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Archive for the ‘sadness’ Category

“Tears are words from the heart that can’t be spoken.”

I’ve spent extended time with two close girl friends from my childhood recently. We were in the preschool Sunday School class together.  E and J know me from when I was loud and bossy.  They made fun of me, I made fun of them, we made up.

After church, we spent Sunday afternoons together making movies and inventing new worlds. We graduated from high school at the same time, we got married and now have kids near the same age.

This last week I shared with both of them details about a terrible time in my past, when something happened to me that I cannot recover. I know it means growth in me that I can breach the subject out loud, with someone other than my therapist. I know it means I trust them and that they’re good friends.

In some ways it’s easier to write cryptically on blogs for thousands than to share privately with one friend.  Do you know the feeling of sharing something terrible and being heard?

The day I found the courage to share what I know with close, trusted friends was the day I found healing soaking further into my heart.

Both E and J responded as good, long-time friends now how, intuitively, naturally, with full-hearts.

They listened with their eyes growing wide, they asked few questions, they tried to understand and then, they wept.

I do still, sometimes, cry over this, but I’ve invested enough tears and thought, prayer and therapy to not feel teary-eyed as I watched them reach for some tissues.

I sat beside them watching them cry and knowing they were entering my pain and discovering that I felt like my heart was healing with their tears. It reminded me of Rapunzel’s tears in Tangled.

Tears from friends–I believe they have God-given magical power.

“Faithful friends are a shelter. Whoever has found one has found a treasure.  Faithful friends are beyond price.

No amount can match their worth.  Faithful friends are the elixir of life, and those who fear the Lord will find them”

(Ecc 6:14-17 paraphrased by Elaine Storkey).

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What do you think of when you think of seasonal friendships?

  • A wintery cold ending to a friendship that was once warm and welcoming?
  • The chance to make a new friend?
  • A faithful friend that loved you through a difficult time?
  • The loss of someone special as a friendship dies or breaks-up?
  • The loneliness of a more shallow friendship that never seems to gather depth?

Our blog on female friendships often references seasonal friendships.  We also reference things like healthy friendships, self-awareness in friendships, honesty in friendships, confrontation (yikes!) and ending friendships.  All of these things are important when considering your friendship experiences with other women.

Photo Credit Sally H. Falwell

You Never Know

When it comes to friendship, we may not know what shape a friendship will take. Some women hope for the best, give the benefit of the doubt; some eye women with suspicion and tip-toe carefully into anything that smells of openness, love and appreciation.

Seasons are a mark of change, an idea we can apply to friendships.  Consider your wedding party – would it look any different today?  Think about the friends you hugged and signed year books with at the end of high school.  Or think of the woman that you miss, who you thought you would never be without.

We have a tendency to think that our lives can hold a million close friends, we swear we will keep in touch, we vow to never trust again, we just know that “she” won’t do “that” to me…the thing she has a reputation for in friendships (e.g. One woman told me about the pain and confusion she experienced at losing a friend for no rhyme or reason, but her friend, known to “disappear” suddenly on people, pulled her “Disappearing Friend Act” …and has moved onto another “favorite”).

Do Friendships Have Expirations Dates?

Seeing friendships through a seasonal lens might soften the negative connotation we normally carry with a relationship ending.  We all change – we change marital status, career focus, living location, philosophical and theological beliefs, interests.  We get hurt, we lose perspective, we tire of someone (yes, this happens), we mature, we discover things we didn’t know, we get stabbed in the back.

Endings are as normal as beginnings.  Winter is as normal as spring, summer is as beautiful as fall.  How it happens might be painful, but it also might be natural and easy.

Women, Friendships & Seasons

Women’s friendships can often fall into these types of categories.

  • An “all four seasons” friend is a life-long friend, one who is part of your world not matter the stage of your life.
  • hot and cold friend is a friendship that has its “on” times and its “off” times. When things are good, when things are bad, when things are easy, when someone is in need.
  • A season friend might be one that fits at a certain time in your life.

Life Long

To me, these are friends that fall in the “whole” category – friendships that exist through any season.  These friendships are not bound by location, and they endure differences of age, interests, health, marital, working or financial status.  While similarities might be a strong part of a friendship like this, the actual person is likely the glue.  There is a level of love and commitment that is more focused on who the two women are and less about their ability to relate through similarities.

