matcher Guy gets a folder of paint samples and tries to match the chips to the samples. We think we find a match. He mixes me up a sample jar. At this point, I am very familiar with sample jar. I take it home…..I put some on the wall……

IT’S TOO LIGHT THEPAINTISTOOLIGHT. I start cursing in languages I don’t even speak. My dog runs downstairs to post selfies on Petfinder in a desperate attempt to re-home himself. 

In my despair, I remember a suggestion from guy at paint store.  Most times when a room is being painted the light fixtures are removed and a bit of the wall that is covered by the fixture is painted. I could unscrew the light switch plate, cut out of bit of the wall with an exacto knife, and that would probably be a big enough sample to match.

I mean, this is a crazy idea. Nothing about my experience over the past few weeks says that I should attack my light fixture with an Exacto knife. So, of course, I’m totally going to do it.

I WILL MATCH THIS COLOR IF IT KILLS ME.

Breaking the Cycle of Abuse

I am terrified by this dark thing that sleeps in me; All day I feel its feathery turnings, its malignity.
Sylvia Plath

I know this fear intimately. Its shadow creeps through my nightmares: will I become what I hate? Will I repeat the cycle of abuse? Will the abused become the abuser?

Breaking the cycle requires constant vigilance, a determination to act and live differently. And even then, sometimes this Dark Me leaks out in a sudden flick of judgmental tongue, a harshly critical word, a callous dismissal. I was raised in condemnation. My greatest challenge is to receive grace–and to give it….READ MORE AT MICHA BOYETT’S BLOG (and enter for a chance to win a copy of my book).

“Give us This Day Our Daily Meds” #NationalPoetryMonth

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April is National Poetry Month. Some people are writing a poem a day. Others are carrying poems in their pockets. I can’t promise I’ll be able to write a poem every day. But what I can promise is an increased awareness and mindfulness of the daily poetry and beauty all around me.

I like writing poetry because the medium is more conducive to capturing feeling and images–the little threads of daily existence, sometimes overlooked in the larger fabric of my life. These fleeting thoughts, images and feelings don’t fit well inside a blog post or journal entry. But I love the exercise of jotting images down, especially if I can rhyme the words!

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I’ve written a few poems this past week–short little things tapped out on my InstaQuote app. I’ve posted them on my Instagram (@elizabethesther) and thought I’d share them here, too. Would you like to join me in a month of poetry? Jot down some everyday words, images from your day, the feelings you felt. Let yourself relax into the words. No striving. No pressure.

To get started, might I suggest a little inspiration? I simply LOVE this book, “Poemcrazy: freeing your life with words” and have pulled it out again this past week to refresh my wonder.

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And now, a few of my  poems from this past week.

April 2: “Tomboy” (this is a tribute to one of my 6 year old twins)

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April 3: “Laundry Day for Thoughts” (I do so much laundry. I began wondering: what if we could wash our thoughts like we wash our dirty clothing?)

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April 5: “Daring, Thirteen, You” (written in honor of my son’s 13th birthday)

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April 5: “First Communion” (written in honor of my daughter’s upcoming baptism)

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THE SATURDAY EVENING BLOG POST, vol. 6, issue 4

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Welcome to THE SATURDAY EVENING BLOG POST!
This is where bloggers, artists and musicians gather on the first Saturday of the month
to share their latest and greatest posts, artwork, writing and music.

This month we’re sharing our favorite things from March 2014!

I’ll begin by sharing my favorite post: Singing the song of book release! This past month, my first book “Girl at The End of the World” released into the world. It’s been an exciting few weeks watching my vulnerable, raw little memoir climb the Amazon charts. As of today, my book is still a bestseller in several categories: #7 in Christian Faith, #41 in Theology and #65 in Memoirs by Religious Leaders! My book signing party was SO MUCH FUN and it was an honor to meet so many of you, my beloved readers. Thank you for all your support and love. Especially in light of all the recent heartbreaking news coming out of embattled megachurches, please keep spreading the word about “Girl at The End of the World”--my book will help wounded church survivors feel like they’re not alone!

The Girl at the End of the World

Now, it’s your turn! Here’s how to participate in The Saturday Evening Blog Post:

1. Pick one of YOUR posts from the last month.
2. Insert the link to that specific post(not your home page) into the form here.
3. Spread the word. Share SEBP on Facebook, Tweet about it, or write a new post on your blog encouraging your readers to come join the party! The more the merrier! It’s always fun to “meet” new bloggers.

The Saturday Evening Blog Post is a celebration of art, writing and music. Please no links to products or giveaways. Thank you.

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Christians don’t abandon 10,000 children (unless we’re standing up for our beliefs?)

