Lucky to have his little girl

IMG-1744I was in the fourth grade when my cousin Jennifer was diagnosed with leukemia, so I don’t remember much other than being really scared and praying a lot. When I asked my cousin Rick, Jennifer’s father, to recount their experience, I was heartbroken. I simply can’t imagine what they went through. 

This is the first in a series I’m writing for my Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Woman of the Year campaign. I am raising funds for LLS, whose mission is to “cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families.”

After reading this, you’ll see why I am 100% in on supporting LLS. No one should have to go through this. And next week I’ll share another story: how my other cousin, on the same side of the family, also battled childhood leukemia.


“That day was the most difficult day of my life,” Rick said. “It was first time my wife ever saw me cry.”

It was Mother’s Day in 1991, and Rick and Cindy had just learned that their three-year-old daughter Jennifer had Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL).

Rick and Cindy hugged and prayed, and then they realized they had so many questions.

“All we knew was that the word leukemia was associated with terminal illness and death,” he said. “I was not able to process that.”

Jennifer, her twin brother Jason, her older brother Geoff, and her parents soon learned that she would go through chemotherapy, a word Rick didn’t want to hear. His grandmother had died of colon cancer, and he saw how chemo ravaged her body.

As scary as it all was, Rick soon learned that had Jennifer been diagnosed just ten years earlier she would have had only a 50% chance of living another five years. Due to advances in course of treatments, Jennifer’s chance of mortality was 10%.

Rick endured some of the toughest years of his life as he watched Jennifer go through three and a half years of chemo, several bone marrow tests, several fluid taps, surgeries, and other hospitalizations.

“I remember having to restrain her several times in a fetal position while they drove a needle deep into her hip bone to extract bone marrow for testing,” he said. “I had to listen to her scream, ‘No!’ and ‘Daddy!’ as I helped hold her down.”

Rick also recalled frequently having to give her a bitter steroid medication that she wanted to spit out. She would scream, gag, cry, and try to free herself from her parents’ grip. Each time, they, too, were left in tears watching their little girl struggle.

“But she was a trouper and a strong little girl,” Rick said. “And she still is.”

As the treatments and medicine went on for more than three years, Jennifer eventually stopped putting up a fight.

“I don’t know if that was an answered prayer or if she just gave up fighting,” he said. “But it was never easy watching her little body weaken, her hair fall out, her sadness when she had a bad day.”

As their family went through Jennifer’s many years of cancer treatments, Rick wasn’t aware of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

“After becoming involved with (LLS) in later years and finding out what they have done in the field of research and patient care, I’m certain Jen benefited from their efforts,” he said.

Fast-forward to today, and Jennifer is approaching her 29th year of being cancer-free. She hasn’t even seen her oncologist in nine years and won’t ever have to again unless the cancer returns.

Rick knows he’s lucky to have his little girl. Their many hospital stays put them in a position to meet other families with children going through the same thing. Often it was comforting, other times it was devastating, when a child’s cancer would prove fatal.

“Our hearts aches for their families,” Rick said. “They still do.”

In 2015, Rick walked his daughter down the aisle as she married the love of her life. And in December 2019, Rick and his wife Cindy where there when Jennifer and her husband Rob adopted a sweet little baby they named Arlen.

“To this day, I don’t know why God spared Jen. Except maybe because He had something bigger planned for her,” Rick said. “Who knows, maybe it has something to do with Arlen. Nevertheless, He allowed her to live, and that is not lost on Jen. Or me.”


Click below to learn more about supporting the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

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Remembering Doug

doug1I had been working as the Director of Marketing at The Rescue Mission, a homeless ministry in Fort Wayne, Indiana, for a month when I met Doug. He was selected to receive a special basket of goodies from a local Christian radio station. Doug was nominated by some staff members who thought he could use some encouragement.

That was in February 2016. And a week ago, I was by Doug’s side as he took his final breath at the age of 50. What happened between February 2016 and November 2019? A lot.

Doug was such a likable guy. He was tall, had a southern drawl, and was just plain hilarious. No doubt about it, Doug was loved. And while we shouldn’t have had “favorites” out of the many homeless men we served, Doug was an obvious favorite. So much so that for the fundraising banquet in November 2016, Doug was The Rescue Mission’s shining testimony. His life had been changed.

