Twenty Years

Originally posted to Blogspot on:

February 13, 2014:

This one is for the ladies, the lonely hearts, the hopefuls. This is for those, like me, who have longed for relational change but couldn’t find it. This is for those who have nevertheless impacted my heart and mind in a positive way, who have, whether inadvertently or intentionally, affected my idea of what makes a woman great. This is for the good women who have called me friend and accepted me for who I am:

The heart is something we all have year round, and something we do our best to share whenever appropriate. On one day each year, we make a big deal about showing it, about nurturing it, about enlarging it, etc. We make plans to create an environment to revel in it and to exchange extravagant gifts to validate it. We can complain that Hallmark started it for its capital gain, but let’s be honest, it never hurts to tell someone who’s special to us that he or she is special, and if we’re so consumed with life that we need a designated day to remind us why we care, and remind us that we should say something about it, well, it sucks, but at least it’s something. The important thing is that we have that one person we need that reminder for. Shows that we’re doing something right in our choices. It might be the only right choices we’re making.

For twenty years I’ve been praying for someone worthy of my heart to come along and do her part to alter my life for the better, and more interesting, and more exciting, and more fulfilling. For twenty years I’ve spent each 15th of February expecting next year to be different, and each following 14th of February wondering why it isn’t. Some have argued that I don’t try hard enough to invite that change. But I know that’s untrue. Maybe I don’t cast my net into the sea and try to catch as many fish as I can, or pick through the pile until I find the first one I like. But I do invite opportunities to get to know people when connections are made. I don’t make it impossible for a good woman to get close if there’s no reason to keep her at a distance. I certainly am not lost on doing my part to invite change. But it takes two people to make a relationship work, and I can’t invite change if I’m the only one who wants to see it happen. The fact is, I have plenty of good lady friends who know and understand me and, as a result, respect me; some are just right themselves, but for whatever reason aren’t looking for more; some, I’m sure, are networked well enough to know somebody, and anyone who knows me well knows the qualities my heart tends to gravitate toward, yet those introductions are rarely made (and the few that are made tend to peg me completely wrong). Sometimes I meet someone worthy of my attention, and I make it my priority to offer my time in getting to know her—the end result generally comes down to her not having the time, or her deciding we’re just friends, or her simply not looking to date. I have given Internet dating a try, much to my chagrin, and, well, let’s just say I’d rather gouge my eyes out with a screwdriver than go through that nightmare again. The things that should’ve helped, haven’t, and the things that I never should’ve bothered with, also haven’t. Twenty years of praying about it, meeting good women, meeting a few that I really liked, and doing my part to move things forward have yet to put me in that position where the 14th of February actually means something. There’s a point when I have to admit that I’ve done everything I can and the rest is between whoever is out there and God. Might be the symptom of praying that I would find one, just one, who would be all the difference to me and more than enough to put other interests out of mind. Maybe if I hadn’t asked for that, my story would’ve played out differently. Whatever the reason, I have most certainly taken my chances. I can’t make someone choose me.

I don’t know when the change will happen. I’ve given it to God a long time ago, even though I remind Him often that I’m still waiting. I get frustrated when I meet and start getting to know someone amazing and come to find out she’s already with someone, or I’m not her type, or we’re not actually out on a date in spite of it sure looking and feeling like one. I get more frustrated when God uses a friend or stranger to drop off a random comment designed to give me hope (like the time when I was sweeping the dining room floor at the restaurant I had worked at, feeling brokenhearted over something relational but stupid, and the random old lady in the corner of the room told me I’d make someone a great husband one day—that was basically like hearing God telling me that, and at that time I needed some kind of encouragement) when the better solution, in my mind, is to give me favor and put the woman I’ve prayed for in my life, now, today, with eyes and a heart ready for me. She’s out there, right? So where is she? What’s the hold up?

