Thursday, January 23, 2020

A Little-Known Burden (That's Rather Large)

As I read about Timothy and Epaphroditus yesterday morning, there was a verse that stood out to me, but it was quite different from most verses that speak to me. Usually, the verses I'm drawn to are verses that challenge me. But this one caught my attention for a different reason.

"For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill."

Philippians 2:26. I'm guessing you've never heard a message on that verse, have you? Exactly, neither have I. It's not at all surprising that it jumped out at me, though. Because how normalizing to read that Epaphroditus was distressed because the Philippians heard he was ill.
I know that distress.
I know it well.

This is a really atypical text observation, God. And it makes sense that it would catch my attention, though I’m not really sure how to practically apply it to my life. Maybe You simply want me to receive Your permission to accept that reality?

The night before I came to that verse, my husband made a minor shift in his schedule to accommodate having dinner with me while our son was at a basketball game. Something he knew I wanted because I'd mentioned it earlier. A normal response to a kind gesture like that would have been a warm and fuzzy one, not the adverse reaction I threw back at him. When he told me about the shift he was making, he said that I always accommodate him and his schedule, and he wanted to accommodate mine this time. Super loving, right? Well, I sorta lashed back by reminding him that he’s been accommodating me and my sickness for 10 years.

That really bothers me. It weighs on me.
Frankly, I hate it, Lord.

(Besides, it's so much more comfortable to be the giver than the receiver. Receiving can be such a vulnerable experience.)

You see, when we think of our friends who are trudging through chronic illness, it's right on point to follow what the Bible says about bearing one another's burdens. In addition, you need to know about a burden your sick friend is bearing. It's the burden of your concern for her. She's bearing your burden for her -- in addition to all the burdens of her illness.

"For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill."

Epaphroditus was the sick one, and HE was distressed -- because of his community's concern, because of their distress. The emotional burden that a sick person bears on behalf of others, in light of others’ concern for them, is real.
And it's heavy.
Might I offer a little sidebar suggestion? The next time you visit or talk to your sick friend, please be aware that she knows you're concerned about her. And she knows you have some of the same questions she does about her circumstances. There's nothing you can do to alleviate that burden, but you can avoid adding to it. Here's how: Don't compound your friend's burden by sharing how concerned you are about her.
This concept is covered exceptionally well in this article about the Ring Theory: How to Not Say the Wrong Thing. It’s an article on grieving, not chronic illness, but suffering with chronic illness always comes with a grief journey, so the principles certainly apply.
Here's what that article doesn't mention, though. There's a certain amount of "dumping in" that happens with absolutely no interaction. Why? Because I know my family and close friends care about me. When I'm not doing well, I don't have to hear about my parents' concern to know they're concerned. And I don't have to hear my husband say how difficult it is to be at the mercy of both me and his business when I'm bedridden. I can see the weight of it all when he's single-handedly juggling care giving with work while functioning somewhat as a single parent during those times.
So to borrow the phraseology from that article, “Comfort in. Dump out.” There's enough implicit burden in the situation. No need to compound it. 
"For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill."

So what do I do with this verse, Lord? . . . 
You beckon me to come to You, all who are weary and heavy laden. You beckon me to bring You the burden I bear on my husband's behalf. I’m not sure I always even know how to hand a burden over to You, God. It seems so abstract. 
Yet here I am, desiring to take it off my shoulders and place it on Yours.

After a bit more internal kicking and screaming from my pain, my husband and I had dinner together, by the way. All was not lost.

“Let the past rest, but let it rest in the sweet embrace of Christ.”
~ Oswald Chambers (My Utmost for His Highest, 12/31)

Thursday, January 9, 2020

My Love Gift

"Whenever you get a blessing from God, give it back to Him as a love-gift."
That exhortation that I read the other day challenged me so much that I decided to incorporate it into my morning time with God. And when I came to it this morning, God immediately nudged me yet again. The blessing that came to mind was my husband.
Um, but how do I do that, God? How, exactly, do I surrender my husband to You? 

"If you hoard it for yourself, it will turn into spiritual dry rot, as the manna did when it was hoarded." 
Ah, I see now. Quite clearly. In offering my husband to You, You protect me from a spirit of entitlement. Whew, I've definitely created my share of dry rot there, at times.

