When Bad Things Happen

It doesn’t take more than a minute of watching the news to be convinced that bad things happen every day. And most of the time, we’re accepting of this fact. Until the storm hits us.
In the case of my home state, fires are ravaging the scenic Columbia River Gorge. People I know have been displaced and might lose everything they own if the hungry flames aren’t stopped.


In the case of Texas, it was a hurricane named Harvey. That cruel man dumped a year’s worth of rain in a hour. Needless to say, things were swept away.


In the case of America, there have been shootings and attacks against innocents. This used to be the signature move of terrorists, but these days it seems anyone can get involved.


In every event, people affected by the fallout want to point a finger of blame.
Why is that? Will it make the bad things go away? If the guilty parties cough up whatever restitution deemed appropriate by the victims, will it change anything that has happened?
I’m a proponent of justice. Hello? Wonder Woman is an icon on this blog for a reason.


But sometimes unjust things happen and no one is to blame.
Can we truly blame the hurricane on someone?
Maybe those who ascribe to global warming will say these increasingly severe storms are in direct correlation with that.
I believe God is the Creator and Master of the universe. Does that mean he’s to blame for the severe weather and its damaging outcome?
But I try not to play the blame game.
Why?
Because it solves nothing.
It won’t reset the game table (our country, the planet) to pre-disaster condition. Nor will it put food, water and other necessities in the hands of the destitute.
Instead of pointing fingers, I go introspective.
I ask myself:

  1. What could I have done differently to change this outcome?
  2. What part did I play in this bad thing?
  3. If my bad decisions led to it, what did I learn from it?
  4. Who can I help overcome a similar bad thing?
  5. What is God trying to teach me during this difficult time?

Most of the time, this keeps me from wallowing too long in the slop called self pity.

But it doesn’t free me from making amends when the answers to the first two questions indicate I played a role in what happened.
And question four empowers me to use what I’ve learned to help other people.
When bad things happen, they hurt more when we face them alone.
When bad things happen, people probably can’t stop them or change them, but they can buoy up the ones suffering.
There’s been an ongoing “bad thing” happening in my personal world for many months. I’ve prayed about it. Ranted about it. Tried to stand up to it.

And it’s still happening.

Because I can’t change the minds of other people. I can’t force them to act according to my code of conduct or adhere to my moral standards and beliefs.
I’m not sure I’ve discovered what God is trying to teach me yet. But here are some things I’ve learned:

  • God is in control even when I don’t see it. Even when things are happening contrary to His perfect will
  • God’s love for me (and the people instigating the problems) is strong and secure
  • I have a spouse who will bolster me when I’m ready to quit and who needs me to do the same for him
  • Anything can become an idol, something worshiped above God, even a church

Life is filled with good and bad. Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to people bent on evil and destruction.

The sun rises on the evil and on the good, and rain falls on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45 paraphrased).

And, Lord, we could really use some rain in Oregon. Although even that wonderful blessing won’t undo all the damage some illegal fireworks caused for so many in this state (and Washington since the fire jumped the mighty Columbia).
What bad things are happening in your world? How do you deal with bad things?

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My YA Fantasy Debut is Coming Soon

In April 2015, I subbed several short stories. In my mind, I “put out the fleece” for my future writing direction. But I had my toes and fingers crossed that the answer would be “Write YA fantasy.”
The short story in this anthology was one of those submissions. I have read all these stories, and they blew my mind. This collection is a perfect example of what happens when you tell a bunch of creatives to rewrite someone else’s tale. Even if the original story is from the Bible.
 
Today Month9Books is revealing the cover and some excerpts for their Charity Anthology IN THE BEGINNING! Which releases October 25, 2016! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers to receive an eGalley!!

On to the reveal!

 

 
Title: IN THE BEGINNING: Dark Retellings of Biblical Tales
Editors: Laureen P. Cantwell and Georgia McBride
Author: Stephen Clements, Nicole Crucial, Mike Hays, Sharon Hughson, Marti Johnson, Elle O’Neill, Laura Palmer, & Christina Raus
Pub. Date: October 25, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback & eBook
Find it: Amazon| B&N |Goodreads
 
In the Beginning (Oct. 25, 2016) –Eight authors come together to build a powerful collection of dark young adult short stories inspired by the mysteries, faith, and darkness found within the Bible. Old Testament and New Testament, iconic and obscure figures alike are illuminated, explored, and re-envisioned throughout this charity anthology from Month9Books.
 
