a presumptuous kneeling

i carry a cross this day,
pious death-reminder,
and the novel sensational empty stomach
of one who has never not had a choice.
This year, forty days meat-free,
But I fear the old, old ways and excuse myself
from an oil-free, wine-free, butter-free cleansing-time
this year, again, i cling to these to soothe the daily hurts
this year, again,
like always.

Why, then, should i take up a cross
why play at sacrifice
why join to myself a sign of penitence,
i who have not released my grip
on anger, fear, flippancy, pride
or the corroding grotesque apathy of self-indulgence?

It is not my cross.

Not mine but
his who was for us the ash of Palm Sunday
plowed back under the dust by
anger, fear, flippancy, pride
It is him, not i, who has won the contest
in losing all I still retain.

And now, as our Savior has taught us, we are bold to say:
We are weak dust ash
and there is nothing to be done for it
Lordamercy
Christ have mercy

Christ have mercy

Christ have mercy.

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things they told me

love God, and do what you will.
St. Augustine

The don’ts were a bunch of made-up stories, while the do-list exhibited an utter lack of imagination.

Don’t be gay or you’ll become sex-crazed.
Don’t drink alcohol or you’ll end up addicted and pregnant.
Don’t wear short skirts because boys cannot contain themselves.
Read your Bible so you’ll be holier.
Listen to the sermon so you’ll be holier.
Give 10%.

All of us together, wound tight with fear and anxiety, battening the hatches down around the children, reminding one another that our boundaries were all that kept us safe. Sometimes they said it was a war, against The World, against myself, and I who thrive on challenge threw myself into the challenge of competing for blandest. Best Defender of Status Quo.

I kept striving and straining to Be Good, even though it didn’t really set my soul alight the way they said A Good Christian would feel. I wanted that badly to do right by the dying God-Man who, of all people, had looked in my eyes and said I love you this much. Atonement theories aside, I always knew He was real.

I never stopped fleeing sin, doing battle, loving sinners and hating sins, and it was always tangled – in this noble part of me that has to do The Right Thing, and this subservient part of me that would give anything, anything at all just to have them like me, please just like me. All it takes is a great, looming fear of failure and the tiniest smidge of self-righteousness as a reward for maintaining compliance for one more day.

I perfected the skill of guilt:
I remembered to bring my quarters to church.
I only swore when I was alone.
I tried harder to Tell My Friends About Jesus even though it seemed like they already knew. I berated myself for being so shy.

I stopped reading the romance novels but the words stayed with me. I never told anyone, ever; there was too much shame and how could I know all their burdens were greater than mine? How could any of us know we had all done unspeakable things.

They said it was all about being Sold Out and Set Apart, all the do’s and don’ts because sin would Separate Us From God, so I kept trying. I stayed afraid.

When did I discover – when did the truth first glimmer that all these Boundaries might just be prison walls? How did I first find out there might not be so much to fear? That all the walls around The Children and The Truth and My Relationship With God might really only be designed to protect myself and the 90% that was Mine?

I think it was when my school friends loved better than the church group,
when the Bible I never stopped loving whispered freedom and grace to my anxious heart,
when the North Georgia storms blew wild and dangerous and achingly, irresistibly beautiful.

I can’t resent being kept from teenage mistakes. No one was trying to hurt me. And in the same sermons, the same breaths that I learned fear and legalism I learned of a God big enough and loving enough to save, and I believe this God is winning.

Now I am old enough and brave enough for this God and I to break the rules. I give too much away and I pray at odd times and I smoke the occasional cigarette and I told you about the romance novels.

I am quite sure I will make real mistakes, painful mistakes, even that I have already destroyed much more than I ever intended, because this is the way of humans.  But that is just it. I grow more human the less I cower; I create better and love wider the less I micromanage my life. I am running wild and laughing loud because I have given it all to God – just like they always told me.

you move with them

“Do you think he will learn something from it?”

I am talking with someone a couple years older than me, about someone my age, and we both smile, one of those shared looks that communicates a thousand unspoken words of common understanding. We both know exactly what we hope “he” will learn.

Other early-twenties bloggers, too, I wonder how many older readers shake their heads at us and think we are darling. Overthinkers, every last one of us, and leaning hard into whatever identity we’ve chosen and telling everyone all about our childhood, “what it was like growing up”, like we aren’t still trying to grasp it back from whomever relegated it to the “things we’re done with” bin.

