Conversation Cafe’s & FOMO

When I was in college there was this group that would meet once a week and just talk. They were called “Conversation Cafe’s” – the idea was to give international students a chance to practice their English and make some American friends. To be frank, I was naive and immature in my viewpoint at the time and I thought they were lame and cheesy. At this point in my life, looking back, I was wrong.

I think that group had the right idea. What better way to be inviting and to love on people. Everyone has a desire to connect and when you walk off that plane and into a new country, it can be quite scary. K-State had a fairly diverse student body and a very welcoming atmosphere and family feel they’ve spent years building, but I’m betting that Conversation Cafe was where a lot of friendships started. Perhaps it was awkward and hard at first to talk to people you (in that moment) think you have very little in common with, aside from your love for coffee and sugar. But after a while, as you took the time to get to know one another, I bet you discovered other similarities – perhaps you shared some fears/insecurities or maybe some personal strengths and dreams, or favorite sports. At the very least, you could probably unite about the excitement of seeing a K-State Football game at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, or enjoying ice-cream. Because if you don’t like ice-cream, then there truly is something wrong with you.

As Allie and I were sitting on the couch last night watching How The Grinch Stole Christmas (no, you didn’t read that wrong – Christmas starts in October, according to her), we started sharing what was on our hearts and one of the topics that came up was the lack of open and honest communication that exists nowadays. Genuine conversation and handwritten letters have been substituted with random, quirky interjections on social-media platforms and brief check-in texts with friends. One of the guys in my men’s group was talking with me on the phone about the issue of social-media and how it’s kind of poisoned our society and he said, “It should be called anti-social-media – there’s nothing social about it! There can be a room full of people and we will all be looking down at our phones the minute there’s a brief lull in the conversation. When’s the last time we were all just present with one another?” I had found this comment convicting and left my phone upstairs in our bedroom last night which ended up being extremely fruitful as it made me entirely present – taking the time to be emotionally intimate with my wife and to help rearrange some furniture in the living-room.

One of my sisters had shared with my wife and I that whenever she doesn’t receive enough likes on a photo or status update, she deletes it. The other day we tuned into one of her Instagram Live updates where she’s in a room with her friends, sipping on iced-tea and randomly chatting. It broke my heart for her when her two friends in the room were also streaming their own Instagram Live videos – there was no real interaction or conversation or storytelling or much of a point to the interaction – and when one of her friends looks at my sister’s phone, she said “Oh wow – only 8 viewers…” What made me sadder is that my sister didn’t even blink. I don’t even think she recognized the verbal abuse that just occurred because it probably happens all the time. (High-schoolers can be ruthless. I had some friends do some extra crappy things to me as well, but still…)

Our world is attention starved. “Pay attention to me! Like me! Share my stuff! If you retweet this, I’ll do this…” Manipulative, fear-based, and lonely – the FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) culture has taken over the youth culture, and unfortunately, it’s penetrated “young” adults hearts like myself as well. When a young girl feels the only way to keep her love-interests attention is to dress slutty and perform acts she would rather not participate in before marriage, it is often because she lacks a genuine connection with someone that’s spoken into her life about her worth. She’s worth more than her cleavage and high-heels. And when a young man spends his days glued to his smartphone, constantly seeking the next high of someone liking him on Tinder and wanting a one-night stand, it is often because there wasn’t a man in his life speaking lovingly into his heart that he is capable, created in God’s image, and called to something greater than what the world has to offer.

When one is tied up in knots with an addiction to pornography or the necessity of a bottle of wine “after a hard day at work” on a several nights a week basis, it’s because they are lacking. Filling emotional, mental, and spiritual voids with substances and experiences outside of their healthy limits because they’ve forgotten. They have forgotten that they’re loved. Or perhaps they haven’t forgotten – perhaps they’ve simply never been genuinely loved or experienced a genuine connection with another human-being. And Allie and I’s hearts break for those people.