"Take time to meditate before God and offer the blessing back to Him in a deliberate act of worship." 
I thought about Abraham as he laid his only son on the altar. And also what I read about his sacrifice just yesterday, and God's call to be a living sacrifice: "God never tells us to give up things just for the sake of giving them up, but He tells us to give them up for the sake of the only thing worth having, namely, life with Himself."
He wants my marriage to be a living sacrifice.

Another note I'd jotted down for my morning routine, right along with the love-gift, were Jesus' words, "Bring Me what you have."

My eyes welled up, and stayed fixed on those words for quite a bit. You would think I would have given myself a personal punch in my own gut to offer my husband to the Lord at any point last year given that in 2019, I grieved with a close family member who lost her husband. And with a friend who also lost her husband. And with another friend who also lost her husband. Three women whose worlds were turned entirely upside down at the loss of their beloveds. But I've been bearing their burdens so heavily that apparently my soul hasn't totally come up for air to consider what God may be calling me to consider about my own beloved in the midst of all that.

Bring Me what you have, He says.
I still have my husband. . .
(hence the tears)

Oh Lord . . .
Forgive me for taking my husband's mere presence for granted. Each day that I get to be in his presence is a gift. For at any given moment, he could be gone from this world. Please replace my default posture of taking him for granted with a spirit of cherishing, gratitude, and joy.
He is Your servant. Do with him according to Your will.

"God will never allow you to keep a spiritual blessing completely for yourself. It must be given back to Him so that He can make it a blessing to others." 
And may our marriage be a living sacrifice so that you may make it a blessing to others. Amen.

(All quotes aside from Jesus' are from Oswald Chambers' My Utmost for His Highest January 6th entry, except the living-sacrifice quote, which is from the January 8th entry.)

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Trust Falls

Yep, that's 17-year-old me.
During the summer before my senior year of high school, I had the opportunity to go rappelling. And I loved it. Except for that moment when I was standing right on the edge of a cliff with my back entirely to its steep height. At that point, you're supposed to bend your legs at a certain angle and lean way back while holding onto the rope (before moving your feet down any). I'm pretty sure I didn't do either technique right because, well, because I was just a tad freaked out by it all. 

During my senior year of college, I had the opportunity to be a Resident Assistant (RA) in Willets Hall. As a kick off to the year, all the RAs went on a team-building outing where we did all types of cooperative activities, including a trust fall. Not terribly different from my high school rappelling, the trust fall required me to stand on the edge of a raised podium with my back to all the crossed arms that were going to catch me. With this activity, you're supposed to keep your legs totally straight. I didn't. My legs buckled as I fell back with much trepidation. (Mind you, this was nowhere near the height I was at when repelling!) 

Fast forward several years to my career in IBM's Worldwide Marketing Department. I had about 6-7 different marketing jobs during my time with IBM, and my favorite by far was when I was our division's corporate event planner. And unlike my high school rappelling and college trust fall, I was good at it. 
Because I was largely in control. 
Certainly not entirely, but there was a lot that rested in my hands, and less in each plan that relied on others. 
I liked it that way. Very much. 
Any control freak would. :)

Fast forward one more time to the start of 2020 when I dusted off My Utmost for His Highest, one of my favorite devotionals. If you're not familiar with it, I highly recommend it. And the other day, the morning's reading was titled, Worship, which Chambers defined as giving God the best that He has given you. He said, "whenever you get a blessing from God, give it back to Him as a love-gift." I felt a nudge, kept on reading, but had to come back to it. And when I did, the blessing that immediately came to mind was my functionality, my current ability to function. (For those of you without chronic illness, I imagine that sounds pretty odd, huh?) Yet the thought of giving that back to God frankly left me afraid and unwilling. So I brought all that honesty to Him, telling Him what He already knew about the chasm between where my heart was on the matter and where I knew I needed to be. 

The last time I can clearly recall purposefully contemplating a general life offering was ten years ago when our son was about to start Kindergarten. I'd been consistently seeking the Lord in prayer, asking Him how He wanted me to spend all the time I thought I was about to have with our son in school. Never would I have never expected that His answer would include having me on our living room couch for months on end, largely incapacitated, followed by a decade of navigating life with chronic illness. Yet that's precisely what happened. Exactly one week after my 21st rebirthday with the Lord, I was ushered into the beginning of my spiritual adulthood journey through a health crisis that continues to leave its mark on my life. 

