Pushing as far as I can back into my childhood, all of my clearest memories are of being socially awkward/uncomfortable, low-energy, unathletic, and generally an outsider.  I can’t recall anything from before school or from Kindergarten, but in first grade, our school got what was to me a truly marvelous system in place.  It stripped away learning as a group and turned us loose with what were called TLUs (I think something like “teaching/learning units”).  For each subject, we received a little packet (1-3 pages, I think) that spelled out projects we were to complete, and questions we were to answer along the way, and a little self-administered test at the end.  One assignment might involve listening to an audio cassette; another might direct specific reading or drawing a map or doing a small experiment of some kind.  Materials were provided, and we could work at our own speed.  I loved this wildly and worked at my own speed way ahead of my peers, only being stymied when I reached the occasional item that required me to work (insert horror music here) in a small group.  Working through my TLUs was a pleasure and a joy.  PE class, recess, and the after-lunch competitive games (teams in lines, racing to the end of the gym and back in various configurations), which were all the favorites of my peers, were things I dreaded, loathed, and wanted to escape at any cost.  One of my best skills was losing or forgetting my gym shoes.  I was an underweight kid, anemic, always tired and never up to the fantastic feats of athleticism that seemed natural to my classmates.

By second grade, I had learned to hide inside of reading.  I would sneak my latest book out to recess and hide by a tree, reading and hoping nobody was going to force me to join in play that wasn’t play for me.

In third grade, my reading-for-escape strategy started getting me reported by my teachers, who complained to my parents that I wouldn’t get my nose out of the book and go play like the other kids.  Some days I made myself join the other kids – we jumped rope a lot, and there was the joy of sliding down the fire escape.  But I still tried to hide away as often as I thought could be reasonably managed.  The other kids seemed comfortable with each other and unfrightened by their interactions, but I was consistently afraid and at a loss for what to say or do, when I tried to be part of their crowd.  On the positive side, I think all the other kids in my class at some point or other got spanked with the board with a carved out handle and a name (Caesar) for either failing to complete work, or some behavior violation, while I never once suffered that indignity (at an assigned time, all the accused had to stand at the front of the room, bend over, and submit to a number of whacks preassigned and announced by the teacher as appropriate for their crime.) So it seemed like my strategy was working.

All my years of public school went on like this, with me focused on the joy of my schoolwork and my books and generally in terror of social interactions, ever the awkward outsider, until I got big enough to be swooped up by a predatory older boyfriend and things got much worse, but that’s a different story for another day.

I’m pondering all of this more recently as I’m beginning to realize:  I think my childhood of social ineptitude, as painful and lonely as it was, is actually proving out to have been a gift to me in some ways.  While I got better at faking my way through and surviving among the masses over time, I’m still (in my own eyes, at least) very much the awkward outsider, different from others around me, less skilled at the give-and-take with people who are not my family or closer friends and coworkers, bad at navigating a crowd.  Here’s the gift from that:  I don’t have big expectations that I will be popular or even noticed, so I don’t get disappointed on that front.  I believe others won’t perceive me as “cool” at all, so on the occasions that they do, it brings me joy, and the rest of the time I’m not bothered.  I generally assume that people say what they mean and mean what they say when dealing with me, so if they are trying to hide daggers  to wound me in our conversations, I am oblivious (I think people with better social skills catch all that subtext, from what I’ve observed, but it seems to make them LESS happy, not more.)

My pastor, who has shared before about believing as a child that he would have a superpower by adulthood, was talking yesterday in the message about how people get disappointed as time goes by – I thought I was going to be more fit by now, I thought I was going to be richer, more handsome, prettier, more important, etc.  I listened and probed my memories – no such experience.  Can’t relate.  I have never imagined that one day I’m going to rise up and amaze the world – I have always felt like a very little person who is always going to be a very little person.  The single exception to that is that when I was working with at-risk kids, while the healthy part of me was just a little person trying to love those kids with all my might, the less healthy part of me definitely developed a “messiah complex.”  I was going to single-handedly save them from the dreary fates that seemed to await.  Even in this, though, I was clear that people weren’t mostly going to think well of me for it (if you pour yourself into kids on the brink, while some will think well of you, more will not understand you, and others will go to great lengths to persistently inform you of how stupid you are for wasting your time and energy.)