IN THE BEGINNING, edited by Laureen Cantwell and Georgia McBride
 
Daniel and the Dragon by Stephen Clements
A troubled orphan named Habakkuk dutifully follows his master, the prophet Daniel, into temples of blood-thirsty demon-gods, battles with unspeakable horrors, and bears witnesses to mind-breaking evil until his master’s zealous defiance of the king’s law seals their fate.
 
Babylon by Nicole Crucial
Far above the earth, in Second Eden, where moments and eternities all blur together, young Babylon befriends Sefer, the Book of Life. As Babylon awaits the moment she’ll fulfill her destiny, she and Sefer try to understand the world in which they live.
 
Last Will and Testament by Mike Hays
A homeless young boy, Baz, bears the weight of humanity on his shoulders and upon his body. When dark forces test a new-found friendship, Baz’s willingness to bear the ugliness of their world will be shaken. 
 
The Demon Was Me by Sharon Hughson
Based on the story of the demon-possessed boy healed by Jesus, this tale provides a glimpse into a post-apocalyptic world where a teenage boy seeks to journey to a better land and yearns to discover the kind of man he’s meant to be, only to be hijacked by an evil spirit intent upon chipping away at the hope, faith, and resilience of its host.
 
The Deluge by Marti Johnson
A non-believer shares the story of Noah’s ark-building and the deadly downpour that follows. Fear, faithlessness, and the fallibility of mankind collide in a community where second chances aren’t unlimited and a better-late-than-never attitude just might be your doom.
 
Condemned by Elle O’Neill
Just sixteen-years-old, Barabbas finds himself pulled out of Routlege Academy and into a reality show competition—against Jesus himself—where the reward for the winner is life.
 
First Wife by Lora Palmer
In a first-person retelling of the saga of Jacob, Rachel and Leah, themes of family, deception, guilt, and heartache emerge amidst the first days of Leah’s marriage to Jacob—a marriage mired in trickery a mere week before Jacob was to marry Leah’s sister Rachel.
 
Emmaculate by Christina Raus
Based on the story of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, we enter the troubled mind of Emma, who finds herself torn between her religious upbringing and the purity ring that binds her to her boyfriend and the pregnancy that results from her relationship with another boy.
 
Anthology Excerpts:
 
From THE DEMON WAS ME, by Sharon Hughson:
 
The ghastly black fog overtook me. Icicles pierced my back. Every muscle in my body spasmed. I plunged face-first against the ground. Something sharp gouged my cheek. Shivery tingles pervaded my insides. A vile presence pressed against my mind.            
“Get out!” I rolled to my back, arms outstretched. I wanted to fight, throw the intruder off me. But how can you resist something as ethereal as air?
            
Laughter rang in my ears. Sinister. It shuddered against my soul. Terror and hopelessness collided in my chest. A foreign power clutched at my mind.
            
I screamed. I rolled to my side and squeezed my eyes shut. If only I could disappear.
            
Another dark wave of laughter echoed through my skull. Convulsions gripped me. Against my will, my limbs flailed in every direction. A spike pressed into my mind. I cradled my throbbing head. My body, a tumbleweed in the wind, spun on the ground.
 
 
From BABYLON, by Nicole Crucial:
 
Only those will enter Heaven whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
 
These were the first words I heard, in the beginning of time.
 
But Sefer, the protest comes, Revelation wasn’t written until the first century.
 
My answer is that time is a funny little plaything to God, or so I imagine. That first sentence was the wind that breathed life into my chest, the binding of my pages, the ink in my soul. It knitted together my stardust-atoms from across centuries and millennia and planes of existence.
 
And when the first dregs of consciousness swirled at the pit-bottom of my spine, I yawned and opened my eyes to paradise.
 
 
From CONDEMNED, by Elle O’Neill:
 
To his surprise, as he heard the metal door grind to a stop, there was a popping sound, like the flash-lamp did when they experimented in Classic Photography at Routlege. Except no camera appeared—not that he could see anyway—but rather a digital time clock, bold red numbers, already beginning their descent, in striking relief against the black paint covering the walls.
 