Since that September day etched deeply in my soul, I've had several set backs that usually last an entire year. Like just in 2018 when I was once again bed bound for a while, back in a wheelchair at points, and unable to drive until around Thanksgiving. So 2019 pretty much didn't have any direction to go but up, and I'm thankful that it did. It was a pretty solid year for my health with some noticeable little victories. And so to contemplate this idea of giving back to God as a love-gift my cherished blessing, my current ability to function, given what His answer involved last time I sought Him like that, and during a time when I feel like I'm finally getting back on my feet -- once again. It's not just enough to make a girl pause before offering such all-out surrender. It's downright terrifying. 

Chambers went on to say, however, that "If you hoard it for yourself, it will turn into spiritual dry rot, as the manna did when it was hoarded." Um, ouch.

I continued to wrestle with the Lord, and He brought to mind the principle where He calls us to "bring Me what you have" when He feeds the 5,000. (I almost didn't catch that both that principle and Chambers' manna reference involved food provision.) It's a powerful account of the big God can do when we give Him our little. That principle wasn't entirely resonating with me in this situation, though, given that the fish and loves is a context of seeming inadequacy. Whereas my current context that I'm afraid to bring Him is a bit the opposite. I'm afraid to give Him what feels like abundance. 

In my context of chronic illness, being able to accomplish simple things like driving or even taking a shower, those "accomplishments" that most take for granted, very much qualify as abundance for me. 

But maybe He wants me to bring Him my little abundance so I can see what greater things He can do, right? That may very well be. Yet I'm also keenly aware that He doesn't always work the way we think He will work, and oftentimes uses suffering as a crucible for (His definition of) abundance, which is all about His glory, not my comfort. And that reality admittedly leaves my heart wanting to take a step back rather than lean into the great unknown as I stand at the edge of this soul cliff not facing my future with clarity, but with my back to it.

God lovingly took my mind to Luke 1:38, a verse that really struck me at the start of the Christmas season. In essence, Mary says, "I am Your servant. Do with me according to Your will."
Ever forget you're God's servant? That your life is not your own? I know I sure do. Pretty much daily.
I let those words play on repeat in my heart and mind for a while to help them sink in: I am Your servant. Do with me according to Your will. I am Your servant. Do with me according to Your will. . . 

It can take a while for my heart to catch up to my head, for my will to bend its knee in surrender. And even as my soul began to take on a posture of willing surrender, I was keenly aware that I am so prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. I know the propensity of my heart to "give and take" in this life call to surrender. I struggle to trust because I'm afraid to lose my "life," my ability to function well enough to live somewhat normally.

"He who loses his life for My sake will find it." ~ Jesus

Okay, God. I don't want to love even my fundamental ability to function more than I love Christ, Lord. So here I am, giving my current level of functioning back to You as a love-gift. My legs sure aren't in perfect form as I lean back, slowly, in the trust fall. 
Yet I am Your servant. Do with me according to Your will.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Stuff Gold Medals are Made Of

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Image courtesy of CNN
"We dream of using extravagant wealth to do extravagant good . . . 
[because] it feels like those extravagant deeds count for more.
So many of our good deeds are so small.
They seem paltry.

Instead of handing over the keys to a brand new car,
we hand over a slightly over-cooked casserole.

Instead of funding an extreme makeover for that person's home,
we show up on Saturday morning to help apply a new coat of paint.

Instead of giving them a check to pay off their mortgage,
we give them a few hours of our time to listen and counsel.

Instead of funding a wonderful vacation,
we take their children for a couple of hours so they can escape for a date.

It is hardly the stuff dreams are made of. . . "

Challies' whole piece left me nostalgic as I thought about friend after friend who sacrificed their time, energy, and time spent with their family to come meet our family's desperate needs amidst our crisis more than seven years ago.

Their great sacrifices were seen by no other eyes but ours. 

There was no big stage, no grand audience, not even any applause.
And it was far from glamorous.
All I could offer was a genuine thank you from the bottom of the heart of a desperate girl with an ash grey countenance whose body tied her to the couch.

