Literature

C.S. Lewis on Perfection

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“On the one hand, God’s demand for perfection need not discourage you in the least in you present attempts to be good, or even in your present failures. Each time you fall He will pick you up again. And He knows perfectly well that your own efforts are never going to bring you anywhere near perfection. On the other hand, you must realize from the outset that the goal towards which He is beginning to guide you is absolute perfection; and no power in the whole universe, except you yourself, can prevent Him from taking you to that goal. That is what you are in for. And it is very important to realize that. If we do not, then we are very likely to start pulling back and resisting Him after a certain point. I think that many of us, when Christ has enabled us to overcome one or two sins that were an obvious nuisance, are inclined to feel (though we do not put it into words) that we are now good enough. He has done all we wanted Him to do, and we should be obliged if He would now leave us alone. As we say ‘I never expected to be a saint, I only wanted to be a decent ordinary chap.’ And we imagine when we say this that we are being humble.

But that is the fatal mistake. Of course we never wanted, and never asked, to be made into the sort of creatures He is going to make us into. But the question is not what we intended ourselves to be, but what he intended us to be when H made us. He is the inventor, we are only the machine. He is the painter, we are only the picture. How should we know what He means us to be like? …We may be content to remain what we call ‘ordinary people’: but He is determined to carry out a quite different plan. To shrink back from that plan is not humility: it is laziness and cowardice. To submit to it is not conceit or megalomania; it is obedience.”

Friday Quote from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis  (Chapter 9, Book 4)

C.S. Lewis on Right Direction Leading to Understanding

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“Remember that, as I said, the right direction leads not only to peace but to knowledge. When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right. This is common sense, really. You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. You can see mistakes in arithmetic when your mind is working properly: while you are making them you cannot see them. You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk. Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either.” 

Friday Quote from Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis

Throughout the week, I try to think of what I have read that has surprised, inspired, convicted and/or stuck with me for some reason, and then share that passage. Hopefully it will bring some meaning to you.

C.S. Lewis on Christian Society

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Given the heated politics of the day, I found this Friday Quote from Mere Christianity very interesting and thought-provoking. Hopefully it is some food for thought for you. Comments are very welcome.

“All the same, the New Testament, without going into details, gives us a pretty clear hint of what a fully Christian society would be like. Perhaps it gives us more than we can take. It tells us that there are to be no passengers or parasites: if man does not work, he ought not to eat. Every one is to work with his own hands, and what is more, every one’s work is to produce something good: there will be no manufacture of silly luxuries and then of sillier advertisements to persuade us to buy them. And there is to be no ‘swank’ or ‘side’, no putting on airs. To that extent a Christian society would be what we now call Leftist. On the other hand, it is always insisting on obedience—obedience (and outward marks of respect) from all of us to properly appointed magistrates, from children to parents, and (I am afraid this is going to be very unpopular) from wives to husbands. Thirdly, it is to be a cheerful society: full of singing and rejoicing, and regarding worry or anxiety as wrong. Courtesy is one of the Christian virtues; and the New Testament hates what it calls ‘busybodies’.

If there were such a society in existence and you or I visited it, I think we should come away with a curious impression. We should feel that its economic life was very socialistic and, in that sense, ‘advanced’, but that its family life and its code of manners were rather old fashioned—perhaps even ceremonious and aristocratic. Each of us would like some bits of it, but I am afraid very few of us would like the whole thing. That is just what one would expect if Christianity is the total plan for the human machine. We have all departed from the total plan in different ways, and each of us wants to make out that his own modification of the original plan is the plan itself. You will find this again and again about anything that is really Christian: every one is attracted by bits of it and wants to pick out those bits and leave the rest. That is why we do not get much further: and that is why people who are fighting for quite opposite things can both say they are fighting for Christianity.

Now another point. There is one bit of advice given to us by the ancient heathen Greeks, and by the Jews in the Old Testament, and by the great Christian teachers of the Middle Ages, which the modern economic system has completely disobeyed. All these people told us not to lend money at interest; and lending money at interest—what we call investment—is the basis of our whole system. Now it may not absolutely follow that we are wrong. Some people say that when Moses and Aristotle and the Christians agreed in forbidding interest (or ‘usury’ as they called it), they could not foresee the joint stock company, and were only thinking of the private money-lender, and that, therefore, we need not bother about what they said. That is a question I cannot decide on. I am not an economist and I simply do not know whether the investment system is responsible for the state we are in or not. This is where we want the Christian economist. But I should not have been honest if I had not told you that three great civilizations had agreed (or so it seems at first sight) in condemning the very thing on which we have based our whole life.”