One of the things that makes me swoon for Allie is her big, soft heart. An amazing listener and so kind-hearted, it didn’t take long for my family to love her. “You’ve kind of set the standard,” said one of my siblings about the kind of woman a Meyer man should marry. So when she listens to someone tell their story of being cheated on, or experiencing abuse, or their feelings of worthlessness, it breaks her heart and stirs up in her a desire to help. And I think she’s rubbed off on me. When I see men constantly chasing after counterfeit affections to convince themselves they’re a man now, or avoiding responsibility and close relationships for fear of being hurt, my heart breaks for them. Do they not know they’re loved?

So this week, I want to challenge my readers. What can you do to show someone you love them? I read an “open letter” on the NFL protests written by a former Green Beret and he said, “I would love for those two leaders (Kaepernick and Trump) to have that conversation, but more than anything I just want us to love one another again. One great thing about freedom is that you get to choose everyday how you treat your neighbor.” Preach it, Nate Boyer.

I want us to love one another again. I want us to talk without being divisive and stirring up conflict. To have a conversation without talking at each other. I want hard, taboo topics to be discussed and people to be loved even if they do not change, because only the Holy Spirit is in the business of changing hearts.

The best thing that you and I can do this week is to pray for our enemies and those that have gone missing in the Kingdom and to be vulnerable with our hearts, that the Light may come into our relationships and kill the Darkness.

So put the phone down, brew a pot of coffee, and invite your neighbors over – maybe we need to be hosting some Conversation Cafe’s of our own…

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Recycling Regret & A Carpenter’s Touch

A little over 3 weeks ago, I went dark. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t still experiencing some withdrawals and that I cannot wait to be back in the loop with what is going on with the world and what my friends are up to. But I can also say that I think I’ve managed to learn a few things and to counteract that initial urge to just tweet away every last thought.

In fact – Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat have met their fatal ends with me and Facebook will be utilized with a more limited capacity. They’re far too much of a distraction in a season of immense personal growth. There’s no need to keep up with the Kardashians (figuratively speaking) when I need to learn to keep up with what God wants to do in my life.

The church that Allie and myself have begun planting ourselves in is going through a series called Recycling Regret, and I think it’s been the perfect series for both of our hearts. Whether it be regrets within the context of our relationship, regrets from our individual pasts, or regrets within our immediate relationships with family and friends – there are fragments of our hearts that need Jesus’ healing. There are times when we’re looking at each other, knowing the other needs to be comforted and it’s hard (when you’re married to someone) to realize that you’re not going to be enough to comfort them in that given situation. They’re going to need something more – a close friend is a good start, but even that close friend is not going to be enough sometimes. In God’s perfect design, he’s left a hole in our hearts that only He can fill.

It’s funny though because we’ll spend a solid portion of our lives trying to fill that hole with other things – counterfeit affections that never fully satisfy – or we will overcompensate by attempting to put an individual in the role of God in our lives. Maybe it’s your best-friend from growing up or a significant other you’ve become infatuated with. Maybe it’s your relationship with your parents or your boss at work. Somehow, in an attempt to fill that hole in your heart, you’ve tried to put them in that place – yearning for their approval and affection, entrusting them with your past, present, and future – and then one day, somehow (because they’re human), they fail you. You’re left hurting or abandoned or simply left with needs that are still unmet. And that’s because you’re running to the wrong source.

If you’re thirsty, you have to drink water. You can sit at the bar all night long and pound pints of beer back but at the end of the night, you’re still going to need a glass of water to not be thirsty. In the same way, you can have a dozen friends that you keep ties with and are constantly surrounding yourself with but the only relationship that is going to fully satisfy your heart’s deepest needs is your relationship with God.

I still remember a quote form my college minister that went something like, “The address to God is at the end of your rope.”

It’s always stuck with me.

In your darkest hours. In your loneliness and hurt and pain and suffering. In the times when it feels like you can’t do anything right or like you’ll never amount to anything. In the moments where you’ve given up on yourself. God always seems to be right there, arms open, eyes filled with love, ready to lift you back up and set you on the right course.

C.S. Lewis calls pain God’s megaphone. And I think he’s right. Pain sucks. But it’s there for a reason and there’s a lot to be learned from it. So don’t waste your pain doing things that will only lead to more pain. Take the time to do the work to process through what God is trying to teach you so that you may find life.