Before the banquet, we filmed Doug telling his story. While I would typically interview a person for such a video, Doug didn’t even give me a chance to ask any questions. He talked, and talked, and talked. For three hours. I didn’t stop him. The video crew didn’t stop him. His story was so gripping and heartbreaking that we just couldn’t interrupt him.

That day I learned a lot about Doug. The five-minute video did its best to capture his story, but there was so, so much more. Doug went through things no child or adult should ever have to experience. Unfortunately, he turned to alcohol at a young age, and it ruined his life.

IMG_6623Doug found sobriety at The Rescue Mission. For awhile. Doug graduated the long-term program in February 2017, had himself an incredible job, and found himself an apartment. But by the time summer came around, Doug had relapsed.

Doug came back to The Rescue Mission and was OK for awhile. Then he relapsed again.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Thrown in there was a long list of health problems, some drinking-related and some not. There were quite a few times when we were told, “Doug probably won’t make it.” But until a week ago, he always made it.

He always eventually went back to being lovable Doug. Even without a filter, Doug was so lovable. After dying my hair dark one fall, he said to me, “Why did you do that? It makes you look old!” Naturally, I gave him crap about that for as long as I could. Doug was like my big brother at The Rescue Mission. I knew I could count on him for a laugh, a hug, and an honest response to anything I asked.

After three and a half years, I left my job at The Rescue Mission. At that time, I knew Doug was in Marion, Indiana. I knew he was in bad shape and drinking again. Sure enough, about a month after I left my job, Doug was back.

IMG_9803And on Friday, November 15, I received a call from a good friend at The Rescue Mission. Doug had been moved to a nursing home a few weeks ago. He had liver cancer. Hospice said he had only a few days to live.

I broke down on the phone, but there was a part of me that didn’t believe it. Doug had already had so many brushes with death, and he escaped them all.

My friend Brittany, who also once worked at the Mission, and I planned to visit on Saturday. However, I received a call Friday evening that Doug only had hours to live.

When we got to the nursing home and I saw Doug, I knew that was it. He wasn’t coherent. He was moaning. He was skin and bones. His skin was discolored. I burst into tears. It wasn’t the Doug I knew and loved.

The room was full of people who loved Doug, most of them from The Rescue Mission, and a few friends from Indianapolis. Doug didn’t have a relationship with anyone from his biological family.

As we stood in the room around Doug’s bed, someone pulled up the video from The Rescue Mission banquet in 2016 and showed it to one of Doug’s friends. Everyone else was talking to each other, but there was what felt like a scripted pause in the room and we heard Doug’s voice in the video say, “Who would there even be to tell if I died? Nobody.”

IMG_9807That night, there were 12 of us around Doug’s bed as he left this world to be with Jesus. Doug may not have been victorious in sobriety, but he certainly did know and love the Lord. And while I cried so hard that night that my eyes hurt for days, I was incredibly relieved and thankful that Doug’s battle with alcoholism was over. No more struggling. No more pain. Doug was at peace.

Doug will always mean the world to me. We got to experience a Doug that his family never knew: a sober Doug that loved us with all his heart, just as we loved him. He will be greatly missed.

“Those who walk uprightly enter into peace;
they find rest as they lie in death.”

Isaiah 57:2

 

Thanksgiving doesn’t have feelings.

1468521_10151721367661573_898293670_n
With Ugandan Santa in November 2013.

Before living in Uganda in 2013, I was a hardcore “no Christmas ANYTHING until after Thanksgiving” type of person. I felt like doing anything Christmas before Thanksgiving was just, well, rude. Who were we to pull out our red and green before the calendar was done with orange and brown? How dare anyone disrespect Thanksgiving!

But in Uganda… there was no Thanksgiving. I even went to work on Thanksgiving because, well, it’s not a holiday in Uganda. We went to Christmas craft shows in early November. We put up our tree in November. We even started listening to “All I Want for Christmas is You,” and no one judged us! Basically, we didn’t have to worry about hurting Thanksgiving’s feelings because it didn’t exist in Uganda.

