Category: thoughts by Marilyn Ehle

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When our children were small, we took a mini-holiday in a small travel trailer on the United States southern border. Mexico was so close and the opportunity to visit such a beautiful country was too good to pass up so my husband looked for a spot on the side of the road to unhook the trailer before crossing the border. But without signs to warn us, the wide road quickly narrowed into a dead end gravel lane with small children laughingly pointing at these obviously uninformed Americans.

During this current crisis, many recognize they are in a dead-end situation. A chosen path to success has led to an unintended destination. Strict maintenance of good health has proved ineffective. Assured income whether from secure employment or solid investments has either dwindled or evaporated. Now what?

While scientists scramble for a vaccine to prevent deadly Covid-19, no doctor, psychologist, sociologist or well-intentioned expert can offer a life without peril. One story compares human efforts of self- protection to building a house on sand. When storms come, when plague threatens, houses—and lives—need solid foundations.

If we had invited a knowledgeable guide to ride along with us, our excursion into Mexico would have been without a dead end. But who can we trust during this current crisis—and the many that will follow? Who is a guide with power, knowledge and love? Who offers not a panacea but presence?

To a people who faced plague and peril, who trembled with fear as they contemplated unseen enemies, God said:

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread…for it is Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.  (Deuteronomy 31:6)

The road will still be rough and bystanders may even point fingers or mock at the peace that calms your soul, but God’s promise is sure. You can walk the Covid road knowing the peace that is absolutely beyond understanding. It’s God’s sure promise.

By Marilyn Ehle
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Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.”  Luke 23:56

Only Luke, a New Testament author known to include minute details, offers a glimpse into life on the day after Jesus’ crucifixion and the day before His resurrection. I have often thought that the weather on the Saturday before Easter should always be gray and gloomy, atmospheric conditions matching what must have been the emotions of Jesus’ friends and family. In addition to grief, they obviously were bewildered because Luke also records a conversation two had as they walked away from Jerusalem, away from the scene of broken hearts: “…we had hoped that He was the one who was going to redeem Israel…”

I, too, have known the heavy weight of grief, a weight that causes the body to slump into mindless sleep only to awaken in the dark hours, in those first moments, denying the reality of death, then almost immediately becoming aware of all that has happened. But I also have discovered the comfort of “obedience to the commandment”… By faith in the One who loves me, I laid my anxiety at His feet, I thanked Him for His sovereignty and presence, I prayed for myself and the weeping others, and then…

The peace of God, which transcends all understanding…”

put a guard on my heart and mind so that I could go about the dailyness of life. The women prepared spices and perfumes; I prepared meals and made beds. In a few short hours those women would experience the joy of the resurrection. One day I, too, will fully experience that joy.

It’s not always easy to go about the daily rituals when the heart is heavy, Lord, but I thank you for the balm those rituals bring to sorrowing souls. Thank you for being a God of the daily. I love you.

by Marilyn Ehle
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“…he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said  through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.” Matthew 2:23

What did it mean for Jesus to be a Nazarene? Some believe that the term “Jesus of Nazareth” is a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, but I wonder if that title was primarily used to describe the humanity and the humble background of Jesus? When Philip excitedly told his friend about Jesus, Nathaniel’s response was similar to what everyone in the area thought: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

What is it like to live forever with people either expecting too much from you or not enough? Perhaps your education, profession, travels have taken you far from your hometown. When you return to family and friends of your childhood, do you find the “fit” not quite what you anticipated? You are not who you were. Circumstances and people have changed you. There is a strangely uncomfortable feeling; you love the people and places of your past but it’s not “you” anymore.

Transfer that experience to Jesus. He was the Creator God. Now he prays in the gardens he created. He and the Father and the Spirit knew perfect harmony. Now he hears squabbling in his family and among his disciples. His walked in the beauty of heaven. Now he travels the road to Calvary.

So how did he do it? He couldn’t shed the reputation of Nazareth but he didn’t let it define him. When his family called him demented, he simply told a story of profound truth. He knew who he was and why he had come and so, while he was always alert to his surroundings and people, he stayed true to his calling and purpose. John records the perfect example of this: Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, wrapped a towel around his waist…he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet… The Nazarene, the Son of God, the King of the Universe fulfilling his calling.

Have you experienced family situations such as are described above? What is your immediate reaction when friends or family do not appreciate your experiences? How might your reactions change if you remembered that Jesus, too, experienced such misunderstanding?

by Marilyn Ehle
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“.. in quietness and trust shall be your strength …the Lord longs to be gracious to you.. Blessed are all who wait for Him.” Isaiah 30:15, 18

We all want strength to face both the small and greater issues facing us daily.