29:48:12.
 
29:48:11.
 
Of course they would include the fractions of a second, he thought. He was now fighting a tiger against a racing clock. For all that they were merely numbers, he saw their dwindling trickle as if he were watching grains of sand pour through the hourglass of his fingers, helpless.
 
29:47:03.
 
The tiger looked at him. It didn’t glance his way. It directed its massive head at him, its eyes trained on Barabbas … and they didn’t turn away.
 
Another man, in another arena, stood calmly while the tiger advanced. His breathing was even, he did not watch the clock, and he looked with love upon the prowling beast. When it snarled, he slowly exhaled; when its whiskers glanced his weaponless fingers, he blinked gently as the hot breath of the tiger dampened his skin.
 
 
From LAST WILL & TESTAMENT, by Mike Hays:
 
I’ve found money, I’ve found food, and I’ve found myself in plenty of trouble on plenty of occasions, but I’ve never found another human being just lying around. That’s what happened when I found a person-shaped ball of olive drab and camouflage clothing—which would have been more at home in the reject pile down at the army surplus store—under our decrepit, worn sign for the, “Extraordinary 
 
League of Witch Assass_ _ _.”
 
It’s true. I found a boy about my age sleeping at the end of the Extraordinary League of Witch Assassins driveway.
 
 
From UNWANTED, by Lora Palmer:
 
“Let me see you,” he whispers. “Let me truly see you.”
 
I swallow down the fear this moment brings, the anxiety that once he does see me, he will no longer accept me. No, I must stop thinking this way. My husband is not like Jacob, dazzled by the superficial beauty of my sister. My husband, my love, will see me.
 
Taking courage from this, I let out a shaky laugh as he helps me stand. I long to see him, too.
 
“All right,” I say.
 
He lifts my veil, his deft fingers moving slow, relishing the anticipation of this moment. At last, he lifts the linen over my face and lets it slip to the floor behind me. We stare at each other, stock still, in stunned silence.
 
It was Jacob.
 
From EMMACULATE, by Christina Raus:
 
The Ten Commandments are pretty straightforward. Killing? Bad. Lying? Nope. Adultery? Don’t even think about it. But is real life really that straightforward? If you tell your boyfriend that you’re going golfing, when really you’re going out to cheat on him, is the lying or the adultery worse? What if you stab the guy you’re having an affair with? Isn’t being a murderer worse than being a cheater? I think the stabbing is worse than the lying and the cheating combined. So, it was kind of unfair for God to group killing, lying, and cheating all together under one umbrella.
They all seemed really different.
 
I was an adulterer. I couldn’t deny that. I was also a liar. A very, very good liar. But I wasn’t a murderer.
 
 
From THE DELUGE, by Marti Johnson:
 
The stench of mildew and mold is heavy in our nostrils, and my lungs feel as though they are on fire. My breathing is audible in the lulls between the thunderclaps. My mother huddles, shivering, propped between two rocks. She is coughing painfully, and I can hear her teeth chattering.
 
It is hard to breathe because the air itself is full of water.
 
A deeper shadow has fallen across the side of the mountain on which we are sheltering. I pull aside the brambles, and gasp in amazement when I realize what it is. “Look!” I call to the others, and point at the sight. The ark has risen with the water, and now bobs up and down. It sits high in the water. We hear nothing from it but the creaking of the wood timbers and the sound of the branches and rocks on the hillside scraping against its hull.
 
 
From DANIEL AND THE DRAGON, by Stephen Clements:
 
Your god is a liar!” roared the wizened man in thin black robes, as he pounded his breast with his fist. 
Habakkuk stood by the gates of the temple as his master picked a fight with a sanctuary full of the slavish followers of Bel, a bloodthirsty demon god. A fire raged in the fanged maw of a giant, stone head sunken into the back of the temple, there to receive the offerings rendered unto Bel. He had seen this before in other temple raids with his master, though not on such a massive scale, and not at the heart of the demon cult in Babylon itself. The fire raged as the greatest offering that the Babylonians—who adored Bel above all other gods—could sacrifice to their deity was their own newborn children, rolled their screaming, helpless bodies down a stone, handshaped altar into the fire. They offered the fruit of their wombs to
their dark god, who devoured the innocent souls sacrificed to him in eldritch rituals.

