Lifting Your Hands Toward Holiness

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It’s 8:30 at night, and this blog is due for publication in the morning. Some days I have been chewing on something and just need to gather it up and lay it in print. Days like today ebb and flow and nothing is settling. (I’ve been sewing all day and, dangit, I’m proud of what I produced today! Follow me on Instagram @rosazerkle if you want to see my crafty side.) I’m sitting on my bed listening to my husband listen to a Christian band on YouTube. Contemporary Christian music is my husband’s absolute favorite genre, and he listens to it a lot as he works. He found a new band today, and it’s really good. I feel emotion in it.

In many ways, I am religiously homeless. I live in a space right now where I don’t know where I want to settle. When you’ve been chewed up and spit out by what used to feel natural and comfortable and yours, you become very wary of anybody and anything that makes promises that you can’t verify. I’m not someone who can’t take direction or change an opinion, but I’ll be damned if I hand my life over to anyone else’s authority again that isn’t worthy of that faith. I don’t know what this means. It’s equal parts liberating and disconcerting. I had a friend ask me the other day if I was looking to visit a new church. I had to tell her that I didn’t know. I don’t know if it’s the right time for that.

One of the challenges of my marriage right now is finding our touch-points and rediscovering what the roots of our relationship are. I think every couple does that, but we’ve become so mindful about it. We had the most beautiful Christmas this year. (I’m not even going to be modest – I killed it!) Months before, I was talking to my teaching partner (she teaches; I take notes.) and mentioned that I had never been to a concert and that my husband loves Christian music. She sent me info on an artist that was going to be playing this year about an hour from us. On Christmas morning, my husband opened a calendar that I had lifted from his own desk and wrapped up with the tickets to see Mercy Me, his second favorite Christian artist. There were tears – something that I haven’t accomplished very many times with very many gifts in our marriage. (I filmed it and begged him to let me put it on Facebook. He was such a good sport!) I felt like a million bucks to give him such an amazing surprise, and I can’t wait to share this experience with him.

For our anniversary this last year, my husband took me to a “hand-raising church.” It was the first church I had ever been to in my entire life that wasn’t some flavor of Mormon. I’m 41 years old. I enjoyed it, but it didn’t feel like home. The live band was new and different, but a little too much to feel like a church to a multi-generational Mormon girl.

What does it mean to “feel like church?” What is that magic ingredient that makes you feel spiritually fed, full of gratitude, with an eye looking toward something greater? I’m softly and quietly watching and waiting for it. But, this music flows around me, and it feels like church to me. Sitting here on my bed with my drowsy 5-year-old boy pulling on my arm and making me type one-handed feels like beauty. Having my 7-year-old daughter sandwiched on the other side breathing holiness in my ear is a voice that I recognize. Feeling my husband inches away from me finding the home church of this band on Google Earth is comfort and peace and love. I hope that God authors all these things. I think He does. After being born and bred in a system that makes it their literal business to provide explanations and answers, one of my most profound realizations has been that the beauty is in this mystery. There is so much that I admit I don’t know, but I find that the more I see that, the less I feel like the knowing is the point at all. Maybe, the gift is in the journey, and I’m right where I need to be after all.

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Marking The Year That Changed My Life

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I’ve been mulling this post over for at least a week. How do I address the year that changed everything? What can I say to even begin to do it justice? I probably won’t, but I will try. There are some things in life that are so earth-shattering, so groundbreaking, that you mark them by before the thing and after the thing. You can remember your life before them. You can even look back with fondness, but you can never, never go back to the way it was. This year was that year in my life. 2018 will forever mark that before and after.

I have been called brave for standing up to someone who took advantage of me. I have had women open up and share their own “me too” stories that they do not feel able to expose publicly. I don’t know how I feel about that honor. The truth is that I didn’t feel brave; I felt desperate. My life had become riddled with minefields that were no longer avoidable, and they were tripping in our marriage and home life every time we turned around. I needed out of the almost constant adrenaline fest of fear and insecurity. Going public was the only way I saw, and we took it.

