Orphan hurts

You go out into the day hoping that the world likes you as you like it. You wish all well, and the sun is shining, or not, but still there is ample reason to shake joy and gratitude from the very breath, from the air itself, the movement of wheels on pavement, the little happy routines.

And then, somehow, you are slapped upside the head by someone in need of shaking off a little meanness. There’s always someone seething with anger at the world and anyone with the audacity to believe. The holy ones will slap you with a shovelful of shame, just where you thought maybe you’d done some good.

Instead, it now is made clear. You are unacceptable. The who of you, the way of you. You haven’t measured up. You are not wanted. They will not let you in.

They do not care if you live or die. They prefer you not thrive.

And so it goes, day by day in this great orphanage we call home.

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Labor Day Sunday

Half lit morn,

Cicada chorus.

In the woods,

an owl trills soprano.

Down valley,

the rooster calls

in mournful tenor.

A bat flutters ’round the yard

searching his last supper.

And in the sky,

a sliver of moon

over rising thunder clouds,

one shaped like

horse and rider.

May He come quickly.

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Dry Bones Restored

This Easter marks 11 years since God supernaturally intervened in my wayward life with two words that sent me on a search. Those words were “dry bones.”

I was a prodigal, a rebel, a rambler. I left my small farming valley in central Pennsylvania a year after college and set out for California in an old Subaru. It was 1984. No cell phone, no credit card, no GPS. But I had saved $1500. It seemed like enough to carve a stake in the Promised Land.

I was a young journalist, and California gave me the excitement and experience I desired. Earthquakes, gang warfare, race riots, even the hunt for a serial killer. In the land of endless sun and opportunity, I made career my God and shucked my Mennonite upbringing. I told my new friends that my people were fundamentalists, a popular label in the days of Jerry Falwell. It made it easy to dismiss them as extreme.

California held me for 10 years, but my career hit a brick wall. I couldn’t advance. In the season after the Los Angeles riots, newspapers learned they needed a more diverse staff. I was female, but white. An interior hunger took hold. I craved change. A boyfriend and I decided to head east, where both of our fathers were battling cancer.

I found myself in New Hampshire, eight hours away from “home,” and then my father died.

My relatives must have said their prayers. I came home to his funeral, wary and bruised, but amidst that kin, soaking in the sweet refrains of four-part harmony, I knew that these people, however strapped by their beliefs, still loved me. They had not rejected me. I had made an outcast of myself.

Slowly, I edged home. In my late 30s, I traded journalism for a new career as an entrepreneur. I took over an antiques shop in seaside Portsmouth, N.H. In those pre-911 days, business boomed. People thought nothing of spending a couple hundred dollars on a trinket they could fit in their hand. I had been married briefly and divorced in California, and now I became engaged again. If not for his Jewish mother, we would have eloped on a whim, but she insisted on seeing her only son’s wedding. So, we waited, and floundered, and as the engagement came to a miraculous end, my rented shop went up for sale at $1 million, and my business was lost.

Wounded and wondering, my thoughts turned toward home, to little Big Valley.

I had vowed never to return. The people were myopic, uneducated, rigid, hypocritical, and gossipy. Would it be safe for me to be myself there? I could never conform. I asked myself: What do you really want for your life? At that time, I was living in a run-down over-priced apartment. I longed for my own home and to live someplace safe and green and restful.

My new home came with a priceless view of Big Valley farmland and a $400 monthly mortgage payment. It was heaven, and I was home.

Several weeks later, I woke up to the television telling me two planes had been flown in the Twin Towers. I looked at the scene and thought: “This changes everything.”

The change in my life would be just as seismic. By the next spring, 2002, I found myself edging back into church, the same Mennonite church of my childhood. Here was the ghost of my departed father, sending me into tears as I sat far in the back, trying to get something out of the sermon. Mostly, I felt edgy and emotional, and wanted to flee.

That Easter, I arrived at the last minute as usual, and wedged myself into a seat in the back. My dad’s hospice nurse was in the same pew. The sermon lost me, and I found myself paging through my unused Bible. In the back, unseen before, I found two sheets of old typewritten paper. I instantly recognized them as my dad’s testimony, written when he was sick with hepatitis and hospitalized, after a missions trip to Brazil. As a teen, I drew a cross for the cover, and the testimony was given out at church on Easter Sunday, (35 years ago as of this Easter.)