Waiting sucks because there is no magic formula for speeding up that first meeting, or making someone that catches my attention “the one,” or being in the right place at the right time or doing the right thing to ensure that conditions are perfect for that meeting to happen and that first impression to be the best impression in the history of time, space, and the Internet. No Christian living book, no self-help book, and no seminar on “the perfect whatever” has the answer because that assumes formulaic thinking, and God has proven throughout history, in the Bible, in history books, and in personal stories I’ve heard from friends and family that He introduces people (I don’t believe in random coincidence) in any way He chooses, that there is no “right” introduction, that there is no “right” path, and that no two couples have the same origin story or chapter-by-chapter development as the next. Basically, two people meet (I believe by God’s sovereign hand), and they decide what to do with that meeting. Most of the time when God introduces two people, they say hello, feel nothing, and move on to the next table. That’s valid. That relationship was never going to happen. Perhaps it could have; perhaps it would’ve been the best relationship they would ever have with another person. But they will never know because the connection wasn’t fast, hot, and intense. They move on, hoping to find the relationship that does burn them hot and bright (and fast). Ignorance is bliss.

But just because this usually happens, doesn’t mean it always happens.

The stories that people have shared with me have often left a mark on my viewpoint. I’ve come to understand that when we do things God’s way, He can arrange things however He wants. Sometimes they know in the first minute that they’ve found “the one” or at least the one they’re gonna actually choose, even if “the one” is just a term we give to validate our dream partner. One couple I know (who might be reading this) knew they had found their respective spouses within four hours of conversation, immediately lost touch with each other due to forgetting to exchange numbers (I think that was the story), were somehow reconnected a week later, and in that second meeting the man asked the woman to marry him, and her response was, “What took you so long?” Their fifth date (over eight months of long distance communication) was their wedding. Twenty years later, they are still together; I assume happily.

Another couple I have great respect for were just friends for well over a year before they realized that they were better off together than not, and made the decision to date (it helped that their relationship was prophesized over; though that is most certainly a rarity, and proof that no formula is “the way”), and spent another year or so in courtship, putting God first, etc., and now they are eighteen years and two kids into their highly successful marriage. They didn’t have to marry. For the first year and a half that they knew each other, they had no intention in dating the other. But they didn’t close it down as an option. Their openness led them to much bigger and better things.

Another couple I know had done things perfectly by the courtship model, going through the various steps and stages as outlined in some of the best relational books around. They looked great together. Fit the formula’s expectations perfectly. They got married; they had taken their steps and stages to the letter. This was the natural order, according to the books. They divorced five years later after spending most of the marriage engaged in battle. They followed the formula.

The successful ones had just embraced God’s wisdom, and trusted Him to keep them strong, and trusted each other to keep each other strong. No set outline required—just the one that their Heavenly Father had put before them with them in mind. They also kept an open heart. They understood that they were inviting imperfect people who look badly in the morning into their own hard lives. They were gonna make it work because God didn’t have to bring them together but chose to anyway.

Every story is worth telling. My favorite ones are those told from the unlikeliest or craziest situations. I look forward to telling mine once I’m allowed to write the first chapter.

I don’t have anyone to share this day designed by Hallmark and adopted into popular culture as the day to say three important words, and exchange shiny gifts, and enjoy all the benefits of having someone who cares in my life right now. And, really, that’s okay. I do want to experience this sentiment that pretty much everyone else gets to experience year after year, and I hope to experience it sooner than later, but I’ve been weaned heavily on patience throughout my life, so this game of patiently waiting and improving myself in the meantime is more of the same. However, being single doesn’t make me unable to express to my lady friends what each of them means to me. You ladies deserve to know that you’re important. Right?

Even though I’m structuring this like a blog, I’m writing much of it with the intention of cross-posting it to Facebook for my actual lady friends to see, and I’m writing this to you, the ladies, because I want you to know that I appreciate the place you either had or still have in my life. I realize that many of you have not gotten to know me well at all, and if we’ve spoken just once, I guess we can chalk this one up to what could have been. But for those who have given me the time to know you well, and those who have allowed me to show that I care, and those who have accepted me in all of my states, at my best and at my worst, and those who allowed me to reciprocate that unconditional acceptance, you have my utmost appreciation. You’ve taught me a lot about what good women are. I’ve tried my best to show you what a good man is. I don’t know if I’ve done my part well, but I can tell you that if I’ve ever cared about you, even a little, or if I’ve gone out of my way to be there for you, or listen to you, or just enjoy your friendship in whatever state it’s in, then you’ve probably done your part to prove your quality to me, and any quality of yours I’ve admired, I’ve probably put on my checklist of traits I hope to find in a wife. That’s all valuable, of course. I hope you can appreciate that. God has certainly used you to impact me for the better.

