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Aspiring to be a Hero: Lessons of Great Women and Men (Part 1 of 2)

Air Date 02/23/2017

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In a discussion based on his books 7 Women and 7 Men, Eric Metaxas offers an inspiring look at several key people from history, emphasizing how their faith helped them to overcome great obstacles and positively impact the world. (Part 1 of 2)

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Episode Transcript



Eric Metaxas: In our culture, we raise up fake heroes. We raise up anti-heroes. We raise up villains. We've lost the sense of the heroic. And in my mind, that is deeply tragic for the culture. If you do not give kids especially, but everybody, all of us, we need this, but kids especially need heroes

End of Teaser

John Fuller: Eric Metaxas joins us today on "Focus on the Family" and he has some fascinating insights about some of the greatest women in history. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.

Jim Daly: John, last year we had Eric Metaxas as a guest on his two books 7 Men and 7 Women. And that program, John, was so that it aired in our Best of 2016 collection. And we thought we would come back and explore more of the figures and the characters that Eric highlighted in those works.

John: We could only touch on just a few of the seven in each of those books and so, I'm really glad we can come back to them, Jim.


Jim: Yeah and we're gonna do that again today. We're gonna start with three more of the women in his book, 7 Women and Eric, it's great to have you back at Focus on the Family.

Eric: Well, I'm thrilled to be back. Thank you.

Jim: Now you're hosting us. We're in New York City taping this.

Eric: Yeah, we're in beautiful midtown (Chuckling) New York City.

Jim: Now we're waitin' for some pizza. What's New York known for here? (Laughter)

Eric: Yeah, pizza'll be here any minute, yeah. (Laughter)

Jim: What is the food of New York? I guess it's everything, huh?

Eric: The food of New York is love. (Laughter) I don't know what's the food of New York. (Laughter) Actually pizza's a big one (Laughter). The hot dogs you get on the street are great. Those are the cheap ones, but of course, bagels, lox and cream cheese, you know, on a Sunday morning.

Jim: That's the key, huh?

Eric: Yeah, Sunday morning when you don't go to church and you just read The New York Times and take in the liberal point of view, which is the secular point of view, you don't need to go to church. You have your bagel. You have your lox. (Laughter) But then you say, "What have I done? I'm going to the evening service." (Laughter)

Jim: (Chuckling) Okay, Hey, let's move to the content. You have really become known as a biographer. You did Bonhoeffer and you did other biographies.

Eric: Well, yeah, I did the Wilberforce biography, Amazing Grace. I did the Bonhoeffer book, which is the big one. But then I've done these two books of biographies: 7 Men and 7 Women are biographies, but they're seven shorter biographies for people who are intimidated by maybe a long book and they say, "I just want to read, you know, 20 pages on so-and-so and that's about enough really.

Jim: Well, yeah and my question is really, what draws you to the hero/heroine kind of person?

Eric: Well, in the beginning absolutely nothing except that I thought, hey, what a great idea to write about so and so. But then in the course of writing about Wilberforce and in the course of writing about Bonhoeffer, it dawned on me that what I'm doing is, I'm holding up a picture of something really beautiful and true and noble and heroic and we don't have a lot of that in our culture.

Jim: That's so true.

Eric: In our culture, we raise up fake heroes. We raise up anti-heroes. We raise up villains. We've lost the sense of the heroic. And in my mind, that is deeply tragic for the culture. If you do not give kids especially, but everybody, all of us, we need this, but kids especially need heroes.

And sometimes you get Christians, they get all theological, but Jesus is my only Hero. That's ridiculous. Jesus Himself would say, "I'm perfect, but there are plenty people out there that are admirable and beautiful." Are they sinless and perfect? No, but you've gotta know the difference between a Mother Teresa and a Joseph Stalin.

If you start saying, oh, well, they're all sinners, so we can't have a conversation about their character, that's pure foolishness. We know that we're all saved by grace alone, but we do need to talk about character. There's a time to say, what that man did was noble and heroic and I hope I could do what he did. I think of our friend, Chuck Colson and people don't know what he did. We need to remind ourselves of what they did and what they went through because it inspires us directly.

I know that people come up to me and say that from reading these stories, it has affected them.