C.S. Lewis on Putting Yourself First

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Throughout the week, I try to think of what I have read that has surprised, inspired, convicted and/or stuck with me for some reason, and then share that passage. Hopefully it will bring some meaning to you. This quote in particular related to my post here.

Friday Quote from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“The moment you have a self at all, there is a possibility of putting yourself first—wanting to be the center—wanting to be God, in fact. That was the sin of Satan: and that was the sin he taught the human race…What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves—be their own masters—invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.

The reason why it can never succeed is this. God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on.  There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

That is the key to history. Terrific energy is expended—civilizations are built up—excellent institutions devised; but each time something goes wrong. Some fatal flaw always bring the selfish and cruel people to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin. In fact, the machine conks. It seems to start-up all right and runs a few yards, and then it breaks down. They are trying to run it on the wrong juice. That is what Satan has done to us humans.”

Thoughts on “Red Badge of Courage”

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I am taking some time to read some of the books for my 15-year-old daughter’s literature class, and just finished reading “Red Badge of Courage.” I have discussed some part with her already, but I wanted to write a short review about the book, just to pull from my brain the impression it made upon me—nothing fancy or not super in-depth. This is also in keeping with my goal for the blog.

My wife and daughter said she cried at parts, and so, having cried at Where the Red Fern Grows, I prepped myself. But I just did not get the emotional connection she did—I take that back. She connected to the slaughter, but I didn’t. It was too vague for me. I connected very intimately with the youth, but not the countless soldiers dying around him. I thought the writing was stiff and staccato, and was distracting. It was a curious mixture of Civil War slang and sophisticated language, and I thought some of the imagery was odd or forced.

One month out of high school I was in U.S. Army basic training, learning a whole new definition of fear, pain and torture. I remember going through those same thoughts about courage and cowardice. I tried to put myself into scenarios and ask honestly—would I function? Would I run? Would I fight? Would I actually kill someone? I remember sitting and realizing the foolishness of my childish fantasies of war. This was real—a real gun with real bullets and real bullets would be fired at me. Was I really a coward or not?

I have also trained in martial arts and have felt, at times during intense sparring, that almost hysterical, ragged animal rage and exhausted focus on survival. I am not saying it is anything like time in combat, just that I have felt it. I thought the book portrayed these characteristics well. I was especially moved when he fled in battle and his mind writhed with shame and self-justifications. Also, in his first conflict after returning to his regiment, he went into a blind fury, continuing to fire when the enemy had gone. He notes that other stare at him and concludes they are admiring him, when we suspect they don’t.

Overall, this book paints a portrait of a boy transitioning to veteran, embodying the flag and leading others in the charge. I believe instinctively that every soldier must go through this process of innocence, intensity, shame, insanity, and resolution. I thought there was more violence going on in his heart and mind than there was on the field of battle.

Friday Quote from The Problem of Pain

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Beyond all doubt, His idea of ‘goodness’ differs from ours; but you need have no fear that, as you approach it, you will be asked simply to reverse your moral standards. When the relevant difference between the Divine ethics and your own appears to you, you will not, in fact be in any doubt that the change demanded of you is in the direction you already call ‘better’. The Divine ‘goodness’ differs from ours, but it is not sheerly different: it differs from ours not as white from black but as a perfect circle from a child’s first attempt to draw a wheel. But when the child has learned to draw, it will know that the circle it then makes is what it was trying to make from the very beginning…..

…..We are, not metaphorically but in very truth, a Divine work of art, something that God is making, and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character. Here again we come up against what I have called the ‘intolerable compliment’. Over a sketch made idly to amuse a child, an artist may not take much trouble: he may be content to let it go even though it is not exactly as he meant it to be. But over the great picture of his life—the work which he loves, though in a different fashion, as intensely as a man loves a woman or a mother a child—he will take endless trouble—and would, doubtless, thereby give endless trouble to the picture if it were sentient. One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and recommenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumbnail sketch whose making was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.

From The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis, Chapter 3

Friday Quote from The Horse and His Boy

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 “Aren’t you well, Bree dear?” said Aravis.

Bree turned round at last, his face mournful as only a horse’s can be.

“I shall go back to Calormen,” he said.

“What?” said Aravis. “Back to slavery!”

“Yes,” said Bree. “Slavery is all I’m fit for. How can I ever show my face among the free Horses of Narnia?—I who left a mare [Hwin] and a girl [Aravis] and a boy [Shasta] to be eaten by lions while I galloped all I could to save my own wretched skin!”

“We all ran as hard as we could,” said Hwin.