There have been many times over this year that I have wondered if it was worth it. I vividly remember falling apart in the arms of my daughter’s future other-mother-in-law when she came to look at my girl’s foot that was hurting yet again. See, she had chronic sprains, and we were afraid that she had maybe broken it this time. Except, my life had been utter chaos for six months at that point, and things like renewing our insurance had fallen through the cracks. Which meant that I didn’t even have the resources that particular day to take my girl to the doctor. I felt like the worst mother in the world. I did take her, I did sort out the insurance, and she did get the care she needed, but I was so deeply aware in that moment how much of a price we had all paid, and I felt completely and utterly broken by that fact.

I have seven kids, and I truly hope that they either do look up to me or will come to as they become adults. But, having other people see me as representative of something bigger than myself is new, different, humbling. The truth is that my life is largely quite boring. I’m a homebody – a private person, even. I sew. I make soap. I raise my kids. I try to be a good neighbor and friend and not put my foot in my mouth too terribly often. (I don’t always succeed – ask my friends and family.) I write because it’s good therapy and people seem to think I have words worth reading.

I am not a perfect person. I yell at my kids way too often. (The other day my 5-year-old told my 7-year-old that she better do what I asked before I was “tired of this sh*t.” Yep, that happened. Oy. For the record, I don’t speak that way to young children, but I have teen boys and adults that push my buttons like you can only understand if you have them as well. :/ ) I have stolen zippers and laundry soap before (on accident) and been too frazzled to run back in and pay like a proper citizen should. I can be ridiculously self centered and me-focused. We all have a baser nature – inner selves that aren’t pretty or polished. But, I really and truly try to live by a set of values that lead me to be better. All this was true before January 2018, and it will be just as true as the calendar turns again.

Things are different for me. My relationship with religion is different – everything has shifted and adjusted. It’s quieter. There’s less expectations and more uncertainty. It’s more honest. I don’t know how it will look going forward, but I do know that it will be mine. My marriage is different. There’s less fear and insecurity. There’s more mutual respect and room for our own individual expressions.We’ve both had to face the prospect of losing our relationship and found reasons to remain and thrive.

It’s the end of this year. It’s almost officially the after the thing mark. This makes me understandably introspective. How do you process what could arguably be considered the biggest event in your life? What is the debriefing process? I don’t even know. I’ve dealt with it like I think anyone else does: you take it one day at a time and do your very best to cope and learn and grow and survive. It feels more like learning and growing as the year wraps up and less like coping and surviving. And, I guess that is the most important thing to communicate about this year – I made it THROUGH. I’m not really special – truly. My journey may be different than yours, but I would put good money on the table that you have what it takes to get through hard things, too. It may be that you haven’t walked through a year that changed your life. It may be that you have. Either way, when you find yourself faced with your own giant, take it one day at a time. Do your very best to cope and learn and grow and survive. You will. You have what it takes to fight the battles put in front of you. I promise.

 

The Gift of Identity

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Sometimes when I’m preparing my blog posts, I have a lot on my mind or have had a recent experience that I’ve really been ruminating on. Other times, however, the deadline is looming, and I’m chugging along in my daily life trying to figure out what in the heck I should write about. What is this blog about? What do I have to say? And, then it hits me, isn’t that just life? Who am I? What do I have to say? Who do I want to be? How does the world see me?

Even though I have an independent streak a mile wide, I’ve spent a good part of my life picking identities off the shelf. While it’s said the youth brings with it all possibilities, the fact is that it is tempered by the pressures to be the vision that others have for you. There is a lot of fear around making the “wrong choices” or letting people down. I think this carries quite a ways into adulthood, and most people push and pull against it well into their 20s and 30s – sometimes their entire life.

While I don’t want to draw lines on the basis of gender or anything (heaven forbid!), I tend to notice this being more of a thing for women. We give so much to our husbands, to our kids, to our communities. I am my husband’s wife. For decades, I’ve basically introduced myself to people as his wife, and people say, “Ah!” and there is a place for me in their head. This year has changed that dynamic a bit because I have a reputation of my own (for better or worse), and my husband has found himself, for the first time ever, introducing himself as, well, my husband.

I am my kids’ mom. I have spent 22 years largely focused on the health, growth and progress of the seven humans that I grew in my uterus. I homeschool them and don’t work outside our home, and most of my daily energy goes into their lives. In my headspace, though, my life does not revolve around my children. I don’t think I’ve ever said that I’m “just a mom.” Because I’m not.