I wonder what I’m pressing onto this space with such intensity that in five or ten years I will shake my head at myself, softly smiling at all the things I needed you to know about me.

When you are older you know a few things about yourself, the essentials of who you are that won’t change, and you know that change is inevitable for all the rest; even that you cannot always see the change until it’s already happened because things just come, and you move with them, and the seasons wear us all into our different patterns like trees. But when you are young and an overthinker, the future seems like something you might fall into – one minute peering over the edge, next minute thudding onto the bottom – and you tiptoe around the chasm securing yourself to various Things You Know and Things You Want To Be. You think you will fall slower and better than everyone else with their regrets.

I don’t think I will stop trying to live my life on purpose, or trying to anticipate everything, or overthinking in my quest to live the very best life I can. Those are things I like about myself.

But I am letting go of the need to be grown, to Educate People and Fix Things, to give more than I have or to force an outcome to conform to my expectations.

Things just come, and you move with them, and the seasons wear us all into our different patterns like stones, and I know he will learn what he needs to and the gashing edge will smooth into an intriguing, beautiful bevel.

Things just come, and you move with them, and the seasons wear us all into our different patterns like riverbeds, and I know when it is finished mine will be deep and clear as the night sky in Adrian, Georgia, which is the closest place I know to God.

future employers STAY OUT

*psst* this is my name if you met me at church and can't remember and we've known each other too long for you to ask again because it's awkward.

*psst* this is my name if you met me at church and can’t remember and we’ve known each other too long for you to ask again because that would be awkward.

In a moment that managed to combine great thoughtlessness with great prescience, my parents gave me a name that sounds like several other names and then they spelled it like they wished we were Welsh. They have apologized for the ensuing confusion.

But really they shouldn’t have. Sure, I have a hard time introducing myself to old people; but my parents had me a little too early to recognize the genius in what they were doing, which was in fact making me extraordinarily Google-able. Once people figure out who I am, that is.

If you Google me, you will quickly find several pages that are actually directly related to me, along with other mentions of less-important Lyndsey Graves-es. It helps that I’m a fairly active participant in the Internet (in fits and bursts, at least).

Having, like most twentysomethings, little else to manage and interface with and delete emails from, I indulged in one such fit; yesterday I joined tumblr (find me so I can follow you!), and today I joined LinkedIn. I only wanted to follow people and save hipstery photographs (tumblr) and use other people for my own professional advancement (LinkedIn).

But that LinkedIn account sent me into a minor identity crisis here at my desk on Tuesday morning. I don’t know how to author one of those! I know how to write a résume – describe my mostly-adequate experience and accomplishments with aggresively grandiose jargon, prioritize experience most relevant to job applied for, and keep it out of the hands of people who actually know me. I also know how to write a blog post – be honest, and always include some run-on sentences (those are especially honest). And my Facebook profile is a hodgepodge of shared social justice articles and all the one-liners I’m going to put in my mockumentary someday.

Inviting my friends and teachers into my fledgling professional life, though – that’s something I’ve hesitated to do, and writing my profile I remembered why. THEY DON’T BELONG THERE, that’s why. Or, to be more accurate, I’d really just rather not have to combine the two. Where my LinkedIn profile says “Young Adult Ministry,” my friends have all heard me say “young adult ministry… whatever that means *snort*”.

The only reason I got an account is because I’m so Google-able. The care and keeping of one’s work life, online-writing-hobby life, and real-world-relationships separately is a quaint but unhelpful notion anymore. A savvy employer will find  me. I won’t get to print my information onto expensive heavy paper and hand in that version of myself. They will see all my snark, earnestness, controversial opinions, and personal celebrations, in descending order by popularity measured in page hits; and that will be the same picture whether they’re at a university, an online writing venue, or whatever coffee shop employs Ph.D.s in theology.

Every little piece of ourselves that we tether onto a corner of the internet becomes a dot that others can connect to form a picture of us – in most cases, an indelible dot. Another quaint but fairy-tale-ish notion from the past? Moving across the country and “starting over”. The activity from your past is recorded; your current whereabouts are in the searchable White Pages; and your online identity is a cloud made of thousands of tiny water droplets – every tweet, every like, every friend and “connection”.

