Book Review: Fight Back With Joy

HowToFightBackWithJoy“More than whimsy, joy is a weapon we use to fight life’s battles.”

Author Margaret Feinberg makes this profound observation in her new book Fight Back With Joy.

Her journey with joy began by choosing “joy” as her one word for the year. She expected the year to be a mix of giddy feelings, spreading kindness, and banning worry. But in the middle of this year of joy, life threw another ingredient into the mix: cancer. Not a very common ingredient in a recipe for joy. Fight Back With Joy is Margaret’s story of how she found joy in the midst of pain.

But the book isn’t just a retelling of Margaret’s battle with cancer. Instead, she writes for all of us who fight for joy in our life battles with money troubles, broken relationships, and painful loneliness. Through her story and the stories of other joy-fighters in Scripture, Margaret gives all of us the tools to discover joy in the midst of life’s heartaches.

Margaret writes:

The Bible insists that joy is more than a feeling: it’s an action. We don’t just sense joy; we embody it by the way we respond to the circumstances before us.

What is the genesis of joy? I believe that, at its core, joy emanates from the abiding sense of God’s fierce love for us.

This resonates with me because I have found this to be true. If I simply take time to remember God’s fierce love even when deadlines loom, over-packed schedules crush my soul, and life comes crashing in, I am comforted. When I take the time to hear God whisper, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3) my heart pushes back the deadlines, the busyness, and the looming darkness to rest in the joy of God’s grace.

Margaret reminds us that no matter what life brings, God can help us fight our way back to joy. Her book and Bible study give us the tools to win the battle.

Purchase the book here and here and the Bible study here!

Question: How do you fight for joy?

Book Review: Storm Sisters

What exactly is a storm sister?

Read author Afton Rorvik’s definition:

Storm Sister (n)–a friend who sticks close when storms hit her friend’s life. Such a friend might also go by the title of sister, longtime friend, rediscovered friend, or acquaintance who offers or accepts friendship in a crisis. This type of friendship particularly thrives among women connected first to God.

We have all had times in our lives when we needed someone to stand by us. When a child was ill or a parent was dying or we were struggling with the darkness of depression. Thank God for  storm sisters!

There are also times when we need to be that storm sister. But sometimes it is difficult to know what to do for a friend who is struggling with tough times in her life. We are not sure what to say, what not to say, what to do, what not to do.

Afton Rorvik’s book teaches us how to step gently into the lives of those who are hurting. Through her own story of storm sisterhood, she demonstrates how to give meaningful help.

The book was born out of the author’s own experience as she watched her mother die of a rare neurological disease at about the same time a close friend found out her three-year-old had a brain tumor. These two friends learned how to support each other through the aches of life. Now Afton is sharing what she learned.

The book is full of beautiful sisterhood stories and practical advice. It is both an intimate journey of Afton’s own experiences and practical help for those who want to be a storm sister. One part of the book I especially liked was “What if” questions at the end of every chapter. For example:

What if?

We all struggle to recognize and admit our need. What might happen if in just one friendship, you both found the courage to speak of your deep-down needs?

At the end of the book you will also find reflection/discussion questions and an exploration of what the Bible has to say on the subject.

This book would be an excellent choice for a book club or Bible study group. It is helpful for every woman who has a hurting friend.

But even if you don’t need advice on how to help a storm sister, it is a beautiful story of the relationship a mother and daughter supported by a myriad of friends.

Question: Who has been a storm sister for you?

Favorite Books of 2014

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It is probably no surprise that reading is one of my favorite pastimes. Just opening a book fills me with expectation of a good story or of life-changing lessons. I can take a journey without even leaving my family room.

I love the quote:

Whenever you read a good book, somewhere in the world a door opens to allow in more light.
–Vera Nazarian

Isn’t it true that when you read a good book, your life is given a little more understanding, a little more compassion, a little more light.

I’ve read a lot of good books this year, but I thought I would share a few of my favorites of 2014 three fiction and three non-fiction.