And if I can let you in on a little secret – there is no escaping God’s economy of reaping what you sow. You may not have to pay the bill of your sin today but like a credit-card bill that you’ve put off until last minute, eventually it’s going to debit your bank account whether the money is there or not. Sin will find a way to take from you what you thought it would offer; it’ll garnish your wages and reduce your heart to rubble just for fun.

The good news is that God’s in the business of recycling. Of taking something old and broken and making it something new and good and useful. He’s in the business of renovation. Taking the old rooms in your heart and turning them into masterpieces where people can come for refuge and strength.

Jesus was a tradesmen as a young man, trained in the craft of carpentry. I’m lucky to be crafted by His hands; grateful that He’s in the process of sanding me down, buffing me out, and turning me into something good.

True Thirst

Rarely do I realize how thirsty I am until I start to take a drink of water. It’s interesting – I’ll be just fine and then think to myself, “Maybe I should have a drink of water…” So I go to the fridge, grab the Brita pitcher and pour a glass of water, and before you know it I’m pouring a second because my body is telling me that I need more.

I’m discovering this concept applies to more than my need for the life-sustaining water here on Earth but it also applies to my desperate need for Living Water from God.

Rarely do I realize how thirsty I am for His Word until I convince myself to open up the pages of the Bible and force myself to read a Proverb. Before I know it, I find myself curious about what God has to say about His Church in the New Testament or his second coming in Revelation. Or maybe I’m ready to read battle stories from the Old Testament. Regardless, I discover a need within myself that I was unaware of because I refused to take a drink of Water.

If you’re like me, you prefer to drink things ‘more exciting’ than water. Coffee, soda, beer, juice, maybe even tea (nah, I hate tea) are all far more enjoyable to drink than water, in the moment. However, water is the fuel that my body actually needs. The other beverages are nice but they usually only lead to further thirst later on. Water satisfies. It fuels me and keeps me going.

In the same way, maybe I think that I have a desire for my wife to encourage and compliment me – showing that she admires who I am and believes that I’m being the best me possible. When really, what my heart probably needs most is to draw closer to God and to discover what He’s saying about me in the Word, in prayer, and in my own heart as the Spirit is at work within it.

There’s an urban dictionary language of thirst regarding lust – the desire for something one cannot or should not have. It’s not his to have or take or view or enjoy. But that thirst is there. What’s the thirst really there for, though? Is it for the sake of thirst itself, or is there a deeper need within the heart of man? The desire to be seen and to truly see – to know someone and for them to know you – to be intimate. Much different than the thirst of this world and the lies found within the ‘treasures’ it offers us. “Counterfeit affections” as I’ve come to know them; something that promises one thing but provides another, all the while masquerading as the real thing.

Coffee, tea, soda, and beer are all made with water but they’re not water.

Encouragement and intimacy are all found in the Word and in God, but they’re not the Word or God.

It’d be like desiring the gifts my in-laws provide me with on Christmas but not desiring my in-laws. That’d be shallow and sad and awful. The truth is, I enjoy spending time with them. In the same way, I should enjoy spending time with God. I should just want to be with Him. Not only coming to Him when I finally need to be rescued from myself. Because the truth is, I will always need to be rescued from myself.

This afternoon, I find myself grateful for the work Christ has done within my heart, my marriage, and my life. May it be a beacon of hope for others as we try to figure out this thing called life.

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Honesty Hour

Think of all the effort you invested in trying to hide something. If you’re like me, you agonized over the details as you did everything you could to cover up your tracks – whether it was something mundane and silly to hide like breaking into the cabinet for some potato chips late at night or a scandalous rendezvous. I can think of returning from college in my early 20’s and sneaking downstairs for a snack and thinking my Mom wouldn’t notice that I’d greased up a cereal bowl with potato chips or taken a sleeve of Ritz crackers up to my bedroom. (I’ve struggled with my weight since college and I didn’t want some other bad habit to be discovered.) I can also remember the “white lies” we’ve all used to cover up our tracks when in our youth we did things we shouldn’t have.

So much emotional, physical, mental, perhaps even spiritual energy exerted to produce a fake self. To prove you’re who you say you are when perhaps your behavior demonstrated exhibits the fact that you may not even personally believe the lie you’re trying to sell others.