Which makes it all the more difficult, even if you’re doing your best to be intentional about creating that identity. My coworkers are disconcerted that I wore jeans and only jeans in the winter, but have started dressing up in the summer. They need me to stay in one place once they’ve got me figured out. But it’s difficult, impossible even, to project a consistent image across multiple platforms, so they’re going to have to live with the uncertainty of knowing a dynamo like me.

In the end, though, I think I’m hopeful. I may never be able to convince a hiring manager that I’m a straitlaced, whitebread, grown-up individual with absolutely no slightly Communist ideals. But then again maybe all that overblown résume language, when it served to identify me, was actually as bad for my soul as it felt.

Maybe I am glad that where my LinkedIn account says “lead volunteer, Havenplace”, my friends are standing by, perhaps remembering the tears I cried over those kids and the ways I was changed by those kids. Maybe some of my connections will be those kids.

Maybe it is good that my name forces me to stand out a little, and I can choose to rise to that serendipitous, unlooked-for occasion. Maybe, even if I discover that everything I ever posted in my twenties was a gigantic appalling mistake, I’ll not forget that humility is the rarest and most endearing quality an academic – or a human – can ever possess.

Maybe the internet, this weirdly ephemeral medium that once flooded the world with concerns about anonymity, will finally make us better people by exposing us so.

May my own Facebook photos reveal integrity – a life actually lived the way my blog claims I hope for.

And may those two blog posts I tried to hide please dear goodness really stay that way.

to wend a way

It was a wilderness I didn’t quite know I was entering, a tenuous in-between space that turned far more strange and wandering than planned. This whole year, far from home, is so incredibly different than I expected, I cannot untangle and describe all that is good and hard, frustrating and valuable. Not even to myself. Not even – especially – not to God.

Did that pillar ever disappear? Did they ever just sit a few days because the pillar had gone missing no matter how much they believed? That was most of my wilderness. Just an unfamiliar landscape to be survived without direction, without purpose; subsisting on yet more that feels foreign, yes, even the blessings. Falling in love, free time, manna? (what is it?)

But God comes back, God reminds us who we are. I may never understand these forth-and-back movements, except to name them “seasons” and seek peace in the midst. Yet we sing and pray and keep faith, because the other gods “do not dwell among men” but the God of Daniel teaches us to prophesy and follows us into the fiery furnace – a wild journey indeed it is, to go with this God who returns.

God returned last week, nodding over my shoulder as I read Daniel, and soon I fell to begging all the harder for answers – “Where are we GOING?” – and God said nothing, maybe a whispered patience and a hope that I would find the pillar in the woods.

And I went to the real wilderness – at least, I went to the New York countryside. I drove south, and I went whatever way looked promising. I took the side roads that made their ways into forest, but I found only farms and homes. My feet longed to traipse the earth, my heart to find real solitude. And I prayed, and I drove on.

And then I knew where I was going, like I remembered the way; I passed some roads, rounded a bend, and hit the brakes because I knew to turn here. A couple miles past more houses, some posted trails, and there the sign: New York State Forest.

Have you ever come home and cried? I stepped onto the trail and I cried for how much I needed the trees and the walking alone, no pavement, no sirens.

I followed the Spirit off the trail – that direction, there is something there – and found another, higher trail. I followed the Spirit to water and to stillness and to peace. I followed a deer to the morning’s rut. It was Earth Day.

The Answer was not in that forest; I may never know The Right Thing To Do In The Future with certainty. This has never been the way with me. Only sometimes I know with certainty what I am to do here, now, and the path winds up and around; it makes little sense; and there is an indescribable peace in following this inscrutable way. Then I try to discover the reasons, or look into the future, or simply get distracted, and I have stopped listening; and I have aimed myself at something in the distance; and I am following no longer.

I used to know a lot about myself, my convictions, and my desires. Now I know less; I am less ambitious; less confident. I know the wilderness is bigger than I, and God yet larger and more untamed, but Her mercy is without measure. Even as the hazy vision of a way appears in the distance, the point of this journey remains unclear; this new humility uncertain; the desert uncomfortable; and I still don’t know what I am becoming.