His testimony told of looking for joy in things and entertainment and finding only emptiness, of “leading my family in the ways of world.” At 35, the rebel preacher’s son turned to the living God and was transformed. I knew that testimony well, and now it spoke to me as if my dearly departed dad had come to church and sat beside me in the pew.

My mother had offered me my dad’s Bible and I refused it, but now I wanted it. A few Sundays later, once again distracted in the service, I began paging through his Bible and found an outline, probably used in a Sunday School class. Across the top was written “Valley. Dry Bones. How to breathe God’s Spirit into it.” It was a mystery to me. What was dry bones?

I went to Sunday School that day. I sat silent, afraid to share, feeling an outcast and uncomfortable. I have no idea why I even went. But in that room, an old high school classmate began to share thoughts that occurred to him as he was out milking the cows that morning. “I was thinking about that army of dry bones in Ezekiel,” he said, “and how God breathed his spirit into them, and they came to life.”

God had my attention.

I asked a friend, “What’s this dry bones stuff?” and he led me to Ezekiel 37, the story of the fallen house of Israel, bereft of hope, lost to God and His Holy Spirit. But the prophet Ezekiel was told to command those bones to come to life, and the Spirit fell, and the bones rose. “I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land,” Chap. 37, verse 14. “Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord!”

And, so the Spirit breathed on me. A short time later, I woke up one morning with the memory of a box of old books I’d bought at auction and never really examined. I tromped out to the garage and quickly found the box, took out a leather bound volume and opened it. Printed atop the page were the words: “Dry bones restored.” It was the title of a sermon by Joseph Lathrop from 1802.

My neighbor, a praying women, listened as I related the story and asked: “Do you think God is talking to you, Barb?”

God is real. He will use any small detail He can to get to the heart of those He seeks. You can run from Him for 20 plus years as I had, but if you are in the heart of the Hound of Heaven, you will not escape. He will find you, He will lure you, He will bring you home, and if you agree, He will fill you with His Spirit and transform your wretched life into a miraculous work.

Some people get delivered instantly. Just yesterday, I heard the testimony of a man who found himself barbiturate free after a single prayer of submission on a hilltop in Seattle. All of us are renewed day by day. My journey has been an unfolding, requiring battles through layers of pain. I came back to God through Charismatic craziness and was led out and back to the safer doctrine of the Mennonites, and I know there is more ahead. God is patient and incredibly kind.

I was a victim of hope deferred. I left God and home, and like the prodigal I turned back when I was hungry. My heart was sick. My adventures had not fulfilled my longings. But life with a loving Lord and Savior does.

May the Lord renew your spirit and give life to your bones so that you may live.

 

 

 

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Dry Bones Restored

This Easter marks 11 years since God supernaturally intervened in my wayward life with two words that sent me on a search. Those words were “dry bones.”

I was a prodigal, a rebel, a rambler. I left my small farming valley in central Pennsylvania a year after college and set out for California in an old Subaru. It was 1984 No cell phone, no credit card, no GPS. But I had saved $1500. It seemed like enough to carve a stake in the Promised Land.

I was a young journalist, and California gave me the excitement and experience I desired. Earthquakes, gang warfare, race riots, even the hunt for a serial killer. In the land of endless sun and opportunity, I made career my God and shucked my Mennonite upbringing. I told my new friends that my people were fundamentalists, a popular label in the days of Jerry Falwell. It made it easy to dismiss them as extreme.

California held me for 10 years, but my career hit a brick wall. I couldn’t advance. In the season after the Los Angeles riots, newspapers learned they needed a more diverse staff. I was female, but white. An interior hunger took hold. I craved change. A boyfriend and I decided to head east, where both of our fathers were battling cancer.

I found myself in New Hampshire, eight hours away from “home,” and then my father died.

My relatives must have said their prayers. I came home to his funeral, wary and bruised, but amidst that kin, soaking in the sweet refrains of four-part harmony, I knew that these people, however strapped by their beliefs, still loved me. They had not rejected me. I had made an outcast of myself.

