Trapped

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Psalm 31:4 "Keep me from the trap that is set for me, for you are my refuge."  Did you ever feel trapped? Were you ever stuck someplace and unable to get out? Even for just a few minutes…which in retrospect seems like an eternity. On a recent trip to California, I was walking...

Worship God Daily

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Growing up in a small town church in the middle of Minnesota, my understanding of worship was pulling out the tattered faded red congregational hymnal every Sunday morning as roughly 100 people stood up to the sound of pages turning. Gradually everyone settled in at the correct page and then joined in as the high school music teacher began to sing. Clearly and confidently his rich bass voice flawlessly lead the familiar hymns. 

It would be years later before I understood what God ultimately desires of his children and how God defines true worship.

In his book, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren argues that there are five God-ordained purposes for us: worship, community, discipleship, ministry, and evangelism. He supports each area with Biblical references as all being key to effective living. 

Rick Warren is not the only advocate for worship. The writer of Psalm 100:2 (NLT) tells us to, “Worship the Lord with gladness. Come before him, singing with joy.” 

If we are instructed to worship in God’s word, it must be very important to God. Anything important to God would not be intended to be saved for only Sunday morning singing, but instead intended to become part of our daily priorities. 

Easier said than done, I know. However, God didn’t make worship important just for his benefit but also for ours. 

Worship: 
  • Renews our strength. 
  • Is critical to our faith.
  • Celebrates God.
  • Brings us joy.
  • Is key to being in God’s presence. 

How do we go through or plan out our day to develop habits that intertwine worship in our activities? Is it possible? Despite the engrained definition I grew up with, finding other ways of worship has been immensely rewarding.

According to Delesslyn A. Kennebrew in a 2012 Christianity Today article, “We worship God because he is God. Period.” No specifics here, no required place, no demanded method. Just worship.

Worship is an expression of love or reverence towards God. How then can we worship—showing our love and reverence for God—outside of Sunday morning corporate-designed worship?

There are many ways we can worship. We can:
  •  Acknowledge God’s many amazing qualities.
  • Pray a prayer.
  • Consider the needs of others.
  • Listen, sing and meditate on songs of praise.
  • Write a “God’s attributes” poem.
  • Notice the glories of nature.
  • Read and reflect on his word.
  • Journal your “God thoughts”.
  • Donate money (tithe).
  • Share encouraging words.
  • Serve unselfishly.
  • Obey God.
  • Dance like David.
  • Express thankfulness all day long.
  • Create artwork reflecting God’s glory.
  • Give your day to God.
  • Share your Jesus story.

The list goes on and on…and you will find what clicks for you. Anything you do that expresses your faith in and love for God is an act of worship.

Be deliberate, make it personal, plan it out and do so even when, no especially when, you don’t feel like it!  

God is good. He will reward you. As Isaiah 40:31 (KJV) says, “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”

Go.
Be.
Do worship.
Posted by Janelle Webber with

What Does it Really Mean to Love Well, Live Jesus, and Believe Big?

 

If you attend the Church at Severn Run (or read the blog), then you’re probably familiar with a common phrase that we use quite a bit: ‘Love well. Live Jesus. Believe big.’

For our local Severn Runners who attend, it’s something that we literally say every Sunday, and it’s probably safe to say that you believe big in this statement. But, have you ever stopped for a minute and thought about what you’re committing yourself to doing by voicing these few, simple words? If you’re like me (before I started writing this), then you probably hadn’t given it much thought. But don’t worry, that’s okay. I’m here to help. Let’s break these three short sentences down so that we can fully understand the heart behind one of Severn Run’s biggest beliefs.

Loving Well

Most of us understand what love is. Some more so than others. But, do we really understand what ‘loving well’ means? If we’re going to fully understand how to love well, we must first understand what the love is and its importance, and then figure out how we do it. I don’t think there’s any better way to say it than Paul did in his letter to the Corinthians:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.       -1 Corinthians 13:1-7

So, if that’s what love should be, then how do we know when we’re doing it well? The answer is right in front of our noses.

We must love exactly how Paul said. We must be patient, we must be kind. We must love without envying, boasting, or letting ourselves become prideful. We don’t remind people of the wrongs they’ve committed against us; we forgive. We rejoice in the truth, refrain from anger, always hope, and always persevere.

Now I know what you’re thinking… ‘Ok Mr. blog post writer, but how do we really know if we’re loving well? How can we possibly love well when there’s no way we’ll ever be able to do ALL those things?’