When women (again, more our thing) lament aging and getting older, I kind of don’t understand it. Don’t get me wrong, I would prefer to still have the flat stomach of my 20s, but I take it pretty much as the tradeoff for the better gift of life experience. I turned 40 in 2017 and posted this on my Facebook page:

“Turning 40 last month has made me super thoughtful. This has been a year of huge changes for me. I’ve struggled in my personal space over the last five years, and this has been a year of resolution and finding peace, but not necessarily in the way I was “supposed to.” There have been really hard parts and days I just wasn’t sure it was going to work out. But, it mostly is, and I feel more comfortable and confident in my own skin every day. Mostly, I just love my life so much. I have a strong and resilient relationship and healthy and thriving kids whom I just adore. I’m embracing and feeling confident in building a career that I fully believe will eventually be a huge boon to our family. I know who I am deep down where all the layers are stripped away, and I’ve really come to love that strong, beautiful and passionate woman. Life is good!”

So, if this blog seems to go in a bunch of different directions, it’s because it’s a reflection of my real life. I don’t always know what direction I’m going. I don’t always know what it is that I want to say. I’m at a point where I feel like I can be and do and say what is actually a reflection of who I am. I AM my husband’s wife. I AM my kids’ mom. I’m also a woman, a friend, a writer, an advocate. I’m less afraid to say things as I see them. I’m more comfortable taking up space in the world. I don’t always know exactly what my identity is, but I do know that it is mine to determine. This, more than anything, has been the gift of this year.

 

 

Trying to Build a Better Boat

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Sometimes the one thing that it takes to become healthy is to acknowledge what isn’t. I consider myself to be pretty proactive about being aware and keeping things balanced, but healing takes time.  We are horrible travelers. It’s always been a weak spot in our marriage. When we travel just as a couple, it’s great, but we’ve had some of our worst arguments when we were traveling as a family. It’s not pretty to have a family conflict in a closed car which is all I’m going to say about that. We had a really, really bad blowup a few years ago on the way to my niece’s wedding (we were good company that day. Ha!), and both my husband and myself made a decision that we were done with this bad, toxic habit, and it hasn’t happened since.

The funny thing is that you can fix the issue, but there is still baggage and emotional reactions there. I still have anticipatory anxiety when we’re getting ready to travel. It’s softening over time and fading as I get used to what has become a new normal for me, but it’s taken several years. This concept is really hitting home for me right now. We get used to things, don’t we? And, they aren’t always healthy or things that you want to keep around, but we crave the familiar.

The fall and winter have been very quiet for our family. Very peaceful after the turmoil that carried us well into 2019. The peace is nice. The quiet is good. But, it’s also seeps into my psyche as boring. See, our marriage has been marked by tension for about seven years now. I have friends that have never seen our relationship in a season of quiet. My husband has been my hero as we’ve plowed through this year, but he didn’t come to that overnight. There was arguing, ugly-cry tears, very real fears that divorce was imminent, pushing, pulling and just general angst that was a very real presence in our lives. It wasn’t healthy. Our kids saw it and lived through it and have their own baggage from that experience. But, it was what I’ve come to know. It became normal to me to take the temperature of my husband’s mood every day when he came home. If it was less than chipper, it became my self-appointed job to cheer him up and make him happy/grateful. Please understand that he didn’t give me this job. He was dealing with things in ways that prompted me to feel like it was, but the truth is that I took it on myself.

I’ve spent a good part of the latter part of this year working on this issue. There is less angst there. Less tension. More quiet. But, I still find myself doing this. It’s softening over time and fading, but I have to be very mindful that I’m not responsible for my husband’s emotions. I’ve heard it said before that we only do things that work for us in some way, and I’m really trying to untangle this part of our healing and sort it out. The truth is that high tension creates a bounce-back that feeds strong connection. (This is why makeup sex is great. Just saying.) The logical part of my brain does not miss the arguing or the tension or the angst, but my emotional brain is so used to it that it feels empty and lacking and just not there.

Before you get the idea that we’re a total mess that is imploding as we speak, we’re very, very normal. We have a very normal, net-healthy marriage, a very normal home life and very normal, great and well-behaved (for the most part) kids. This is just our baggage – we all have it. Our Achilles heel. Our mountain that we’re climbing. We’re getting there.