When I came back to the U.S. in 2014, I found myself wanting to experience Christmas cheer before Thanksgiving. But I felt awful. I felt terrible. NO CHRISTMAS UNTIL AFTER THANKSGIVING! We simply cannot celebrate Jesus’ birth with trees and tinsel until after Turkey Day!

Last year was really difficult. I felt the Christmas itch in mid-November, and it was strong. There is so much crap in the world, and Christmas is all about JOY and HOPE! Couldn’t we all use a little more joy and hope? However, people around me said, “Don’t do it! It’s not even Thanksgiving!”

I ended up caving about a week before Thanksgiving. I decorated for Christmas. It felt great. It prolonged the joy I feel from Christmas decorations. It made me happy. And I would love to decorate my home for Christmas right now, in early November. I’ve had my fall decorations out since September, and I’m tired of orange and an unimaginable number of pumpkins. But the world (eh hem, Facebook) tells me that I can’t decorate for Christmas yet. It’s disrespectful to Thanksgiving!

IMG_9560Then it hit me. An incredible, unbelievable, thought occurred to me: Thanksgiving doesn’t have feelings. Thanksgiving will not have even one negative thought about me putting my tree up before its special day. This is because Thanksgiving doesn’t have thoughts. Or feelings. It’s a holiday.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Thanksgiving. I love the food and fellowship. I’ll wear my turkey scarf on Thanksgiving proudly. Thanksgiving will have its day!

Another thing to think about, though, is how late Thanksgiving is this year: November 28. That leaves less than four weeks until Christmas. If you’re like me, you put A LOT of work into your Christmas decorations. To do all that work and enjoy it for less than a month is just sad, especially knowing it brings so much joy.

I will not offend Thanksgiving by decorating for Christmas. Thanksgiving doesn’t have feelings. I recently saw a post on Facebook that was going viral. It read: “How about instead of rushing from Halloween to Christmas, we use November as a month of THANKS to properly prepare our hearts to celebrate Christmas for what it is really about, the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

The comments were hilarious, in my opinion. So many people were saying, “Amen!” And someone even said, “So sad that you even had to say that to remind people.”

Wait… it’s sad that people “rush” into Christmas? What exactly is so sad about it? Thanksgiving doesn’t have feelings, it’s not sad if I put my tree up before it’s had its day. And I don’t know about you, but I try to be thankful year-round. I try to prepare my heart for whatever God has in store for me every single day! Decorating for Christmas has nothing to do with whether or not I’m thankful OR preparing my heart for the birth of Jesus.

I will say, most of the “haters” on social media do it in good fun. They just like razzing their friends about decorating for Christmas before Thanksgiving. And I used to be one of them, until I realized how much joy my Christmas decorations bring me each year. But some people are really nasty about it, and it baffles me. Especially those who act like Thanksgiving will be hurt and wounded by it.

Whether you’re a strict, “No Christmas until after Thanksgiving” type of person, or a “Bring on the Christmas cheer NOW!” type of person, you do you. And know that if you do decorate for Christmas before Turkey Day, Thanksgiving will not be offended. Thanksgiving doesn’t have feelings. So spread that Christmas cheer!

I’m a good person.

541402_10151287503856573_623532391_nI love how something secular can make you take inventory of your spiritual life. Clearly, that’s not why something secular was created, but God can certainly use it to make us think.

I’ve been binging on NBC’s “The Good Place” for the past few weeks, and while I love it for simple entertainment purposes, it’s also got me thinking about a lot.

For those who have never seen the show, here it is in a nutshell: There is no heaven and hell after you die, but instead The Good Place and The Bad Place. You get to The Good Place by having done a certain number of “good” things during your life on earth. But it’s deeper than that. You have to have done good things for the right reasons, not because you’re expecting something in return, or as they call it, “moral dessert.”

“The Good Place” has me thinking about why I do good things. Am I seriously wanting to help people, or is it all for the moral dessert, A.K.A. heaven?

A little background here, I’m a recovering people-pleaser. I believe being a people-pleaser is ingrained in some of us. I believe it has a lot to do with how we were raised, and it’s a tough cycle to break. The number one way I have been a people-pleaser is by making sure people know that I am good. I am a good person.