 

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3 winners will receive an eGalley of IN THE BEGINNING, International.
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Realizing You’re Already Amazing

A few months before I graduated from college, I met Holley Gerth. Not in person. Through her book, You’re Already Amazing, but it was like we sat down day after day and talked about my dilemma.

You know, what’s going to happen when I finish college. Will I continue working as an educational assistant and pursue my writing dream on the side? Will I jump into a master’s program to become a teacher? Can this fledgling idea for a novel fly into something larger than life?

I had a dream. Since I was old enough to read, I dreamed I would write stories. My words would send people into magical realms like C. S. Lewis did for me. Or these books would comfort others in confusion, as Judy Blume had done for me.

I wrote stories, poems and filled notebooks with my personal struggles. Then I grew up. I really despise those four words. Truly.

Because adult hood is filled with advantages, but often it includes abandoning dreams that fostered a soul through childhood and motivated her during the ugly insecurity of teenager-hood.

I wish I had known Holley Gerth back then.

Let me introduce you to her now, so you don’t have to wonder about finding a purpose or abandoning a dream.

You’re Already Amazing

AlreadyAmazingBookBetween the covers of this book, I met the sweet-spirited counselor, Holley Gerth. She poured a cup of coffee. We sat on her sofa. She talked, and I listened.

Reading this book felt like a conversation. After she shared wisdom and insight, she asked me to delve into my own heart. I spilled ink on the pages.

Her next words responded to that transparency – as if we were sitting across from each other.

This is the best thing about every book from Holley. It feels like a two-way conversation. The probing questions and activities at the end of one chapter open up questions that are answered in the next chapter.

In order to use the new LifeGrowth Guide she’s releasing this month, you should read this book. Each chapter of the new guide tells which chapters from the book correspond to it.

Sure, she has excerpts from the original book in this guide (and plenty of new coaching and counseling), but experiencing the original book helps this guide make more of an impact.

By the time you finish, you’ll have a “mission” statement for your life and an idea how you can start fulfilling it.

It was this statement that assured me of my own path. I worked through her You’re Made for a God-Sized Dream book before I settled on a course of action, but the seed was planted with this book.

Do you feel like you’re standing still in your walk with God? Does each day seem like a duplicate of the one before?

You’re Already Amazing will help you understand why you’re feeling these things. Then it will show you how to move beyond those debilitating emotions.

LifeGrowth Guide

YAA_LifeGrowth_Guide_Cover_1024x1024I jumped at the chance to preview this new guide when Holley offered the opportunity to her blog followers.

I loved the original book, and since I plan Bible studies and retreats for the ladies in my church, I saw this guide as a possibility for either activity.

After reading through this new book, and watching a few of the videos, I’m certain it will uplift women at any stage in their life.

Divided into six sessions, the book works as leader and groupie guide. In fact, it could be used solo, as a woman read through You’re Already Amazing and used the questions and activities in this guide to supplement her journey.

It’s intended to be used with a small group. In fact, it has powerful potential to bind women closer together and encourage them to lift each other up. What better way to carry out Paul’s admonition for the older women to teach the younger (Titus 2:3-5)?

The reading and activities in this guide are meant to be completed before the group session. Each session begins with a short video chat from Holley, which sets the stage and opens the conversation for that chapter. After discussing the questions and helping each other digest the truths, there’s another short clip to end each session.

In the back, there are helpful outlines to be used by group leaders or facilitators.

Perhaps you’d like a more informal group, the guide helps with that aspect. Each chapter includes a hands-on crafty project. A group could gather to watch the short video and then work on that project. Conversations could flow while hands were busy creating.

Amazing Applications

When I finished You’re Already Amazing, three years ago now, I told everyone about how helpful it was.

I’m super excited about the LifeGrowth Guide because it packages my excitement in a format that can help other women.

Let’s face it, some people don’t want to read. They might scan the guide and complete the activities, but they aren’t going to wade through an entire book.

