ministry

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Gonna Be Worth It

Published October 31, 2018 by Dawn

The last two days, I have heard echoes of the conflict inside me from the mouth of a teenager and I have learned so much in speaking with him. I have ministered to him with many scriptures, because it’s easy to regurgitate scripture even when your heart is hurting. I have also shared my own stories of perseverance in the pain. I know too well the depths he’s drowning in.

“I don’t even know if I believe anymore. What’s the point in it? I mean, I want to but I just feel like everyone around me is having a great time with life and I am hurting. Nothing ever goes right, all joy is stolen from me right after it starts and I’m tired of it.”

Oh, boy! I said, “You seem to be in one of those moments where you’re like, ‘God! What are you doing in my life? You’re really hurting me!”

He nodded his head.

I shared with him some scriptures, starting with Psalms 72. He asked me to explain it to him. I told him that David prayed the same things. Everyone around him was prospering in life, and especially those who lived such wicked lives. David wondered at their peace and prosperity and asked, ‘What’s the point in keeping your commands, God, if I’m going to suffer so much in doing so?’

Then he went into the temple and prayed. He was reminded of the end; a time when all will reap what they sow and all that people have will blow away like dust and all that will remain is what has been done for the kingdom of God. I also mentioned that his belief in God “is not something you just walk away from because you are bitter. You can’t disown God after knowing Him as truth. You simply put up a wall of hatred and refuse to let him into your life. You lie to yourself because you feel betrayed.”

Why do we often feel betrayed? Here’s why: we haven’t properly read the Bible. Joel Osteen says God wants you healthy, wealthy and living your best life now, but that is not what the Bible says. We shouldn’t wonder at rejection, poverty, or any other suffering. Paul says we were destined for it (1 Thess. 3:3). He also tells us that Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered. He learned to say, “this hurts, but whatever you want.” I reminded this kiddo of the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus was so shaken by the suffering ahead that he prayed so fervently, he sweated blood. His prayer was that God let there be another way to redeem humanity. Jesus had shared so many times that this was his whole purpose in coming to earth, but in that moment, he really wanted to back out. “Father, if there be any other way, let this cup pass from me.”

It was a bitter cup. It would take all that he was capable of giving and all of the Spirit of God inside him to get through the agony of the next 24 hours of his life. The physical torture, the mental anguish, the final death. Sometimes, God takes us to the edge of ourselves and asks us to bring Him glory there. To do His will – drink the cup – in the worst moments of our pain.

This kiddo told me, “I’ve been suffering my whole life.” I simply said, “You know, me too. It’s never been easy. But God never said it would be. He told us to expect it. Jesus said, ‘If they rejected me, they’ll also reject you.’ You have something inside of you that no one wants to be confronted with because it testifies against their flesh (John 7:7). We’re no better, but the Spirit of God inside of us pours righteousness out on us and teaches us to live a different life than we can apart from Christ. People who don’t know Him can’t stand that.”

He started talking about doing good and being good as the whole purpose in all of this, i.e. the ticket he needed to get into heaven. I said, “No, the scriptures say that if you believe in your heart that Jesus is the son of God, and confess with your mouth that He was raised from the dead, you have citizenship in Heaven. But scripture also says that if you continue to live in sin after hearing this Word, you don’t know Jesus at all, and haven’t believed anything in your heart. You’ve just made a meaningless confession. It’s not truth in you (1 John 2:3-6). If you truly believe it, then you can’t disbelieve it just because you are suffering in life. That’s a lie based on bitter feelings. God did not ever promise us wonderful things this side of heaven. He actually told us we would suffer and be rejected, just like Jesus. Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered (Hebrews 5:8-9), and I know that sometimes, God teaches us obedience through our suffering as well. Also, we go through things just so that He can make us more like Christ. And Christ’s main goal, aside from dying as our substitute, was to bring glory to God.”

I watched the anguish melt from his face and tears form in his eyes and I knew he had taken a hold of hope again. As the devil continuously assaulted me over the last few days, I kept looking up to find the silver lining and rejecting the roots of bitterness that were trying to take hold of me again and again. I told God how faithful He is and how grateful I am to know Him and be a part of His plan, even though it hurts a lot. I can’t wait to get to heaven and see Christ face-to-face and feel the immediate release of anxiety when Jesus wraps His loving arms around me and says, “Well done.” I’ll sweat for that. I’ll take the blows and hand back mercy and forgiveness. I’ll die to self so Jesus can live through me. When these feelings overwhelm me, I’ll go to Him and be renewed and restored, and comforted, so I can comfort others with the comfort I have received (2 Cor. 1:4). It’s gonna be worth it!  