We get that no one will be able to do all those things above, all the time. We know that we will mess up. But, we also know it’s totally possible to love well. And we know that we are loving well if we are loving as described above, even when it’s hardest to do so. There are times when we find that love comes easy – when we first get married, when a child is born, or when someone does something very thoughtful for us. But, what about those other times when loving doesn’t come quite so naturally? What about after years of marriage, when you feel that ‘they’ never notice anything you do for them, or when your child repeatedly disobeys your rules and tells you you’re ruining their life? What about those times where you don’t feel loved yourself? And don’t forget that co-worker who always parks in your spot at work, and generally thrives off making your life miserable every single day? How could you possibly love well then?

Honestly, the best example of loving well is Jesus. He died on the cross for a world of which the majority of people either don’t know that he exists, don’t understand exactly what he did for them, or worse yet, don’t even care. Yet, Jesus went to the cross all the same. He knew full well what lay before him, and he did it anyways. Why? Because…

…for God so loved the world!

And THAT is exactly how you love well. You love, as a parent loves their child, and you do it for all people, all the time, even when most you meet will never even deserve it. You love when it’s hard, and you love no matter what. No one ever said that it would be easy, but after all, when you say the words at the end of service, you are making a commitment to do it. So, are you ready to love well?

Living Jesus

This one can sound a bit daunting, right? After all, how do we ever expect to live like Jesus lived? He was God after all. In a sense that’s kind of like cheating, isn’t it?

Well, for starters, let’s just accept the fact that he was God, and we’re not. I think we can all agree on that.

Since we’re not God, we’re going to make mistakes. And that’s OK. I know, I know…breathe. You’re going to get through this. Are you still with me?

Our humanity is an issue that we’re never going to get rid of, and as long as we can accept that (making sure to not use it as a crutch), then we’re going to be better off. And the good thing is, God gave us an example for how to act: Jesus. Jesus was and is the perfect example for us to follow.

We all know that Jesus came to Earth to live as a man and die for our sins so that we would no longer be eternally separated from God. But, have you ever wondered if he was also sent here to live just like us so that he could bridge the gap that made it difficult for us to relate with our supernatural Heavenly Father? He was sent here to Earth to experience real human problems so that we could look to see how he solved them. He lived as an ordinary man so that we could have a realistic example of how we should behave, and so we could see what we should do.

This is exactly what ‘living Jesus’ really is. It’s emulating the way that Jesus acted, using the words that Jesus used, and trusting the Father as Jesus trusted him. And the main thing is, being out on the road like Jesus was.

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. - John 14:12

Jesus was always out on the road, traveling from town to town, and meeting people where they were. He didn’t sit in a church and wait for the masses to come to him. He walked out among common people – sinners even – and spent personal time with them. Jesus associated himself with tax collectors, prostitutes, and the sick and diseased, among others, because those were the people who needed him.

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” ­             – Matthew 9:10-13

Jesus was trying to tell the religious leaders what he wanted. He told them ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ The religious rules of the day were meant to restrict people’s lives, and these people spent much of their time ‘sacrificing’ this or that so that they would somehow earn their way to heaven. But, all Jesus wanted was for them to show mercy to the broken that they came into contact with. And that is exactly what he wants from us.

In order to ‘live Jesus’, we need to be merciful towards all, and we need to love with everything we have. After all, we are ALL broken, and we all need mercy and love. Jesus showed both to us, and he therefore commands us to do the same to others.

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” – Luke 10:27

It seems that ‘loving well’ and ‘living Jesus’ aren’t so very different, are they? By loving well, you are in fact living Jesus! It’s not as impossible as you might think, after all. But it does require being intentional. Are you up to the task? 

Believing Big

Many times throughout the New Testament, we see the disciples constantly doubting God. While that was not always the case, it seems strange to think that those who were closest to Jesus - that those who saw him perform miracle after miracle still had times of doubt. So, it’s easy to think about how much harder we have it because we haven’t seen Jesus firsthand. That is, we haven’t seen him in the tangible way that the disciples did. And it can be quite normal to feel defeated in our faith at times. With the craziness of life, and all the bad things that happen in the world around us, it can be easy to have a faith that seems small and boxed in.

So, how then do we figure out how to ‘believe big’? Let’s take a quick look at a passage of scripture on the topic…

When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. “Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.”

“You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment.

Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” ­-Matthew 17:14-21

The disciples were unable to drive out the demon because they did not believe that they could. Jesus tells them that they can move mountains if only they had a tiny bit of faith. Whether Jesus literally meant ‘mountains’, I can’t say for sure, but we understand the point he was trying to convey; the point that we can do things that seem impossible, if only we believe. And, we see Jesus say this on multiple occasions…

Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” -Matthew 21:21-22

In turn, we see Jesus healing people on many occasions because of their belief. He often asked someone if they believed that he could heal them, and when they replied ‘yes’, he healed them and told them they were healed because of their faith. Here’s just one example:

When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”

“Yes, Lord,” they replied.

Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you” -Matthew 9:28-29

And this scenario was repeated throughout Jesus’ life.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, Ok, so I can move mountains if only I have enough faith, so how the heck do I get to a faith that’s even mustard seed sized? Well I’m glad you asked, but I think you’re asking the wrong question. The question should never be how much, but in whom.

Go back to the passage I shared above, Matthew 17:14-21. Jesus told the disciples that they did not have faith, at all, and that is why they could not cast out the demon. Pretty crazy to think that the disciples had like ZERO faith. After all, they were the disciples!

But, don’t get discouraged just yet. What Jesus said next is actually very comforting, depending on how you interpret it. He said, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain. ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.” It seems like a rather bold statement, but in fact it’s quite the opposite. He says that all we need is just the tiniest bit of faith, and we can do the impossible – we can move mountains. And again, we’re not literally talking about reshaping the Earth, we’re talking about doing things that only God could do.

So, if we interpret it in this way, then just a tiny bit of faith in a God who can move mountains, means that we can accomplish things beyond anything we could have ever imagined that we could have done on our own. That’s seems pretty cool, right?

The main point here is that it’s not about the quantity of our faith, but it’s about who we are placing it in. We have a God of the impossible. He can do anything, and all we have to do is place our faith in him, dare to dream a little, and believe big that God can do it. God doesn’t promise that we will be rich or live in a castle, and in fact is says explicitly in the Bible that’s not the case. And in line with that, we have to be sure where we are placing our faith, and for what reason. I don’t believe that no matter how much we believe that we will win the lottery will actually have any effect on our (slim) chances of that happening, because we are not basing our belief on God’s word.

In order to believe big, you have to align yourself with scripture, pray about it, and make sure that you are believing our God can use you in big ways for his will. That is what believing big really is. It’s a belief without limitations, trusting wholly in God, and committing yourself to follow through with whatever it is that he tells you to do. And, you have to follow through. God works through the people who trust in him.

That might feel a little bit like moving mountains to you, but I promise God’s up to the task. Are you?

Closing Thoughts

Hopefully the next time you’re at church and those familiar words come drifting your way, this time you’ll be able to say them knowing full well what they mean and be fully committed to living them out in your life. And if you don’t attend Severn Run, then perhaps these are a few simple sentences that you can incorporate into your life that will allow a whole lot more meaning and intention to your daily routine.

The bottom line is, no matter where you are, and no matter what you were doing before right now, know that Jesus cheering you on, excited to see what amazing things that you will do for his kingdom if you simply commit to love well, live Jesus, and believe big!

 

Does God Answer Our Prayers?

 

If ever a prayer needed to be answered it was now.

Standing inside the critical care unit of Children’s Hospital, I watched and waited outside a recovery room. A battery of alarms were blaring. Code blue blurted on high volume from the loud speakers. Nurses came running, equipment was rolled in, and one of the doctors who’d participated in that day’s surgery dashed into the room. I, as well as other family members, peered through the viewing window at the many monitors, with the heart rate monitor being the target of our attention. 

The baby in the room was only a few days old. The surgery just completed was the first of several open heart operations that would lead to her eventually being added to the heart transplant list roughly 8 months later. She was so tiny and helpless. Her heart failed to develop properly. She was suffering from a rare congenital heart defect known as hypo-plastic left heart syndrome. In layman’s terms, the under-developed left side heart can't effectively pump blood to the body, so the right side of the heart must be modified to do both functions.

Thoughts raced through my mind as we continued to take in the activity in the room. How can I help? What do I do for those around me also watching? In my head these words repeated again and again, “Please God, make it work. Please God, make it work.” After what seemed like an eternity, yet was likely but a minute or two, baby’s heart rate when back up, the oxygen level improved, and I knew she was okay for now.

A prayer with an immediate positive response. These are the times that hearing and seeing God’s answer to our request bring us delight and leaves us grateful.

But sometimes, God’s response to our prayers seems slow or even non-existent. Other times the response seems to be more of a challenge than an answer, leaving us to wonder, does God always answer prayer? 

If you spend any time at all researching this question you will find websites and articles that outline three possible responses - yes, wait, and no.