This year has been cathartic and revealing. It doesn’t make me comfortable to realize that I’m missing things that I’ve been begging to be without for years. It’s a bit embarrassing, frankly. But, realizing that there is an emotional hole from an extraction site, so to speak, is a good thing, I think. We’ve cut a cancer out, and it’s empty there. Healthy things are growing in its place, but it takes time. The missing it will soften over time and fade as it’s replaced by healthier patterns and habits. It hasn’t all been pretty, but I’m determined to use every lesson for good. Ultimately, that, I think, will be the secret to our success. Not that we haven’t waded through some really crappy stuff but that we didn’t tap out too early to see what there was to learn in it. When you see an old couple sitting on a park bench holding hands, it’s not years of Pinterest-worthy moments that you’re seeing, it’s the aftermath of just this hurricane.

I heard this song for the first time when we were driving home from Thanksgiving. (A trip that was quiet and calm and altogether unremarkable. I barely remember feeling anxious at all.) It really struck me, and it felt like an anthem for my journey. I immediately had my almost 20-year-old daughter look it up and send it to my husband who had been home for a few days already. Building makes a mess, and it can sometimes be hard to see the results in the middle of sawdust and streaked faces. At the end of the day, however, what we’re really trying to do is just build a better boat.

 

Marriage is Like a Mirror

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I get a lot of feedback when I blog about anything that has to do with my husband. He doesn’t read my blog, but I think he’s come to terms with this as we both hope that this venture will become viable at some point and that takes readers that are interested in what I have to say. (11 cents earned so far! Woot, woot!) While I, myself, am sometimes uncomfortable with the level of exposure that blogging brings, one of the joys of this gig is getting to write about things that mean so much to me.

I’m a student of people. I love psychology and understanding why people do what they do. I’ve always been intrigued by relationships and deeply committed to personal growth and providing a healthy home for my children, something that I often lacked as a child. This focus has driven a lot of my life, and I’m grateful for the perspective it’s given me.

While it’s cliche to the extreme, relationships are hard – I think anyone who has been in one more than five minutes understands that. But, why? Why are they so hard? An easy way that I’ve found to explain the dynamic is that marriage is like a mirror. After what I hope is some serious vetting on our part, we “fall in love with our soul mate,” and get married, handing them over the keys to who we really are. In this package, often overlooked and ignored, is the mirror that shows us who lives under our shell, naked, exposed and raw. We tend to hide from that person ourselves, so trusting someone else to care for them is a deeply intimate risk. But, I’ve found more growth and personal understanding in this process than in anything else in my life.

When we put things out into the world, those closest to us naturally reflect that back. Sometimes, we like what we see, but often, we very much do not. I think the thing that sinks most potentially great marriages is blaming the person holding the mirror, as if the messenger is responsible for what you see reflected there. There are definitely instances where our natural defensiveness finds us shoving the corresponding mirror into our spouse’s face and yelling, “Oh yea? You think I’m so bad?!” This is a sacred task, and when it goes wrong, it can be incredibly, devastatingly ugly because the ammunition available is so powerful. Still, no greater intimacy is created in a relationship than the one you find when you lean into this with a worthy partner, understand it and stop running from it.

I do not like to give people power over my inner life, and I like it even less so lately. People who meet me for the first time find me intimidating (If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been told that, it would be way more than 11 cents. Ha!) I am a naturally boundaried and self-protected person, and few people can really shake me. Except my husband. The gift of marriage is that while I would never actively choose this, it happens constantly. Every new evolution of our relationship peels back a layer and leaves us both vulnerable. When things shift and change, and you see fear and panic in your partner, what they’re really saying is, “Can you still handle this job? Can I still trust you with this? Am I still safe with you? Is it even acceptable to be this naked?” When the answer is, “This is okay. We’re still okay. You’re okay,” there is room for the some of the most pure gratitude and connection that life offers.

Going through significant changes in a marriage is scary and quite difficult. I participate in an online space where the whole point is navigate this in ways that are healthy for families and relationships. This is a unique forum where the point isn’t who is right or wrong but how we can overcome the challenges and grow. One of the most beautiful things to watch play out in this group is the real life, in-the-trenches work of working it out. While changes will almost inevitably expose weaknesses in a relationship, there is a definitive silver lining as well. When it’s impossible to live in pretense, you either get out or you get better. If I could impart one thing that I’ve learned here, it would be this – I know this is scary. Take a deep breath, and look in the mirror. What you find will be priceless. Don’t run away. It will be worth it.