Fiction

Redeeming Love is by one of my favorite Christan fiction writers, Francine Rivers.It’s a powerful retelling of the biblical story of Gomer and Hosea. I was especially drawn to the story because it is about a human-trafficking victim, but it also blends in historical facts of the California Gold Rush. Redeeming Love is a life-changing story of God’s unconditional, redemptive, all-consuming love.

 

I loved Jan Karon’s Mitford series so much that I read the whole set twice. So when I heard that she was writing another book in the series, I knew I had to read it. Once again, Karon draws you into characters that are real–flawed but loveable. In Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good Father Tim is retired and struggles to find new meaning for his life. He discovers that God can use someone even when they are not in the pulpit.

 

The Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron weaves a modern story of an art dealer looking for a painting of a concentration camp victim playing the violin and the historical story of the woman in the painting. Although it is dark at times, there is hope throughout.

 

 

 

 

Non-Fiction

Teach Us to Want: Longing, Ambition & the Life of Faith is an engrossing and challenging book. Jen Pollock Michel writes a theology of desire explored through the words of the Lord’s Prayer. Desire has been a topic I have long struggled with. Teach Us to Want untangled a lot of my thoughts on the subject. In fact, I plan to read it again for it teaches us how to want well.

 

In Quenched: Christ’s Living Water for a Thirsty Soul, author Donna Pyle leads us to drink from God’s wellspring of life. She tells how we can quench our thirst with a long drink of God’s goodness and grace. Donna explores Scriptures that have a water theme like the woman at the well, the man at the pool of Bethesda, David at the brook of Besor.

 

I started reading Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us, by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun in preparation for the new book I am writing. But I came back to it again and again for my own spiritual growth. Calhoun gently guides the reader into a closer relationship with the Almighty God through spiritual practices. As I met with God in solitude and spiritual retreat, Bible study and prayer, I was truly transformed.

 

 

Happy reading!

Question: What was your favorite book of 2014?

Book Review: Teach Us to Want

Many, like me, imagine desire and faith in a boxing ring, facing off like opponents.

Jen Pollock Michel makes that statement in the first chapter of her book, Teach Us to Want: Longing, Ambition & the Life of Faith. This engrossing and challenging book is a theology of desire explored through the words of the Lord’s Prayer.

I, too, have seen desire and faith as opponents: my old self wanting my desires to win and my new self rooting for faith. I have often complained that I have a dysfunctional “wanter.” After all, my health would be so much better if I wanted to do push-ups and eat salad instead of craving couch time and Mint Moose Tracks ice cream. My spiritual life would be easier if I only desired what God desired. In fact, maybe life would be better if I simply didn’t have any desires.

But Michel makes the case that desires are a natural part of us. Without desire we don’t have the fuel to move ahead in life. Our unique desires are part of who we are. Yes, our “wanters” can be corrupted, and so we must be careful to guard our hearts, but desire can be what draws us closer to God.

Reading Teach Us to Want helped me learn a lot of desire:

  • Desire pulls us to our heavenly Father as we pray for what we need.
  • Examining our desires can lead to self-discovery and transformation.
  • Unmet desire is a training program for learning to trust a gracious God.
  • We want too much and we want too little.
  • It is not self-effort that recalibrates our wanters. Only God’s grace can turn our heart’s desires toward His kingdom.

Desire has been a topic I have long struggled with. Teach Us to Want untangled a lot of my thoughts on the subject. In fact, now that I have finished reading it, I plan to read it again. It is a meaty book, filled with honest transparency and personal stories.

I think this quote from the last chapter sums up Teach Us to Want:

There is a biblical case for wanting and wanting well…Although easily corrupted, desire is good, right and necessary. It is a force of movement in our lives, a means of transportation. It can be the very thing that motivates us to change and that carries us to God…Growing into maturity doesn’t mean abandoning our desires, but growing in our discernment of them.

Check out Teach Us to Want on Amazon.

Jen Pollock Michel is a writer, speaker, and mother of five. She is a regular contributor for Christianity Today’s her.meneutics and also writes for Today in the Word, a monthly devotional published by The Moody Bible Institute.  Jen earned her B.A. in French from Wheaton College and her M.A. in Literature from Northwestern University. She lives in Toronto, Canada, with her family and blogs at jenpollockmichel.com. You can follow Jen on Twitter @jenpmichel.