To those of you who are married, I learn a lot by how you speak of yourselves, your husbands, and your families. You encourage me when you speak highly of those you’re “stuck” with. You scare me when you criticize even the little things, but you remind me that forgiveness is powerful, and love can overlook just about anything. You remind me that marriage is two imperfect people doing the best they can to make this awkward decision they had made at one point actually work. You convince me that it’s not such an insane decision to carry out when you speak of those times that do work. Time and again I hear people regret the decision to marry. Many wish they could go back to being single. I get it. Your freedoms are false. The plans you make, you have to run by your spouse (a lot like a twelve-year-old has to run by his parents). Your friendships with the opposite sex are extremely limited, and most, if not all, fade to just a shadow of what it once was. Seems like a raw deal on the surface. But then you consider the companionship, the intimacy, the partnership, the wellspring of resources, and the fact that if you’re having a heart attack in the middle of the night, someone will know about it and get immediate help, and suddenly marriage sounds like something that everyone should have a right to invest in. Even if it’s all kinds of scary. Seeing some of you going through these ups and downs, these joys and difficulties with your spouses reminds me that, if I can handle a woman at her worst, then I have no reason to be afraid of this. Most women I know, who trust me, will at some point reveal her worst, and I’m usually tolerant of it. I think I’m emotionally ready.

Those of you who are a little older, I get a picture of what a good wife becomes. You display the same tendencies as the newer wives, but do so as veterans. Your previous stresses are no longer stressful. You’ve endured. You’ve figured out your game plan and stuck with it. You’ve become the perfect model for the next generation. You remind me that any woman I choose will go through her rough patches, but eventually she’ll be made better, and even in those darkest moments, she’s worth having close to me. Today may suck, today may really suck, but there’s still hope for healing tomorrow and hope for betterment the day after.

To those of you who are single, I want to say that I appreciate you a lot, too. As of today, not one of you has taken a chance on me, and that’s fine. You decide what you want. Doesn’t mean I can’t learn from you, or you can’t learn from me, and part of making friends, dating future spouses, or just speaking to acquaintances, is to better ourselves, our circumstances, and to understand what other people need and, if possible, help them to meet those needs. I think that’s the nature of real love—giving of ourselves to meet the needs or desires of someone else, whether we feel like it or not, not because we expect a return but because we have the capability and desire to give anyway. To those of you who let me be who I am, thank you. You’re the reason I don’t give up. You remind me that I’m still necessary.

Not everyone who was close to me once is still close to me today. Most, in fact, have faded from my life as the years ticked on. But those who ever were close, I still care about, and still wish the best for. To those of you who have drifted away, I appreciate the person each of you has helped craft me to become. Some of you have done your part to make me stronger. Some have led me to greater tolerance. Some have reminded me of the qualities I desire in a wife. Some have reminded me of the qualities I hope never to encounter again. Some of you have shown me the errors of my ways. Some of you have forgiven me of my stupidities. I’m still thankful for all of that. Time and circumstance may have caused a rift, but you still have your impression on me.

Life is a process, a journey, a mystery, a heartbreak, a hassle, a joy, and a roller coaster. If you and I were ever friends, or if we could’ve been close had we just had a little more time and better circumstances, or if we learned anything valuable from each other, just know that I’m glad that you are or were a part of my life, that you have your special place in my heart, and that on this coming day where we’re supposed to make a big deal, I may be walking alone, spending my evening eating a burger and watching Robocop, but I’ll be happy because I’ve been given a chance to know you. I hope this message is better than candies and flowers. I hope you have the story you’ve always wanted.

Twenty years of prayer, and here I am pretty darn blessed to have such amazing ladies cross my path and show me what I’ve been praying for. Thanks to each of you who are, in fact, amazing.

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An Analysis of “What, What”

Originally posted to Blogspot on:

February 5, 2014

Imagine this scenario: I log into Facebook to check the latest news feed. One of my friends has just posted a picture of himself sipping Mai Tais on a South Pacific beach with rock stars on one hand and supermodels on the other. The picture is not Photoshopped. I want to believe it’s real, but I can’t. It’s too much to take in. I don’t know what to say if it’s true. The latest phrase craze for 2014 helps me ask the pointed question: “What, what?” What indeed.