The Double-Edged Sword of Dogma

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For the first five years that we lived here, we were in the middle of a small, cliquish town about 15 minutes from our current house. I vividly remember the missionaries showing up at our door one day and knocking. From across the house, I hollered at my kids, “Do not answer the door, or you’ll be grounded!!” It wasn’t until after they’d given up and left that I realized that, being the middle of the summer, all the windows on our 1919 house were open for ventilation. They probably thought I was a complete and utter nutcase. (I plead the fifth. Ha!)

We don’t get many Mormon missionaries here. I think the local wards have an APB out on our subdivision as a “no-fly zone.” However, the Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked the other day. I opened the door to a father, an old man and a little boy. The father reminded me of one of our neighbors – a tall, teddy bear of a man that is incredibly kind and soft-hearted. He introduced me to his young son, flashed his pamphlet and asked me a leading question about how don’t we all want to be happy. I told him I was in the middle of something (I was), but I would take his pamphlet and look at it (I didn’t, really.) Before he left, however, I looked him right in the eye and told him very sincerely to have a good day.

What else do you say when you can’t say what you would really like to? I can’t bombard strangers at my door with invasive questions like, “Why can’t that little boy have a birthday party? Why does Jesus care?” “Why would I trade one dogmatic culture for another that is probably even worse?” “What would happen if that old man didn’t approve of something you said or did?” “What if you had questions? Would your spouse stand by you?”

See, the red pill is a fearful thing, and you can’t force feed it to anybody. You wouldn’t want to – you didn’t want to. In most instances, changing perspectives happen on accident. Still, that last question encompasses a gigantic elephant-in-the-room in Mormon culture. Who am I outside the paradigm, and will my spouse, especially, still love me there? I consider myself incredibly lucky in this area. Don’t get me wrong. We’ve wrestled and fought and wrenched our hearts to sort this out, but we’re still here – together. It is never certain, even now.

I have a dear friend who I’ve known for several years. We met well before our lives were turned upside down, but became close because we found ourselves walking side-by-side on very similar paths. As my own marriage has weathered the storm in a way where things are looking up, hers has not. I have such a range of emotions about this. I’ve watched her do the absolute best that she knows how in brutal and unforgiving circumstances. My husband has been inoculated with perspective and nuance, and it’s saved us quite literally. He had already cut the figurative apron strings in many ways before we found ourselves swept up on this ride that has become our life. Her husband is still tightly tethered by a cord that is suffocating what used to be a very loving and fulfilling marriage. She has held on much, much longer than I think I could have in the same situation, and I admire her more than I can say no matter how her story plays out. This was weighing heavily on my mind the last time I went to church. I sat in that congregation and mentally looked around the room and thought, “They own these men and, by extension, they own these marriages.” I wanted to cry.

This is the double-edged sword of dogmatic religion. I know without a doubt that the structure, expectations and rules work incredibly well for many, many people I know. I have friends and family that are baffled by the shifts in our life. I envy them in many ways. I know that things look very black and white from that perspective because I lived there for a very long time. However, the truth is that it cuts incredibly deep when you find yourself unexpectedly picked up and plopped down behind the curtain. Real people are here. Real families. Real marriages. And, they are really hurting from the complete and utter lack of context that allows for them to remain safe and flourish in their families in such an unforgiving cultural narrative of conformity. What used to feel safe and comforting and sure to me now leans sinister and controlling and threatening. If you’re not with us, you’re against us feels much less friendly when you find yourself outside the circle.

I’m genuinely not trying to rain on anyone’s parade. If you’re happy where you are, I am so, so glad. Stay there! Do what works well for you and your family. However, please realize that not everything is a good fit for every person in the same way, and have charity when you see outliers. (I really am still very much the same person I was before my life became a public spectacle.) Above all, if you do ever find yourself in the situation that my own husband has, please, for the love of all that is holy, please look at the bigger picture. Love each other. Turn toward each other. Let the peripheral people, pressures and parts of your life go for a bit until you find yourself grounded again. Do not make permanent decisions that will affect you and your children out of fear or tradition or dogma. Ultimately, you and your loved ones will pay the price, and it makes no sense to leave that in the hands of people, priorities and organizations that can wash their hands of it and walk away. Put the sword down before you find yourself using it against the people that love you the most. Give yourself and your family that gift.