 

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Maybe She’s Born with it … Or Maybe it’s Jesus

Published September 6, 2018 by Dawn

We all know Wal-Mart can become kind of a monopoly in terms of where we shop, if we aren’t careful. It’s so easy to take that one-stop shop instead of spending half a day shopping around for things. I mean, unless you are a shopper. I am not. I hate it. I don’t like crowds, or materialistic vibes, or the depths of vanity that try to manipulate me into buying things I don’t need. I bristle at the idea of spending money on frivolous and unnecessary purchases. I also have a pretty deep rut I’m stuck in regarding most things that I like. Just last month, I spent half an hour trying to choose a new mascara because Wal-Mart did what Wal-Mart always does: the moment I finally find something I like, Wal-Mart discontinues stocking it.

R.I.P. Covergirl Exact Eyelights Mascara. I loved you more than you’ll ever know.

There I stood, eyes wide in shock and befuddlement. There are several brands, and then a gazillion options within each brand! Although I liked the Exact Eyelights Mascara, I didn’t like another tube Covergirl had to offer, so the field was wide open as to what brand I was even going to choose. I paced back and forth through two separate aisles F-O-R-E-V-E-R, reading every last package trying to figure out whether I wanted Blackest Black or Midnight. Then I had to ask myself, “Do I trust this waterproof brand to come off with soap, or will I have to scrub my eyelashes with a metal scouring pad to chip it off?” Then I found something called “primer” and I wondered how necessary that was to a good experience with mascara, in general.

Right before I succumbed to feelings of hopeless frustration, a friendly Wal-Mart employee walked up to stock right next to me and I turned toward her in desperation. She took in the sight of a haggard female reminiscent of Jack Nicholson in The Shining and gave me a hesitant, customer service smile. I melted into normalcy a little and said, “Can you help me?” Our eyes met and …

Her eyelashes were incredible!

There were no clumps, no flakes on her face, no black smudges beneath her lower lashes. Every eyelash was perfectly separated from the others, long and blackest black. I swallowed my anxiety while tears of relief leaked down my cheeks. “What mascara are you wearing?”

She walked over to it, pulled it down and began explaining that, although it’s slightly more expensive than most that Wal-Mart has to offer, it’s the best she’s found. The package had a white tube and a rose gold tube. The white one was primer, and she explained how to use it and why it was a good purchase in general. She had no idea I was already sold on this product just because I saw her wearing it, so she prattled on a bit before handing the mascara over to me. I thanked her profusely and grabbed a second one for my daughter. I should have grabbed a few more because we all know it might be the last time I see it at Wal-Mart, but for now, I have the BEST mascara in the world.

Seriously.

This is a lot like how it is when others come to us searching for something. They come desperate. Empty. Bewildered. They’ve no doubt been searching for a while – in vain – for something to satisfy their deepest needs and finally, our worlds collide, and people see that we have what they need so desperately.

Jesus.

People don’t come to Jesus because of our testimony. Our testimony helps us overcome. It’s a reminder for those hard times, so that we will keep going with confidence that the God who got us through will do it again. That’s what scripture says; “They triumphed over him [Satan] by the blood of the lamb and by the Word of their testimony” (Revelation 12:11). Our testimony creates a “Cool story, bro” moment. People like to hear it, and it might give them something to think about or crave in their own lives. They might try Jesus out with hesitancy based on our testimony, unsure if that’s what they want and more prone to walk away in the trying times when their lives don’t fit the narrative we’ve created. But do you know what makes people sell out to our God? Seeing us with God all over us. When we walk, talk and act like Jesus is alive on the inside of us, we erase every measure of doubt in regards to His goodness. When people can look at us and see the effects of “Christ in me,” they will come to Him because the difference in our lives is unmistakable and beautiful and everything they wish they had. Peace, joy, love, kindness, patience, self-control. All the fruits of the Spirit of God, which cannot be emulated. They can only be purchased by Jesus and given to us in exchange for our acknowledgement and repentance. Wear Jesus, friends, and be a walking billboard for the God you serve!