Slowly, I edged home. In my late 30s, I traded journalism for a new career as an entrepreneur. I took over an antiques shop in seaside Portsmouth, N.H. In those pre-911 days, business boomed. People thought nothing of spending a couple hundred dollars on a trinket they could fit in their hand. I had been married briefly and divorced in California, and now I became engaged again. If not for his Jewish mother, we would have eloped on a whim, but she insisted on seeing her only son’s wedding. So, we waited, and floundered, and as the engagement came to a miraculous end, my rented shop went up for sale at $1 million, and my business was lost.

Wounded and wondering, my thoughts turned toward home, to little Big Valley.

I had vowed never to return. The people were myopic, uneducated, rigid, hypocritical, and gossipy. Would it safe for me to be myself there? I could never conform. I asked myself: What do you really want for your life? At that time, I was living in a rundown over-priced apartment. I longed for my own home and to live someplace safe and green and restful.

My new home came with a priceless view of Big Valley farmland and a $400 mortgage. It was heaven, and I was home.

Several weeks later, I woke up to the television telling me two planes had been flown in the Twin Towers. I looked at the scene and thought: “This changes everything.”

The change in my life would be just as seismic. By the next spring, 2002, I found myself edging back into church, the same Mennonite church of my childhood. Here was the ghost of my departed father, sending me into tears as I sat far in the back, trying to get something out of the sermon. Mostly, I felt edgy and emotional, and wanted to flee.

That Easter, I arrived at the last minute as usual, and wedged myself into a seat in the back. My dad’s hospice nurse was in the same pew. The sermon lost me, and I found myself paging through my unused Bible. In the back, unseen before, I found two sheets of old typewritten paper. I instantly recognized them as my dad’s testimony, written when he was sick with hepatitis and hospitalized, after a missions trip to Brazil. As a teen, I drew a cross for the cover, and the testimony was given out at church on Easter Sunday, (35 years ago as of this Easter.)

His testimony told of looking for joy in things and entertainment and finding only emptiness, of “leading my family in the ways of world.” At 35, the rebel preacher’s son turned to the living God and was transformed. I knew that testimony well, and now it spoke to me as if my dearly departed dad had come to church and sat beside me in the pew.

My mother had offered me my dad’s Bible and I refused it, but now I wanted it. A few Sundays later, once again distracted in the service, I began paging through his Bible and found an outline, probably used in a Sunday School class. Across the top was written “Valley. Dry Bones. How to breathe God’s Spirit into it.” It was a mystery to me. What was dry bones?

I went to Sunday School that day. I sat silent, afraid to share, feeling an outcast and uncomfortable. I have no idea why I even went. But in that room, an old high school classmate began to share thoughts that occurred to him as he was out milking the cows that morning. “I was thinking about that army of dry bones in Ezekiel,” he said, “and how God breathed his spirit into them, and they came to life.”

God had my attention.

I asked a friend, “What’s this dry bones stuff?” and he led me to Ezekiel 37, the story of the fallen house of Israel, bereft of hope, lost to God and His Holy Spirit. But the prophet Ezekiel was told to command those bones to come to life, and the Spirit fell, and the bones rose. “I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land,” Chap. 37, verse 14. “Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord!”

And, so the Spirit breathed on me. A short time later, I woke up one morning with the memory of a box of old books I’d bought at auction and never really examined. I tromped out to the garage and quickly found the box, took out a leather bound volume and opened it. Printed atop the page were the words: “Dry bones restored.” It was the title of a sermon by Joseph Lathrop from 1802.

My neighbor, a praying women, listened as I related the story and asked: “Do you think God is talking to you, Barb?”

God is real. He will use any small detail He can to get to the heart of those He seeks. You can run from Him for 20 plus years as I had, but if you are in the heart of the Hound of Heaven, you will not escape. He will find you, He will lure you, He will bring you home, and if you agree, He will fill you with His Spirit and transform your wretched life into a miraculous work.