Where did this “what, what” come from? Why am I talking crazy? Forget Facebook photos. Maybe I just saw a bear drinking from a water fountain on a cold, winter day. Maybe my car smells like booze when I don’t drink. In any case where the immediate circumstance drops my guard, I have no choice but to react. I have to react with the quickest phrase I can grab. I let my residual memory take over. The words to leave my lips are unscripted, unplanned. “What, what?” I say. It just seems like the right words for the strange occasion.

What have I just said?

Truthfully, there’s no answer to the question, “What, what?” It’s not even a question. It’s an exclamation, much like the old traditional “What the heck” and its many variants. But we all know that. But do we know why that?

I think it comes down to brain laziness. Think about it. We know the strange circumstance deserves a reaction. But asking “what the heck,” “what the hell,” or “what the f—” demands us to examine the f— for what it is, and maybe the f— is too much trouble to examine. Maybe we want to simplify our reaction, or simply react without the consequence of thinking. We want something more general, hence the birth of the substitute phrase, “What the what.”

Though, to blame the phrase on “something general” is to give it too much credit. I think it’s more accurate to assume that “what the what” is our way of admitting that we don’t want to think about what “what” is. To try to pigeonhole it with “the heck” is to put too much thought into something that will be forgotten in five minutes or less. No, “what the what” is plenty to get our point across. Obviously, what we’re seeing is nuts. It shouldn’t need further explanation or understanding. “What the what” expresses our understanding of “the heck” and “the f—” well enough without forcing us to explore the meaning behind it. It’s like finding Stevia or Splenda on the counter next to the coffeemaker, not reading its package, and calling it sugar. It’s just easier to assume without reading the truth.

But that over-credits the truth. In reality, we have to assume that language has begun to take the lazy way out, thanks to text speak and the already natural economy of English. And thanks to that economic handling of speech (read: lazy), we have since decided we don’t really need “the” to express our horror to “what the what” means, and hence we have simplified our reaction to that bear drinking from the water fountain with “what, what.”

The irony, of course, is that we must pause between the “what” and the “what,” making the sudden urgency of using “the” in our reaction pointless. Are we using “the” because we don’t want to slow down? Or are we omitting “the” because we’re too lazy to speak quickly? It’s a complicated subject, complicated enough to make me say, “What, what?”

My response? What indeed.

Callous

Previously unpublished. Originally written on:

February 2, 2014:

When I was younger, I wrote a few bleeding heart essays about my hopes for the future in the realm of my own bleeding heart. The titles don’t really matter anymore. Many of them were speculative, ideas I had about love, the fulfillment of it, what it is, what it should’ve been, and so on. They were written during an exceptionally depressed period in my life—a time when I was supposed to know what I wanted, made cautious advances into trial and error, attached myself to pointless devotions, and never really knew which side was up. Years later I should know something by now. But I don’t. I know nothing. I’m 37 years old and I know absolute jack.

I used to write these kinds of essays to find some kind of peace, a chance to blow off the steam that pressured my heart into bursting. I had desires I couldn’t quench. Writing about it kinda helped, kinda left me with an insecure hope that maybe something will change now. And the steam would lift a bit, and I’d feel better. But it would always come back. In time, I learned how to ignore it. Pretend I don’t care. Eventually, my pretend became real life. I stopped caring. I stopped believing that the future I had wanted since I was a kid was even mine to have.

I had this belief when I was a teenager that I’d start my family at 21. My parents were 21 when they married. Both sets of grandparents were in their early twenties. My own sister, who is 16 years my junior, is now engaged; she, too, is 21. I thought that was my time. I thought the prayer I had started when I was 17 would come to fruition by then. I even had a glimmer of hope when I had gotten the opportunity to meet a woman who, after just two weeks of casual friendship, would somehow steal my heart away in a way that no one else before her ever could, and I was 21. Then a month into getting to know her, I had finally found out about her boyfriend. Even after many intense nights in prayer over the four years I had begun praying for God to put someone worthwhile in my life, I was stuck with a deep interest I could not act on. But I still had hope that circumstances would eventually change. I still had hope that I’d have a chance to say how I felt, if only I had just ridden out the waiting until the very end. I had waited four and a half years for that relationship to end, and when I finally had the opportunity to say something, I did not get the response I had hoped for. I had lived four and a half years in what we now call “the friend zone.” Back then, I had no idea that was a thing.