Time and Place

Friendships based on time and place are very common.  This might be a friendship that begins with similar experience, such as having children in the same classroom at school or a diagnosis of breast cancer.  We easily connect with and share our lives in areas of similarity and what life requires from us at that time.

A friendship of time and place might change as the child grows and his teachers and interests change, or as a health diagnosis betters or worsens.  While the change can be a bit challenging and sometimes feels like a loss – someone you knew and spent time with is now someone you only know from a distance – remember the place in your life they vacate leaves room for another fun soul to enter!

Hot and Cold

These friendships require a lot of openness.  I definitely have had friendships that had a burst of life and then faded out as it got harder to connect or get together…only to be revitalized at a later date.  I have found that women are okay with this type of friendship, but tire of it after awhile.  These can provide challenging situations because a friendship can be emotionally expensive, and the two choose to enjoy the style of their connection, stay silent about it, or one person eventually speaks up and asks for more.

Don’t Forget To Forgive and Grieve

The same way that leaves fall off of trees and warm air turns crisp, our lives include change that causes us to grieve the loss of a friend.  The loss might be from a fallout or a simply a life change that takes friends to different places physically, spiritually, emotionally…any number of things can happen that impact our relationships and leave us with broken dreams (e.g We were going to grow old together!) and dashed hopes (e.g. I trusted her!  I thought I found someone who really got me.”).

If the friendship ends on a bad note with a pile of hurt feelings, grief and forgiveness become all the more important.  It can be extremely hard to welcome grief and forgiveness into our lives because these experiences require willingly walking into painful feelings and memories, but the results ready us for healthy relationships, good emotional boundaries, and freedom from the heaviness of emotions like anger, bitterness and resentment.

What’s Your Story?

Jonalyn and I enjoy our readers adding comments about their friendship experiences.  Seasonal friendships is a topic that is relevant to us all…we would love to hear what you have to say about how you have experienced a winter, spring, summer or fall friendship.

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In third grade the most popular girl in school invited me to go to Disneyland with her.

We got to take off school. We were in heaven.

Photo credit: socal.catholic.org

I wore a pair of flowered pants that I thought were pretty. My friend wore spandex pants that looked really good on her legs. A long slouchyT-shirt came over the top, tied at her hip.

Then entire day she kept looking at me and saying things like, “Can you pull your pants up, they’re so baggy.”

I tried, but seriously, baggy pants are hard to find.

I couldn’t tell her my mom wouldn’t let me out of the house in spandex.

I couldn’t very well defend my choice as the best pair of pants for the occasion.

I just sort of slunk around in my bagginess.

On the way home I felt pretty ambivalent toward my friend. Why did she invite me if she was going to spend the whole day telling me how embarrassing I looked to her?

I guess she didn’t realize my behind-the-times wardrobe since we, mercifully, wore uniforms to school.

Disneyland wasn’t as fun as I had hoped it would be.  And our friendship sort of fizzled after that.

She took someone else with her to Disneyland the next year.

Photo credit: stylehive.com

I never convinced my mom to buy spandex.

Thank goodness for the uniforms.

The times a friend has corrected me live eternal in my memory.

There were my closest friends who once all told me to stop being so bossy.

They were right.

There was my third grade friend who wanted me to get with the spandex fashion.

She was wrong.

There was my husband, yesterday, who told me he felt like my voice was too stern for the situation.

He was right.

How to give your opinion?

A few tips I’ve picked up along the way.

Do not . . . 

– offer advice or correction when you’re not invested in the friendship long-term.

– ask your friend to change something she cannot currently change whether because of finances, family upbringing or personal courage.

– require your friend to take your advice after offering it.

– assume you know what it’s like for her before speaking into her life. For example take time to investigate the feelings of a stay-at-home-mother before critiquing or broadly summarizing their lives in public or in private.

Do

– share if an outfit looks unflattering with your friends who are safe and long-term, with whom you have both received and given suggestions and advice on fashion.  This is especially true if they ask you for your honest opinion about their clothes.