Think of all the separate selves you have. The one that goes out partying with your friends, the one that confides in your “person” (spouse, significant other, best-friend), the one that is sexual, the one that is conservative, the one that cares deeply about others, and the one that doesn’t give a f*** what others think. Really, think about it. Everyone has different selves; it’s how we’ve been trained by society to act. “Be on your best behavior,” we heard as kids and then we learned the correct behaviors for varying situations from varying people and adapted to our surroundings, doing whatever it took to feel most accepted – whatever left us the most valued and loved.

Friends, I’d like to tell you there is an alternative to this exhausting way of life. An alternative to constantly hiding, from yourself.

You see – I’ve always tried to sell the lie that I was the perfect Christian. It wasn’t anyone’s specific fault. My parents had made their own mistakes when they were younger and they didn’t want me to have the same problems, so they did everything they could to suppress the “bad” in life – and who could blame them? Wouldn’t any good and decent parent? I love them for all they did to love and protect me. However, as a result of this, I didn’t really know who I was or what I wanted to be – I had only ever been what everyone had told me I was. A Christian, a teacher, a poet, and a friend. And I would say that I am these things, and am in the process of gaining clarity and being empowered by the Lord to accomplish even more. But I’m also other things…

“I’m a Christian, recovering from Sexual Addiction,” I say every Saturday morning in a Men’s Group that has saved my marriage (before it even began, praise the Lord). Introduced to pornography in my early teens during an ‘innocent’ game of Truth-Or-Dare – it maintained a hold on my life for more than a decade. It wasted countless hours I could’ve spent reading or writing or investing in relationships that mattered – instead, the addiction taught me to chase the high of arousal and stole my ability to say no to my own selfish desires. Suppressed for a while by meeting the woman that’s now my bride, one day I found myself back in that ‘well’ (oh the lies that Satan sells us) of depravity. Days away from engagement, I found myself backpedaling. My world was rocked. The lie of who I wanted people to believe I was could not stand anymore. It had fallen and the real Justin had to stand up…and be a man. I confessed my addiction to my girlfriend at the time, to her parents, and to a few close friends I asked for prayer. I met one-on-one with her Dad (I was literally shaking in my boots and terrified) and by the grace of God he decided to accept and forgive me, allowing me to become his son-in-law a few months later. My girlfriend agreed to become my fiancé. And I’ve been “sober” for close to a year.

There have been moments where I’ve found myself trying to hide things again…hide the fact that I went back down for potato chips again. Or that – yes – I went for the whiskey when I should have just brewed some decaf-coffee. Or I’ve wanted to continue spending frivolously on drive-thru lattes and tried to cover up my tracks. But the “older” and “wiser” I get, the more I realize hiding the truth only delays its arrival. Truth always shows up to the party and steals the show. And admitting our faults and becoming teachable is the only way we’ll ever grow.

Marriage is the single greatest thing that’s ever happened to me. Allie has been the face of Jesus in my life. She’s forgiven me and loved me for who I was, who I am, and who I’m becoming. I’ve learned that love isn’t the sexually charged experience that Hollywood portrays, but I’ve found the realness, the intimacy all the more beautiful. The world can have its counterfeit affections – I don’t need to chase them anymore. The Lord has set me free and for my wife alone, my heart bleeds.

Perhaps your struggle is with depression or something else – sex, drugs, money, alcohol, abusive relationships, one-way friendships, maybe you’re addicted to your job (you’ve forgotten what a day off is and you don’t know who you’d be without your current job title). I suppose this post is my extremely longwinded way of telling you to stop pretending you’re something you’re not – and be yourself.

K-State’s Scott Frantz came out as gay yesterday to the entire world. And while I don’t condone homosexuality or support gay marriage, I admire that he was real with the world about who he is. As I tweeted yesterday, “People should be loved for who they are, not who we want them to be.”

Do Not Neglect Your Gift

I mentioned in my prior post regarding the surprise it was that marriage was both complex and beautiful and unexpectedly divine, by God’s design, that I would be sharing what I’m learning from reading the Bible in upcoming posts. So here goes nothing – it’s been a while, so excuse me if I’m rusty or fail to reveal Scripture in the proper context.