While I am blessed (and continually amazed) to have somehow been named a hero by some people I’ve loved along the way and labeled very kindly by some others, all of that comes to me not as what I expected.  It’s a happy surprise, which causes me to hold it tenderly.  My failure to expect popularity, fame, physical prowess, wealth, etc. has paid me very well:  I am an undisappointed person, content with where I am, not resenting my peers in cases where they seem to be doing better.

I think this is maybe one of the reasons Facebook doesn’t make me crazy like it does so many.  When I get there, it doesn’t occur to me to compare myself to others as they present themselves, which seems to be what people with better in-person social skills do.  If I see someone getting something good, I think it is nice for them, and I’m not bothered that it’s different from the good things I get.  If I see someone acting badly, I am clear that it’s not about me, so it doesn’t make me mad.  I scroll quickly on by the stuff that I don’t like and I “hide” the things that offend me (that is NOT the same as “the things with which I disagree”) without comment, assuming it is for someone else and not me.  That leaves me lots of space to connect with people, and – even better for me, really – to read things that interest me.  I’m still Karen who wildly loves to learn and to read.  That’s not different than grade school Karen.  It occurs to me that others are taking Facebook as “the playground,” and God knows I never did understand how to navigate a playground – those are terrifying places.  It is not the playground for me.  I just wander in and take what I like and then get on with my day, leaving the rest with the presumption that someone else apparently likes that part.

I wouldn’t have supposed that years of painful social ineptitude could, in the long run, wind up being a gift.  But looking at it right now, I think maybe it was.  I don’t know how to draw any worth from the opinion of others, since I don’t expect them to notice me at all.  I just get to be happily surprised (if still kind of skeptical) at praise, and at peace with the rest, cozying into learning and words and now God, who doesn’t seem to mind my awkwardness.  I don’t waste time comparing myself to others – what would be the point of that, for an awkward outsider?

That seems like a good thing to me.

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Somewhere around 2003 I took an extensive, detailed spiritual gifts survey, interested to measure what my strengths might be and point myself in an appropriate direction.  At that time, my big gift (this one never changes, no matter how many times I take that kind of survey) was teaching (perhaps that’s why some of my earliest school memories are of watching the teacher and thinking they don’t understand you because you’re saying it this way instead of that way).  My next highest gift (that one changes over the years) was prophecy.

The material that came with the survey for follow-up made an interesting and strongly worded point about the combination of those two gifts.  If you have teaching and prophecy gifts together, it said, people will suppose you are gifted for leadership.  This is not the case, and you should push back when people try to corral you into leadership positions.

In the year or so before I took that survey, I had been elevated in my church to the position of head deaconess, though I was the youngest deaconess of all.  It wasn’t a position I had sought, and I hadn’t felt qualified to lead, but one thing my parents taught me well is that when something needs done, you step up and do it – you don’t wait for the mythical “someone else” to materialize.  People asked, so I took the role, giving it the best I knew how to do at the time.  Shortly thereafter, some hard things happened in that church and I left in a blaze of inglorious self-righteousness, only to figure out years later that the mess at the church wasn’t the only problem – there was also ME.

Since then, leadership has hunted me down and found me time after time, even when I’ve tried to hide from it, even when I’ve tried to dodge it.  It’s not something I want – I think of myself as a worker bee and generally tend to feel like the least qualified person in the room for the leadership role.  I like to HELP the leaders.  I want to SUPPORT them.  I totally get into PRAYING for them.  I am big on LOYALTY to the leaders that I know.  When I am leading, on the other hand, I mostly feel kind of naked and awkward.

But the simple fact is, someone’s gotta do the stuff, and most people practice Nancy Reagan’s mantra when asked to take on a leadership role:  “Just Say No!”  Too busy, not qualified, don’t like people, yadda yadda yadda.  And then mixed into that mess there are the types who are dying to be in charge, to get to boss others around, to stand tall and proud at the helm and bask in glory, and for sure THEY want to be leaders, but of course they for sure should not, since they are more despots-in-waiting than true leaders.

So in the mix of all that, I lead.  Not because I want to or am self-aggrandizing enough to think that I have some sort of special awesomeness.  More often than not, I am a hot mess.  And all these years since that first survey, I have heard that warning ringing over and over in my head.  I am not gifted for leadership.  But the stuff needs done, and so I offer my willingness and my best efforts – my job is to honor Christ by doing that much.  Results are God’s business.