– explain the thing that bothers you about a friend when it personally tramples you. For instance, if a friend has hurt you it is appropriate to share this with them, most particularly if they have indicated their openness and safety to listen.

– pray about the things that bother you to determine if it’s your issue or theirs. Consider using these phrases to share if you’re not certain, “I have a problem, I feel confused, left out, etc. . . ” or “I’m not sure what to do right now, I feel (fill in emotion word here). . .”

Overall, it’s a good rule of thumb to avoid fixer-uper friendships.

I do not feel flattered or loved when I find out my friends have taken me under their wing to fix my fashion or my habits or my career choice.

I want friends who see me and say, “Oooh, I like that girl” (Thanks, Molly Aley) because of someone I already am.

When I’m believed in and loved, and know it, I can hear almost any correction.

Do you agree?

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I have this friend I used to always see on or near Christmas. She and I have been friends for our whole lives. Seriously, we were babies in the church nursery together.

Though we’re now married with children we aren’t in the same places anymore. She and I don’t always see eye-to-eye. Sometimes I’m not even sure I want to see her over those precious, packed days of holiday festivities. When we do get together we spend a lot more time reminiscing than diving deeper. I used to be afraid the time was misspent, but because there is an overlap of our common values, we still make time for each other.

I want to remain friends with the childhood girls who I sold brownies with on the roadside on endless Saturday mornings because I know the common experiences also carved similar shaped values in each of us. For a few of these friends I know we still cherish the same things, even if we express that in different ways. There are still authentic ways we can care for each other and enjoy each other’s friendship as adults.

But I also don’t want to feel so disappointed when it’s not “like it used to be.”

How can I be friends with those in my past with courage to be myself as I am now? How do we, as the old song goes, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other’s gold”?

Photo Credit: silversite.info

Take a moment and consider what makes old friends so valuable? What is gold and what is silver?

For me the gold is a friend who values much of the things I value. The silver is a friend who values some of the things I value.

All our values are different, but this doesn’t mean there’s only one set of values that count as good or godly or best. As a good friend of mine recently presented on life transitions at a Soulation Gathering, I learned precisely what values are. As she explained, transitions help us recognize what will stay the same and what must change through the transition. Values, she said, remain steady. Beliefs, she explained, often need updating.

For instance, if my friend moves away, I notice my belief that she would always be geographically close needs updating, but my value for authenticity in our friendship remains steady. It’s just expressed through email and phone calls instead of face-to-face time.

Realizing the distinction between beliefs and values helps me consider how to connect with those friends who are more than acquaintances but not best-ies. Let me break it down.

  1. Figure out what you value.
  2. Figure out what your old friends value.
  3. Take time to notice the overlap and spend time building up those conversations.

Let your values be part of your tool set of “holding onto yourself” as you re-engage with old friends this holiday season.

Here are a list of values (there are many more), use these to find three or four that are yours. Of course, you’ll be tempted to say you value all of them, but honestly, we all have a hierarchy of what we value. Can you find your top 3-4?

Values (in no particular order)

  • Security
  • Authenticity
  • Spontaneity
  • Preparation
  • Integrity
  • Fairness
  • Humility
  • Honesty
  • Simplicity
  • Dignity
  • Fidelity
  • Quality
  • Temperance
  • Service
  • Courage
  • Nurture
  • Justice
  • Potential
  • Patience
  • Encouragement
  • Work ethic / Industry
  • Freedom
  • Modesty
  • Responsibility
  • Kindness
  • Acceptance
  • Golden rule
  • Love

If my life’s values are Preparation and Justice I will find it difficult to simultaneously and equally value Spontaneity and Acceptance. Now let me be perfectly clear, this is not bad, this is actually good, for it means I’m an adult, knowing how to choose what God has put within me, to value the strengths I have and to act on them without constant apology.

Seeing old friends gives me a chance to take note of some values (still valuable, let’s call them the silver) that are not my values (also valuable, let’s call these the gold).

Photo Credit: goldalert.com

So you take the time, and you meet with an old friend or two. And after egg nog or hot apple cider and cookies we will find ourselves glad for the gold and grateful for the silver. And we will be also glad we’re adults, and no longer children. And we will be able to notice the sparkle and beauty that makes the holidays a time to thank God for his variety and purpose on this good earth.