Book Review: Red Hot Faith

We all want to live a life of purpose and meaning. But too often we find ourselves wondering if carpools, washing dishes, and grocery shopping really adds up to a life of  nothing.

My friend Cindy Bultema has written a new Bible study that is a road map for all of us to live a life of passion for the One who saved us. It’s called Red Hot Faith: Lessons from a Lukewarm Church. In this study based on the message to the Laodicean church in Revelation 3, Cindy expertly uses this passage to encourage us to step out of our lukewarm lives. Full of her personal story which includes many honest confessions and difficult times, she shows how God used all of those things to bring her into a life of red hot faith.

I love the section entitled “Lukewarm Checklist” where Cindy throws out statements to help readers evaluate where they are spiritually. Well, maybe love isn’t the right word because I found myself checking too many of these statements like “It’s easy for me to get caught up in my everyday routine rather than to focus on eternal matters” and “I don’t know most of my neighbors’ first names.” But it helped me to see where I could live more passionately for Christ.

Don’t worry. The study is filled with grace. Cindy helps us all see ourselves as beloved daughters of God, rather than any false labels that we might pin on ourselves. She tells us:

As we come to Christ by faith and because of His forgiveness, we can let go of the shame, false labels, hurts, secrets, lies, sinful choices, and fears, and then receive His perfect remedy for our condition–right living with God. Thank you, Jesus!

This study has a video component that was partly shot in Turkey at the site of the Laodicean church. How cool is that? I can’t wait to do this study with my small group.

I have a copy of the study, leaders’ guide and DVD to give away! To be entered into the giveaway, leave a comment below by midnight August 23. I will announce the winner on August 26.

Question: Why do you feel the need for Red Hot Faith in your life?

Cindy Bultema is a wife, mom, women’s speaker, author, hot lunch volunteer, and overcomer.

She loves her family, sparkly confetti, an extra hot cup of coffee, celebrating, cheering for her boys’ hockey games,  and meeting new women and hearing their beautiful hearts. Most  importantly, she loves Jesus and the Bible, and has devoted her life to telling others about God’s unfailing love.

Connect with Cindy at  her website.

Find Red Hot Faith on Amazon.

Book Review: The Making of a Mom

Today’s post is written by a writer friend of mine who has a fabulous new book out for moms. Stephanie Shott has a vision for helping moms become the best parents they can be. Please read her story and get inspired to be a mentor mom or a mentee!

I caught a glimpse of her as she walked across the parking lot. She looked to be about sixteen. Young in years, but great with child.

Reflecting on my own teen pregnancy, I couldn’t help but wonder if she was ready for the journey ahead. Did she grasp the greatness of her newfound role and how everything she had ever known was about to change? Would someone walk with through her motherhood or would she have to go it alone?

I was eighteen when my son was born and had no idea what it meant to be a mom. Oh, I thought the whole mom thing was going to be a breeze, but it didn’t take long to learn that my dream of motherhood was very different from my reality.

I wanted to be the mom who did all the right things, never had to count to three, and baked her own bread.

But instead, I was a single mom, without Christ, without a mentor, and without a clue.

As the years passed, I married, and not long after that I became a Christian. Everything changed except that I still didn’t have a mentor and I barely had a clue.

For me, motherhood was like a messy experiment and my kids were the guinea pigs. 

That was twenty-seven years ago, and as I reflect on the way I muddled my way through motherhood, I can’t help but wonder where all the mentors were. I remember looking up to several women in the church, yet for some reason I was never able to wiggle my way under their wing.

But it shouldn’t have been that hard, and no mom should have to go it alone. After all, mentoring should be woven into the fabric of the church. Right?

Mentoring moms is powerful. It’s how you and I can change the world. It’s not only a God-given way in which we can leave a legacy of faith, but it’s also an amazing tool to help us reach our communities and this culture for the Lord Jesus Christ.

Two years ago I started The M.O.M. Initiative—a ministry devoted to helping the body of Christ make mentoring missional. Evangelistic in nature, the mission is to begin M.O.M. Groups that not only minister to moms who know Christ but that we reach those who don’t.