We usually hope someone will come along to show us the shortcut out of the wilderness, or at least assign some meaning to its twists and turns and especially its pains. But my wilderness is my own, and I know only that I am not through it yet. You will wander for your own reasons, and neither of us may ever know them.

I can say only one thing. God is with us. We can be lost without being lost, and in all our wanderings and searching anxieties still God sees us, there in the palm of his hand. When the pillar is gone, when you can’t see the way, when you’re left to walk alone on legs that will not hold, still. Know that God was with our fathers and mothers in faith, and God. Is. With. You.

We will be found. We will be led, into trust, moment by moment. Grace is near, and there will be water; may we of little faith, we of little strength, we the broken, stubborn, and confused, all find rest.

notes on a fast

I will never preach again.

The Sunday before Lent, I preached about fasting and how joyful and freeing this gift of a discipline is. Then I started actually fasting and it’s awful.

recipe!

I didn’t decide to do this, really, I just read about the idea about six months ago and I knew that I needed to do it for Lent. Rice, beans, vegetables, and fruit. That’s it.

I came up with all these reasons after the fact – solidarity with the world’s poorest people; being environmentally friendly; eating healthy.

For the first two weeks I was moving and the whole thing was really impractical. So it’s only been a month. And I keep traveling, making mostly-veganism the closest thing I could get to the strictest sense of my chosen discipline. And I took a whole day off when I went to Buffalo for no good reason, except that Buffalo wings are my favorite food. I ate seventeen.

I haven’t even “done” that well, and it still has been this monumental effort that I’ve only kept up with out of guilt over the Earth and a general belief that spiritual disciplines shouldn’t always make sense or feel good.

Not that it hasn’t made some sense. Benefits:
– again, the Earth. Animals are not sustainable foods (giving corn to a cow when you could give it to a person). Animal products are only marginally better.
– I’ve learned to make lots of new international foods and tried creative new made-up recipes.
– I’m healthier.
– without other sugar in my diet, fruit tastes amazing.

But the costs, ugh. I know this is whiny; let’s just call it a “confession”. It just feels so difficult. I love to cook. I love to bake even more. And I love to eat even more than that. In my life, every victory and disappointment is met with a treat. I try to reign this in, treats in moderation, but I can’t quite believe this is a wholly bad way to use food.

Beyond this, I just believe in food, even apart from its celebratory and consolatory powers. It’s such a spectacular, creative gift. And it has a mystical ability to bring people together; unless someone (meeeee) is getting left out.

So even though there are lots of yummy ways to eat rice and beans and vegetables, these past weeks have been greatly frustrating to me, not least because they’ve shattered my hard-fought illusions that I was being aware, intentional about what I ate. I really thought I was. But the first week, it just took one glance at my snack stash at work to see that I’d been mindlessly midafternoon munching on pure junk food.

And of course, the hardest thing about sticking to it has been defeating my own excuses, all of which are totally irrelevant. My life is already stressful. I’m making important decisions right now. All of Syracuse is fasting from sunlight. In other words – life is too difficult to deprive myself of whatever foods I want.

Isn’t that the point though; isn’t that the point. I thought I wasn’t dependent on food to get me through rough days, but I am. I cannot say with St. Paul, I know the secret of being content, because however much I want him to be, Christ is not always my strength.

And that is all the gift there is. Just me, knowing my weakness. This winter, in so many ways, I’ve learned anew how weak I am, and in the past couple of weeks, how deeply God loves me regardless.

Lent is about to end. I need that. In the last few days I’ve started to feel the shadow side of all this creeping in: a little too much pleasure in deprivation, a road I’ve gone further down before. And then, even if I did someday perfect the art of subsisting on rice and beans, I am certain there would be that absurd ascetic pride that’s kept far too many Christians from enjoying the good world God gave them. There is a time for letting go of certain foods; soon comes the time to let go of dieting.

Likewise, there is a time for getting stronger, and a time to just acknowledge weakness. I know this year that Holy Week is not a time to be strong. Jesus Christ, the son of the living God, became weak to bear my weakness. All I know is to rest there, beneath the cross, and let the mystery tangle around us because here is the eye of the storm: that you, O Lord, are strong, and you, O Lord, are loving.*

I need Easter deep in my bones this year, because I miss the spring, because I miss home, because I wonder this year more than usual whether victory is really possible. But I also need him to rise just so I can lay into a cinnamon roll with a new and profound awakening to the world in its icing-containing glory. We are redeemed, not into some exhausting self-improvement project, but into new life, as our pitiful little selves getting stronger in time, but first there is love without condition.