My first memory of feeling this way was around the time of my high school graduation in 1999. For my church’s “Graduation Sunday,” we had to fill out a form with our future plans. I would be attending Indiana Wesleyan University in the fall, and I remember thinking I’d maybe like to go on a mission trip.

That would look so great on the screen when they announce my name, I thought. This will show everyone what a good person I am.

Why was that important to me? Well, we had moved to a new city my freshman year of high school, and for three years I’d tried my best to be accepted and loved by that church. Nothing worked. I was always an outsider. I felt like that meant I wasn’t good enough. They didn’t believe I was a good person. Maybe saying I wanted to do mission work would do the trick.

Then, when I actually attended Indiana Wesleyan, some of my friends and I were a little  rebellious. Because of that, we were often made to feel like bad people. We had to prove ourselves to so many people that we weren’t bad, just a little misguided.

I allowed those experiences to impact me for decades. I always felt the need to prove to people that I was a good person, even during times I didn’t believe it myself. And even when literally no one in my life was questioning it, I had to make sure people knew: I am a good person.

But set aside my 20’s and early 30’s. What about now? “The Good Place” has made me take inventory of why I do “good things.” If I’m 100% honest with myself, and with you, here are the three main reasons I do good things:

I want to help in the name of Jesus, to be more Christ-like.
I’d like to think that most of the good things I do fall into this category. I am sometimes conflicted about sharing some of the “good” things I am a part of, because I don’t want to sound boastful. However, I think that we, as Christians, do need to share the things we are doing in Christ’s name. We live in a world were Christians are often seen as hateful and judgmental, so I think it’s important to show what we’re doing because of Jesus. We love, because He loved us first.

I want to help because help is needed.
This is when I see a need that I can meet, and I do it. Not for any recognition or feedback, but simply because it’s the right thing to do, and I want to do what’s right. It’s about other people, not myself.

I want people to know I’m a good person.
Not going to lie here. I still find myself slipping into this one, especially lately, having left working for a ministry. When people would ask me about leaving a ministry and starting a job at a school, I was sure to say, “But I’m going to find somewhere to volunteer, of course.” In other words, “Don’t forget, I’m still a good person even if I’m not working at a ministry.”

I am a good person. But the truth is, as long as God knows that, and I know that, there’s no need to prove it to anyone. The really good news is that unlike “The Good Place,” there is not a certain number of “good things” we have to do in order to make it to heaven. Just turn your life over to Christ, and He will help you be more like Him. And for all the right reasons.

“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1-2

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

Wounded. What now?

bandage-1235337_1920 Ouch.

Ever not realize how wounded you are from a situation until you’ve stepped away from it for awhile? Maybe it’s a year later, a month later, or even just a week later. But all of a sudden, it hits you, “I’m super hurt and super wounded.”

I’m not a patient person. When I want something, I want it immediately. Whether it’s a pedicure, buying a new book, or healing from something, I want it right away. Each of those things are possible to get immediately, except for healing.

Healing takes time. It’s so frustrating.

How I heal from situations, like the one I’m dealing with now, has certainly changed over the years. As a woman in my 20’s, I thought the only way to heal from anything was to party. Drunken nights out with friends were my go-to when I wanted to feel better. What’s interesting is that although maybe that did the trick for a few hours, afterwards I was still feeling wounded. The hurt never went away.

After my partying days were over, instead of healing through drinking, I began to avoid healing completely. I buried everything. If I didn’t have to think about the hurt and the wounds left on my heart, it was like it didn’t exist. Now I look back and see that ignoring my hurt was just as destructive as trying to drink my wounds away.

Someone once explained to me why we have to deal with our emotional wounds, comparing it to falling off your bike. Imagine riding your bike, falling off onto gravel, and landing on your knees. Not only does the skin on your knees tear and bleed, but you have tiny pieces of gravel in your knee. Naturally, the wound needs cleaned to properly heal. But what if you don’t clean it out and give it time? It simply won’t heal.

Not only that, but the next time you fall and become wounded on your knees, those tiny pieces of gravel from the last time you fell will come to the surface as well.