Jim: That's the goal.

Eric: And I think, well, that's what happens when you bump into somebody who's done something beautiful and noble and true, you want to emulate it.

Jim: Yeah, let's start painting that picture. Let's start with Joan of Arc. A lot of people may not even know really who Joan of Arc was.

Eric: She was Noah's wife. (Laughter)

Jim: Yeah, right. (Laughter)

Eric: No, some people have said like I'm just takin' a guess, but (Laughter) I think it was Noah's wife, right? (Laughter)

Jim: See, John, I told you that wasn't right.

John: That wasn't what was in the book. (Laughter)

Eric: No, (Laughter) Joan of Arc is one of the strangest figures from history and she's the first woman. My 7 Women book, they're all in chronological order, same thing with the 7 Men book and it's a pretty subjective list. I mean, anybody would tell you they could think of other people who should be in that book.

Jim: Sure.

Eric: But I said, look, it's not about picking a perfect list. It's picking a list, the best I can do to pick seven women, in this case, seven women. Um …

Jim: But to paint that picture, Joan of Arc, when did she live?

Eric: Well, I was gonna say, so you think a lot of people don't even know about Joan of Arc. She lived in the1400's and her story is really bizarre. She was a farm girl. Now I don't mean a farm girl like when they talk about Martin Luther. I'm writing about Martin Luther now. They say that, oh, he was the son of a miner. No, no, no. That's like saying Jimmy Carter was a peanut farmer.

You know, these people were businessmen. They were sophisticated, but they kind of humbly say, "Oh, I was a farmer" or something. This woman really and truly was a peasant, the daughter of a farmer. She smelled like the farm. She grew up on a farm. She was a humble, simple, uneducated girl, but she and her family in the 1400's were pious. They loved God. They went to church almost every day. They took it seriously.

And something happened to this young girl and sometimes in history you're prepared for it when you read about the family, like with Bonhoeffer. You say, well, we know that, that family was gonna produce some amazing people. When you look at the family of Joan of Arc, you don't get that picture. These are humble people living on a farm in a little village in the middle of nowhere—

Jim: In France.

Eric: --in France. So she's Jean d'Arc. We say "Joan of Arc," but so, that's a little village, Arc in France. And God spoke to this woman. She was very holy, very pious. She prayed and she heard voices.

Now a lot of people say, wait a minute. Hold on. Now what do you mean, she heard voices? Is that biblical? What are we talkin' about here? Well, long story short, you know, you have to have discernment to say, was she crazy? Was she consorting with demons? Or were these voices from heaven?

But it's my estimation and the estimation of most of history that in fact, she was hearing from God and the humility, the fruit in her life, that's what tells me. It's an incredible humility, incredible holiness.

Jim: She was a girl really. You said a woman, but she's a teenager.

Eric: She was basically, yeah, she's a teenager at this point and then the craziest thing happens. I mean, again, you have to just go with this and when you read the chapter you'll get the details. But at that time France was in a war with England and it was just horrible. It's just horrible.

And God spoke to her about restoring the French king and about leading the armies of France. Now try to imagine a kid, a 16-year-old girl. She knows God is speaking to her. Now if you know God is speaking to you, you really know it. You're not thinking, yeah, I think the Lord is leading me to wear that jacket and that tie.

Jim: Right, you either know it or you don't. Yeah.

Eric: No, no, no. We're talkin' about God Almighty speaking to you about something so deep and powerful and historical that you're basically crazy. You're basically gonna say, "Look, I don't care if I die. God is speaking to me. I'm going to talk to the King of France. I'm gonna talk to the military leaders. I'm gonna tell them God has called me to lead France in this thing." You know, it's one of those things that unless you know all the details and you have some real faith, it just sounds like a crazy story.

Jim: And what happened? Where did she go off to?

Eric: Well, this is the craziest thing of all, is that France was so on the ropes with England at that point, it was kinda like a "What do you have to lose" moment, right? That the French, first of all, they grilled her and grilled her. And of course, they didn't take her seriously. I mean, she smelled of the farm and she did not speak the language of the nobles.