Let’s jump right in. 1 Timothy 1:11-15 drops a gender-roles in the church bomb that leaves everyone that reads it uncomfortable. One author wrote that verse 12 singlehandedly puts an end to many conversations between men and women in the church, attempting to comprehend their roles and God’s design for a collective church body. The good news for you is that I know for a fact I’ve inadequately studied it to have formed a solid opinion but my INITIAL OBSERVATIONS are that it was culturally relevant at the time and/or potentially meant for the correction of one heretical woman, not women plural. Also, I know that in my own personal journey with the Lord, God has used women’s perspectives to help alter the course of my life. Allie’s gentleness being a prime example, while experiencing the blessing that the spiritual gifts of encouragement and prophecy that came from others also seems to fit. I believe there is something to be gained from both perspectives – were we not both created in God’s image, fearfully and wonderfully made?

Deciding that since it’s been a while since I’ve been consistently studying the Bible I didn’t want to weigh myself down with trying to incessantly study the crap out of the previous passage or others for now. So that’s my brief synopsis on Chapter 1.

The real passage of Scripture that rocked me this morning and inspired me to write before I head upstairs to shower and get ready to work (got up early and worked out this morning AND got time to read the Bible and write – who am I? Gotta do this more often!) was 1 Timothy 4:12-16.

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

“Do not neglect your gift.” It felt as if God was speaking to my heart. How often have I felt the prompt to speak or to write or to encourage and due to lack of trust in God I’ve done nothing? How accustomed I’ve become to ignoring the voice of God that when he’s speaking words in my ear for another they fall in crack in the sidewalk rather than on the fertile soil of that man’s heart. How long has pride delayed growth?

The next verse speaks of giving ourselves wholly to our people, so that everyone may see our progress. This makes me think of the isolation state we place ourselves in when we know we’re not where we are supposed to be in life. So we hide and pretend that everything is okay and when friends call and come knocking, it’s easier to pretend we’re not home or we are too busy than to confront the current reality of our hearts. But if we were to simply stay in community and be willing to share even our burdens and flaws – putting it all into the light – how much more powerful would God’s grace become in our lives?

So this Wednesday, friends, I encourage you – Do Not Neglect Your Gift.

Give God, your spouse, and the Church all that you have, so that they may see your progress and so that you all may be saved.

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Late Night Thoughts: Advance

I heard it said once that writers “have to write.” It’s a burden within their souls. As if something tugs and pulls and exhausts until something gives way and one is jolted into action. I feel like that tonight.

Allie went to bed a couple hours ago and I finished watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine – what a fun, goofy, comical show about detectives. Andy Sandberg found his golden role. I’m a major fan as it’s quickly climbed into the ranks of some of my favorites like The Office and Parks & Rec.

When Allie went to bed, she said, “Don’t stay up until 2am this time and then hate yourself because you spend the day off in bed until 10am and then half the day is over.” And while she’s right – I will hate myself tomorrow for being awake this late. Here I am. Awake and writing, and relishing in the moments to myself with Harvey asleep and unable to interrupt my train of thought with his demands for attention.

Why is it so difficult to kill off the old flesh and give way to the new, disciplined one? Why can I not always be the perfect husband, able and willing to go to bed early for the sake of being upstairs with her rather than down here by myself? Why must we toil at work in vein somedays? Why must we constantly pray for direction while continuing to feel directionless?

More importantly, why did no one ever tell me that marriage would be the most complexly beautiful thing I’ve ever experienced? While simultaneously requiring the most heart. I always thought myself to be a hearty, swoon-worthy gentleman but there are days where I can’t believe Allie loves me. I’m hot and sweaty from work, exhausted from pulling a 10 or 12 hour shift, my charm and humor spent on customers during the day, and all that’s left of my candor is the leftover scraps of my personality.

And there she is, stoked to see me, ready to cook dinner.