If you don’t take the time to emotionally heal in a healthy way, each emotional wound thereafter will bring up the previous wound. And that, my friends, is how we become an emotional mess.

I speak from experience.

And right now, I have to take my own advice. I have to take the time to work through this spiritual and moral injury I have suffered, and I have to give it time. And attention. As much as I want to burry it, as much as I want to just move on, I first have to clean out the wound and give it time to heal.

At this point, with this situation, I’m not even sure what that looks like, but I know God is the only one who can give me complete healing. I have to approach this with confidence and faith, not fear.

In Exodus, when Moses was leading the Israelites, they became very fearful of the Egyptians. Moses told them to chill out, and then said in Exodus 14:14, “The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still.”

Be still. What does that even mean? Does it mean not do anything? Not at all. But it does mean, “Chill out.” Trust God. Read His word. Talk to Him. Each of those things are a part of being “still.” God will handle the rest.

I am wounded. As the days pass, I’m finding out exactly how wounded I am. Fifteen years ago I would have turned to booze. Ten years ago I would have put a tiny bandaid on a wound that required surgery.

Now, as a 38-year-old woman, I choose healing. I am choosing to be “be still” and give my wounds the proper time and attention they need to heal.

“Embrace the difficult circumstances you find yourself in.
Allow God to mold you through the events He allows to enter your life.
This will make you flexible towards the will of God.
The events of life are like a furnace for the heart.
All your impurities are melted…
the intrusions that God sends you will no doubt upset your plans
and oppose all that you want.
But they will also chase you toward God.”
– Fenelon

A new job… again. Do I have itchy feet?

Mission“One thing I see on your resume here is that it kind of looks like you have itchy feet,” one of my interviewers said. “Can you explain your job moves from the past five years?”

I was waiting for this question, which was a very valid question. Not because I was worried about it, but because I was eager to answer. Within five years I had held three jobs, and now I was looking for another one. Take a glance at my resume and it would be easy to assume I had itchy feet.

But that’s not the case at all, and I explained to her why.

When I returned from Uganda in 2014, I needed a job. Any job. My employer from before I moved to Uganda was willing to take me back. I was facing medical issues from my time in Uganda, and I needed insurance immediately. I had no intentions of staying there.

Then, as my medical issues cleared up and I was able to work with a headhunter, I got my job at a local foundation. I loved my job at the foundation. I was very happy there! The pay was good, and I liked the people I worked with. I also loved that I was able to get involved as a volunteer at a nearby homeless ministry. Life was good.

But then, after working at the foundation for about ten months, an opening for a Director of Marketing & Communications became available at the homeless ministry. People were sending me the job opening left and right. It was a perfect fit AND at a ministry I loved dearly. I didn’t even know if I was qualified, but I interviewed, and I got the job.

I was there for three and a half years. Then, there were some changes in leadership, some changes in direction and vision, and I needed to go.

The woman who asked me if I had “itchy feet” said, “That all makes sense! Thank you!”

And it does make sense.

SJCHFThose who don’t know details might say I left my most recent job just because things got rough. When, little do they know, I’d been toying with the idea of leaving for over a year. It’s been rough for a long time. I wanted to hold on. I wanted to retire from that ministry. Without going into details, my heart and my conscience wouldn’t let me.

I prayed about it for many, many months, and I had no question that I had to go. God gave me the wisdom and strength I needed to part ways. I especially had to get the past the fear of, “What will people think if I switch jobs again?” and get over it. It’s my life, not theirs. And has my three jobs in five years kept me from getting another great job? Clearly not, as tomorrow I start a new one at a respected college preparatory school in town.

Honestly, it would have been easier to stay where I was. There’s comfort in what you know, even when you’re miserable. Even when you don’t agree with important choices that have been made. I think this is why so many people stay in jobs that make them miserable. It’s miserable, but it’s also comfortable.

If that’s you, I encourage you to step out in faith. At least see what’s out there. Yes, starting over with a new company and a new job is stressful, and there’s great fear of the unknown, but you only live once. Instead of complaining every day that you have a terrible job and work for a terrible company, get out!

Despite my explanations for three jobs in five years, some still might say I have itchy feet. That’s not my problem. We have one life to live, and I’m going to make the choices that help me live my life to the fullest.