But she walked into the room and was able to say things. God said this to me. And they knew for example that there was no way she could know what she said. And this is how the prophetic operates, right, that you know, you have to test spirits and say, like okay, if this person, you know, if you tell me something about myself, you know, is that sorcery or is that God?

So, they grilled her. They had ecclesiastical figures grilling her to try to understand, because can you imagine if you are failing in a war. You're miserable. You're on the ropes and somebody comes to you and says, "God has told me to tell you this."

Jim: A teenage girl, no less.

Eric: You want to know, first of all, you kinda would like to believe it's true, but you're not gonna believe it's true unless somehow God convinces you. But in the end, they were convinced enough that they allowed her some, you know, ability to lead an army to whatever.

And God would say to her, "You're going to win this battle in this way." I mean, again, I know that there are a lot of believers that when they hear this, they go, look, I don't buy into this stuff. I'm a secessionist; that just sounds like crazy stuff to me and I'm walkin' away.

But when you read the details, when I read the details, I said this is at least astounding enough that you should get into it a little more deeply and see what you think. Because the bottom line is, that she would say these things and then implausibly, this 16-, 17-year-old girl was leading the armies of France to victory in a war that they'd been losing for decades. It's the craziest thing, except we're not talking about Christian history. We're talking about history.

And so, it's one of the weirdest tales from history, but the bottom line is, God spoke through this woman in an extraordinary way and I think the proof of the whole thing is that the church in the end and the English so despised her, that they trumped up a case against her as a heretic, as a sorcerer, whatever it is and they burned her at the stake. We all know, Joan of Arc died. She was burnt at the stake.

And when you read the details of that, you just want to weep, because you get a picture of a so many martyrs [who] were killed over the centuries. And when you look at the story of a real martyr and when you have the transcript, strangely we have the actual transcripts from the law court of the 15th century. And they're writing about what was said.

And when you read it, you just want to weep, because you realize this was a woman following Jesus. It's clear as a bell and even when she died, there's a holiness that was there and it's kind of incredible.

After she dies, it became pretty clear to the people who had put her to death that a mistake had been made. And the person who read the charge was himself condemned as a heretic. He had already died. But it's one of these cases where justice in the end actually did prevail and the church condemned the leader who had led this fake trial against this holy woman of God.

It's definitely the strangest story in my book, 7 Women, but it's something that I think it's good, 'cause it challenges us in our faith to think a little bit out of a box.

John: And Eric Metaxas has written this book, 7 Women and the Secret of Their Greatness. And you can find out more about that book at

Eric, you've got a daughter, so when she encounters that story, is she inspired or I can picture a lot of kids just sayin', "I can never be that, so why even try?"

Eric: Well, I honestly think that people when they hear you talk about these things, they have that initial reaction. But when they actually read it, the opposite happens. The story takes over and touches your heart and you don't feel like, oh, gosh, I could never be like that. On the contrary, something … because look, we're made in the image of God. We're made to respond to this.

And the Lord gives us examples whether it's examples in our own family or people we know or it's somebody like this in a book. When you encounter a noble life, a life given over to a higher purpose, that God puts something inside you because you're made in God's image, respond. You can't even help it.

Jim: Hm.

Eric: And I think that that's what happens over and over and over again. And that's why I feel like we've gotta expose our kids and our adults, me, everybody, you guys. We need to be exposed to this, because the toxicity of our culture and the negativity, when you see something beautiful and true and good, God created you to respond and that's the point of these books.

Jim: Eric, let's go to another figure, a more recent figure actually—Corrie ten Boom.

Eric: Oh, man.

Jim: Many Christian listeners will be aware of her, because that was a World War II story.

Eric: Yeah.

Jim: Fill in the blanks there. Who is she? What did she and her family do to help save so many Jews in World War II?

Eric: She's another one of these characters, you know, you just thank the Lord that He allows us to get to hear these stories. This was a woman, a Dutch woman obviously with a name like Corrie ten Boom. And she was raised as a Christian, just a generally amazing woman to begin with.

But there's a weird historical fact that I discovered. Every now and again when I'm writing these stories, I find these things and I go, why didn't anybody else write about this, 'cause this is so weird and interesting?

Her family in Holland, in Amsterdam, had a thing for the Jews. They were, you know, serious Christians, but even going back deep into the 19th century, they had a thing for reaching out to Jews.