Some people get delivered instantly. Just yesterday, I heard the testimony of a man who found himself barbiturate free after a single prayer of submission on a hilltop in Seattle. All of us are renewed day by day. My journey has been an unfolding, requiring battles through layers of pain. I came back to God through Charismatic craziness and was led out and back to the safer doctrine of the Mennonites, and I know there is more ahead. God is patient and incredibly kind.

I was a victim of hope deferred. I left God and home, and like the prodigal I turned back when I was hungry. My heart was sick. My adventures had not fulfilled my longings. But life with a loving Lord and Savior does.

May the Lord renew your spirit and give life to your bones so that you may live.

 

 

 

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The Prodigal Son Part II

    So he came home. After all those years of vowing he’d never go back, didn’t need them, didn’t want them, couldn’t stand that place, those people and their narrow-minded ways, it was home he turned when things went bad. He’d had his fun and the fun was over. Times were tough, and the money was gone.

    At least he could eat at home. He could make the rent. It was dull and predictable, but relatively safe.

    As the story goes, when he was still “a long way off,” his father came running toward him. Here he was expecting the worst, humiliation, groveling on his part, harsh words on theirs, maybe a bed in that downstairs room off the garage, but no. It was as if his father had been there that moment he paused just long enough to consider going home. He remembered thinking, “What?! Am I crazy? Go home…after all these years?” It was like his father had read those thoughts, for all providence seemed to move him homeward.

    Bad luck, yes, bad choices, most said. But he fell in a bed of roses. The father bought him a house on the top of a hill with a view, just like he’d dreamed all those years penned in by highways and high rises. All around was lush green. He could breathe a little.

    Now the story talks of the older brother and our man had plenty, some he didn’t even know. In their coffee klatches and around their kitchen tables, they scoffed at his homecoming and wondering how long he’d last before he took off again. Their lips curled and twisted when he started showing up in the pews.

    His real life older brother was doubly peeved. After all, he was the one feeding the fatted calf, so to speak. He’d stuck by the old man, done his bidding, built up the family business, even tried to comfort the old fellow by being a better son. Tried to make up for the one that went off.

    It wasn’t enough. No, his father needed that son around. And here he was, the fool! The squanderer, the downright heathen, dressed up fine in all those city styles and making pretense of being sorry for his ways, even going to church!

    The old man was too soft, kept the boy’s room just the way it was when he left. Little brother could walk right in as if 10 years and half an inheritance hadn’t disappeared, gone down the drain with his first wife and career. From what they heard he lost a pretty nice house too.

    It was galling to see this kind of – forgiveness! Were there not limits? Boundaries? Could we trust him not to just empty the till again and run?

    It wasn’t long before the prodigal gave them something more to talk about, because he decided to get married, and who he picked set all those tongues wagging. It was Maggie, the town whore. Well, maybe not the charging kind, but she’d slept with just about everyone who’d winked at her, and now they were setting a date and inviting people and making big plans for a church wedding!

    The old guys down at the fire hall traded bets on how long it would last. Our son might have done his dirty work afar, but hers was well known. The DUI, the lost license, the men, those two sons always getting in trouble.

It was a joke those two hooking up, in a legitimate church affair, as if somehow they were going to make up for all the past mistakes and be shiny new. It’s a wonder she didn’t wear a white dress!

From what they heard, it was kind of an off white affair, simple, and that loonie bird Lorrie Stimple went on and on about how the dandelions puffs blew through the air as if on command as the happy couple descended the church stairs.

Lorrie was a drinker. But there were church people who went to that wedding too. People who decided to give the couple a second chance. (Some of them also kept track of how much wine the party crowd was consuming, and they were sure to lock their purses inside their cars during the reception. You never know.)

An odd thing happened during that week the prodigal wed his whore.

There was a stranger came to town, a man unlike anyone seen in that small burg, although they’d heard of people like him. Anyone who saw him knew right away he was pretty sick, and not in the passing way. Worse than that he was confused. The few who dared talk to him found out he believed he was a man trapped in a woman’s body.

His name was Elian and he became fixated on a wedding dress hanging for sale in the church thrift shop. One day, he even tried it on. The old ladies at the register were shocked to see him emerge from the dressing room flouncing lace. He couldn’t quite get it zipped, however, and maybe it was because of the commotion he caused or just the heat. But he took off with it, ran out the door and right down Main Street, wedding train flying, bodice trailing, bare chested.