“Shasta didn’t!” snorted Bree. “At least he ran in the right direction: ran back. And that is what shames me most of all. I, who called myself a war-horse and boasted of a hundred fights, to be beaten by a little human boy—a child, a mere foal, who had never held a sword nor had any good nurture or example in his life!”

“I know,” said Aravis, “I felt just the same. Shasta was marvelous. I’m just as bad as you, Bree. I’ve been snubbing him and looking down on him ever since you met us and now he turns out to be the best of us all. But I think it would be better to stay and say we’re sorry than to go back to Calormen.”

“It’s all very well for you,” said Bree. “You haven’t disgraced yourself. But I’ve lost everything.”

“My good Horse,” said the Hermit, who had approached them unnoticed because his bare feet made so little noise on that sweet, dewy grass. “My good Horse, you’ve lost nothing but your self-conceit. No, no, cousin. Don’t put back your ears and shake your mane at me. If you are really so humbled as you sounded a minute ago, you must learn to listen to sense. You’re not quite the great Horse you had come to think, from living among poor dumb horses. Of course you were braver and cleverer than them. You could hardly help being that. It doesn’t follow that you’ll be anyone very special in Narnia. But as long as you know you’re nobody special, you’ll be a very decent sort of Horse, on the whole, and taking one thing with another. And now, if you and my other four-footed cousin will come round to the kitchen door we’ll see about the other half of that mash.”

From The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis, chapter 10

The Spanish Brothers

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The Spanish BrothersThe Spanish Brothers by Deborah Alcock

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a great historical fiction novel, detailing the rise and fall of the Protestant church in Seville in a very catholic Spain and those that endured the persecution of the Inquisition. I enjoyed reading this book and found the spiritual truths easily accessible, but also thought the pacing was moderate to slow and the plot somewhat predictable. Overall, a good read.

View all my reviews

Thoughts on “Prisoners of the Sea”

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The impressions made upon me by this book are still somewhat undefined. I think I really need more time to fully meditate on the characters and the lessons for me to learn.

I will start with the easy part. Mystery. Adventure. Suspense. It delivers all this, right to the final chapter. Woven through the story is God’s providence for those that trust in Him during hardships. In this book, it is Huguenot refugees driven from France after the Edict of Nantes was revoked and Protestantism is illegal. The examples set by these Christians, particularly Baillot, does have a great effect on all those around them.

First, there is Winters, a smart alecky sour mouthed sailor, sharp as a tack. He is one for common sense, and seemed to me to balance the almost naiveté of some of the Huguenots marooned on the island. I am not quite sure where the turning point for him was, but by the end, he is just as salty for God.

There is Goujet, cut throat pirate whose past God uses in almost an instant to reform this wretch’s life. He is constantly tempted to exert his harsh will, but his love and devotion to Baillot wins through. I found this devotion mysterious actually, and perhaps a bit unbelievable.

There are those, such as the slimy Jose de Miguel, the unnamed murderous convict on the island, and the pirate Lock, who all view the religious convictions of the Huguenots as weakness and do, in fact, exploit them. And this is where the questions begin for me. Would I act as these Christians acted? Would I chain a man when he only looks murderous? And when he does murder, would I let him live? Would I put to death those that deserve it, guilty of crimes too numerous to count, and knowing full well that they would seek to end my own? Would I take treasure, found on an island in a home with no owner in sight, or decline it as stealing and hold to honor?

This treasure part was particularly irksome to me. Clearly the chateau was deserted. Baillot’s lands and wealth had been confiscated by the government of France. Clearly he is the victim of injustice. He is now poor…but still refuses to take the gold and jewels, as he views it as stealing. That would be a difficult dilemma for me. If I found $10,000 somewhere, deserted, out in the desert, stuck in a hole…what would I do? Well, I would like to think I would do best thing, bring it to the authorities, or even, if no owner could be found, give it in its entirety to charity. And I would probably do that, but I know for certain, as I write this, the battle in my heart would be the same as Goujet’s.

In the end, through the struggle and hardship, God provides. The Huguenot’s characters remain firm and fixed, and that is really what matters in life. Are opportunities “missed” really missed if they draw our hearts from our convictions and our God?

On a personally note, this morning I saw a video about the division I work in, which includes probably >500 employees. It was published on our private internet and can be seen by all employees. A woman was chosen from our department, a person who I see as “favored.” It ignited jealousy and resentment in my heart. Thoughts like ‘why was she chosen and not me?’ and ‘she is so ambitious and cannot be trusted’ surge and pump through my mind. My heart is dull and aches. Hmm.