 

A Single Heartcry

Published August 27, 2018 by Dawn

A friend of mine very recently got engaged. She’ll marry into a family, with children, and reap an abundance as God promised her many years ago. The reactions have been nothing but gracious and loving; some have proclaimed God’s goodness, others His faithfulness, and still others, His miraculous abilities. Thank God, she’s about to be married!

I’m super excited for her. I’ve shared her secret anguish, holding onto a promise for so long. Having an unfulfilled desire and having to lean into God in weak moments of despair. Biting the lip and fighting back tears while others rejoice at God’s faithfulness at the altar of matrimony. Always wearing the bridesmaid’s dress and dying inside. I’ve lived there for a long time myself.

I stood in the kitchen with my 15-year-old daughter last night, making burgers and talking about heart longings. She asked me, “Why does the church make marriage seem like the ultimate thing?” I knew exactly what she was asking, even before she poured it out for discussion: why is marriage such a big deal to the church? Why do you only get validated in the church when someone’s ringed you up? Why are people so impressed by that ultimate validation of worthiness in another’s eyes?

I’ve recently been invited to join a singles’ group online, which I swore I would never do, but suddenly, it seemed like a community of believers I wanted to be a part of. They get me. The silent despair. The loneliness. The pressing in. The feeling of isolation, and being overlooked all the time. I joined and found that most of us feel this deep pain because we have fed into the lie that marriage makes us complete. That when someone else chooses us over all others, it’s because finally, there’s something about us worth choosing.

In response to the news, many have exclaimed, “It’s such a miracle!” I know that my friend will agree that God has been working miracles in her life through all her sojourn of singleness. She gave her singleness to God and He used it to the fullest. He took her places she might never have been as a married woman and mother, and used her in the lives of many children while her heart pined to hold a child of her own making. The miracles didn’t start with this one, church!

She gave her time to God and He blessed her with His presence. She was never alone. Just saddled with a feeling of loneliness because Satan knows it’s an effective way to derail a single Christian. That woman became strong in solitude, held onto God in desperation and got to know her Savior as her Husband and Friend. She’s been strengthened to know where her help comes from, should her earthly husband fail her. She’s held the hand of Jesus in dark places and He’s brought her out.

Someone else proclaimed, “God is so good!” Hadn’t He always been good? Wasn’t He good even in the trying times? Have we learned nothing from Job? God was good to this woman despite her suffering. He was good to her despite the times she lashed out in frustration during the wait. He continually did good for her, even if it didn’t feel good at the time. She’ll agree that although the wait being over is the best feeling in the world, God has always been good to her.

We have to stop glorifying blessings, Church. We need to start glorifying God. Despite our experiences, God is good. He’s always been good. He is miraculous, working in ways we can’t even perceive. There’s a world out there that’s not experiencing only wonderful things. People are broken. They need to know that it’s ok if God is the only one who sees you or calls you worthy. We do a disservice to the lost and dying world around us if we only acknowledge the greatness of God in our blessings. Wouldn’t they love to be held in the pain? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they knew how to lean into God while they suffer? Isn’t this of great worth in our walks with God? Shouldn’t we tell them? Shouldn’t we be proclaiming God’s goodness while the world comes down around us? If we can’t worship while we suffer, we’re in a relationship with God’s hands, and not Himself. Doesn’t He deserve more of us than that?

This is my #sorrynotsorry moment: we especially have to stop glorifying marriage as the ultimate “thing” in life. Especially in ministry. God used many single people in the Bible. They were not less than and they were not used less. God has given some a ministry of marriage and others a ministry of singleness. Both are precious in His sight and He can use either situation equally effectively. The church is hurting single people, it’s true. But God is holding them. For this, we can praise Him in our suffering, thanking Him that all this pain makes us cling to Him.

Be encouraged, single friends, you are being held by the Maker of Heaven and Earth. He knows your name. He’s pressed into your heartbeat and that kind of validation trumps any eye-catching moment here on Earth.