Whether it is stretching diminishing resources, dealing with the newly independent two-year-old, facing (and loving!) a tempestuous teenager or ironing out relational difficulties in the workplace, we find ourselves in need of physical, emotional and spiritual strength. The problem is that we too often look for the strength in places that simply do not have the sufficiency to supply.

Four young men were taken captive by a powerful enemy king. They resolved to remain faithful to their God in spite of living in a culture totally foreign to their deepest beliefs. The king saw their commitment as defiance and a danger to his authority so he ordered they be ‘bound and thrown into the blazing furnace.’

As we read with imagination about the testing of Daniel and his friends in the blazing furnace, we shudder to think of the searing heat and licking flames. We read nothing of resistance or screams, only the absolute amazement of the king when he sees them ‘unbound and unharmed’. He shouts for them to come out and ultimately acknowledges that the God of these young men has power far beyond anything he imagined.

Isaiah the prophet reminds us that strength is found in quietness and trust. In his book The Way of the Heart, Henri Nouwen writes,

‘Solitude is the furnace of transformation.’

Daniel and his friends walked in quietness and trust long before they faced the furnace. No doubt they experienced solitude when taken far from their own family and culture and from that solitude learned to trust in the one true God.

While no one wants a furnace experience, we would do well to prepare daily ‘in solitude’ for whatever challenges may lie ahead.

Father, for many reasons it is easier to be busy than to be quiet. Help me learn to be quiet with you. Feed my soul in solitude and waiting so I can be blessed and be a blessing.

What ‘furnaces experiences‘ have you had?

How did you find strength within them? How does solitude prepare you for daily life?

By Marilyn Ehle
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… “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”  Philippians 4:6-7

It hits us with an almost paralyzing thud: corona virus, national emergency, airports, schools, churches closed, store shelves empty, hospital beds at a premium. How does a follower of Jesus live well in the midst of the crisis? We have memorized and quoted scripture’s “fear nots,” but in the dark hours of the night or when mesmerized by media, we realized that the words have not walked the journey from head to heart.

We in the Western world are now living in the reality of what our brothers and sisters face daily: distress, deprivation, denial. We, like they, are called to live sacrificially so others can heal, prosper, and find peace with God.

Walter Brueggemann writes about Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus:

Jesus says to him: “You’ve got to start over! You’ve got to be reborn… You’ve got to become as vulnerable and innocent and dependent as a little child. You’ve got to forego your social position, your achievements, your wealth, your reputation. You’ve got to let go of all the things that make you self-sufficient and that alienate you from the wonder of the gift of God. Start over in vulnerability, in innocence, and in dependence…

During these days when fear threatens, Brueggemann’s words take on special meaning. Perhaps every time we wash our hands—as prescribed!—we acknowledge that before God we are vulnerable and dependent. Truly,

our help comes from the Lord

and, in that truth, we dwell in peace and reach out to our fearful neighbors.

Eusebius, a bishop and historian of the early church wrote about Christians during the deadly plague:

All day long some of them [the Christians] tended to the dying and to their burial, countless numbers with no one to care for them.  Others gathered together from all parts of the city a multitude of those withered from famine and distributed bread to them all.

May it be true of us.

Father, thank you for the free offer of peace in the midst of both personal and global chaos. Grant me the wisdom and strength to walk in that peace so that others will be curious about you.

By Marilyn Ehle
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“whoever takes a humble place – becoming like this child – is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 18:4

Many years ago I taught a Sunday school class for young children called the Beginners Class. (Today they are known as preschoolers.)  I still recall their wide eyes and eager faces as I tried to make Bible stories come alive. With crayons clutched in small fingers, they coloured simple pictures to illustrate the day’s lesson. Their questions were simple and from the heart: “Will there be cowboys in heaven?”

I have followed Jesus over fifty years. I have learned much in my walk with him. Brilliant flashes of insight as well as torturous paths of struggle with truth have been my experience. But all along the way I have been – and continue to be – a beginner. God reveals a new discipline he asks me to practice, a new risk he lovingly dares me to take, a new truth he wants me to believe

As we grow toward spiritual maturity, as we are being transformed through the renewing of our minds and obedience to the whispers of the Holy Spirit, may we always have the fresh attitude of beginning. Again.

Thank you, Father, for not only accepting me by grace but also for giving me the  opportunity to begin again, amen.

