On Questions and Faith

How a loss forced me to seek out answers to my own questions on faith
By Tiffany Huffman


Next week we will celebrate the 4th of July. For my family, this meant the usual watermelon, fireworks, some kind of athletic competition, and also celebrating my dad’s birthday. He is no longer with us, but I carry with me the traditions and memories and I think about him a lot this time of year. DadMy father was strong and steady. I was a curious little girl with a questioning mind and I leaned heavily on his strength and Christian faith.
I would think, “If he believes, it must be true! I can trust this because my dad trusts this.” This faith is my heritage, my culture, my comfort zone. My faith is weaved into my family gatherings, holidays, and traditions. Most of us who have grown up in the Christian faith tradition could repeat the sinner’s prayer, answer theological questions, explain our understanding of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, recite creeds, and explain what it means to be saved by grace through faith, etc. We’ve been taught the beautiful foundations of our faith and the lens through which we see the world from the time we were young. Praise God for this beautiful foundation and the faith of our parents.
JSWedding8.jpgBut I personally didn’t realize how much I depended on the faith, strength and stability of my father until he passed suddenly and tragically. His death shook my faith to the core. At first I felt strong. I leaned on the faith of my family. When the memorial was over and everyone went home and life got back to normal, my father’s absence really began to be felt. Our family dynamics began to change. My faith questions and even my doubts could no longer be brushed away with a phone call to my father.

My curious mind still wondered about the great questions of life and the meaning of it all. God has clearly stated His love for us through the Word, but I still found myself asking the questions of why? and how? My husband says I get the “thinky thinks.” I go down a rabbit trail of thoughts and curiosity. It has in the past lead me to cynicism and unbelief. Some within the church might even call my philosophical thoughts and questions dangerous.

My questioning used to go like this: Read something in the Bible or have a thought that doesn’t seem to make sense to me. Talk to my dad or someone I trust. They would then give me a thoughtful answer rooted in their own prayers and faith discoveries and the faith traditions of our church history, and I would move on, doubts and questions answered with their belief. It is different when my questions no longer go to my earthly father but my Heavenly Father. There is more wrestling. There are more rabbit trails. But I have found great joy in realizing that this has strengthened my faith and not left it weakened. My Heavenly Father was teaching me in a new way through His Word and the excitement that comes with the mystery. Our God is a great mystery. I am slowly discovering more about God as I wrestle through the Word and in prayer. I have come to experience great joy in bringing my questionings and wonderings to Him and have found a more intimate relationship with Him.

The faith of our fathers can be a source of great encouragement and strength to us. If you come from a tradition of faith, be thankful. But also, be merciful to the doubters, as stated in Jude 1:22.

Cindy Wang Brandt mentions the doubters in her book, Outside In: 10 Christian Voices that We Can’t Ignore and states, “we don’t need to fear doubt, as if expressing it would prevent people from belief. Most of us have chosen to follow God, or join a community of faith, not because of a lack of doubt, but because we’ve committed in spite of working through doubt. God is big enough to handle our big questions, and God’s love is certainly wide enough to include every person regardless of where they are intellectually in their faith. The church must rigorously welcome doubters into our midst, not just because it’s the loving thing to do, but because they will make us better believers: a community that is honest, open to critique, and always values people over their ideas.”

I am not trying to encourage people to just give up on their faith but to be honest with themselves intellectually and lean on God with their questions, not stray from Him. Many people live in communities where their beliefs are more shaped by fear than faith. Fear leads to cultures where sincere questions are not welcome and you risk losing relationships if you speak up. If you completely disagree with this post, I commend you. I have always had a slight envy for those who stand resolute and unwavering in their belief. I tend to vacillate but I ask God to stay near to me as I draw to near to Him.

Here are some of the things I have learned through my experience with the curious mind.