I didn’t know it’d be the simple things. Like her cooking dinner or the fact that when we both cry and break down after a day of holding in our emotions, all the burdens suddenly give way to fresh love and remembrance that we’re only human and are by golly going to need the grace of God and Jesus along the way. While the promise of a “sexy” life after marriage flaunted its way through my youth and had me obsessed with the idea of one day being in union with a woman – it’s the friendship that’s brought the most benefits.

Her ability to laugh at my jokes and to make the jokester laugh even when he’s seemingly all out of jokes. The way she’s not afraid to dig herself into the trenches with me, only to help pull me out. Flirtatiously reminding me that negative self-talk is no way to talk to myself at all – because I’m handsome and strong and capable. One thing is certain – I’m smart, because I married her.

And so tonight, I had to write. I had to write to share that sometimes I can’t sleep and I feel weird for having to stay up and watch a show or two in order to sleep. I had to write because I was compelled to do so. And I had to write because it somehow felt necessary to share with those of you that may be newly married or about to be married and I just want to say that sometimes it’s not going to be all rose-fields and fun and games. Sometimes, it’s going to take a lot of work and sometimes you’ll be so worn out that while you know you’re in love and you have 1,000% confidence in the other person, somehow you’ll still feel numb. Chalk it up to fatigue, but it is what it is – you’re just not feeling it today. And that’s okay. Because love is a choice and the value of your relationship will shine through when it matters most.

The trust is built when you make that same choice again and again, without hesitation. “I’m choosing you over me.” Words help, but actions solidify.

So never give up. Never, ever give up. There’s no retreating here. You must advance.

I’ve found myself in the Word again lately and reading Ruth, as well as 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy so prepare for some future posts as to what I’m learning. Perhaps I’ll take a slight break from the marriage material for a spell. But really – guys and girls – marriage is awesome. I recommend it. Put the bachelor life to rest as soon as God calls you.

The Fear Of Starting

I’m 27 and so far in life I’ve rarely gotten past just starting. What do I mean?  That I’ve started a book but haven’t made it past Chapter 2 and have sort of given up on the idea. I mean that I’ve initiated a weight loss challenge within my family, gone at it hard for a few days and then sidelined myself with the excuse of “busy” and “tired” and “discouraged.” And now my wife and I are considering starting up a business of our own and I can already feel the fear and anxiety creeping in.

At what point do we tell fear it has no place here? No place in my heart or mind or ideas or my home. That it doesn’t belong. It’s not allowed to take over my creativity and passion or subdue my talents with the lure of addictions that are simply a coping mechanism for its presence or ensnare me in apathy, a pretending that one doesn’t care when really they “don’t care” because they care too much (about what others will think). How does one tell fear that you will now harness it and use it as fuel? If I fear financial destruction, then I will write up a plan. If I fear heart conditions, then I will exercise regularly and eat less brownies (although the ones we whipped up this week were DELICIOUS). If I fear vulnerability, then I will find others that are being vulnerable and we will encourage one another in our authenticity.

Faith over fear, so to speak. If God created us and made us in His image, then are we not designed to be creators ourselves? If I’ve always been socially adaptable and energized by crowds of like-minded individuals and unafraid of those who challenge me with differing ideas, then what do I have to fear? What can someone’s objection or challenge do but strengthen my resolve or help me find a better solution?

Why do we settle? Will I be able to forgive myself if I decline us the opportunity to do something together and different and exciting simply because we had little faith? What can I do to increase my faith but to pray and try and discuss? All of which, if even they lead to failure, will only lead to more discipline and success in other areas.

Too often we allow ourselves to believe that if we cannot run a mile now, then we never will and we might as well not try. I’ve tried that mentality and it’s gotten me nowhere.

It’s time to shake things up, rattle some cages, and do the hard work of continuing the projects I’ve started. I may not finish, but why give up before you’ve even started? And why not test yourself to see if you can run even further than you thought? Why not increase the weight and see if you’ve actually got what it takes to lift it?

We just might surprise ourselves.

(Share your stories of overcoming the fear of failure and how you’ve bettering yourselves, as writers, entrepreneurs, wives/husbands and so on. How do you continue to fuel the fire for growth and throw off the old self of self-doubt, apathy, and killing ideas before they’ve even had a chance to take shape?)

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