Ultimately, our goal is to reach a MILLION MOMS for Christ. And if only 3 women in 1/2 of the churches in the United States would mentor just 3 other moms, that would translate into reaching a MILLION MOMS for Christ and impacting over 2.5 MILLION CHILDREN as a result.

Sitting in the parking lot, a ministry was born and a book was conceived. I wrote The Making of a Mom to be a unique dual purpose resource. A book to help lay a solid biblical foundations for real moms who are in the trenches of motherhood…to help answer the deep questions of a moms heart and to help each mom embrace the significance of her role as a mother. I want moms to know they are deeply loved and profoundly influential.

I also wrote The Making of a Mom to provide and inreach and an outreach resource for the church.

To help the body of Christ weave mentoring into the fabric of the local church. As an outreach, The Making of a Mom equips local churches with a unique resource that will help them weave mentoring into the fabric of the church and to reach their communities and this  culture for Christ by mentoring moms in urban areas, in low-income apartment complexes, neighborhoods, prisons, homeless shelters, crisis pregnancy centers, the mission field and wherever young moms can be found.

You see, if we reach the moms of this generation, we’ll reach the heart of the next generation. but if we don’t, I’m afraid we’ll lose them all.

Today, you and I have an opportunity to change the world one mom at a time through the power and beauty of mentoring.

I didn’t have a mentor . . . and I don’t know if that young girl at the gas station will have one either. But no mom should have to go it alone. So, let’s step into our Titus 2 shoes and begin impacting our community and this culture for the Lord Jesus Christ.

We’ll have forever to be glad we did.

To find out more about how you can begin a M.O.M. Group, click this link.

To find out how to sign up to be ONE in a MILLION MOMS who would like to be connected with a mentor and raise your children to know Christ, click this link.

To find out how to order The Making of a Mom.

Stephanie Shott is the founder of The M.O.M. Initiative, a ministry devoted to making mentoring intentionally missional. She is an author and a popular speaker who helps women live full, fearless and faithful lives. To invite Stephanie to speak at your next event, visit her website at www.stephanieshott.com. To find out more about The M.O.M. Initiative or to begin a M.O.M. Mentor Group, visit www.themominitiative.com.

Book Review: Quenched

QuenchedSpiritually thirsty. That’s what we all are–whether we recognize it or not.

In her new book, Quenched: Christ’s Living Water for a Thirsty Soul, author Donna Pyle leads us to drink from God’s wellspring of life. She tells how we can quench our thirst with a long drink of God’s goodness and grace.

Donna tells about her own quest to satisfy her thirst. She candidly shares her story of not growing up in the church, of living a party lifestyle as a young adult, of being invited to attend church and worrying about not fitting in. She tells how eventually she met Jesus–the Provider of living water. The One who could satisfy her thirsty soul.

The book is divided into two parts. The first section is addressed to new believers and the second part talks to veteran disciples. Donna says:

New disciples search for ways to quench thirsty souls that are parched by a dehydrated culture, shame, and guilt. Veteran disciples–that is, those who have walked that spiritual journey for many years–find themselves overcommitted, overcriticized, and shriveled dry from hectic demands.

Anyone relate?

I found both parts of the book to be insightful and inspirational. Donna explores Scriptures that have a water theme like the woman at the well, the man at the pool of Bethesda, David at the brook of Besor.

One of my favorite chapters was “Faith Overboard, with a Splash of Crazy” which digs into the story of Peter walking on water. Donna challenged me with her words:

Risk-taking faith triumphs over scientific surveillance when it comes to our spiritual growth.

Peter was the only disciple brave enough (or crazy enough?) to ask Jesus to call him out on the water. The others all stayed in the boat. They were more sane. They were more safe. But did their faith grow as much as Peter’s did?

I am very risk-averse. I always try to take the safe route. I think I would have stayed in the boat with James and John rather than stepping out on the water with Peter. Donna says,

Christians need to stop living as if our purpose is to arrive safely at death.

I pray that I will be more like Peter–willing to step out on the water if Christ calls me-even if it is risky and unsafe. I know Jesus will always be there to rescue me.

Question: When your soul is thirsty, how do you quench the thirst?