Why am I dwelling on a hope that had ended 12 years ago? Why should I care? Those feelings I once had are long gone. The friend that I had hoped I could grow with had since found and married another. That door was never open, but it had since closed so tightly that not even a termite could get through. Why did I, in spite the warning from many friends, hold on to something that was hopeless? Misplaced faith, perhaps? Did I think God would change her heart for me? Since when did He start infringing on His own gift of free will? I had to accept the fact that it was never meant to be, and if I had an opportunity with anyone else during those four and a half years that I was purposely ignoring (which sadly I can think of only two who were of any interest to me, and I’m not even sure they were single—the pattern in those days was if I was interested, they weren’t single), I didn’t take it. I still don’t know if I had made a bad call, or if I had simply made the only call I could. College was a hotbed of dead ends for me. Why am I dwelling on the past? The past is supposed to communicate with our future so that we can make a different, and hopefully better choice. Unfortunately, my past isn’t speaking to my future, because so much other randomly confusing crap had clogged the phone line during the years in between.

It has now been twenty years since I started asking God to provide someone special to take my side and join my life—literally, just one. I’ve never believed in random or shotgun dating. Even when I was 13 and stupid, I was still thinking of my future and the consequences of wasting my heart on someone who didn’t deserve it (aka, anyone I wasn’t going to spend my life with). Yes, I was a shy kid who was afraid to ask someone out. I had two elementary school crushes, both crushes lasting about two years, and neither crush shocking me with an ounce of courage. I was a friend to both, and that was comfortable to me. But expressing my heart—not a chance—too scary. Thanks to my deadly combination of shyness and forward-thinking, I had blown the opportunity to receive my first kiss at the age of 12 when a girl I had never met before or seen since had intercepted me in the front yard of my neighbor’s house, began to flirt, and asked me if I had wanted to kiss her. It was a thrilling question, certainly, but strange considering I was just going next door because I had forgotten my key, and I needed to get the spare from my neighbor, and I really wasn’t expecting to have someone coming onto me just fifty feet from my front door. Yet, there she was, the nameless girl, who I don’t remember being particularly cute, chatting me up, wanting me to take her to the beach, and, well, I don’t remember everything she had asked me or what I had responded to. I just thought, “I gotta get out of here before this girl steals away my first kiss.” So I left. Then I immediately blamed the episode of Full House that addressed the topic of first kisses for stealing away my first kiss. To this day I think allowing whatever was going to happen, if the girl was even serious, would’ve encouraged me more in my teenage years to take those risks that I had never actually taken, and maybe I would’ve had my partner beside me by the age of 21. All speculative, of course. I also think letting the girl take that first kiss away from me would’ve made me too comfortable in my teen years to sample the buffet line and weaken my standards, as many who start dating young seem to do.

I don’t technically regret that missed opportunity. As I said, I have no idea whether the girl was serious or just playing a game with me. Even as a 12-year-old, I didn’t understand teenagers. But, sometimes I do kinda regret it. What had I forfeited by rejecting her? What life had I closed the door to by listening to my fears rather than listening to my curiosity? What about the elementary school crushes? The second crush took place during the early dawn of my adolescence. What if I had spoken up about it before that last day of school (which I missed because I was sick, and the girl who I liked, who, on the second-to-last day of school had asked me if I was coming tomorrow, I never saw again)? Maybe I dodged promiscuity. Maybe I dodged what Lifehouse calls a “sick cycle carousel” of bad choices and callous feelings by avoiding that first kiss as a 12-year-old. I know plenty of people who have taken that curious leap early in life. Many of them have since jumped from relationship to relationship to relationship like rabbits jump from carrot to carrot. I guess they’re content. I mean, why wouldn’t they be? Culture teaches us to experiment. We’re made to satisfy our curiosities until we find something we like. Isn’t that why we’ve got ten thousand religions as opposed to one? Isn’t that why we can commit to our spouses as long as someone better doesn’t come along in time? As a culture, I think we’ve stopped caring about the baggage we carry because we no longer seem interested in guarding against the acquisition of yet another bag.