By Marilyn Ehle
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“Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today.” Exodus 14:13

The uncrossable sea growls in front of them, a tyrant’s roar rings in their ears, weapon-wielding soldiers bear down. Defeat and death are sure for the terrified Israelites. In spite of God championing their escape from the horrors of captivity, they lose courage, longing for that which had imprisoned them. “God, take us back to the familiar, to whips and hunger, to servitude. Anything’s better than dying here in the desert.”

Any skilled and experienced military general now encourages the people with a rousing speech and strategic battle plan. Later in their journey, God did indeed give detailed military instructions: “Circle the city seven times, blow your trumpets, take the city.” But now, at the beginning of the long journey, God says the impossible:

Don’t be afraid…stand firm…the Lord will fight for you…BE STILL.”

What sea faces you?

What tyrant is roaring? What enemies aim their arrows of discouragement, loss, and fear? Before God gives the command to move on, he asks that we be still. Stop long enough to gaze into God’s face. Stop in holy quiet to shut out the roar of the tempter who insidiously murmurs that God isn’t strong enough, isn’t loving enough, can’t possibly care for insignificant you. Stop long enough to hear God’s sure whisper,

I will fight for you.”

Often it’s only after those moments—or days—of stillness that we hear the next instruction: “Move on.” And when we’ve crossed the uncrossable sea, we, like one of the brave Israelite women will sing,

The Lord is my strength and defense… He is my God and I will praise him…

I confess, Lord, that the growling seas, tyrant’s’ roar, and enemy’s weapons either pull me into easy submission or a fighting stance in my own strength. Please help me keep my eyes on you and my ears tuned to your “Be still.”

By Marilyn Ehle
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“The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and He helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise Him.”  Psalm 28:7

After a robbery my mother had a security system installed. I live far away and thought this was an excellent idea, providing both physical safety and emotional confidence. The company expert explained the system in great detail and left material describing its functions and operation on the table.

Just prior to exiting the house, a series of digits needs to be keyed in to a small panel to enable the system. Anyone who tried to enter illegally would immediately have their eardrums bombarded with a piercing sound that would deter the wrongdoer and also alert neighbors and passersby. The expert had also emphasized how important it was to follow the procedure for re-entering the house. My Mom needed to unlock the door and quickly—very quickly—key in the “disarm” button so the alarm would be deactivated.

What was intended to be something that eased my mother’s mind very quickly became a major irritant. While she remembered the exit strategy, entering was often more complicated. With arms full of groceries, mother would unlock the door and rush to answer the ringing phone. Within seconds the screaming blare of the system would shock not only the neighbors but send my panicked mother to the numbered panel where she promptly forgot which button to push.

We who are Christ-followers have a foolproof security system: God Himself. He promises to never leave or forsake us, to be with us wherever we go, to light the path ahead of us and surround us with His love. We experience that security not by pushing buttons but, says King David, by trusting in Him.

In quoting “the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel,” the prophet Isaiah records a phenomenal security promise:

In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.

But then four crucial and sobering words are added:

But you were unwilling.” (Isaiah 30:15)

We will not experience the fullness of God’s security system unless we are willing to return and rest.

Question: How are you doing with resting in God’s plan for your life?

How can you place more trust in Him today?

By Marilyn Ehle
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“I have loved you with an everlasting love…” Jeremiah 31:3

Rain began turning to snow as I drove the last miles before stopping for the night. In summer this was a scenic route through a canyon with tall trees lining the route on one side, a gurgling stream on the other. But in the inky blackness of this night, I could see nothing but the glare of oncoming headlights and the center line of the road just a few meters ahead of my car. Years of driving experience alerted me to the possible danger so I sat up straighter and positioned my hands correctly on the steering wheel for maximum control.

That center line became my guide for the nerve wracking miles ahead even though I could see it only as my headlights brought it into view. When I saw it begin to curve, I knew the wheels of the car needed to do the same. When it became a double line, I hoped no oncoming car would be passing into my lane.

Our personal journeys are much like the one I’ve described. Some of our days are like summer in that canyon with tall mountain trees spreading their green. Gurgling streams call us to walk their banks. Flowers peep out alongside forest trails. We scarcely need a center line to guide us through those days.

But other days will bring challenges—some we’ve faced before, others roaring into our lives like attacking lions. Where is the center line then? What is the center line then? How do we stay the course when hands-on-the-wheel—otherwise known as full control—is not only insufficient but impossible?

My experience has been that it is when the nights are dark, when the drenching rain of self-doubt seeks to drown the very life out of us that Christian community reaches its apex, becomes most like that provided by and experienced in Jesus. We need each other in the canyons of life.