Yes -

There are many stories of answered prayer throughout the old and the new testament. One source offered 68 verses of answered prayer.(1)

One of the many famous immediate “yes” answers is found in Matthew 8. This is the story of the man with leprosy who simply asked Jesus for healing. Verses 2-3 tell us, “Suddenly, a leper came up to him, fell down before him, and said, ‘Sir, if you want to, you can make me clean.’ So Jesus reached out his hand, touched him, and said, ‘I do want to. Be clean!’ And instantly his leprosy was made clean.”

Imagine the elation of the healed man! Clearly, for the leper, this was the answer for which he had hoped to receive.

Wait -

In reading the book of Psalm, it is somewhat surprising how often David prays to God to be rescued from his  enemies. Again and again he is on the run. Its clear that his situations are dire and his prayers are ernest. For example, in Psalm 69:1-3 he prays,

1) Save me, O God,

    for the waters have come up to my neck.

2) I sink in the miry depths,

    where there is no foothold.

    I have come into the deep waters;

    the floods engulf me.

3) I am worn out calling for help;

    my throat is parched.

    My eyes fail,

    looking for my God.

Clearly David is in distress and has been praying for quite some time. However, in continuing to read, the good news is that David always gets an answer. Through it all he continually praises God and acknowledges God’s goodness.

No -

Ask any parent and they will tell you that some times the answer to a child’s request needs to be “No”.  God, as our father, would also agree. The request may seem reasonable to us, maybe even necessary. But thankfully God sees the big picture, looking far beyond our limited area of vision.

One of the most profound stories in the Bible that demonstrate why God must say “No” at times, is the plea Jesus made in the garden of Gethsemane just before his arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection. He was accompanied by his disciples and as he went off ahead, he prayed to God saying, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” Matthew 26:39b

Can you imagine if God had shrugged and said, “Well, okay.”? It is a terrifying thought. We would have no redemption and no one would have saved us from our sins. Thankfully God said “No”.

As we consider our own prayers requests today and in the past, we are likely to be able to recall times we have gotten each of these answers. No matter where you are today in your journey with Jesus, remember in all things—and especially in prayer—we need to trust that God has us covered. He promises to take care of us.

When in doubt, read, ponder, and meditate on Jeremiah 29:11, “ For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”    

 


(1) https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Answered-Prayer

Posted by Janelle Webber with

When We Go Through Hard Times

 

We all experience pain in one form or another—if we live long enough life usually brings us something emotionally or physically difficult. Throughout these hard times we wish that things were better. We might blame others, ourselves, or perhaps even God for what has befallen us. We might be angry, or despondent, or overwhelmed. But there is also something else that is happening in tandem with the pain.

If you look back on what you’ve been through; on all the hard times that you’ve made it through so far, one thing is always true--you’ve changed.

You may not always change as much as you’d like, and you may not always change for the better, but no matter what it is, something has changed. Perhaps it’s just a different outlook on something, or perhaps our entire attitude towards life completely changes.

We know that life is not always easy. So why do we question why something hard is happening to us?

Although it isn’t a common profession, most people understand what a blacksmith does. Essentially a blacksmith’s job is to take a chunk of metal, and through a lot of hard work and sweat, mold it into something useful. The process is not simple. The metal must be heated and cooled constantly, and the blacksmith must pound it over and over until it finally resembles a weapon or tool that’s usable for some specific purpose. In its original state, the metal was basically useless for such a purpose, but through the blacksmith’s hard work over a long period of time, it finally becomes something that can be effectively used.

We are the same way. God uses our life experiences, both good and bad, to mold us into something that he can use for his purpose. We may not always understand what that purpose is, but God always has a plan.

Some of us may reject him for putting us through the hard times, and we often fight to meet our own vision of what purpose we think we should fulfill for ourselves. We don’t mold easily, and it’s especially tough during the hard times. It’s hard for us to see what purpose we’re being shaped for. But, if we allow ourselves to learn and grow from the hard times, then it will be easier for us, in the long run, to understand and fulfill the purpose that God has for our lives. If we accept his purpose, we will discover a world opened up to us that we could have never imagined before.

A sword used as a nail would be a frightful waste of craftsmanship. But, when a sword is used in the way that it was created, it can be a powerful weapon. And the great thing is, we’re not all crafted to be swords. We’re each uniquely crafted, with different capabilities and purposes. Unlike a giant pile of spoons, which only have one purpose, the body of Christ is like a chest full of various tools that could build an empire.

God has a big plan for you, and for the people around you. If we would all allow him to mold us into the people that we’re meant to be, there’s no telling what kinds of “impossible” things might become reality.