I Wouldn’t Trade This For a First Kiss

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I had a dream a few weeks ago that took my breath away and has made me thoughtful. It was one of those convoluted dreams where random things are jumping all over the place, for the most part. However, right before I woke up, I dreamed that some guy kissed me. (Don’t worry, it was a faceless, nobody man – nobody that I know or that actually exists.) I woke up with this lingering feeling of, I don’t know, being seen?

My husband and I dated for two years before we got married, and it was a passionate and intense courtship – even volatile at times. We’re still very much in love. He’s my best friend and a man of impeccable integrity. But, a romantic he is not. We’ve been married for going on 23 years. Things change over time, and it’s very natural and expected. Still, I have twinges occasionally where I long for what the past was. It’s an illogical feeling in a lot of ways because what was amazing about it came with a lot of uncertainty – things that I am so glad to see gone in our daily life. But, humans are sometimes ridiculous, aren’t we? We fail to see that the good comes with some bad, and the sometimes boring is infused with a softness, a quietness, a peace and a comfort that no amount of excitement can replace.

We went on a date this weekend. We haven’t been out for a bit. We don’t have a set schedule because, well, we’re having a rough year financially (ha!), and we tend to both hate that sort of structure anyway. He’ll just randomly text me with, “Where am I taking you tonight?” We didn’t do anything fancy, but I put on makeup and cute clothes and spent an evening away from our kids with the man I love. This morning, my husband got up and got in the bath. (He’s a bath guy; I’m all about showers, so we have both a big, soaker tub and a walk-in shower in our master bath.) Our water heater is on the fritz, and he hasn’t gotten around to replacing the element that’s out, so it runs at about half heat and is particularly bad first thing in the morning. After about 10 minutes, he called my name, and I walked in the bathroom.

As I opened the door, my husband looked very sheepish, and he was kind of laughing at himself. Raising my eyebrows, I asked him what was up. After a bit of hemming and hawing and berating himself for not fixing the water heater yet, he tentatively said that he thought he should just ask me to boil him some hot water so that he could get warm. He had no real expectations that I would get up and do this. I could have laughed as well at the thought and walked back to what I was doing. But, I didn’t. I graciously boiled him water and brought it in and dumped it in the tub. I didn’t have to. He knew it, and I knew it. With laughing eyes as he reveled in the luxury of the hot water, I commented that this little favor was better than buying him a gift, and he wholeheartedly agreed as he sunk into the water.

In the moments where I feel that twinge of longing for a relationship that is young and new and exciting and actively romantic, I could miss these moments. I could make the mistake of thinking that I have a lack because life ebbs and flows. We’re not young anymore. We have kids that are growing up and riding the edge of moving on with their lives. Our history runs incredibly deep. He has hurt me like no one else I’ve known and loved me to depths that I could never have imagined were possible when I was a young and naive 18-year-old bride. It is true that we don’t always see each other. He can walk in the room, and my brain doesn’t always register that my stomach should flutter. I know it’s the same for him. The reality is that my brain, my heart, just sees him as a part of me after almost a quarter-century of knowing him. There are times where I look deep in his eyes, and it all comes flooding back, but most moments are a quiet knowing that he’s my person, and I can’t imagine it being any other way.

Right now, he is putting on a tie and getting ready to go to church, and I am writing my blog and not getting ready at all. He knows this, and we don’t really talk about it. It’s not like it’s festering under the surface; it just is. This could be a major issue for us. But, see, I can smile and boil this man water for no other reason that I don’t want him to be cold. So, he can give me space and time and love in our unusual circumstances. Kisses that take your breath away are a moment, and they can be surrounded by a million things that aren’t healthy or beautiful or useful. I suppose this might sound sad to couples who are in younger relationships. It is not. (We still kiss.) It is quietly, peacefully and comfortingly beautiful, and I wouldn’t trade it for a hundred breathtaking first kisses. I’ve lived enough to know how very lucky I am.