  1. Seek Him earnestly. This can be a beautiful exploration of the nature of God and the love of Jesus if our desire is to learn more about Him and understand Him more fully. If your motivation is distrust that quickly leads to cynicism. Believe me, I’ve been there but learning to trust is a beautiful act of faith.
  2. Stay connected to the community. Whether people have the same temperament and questioning minds or an assured certainty, you can both learn from one another and appreciate one another. Don’t let this drive a wedge between you and a community of believers.
  3. Still your heart. Those of us with questioning minds are also given the instant gratification of the mass amounts of resources available to us. We are privy to a wealth of information. Podcast addict, anyone? OK, maybe its just me. I’m not saying to stop thinking, I’m saying we can bring health and wellness to ourselves when we learn to slow down our hearts and minds and focus on stillness in the Lord. We live in a consumer driven world with a variety of choices and distractions. Consider the benefit to your mind from taking little breaks from the constant flow of info. Study the practice of fasting and consider applying it to the things currently distracting you.
  4. Keep looking to the future in faith. When you wrestle with the questions of old you can actually find yourself in a place of new, fresh faith and trust. Many have done this throughout the history of time. This is a completely normal experience. What we do with it is what makes a huge difference in our lives. Do something with your beautiful God discoveries and let your motivation be love.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

tiffpic2Tiffany Huffman has been married for 9 years and has 3 young children. She spent her childhood traveling wherever the Air Force sent her family and feels most at home while exploring new places. She taught second grade before having children and is hoping to get back to that once the timing is right. She loves country music, sweet tea, fish tacos and the ocean.

In the Beginning God Created

“In the beginning God created . . .”

God’s creativity is evident in all of creation. Look at all the things that occur naturally—so many things, so much variety. Even when they are the same, they are profoundly different. God’s creativity knows no bounds. Creativity is one of His divine qualities. God created man in His own image. We are designed to be like Him. If we accept that truth, we must accept that creativity is present and should be cultivated in our own lives. Everyone is creative. The author Ron Carter puts it nicely, “Creativity is not simply a property of Deny Creativityexceptional people but an exceptional property of all people.” For those who are adamant creativity does not exist in their personal make up, this may be a hard pill to swallow. I challenge you as you read on to re-examine your definition of creativity, open your mind to its possibilities, make steps, and perhaps discover the creative you God designed you to be.

So just how do you define your culture of creativity? The following three little steps will help you begin to discover your own power of creative thinking.

  1. Re-Define your creative reality.
    1. What is creativity?
    2. What does it look like in you?
  2. Learn to tap into your creativity.
    1. Practice makes perfect!
  3. Keep it moving.
    1. Learn to operate in your creativity daily.

Exploring your creativeness begins with re-defining your creative reality, or rather your definition of creativity. Understand that creativity does not equal artistry. Webster’s dictionary states, “Creativity is the state or quality of being creative, the ability to transcend traditional ideas and to create meaningful new ones.” Creativity is simply a way of thinking or viewing the world. Yes, it is that simple. To be creative you do not have to have artistic skills or talent, you just have a mind open to the possibilities that are present … everywhere and in everything. Dewitt Jones, a National Geographic photographer and author of Everyday Creativity, says “Quite simply, creativity is looking at the ordinary and seeing the Extraordinary.” Creativity is merely an alternative way of approaching life.

Yes, everyone is creative and the expression of that creativity will be different in everyone. What does your creativity look like? This is something you will discover for yourself when you explore your own innovativeness. Do not be discouraged if your creative expression does not manifest itself in arts, crafts, music, etc. Yours may reveal itself in other unique ways. Perhaps you are one that can whip up a gourmet meal with only four ingredients. Or maybe you are a mastermind at organizing your family’s hectic schedule. Perhaps you are the go-to person when a problem needs solving. Take a good look at you and remember those times you found yourself thinking outside the proverbial box. Guess what? You were being creative. Now that you understand what creativity is and have discovered what it looks like in you, let’s move on to step two.

To be good at anything, one must practice, practice, and practice some more. Being creative is no exception. To be creative, you must tap into it. You must embrace and explore it. You must practice it. Seek out those areas where your creativity shines best. Look for ways to be creative every day. Open your mind to new ways you can be creative. The fact of the matter is, the more you use your creativity, the more creative you become. That is my truth and testimony. I have always had a talent for drawing. I was told if I used that gift, God would bless it. So, whenever asked, I would draw, usually for my church. I was the one they asked to do the anniversary banners, the special event posters, the sales signs, and program covers. I was always encouraged to pursue my art. In fact, in my early years, my mother was more energetic about me taking classes than I was. Back then my creativity manifested itself primarily through art. Later I begin to learn my creativity was directly connected to my art. So as I grew as an artist, I also grew as a creative.