I don’t know if avoiding that risk was actually smart. Maybe I avoided all kinds of baggage, but maybe I also avoided the path that would lead me to my dreams coming true. I’ve since taken risks that I might’ve been afraid to take when I was younger. My brief stint with online dating sure helped with that. Talking to strangers does not normally fit into my comfort zone, and talking to them with the intention of maybe dating just complicates comfort even more. But online dating forced me to get comfortable with it. Sadly, however, it didn’t change my circumstances. There were very few that genuinely appealed to me. Only one of those few had actually spent time getting to know me, and she lived eleven states away. She decided she wanted to stay single just three months after we had begun talking to each other. Apparently she had never gotten over her ex, who had dumped her ten months earlier, and didn’t think a new relationship would fix it. Whether we were building a relationship or not, she didn’t want to invest any more toward it, for the sake of her spiritual or emotional healing. After waiting years and years for someone to take me seriously (after that summer day when I was twelve), I couldn’t believe my ill luck. I had truly liked her. The only one I had any real interest in, in all of Internet dating. That moment, as far as I know, was my first step onto the pirate ship plank called “the friend zone” with her. And we had met on an Internet dating site! Honestly, I don’t know that skipping that first kiss at 12 years old had actually changed anything.

Why am I dwelling on the past? Why do I care about those moments long out of reach that have no more concern for my life? Those circumstances are over. They can’t hurt me worse. I’ve since healed from each of them. Why do I care? I’m dwelling on the past because time is flying by so quickly, yet so little has changed since those days. I’ve been silently struggling with the crippling fear that soon I’m gonna be too old to enjoy the beginnings of my own family and still live long enough to watch yet a new generation begin. I have to cast that thought out of mind if I’m to prevent it from crippling me. It’s the only way I can handle it. It’s not like I’ve had much power to change it or encourage it. To make a family requires a partner, and that is not something I can just make happen. Pretty much every attempt to invite someone new into my life ends with someone else (or something else) stealing her away. Often, the thief is her own strict unbreakable rules that make no exception for me or the time that she gives to other matters that she makes more important than me. Sometimes it’s just the cold, hard truth that she prefers another man, maybe a bunch of other men, to me, and that man decides the iron is hot, so he strikes. Whatever the case, it leaves me hopeless. That sucks. I care about the moments that are long out of reach because history repeats itself all too often, and that also sucks.

I’ve grown tired of caring about this. I’ve grown tired of wanting it. Truthfully, I haven’t lost anything by rejecting that kiss when I was a kid, or ignoring the potentially good women in college because there was literally one that had my full heart and focus, or taking chances where chances shouldn’t have been taken. I think I’d still be where I am today regardless of those curious risks. Long ago I had prayed that God’s will be done in my life. Long ago I had prayed that God would find me just one to love, to grow with, and to spend my life with. I imagine God has taken those two prayers seriously. But that’s okay. I’ve invited God to help me with my choices. He is, after all, the only one with the ability to see the consequences of my choices completely. Every new friendship with a woman of quality, especially those that begin by “coincidence” (read: God’s bringing us together for a purpose), inspires me with a little more hope toward finding that one. But I don’t say anything. I don’t act. Why? Because I’m afraid of loss. Because the few times I’ve taken that deadly chance, I’ve taken the knob in hand and slammed the door in my own face. I didn’t risk that first kiss that summer of 1988. But I have risked expressing my heart to those I’ve believed in, aware of the pain that would follow if that woman rejected me and consequently decided she was finished getting to know me, and I have since taken that pain that I knew could come, multiple times. Maybe the problem is that I don’t acknowledge life for what it is: a series of choices that have positive and negative effects, where the positive effects are rewards and the negative effects merely expose a bad fit for what it is.

Maybe I shouldn’t be callous about any of it. Maybe I should care. But maybe I should also not be so afraid of making potentially catastrophic chances. Maybe I should also just be who I am, say what I have to say, and stop caring about the hurt that might follow. Maybe life doesn’t just pass us by like a freight train. Maybe life is too short to care about the pain that comes with risk and uncertainty. Maybe, for those women who did mean something to me back in the day, I should’ve just said something early on and gotten it over with. Maybe I would’ve lost them sooner, but the pain would’ve been less than what I actually experienced. Funny how too much caution can sometimes make things worse than they need to be.

Anyway, I know my thoughts on the matter are a bit scattered, but that’s just how relationships make me feel: scatterbrained. I don’t know how anyone can make any sense of them.