Photo credit: designcrafters.com

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Several years ago I found I was unexpectedly expecting.  The baby was a complete surprise, but, as I told my doctor, that didn’t follow that this surprise was unwanted.

The baby, however, failed to develop a heartbeat.  I kept hoping the baby was just slower in development, but I lost this baby while on the road, one late night after speaking to teens in southern California.

Tulips a friend sent me after my miscarriage

In the Los Angeles hospital, the baby’s broken DNA was taken two days before Christmas 2007. I was left sore without any signal of this life, except a memory.

When good friends lose what can we do to walk alongside without accidentally poking a stick in the spokes?

For starters, friendship takes scholarship. Not the thick textbook kind, but the scholarship that begins by studying our friends.

When I lost my child I grieved and wrote and felt angry, not at God or at myself, but angry that I never got to meet our first child.

I would have loved someone to say, “It’s okay to be sad.”

Several good friends said just that.

I did not appreciate when people said, “You’ll have another child,” or “Just imagine what God has in store, you’ll get pregnant again.”  They didn’t realize that we had not been trying and I had no guarantee that my husband was excited to try. And I didn’t have the energy to explain.

I just needed time. To feel. Sad. I needed friend who would sit with me in the “meantime.”  The baby was gone from this earth and I had no present hopes of another baby in my future.

How do you feel when friends are sitting in the meanwhile?  How does this make you feel?  My first response is to throw them a rope and haul them out.

“Don’t feel like you have to sit there!” I want to shout down to them as I pull them out. “It’s dirty and wet and very unappealing for everyone.”  But this is not what a true friend does.

A steady friend stops, as Jesus did, and works to remember what was lost.  Did you know that even when Jesus knew his friend Lazarus would live again, that he would perform the miracle calling his friend out of the grave, he took time to weep?  He allowed himself to find he was sad, too.

The Son of God weeping.

We honor the God who made us when we weep, too.

A series of posts about pregnancy and miscarriage grew from my journal entries those sad January days.  A community of women and men who understood grew up around me and commented on my blog, wrote me letters and sent flowers. They prayed. A bundle of exquisite tulips arrived in a January snowstorm at my front door, the card honoring my baby’s life, sent from a women’s ministry I had spoken to the previous year.

My kitchen sink arrangement for the first few weeks in January 2007

What is the key to help someone who is suffering, especially when their pain is something you don’t understand?

  1. First, as a new friend recently shared at Soulation’s Gold Gathering*, help your friends take the first breath. How?  Ask them what they feel and then make yourself quiet and still. Listen to what they are processing and do not correct. Do not promise things you cannot know like, “It will get easier”, or “You’ll get over this.”  I have friends who have lost children, healthy, strong babies and it has not gotten easier.  Harder, different maybe, but not easier. This first breath and exhale of grief may take a few days, or months or years. You can help them suck in the pain and slowly count as you exhale. Then, you gird yourself up to do it again.
  2. Next, when they are ready, invite them to take the second breath. To breath new life in, to notice how their life is different. How will they honor their life’s differences after this event? How are they going to approach anniversaries and holidays, food, family, future plans differently? How can you study them and know them in these differences?

These breaths cannot be combined. We must grieve and be glad, rail and rejoice, but God protect us from doing these in the same breath. Just as a memorial service ought not be combined with a wake or a burial, we all need separate times to feel the pain and then to incorporate this pain into our lives.

We can each be that friend who can breathe alongside those whose breath has become ragged.

* I am indebted to Aubrie Hills for sharing the “two breaths” observations in her presentation October 1, 2011 at Gold Gathering.

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Every one of us can imagine that our friendships with our female family members could be better. For instance, think of your mother-daughter friendship, either with your own daughter (should you have one) or with your mother.

Many mothers love to have their daughters close, both relationally and geographically. I know a mother that felt very close to her daughter, until this daughter moved thousands of miles away. Now, where was their friendship? How would they remain close?

Moving to Steamboat away from my family has meant many changes for me.