As you go through the hard times that life brings you, remember that God has a plan for your life. You may not see it in that moment, but trust in him, pray, and listen for his guidance. He will pull you through and bring you into a world that’s brighter than anything you’ve ever known.

The Family You Choose

 

As a child, I never worried about living without my family. My parents were always around, I had my sister, and we would visit our extended family every year. I have so many fond memories as a child, playing with my cousins at my grandma’s house, going fishing with my dad, or baking cookies with my mom. I realize that not everyone may have these exact same memories, but I do believe that they are fairly similar to memories that many others share.

As I grew older, these kinds of experiences occurred less and less often. I became more and more independent, and family became something that I simply took for granted. They were still there, but I wasn’t. That is to say, I was absent in the sense that I wasn’t as interested in doing all the things that I had done as a kid. When I joined the military when I was 20, this was confounded even more because I literally wasn’t around anymore. I shipped off to Texas for several months for training, and then I moved to Germany right after. I took my wife Rachel with me to Germany, so luckily I had someone, but besides her, there was no one else. We spent three years there and then we moved to Guam for another three years.

Suffice it to say, being halfway around the world from your family takes its toll on you. The things that I took for granted in my late teens became the things that I missed most in my mid-twenties and now into my thirties. I miss just hanging out with my dad watching football games, or going to the movies. I miss grabbing a coffee and talking about life with my mom. I miss spending time with my grandparents, who also live where my parents do. My wife and I have missed so many life events because we’ve been geographically separated from our families for so long – the deaths of close relatives, family vacations, and holiday gatherings just to name a few. Family has also been absent for the births of all of our three children.

I’ve found myself missing all of that, especially the small things, a whole lot more in the past few years. It’s been so much so that I applied to get out of the military early so that we could move back home and be closer to family. I was very hopeful that things would work out, trusting God and praying that whatever happened was where he wanted me to be. Though I was expecting a ‘yes’ to my application, that was not what I received. I was sorely disappointed, but luckily for me I’ve grown a lot over the past 5-6 years, and was able to accept the fact that this was where God wanted us for the time being.

This was around the beginning of October, and about a month and a half later God showed me something that I hadn’t seen before…

My little family was prepared to spend another holiday together, just the five of us. Sometimes for Thanksgiving we hang out with friends, and on several occasions, we’ve had friends over at our house. I think for most military families this is common, though we do know quite a few people around here who have family close by, which has made it a bit more difficult for us.

This year we were invited over to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving, and there were several other church families who we knew well who were also going. When we got there, there were about twenty or so people, with a mix of our friends, and a mix of the host’s family as well. By the time everyone had shown up, there must have been around fifty people including kids. To be frank it was chaos – a beautiful, turkey and stuffing-smelling, love without limits kind of chaos. After we prayed and everyone started getting their food, I just had to stand back and soak it in for a minute.

This was when it hit me…

Even though we didn’t have ‘blood’ family around to celebrate the holidays with, we still had family. I took a picture and shared the post on Facebook because I wanted to capture the moment, and I wanted others to see that the family of God can make a big difference when you’re feeling lonely and separated from your own kin.

As a military family, being separated from relatives is something that we’re quite used to, though the feeling of missing them never really goes away. As we’ve allowed God in our lives more, he’s given us good friends to help fill the void of missing our families. Of course, it’s not an exact replacement – no one can ever do that. But, it’s about as close as you can get to the real thing. And for many people out there who may not share a strong bond with their families, perhaps it could even feel like a suitable replacement altogether. When you have God in your heart, and when you allow others into your life, then God will bring people to you to build you up and be there for you when you need them. And the great part is, no matter where you go, there will always be someone there as long as you’re open and paying attention.

Another great thing about the family of God is that it’s always growing, and we can always add more brothers and sisters! This family crosses boundaries that blood typically does not – race, skin color, culture, as well as many other things! You will meet people you probably wouldn’t have normally, and it will make you a better for it. You will grow as a person, and you will grow in your faith.

With God as our Father, and countless brothers and sisters surround us everywhere we go, there’s no need to ever feel alone. If you do feel lonely, perhaps you only need to look around and realize, as I did, that you are surrounded by more family than you think you are.

If you don’t know about the joys of a family shared through Christ, then we invite you to attend Severn Run (if you live in the Baltimore-D.C. area), or otherwise look for a local church to get connected to. Wherever you go, if they make you feel like family, then you know you’re probably home.

And if that’s the case, then…

…welcome to the family!

 

Posted by Andrew Stevens with

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