The LifeGrowth Guide could be used by this type of person. It wouldn’t take long before they wanted more of Holley’s wisdom.

My plan for this guide is to use it at the annual ladies’ retreat. I’m going to have to reorganize and condense the lessons, because the sessions really need several days (minimum) between them to complete all the reading and activities.

To get the most from the book, a woman needs to invest time and thought into her answers. Season each page with prayer. Meditate on the deeper queries and return to them the next day.

A two-day retreat doesn’t provide time for all that. But I still think this curriculum will work.

It would certainly work as a weekly or bi-monthly Bible study.

If you had people who really wanted to write a life purpose statement, you could tailor this guide to be used for a one-day seminar. As long as there is ample time for independent thought, three of the sessions could be juxtaposed together and rock a woman’s Saturday.

If your life feels stale or you’re at a cross-roads, you need this book. If you yearn for women to come alongside you, this guide could open the way for that to happen.

Once again, Holley Gerth delivers a piece of her heart to her readers. And she’ll make you realize You’re Already Amazing, too.\

Ladies Retreat

Seven Women in Seaside
Seven Women in Seaside

Last August, I asked the question “what is a retreat?” in hopes of generating a glut of comments on my blog.

I hoped for five. I netted one (which was actually a pingback to my own blog). What did I do wrong?

I think I asked the wrong question. In any case, I decided to share my retreat experiences in this forum one more time (yeah, if you believe this will be the last time, I have some swampland in Columbia County).

It began in May when our small group of women at church decided we didn’t have the manpower woman-power necessary to host the annual state-wide ladies’ retreat at Crystal Springs campground.

It would be nice for our core group of women to spend some quality time together. We talked and shared. One woman notified the campground that we wouldn’t be able to host. Bummer.

Enter my mother. She asked if we thought a Monday through Wednesday early in October would work in our schedules. Sure. Why not?

She called her timeshare reservations department and booked two three-bedroom condos. The next week, she announced to all of us that a place had been secured, these are the dates and we better start planning it.

Sometimes, we need just that sort of foot in our hinder parts to get us started in the right direction.

Image from puzzlepuzzles.com

Bad news for me: Everyone looked at me and asked, “Can you prepare a program?” You see, the whole idea to host the retreat in the first place had been mine.

“Uh, sure,” I respond. Internal conversation: “Please, God, you’ve got to help me with this. I have no clue what we should do.”

God is good. By August, I knew the lessons would be about encouragement and I knew our activity would involve writing cards to each other.

The week before I headed off to Hawaii, I sat down with my Bible, concordance and a spiral notebook and begin outlining the lessons.  I wrote out a proposed schedule for the three days.

You know what happens when you make a plan, right? It’s like a double-dare to the Devil. He jumps in and tries to make a mess of the whole thing.

We got rooms on different floors. The resort is worse than a rat maze without cheese. People over a certain age either don’t carry cell phones or don’t answer the phones they carry (I was going to say perhaps they can’t hear them ring, but I’m probably in enough trouble already).

None of it mattered in the end. The lessons seemed to encourage everyone. (Awesome! Since it was an Encouraging Escapade, anything less would be a bummer.)

Schedules work more as a guideline. All four lessons were shared and the prayer partner rotation eventually made its rounds.

Shopping and beach combing found its way into the mix. Some of us even got to put mud on our faces followed by anti-aging products galore. Ah, youth reclaimed!

In the end, we all decided we wanted a repeat. Well, we wanted all the ladies from our church to join us, so it wouldn’t be an exact duplicate. We felt refreshed (even though we were yawning), relaxed and closer together than ever.

Do you think you can experience the same rejuvenating and uniting effects without leaving home? How can we find a “retreat” amidst the demands of daily life?

Getting a Spiritual “Workout”

New cross-trainers squeaking on the rubber mat, the woman with a mission – to get in shape – strides into the fitness club. She wanders into the cardio room, tries out the stepper and the elliptical trainer and moves through to the weight room, a hint of perspiration on her brow. A few dozen reps on every machine she knows how to operate later, she steps back out of the gym. High hopes for fitness prowess dashed on the rocks of ignorance, she drives away.