A soul-stirring, engaging speaker, author, Bible teacher, and worship leader, Donna has a passion for studying and teaching God’s Word.

Donna has written over 20 Bible studies and travels to speak and teach where the Lord opens doors. She has released two DVD Bible study series that provide a conduit for people to dig deep into Scripture.

Donna enjoys traveling, reading, singing, and driving her cats crazy with feather toys.

Donna’s blog: Hydrated Living

Book Review: Finding Spiritual Whitespace

Finding Spiritual Whitespace

This post is part of the  “Finding Spiritual Whitespace Blog Tour” which I am a part of, along with a group of soulful, journeying kindreds. To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE!  

Awakening Your Soul to Rest.

Doesn’t that sound inviting?

It’s the subtitle of a new book by Bonnie Gray titled Finding Spiritual Whitespace. Whitespace is the space on the page left blank–purposely left blank to give meaning to the rest of the words or art share that page.

Bonnie Gray reminds us in her book that our lives need whitespace too. We need blank spaces in our calendars, in our days, in our hours–to rest, reflect, and make room for Jesus.

There are many amazing moments in Finding Spiritual Whitespace, but one that touched me deeply is when she talks about being a “joy-wounded stranger”–comparing herself to the beaten stranger on the road in Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan. She writes,

Jesus is telling me to stop on the side of the road of my busy life and take care of the joy-wounded me. Jesus is telling me to break away from neglecting my soul. Joy is an act of faith–to offer kindness and compassion–to the joy-wounded stranger in you and me.

Like Gray, I never saw myself as the wounded stranger. I always saw myself as the priest or Levite who didn’t take the time to help. But now I see that I can be all three.

One part of me is the stranger, beat up by the world. It’s injured, hurt, and bleeding. It needs bandages of care and salves of love.

But the other parts of me are too focused on getting where they need to go. The priest in me is too concerned about finishing his tasks. The Levite is too busy to stop and care for the wounded part of me. 

And so the “joy-wounded stranger” inside me continues to languish on the side of the road.

I’ve decided I need to tell the efficient parts of my self to put it on their to-do lists to care for the wounded self. The parts of me that thrive with action items and goals must also attend to the needs of the other part of my self that needs rest, relationships, and time to read a good book. 

We all need to stop and care for the “joy-wounded strangers” inside of us. To care for the parts of us that are wounded. To provide relief and rest for the pieces of our souls that are worn thin through stress or busyness.

How will you take care of your “joy-wounded stranger”?

Bonnie Gray is the writer behind Faith Barista.com who wrote a book about her inspiring, heart-breaking journey to find rest, which garnered Publisher’s Weekly starred review. I’m taking the journey to find rest through this guidebook and invite you to read it too.  You can get a copy HERE.

 

Book Review: Reclaiming Eve

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The Identity and Calling of Women in the Kingdom of God

The authors of Reclaiming Eve had me riveted from the moment I read that subtitle.

I struggle to find my identity. Although I occasionally get glimpses of it, I often feel like it is hiding beneath my doubts. Or it’s just out of reach and if I could just find some free time, I could actually catch up to it.

But Suzanne Burden, Carla Sunberg, and Jamie Wright, the three authors of Reclaiming Eve, reassure us that we can find our identity–in God’s Word. They take us back to the story when God first created woman.

Genesis 2:18 says:

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man [adam] to be alone. I will make a helper [ezer] suitable for him.”

It turns out that the word ezer is one of the keys to our identity as women. Burden explains that although most of our English translations call ezer “helper,” that word isn’t adequate to describe the depth of God’s original intentions for all his daughters. “Ezer” also carries the meaning of a strong power and an agent of rescue. She tells us that “It just so happens this same word is used sixteen times in the Old Testament to describe God himself and how he comes through for his people in a time of great difficulty.” Wow! Women are not weak helpers, but, as creatures bearing God’s image, able to be strong powers for good.

The book goes on to describe our identity and calling in alliance with our brothers in Christ and in our sisterhood with other women. It talks about striving for wholeness instead of perfection and healing in the midst of community. One chapter describes the role of spiritual disciplines in growing our faith. And the final chapter discusses our roles in serving the body of Christ.