Thanks be to God.

*Ps. 62

look out the window

This is my favorite snow – falling fast in big thick flakes. I still find all snow enchanting and the cold (usually) exhilarating; the days I am tired of it, it is because I miss home. The snow looks wet, it is blowing sideways, and I am glad to be sitting on a radiator behind two panes of glass. Nate and I are thinking of going to Lake Ontario this Saturday, which suddenly strikes me as silly. We are covered in Lake Ontario.

Two very small boys are playing at shoveling their drive. I have seen them do this with their father before, orbiting his dextrous work with their energetic flailing, shovels quite taller than they. I wonder if they will always imitate him so closely; I wonder if he is a good man. They run inside, half-finished making scrape marks in the piling white dust. I hope they have earned some hot chocolate.

I think it is an important exercise, to sit and look out windows. Occasionally time should be wasted with extravagant inattention, with trust that there is some healing joy in abandoning oneself to the television. But we are not so good at wasting time with intention, slowly, and then snow falls and boys play and all is left unconsidered, and it is not the time that is wasted at all but the heartrending beauty of the world going by outside.

i don’t believe in grace

Not really.

This is a confession. Not a tongue-in-cheek confession with a twist; just something I need to get out of my head.

I don’t believe in grace. I believe in second chances, but not third and fourth ones. I believe in gifts with conditions. I believe in making myself a better person.

I believe in ruthless and relentless responsibility. I believe I “should …” a hundred times a day. I believe in not enjoying the present until the future is sure.

This is how I get things done; this is how I stick to my morals; this is how I achieve and fix and don’t let people down.

Of course I believe in grace for others, the weaklings, but I will not see myself weak.

Then I do anyway, and then I want to believe in grace. But I don’t always feel it, and when God seems far away I am a shivering, stammering wreck trying once again to curry favor.

Sometimes I shout about grace to hide from myself the fact that my heart is still hiding from such an overwhelming love. Such a love could carry me on a wave to the ends of the earth and back. Such a love could turn me light, dancing, and what if I forgot to do my paperwork?

I was thinking about some problem, and knowing my hopes were too high, my solutions not pragmatic enough. I shouldn’t be so idealistic, I thought, and then God said – God just said –

I love you idealistic.

but i don’t think i believe it.

What I should do – what I should do – is try harder to believe it. I should look up some Bible verses or something.

But I think instead I’ll just rest here a while, and dream some more dreams, scary as it feels to love my foolhardy ambitions for this world so much. I think I’ll act like I believe it and trust that that is enough for the God who sees me and calls me whole, calls me his. I will not strive and I will not cower. I will wait confident upon the Lord. I will be myself and no more, as if I believe what I do not see – grace.

on being a street preacher

If I could assassinate anyone on this Tuesday, it would be the street preacher in front of the university here.

There is another girl talking to him first; I join the conversation out of interest in the kind of person who talks to street preachers. After it becomes clear that her straightforward questions are not being met with straightforward answers, and that she for whatever reason is not going to cease trying any time soon, I take to looking around the intersection. The sheer number of people streaming by suddenly overwhelms me. How could this man refuse to see the consequences of his actions – the anger, confusion, discomfort, and hatred in the eyes of passersby? The damage his thoughtlessness has already sown is breathtaking.

I am seized by a desire – a need – to somehow undo all this. I want to shout that this has nothing to do with Jesus, or write it in the sky, or hand out cookies, or cause some kind of permanent damage to the man’s vocal cords. I want to cry, but instead I look at the next person who stops to watch. “I am a Christian, and I’m sorry for this man’s actions.”

“YOU! I WILL NOT TALK TO YOU ANYMORE. GO AWAY! YOU ARE A HYPOCRITE! HYPOCRITE!” The heretofore levelheaded street preacher is suddenly shouting at me, and waving his arms, and I am hurrying across the street because now everything looks even worse. I care only that the screaming stop.

Later I do cry. Because of how much one person can hurt the world, because I was verbally attacked on a street corner, because I didn’t undo anything at all.