Instead of a crisis, irrevocably harming their friendship, this move could be the first real adult test of their friendship.

Just as I cannot know if I can do a pull-up (I can’t) unless I hang from the monkey bars and try, I cannot know the strength of a friend unless we walk through a difficult time.

This month we’re talking about “fresh starts”, an idea that assumes something about our friendship needs a restart.

Think of a family friendship that feels strained, an unspoken awkwardness, a past sticky conversation or confrontation, a feeling that you are walked over or ignored or unwanted. I think every woman wants to have a better, fresher friendship with SOME female family member, don’t you?

How can you begin afresh and initiate a healthy friendship?

  1. What do you believe about your family member right now that bothers or concerns you? Something is causing the strain, what is it? Another way to put this is what expectations do you have and how have they not been met? My friend who left her family chose to join a mission in Hyderabad, India. She wanted her mother to be excited about her new sacrifice and adventure. She wanted her to believe that she still loved her even though she was moving. She also wanted her to promise to visit. These expectations led her to a lot of disappointed, at first. Any time we face our disappointment we have fresh material for forgiveness, though this doesn’t mean we just forget what happened.
  2. How do you treat the family member who has disappointed you? One jewel I’ve held close from Harriot Learner’s book The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships is mature, loving boundary making. Learner teaches if you are about to change something in your relationship, you are also responsible to maintain warmth and connection in your relationship. With my friend who moved to Hyderabad, the distance was created by her. She would be part of a work, community, church and friendship circle that didn’t overlapped with her mother. Because she was initiating change: it was also her responsibility to move with warmth toward her mother even as she geographically moved farther away. She regularly called her mother, footing the extra phone bills, and visited every few months for the first several years. Of course, her mother may not have felt warm and close with me. Practicing Learner’s principle with success does not mean the person will feel warm and tight with you. She may feel the opposite, but it is important to know that you have done what you could to be warm and loving even as you set up boundaries to move in any way.
  3. How do you respond when your family member doesn’t like what you do? Do you try to fix your family member’s feelings or can you listen to their disapproval or feel their coldness without picking up guilt? With my friend, she had to walk through some strained moments, where her mother was clearly not in the cheering section of her move. When her mother once came to visit her in her new home, her mom left early, when she spoke on the phone she didn’t know how much to share about how delighted she was with this new culture. But, she tried to let her be her because deep down she hoped she would, one day, be able to say, “My mom let me be me, even with a cross-cultural move halfway around the world.”

My friend has lived in India for over ten years. In that time her friendship with her mother has changed.

Market in Hyderabad

Her mother visits her regularly and she visits her mom in the States. Her mother accompanies her to the local market and they cook together like they did back in Tennessee. And when my friend visits, she stays with her mother in her old childhood home.

Though, they still work to be fully themselves with each other, they are beginning to see the integrity and hope of letting a huge move re-start their friendship.

As my friend put it, “Our friendship has gotten better, better even than the friendship we had when I lived in her same town. I feel supported and respected by her in ways I could never have experienced before.”

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We talk a good forgiving line as long as somebody else needs to do it, but few of us have the heart for it while we are dangling from one end of a bond broken by somebody else’s cruelty.

(Lewis B. Smedes)

We women can definitely hold a grudge.  We can also confuse being nice with avoidance and end up not addressing situations that warrant a good discussion, and possibly an apology and forgiveness.

When Is Forgiveness Important?

When do I forgive? The short answer is:  when you are hurt and when you are ready.  Indicators that there is a problem might be – avoiding being together, avoiding talking about the situation, awkwardness, talking about the friend with someone else repeatedly, etc.  Most of the time, you just know.  A few ways we respond to being hurt by a friend are:

  • fear and anger
  • sadness and surprise
  • justification or explaining
  • avoidance
  • retaliation or revenge
  • denial or pretending

Forgiveness Is A Gift

What is Forgiveness?

One main thing to understand about forgiveness is that it is a gift, to both the giver and the receiver.

 Forgiveness is cultivating empathy, sympathy and compassion following a hurt or offense.

    • Changing emotional attachment to a transgression
    • Choosing to remember differently
    • An act of mercy toward the offender, a gift
    • A learned skill and lifestyle

What is Unforgiveness?