Somewhere out there is a pool of potential leaders, folks with the gift who are sitting on it.  I don’t know where you are or who you are, but I’m saying:  if you’d press into your willingness, you could show us all how it’s done.  If that is making you squirm, I’m praying for you.  Praying for deep discomfort to plague you until you step into the role God created you to take on.  We need you.  I’ll do every leadership task I’m asked to take on for as long as it takes – someone has to do the stuff – but you’re the ones who could take us to a whole other level.  Where are you hiding?  Come on out now.  It’s worth the effort.

I promise.

Recently I was challenged to think through/write down what I would say if I could sit down with myself at a certain age, at a point in my journey that was a tipping point or a crossroads of sort.  As I ponder that, I easily think of other ages, other crossroads, other changes in my journey that I can look back to and know:  if I had chosen differently at that point, I would be someone very different today.

Here is the beauty for me of being in my middle age and having pursued spiritual healing, emotional growth, and a clearer understanding of what the heck is going on in me:  when I consider that, I am not shot through with shame, regret, bitterness, or a strong yearning to go back and renegotiate that passage.

A younger me had all those feelings and thoughts and yearnings – a great yowling inside that I should’ve done better, could’ve done more, ought to have tried harder, been more focused, etc.

Today when I look back at those old iterations of me, what I mostly feel is compassion.  I understand that that old Karen was afraid in some many most things and lacked imagination in others.  I know the lying voices, both inside and outside of her that she believed were telling truth.  I know how lonely she was, and how little value she placed on herself.

So when I look back, mostly I know that she really was doing the best she could with what she knew and had.  Some of it was pretty pathetic, but she meant better than that.

So now when I imagine going back to talk to one or more of those old versions of me, I don’t imagine chastising her (though once I did).  I see myself speaking gently and kindly.  Encouraging her.  Searching for ways to open her perspective beyond the tiny, narrow window through which she looked at life.

I remembered the other day that a bunch years ago when I was writing a blog, I spoke about looking back more than a decade and not even liking the old me – finding her detestable, someone I’d never choose to befriend.  A friend from those early years wrote to me, entreating me to go more gently with myself.  She liked that old Karen, she said.  I remember thinking well, you didn’t really know my little black heart at the time, or you wouldn’t have liked me either.  Today, I figure she must’ve just gotten to this place before I did.

Are you there yet, or are you still feeling slightly (or extremely) ill or peeved or embarrassed, looking back at earlier versions of you?  Are you stuck on a merry-go-round of regret – “shoulda, coulda, woulda?”  If you’re stuck there, I’m praying for you today.  And encouraging you:  press into healing and growth.  Over here on the other side, the view is WAY cooler.

doing it badly until…

Posted: May 20, 2017 in Uncategorized

I was serving at camp – a great cause:  ministry to abused and neglected foster kids.  The other volunteers – my teammates – were people I liked.  People whose sense of humor and priorities match mine.  Unpretentious, practical, hard-working, outside-the-box to varying degrees folks.  The mission was a cause after God’s own heart:  serving what are effectively this culture’s “orphans.”  For sure I was where I was supposed to be.

Still, I was struggling.  I felt like a failure – not once in awhile, but just about every moment of the camp.  It seemed like everyone else was working harder than me, and the judgy little voice inside of me announced repeatedly that people were tired of me not pulling my weight.  It looked like everyone else naturally knew what to do, and I always felt like I was scrambling to figure out my role.  At my regular job I’m accustomed to feeling confident and competent – to regularly earning the praise of my peers.  At camp I felt like I exemplified that rude saying:  not the brightest bulb in the box.  My usual awkwardness seemed to multiply itself exponentially.

That was the first year we did it.

I came back the second year anyway.  Despite feeling like a failure, I’d had more fun than not, and what we were doing was some of the most important work there is.  Also, here in middle age I mostly know not to give that judgy little voice inside me much credence – she’s mostly a big fat liar (see what I did there – judged her back – TAKE THAT!)