I especially resonated with the Sisterhood chapter. This chapter spends some time digging into 2 Corinthians 3:18 (which happens to be my life verse):

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Sunberg reminds us that it is God who gives us our image–in Christ Jesus we receive a brand-new, clean image. And as we continue to grow closer to God the reflection of Jesus grows in our hearts until we are transformed into His likeness. She then says,

“Interestingly, when we decrease and he increases, we become more of the person God intended for us to be in the first place.”

I love that! I have found that to be so true–and Sunberg said it so well. I’m posting those words on my bulletin board where I can see them every day!

This chapter also reminds us that we all meant to be encouragers. And yet we often tear our sisters in Christ down instead of build them up. These words gave me something to ponder:

“Every woman with whom you share this journey of faith is being transformed into the likeness of Christ. If we really stopped and thought about the journey on which we all find ourselves, would we be so critical?”

One word of disagreement with the book. The second chapter of this book does talk about women in the pulpit. The denomination I belong to (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) does not ordain women. I wholeheartedly agree with the authors that women should have opportunities to use their God-given gifts to share the good news of Jesus, but don’t I believe we need to be in the pulpit to do that. The last chapter of Reclaiming Eve also mentions this. Wright writes: “Service is not only teaching from the pulpit but also filling someone’s chipped mug with coffee in a church basement while talking with them about their illness. Service can be driving a bus full of kids…or praying with a friend at the altar.”

My Kindle edition of this book has so many highlighted passages that it almost entirely yellow, so it is hard to choose another favorite quote, but I will close with this one:

God’s plan was to fill his people with his Holy Spirit, and in filling them with his Holy Spirit, he would transform their hearts…This meant that they would no longer live by a set of rules, but instead, they would be motivated by the desires of their heart, which would be to love God and love their neighbor. A true ezer is motivated by Christ and the desire for Christlikeness. (Chapter 4)

Check out Reclaiming Eve: The Identity and Calling of Women in the Kingdom of God on Amazon.

ReclaimingEve

 Question: Do you agree that the sisterhood of Christ tends to be critical of each other?

Book Review: Stepping Out to a Life On the Edge

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Do you tend to live safe in your comfort zone?

Or do you live a life on the edge?

That is the question author Deb Burma asks in her book, Stepping Out to a Life On the Edge.

Deb begins the book by admitting her own fears, especially the fear of diving boards! When she was taking swimming lessons as a kid her instructor told her to jump off the diving board into the deep end. Deb was afraid but jumped anyway. Once in the water she really panicked and her flailing limbs prevented her from bobbing to the surface. The swimming instructor had to jump in and save her. Ever since then Deb has been afraid of diving boards. Sometimes she gets to the edge, but…

Well, I let you read the book to see if she has been able to overcome her fear and jump.

Deb also realized that fear sometimes prevents her from taking a leap of faith in other areas of her life. When God asks her to take a step of faith, she is sometimes afraid to step off the edge, but reminds herself that God is always there to catch her.

Throughout the book Deb encourages all of us to take that step of faith–to step out on the edge–out of our comfort zone.

Each of the twelve chapters encourages readers to take that step in different area of their lives. The chapters include:

  • Stepping Out of My Past to a Life Lived Fully in the Present
  • Stepping Out of My Need to Please to a Life Lived for an Audience of One
  • Steeping Out of My Hurried Lifestyle to a Life of Balance and Rest
  • Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone to a Life Filled with New Opportunities

One of my favorite chapters is “Stepping Out of my Insecurity to a Life of Confidence in Christ.” Here Deb reminds us that Satan always tries to get us to focus on what we are lacking and how we are completely insufficient. But then Jesus steps in and reminds us that He is sufficient. 2 Corinthians 3:45 says,

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God.

Deb says,

“Remember this: He gives you exactly what you need to complete exactly the tasks He has in mind for you.”

In Stepping Out Deb shares her own struggles but then shares how Jesus steps in to overcome each struggle. She shares stories from her own life and from the lives of others who have learned to live a life on the edge. Each chapter includes reflection questions.

Stepping Out would be a great summer read or tool for a fall Bible study.

Find out more about Deb Burma here.