Thank you, Lord, for this book.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huguenot

Impression, Judgement and Recognition

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A few weeks ago I finished “Pride & Prejudice” by Jane Austen, and the effects of this book are still lingering in my psyche. I have seen the movie and enjoyed the story line, the romance and the wit. The book, however, was rather dry of the overt romance and scene description, and more descriptive of the interaction and thoughts of Lizzie.

I read the introduction afterward and it really helped to define and apply the lessons from the mind of Austen. It is a book of judging and re-judging. As the introduction stated, the first two parts should be called “Dignity & Perception.” It isn’t until part three were each discover their own pride and prejudice.

What is lingering in my mind is the process of judging by impression. Early on, Lizzie “identifies her sensory perceptions as judgements [and] treats impressions as insights.” It is clear. She condemns Mr. Darcy and gives credence to Mr. Wickham. She then recognizes (re-cognizes, re-thinks) the her judgments. She acknowledges her own pride and prejudice, as does Darcy, and at that point can become free of them.

“There can be few more important moments in the evolution of a human consciousness than such an act of recognition.”

This point really struck me. As I journal and try my best to be honest about my observations of the world and people, it so hard to get things “right.” As I have looked back on other journals I have kept in the past, I have shuddered at some of the things I wrote of both myself and others. So how can I even attempt to write now? How do I know I am right or accurate in anything? It must be that I treat everything as impression, with the intent to collect real information and re-cognize the person or situation.

The book has also prompted me to evaluate my relationships with those in my life. How much do I really know of people? How much is impression? How much is knowledge? At church last Sunday, I felt it hypocritical to vote for the new deacons because I did not know them. Some I had impressions of. Some, I had not met at all. I didn’t vote, save for one. I am now looking, or sometimes am, at people in a different way. Hopefully, this lesson will stick with me.

Also, some distinction was made in the introduction concerning impressions and experience. Without impressions, there can be no experience. They are the beginning of experience. Without experience, there can be no true reason. Reason is useless without experience (in this case, the quoting of Mary serves as example), and experience without reason is error prone. The experience is all the sensory information from the person or situation. Reason makes the experience intelligible and suggests conclusions. Thinking this way is helpful to me, and helps me to understand my own investigation of the world and people.

Unmerciful Me

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[Written June 23, 2011]

When I first started reading “Self Raised” by Southworth, it was immediately after I had finished “Ishmael.” I was excited to read more of the man’s life, but soon realized that the story was shifting back and forth from Ishmael to Claudia in Scotland. She had been tricked by this Viscount, who plotted to strip her of her wealth. It was quite easy for me to see her victim of her own scheming and deserving all the humiliation and helplessness she was receiving. I felt very little pity for her, and as the plot of this story was more intertwined than linear, I did not realize what the author had for me to learn, other than Ishmael, ever faithful to God and His calling, undertaking the journey to rescue the very undeserving girl. My focus was singular, though, and my opinion of Claudia fixed. She was selfish and prideful, and she was receiving justice from God. It wasn’t until she was received by the benevolent Berenice that I realized how foolish I was in both not trusting the author and not believing that God can change Claudia. It is also an indictment of my character and a theme throughout my life.

            Haughty and privileged, I couldn’t help but sneer at her inwardly and say, ‘good riddance, Bee is a much better woman for Ishmael.’ In my own life, I have consistently had this outlook on the rich and prideful, on the beautiful and privileged. As a child, I tended to hate them. As an adult, I have tended to mistrust them. As a Christian…well, I’ve still done both. This clear attitude of mine is certainly very reflective of how I view some people at church and a lot of the teens. ‘They are silly and young and very unspiritual. Oh, except for a few.’ Which few? Have I really studied them? Have I taken the time to speak with them and get to know them? Not really, and those I have gotten to know…well, they are the exceptions. I think I am being very severe and too absolute with myself, but I would rather exaggerate the issue and so better see and remove it!

            I did not see that humiliation and helpless are gifts from God. I did not remember that loneliness can be chamber for reflection, where morals can be evaluated and choices reflected upon, and where the spirit of God can make straight what is crooked. We do not have to be fixed and unchanging. Haven’t I changed greatly from my childhood? Didn’t I come from being Dostoevsky’s “underground man” to faith in God my Father? Is it that I am so far removed that I have slipped into dullness? Am I really that unmerciful still? I do believe God is directing me to serve with the teens, but if I am to serve, I can learn from the service of Berenice to Claudia.

            Berenice came to the aid of Claudia and lead her in every way. She comforted her and supplied her needs. She brought her to church and brought her with her to serve the poor. Her view had changed from greed to service, seeing herself as only a steward of God’s money. In her words, “’the next day, Monday, we will make our weekly round among the poor. That will occupy the third day, to the exclusion of everything else! For if there is one employment more than another that will make us forget our personal anxieties it is ministering to the wants of others.’”