The second year was like the first year for me, only worse, when it came to the judgy little inner voice and the general feeling of inadequacy.  I knew what it was – the enemy of our souls for sure DOES NOT want us doing things like lavishing love upon these kids.  This was spiritual warfare.  I prayed and pushed through, remembering that the work I was doing was FOR the kids and ABOUT the kids – so, no need to make it about my emotional insecurity.  I stepped up and over the crisis of feelings, and I got through the week.  Afterward, I once again found myself ready – eager, even – to come back the next year.  It was just too good to miss, even if my fears were true and I really WAS the lamest member of the team.

A wonderful development occurred while we were planning the third year’s camp:  our director shared her frustration with all of the administrative work, and how it kept her away from the kids too much during camp week.  That needed to change.  I practically threw myself across the table at her as I volunteered myself to pick up what she needed to lay down.  That’s how I found my sweet spot at camp – year three was glorious for me.  I knew my purpose.  I understood my tasks.  No, I wasn’t perfect.  But I was confident and excited and looking at every turn for ways to do one of my very favorite things:  improve processes.  I no longer felt like a failure while serving at camp.

Now, we’re preparing for our fourth camp later this summer.  All year I’ve been looking over my stuff and looking for ways to make it work better.  The work is sheer pleasure.

Here’s the thing:  I am so glad I didn’t quit after the first or second camp.  At a younger age, I might have been tempted to do so.  We perfectionists/type A personalities are not pleased when we hit areas where we can’t seem to do anything right.  That discomfort was pretty acute the first year, and I’d quantify it as downright desperate the second.  A younger me would’ve decided that I just wasn’t gifted for this ministry, and would have signed up for something that fit my giftings better.  Why keep on feeling uncomfortable?

Some years ago, I heard a pastor’s wife telling about how, in her younger years, she had been saddled with some duties that came with the role that she just couldn’t do well.  She wasn’t gifted in those ways.  She was bad at the stuff that needed done.  But the role was hers, and there was no one else to fill it at the time.  So she resolved that if a job really needs done and is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly until one can either improve or find her replacement.  She shared about doing it badly for as long as it took, and purposing to do it badly with good cheer, knowing that she was doing the best she could.

That lesson has come back to me many times over the years, and has proven its value again and again.  This was one of those cases.  I don’t know if I WAS bad at camp those first two years (if so, people were too nice to say so); I only know that I FELT like a crashing failure.  I persisted because the work was of value, and I was giving it my best.  (For me, ever the straight A student, I took it as a lesson in how it must feel to be someone who gives their all to barely scratch by on a D+.)

In this particular case, I got better, not because my skills improved but because a role opened up that suited me.  Right or wrong, I understand that as a reward given to me because I persevered through the hard part.  Knowing what I’m doing feels WAY better than showing up to give my best while feeling like I am a giant turd.

In other cases, I haven’t always gotten better.  Sometimes I’ve served my time and then blessedly, someone with better skills comes along and takes over, much to my relief.

Either way, let me be clear:  IT IS WORTH THE DISCOMFORT.  Let me encourage you:  if you feel like you aren’t smart/skilled/cool enough to do something that you know is a right thing to do…do it anyway.  Just do it.  Do it badly, if that’s the best you have to offer.  Let God decide whether you’ll grow into the position or be replaced.

Either way, my experience is that great rewards come for the willingness to be of use.

 

If you’ve been around the blog awhile, perhaps you recall that the camp I’m referring to is our local Royal Family Kids Camp.  This is a week-long camp for abused and neglected foster kids (a round-the-clock/sleepover camp, not a day program) that takes all year to plan and over $30,000 to finance.  We still need 3 more male counselors – if you know someone who might fit the bill, let me know!  You’ll have to contact me here or in person, as I’m off Facebook still until June 1.

Today is day 19 of my month away from Facebook, Netflix, and sugar.  I’ve had easy 100% compliance on the Netflix ban.  I’ve accidentally ended up on Facebook a number of times, when not paying enough attention while Googling something, but when I’ve landed there, I’ve left quickly without peeking around to see what I’m missing, so I’m counting that as full compliance.  Sugar – I’ve done okay.  I haven’t DELIBERATELY eaten any added sugar, but there have been a couple of occasions when I’ve realized after eating that  – d’oh! that had sugar in it!  I’ve noticed each time that my body quickly responds with an almost immediate demand for more food, more food, more sugar, more food.  The switch in my brain has a hair trigger on it, apparently.