It was quite the sight.

The prodigal missed it. He was busy getting into his tux, and his bride was primping in her chamber.

But they saw it. The fire hall betters, the tongue waggers, the people on their way to the church, the older brother trying not to sweat as he strained in his suit. The whore’s wayward sons and some of her party pals, standing out in the parking lot smoking. And the father waiting for his prodigal son to tie the knot and start over.

They saw Elian in his wedding dress.

It gave them something to talk about at the reception. For once the partiers and the church people found they held an opinion in common. Whoever that fellow was better keep on moving, for there was no room for perverts in their town.

The father, though, he was still at it, the crazy old coot. Last they heard he had tracked that man down and checked him into a hospital, found a doctor and promised to pay the bill. He even reimbursed the thrift shop ladies for that dress. He is still watching over the prodigal son and his bride, doling out grace for all their baggage, even talking sense to her sons.

And the elder brother? He also has a second chance, just like all of us. For the Father’s arms are always open and ready to receive a heart looking for home.

 

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Finding a church after leaving Charismania

One of the subtle lies of the charismatic church is that there’s a perfect way, a better understanding, a purer worship, a more insightful teaching to be found in their fellowship. They hook people this way, offering prime real estate, so to speak—the best of God.

The result is that most who buy into this lie find it difficult or impossible to return to “normal” church again.

They are addicted to the music for the most part—loud, hypnotic, and repetitive—having no understanding of how music can manipulate the human brain into believing it has had an in-depth religious experience. The sixties drug culture employed it well.

They are addicted to the entertainment they receive in church. Services are designed—complete with special lighting and, in some cases, smoke machines—to reach into the hearts and minds of men and move them—for God, of course. But with pounding music, emotionally charged videos and dramatic sermons by hip and happening front men that “still small voice” becomes unnecessary.

Yet God does not abandon His own. In the quiet moments through the week, that Voice was the one that led you out.

And now you don’t know where to go to church. All other churches seem dry, the worship lifeless. You are like a junky needing a fix but knowing the drug holds no nourishment.

Hurt from the emotional pounding you endured just to break free (your so-called church friends think you are on the wrong path and quickly forget you); you resolve not to trust any church. You can stay in this place, alone, a kind of controlled self-protection. But that verse about forsaking the fellowship nags.

I don’t have your answer, other than to say detoxify yourself. God is not a sugar ball you shoot into your veins on Sunday. Get back to basics. Read the Bible, find a place to serve after you’ve had some healing, get down and wash others’ feet and lose sight of yourself and what you want. You can always dance to loud worship music in your living room.

I was fortunate to plug back into my childhood church. The people accepted me back without judgment, even though this is the same church I spurned as “too controlled” in my search for “More!” It is still a bit more controlled than I like (there’s this rush to get the first service finished before we create a traffic jam with the incoming second service.) But we are humans frail in our ways seeking the grace of a loving God.

This frailty, this lack of knowing it all, allows me to feel safe. I am not manipulated by the music or the preacher. (I am not told to tithe or God won’t bless me!) I am advised to read the Bible through the week and look for God in the people and happenings of the everyday, to serve as Christ served. Now, I teach Junior High Sunday School and hope one sentence captures the bunny trails of their minds.

What I like about this place is its motto: We are disciples of Jesus Christ, encouraging all people to become His fully devoted followers.

Now I learn how to be and become more like Jesus. I am not being entertained. I am being transformed, fueled by a commitment, a focus, who is Christ. It’s a process, a journey of ups and downs, but my God is patient and full of grace, compassionate and loving. He takes me in and receives me as His own.

 

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Be Alert: A book recommendation

In my travels in Charismania, I often shrugged off older religious books (unless they carried certain names), opting instead for the new revelation of the prophet of the hour. If Bill Johnson wrote it, or Patricia King published it, I had to read it.

I was wrong.