How to Fall From Grace

Published July 9, 2018 by Dawn

It turns out a sense of humor is something of the Divine. God’s got jokes. Don’t believe me? Listen to this …

Keep in mind that what I am about to tell you happened in a matter of nanoseconds. All of it. It was rather instantaneous, which makes it even more comical. It’d use the word “impactful” but that’s a pun that hurts a little. You’ll see why …

I was less than two minutes into my run this morning when it happened. I looked up to read the sermon sign at this church along my route: “How to Fall from Grace.” My sense of comical irony kicked in as I thought to myself, “Who would want to know how to fall from grace?”

BAM! The sidewalk took me for a kiss out of nowhere. I fell hard … right in front of the church sign. Stupid comical irony … wasn’t dead yet. I looked up after feeling the hurt and laughed out loud. God had put the smack-down on my sense of humor to remind me that falling from grace is no laughing matter. Lesson learned?

No one in their right mind plans a fall. Falling hurts. It also tears you up a little (or a lot, depending on how far you fall). The aftermath of falling is open wounds, constant pain and a desperate need to heal a bit. Thankfully, I am just a little scuffed up. My hands, wrists and right knee took the fall and I’ll be better in no time.

Sometimes, we just get tripped up in life. Little did I know there was an uneven bit of sidewalk that I’ve never had a problem with until today. I didn’t even know it was there! Likewise, there are pitfalls in life we don’t see coming because we aren’t paying attention, or we aren’t expecting them. We get tripped up because Satan sets a snare and we step into it just the right way to cause a fall. I have stepped over that part of the sidewalk and avoided that fall for several years but today was the day it took me down. It’s like that when Satan sets us up. That’s why we have to be vigilant while running this race. Because he’s set snares everywhere.

The fall might hurt, but Satan isn’t victorious because we fall. He’s only victorious if we turn away or stop pursuing God after the fall. In spite of the pain, we have to get up and keep going. I did that this morning, which is so abnormal for me. I like my couch and a hot tea, and since I was two-tenths of a mile into a two-and-a-half mile run, turning around would have made perfect sense. I could have nursed my wounds, taken it easy, and excused myself from working out. But it was just a fall! I poured a little water over my palms to clean the dirt and blood off, put my earbud back in and kept going. I had to keep pressing on toward the mark, and so do you, friend. Take time to rest and heal, but get back up and keep moving forward in your walk with God. Satan is only victorious if you quit!

 

Father of Promise

Published June 27, 2018 by Dawn

There must have been many nights, Sarah cried herself to sleep, feeling the frailty of her once-strong body as youth slowly died away. Her God had made a promise, but life had gone on just as barren as it always had been. She lived in a silent, seething bitterness watching Ishmael grow up under the arms of his father. She endured the daily sneers of her rival, whose womb had not betrayed her husband. Sarah knew she was Abraham’s beloved. She felt like his curse. The one thing she felt gave worth to her as a wife was motherhood, and she had been denied that by the Maker of Heaven and Earth.

How many nights had they laid down, his arms wrapped delicately around her, his face pressed into her ear, whispering the hope and faith of a man who was confident about his God. Sarah’s eyes traced the lines of the canopy drapery, tears rolling down her cheek and her throat catching sobs before they reached his ears. He smiled, sure of his future. She cried, sure of her failure. Bitterness nestled in her bosom, growing like thorns and sickening the garden of her heart. There had never been a tale of resurrection before, so when dreams died then, they simply were no more. And Sarah’s dreams had died.

Long after Sarah had abandoned all hope, “ … the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised.”

I read this the other morning after entertaining thoughts all the way to work that probably resembled Sarah’s during her barrenness. Thoughts about broken promises and a silent God. Thoughts about endless warfare and abandonment. Thoughts about faith weakened by time and circumstances, and a need ripened past the harvest.

The Holy Spirit tried to reach me through the radio with “Who You Say I Am” by Hillsong and “Overcomer” by Mandisa. I arrived with just enough peace to not cry in front of my students or coworkers. Then I read this in Genesis and I was stirred a little more, considering God’s timing and how sometimes, He pushes us past the breaking point and then holds all the broken pieces while we struggle to accept things that cause us pain without abandoning our faith.