Compare that to the meeting I had with a personal trainer. She asked about my workout routine, my eating habits and what I wanted to accomplish. Purposefully, she walked to the “big boy” weight room, where bars and free weights dominated the floor and mirrors eclipse the walls. Methodically, she escorted me through each station to work every muscle pair, counting out the reps and weight. When I returned two days later for a solo workout, I walked through her circuit two times, covered in sweat, muscles shaking from exertion when the 40 minutes have passed.

Which of these sounds effective? Right – the plan designed by a physical trainer. I want to carry this metaphor right into your spiritual life, using Philippians 2:12 “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

Working your Core Muscles: Bible Study

Any physical trainer will tell you that you’re only as strong as your core muscles. Yes, those ignominious abdominals which expand over Christmas and never seem to deflate to their initial flatness once you’ve stretched them in pregnancy.

The same thing is true in your spiritual life. The Bible is where your strength comes from. In order to work out your spiritual abs, you have to open the Book, read it, meditate on it and apply it to your life.

Working your Back Muscles: Group Bible Study

This is a Superman

My physical trainer made sure I understood that if I wanted to strengthen my biceps, then I’d need to work the transverse muscles at the same time: the triceps. To get stronger, you have to work the complementary muscles to the same degree of fatigue.

Do some Superman extensions along with all those leg lifts, and you’ll see marked improvement in both abdominal and back strength.

The spiritual equivalent to a back workout is corporate Bible study. Believers need to study the Bible with other believers. Not only does this keep us from heading out into a heretical la-la land, it gives us a sounding board for questions. Listening to other interpretations of scripture and hearing anecdotes about the helpfulness of a specific verse or passage strengthens our spirit – at the core.

Upper Body Strength: Prayer – everywhere and all the time

“Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17) seems like an impossible task. Sort of like pushups for my weak, weighty self after many years abstaining from those Boot Camp favorites. Our upper body gets used. Did you lift a cup of coffee? Upper body strength required. What about opening your car door? Ditto on the upper body strength. If we have a weak upper body, our actions are limited.

The same can be said for our spiritual self if we aren’t praying. Get the picture of kneeling down, folding your hands, bowing your head and closing your eyes out of your head. You can talk to God with your eyes wide open – driving down the road. Believe me; it’s much safer than talking on your cell phone.

God is nearby. His Spirit is within us. We can whisper to Him at any point and He will hear. That’s what I think unceasing prayer looks like. We’re ready to talk to God at any moment, and we do it on a regular basis.

As in, “God, I have to work with this kid again. You know his sole goal in life it to irritate and exasperate me. Help me show him your love. Give me grace.” This is what I call my “Sixth Period Prayer.” When I pray it, God answers it and I don’t get frustrated with this student.

Cardio: Going and Witnessing
We all know that we can lift weights all day long, but if we want to improve our fitness, we have to do more than that. We have to elevate our heart rate. For me, that’s walking and running, kickboxing and aerobics.

Image from technorati.com

Translating that into our spiritual life looks like this – GO. Instead of sitting on the couch, we go out and tell others about what Jesus has done for us. We’re concerned about their eternal destinies and their earthly sorrows. We can be Jesus with “skin on” and demonstrate his love.

Full-Body Workouts: Living your faith

James is pretty clear that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20) and we understand that if we want to get in shape, we’re going to have to work out. We can’t just watch the videos and expect results. We have to do the work.

Living for Christ is the same thing. Jesus saved us and now He expects us to “work out our own salvation.” Don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk. Our lives should be a reflection of Jesus. Not sure what Jesus looks like. Open up the Bible to the Four Gospels and see faith in action.

Join a Team: Fellowship with other believers

“Working out by myself is just so boring.” I’ve heard this many times from people bemoaning their lack of commitment to an exercise program. The answer: play a team sport. I love basketball, volleyball and softball. I would join these teams and gladly sweat alongside them. I just burned 400 calories? No way! I was having too much fun.

Hanging out with our brothers and sisters in Christ should offer that same sort of boost for our spiritual life. Jesus never intended sharing the Gospel to be an individual event. The church was his way of ensuring that we would have a place to go to get the exhortation and edification we needed to make it through our spiritual work out.

Faith feeling a little weak? I just laid out the spiritual exercise program God intended to strengthen you and me.