The piece came to me in a timing that was a bit poetic as I was in a minor set back that left me limited and unable to drive. So once again, my husband and dad were filling in my road gaps.

Little did I know that within 24 hours of that grateful reminiscing about God's countless provisions during those arduous days that our family would find ourselves right back in them.

Because alas, last Sunday morning, my system once again went into hyper drive, I was physically fading, and needing to ask friends to come at the drop of a hat because my husband was out of town. My husband flew across the country on Monday to get home as soon as he could, and pushed me in a wheelchair into my doctor's office on Tuesday.

And so here we are in crisis mode.
Round 2.

We'd been watching the winter Olympics since it began. Our son's been really geared up for it, so we've DVRed every broadcast and watched it over dinner. We don't usually do a lot of TV in our house, but these are the Olympics.
Athletes demonstrating tremendous virtues worth aspiring to -- hard work, dedication, sacrifice, winning, losing.

After being bed ridden for six days now, I was finally able to manage going to the couch to watch the Olympics together as a family again for a bit.  Our son has been wide eyed through this whole thing. And for good cause. Extraordinary athlete after extraordinary athlete performing feats of skill far beyond what our eyes are used to seeing. Like Simen Hegstad Krueger from Norway. What a story.

I find it quite fitting that I am down for the count right in the middle of the Olympics. Because the other night, our son was starting to go down the path of figuring out how to get from point A in the present to point B, the Olympics.

And I shared with him that we have been watching sisters in Christ get gold medals right before our eyes all week. 
Like Thori, who came at the drop of a hat to help me when I was fading. And came again late that night after work to spend the night at our house, getting a crummy 5 hours of sleep --  interrupted at that.  
And like Buffy, who also came at the drop of a hat to make herself at home in our kitchen and do things I couldn't do. And then take me to my doctor's for an IV the following day, coordinating rides for me, her kids, and my kid in the process.  
And April -- the woman just had a baby three weeks ago! Yet she came to my aid with basically no notice, let me hand her a recipe, and went to town in my kitchen. And then stayed with me late into the night until the next shift came.
And him, too! I wouldn't be able to count the amount of laps my son walked around our house on Sunday, in particular. My needs were constant, and so was his love and compassion.

All four of them literally waited on me hand and foot those 48 hours (and then some since!) until my husband returned back to the east coast -- walking me to the restroom, getting me my food and water, doing all those seemingly ordinary things we all take for granted every day.

But they weren't ordinary to me.

This is the stuff gold medals are made of, folks. This is precisely what Challies' article is saying and I can't amen loudly enough. "The ministry of burden-bearing," he calls it, "will earn you very few accolades. It will gain you very few awards. . . But every bit of it will matter . . . and bring glory to God.
So look for those who are burdened. Develop the habit and the skill of spotting those burdens, and determine that you will meet them, one casserole or one hug or one visit or one prayer at a time."

Challies says that "the majority of what you do will be unnoticed by other and forgotten even by those who benefit most." And I agree with him on the first part, but I gotta tell ya --
seven and a half years later, there is a long, LONG list of faces and names and the sacrificial gifts of time and service they gave our family that I still remember clear as day.

And I know that's not what matters most. But I share that to tell you just how deeply those simple acts of service land in the hearts of a family experiencing suffering.

So to all those who helped our family seven and a half years ago, and to my faithful few who have lent a gigantic hand and then some this time around (which you better believe includes my amazing husband and son!),
thank you for your gold medal giving.

For demonstrating those tremendous virtues worth aspiring to -- right here in our humble home.
May the blessing return to you and your families a hundred fold.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A Story of Hard Trust

7 months. That’s how much time I had to decide, to see which way my body would take me, for better or for worse. 7 months to see what God might do. Because that was the only way it was gonna happen.
What would have historically been a no brainer for me was an incredibly weighty decision in present circumstances. My niece was getting married, and to be there for the wedding, I’d have to travel. Which is where the weight came in.
Travel used to be a hobby, a joy. A delight-filled experience my husband and I enjoyed with each other and with close friends. But since the onset of my health problems, it has become an obstacle – either inhibiting me from partaking by staying home, or inhibiting me from functioning when I’ve gone. The prospect of travel used to be filled with fun and excitement. But lately, it’s become a bitter choice of choosing one hard loss over another.
We received the exciting news from my niece in October, just a week before my husband and I went away for our anniversary. He and I just went down the road for our get away, and even though I crawled in bed at my usual time, I couldn’t fall asleep until 5am . . .