Another essential for driving on the difficult roads is a working knowledge, increasing understanding and practice of biblical principles; the Spirit of God speaking through the Word of God sustains.

The single most important center line in my life when canyon walls seemed to imprison, when tears flowed with more intensity than the rain that night of driving, was one unprovable, impossible and undeniable fact: God loves me. I couldn’t explain it. I certainly didn’t deserve it. I desperately clung to it. And it brought me to safety. Many times the storm rumbled on, but in its eye was the “peace that passes understanding.”

All of us will experience dark times. In our sad world will be terrorism, hunger, poverty, epidemics and earthquakes. In the middle of those canyons, the love of God will provide strength for His followers to move forward, not just for guidance along personal paths but perhaps more importantly, for the power to drive into those dark places with healing words and actions for others.

My center line for staying the course? “I have loved you with an everlasting love…” (Jeremiah 31:3)

What is your center line? What has kept you on course while following Jesus?

Father, I don’t understand it, I frequently don’t believe it, there are days when I don’t experience it. But none of that changes the sure truth that you love me. Thank you.

By Marilyn Ehle
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“I have loved you with an everlasting love…”  Jeremiah 31:3

Valentine’s Day, as celebrated in many Western countries, is supposed to be a day filled with gifts (usually candy and flowers), lovingly worded greeting cards, and special acts of kindness. Yet for many people—young and old—it is a day marked by an aching heart. The single mother weighed down by burdens of responsibilities almost too heavy to bear. A widowed man sitting quietly in his rocker with only tears of memory as his companion. The young single woman wonders why she alone, among so many of her friends, is without a fiance or husband. The married couple who merely co-exist without a spark of passion. The candy is consumed, the flowers fade and many of the special acts are unfortunately replaced with less loving gestures.

What happens on February 15th? Is there a love that helps us bear our burdens, wipes our tears, satisfies our longings? Madeleine L ’Engle writes:

One of our children when he was two or three years old used to rush at me when he had been naughty, and beat against me, and what he wanted by this monstrous behavior was an affirmation of love. And I would put my arms around him and hold him very tight until the dragon was gone and the loving small boy had returned. So God does with me. I strike out at Him in pain and fear and He holds me under the shadow of His wings. Sometimes He appears to me to be so unreasonable that I think I cannot live with Him, but I know that I cannot live without Him.”

Thank you, Father, that your love doesn’t depend on my worth or my reactions, that you loved me from before the beginning of time, that your love can fill all the empty spaces of my heart.

By Marilyn Ehle
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“Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today… The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”  Exodus 14:11-14

The uncrossable sea roars in front of them, a tyrant growls in their ears, chariots with weapon-wielding soldiers bear down. Defeat is certain for the terrified Israelites. In spite of God miraculously releasing them from the horrors of captivity, they lose courage, even longing to return to their past prison. “God, take us back to the familiar, to whips and hunger, to servitude. Anything’s better than dying here in the desert.”

Any skilled military general would now encourage his troops with rousing speech and strategic battle plans. Later in their journey, God did indeed give detailed military instructions: “Circle the city, blow your trumpets, storm the city.” But now, at the beginning of the long journey, God says the unthinkable: “Don’t be afraid…stand firm…the Lord will fight for you…BE STILL.”

What sea faces you? What tyrant is roaring? What enemies aim their arrows of discouragement, loss, and fear? Before God gives the command to move on, he asks us to be still. Stop long enough to gaze into God’s face. Stop in holy quiet to shut out the roar of the tempter who insidiously murmurs that God isn’t strong enough, isn’t loving enough, that he couldn’t possibly care for insignificant you. Stop long enough to hear God’s sure whisper, “I will fight for you.”

Often it’s only after those moments—or days—of stillness that we hear the next instruction: “Move on.” And when we’ve crossed the uncrossable sea, we, like one of the brave Israelite women will sing, “The Lord is my strength and defense…He is my God and I will praise him…”

Loving Father, you know how impatient I am, too often ready to take matters into my own hands, frequently and frantically asking you to act according to my clock and calendar. Help me be still in the face of your steadfast love.

By Marilyn Ehle
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The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.”  Psalm 103:8

God’s goal for His children – those in whom he lives because they have invited Him in – is to be increasingly transformed. We are to eagerly submit to His “change process” so that when people see us, they catch a glimpse of God. We know his image in us is a mere shadow of his character, but it is a shadow.

What characteristics of God do I most need?