When we don’t forgive, it is like having a cup of poison and drinking it ourselves.  We think we are hurting the other person by withholding forgiveness, but really, we only harm ourselves. Harboring unforgiveness can show up as stress in our bodies – tension, headaches, stomach aches, insomnia, etc….or in our moods – irritability, frustration, anger, resentment, negative outlook, etc.

My Brain Hurts!…My Body Hurts!…My Heart Hurts!

Not addressing hurtful situations can grow into unforgiveness, which can have an emotional and physical impact on us.  Basically, when we grow roots of unforgiveness, we are acting in a self-protective manner.  As humans we protect ourselves when there is a threat to our emotional or physical well-being.  Our brain takes in the information and dumps chemicals into our bodies to help us respond appropriately.  Through unforgiveness, unfortunately, we continue to respond as if there is a threat – even when it is unnecessary.  When this happens, those stress chemicals stay in our bodies and we adjust to living in a state of anxiety.  The result is a frazzled emotional system that interprets neutral or positive things as negative or threatening and a physical body that remains poised for fighting or running away.  The emotional impact living in a state of stress or unforgiveness is lack of trust, broken or strained relationships, anger, irritation, depression and anxiety. The physical results of living in a state of stress might be headaches, insomnia, tension, anxiety, etc.   Basically, living in a state of stress through unforgiveness is exhausting.

Forgiveness is more than:

~ Accepting what happened
~ Ceasing to be angry or hurt
~ Being neutral toward the offender
~ Making yourself feel good or better

Faux Forgiveness: It Looks Good But Is It REAL?

Forgiveness is NOT:

  • erasing the event or hurtful memories
  • letting the offender off the hook
  • condoning, excusing, forgetting, justifying, calming down after a hurtful event
  • faux-forgiveness (just saying the words)

Faux- Forgiveness…

hollow forgivenessperson verbally says they forgive but secretly harbors a grudge

silent forgiveness – person intentionally forgives but does not admit the forgiveness to the offender.  (like buying a gift for someone and putting it in a closet and never giving it to them)

What Steps Do I Take To Forgive?

Here is a great model to follow for practicing the art of forgiveness:  REACH.

Hint:  chose a small event first for practice!  The REACH Steps to Forgiveness are outlined in this document.

R = Recall the Hurt

  • use a pen and paper, describe in detail what occurred – include all you can remember –  sights, sounds, smells, words said, etc.
E = Empathy (this can be hard but push through!)
  • Empathy is vital to forgiveness – it allows you to think and feel differently about the person
  • Empathy = seeing things from another’s point of view
  • Think of empathy as:  “I will not forget, but I will remember differently.”
  • Write the details of your empathy.  Writing down the other perspective is a great way to do this.
A = Altruistic (others-focused) Gift
Remember that forgiveness is a gift for both you and your friend that hurt you.  Empathy gets you ready for this giving this gift.
  • Offering forgiveness begins to relieve you of the burden and stress of unforgiveness.
C = Commit To Publically Forgive
Sharing your decision to forgive helps to cement your forgiveness process.  This helps to prevent a barrier when old feelings bubble to the surface.
  • Anticipate that wounds already forgiven will still hurt sometimes (see: What Forgiveness Is Not)
  • Symbolize your forgiveness:  a certificate of forgiveness, a rock placed in the garden, a planted seed that grows into a beautiful plant or any meaningful small token that represents your forgiveness progress.  Since forgiveness is a process, you can return to these acts of commitment when old feelings of hurt or anger resurface.
H = Hold Onto Forgiveness
  • Without the weight of negative feelings like resentment, bitterness, fear and anger – flashbacks and memories pack less of a punch.
If negative feelings persist, this might mean there are some unaddressed beliefs or emotions about the event that need to be readdressed.  This sometimes happens through seasons of life when an event might take on different meaning.  Build on the REACH work you have already done, repeat the process and pursue continued healing.
Read E. L. Worthington’s work on forgiveness – he offers some great research and information on the topic, including the REACH process.  Much of this post was adapted from his book Forgiveness and Reconciling: Bridges to Healing and Hope (2003).

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