My name is Natalie. I go to therapy.

psychology-531071_1920The stereotypes are endless.

Only messed up, crazy people need therapy.

Therapy will only screw you up more.

Therapy is just an excuse to blame your parents for everything.

The list goes on and on. For me, I am messed up. But I think everyone is, to a degree. Therapy has not screwed me up, it’s actually been very beneficial. And finally, it has not given me an excuse to blame my parents for everything. OK, maybe a few things, but not everything.

If you have never been to therapy, here are some things to consider:

Therapy doesn’t look like you imagine it does.
The word “therapy” often makes us think of a man or woman with a notebook, wearing glasses and frantically taking notes while the patient lies on a couch, stares at the ceiling, and talks for an hour. I’ve seen around five different therapists in my life (from living in different cities), and not once have I laid down on a couch. I’ve even seen a few therapists who don’t even write anything down while we meet.

Rooms for therapy are often very inviting and lit by a lamp and not harsh fluorescent lights. I’ve had multiple therapists who diffuse essential oils. They typically want you to feel relaxed and comfortable, so creating that type of atmosphere is important.

You will do most of the talking.
It’s interesting, to pay someone to sit there and listen, but it works. There’s a misconception that therapists will give you advice. However, therapy isn’t someone telling you what to do when you need direction. Instead, they will guide you in making the decision yourself. They will ask a lot of questions, and you will do most of the talking.

You will leave feeling refreshed.
Even on really bad days where I word vomit on my therapist about certain things and get really emotional, I leave feeling better. There’s something about telling a stranger your struggles that really feels like a release. It’s almost like a cleansing of toxic thoughts. Yes, therapy will bring up some ugly things you might not want to dig up, but you will still likely leave feeling a little bit better than when you went in, if you have the right therapist.

It’s OK to find a new therapist if you don’t click with your current one.
You HAVE to feel comfortable and trust your therapist. If you don’t, it will be a waste of time for both of you. I was seeing a therapist in November and December who did not make me feel comfortable. I left each session thinking, “That was a waste of time.” I finally made the decision to stop seeing her, and ended up finding someone who was a much better fit.

Therapy can be expensive, but it’s worth it.
Some employers have special benefits that include therapy, but it’s often only at one specific place. I tried this once and it was awful, as the therapist was a young kid just out of college who seemed to have no clue what he was doing. I found a therapist who is in my network, not free, but it was worth it. We join gyms, pay more money for organic food, and other things for our health, it’s OK to spend money on your mental health as well.

Therapy isn’t for everyone.
You might hate therapy, and that’s OK. I just hope you’ve given it a fair shot. Try at least two or three therapists before giving up on therapy completely. Then, you might come to the conclusion that therapy just isn’t for you, but I certainly hope you have other avenues to help your overall mental health.

Therapy doesn’t mean you don’t trust God.
I can’t stress this enough. Therapy doesn’t mean you don’t have faith or that you don’t trust God. It’s certainly not a “God replacement.” I’ve been fortunate to find a therapist who isn’t an advertised “Christian counselor,” but she IS a Christian, and she works faith into our sessions. Find what works for you, but don’t let anyone tell you that it’s wrong to be a Christian and go to therapy. For me, and I bet many others, therapy has only enhanced my relationship God. I allow Him to work through my therapist.

I’m a huge advocate for therapy, especially for people going through a tough time. Going to therapy really helped me make the decision to leave my current job. My therapist knew I was unhappy and facing a lot of stress-related health issues, and she helped me see that I wasn’t going to solve any of the issues at work. It was time to go. While she didn’t come right out and say that, she helped lead me to that conclusion.

If you’re considering going to therapy, please do. And don’t give up if you don’t find a good fit right away. Therapy should bring enlightenment and clarity to your life. There might be tough days and tough decisions to make, but in the end, you’ll feel so much better.

I’ll conclude with the verse I received at my very first therapy session, when I was a recent college graduate living in LaGrange, Georgia. It’s helped me in time of stress and anxiety:

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right,
whatever is pure, whatever is lovely,
whatever is admirable if anything is excellent or praiseworthy
think about such things.”
Philippians 4:8