Though I spent a lot of time objecting in advance to this fast, and still more time complaining about it in the first days of it, I’m finally done complaining about it.  Those who know me well might be able to guess why I’m done complaining:  I finally got a glimpse of what God is up to with this little experiment.  It finally makes some kind of sense to me.

I have reached the zone of gratitude.

Because I am off of Facebook and Netflix, I was tuned in enough to catch a message in my email that I would’ve skipped (I KNOW I would’ve skipped, as I’ve been skipping all mail from this sender for several years now).  I opened and read, and it took me trotting right down an unexpected path.  I followed the path, and find it leading to an open door into a space that makes my heart beat a little faster.  I have a project before me now that I’m not ready to blog about today, but it is SO exciting.  If I’m going to push into this project, I’m almost certainly going to have to either continue the fast well beyond May, or at least re-approach those “screen distractions” in a severely limited fashion, going forward.

I didn’t expect that.  I wouldn’t have asked for that or wanted that.  But what I’m pressing toward is alluring enough that at this point I don’t mind.

And that, my friends, is how God so often works with me.  I can’t say how God works for everyone else, but for ME, when I obey the subtle promptings He gives me (even – perhaps ESPECIALLY – when I do so under great duress and protest), then He brings me to a reordering that I haven’t expected and wouldn’t have wanted, but am delighted to have discovered.

It’s exciting stuff.  Makes me glad I followed the prompting on this fast, even while it made me want to cuss and stomp my feet.

a planner to slow down?

Posted: May 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

I have a new planner.  I saw an ad for it on Facebook in April, and I marked the homepage.  Immediately after beginning my May fast, I raced over to that page and ordered the planner.  It’s a pretty unique one, being only 13 weeks long.  It is shaped around setting goals and then walking them out.  Somehow it felt like the right thing to have on hand while I am in this weird unplugged zone.

The planner requires me to sit down every evening and evaluate my today, and then do a bit of sketching out for tomorrow – I have instructions to account for every bit of my time in advance.  The advice given notes that this doesn’t mean “no breaks” or “no free time” – it just means I handle these things with intention.  I schedule them in.  This is to help me avoid just wasting time in a way that will leave me with regret later.  It also requires me to sit down every morning and spell out some specifics:  an overarching goal for the day.  A set of 3 target tasks.  And at both the morning and the evening session, it requires me to record 3 things for which I am grateful.

In addition to that, I had to start out the book choosing three 13-week goals of the S.M.A.R.T. variety, breaking down the sorts of tasks that should get me from here to there.  There are pages to evaluate entire weeks and checklists for easy recording of little things I want to do on a daily/regular basis.  Basically the folks who invented this journal went out and read all the best time/goal management books and put all the best ideas from all those books into this nifty journal.  Thus far, I’m very much a fan.  I can’t do the thing justice by describing it here; ask me to show it to you sometime (I’m ridiculously excited about it), or if you don’t know me, check it out here or here.

On one hand, the planner is helping me a lot with my tendency to procrastinate on projects that I don’t like.  Every day, I write chose one such item to place on my list of 3 targeted tasks, and because I’ve written it down, I almost always get it done that same day.  In this sense, the planner is making me MORE PRODUCTIVE, which was what I assumed I was going for.

On the other hand, the planner is teaching me quickly how much I ask too much of myself.  In the first week, most days I made a plan that was just too ambitious.  It didn’t account properly for how long tasks take me.  It wasn’t that I needed to step up my game, it was that I needed to stop trying to be a superhero.  I don’t have special powers.  I can’t move at the speed of light.  There are so many hours in a day, and that’s what I have to work with.

I have to tell you, I find it ironic that I seem to have purchased a planner to help me SLOW DOWN.  Don’t you think that’s the antithesis of what seems to be the purpose of a planner?  I think my functional medicine practitioner would approve, though.

Jumping off today into week 3, I am learning what a realistic day looks like.  I am starting to figure out how not to pile myself up so much that there will be no hope for success.  That’s counter-intuitive for me, as I have built myself an identity of “Karen Who Gets Stuff Done.”  It FEELS like aiming for less.  But really what it comes down to is beginning to get real about my time and my abilities.  Here’s the surprising thing to me:  it feels BETTER than my old/usual way of asking entirely too much of myself in order to try to get the most possible work done.  I’m working smarter, not harder – a thing I urge people to do all the time, but clearly hadn’t been practicing in reality.