In summary, if I am to serve God I must believe that people can change, at every moment, even those that I don’t necessarily like. If I see them only as rich privileged self-centered snobs, it is I who must first change how I see them, and then to remember that God is working to bring them to repentance. I must remember who I am and what I came from, and that what I see is not what God sees.

Reflections on Ishmael

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I was very surprised at how much I liked the book “Ishmael” by E.D.E.N. Southworth. We had just purchased some books from Lamplighter Publishing, and this was book of the year one year. Based on that, I decided to read it. I was not prepared for how rich the description and narrative would be. At first, with the tale of Nora and Herman, I was put off by this seemingly petty girl and the forward young heir, but was drawn into the story quickly. The development of the characters was so well done, at times I wanted to pray for them as if they actually existed and their troubles were present day!

This was an apt book for me to read, at the start of a journey into the classics. Prior to this book, I read “A Thomas Jefferson Education” by Oliver DeMille. To summarize this book quickly: classics and mentoring. It has become my goal to educate myself and stop wasting breath on so much amusement. What better character to read about, at the start of this expedition, than Ishmael Worth! There are a few qualities I would like to reflect upon, and hopefully apply to my own life.

The first quality I admired in Ishmael is his diligence. This boy took advantage of every opportunity he was given, fulfilling DeMille’s statement that only students truly educate themselves. Teacher’s may inspire, but students only learn when they apply themselves. As a child, he worked for the professor of odd jobs to get his start to education. In his dedication to protecting Mr. Middleton’s carriage from the Burghe boys, he was gifted his precious “History of America” book, of which he studied and whose characters molded Ishmael’s personality. When at Mr. Middleton’s school, he applied himself at once to his lessons, memorizing three when only assigned one. True, he did not see school as a chore, but as a love affair, but coming from nothing, he realized the value of what he had and took advantage of every opportunity. It seemed to have an avalanche effect on his life; the more he applied himself, the more he learned; the more he learned, the greater the pleasure and gratitude; and this lead again to greater application of his energy. When he goes to live with Reuben Gray, he gains access to a few law books which he reads. When he gains access to the law library of Judge Merlin, he applies himself, and even, though employed as a schoolmaster, walks to the local courthouse to observe proceedings. In the end, Ishmael has educated himself to the level that he very successfully passes the Washington bar exam.

None of this would have been possible if not for the unfailing integrity of Ishmael. Ishmael makes decisions that I would not make. He makes no compromise when compromise is both logical and not sinful. He would not accept reward for having integrity. He would not borrow money from the wallet of Mr. Middleton, found in the snow, even when he and Hannah were starving. He would rather sell the most precious item in the world, his “History of America,” rather than take any of the money. He did what was right exclusively. He saved the no-good Burghe boys at risk of his own life. He refused to take the brief of Mr. Brown, his very first of his career as a lawyer which could have “secured his future,” instead electing to represent the defendant in the case free of charge. This was his duty to God, and indeed it inspires me to strive for greater heights.

Under both these qualities runs bedrock of morality and gratitude. He read of Washington, Monroe and Putnam, and could have easily admired them from afar as great men who attained great fame. No, Ishmael did not stop there, but actively and relentlessly applied these standards to his own conduct. He applied the teachings of the Bible to his own heart and mind, and accepted nothing less than strict right action. He also gave glory to God for everything. He was thankful for a mere book to read and reread. He was thankful for the jobs he was able to perform, for the opportunity to attend Mr. Middleton’s school, and for the opportunities to study and practice law. Having come from nothing, his perspective was tuned to seeing the difference in attitudes between privilege and poverty. Even those he loved, like Mr. Middleton and Judge Merlin, he would not yield his moral compass to their counsel. Even when he became successful, he could have easily just transitioned into the complacent and ignorant morality of the rich but did not.

Ishmael is the hero of my journey into education. As I sit here, nearly forty-two years old, I have such a yearning for the classical education I never received. I sorely have desired it over the years, and at times I have pursued it. Never have I stayed the course, though, as Ishmael did. But education has be built on the foundation of morality, of truly reflecting on what is good and suffering for what is right. As I recently heard Mark Hamby state, education is built on virtue and that if you look at children that do not have a good education, it is usually because there is a lack of character. Based on my propensity for amusement, it is not a mystery why my journey has been so discontinuous. May God grant me the character of Ishmael and may I suffer to do good and right no matter the trials. May I be diligent, moral and grateful.