But even later, I realize he was right. I am a hypocrite.

For one thing, I can’t apologize for his actions. At best, my apology was a poor substitute for his; at worst, it was an insult to the person being wronged.

For another thing, I should have apologized for myself. No, I’ve never preached condemnation on a public sidewalk. My list of sins is much longer: I have condemned and judged others on sight. I have cared more about being right than about being loving. I have failed to recognize the needs of people around me. I have been slow to listen and quick to speak. I have feared others. I have used my sacred text to congratulate myself, instead of listening to its call for humility.

Through all those attitudes I have created street preachers of myself and other people. I have contributed to a world where the truth is adversarial, not shared; where it is possible to pretend to love by using violence; where the other ceases to be truly human.

I am sorry.

And I think it is because I am sorry that I can forgive the street preacher. Let her who has never been judgmental, smug, immature, mistaken, insensitive, or arrogant, cast the first stone. Let her who knows the street preacher’s story judge his actions now.

Everyone else: please forgive us.

On using words

I have an obsession with efficiency, one of those obsessions you don’t notice for years because it’s so much a part of you, you never knew others didn’t care so much. I don’t care much about whether something is going well or doing OK. I want to know if it’s the best it can be. I walk everywhere in the straightest possible line.

So I look at my life, and I think about how much I like words and playing with them and using them and, most of all, having other people tell me I’m good at them. Maybe I could best serve the world using words. But then I look at how many words are already in the world, and I wonder if it needs any more. Who knew that limiting people to 140 characters would inspire them to NEVER SHUT UP? I’m wary of spewing content and I don’t live my life online.

Sometimes I’m tempted to quit the internet altogether. Quit adding to the white chattering noise. Write only handwritten notes and someday send a masterpiece manuscript in a couple of spiral notebooks to the lucky duck who will publish my one great work. Or give up words entirely. But I can’t. I can’t stop writing (I’d spend a fortune on spiral notebooks) and I can’t quit believing that the internet has the ability to democratize ideas and empower people. Even if everyone’s drowning in too much input most days, it’s the strange chances and happenstance encounters with others’ viewpoints that change people’s lives.

I can’t quit words; neither can I stomach the idea of speaking with great authority on all things, of instagramming my corn flakes, or updating the world on my thoughts and feelings every half hour. Is there still a way for words to have meaning?

Integrity, I think. Making words and life match up. Speaking with uncommon charity and grace. Using the right word at the right time, not a bunch of words all the time. Having something to say. Constantly, silently living out what’s important; leaving room for debate on what’s not.

Perhaps if we treat our own words like they’re still valuable, they will be. Perhaps one can be noticed for one’s rarity. Maybe words on their own are unlikely to change the world these days; but perhaps the best life doesn’t leave out speaking the truest lovingest words.

————-

EDIT.

I hate that I changed the name of this stupid blog. It keeps reminding me about this stupid “honesty” bit I’ve gotten myself into.

To be honest, this big-deal blog (OK, a bigger deal than me) “Thought Catalog” is publishing this thing I submitted, and I’m terrified. I really am. Like, usually when I write I’m terrified that no one will care; right now I’m terrified that someone will care. The main reason for this is that I DON’T REMEMBER WHAT IT SAYS.

I was reading a bunch of posts on the site, and I thought of something I might like to say to the people who read it and write it. So I dashed it off in the middle of the night last weekend(?) and submitted it via online form. The form was comforting. It said, submitting things to our site is easy. Everyone is probably doing it. There will be no consequences to this action.

Now they’re going to publish an essay I wrote and liked in the middle of the night after it was done (this means nothing about its actual quality). Literally all I remember about it is that it was called, “How I Decided To Be an Evangelical”. And now an audience primarily of college students, young professionals, and hipsters, skewed heavily liberal/anti-religion (far as I can tell), is going to read it.

Is this a joke? Are they literally publishing me as a joke? Will I receive death threats? Will anyone like evangelicals more because of it? Will someone I try to date in the future Google me and find it? What will they think?

I have no idea, because I don’t know what I wrote. This is not an exaggeration.

There. The freaking-out behind all the philosophizing above. You could say, in direct contradiction to the philosophizing above (apparently I spew content all over places it doesn’t seem to belong). Clearly, I haven’t mastered the “best life” yet.

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