My mind wasn’t racing. There wasn’t any caffeine or sugar to blame. And I didn’t feel stressed. And that’s how it’s always gone the past 7 years when I travel. For some unknown reason, my cortisol goes into high emergency mode the first night away (without offering me any notice except the memory of history repeating itself in previous travels).
And it takes a long time for my cortisol to return to normal. So naturally, those sleepless nights combined with the long process of recovery take a significant toll on my ability to function for a while. When we went away as a family last May, I paid for it the entire summer.
With my niece’s wedding a May occasion, I felt like I was looking at the same prospect all over again. Do I go to the wedding and risk being somewhat out of commission as a mom all summer like last year? Or do I play it safe and miss being a part of one of the most monumental days in my niece’s life?
As the wedding approached, my body hadn't given me any help in the decision. No clues for better or for worse, and certainly no writing in the sky. My son helped me get over the hump when he reminded me that “she only gets married once . . . ” So I decided to trust, come what may. At least in my head. But whew, was it ever a big one to trust Him with. A really big one.
We hit the road, and my trust muscle was feeling awfully stiff. Minutes later, Hold me Jesus came on the radio, and the floodgates of tears let loose. Tears of hard trust, tears of wanting to let go and surrender to His loving care come what may. Essentially, the lyrics rising up to Heaven as a prayer through the tears that were flowing down:

". . . when the mountains look so big
and my faith just seems so small.
So hold me Jesus,
'cause I'm shakin' like a leaf.
You have been king of my glory,
won't you be my Prince of peace"

And He most certainly was . . .

My writing in the sky during our drive north: God always keeps His promises.
I had a very difficult night that first night, but it was NOT sleepless! (BIG difference when it comes to functioning and recovery.) I had a ton of people praying for me, and I am over-the-moon grateful that God said yes! That was by far the best trip I’ve had since the onset of my health problems. It genuinely felt too good to be true.

Rather than spend all day in bed our first day there (like usual), I got to spend time with my sister and part of her family whom I haven't seen in 5 1/2 YEARS! Such a milestone, such a high.

And rather than receive pictures from my husband from this grand occasion, I was PRESENT!

My view! In person!!

Here I raise my Ebenezer,
Here there by Thy great help I've come . . .

My adorable flower girl turned beautiful bride

I know there are many of you out there who have been praying for change in one way, shape, or form or another. And I know it can be scary to hope. It's easier to slide into protecting our hearts from yet another disappointment. Yet this trip reminded me in a very tangible and very personal way that God still moves mountains. And so even when it is to-the-core hard to trust Him with your desires, trust Him anyway, friend. Trust Him anyway.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Want to Help Your Sick Friend but Don’t Know How? DO THIS!

And THAT, my friend, is what it looks like to love on a friend or relative (or wife!) with chronic illness. That picture right there. I know it’s hard to get past the adorableness of it to have your attention for any type of explanation, and I’m totally distracted WITH you. But let me try to steal your eyes away for just a minute (meanwhile mine admittedly remain fixated on the ones in the front right).
We’ll be joyfully distracted together.

You see, this picture (providentially) came when I was incredibly heartbroken. Because I had just discovered that I was going to fully miss out on a monumental event.
Yet again.

Let me back it up a bit for you to give you a little context.

Since my health crashed six years ago, missing out has unfortunately become a way of life to somewhat varying degrees. Some years more than others and praise God this year hasn’t been one of the “more” years. But one of the hardest parts about chronic illness is that you can’t do everything you want to do. Sometimes you can’t do ANYthing you want to do.
And painfully, that includes relationally.

When my husband and I were first married, travel was a way of life.
We traveled to see family in NJ, friends in Chicago, friends in Florida and Washington state, family in PA and VA, traveled to friends' weddings in Ohio & Iowa, you name it. There are some incredible people in those places, and it was always a joy for us to go the distance to spend time with them.