Jim: Huh.

Eric: And I thought that's so cool. And they had a Bible study about the Jewish people in the 19th century. So, fast forward 100 years later. The Jews are being persecuted and this holy woman and her family said, as believers just like Bonhoeffer, just like a number of Christians, they said, we've got to do something. We've got to hide them.

So, they hid Jews in their house, definitely at the cost of their own lives. I mean, a number of them died as a result of doing this. But they hid them in a room in their house and they basically were fearless. They said, we're gonna serve God heroically. It's what He's called us to do. It's so beautiful when you see the heroism and the joy. These are not dour Christians. They are joyful Christians.

And they saved many, many Jewish lives. It's absolutely amazing. And the second part of the story really, there's movie called The Hiding Place, which I recommend highly. There was even a sequel done very recently.

And it tells the story of this hiding place in the house, this small place where they would hide the Jews. And then it tells the story of how finally the Nazi's caught up with them and put them in concentration camps. Women went to Ravensbruck. Corrie's sister eventually died, but if you think Corrie ten Boom, this is what's so humbling, we think of Corrie ten Boom as this giant of the faith, but she's a midget compared to her sister, who is such a giant of the faith that all of us think, oh, my gosh. Her sister was such an inspiration to Corrie, right. So, it's puts things in perspective if you think Corrie's amazing.

Jim: And she was an older sister.

Eric: It was an older sister, but this is the kind of faith [of] the older sister who died. She had the kind of faith that this is what she said. They would do Bible studies. Now imagine in the stinking barracks where they're sleeping on rotting straw with lice, okay. And her sister, they're reading through the Scriptures and it says I don't know the reference. You guys probably will, about, "Thank God for everything. Thank God in all things."

Jim: Uh-hm.

Eric: And her sister had the kind of faith where she said, "Corrie, we need to thank the Lord for these bed bugs and for these lice." And Corrie's like, "Listen, I believe in the Scripture, but come on; are you kidding me? We're supposed to thank the Lord?" And she says, "I really believe that if we're obedient to what God says, we can't go wrong. And it really says that. God must know something that if we have thankful hearts and thank Him even for our suffering, even for the worst things, whatever."

And so, out of obedience, gritting her teeth I think, Corrie ten Boom thanks the Lord for lice and this whole thing.

Jim: Well, and the rest of the circumstances, too.

Eric: It's horrible, but specifically for that. And what happened, I don't remember the details--it's in the book—but a little while later the guards would not come into their barracks to stop something. I don't know what they were doing. I forget what they were doing, but typically the guards would've come and would shut down the Bible study or whatever.

John: Interrupted the Bible study or yeah.

Eric: And they didn't do it and they later found out that the reason they allowed the Bible study to continue was because they didn't want to get lice. They didn't want to get near the lice. And so, souls were saved because of the lice. In other words, that sometimes the Lord reveals to us what happens when we're obedient.

Jim: Yeah.

Eric: And by praising God for the [circumstances] and it's not just that, that the Lord allows us to give us joy in a sense to say like, "Don't you see that if you do what I ask you to do, I want to heap out blessings on you." And so, Corrie ten Boom got to actually see how the Lord allows them to participate in this prayer, thanking God for the lice, so that later on they could say that, you know, I didn't need to do that. The Lord still would've saved these souls, but He allowed me to see how by obeying Him, I was participating. So, you get those kinds of radical stories.

And then suddenly, I find myself praising God for the traffic when I'm in a taxi cab and I'm late for something and I say, "Lord, thank You for this. Your purposes are unknown to me."

Jim: Right.

Eric: "I praise You. I pray that the traffic would go away, but if it's not gonna go away, I praise You for it, because You're a good God and I can trust You even with the nasty stuff."

Jim: And that's that attitude of thankfulness. I mean, that's what you're developing when you do that.

Eric: Exactly.

Jim: Eric, let me ask you this question as you look at 7 Women, so often as you've talked about Joan of Arc, but also with Corrie ten Boom, the parents were such a great example.

John: Uh-hm.

Eric: Yeah.

Jim: You've alluded to that, but talk about faith being passed down, that parenting is not a passive role.