Way back in the dark ages of 1984, Warren W. Wiersbe wrote Be Alert, a study of the New Testament books of 2 Peter, 2nd and 3rd John, and Jude. The book’s subtitle is “beware of the religious imposters.” I recommend that you read it or reread it, because his teaching is even more relevant in 2012.

Most will agree that false teachers will deny the deity of Jesus Christ. They will say he was a great teacher, a man of wisdom, but they will not agree that he was God in flesh as he lived among men and women on earth. They will have another explanation.

It seems to me that this is a black and white test easily administered, and I wonder if a more subtle distortion isn’t occurring. For example, most of my friends still in or just coming out of false teaching will talk a lot about God, and so did I. As in: God told me, God just wants me to xyz (mostly not work and just hang out with Him)–God this and God that.

But you will rarely hear the name of Jesus. It’s as if they don’t know Him. I know I didn’t.

When I attended Charismatic services in the early 2000s, I mostly heard of God’s power and how we could use it to do all that Jesus did: heal the sick, bring sight to the blind, cast out demons, etc. I heard the name of Jesus in this way. It was also a whispered one word prayer, heavy on the Sssss, or the backdrop for weeping, as when Heidi Baker took the stage and was just so in love with Jesus that she could not teach but only weep and say His name. I do not judge Heidi. A true revelation of Jesus does cause weeping, because it reveals our sin.

However, I judge myself. What I recall from Heidi’s weeping was how I and my friends began to focus on Heidi as chief saint—all of us wanted to be just like Her.

“A ‘soulish’ ministry magnifies man, but the Spirit glorifies Jesus Christ,” Wiersbe writes on page 159 of Be Alert. “When the Spirit is ministering through the Word, there is edification; but when the soul is merely ‘manufacturing’ a ministry, there is entertainment or, at best, only intellectual education. It takes the Spirit of God to minister to our spirits and to make us more like Jesus Christ.”

At that point in my life, I was an immature believer. I had turned from my old life of immorality but had not addressed core internal sins such as pride and selfishness. 2 Peter 2:22: A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.”

I was turning from my old sexual sins, but still had the same appetite for self satisfaction, which I now fed with false teaching. Touting their way as full of grace and finished with law, my new religious teachers repeatedly told me that God had forgiven me and loved me—all true. I was able to feel good about myself and my standing with God as accepted and loved.

Without further discipleship, it is possible and even necessary to keep Jesus as stranger. We can clean up the outside, while tolerating what is still on the inside, which is harder for others to spot. “In my ministry,” Wiersbe writes, page 73, “I have met people who have told me about their ‘spiritual experiences,’ but in their narratives I detected no evidence of a new nature. Like the sow, some of them were cleaned up on the outside. Like the dog, some of them were cleaned up temporarily on the inside and actually felt better. But in no case had they become ‘partakers of the divine nature’ (2nd Peter 1:4).”

Our teachers focused on the miracles, signs and wonders, particularly the gift of healing. This provided a nifty and godly distraction. You can busy yourself trying to heal the blind, sick, and lame and never have to worry about your gossip, your scorn for others, your pride, and self-righteousness. I can recall looking down my religious nose as the so-called Pharisees in other churches who weren’t hip on healing.

False teachers promise freedom, but they only offer new forms of bondage.

“The false teachers try to make God’s commandments appear harsh and difficult and then they offer their converts ‘true’ freedom (2 Peter 2:19). But the greatest freedom is in obedience to God’s perfect will,” Wiersbe, page 108. “No believer who loves God would ever consider His commandments to be harsh and unbearable.”

Jesus is the door, the way, the truth, the life, the only way to God. He taught the words of life. People didn’t like it then, and they don’t like it now. He said: Lose your life and find it, die to self and live, serve others and find your joy. Who are our saints? Those who lived this way.

Men have tried for ages to find ways to God that exclude Jesus. Jude reminds us of Cain, Balaam, and Korah, all rebels, Wiersbe writes, against God’s way of salvation, separation, and service. John wrote of Diotrephes, a church leader who “loves to be first.” Jude called the apostates “blemishes at your love feasts…clouds without rain…autumn trees without fruit, uprooted—twice dead.”

There is no life without Christ. Apostate teachers promise it, but what they want is power, prestige, and your money.

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