This thing between Sarah and God kept turning over and over in my mind, accumulating other truths like a snowball. A girl in my class reading her bible in her freetime reminded me that there’s a next generation after me. A memory of a broken child just wanting her Father, and not just his money, reminding me that God is my Father and our relationship is about more than blessings and goodness. Finally, it all came together into this one magnificent, chain-breaking truth: Sarah’s story was the first resurrection story. A dead dream coming to life again after years of turmoil. That story has spoken to generations after, like all these things in our lives might one day reach someone else who hasn’t even gotten here yet. And in the midst of it all is a Father who wants us to know that He is here for more than blessings. He’s here for the highs and lows. To hold his child and comfort him or her. To bless, but with a purpose and a timing set by wisdom and not emotion or desire. A Father who’s promises are yes and amen, and who is not a man so that He should lie.

Riding in the Car with Teens

Published June 12, 2018 by Dawn

Do you know what I love about riding the in the car with teenagers? No, this isn’t a rhetorical question … I really do love the fact that they are stuck just a few feet from me. If the ride is long enough, the radio sputters out and dies to all the radio stations we know and love, and frustration kicks it off in a huff. If it’s not long enough, I resort to the buttons on the back of my steering wheel to thoroughly frustrate that kiddo until the radio no longer contends with me. Then, I have their full attention! I mean, of course there’s the cell phone that seems forever stuck to their face, but I can handle that with a smile and a quip about grounding until, viola! I have his or her full attention. With luck, it doesn’t take long for a kiddo to remember how fond he or she used to be of having endless conversations with me and if the grudge doesn’t have a firm grip, we’re usually talking shortly thereafter.

My son was stuck in the car with me for a half an hour yesterday, and the radio knew it’s place so we were engulfed in a very meaningful discussion about teenage things that weigh heavy on his heart. Why can’t he do whatever he wants? Why am I always telling him what to do? Why can’t I just leave him alone? I try to make my kids feel heard, so I didn’t just throw out all the parental clichés, I really dug deep and tried to explain things from my heart, from scripture, and from all the psychology and parenting books I have consumed over the years. He sat next to me and thoughtfully picked through my answers looking for holes and justifying his disagreements with a mixture of childish reasoning and adolescent maturity.

Our conversation ran the gamut of experiences, arguments and emotions. Finally, we arrived at the counselor’s place and he got out of the car steaming. Together, we went inside and for the next hour, I sat in awe while the counselor taught him through very practical means, to reason through those same questions himself until he had arrived at the same conclusion I had offered with my motherly wisdom just a while before. He got in the car after his appointment and said, “Mom, she called you. I know she did. How else would she have known to talk about all that?”

It was easy to exculpate myself. He had started all the conversations on the way down and I hadn’t talked to anyone one the phone in the car! I shook my head and said, “No, son. When God wants to talk to you and you won’t get on your knees before Him, He just uses the people around you.” The best part is that this woman professes to be agnostic, and she was used by the Lord just the same. God is no respecter of person, and when He wants to teach us or guide us in something, He doesn’t have to ask someone to be His vessel. He will move heaven and earth for His children. It was such a powerful reminder to my son that God is aware of his searching heart and is willing to meet him where he is and lead him out of the darkness and confusion. What a wonderful moment to watch his Heavenly Father step in!

I shared this to encourage you. You might be a parent desperately praying that God will get ahold of your kiddo. I am with you! Don’t give in to fear because God is faithful to His promises. I kept reminding the Lord of scriptures He has given me over my children. “God, you told me, ‘I will contend with those who contend with you and your children I will save.’ You said that when we raise them up in the way they should go, when they are old they won’t depart from it. I see him being led away with anger and the enemy’s lies and I’m terrified right now!  I’ve told my son that you said you would never leave us or forsake us but he feels abandoned and ignored by you.” I’ve cried countless hours watching my child pull away from me and from his faith. It’s a horrible experience. Don’t give up! Keep praying and pressing in, reminding God of His promises and praising Him for His faithfulness. Remember watching your child’s first steps? Rushing in when he or she seemed a little unstable, your heart in your chest and your hands out ready to catch your precious treasure? This is your child learning to stand on his or her own spiritually. It’s seems like endless waves of anxiety and uncertainty. Your heart finds permanent lodging in your throat. But your Father – your child’s Father – He’s got this.