MG_72141I wept on the phone today with Rich Stearns, President of World Vision USA. I just couldn’t contain my grief any longer. As soon as Rich told us that 10,000+ children had lost their sponsorships in the course of a week–that in ONE DAY! they’d lost as many as 2,200 sponsorships–well, I broke down crying and told him through ragged breaths how heartbroken I was.

After the phone call, I literally had to go to bed because I was shaking so terribly. I just couldn’t get my brain around the fact that so many of my fellow Christians had reacted with such hasty anger and punished CHILDREN as a way of showing their strong disagreement with World Vision’s change in hiring policy.

As a brief recap, last week World Vision announced it would allow the hiring of legally married, same-sex couples (World Vision is based in Washington state where same-sex marriage is legal). There was a huge outcry from prominent evangelical leaders and immediately, Christians all over the United States flooded World Vision’s call center lines and yanked their sponsorships, abandoning commitments to 10,000 children.

Rich told us that on one day, the call center received 7,000 calls. Many of these calls were angry and those who answered the phones were subjected to a torrent of verbal abuse: name-calling and being told they were “agents of Satan.”

This is horrifying.

It has rocked me to my very core. I can remember very few times in my life when the behavior of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ has so devastated me.

I am a Catholic Christian and regardless of whether I agree or disagree with World Vision’s initial policy change, I have made commitments to three very precious and very REAL children. It is my DUTY to fulfill those commitments and not JUST because I’ve seen firsthand the incredible work World Vision has done in impoverished communities. It is my duty because I am a CHRISTIAN.

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Christians do NOT abandon children. Period. No matter what.

It is morally reprehensible to sacrifice children on the altar of differing beliefs–even on a belief as sincerely held as traditional, Christian marriage.

Christians ought always disagree in the spirit of St. Matthew 18 and ESPECIALLY when the LIVES of CHILDREN are at stake. We ought to gently and wisely confront leadership–NOT encourage our fellow Christians to forsake promises to innocent and NEEDY children.

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In 2011, I traveled to Bolivia with World Vision and saw firsthand the precious and LIFE-SAVING work they are doing in impoverished villages. Through their child sponsorship program, World Vision has been able to help entire COMMUNITIES. Families suffering from hunger and unstable food supplies have been taught how to raise guinea pigs! Turns out, guinea pigs are a wonderful source of low-fat, high-protein. Other families were taught how to raise pigs and sell them for profit.

Thanks to World Vision’s outreach in a rural, barely accessible area, Bolivian children with special needs were provided with life-saving surgeries.

We met one mother who had slaved for hours as a crop-picker (with her baby on her back) before World Vision hired her to work indoors and taught her how to sew.  There were free medical checkups, birthday parties and family education sessions on child-welfare, child-rights and basic nutrition.

The work World Vision is doing is true, Kingdom work (see more of my Bolivia trip here). Does World Vision operate perfectly? No. Do they sometimes make mistakes? Yes. Even big ones? YES.

But this does not negate the purest form of religion they practice: caring for the orphans and widows, feeding the hungry, saving the lives of millions of children.

Please help me stand in the breach. Please sponsor a child today.

Book Giveaway! “Found” by Micha Boyett! @MichaBoyett

Today I’m honored to host the lovely Micha Boyett. Her first book “Found: a story of grace, questions and everyday prayer” releases today. I wrote an endorsement for this beautifully written memoir and highly recommend it. Micha has generously offered three copies of her book to my readers. To enter, please leave a comment.

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Before I had kids, I was on staff with a non-denominational evangelical youth ministry, working with students at various high schools. On the random days when I wasn’t meeting volunteers, parents, and kids all over town, I worked out of a donated office at the local Episcopal church, down the hall from the priests and church staff.

One day, prior to making a difficult phone call to the angry father of one of my students, I paced the floor beside my desk, overrun with anxiety. I couldn’t pick up the phone to dial that number. Just as I was giving myself a lecture about bravery and berating my tendencies toward conflict-avoidance, I found myself standing outside the pastor’s office next door. She was sitting at her desk, as if she had been waiting for me to arrive.

I took a deep breath, walked into her office, and asked her pray for me. We sat down together and in near-silence prayed for ten minutes. Finally, Pastor Beverly opened her mouth and her few words were weighty and humble and powerful.

I’d lived my life in church circles that valued words in prayer—smart words! holy words! culturally relevant words!—and I had run out of words. I was at a point in my spiritual life where I didn’t know what to say to God anymore. I was worn out. I was anxious. I was failing at prayer. (I always felt like I was failing at prayer.)