Eric: Yeah.

Jim: You need to be engaged and show your children what it means to be someone of faith.

Eric: Well, I always want to say, I want to give a caveat, right, that there are people who do everything perfectly well and their kids have all kinds of problems. So, I want to say to those parents, look, your job is to do your job. The results are in God's hands. There are people, who as I said, do everything perfectly and their kids are a mess and you have to praise God in the middle of those circumstances.

But through history, you do see these examples where, if the parents had not been a certain kind of parent, there is no way the kids would've developed. Bonhoeffer [is] a perfect example. The most dramatic example from my book 7 Women is Susanna Wesley. This woman was quote, unquote, nothing but a "housewife." But she was all in as a mother and as somebody teaching her kids these things.

Jim: A teacher.

Eric: And as a result of her humble service, two of her kids—John Wesley and Charles Wesley—ended up utterly changing the world. We don't have time to go into that, but whenever I am asked to say what is the influence of a generation, [she's mentioned].

Now to put it in context, Jim, she had other kids that had all kinds of problems. So, this gives you some humility to say, like I cannot force my kids to be amazing. Even if I'm a perfect parent, it's in God's hands.

However, you do your job. You let God do His job and in the case of this woman, two of her boys, as a result of how she raised them, ended up being not only spiritual giants, but spiritual giants that God used in history so that everything the way the world is today has been affected by them.

We would never have had a Wilberforce doing what he did if not for John and Charles Wesley and on and on the story goes.

Jim: That ripple effect.

Eric: The parents can sometimes be so influential, so we need to be encouraged as parents. You

Jim: Well, and it's so critical to underscore here that, you know, even God Himself respects free will. And as a parent, you can do many good things. You're not gonna be a perfect parent, but sometimes kids don't do the right things.

Eric: Well, and you do things unto the Lord, right? The results are in His hands. He loves our kids more than we love 'em.

Jim: Exactly right. Let's go to another more modern-day example, Rosa Parks—

Eric: Ah.

Jim: --very important for this country and what we have gone through with racism and segregation. Fill in the blanks there.

Eric: Yes.

Jim: Maybe today a lot of people [need reminding]. I was born in the '60s, probably like you--

Eric: Yeah.

Jim: --but others who were born more recently wouldn't even know who Rosa Parks is.

Eric: I'm the only 37-year-old born in the '60's. (Laughter) I don't know if you're aware of that. (Laughter) It's just a quirk of history, but it's true. Okay, well, let me say that Rosa Parks [is] called "the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement." And for people that don't know the story or need a refresher, it's kind of almost a funny story.

She was a seamstress, a humble woman, again, a very humble woman, very bright, very godly. But one day she was on a bus and she was told to get to the back of the bus because she was black.

Jim: What year was this approximately?

Eric: This was '51 [I think]. I have even gotta look it up in my book. But basically, this was during the era of the Jim Crow era, as we all know, down in the South and so, the blacks go to the back of the bus. There was segregation in America.

Jim: Okay, so in the '50's.

Eric: Not that long ago. Oh, definitely in the '50's, yes. And so, the bottom line is, that day for whatever reason, she said no. She knew that this was immoral what was being asked. She was being treated not as a daughter of God should be treated in the United States of America. And she humbly refused to go to the back of the bus.

John: And that was a big, big deal at that moment.

Eric: It was a huge deal and I'll tell you, the reason I say she humbly refused was because there had been another case like this. I don't know if it was a year or two earlier, where a girl refused to go to the back of the bus. She was younger, but she was thought of as immoral. I mean, I don't know if she was pregnant at age 16 or out of wedlock or whatever. She cursed at the bus driver or something. But the point is, that it was a classic bad example.

Rosa Parks was really chosen by the NAACP that, if we're gonna have a test case, we want that woman, that church woman, that godly woman who is known to be above board and sweet and gracious and has tremendous dignity.

And so, in a way this was halfway planned, right? And so, when she refuses to go to the back of the bus, now the authorities have trouble, because you cannot impugn this woman on her character. You can't get away with that. This is a woman who is, you know, more than just a churchgoer.