Pretty good gift.  Pretty good place to focus on a Monday morning.  Let’s do this thing!

Something I hadn’t realized before jumping off into a month off of Facebook was how many different ways and times I’d be offered the opportunity to derail and get right back on.  While I’m not “jonesing for Facebook,” I am also not particularly thrilled with being away from it.  Funny then, how often I find that when I google a question, if I don’t pay attention, the link for the answer drives me to a Facebook page.  Over and over in the past 9 days I have found myself there, not because I TRIED to go there, but because I searched for something and didn’t pay enough attention before clicking.

Of course, once you’re on a FB page, even though it’s not your OWN page, you can immediately see how many notifications and messages you have.  My number was pretty spectacular, the last time I was inadvertently driven to a FB page by inattentive googling.  Happily for me, I’m not tempted to “just take a peek” when this happens.  I highlight and copy the information I’ve come for, making a point not to look around, and then I quickly make my exit.  Easy peasy.  I made a commitment.  It stands.

I also find myself unthinkingly trying to open FB when I’m on my phone for other purposes.  I moved the icon to a location that isn’t quickly available; countless times I have found myself absent-mindedly searching for it in its usual place without even realizing I was doing so.  So I guess I’m glad I moved the icon.  It’s surprising to me that I do that without even knowing it!

Apparently FB is not happy with my time away – it has now resorted to sending me emails.  “Did you notice the comment that so-and-so posted on her picture?”  “Have you checked out what your friend liked yesterday?”  On and on.  Most days there is an email trolling along in my inbox, trying to draw me back in.  I just chuckle and delete them, but it DOES occur to me that somebody out there – scratch that – that the people making money off of FB – really want me to be there.  Always.  Without interruption.

If all of this sounds hateful toward FB, trust me, that’s not my feeling.  I sure know a lot of good folks who have a lot of uncomplimentary (and potentially true, to some degree or the other) things about this form of social media.  As for me, I don’t hate Facebook.  It doesn’t stir envy up in me.  I don’t only see posers and pretenders there.  Yes, there is the possibility of wasting time and only being shallow there, but there is equally the possibility of connecting with faraway friends, of delving deep into interesting subjects, of expanding my horizons, and of using it for an awesome prayer tool.  Facebook is what you make of it.  You won’t find me hating on it.  Which is why I’m not impressed with being off of it for a month.

Yes, I am stubborn and silly enough to be arguing even as I know that I was very clearly led in prayer to take this month off.  I am following the lead.  I am looking earnestly for what I am supposed to be learning.  But am I of the “this is so freeing!” or “good riddance” type while fasting FB?  Nope, and nope.

Along the way I’m having an uncomfortable adventure.  I’m not only off of FB, I’m also off of Netflix and (processed/added) sugar.  That’s a whole lot of distractive/numbing agents off the table.  I am under the assumption that since God brought me here, He’s got some stuff to say to me.  I “happened” to hear this really excellent (though unwelcome) podcast, and then my pastor, “by coincidence,” recommended this pretty good (though deeply annoying) book as a highly unwanted follow-up (being the gracious church member that I am, I was pretty snarky with him about it the last time I saw him – sorry about that, dude!)  Both have spoken some truth to me that I don’t want to hear.

I love multitasking.  The truth is, though we think we rock at it, science shows we really can’t do it well at all.

I love bunny-hopping frenetically from task to task, with peeks at email and social media tucked in between hops, never lighting very long at any one location.  Studies show that this damages my brain’s ability to focus and think deeply.

I love filling the “boring” spaces of life (standing in line, time in the bathroom, etc.)  with drinking up reading on the internet.  What I’ve been learning says that if I never allow my brain those “boring” times, it will get so addicted to stimulation and entertainment that it won’t be bothered with doing hard work.

I.  HATE.  THIS.

I guess the best time and way to learn it is while I’m on this big not-my-idea fast.  In the midst of it, the connectedness of the messages coming at me is crystal clear.  I’m listening, I’m listening, I’m listening.  Complaining all along the way.  Working with all my might to work at least part of this out the way I want it to go.  Listening with a ‘tude.  But listening.

That’s good enough for now.  I’ll report more when there’s more to report.