My creativity no longer just manifested itself through my art; it became a part of every aspect of my life. It now assists me in problem solving and process creation on my job. It flavors my approach to parenting. It keeps me purposely seeking the other perspective. It allows me to see extraordinary things every day. I exercise my creativity daily and daily my creativity grows.

You may be a newbie to this creative lifestyle and have no idea where to start. Perhaps you are already very creative but are seeking ways to take it to the next level. Here a few practical ways to explore and practice your creativity:

  • Practice creativity daily. Do something creative everyday—whatever that looks like to you. While you may not be artistic, exploring art is a fantastic way to jumpstart your creative mind.
  • Stretch yourself. Step out of your comfort zone, do something different or do the same thing in a different way. For example, try a new hairstyle, take a different route to work or wear the red shoes instead of the usual black ones.
  • Always look for alternatives. Do not accept the first right answer. Look for other solutions. There is always more than one right answer.
  • Shift your thinking and explore different perspectives. There are many sides to every situation, why not look at it from another direction?

Creativity pic 1Bringing or restoring creativity to your life is a worthwhile endeavor. Being creative will assist you in turning problems into opportunities, find unexpected ways to resolve conflicts, create new ways of doing things, and use what is available to reach your goals.

“Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.”

Take five days and challenge yourself to be more creative. Comment and share your results!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

IMG_20160602_111559Sonya A. Finley (SonyArletta) is an artist and designer currently working undercover at North County Transit District. She is a proud mother of four young men: James, age 24, Kevin, age 22, Joshua and Johnathan, age 17. Sonya attended US International University, School of Performing and Visual Arts, where she majored in Advertising Design, she received her Associates in Fashion Design from FIDM and her Bachelor’s in Fine Art (painting emphasis) from Mississippi State University. To see her work click here.

From Cocoon to Butterfly: Metamorphosis through Mentoring

God can take something ugly (my past) and transform it into something beautiful (my future). My own testimony is a story of God’s redemption, transformation and restoration and upon reflection, it has been the women mentors in my life which God has used to transform me forever. Now I have the privilege to pass that knowledge on to others.

Titus 2:7 says “And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind. Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching.”

Reflecting back, I can honestly say that even before I became a Christian I have had mentors and have mentored other women. Through every struggle I’ve faced, God has strategically placed a woman in my life who has encouraged and guided me. But it’s the women he has place in my life after I asked Him into my heart who have helped me to become closer to the woman of God that I was created to be and in turn have given me the courage to share that experience with others.

As a recovering addict, God used me even before I even knew him to help other women break free from addiction. Yet there was a piece of the puzzle, the God-shaped piece, that was always missing. I could tell them how to not use but I could not help them become whole because I had not healed from the pain of my own past and was still so broken. Instead of seeing myself through the eyes of the one who created me, I still saw myself through the eyes of the guilt and shame of my past.

It wasn’t until I got saved that God began to place women in my life who have helped me find my identity in Christ and become the woman of God that He’s created me to be. Regardless of our walk with the Lord we can all get to a place where life is crazy. The enemy seems to know when we are at our weakest and it’s then that he begins to whisper the lies that make us feel less than, fearful, hopeless and never good enough. Having a person in your life that can speak the truth of God’s Word, bring you back to the cross and be willing to share their own story with you is such a blessing.

1 Thessalonians 2:8 says “So we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.”

Before coming to the Father’s House I was entering a new season in life where I was feeling lost and a bit empty. My daughter was happily married, my son had left for college and I had just completed three and a half years as a High School Youth group leader, where God had given me the privilege of mentoring a few young ladies and watching them grow into beautiful young women headed off to college.

One morning as I was praying I asked God, “But now what? Where do I go from here?”

I began to pray that God would send a mentor into my life who could encourage and guide me in this next season. I reached out to Barbara Christiansen, who I had known since before coming to The Father’s House and what began as a few spontaneous meetings has turned into weekly more structured “walk, talk and pray” sessions. We discuss personal and ministry issues and she gives me encouragement along with strategies, like the Word of God and prayer, to face whatever the enemy tries to use to take me down.