And so, it was December'55, I guess. That's right. And so, this led to the Montgomery bus boycott, because she was such a perfect figure that the whole community rallied around her and said, "You know what? We're not gonna put up with this anymore. We are going to boycott the buses." Now guess who rode buses in Montgomery in the '50's.

Jim: Yeah.

Eric: All the blacks rode buses. They didn't have cars or whatever. They rode buses to work in their humble jobs. So, they said, "We're not gonna ride the buses."

Now Christians today need to take a lesson out of this story and I say this very sincerely. I hope the right people will hear me now as I speak this. The guts that they had to say, "We're gonna pay the price. We are going to walk to work. We are going to hitch rides to work. We're gonna do whatever it takes to bring the system to its knees, because this is an injustice and we are gonna stand up as one."

And of course, many whites helped, like many women would drive their maids to work because they said, "I know you're not gonna ride the bus." Because this was an injustice and they stood as one. They didn't say, "You know what. I'm busy. Let somebody else take the leadership." The entire black community for one year, imagine 52 weeks of going to work, not taking a bus because everybody's agreed we're not going to do this.

Again, I tell the details in the book, but it it's monumental, because today if we said to Christians, "Hey, you know what, this law is unjust, so we're gonna, in a kind way, we're gonna boycott this store. We're not gonna do this. We're gonna do that. Whatever it is, the point is, would people take the trouble?

These African-Americans have suffered for so long and they said, "We're gonna do it. We have the fire in the belly to stand up for what is right." Now if they had only stood up for a month or a week, it wouldn't have worked, but they said, "We're going to link arms and do what is right and they brought the city to its knees and changed history.

Now this woman, it needs to be said, was a woman of God. She wrote her memoirs not too many years ago, published by Zondervan. She was not just some good woman, some liberal activist. She was a holy Christian woman and many of the leaders, we have forgotten in the Civil Rights Movement in America, they were not liberal activists. They were Christians. They did what they did out of their faith in Jesus.

That in many ways has been lost and I said, we need to remember that Jackie Robinson, who I wrote about in my 7 Men book, Rosa Parks that I write about in my 7 Women book, they did what they did out of their faith. This was a Christian movement. The Civil Rights Movement and the Abolitionist Movement 100 years before, was a Christian movement. Don't let anybody tell you Christians were on the wrong side of history on that issue.

Some people might have been on the wrong side of history, but most serious Christians, they were the ones making history. Rosa Parks is the classic example and most people don't even know her story. They don't know that she was a Christian, so that's why I put her in my book.

Jim: Yeah. Eric, your book, 7 Women has such great examples for all of us, not just women. We have run out of time and this has been a great reminder of those characteristics that great people, because of typically their intense and sincere faith, have done amazing things in the name of God, to right those injustices that you talked about.

It's been great havin' you here in New York. [We] really appreciate the fact that we're here with you. Thanks for bein' with us, Eric.

Eric: Hey, guys, this is my joy. God bless you and thank you.

John: And 7 Women: and the Secret of Their Greatness is available at While you're there, get a download of the program or order the CD and look for the other resources that we have, the previous interview with Eric about the other seven women in the book.

You can also call us and our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. When you get in touch, donate generously please to this ministry. And when you do so, we'll send a copy of the book to you as our way of saying thank you for supporting the work here at Focus on the Family.

Jim: Eric, this has been so good to talk to you about 7 Women, but we are gonna have you back to talk about 7 Men. I can't wait to do that.

Eric: I can't wait either. To me, this is the most important thing, telling these stories of heroes, especially for young people, so I'm thrilled that you allow me to do that. God bless you, Jim.


John:Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller.

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Eric Metaxas

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Eric Metaxas is a New York Times best-selling author of numerous books including the award-winning biography Bonhoeffer which has sold more than 800,000 copies and has been translated into 19 languages. A prolific writer, Eric has authored essays, poetry, op-ed articles, book and movie reviews and more than 30 children's books. He is also a public speaker and host of the Eric Metaxas Show, a nationally syndicated radio program heard around the U.S. Eric can also be heard on Chuck Colson's Breakpoint radio commentary that's broadcast on 1,400 radio outlets with an audience of eight million listeners. He resides in Manhattan with his wife and daughter. Learn more about Eric by visiting his website,