God, I believe, lovingly waits for us to take hard looks at our personalities, lifestyles, habits to see where we need Him to begin – or accelerate – the transformation process.

When I read that God is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love,” I can ask myself if those same characteristics are becoming more a reality in my life. Am I looking at difficult people with compassion? Do I react with grace to those who are rude? Does my temper flash or am I learning to think long before reacting? Does my love for individuals and groups, especially those most unlike me, roll relentlessly like ocean waves?

God will work in our lives with great freedom when we give him permission to do so.

Then people will see Jesus in us.

By Marilyn Ehle
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“After Rehoboam’s position as king was established and he had become strong,  he and all Israel with him abandoned the law of the Lord.” 2 Chronicles 12:1

Self-sufficiency is a much admired quality in many parts of the world.

We applaud the woman or man who became successful against the odds of an impoverished childhood, limited education or repeated setbacks. We encourage our children to “make something of themselves,” to be the best that they can be.

But success and strength can become dangerous when uncoupled from reliance upon our Creator God, when we assume autonomy instead of recognition that all we are and all we accomplish are from the hand of a gracious God.

In his book, The Alexander Complex, Michael Meyer writes, “Alexander has been dead for twenty-three-hundred years, but there have always been people who share his spark… They live in the grip of a vision. Work and career take on the quality of a mission… And because (these people) are talented and convinced that they can change the world, they often do.”

Unfortunately, many who pursue such goals begin to think their success is due primarily to their own goodness, wealth or intellect. They either have not heard or choose to ignore a warning God gave His people: “Remember how the Lord your God led you… Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God…Otherwise…your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God
(Deuteronomy 8).

God asks us to be strong and courageous, to work hard in and for His Kingdom, and always to recognize the true source of our strength and courage.

by Marilyn Ehle
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“…it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose.Philippians 2:13

The warning signs are common where road crews are either repairing existing highways or building new ones: Slow Down: Work in Progress. To emphasize the importance of slower speeds throughout these work zones, heavy fines are levied on those who disobey.

Christ followers are taught that spiritual growth is a lifetime affair. In The Message, Eugene Peterson paraphrases God’s glorious goal for us this way: He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. (Romans 8:29) But often we are impatient with the speed with which God works. Because God knows His way is the best way, he actually takes a lifetime for the process! In one version of the Bible the word “wait” is used 129 times while the word “hurry” is translated only sixteen times, and is never used of or by God.

In addition to acknowledging God’s slow and progressive work in us, it is necessary for us to more closely match our speed to His. Most who live in Western countries believe that fast is better. I don’t like waiting at traffic lights. I look for the shortest line at the store or bank. I grow impatient if the clerk is not—in my opinion—working efficiently. All this dribbles over into my spiritual life. Surely five minutes a day with God is sufficient? Swiftly reading through the Bible so I check off that I have read it in 365 days seems to earn me a badge as Good Christian.

How different is the process of slowly reading only a few verses, perhaps only a few lines, and then stopping to meditate on them. In Isaiah 31:4 we find these words: “As a lion growls…over its prey…” Eugene Peterson writes “that word ‘growl’ was frequently used for reading the kind of writing that deals with our souls.”* Isaiah repeats the word later to describe the cooing of a dove (38:14). It has the meaning of slowly savoring the words before us, taking unhurried pleasure in them.

For God’s work to be best accomplished in us, we must learn to slow to His pace. We must observe the signs: Slow Down: work in Progress.

By Marilyn Ehle
Used by Permission

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“Be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 5:19-20

It was a fitting song for a New Year’s Eve service: “God of our life, through all the circling years, we trust in you.  In all the past, your hand we view.  God of the past, our times are in your hand.”*

We sang with a sense of gratitude and faith. In the beautiful sanctuary, surrounded by friends and in anticipation of the bread and wine we would soon share, the words slipped easily from our lips. We have seen his hand and we have trusted; we basked in his presence.

But then we came to the first line of the final stanza. ”God of the coming years, through paths unknown we follow you. The past is past, we cannot change any of its triumphs or losses. We now face the future and its sure challenges, its unknown paths.”

We dare not merely mouth the words; God hears every whisper of every song. Will we follow him as we promise in music? His part is to never leave or forsake us; our part is to follow through all the stanzas of our lives.

(*God of Our Life – by Hugh T Kerr)

Good Shepherd, it is so easy to sing the words and even to mean them to some degree. Help me carry the song into every moment of every day, singing to you.

By Marilyn Ehle
Used by Permission

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