Proverbs 27:17 says “Iron sharpens iron; so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.”

Regarding mentors and mentees, Barbara says they can be “for a reason, for a season” or “for life”. Sometimes if we have a temporary situation we are going through, we just need someone we can meet with over coffee and share how we are feeling and what is on our hearts. Simply talking to someone gives us the clarity to work through it (a reason). Other times we are going through a life change that requires meeting with someone on a regular basis for encouragement and can be more structured (a season). Then there are the people we connect with that remain in our lives forever (for life).

IMG_8173Last April, at The Father’s House women’s retreat, God laid it on my heart to create a mentoring program at the Father’s House.  I was scared and felt completely unequipped for the task I knew God was asking me to do, but I put on my big girl panties, prayed and scheduled a meeting with Tracy Daugherty and Barbara Christiansen to share my idea. They gave me the green light and I began planning, but in October, I began to feel the enemy saying “what were you thinking, you can’t do this”. I was filled with fear and doubt and I wanted to back out of the whole thing. And then I read Cathey Anderson’s journal entry for that day and it hit me right in the heart.  I messaged her to say thank you for her transparency through the journey God had her on, and to tell her how much she inspired me. She responded to me by saying “So much love here. Thank you! You are a beautiful woman. One I sense is like a butterfly–your wings are opening wide. Fly girl, fly! And let us all enjoy your colors!”

Once again, God strategically place a woman in my life that was not only willing to share her heart but one who had followed her own dream which in turn has encouraged me to follow mine.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sandy selfie.JPGI am Sandy West and have lived in Southern California my whole life. I love Jesus, my family, connecting with friends and a strong cup of coffee. I have two kids of my own. My daughter Robyn works in a lawyer’s office and is married to my son-in-love Joseph, who works as a cook and deckhand.  My son Shane will graduate from UCLA in June with a Bachelor’s degree in Physical Geography and is dating a sweetheart of a girl named Simone.  I also have a stepson Larry who lives in South Carolina. Both Shane and Larry are musicians. I love the beach, running and sharing my testimony of redemption.  I am in the process of creating “The Metamorphosis Mentoring Program: From Cocoons to Butterflies” at The Father’s House. The Butterfly represents my journey.  (Side note: I’m a bit of a goofball).

My Journey to Being a Stay-At-Home Mom

You hear people say, “ I dreamed of being/doing _____________ when I grow up.” The blanks are full of professions or big goals. My “fill in the blank” would’ve been, “falling in love and traveling the world.” No where did my dream include staying home. I always wanted a big family, but assumed I would work like my mom and stepmom did. Yet, here I am, a full-time homemaker. I am living the dream, right?! I didn’t always see it that way. The process to getting here wasn’t easy. It took me a long time to hear the call, accept it, and let it ignite passion in my heart for being a homemaker.

I grew up an only child (which is why I have so many kids!). My parents were divorced when I was young. My mom was a single mom until I was 7, and she was incredible at juggling all her roles. I experienced firsthand how amazing single parents are and how hard they work to provide for their family. Thanks to great parents, I thoroughly enjoyed my childhood in every way. Most days, I attended after-school care and loved the extra social time (Hello, I’m an extrovert!). It honestly never occurred to me that some moms didn’t work like mine did. Most of my friends had two working parents, so I never even knew being a stay-at-home mom/ homemaker was an actual career.

Because I grew up in a divorced home, my dream was finding the person God had for me and STAYING married. I would avoid divorce at all costs. So when I met the love of my life, the one I knew God had for me, {cue the romantic music} everything was perfect. Our different personalities were such a good fit, we enjoyed the same things, had matching convictions and passions, etc. When we talked about future careers I rambled on about wanting to travel the world, speak Spanish, possibly social work or helping people adopt children. And then he responded with, “Would you be ok staying home full time?”

{romantic music stops abruptly}

LIttle House on the prairie mom“Me? Stay home? Like, all day? Learn to cook something besides frozen pizza and macaroni? Do I wear an apron? Serve a made-from-scratch meal to my family nightly? What would I do all day?” All I could picture was Caroline Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie. “Would I have to wear a bonnet?”