That way of life unfortunately came to a complete halt six years ago.
For me entirely, and largely for my husband as well. It felt like one of our greatest joys in life, being with our friends and family, got swept out from under us.
And that’s been incredibly painful.

The loss hasn’t only been felt at great distances.
The same togetherness loss has been felt on the home front even more. When our son started Kindergarten right before I crashed, I assumed I’d be going on all the fun field trips. And be there for all the special programs, competitions, family pumpkin picking. You know, all the usual mom stuff.

My assumption was wrong.

I’ve missed out on a lot as a mom.
And wife.
And friend,
church member.
I’ve wrestled hard with feeling like a crummy friend and family member.

Last year, for example, our niece was graduating from college in PA. First time for us to have a niece or nephew graduate college. Oh, how I wanted to be there. To join in on the party, hand her our gift in person, give our sweet flower girl a big hug of congratulations.
Fortunately, at least there’s technology.

Through tears of nostalgia, I hooted and hollered in my family room as I watched across the miles, and even snagged this great shot thanks to my virtual front row view.

A similar scene occurred last weekend when our nephew graduated from JMU in VA, which meant both a university ceremony plus individual ceremonies for each of the colleges of study. Fortunately, at least my husband was able to go to this one. I’m so glad.

Like with our niece’s graduation, I watched the first ceremony by live stream, heart swelling with pride and nostalgia. (I’m a total sap with a capital S.) The following morning, I rushed to get ready and be in front of the screen by the start of the second ceremony. Yet it wasn’t coming on. After fussing with it for the first five minutes of the ceremony, I discovered that one wasn’t going to be live streamed.
My heart sank lower than low.

This was the ceremony where he would be giving his speech as valedictorian of the entire graduating class!

This was the one where he would be leading the entire processional carrying the large regal performing arts banner. The only banner!

This was a once-in-a-lifetime moment in his life, and I wasn’t going to be a part of it even virtually.

I hopped over to my e-mail, and had a new message from my husband.
This picture is all it said. 

Exactly what I needed.
My sweet family on the way to the ceremony.
He even sent me a picture of my sister’s van in view in front of them, the van of honor with my sister, the graduate, and the rest of the family.
Suddenly, I felt somewhat present again, even in my absence. 

Shortly thereafter, I received a text from my sister (in the back seat above). I told her my heart-breaking discovery, and suddenly my little flip phone started beeping with non-stop messages like a relentless alarm clock.
Blow by blows of what was happening when.
Who was speaking,
when our nephew was recognized,
dictation from the main speaker,
practically notes on when anyone moved or breathed. 

I LOVED it. 

I was desperate to somehow be a part of this experience,
and her texts were a lifeline.

Meanwhile, my husband continued to e-mail me pictures. And I didn’t even care what he captured. Because even his random candids of my bro-in-law setting up his camera and my mom looking at her phone were exactly what I needed to transport me there.

So lean in close as I let you in on a little secret. 
As you think about your friend with chronic illness, or even an elderly relative who’s largely home-bound, want to know the best and easiest way to make a gigantic difference in their life when they’re missing out on a special event? Gigantic?

Take them with you.

Real Time!

Take them with you! 

By camera, by phone, by text. However!

Give them an opportunity to taste the sweetness of the occasion real time by including them on the experience.

All these and more (much more!) were pictures my husband sent me real time during our nephew's graduation. And these graduations, of course, aren't about me. Yet my family found ways to take me along. And each contact made -- each text, each picture, each call -- was a sacred gift they placed in my heart.
Real time. Real easy.

One final thought.
A super fun way to pull it off? 

Let ‘em eavesdrop! 

That’s right. Dial them in and put them on mute!
My always-thoughtful mom did this for my other sister one time. My sister's son was having a concert but my sister’s chronic illness kept her home. So when my folks went to the concert, my mom pulled out her cell phone and dialed my sister so she could listen in. It was second-hand audio, so I'm sure it was low quality. My mom knew that didn't matter. She knew it would be the most beautiful music to my sister’s longing ears. 

It’s really that simple. And I can tell you from the receiving end,
it is really that profound of a gift.

So please, think about some special occasions coming up. 
Who might you take along real time? 

Congratulations again, Abigail and Ryan.
Your Proud Aunt Tanya

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