You might also be that child. That wandering child of God. That scared kiddo wishing the world made sense and that someone would step into the mess and pull you out of it. I wish I could tell you in good faith that God will rescue you, but sometimes He doesn’t. Sometimes, you’re Jonah in the belly of the whale and that fish will spit you out when God’s work is accomplished in it. Sometimes you’re Shadrack, Michek and Abednego (how to spell those names, though …) in the fiery furnace and instead of keeping you from the fire, God is walking with you in it. Sometimes you are Paul, beaten, captive, shipwrecked, snake-bitten and still God keeps you steadfastly on the way to fulfilling all that He has purposed. Don’t turn away from your faith just because it’s small or brittle. Let the Holy Spirit strengthen it as you endure. Lean into God. Learn to hear His heart. Learn to let go of control and depend on Him. Learn to be led. Be comforted. Get real with God and let Him be real with you. It’s the most precious relationship a person can have and it is worth all that hell uses to deter you with. Trust your Father, child. He loves you more than you could ever know.

Published April 26, 2018 by Dawn

“God met me there tonight, Mom. Can I tell you about it?”

 

My daughter got in the car excited after church tonight. It was a nice change, because we’ve all been weary lately. The battle has been so intense … and so daily.

 

As her youth leader, I would love to say I had something to do with this. I guess in a way, I might have had a small part. You see, last week, I took a hard look at myself in relation to my kids’ relationships with God and each other and realized something very painful: in the past, I had warned other parents that their direct involvement in youth meetings sometimes hinders their kiddos from partaking in what God puts before them. Only I’m the youth leader … and I have two teens … and this applies to my family too. I humbly asked a few other youth leaders what their take on the matter was, and the Holy Spirit confirmed through a meeting of the minds that I was onto something. Therefore, I was responsible to act.

 

I went home that night and told my kiddos that I would like for them to consider attending another youth group on Wednesday nights. Our group currently meets Sunday mornings, and so Wednesdays, they join the Bible study with the adults. They both find themselves in over their heads in that group, and so I thought it would be a good idea if they were ministered to by another youth leader, on their level. She picked one and he picked another. First night of this experiment was tonight, and I have to say I am ecstatic about the results thus far.

 

My beautiful daughter climbed into the back seat with a beaming smile and wet eyes. She was exuberant. I hadn’t seen that in such a long time. My daughter has been loosely holding onto sanity and trying in her own strength to be the glue that holds everyone together. She’s the strongest of the three of us, for sure, and I have depended on her strength a lot lately. But she’s been quietly wearing down and I could see it, but I didn’t know how to fix this for her. Thank God, He had a plan.

 

She continued, telling me about how God pursued during the ministry. Each speaker said something deep, that called out to deep in her, and finally, they were given the opportunity to stand up to show their desire to be all for God. But she thought, “I’m new. It’s my first day. I’m not standing up.” She said she prayed at her seat, all the – and I quote – “Crap you usually say that’s rehearsed and meaningless.” I couldn’t have described it better. Then someone stood up and admitted that he felt not everyone who was committed had professed it with their actions. He asked them again to stand. More did, but not her. She still did not want to be the newbie falling apart in front of everyone. She just kept her head down and continued her superficial prayer, but tears were flowing now, her shoulders shaking and sobs taking over her body.” Then, someone came.”

 

She said it just like that, and started crying again. They asked her some deep questions. More of that deep calling out to deep that crumbled the ever-hardening façade, and just like that, she fell into the arms of her savior and admitted her struggle and need. She said, “I didn’t even know it but more were coming and praying, and I can’t … Mom, it’s just indescribable. This all sounds so cheesy when I try to tell you about it. God met me there tonight, and when I wasn’t going to come to Him, He came to me.”

 

I came undone. Thank you, Lord, for being her great Father. Thank you for showing my lovely daughter your loving arms and healing her. Thank you for the wisdom of friends that brought her to your feet. Thank you for divorcing me from pride and making this moment possible. You are truly magnificent and so worthy of my adoration.

 

My daughter longed for the day she could be a part of my youth group, but now, she and I both realize her need to be ministered to by others outside our daily situation. Trust me, I preach it at home. They hear it and I think my kiddos tune me out a lot. It’s important for kids to grow in Christ, and sometimes, we need to let someone else come in and plant the seeds. I believe this is both natural and necessary. If we could lay down our pride and admit we need each other, the church would be a much healthier, much more effective body.