After little soul searching, I agreed to be this “homemaker” when we had kids. My then fiancé, now husband Jordan, shared with me the reasons he loved having his mom home, and it started making sense to me. I could see the blessing of what this role could entail. God began to give me a peace about facing this profession I felt ill-equipped to manage. However, until we actually had kids, I would work.

April Ciervo 2After four years of marriage, we began talking about children. However, I was not ready to give up “our time” or my job at Delta AirLines that allowed me to travel the world. I was not ready to quit working with my husband at our restaurant to be the homemaker I agreed to be. I decided I needed to get away with the Lord and ask Him what He wanted for me.

After a three-day prayer retreat, I came to the conclusion that my whole life had actually prepared me for this call. Out of obedience to God I wanted to respect my husband’s wishes and serve Him and our children with my whole heart. I finally realized that in order to be the best April I could be, and to be more like Christ, I needed to give up some of my idols for a season to raise up children for this world. Little lights, little warriors, and little lovers of Jesus. Suddenly, this call seemed eternal. Motherhood— what I was made for.

So here I am. Three kids and one on the way. Full-time at home. My story goes to show that our job or profession will be 100% confirmed by God when you ask Him. Whether a mom works or stays home, both require sacrifice and refining. Both require surrender and obedience. As long as we allow God to shape and lead us, we are right where he wants us.image1

Tools for Stay-at-Home Mom Survival:

  1. Be in fellowship with other moms. Our Father’s House Rise Up mom’s group is a God-send to me.
  2. Get out of the house, even if it’s to your local Chick-fil-A Drive thru. Roll the windows down. Fresh air is good for the soul.
  3. Use technology that helps make Bible reading or quiet times possible:
  • The Bible App- play scripture aloud when you have no down time.
  • Abide Prayer App- pick a topic and let one of the Abide authors pray over you when you are too exhausted to pray for yourself or your family.
  • BBN Radio App- I’m loving Gateway to Joy; by Elisabeth Elliot. She has a 10-12 minute program that runs daily from her old radio show. I have learned so much from her!
  • Our church has a prayer card called Praying For Your Children. Each day of the month it gives one thing to pray for. We put all the prayer topics on our iCalendar and they are listed on each day for the entire year. I can handle praying one thing over my kids each day.
  1. Play worship music in your house when you feel isolated, down, or if you can feel spiritual warfare brewing. It can even help your kids change their toddler-tudes. Win-win.
  2. Get access to Right Now Media, which is an amazing resource for families. The Father’s House can give you access to this if you need it. There are thousands of books, podcasts, series, videos, and a section for Kids. If I need to put my kids in front of the T.V., I can totally trust the shows and videos on this website.

Let’s encourage each other to soak up our babies and seek God for His calling on our lives. Is he asking you to surrender something for a season to better serve your family? What areas in your life are you feeling not enough?

Jesus, I pray life and energy into the moms of The Father’s House. May your presence fill them in such a way that they overflow with love and peace in their homes. Give them wisdom in all areas of their life as they disciple their children. Confirm the assignment you’ve given them and affirm their beauty in Your eyes. Help us encourage one another in our journey. Thank you Jesus for covering us and giving us all that we need. Amen.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

April Ciervo 1April Ciervo is a stay-at-home mom to three kids, Bravery, Selah and Karis. She attended Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama with degrees in Spanish and Sociology. April loves languages and cultures and dreams of traveling the world with her family. She and her husband Jordan own and operate the Chick-fil-A restaurants in San Marcos and Escondido. Originally from Alabama and Georgia, they have made their home here in California and have been attending The Father’s House for almost four years.

A Heart for the Oppressed

I first heard about human sex trafficking on TV. The depth of evil astounded me, and the thought of a young girl or boy living in this hellish nightmare plagued me. I began to ask myself how I could know about this and do nothing. How could I live my life like normal, waking up to a cup of tea and quiet time with the Lord, knowing they awaken in fear and desperation? As I am off to work, the store, the mall, they are still being tortured and abused in unthinkable ways. It tormented me to know that as I go about my day-to-day business, they are still trapped in hell. I could not just look the other way and knew if it were my son or daughter that I would long for help.