So that near-silent prayer with Pastor Beverly was profound. She held my hands and prayed, “Come Holy Spirit.” And we waited together for the Holy Spirit to come, as if we believed God’s Spirit was actually en route to me, to that phone, to the angry father who was waiting on the other line. She sat in silence with me as if she believed I was worth her time, as if the ministry God wanted to offer me was there, in the silence. And it was. The ministry was the silence.

I left her office, called the student’s father, and let that quiet prayer ping around in me for several days. I didn’t really understand what made that time of prayer different. All I knew was that I wanted to experience that sort of silence again. I wanted to pray with less words and more belief. I wanted to give people my time, and in doing so, acknowledge that God was there with us, remaking us.

A few weeks later I went back to Pastor Beverly and asked her to teach me contemplative prayer. I wasn’t sure what I was hoping to learn from her. Prayer had always been something I performed at, both in public and in private. I worked hard to worship correctly, to ask for God’s intervention at the right time with the truest spirit of contrition. And I had come to a place where I was heavy laden by my expectations for myself. I needed a path out of that pattern. I needed to believe that God was willing to sit with me, whether or not I followed my internal rules for what prayer was supposed to look like.

We began meeting and praying together and I promised myself that I would be brave; I would risk something in those hours we spent together. I began praying with beads in my hands. I kneeled and repeated prayers written hundreds of years ago. I began (gasp!) staring at icons and asking God to use all my senses in prayer.

And, over time, I began to believe that God heard my quiet heart louder than my impressive words. I began to experience a God bigger than language, bigger than culture, bigger than my own performance.

Prayer, it turned out, is not a task that allows me to find God. Prayer is the work God uses to let me know I’ve already been found.

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I wrote a memoir of the story of rediscovering prayer through the Rule of St. Benedict. The story of my book begins a couple of years later, a year into my life as a mother. But our stories always begin earlier than the first page of the book lets on, don’t they?

And the story of my finding and being found just might begin in Pastor Beverly’s office, in the silence.

Maybe silence is the space where our stories always begin.

 

mbheadshotMicha (pronounced “MY-cah”) Boyett is a writer, blogger, and sometimes poet. Her first book Found: A Story Questions, Grace, and Everyday Prayer is available for pre-order and releases April 1. A born and raised Texan, Micha lives in San Francisco with her husband, Chris, and their two sons. Find her on TwitterFacebook, and at michaboyett.com.

Good morning, I have a book signing today. Also, I am a wreck.

Oh, hey. I have a book signing today at Barnes & Noble in Santa Monica. Woot-woot, am I right? Yeah. About that. I’m kinda a wreck. We had a biggish earthquake here last night, see, and earthquakes always bring up a lot of shitty feelings for me. Like, say: 1. The World is Ending, 2. Apocalypse Now and 3. Is my food stockpile current??? OMG-WHY-DIDN’T-I-BUY-A-PALLET-OF-BOTTLED-WATER-YESTERDAY??

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The 5.3 earthquake hit around 9pm last night. I stayed put longer than usual. Which is to say, I didn’t run screaming through the house until TWO seconds had passed. Then–just as the earthquake was getting bigger–I went running down the hall (while books fell out of the bookcase next to me) and barreled down the stairs, out the door, into the front yard.

Because, I’m smart. Running wild during a big earthquake is dumb, we all know this. But my body has a mind of its own. It started running before I could tell it to stop and when I finally did stop, I was outside, in the dark, with car alarms going off and my heart about to explode out of my chest.

PTSD, I hate you.

By contrast, my kids were totally fine. The older kids thought it was “cool.” And the twins didn’t even wake up. Matt had to explain to the kids why Mom was having a panic episode–but hey, they are used to these things since they know all about How Mom Grew Up In That Weird Church Thing.

They got quite a kick out of it. I was crying and begging Matt to go to Wallgreens and pick up a huge crate of bottled water because OMG what if this was only the beginning and then–AFTERSHOCK! OMG! WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIIIIIIE.

I mean, it was funny. I guess. I can sort of laugh about it this morning. *weak laugh* But all last night I had nightmares and kept jolting out of bed with every aftershock and screaming.

All this to say: FUNDAMENTALISM WORKED, YO. MY WRECKED PSYCHE IS LIVING PROOF.

Point is, when you see me today at the book signing, don’t be surprised if I’m trembling. Or weepy. Because THIS IS ME. This is what happens to me when earthquakes happen. In Fundamentalism, we believed this was a sign of the End and that fear is rooted deep in my core.

The only way I know to get it out is by being very honest. By verbally processing it. By crying. By pounding out a blog post like this. And then by showing up today—as my very real self.

I hope you’ll come give me a hug.

xo, EE.

p.s. look what’s on the “New in Paperback” table at Barnes & Noble? :)

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The Girl at the End of the World