And so the journey began. While at dinner one night with Marilee Dunker I shared my heart about the desire to help somehow in the area of human trafficking. She told me about a Christian ministry in Mexico called Breaking Chains that rescued women and girls from sex trafficking. She had previously met the founder, Steven Cass, and she felt he was in need of help.

I decided to call Steve and set up a meeting. He is rarely in the states but as God would have it, he just “happened” to be in San Diego for a couple of days. So we met for coffee and after talking about my desire to help and the needs of the ministry, we agreed that I would pray about it and get back to him.

After praying, it seemed the best option was to do some fundraising. So with the Lord’s help we did several events to raise funds: a dinner/auction, a huge yard sale, and a comedy night. I had no intentions of moving to Mexico as part of the ministry, but I knew I could at least help in providing funds for the rescues.

Ludolph with jeepEventually Steve moved the ministry to Nicaragua and by this time my husband had retired, so we decided to go to Nicaragua to work with Steve and his wife directly. We sold most of our belongings and bought one-way tickets to Nicaragua. We went with the intention of staying as long as we felt the Lord calling us to stay. We had no idea if it would be a month or a year. We helped in whatever way we could and it was a great experience but after three months we decided to return to the states. We lived in deplorable conditions by American standards—though sadly as kings by Nicaraguan standards. The poverty and hopelessness was staggering. Men would drag little carts up hills loaded with wares in an attempt to earn enough money to buy a meal for the day. Horses and dogs were so skinny that their fur hung on bones. The empty stares in the eyes of men, women, children, and even the animals reflecting the hopelessness that had overtaken them after years of struggle was haunting.

SAM_0155After we returned to the states I had a rough time. I hated the living conditions there, but elt unsettled when we got back. I struggled with wanting to serve the Lord somehow and getting back into the routine here in America. I started to question our coming back and I questioned if I was just too concerned about my comforts. I wondered if we came back too soon. Did we leave for the wrong reasons? Why didn’t we stay? Am I a bad Christian? All these thoughts circled in my head.

I cried out to God and He comforted me in those dark and uncertain times. I knew God had a plan but wasn’t sure what it was. He opened other ministry doors after we returned but none of them worked out. I started working full time so little time was left for pursuing anything else.

Eventually God opened another ministry opportunity to help a Christian couple ministering to the Lakota Sioux Indians in South Dakota. We prayed and asked the Lord to make a way for us to go and to bring the funds to travel there and get the time off work. God worked it out perfectly. Our friends, the Paines, listed their home with my husband Robert and it sold the first day! That commission check allowed us to be able to join the team going to South Dakota.20151025_120657

So off we went. It was a great experience and hearing the amazing testimony of the ministry’s founders Greg and Lorie was inspiring. Their perseverance and commitment was a testament of God’s grace and sustaining strength. It was a short trip but packed with helping to prepare for their Thanksgiving/Fall Festival. We fed 500 people, distributed bags of groceries to the adults and bags of candy to the children, along with a pumpkin for each child. We sang worship songs and listened to the testimony of one young man whose life has been radically changed by Christ.

It was a great time in so many ways and as I look back fondly on that time it reminds me of how precious it is to serve our Lord. He provided a way. He blessed us as we blessed the people on the reservation. As we were saying our good-byes, the founders asked us to pray about returning in the summer for a few months to help. In my humanness I began to think “I can’t get the time off work,” and “we can’t afford that,” and “how could we possibly do that?” But we serve a God much bigger than our thoughts can fathom and I trust He will make a way if it His will that we go. There is nothing more exciting than serving our God and I pray that God would use us to His glory if not in South Dakota, then where He chooses. With so much need in the world I pray that God would use us for we are richly blessed and He says in His word, “To whom much is given, much is required.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ludolph familyMy name is Michelle Ludolph. I was born in southern Indiana, a farm-working girl with 12 brothers and sisters. I left home after college with the desire to see and experience more than what small-town life offers. Consequently, I ended up in California, where I met my husband of 30 years. We have one son who traveled the world playing ice hockey until last year when he decided to hang up the skates. He currently lives with us and is starting a new career in mortgage and refinance loan business. I currently work at Meadowbrook Village Retirement Community as Catering and Dining Room supervisor. My husband is a realtor and we live in Escondido.