Seasonal Lessons

the-four-seasons

I’ve written a couple of blog posts that circled around this topic – one on this personal site (Hope of Spring) and one on the ministry site (Appreciate the Good Times), but neither one fully addressed my thoughts on this subject.

Maybe I just want to write on this topic because we’ve experienced about a 50-degree temperature swing in the past few days!  Let’s hope there’s a bit more depth to it than that…

Lately I’m hearing more and more people talk about how life is full of seasons.  I’ve been saying that myself for the past 10 years or so.  If you’re one of my younger readers, say under 40, you may not have looked at life this way yet.

But for those of us who are likely in the last half of our earthly lives, this becomes more and more evident.  And the more I thought about it, the more I saw parallels to the real weather seasons we experience.

When I was younger and I saw my life as overwhelmingly blessed, I just assumed that’s how life should be.  I certainly didn’t think of it as just a “season” of my life.  Why would I want this beautiful summer to turn into winter?

But eventually, as I experienced difficult times in my life, I started to see those parallels.  Here are some of the life lessons I now see through this “seasonal lens.”

  • Seasons are inevitable. Just as surely as the snow melts and the tulips pop through, so will we experience times of joy and times of heartache, eventually.  I now look at BOTH of those times as seasons.  It isn’t just the difficult days that I equate to a winter season – it’s everything.  We move from one to another, and maybe back and forth.
  • Seasons come to an end. Unless you live in some tropical paradise…  But here in the Midwest, we can be assured that we will NOT be buried in snow come August.  And chances are pretty high that it won’t hit 95 degrees in mid-January.  And just as we all have our favorite weather season that we never want to see come to an end, so will we want our good times to be endless.  And conversely, the winter seasons of our life do mercifully eventually come to an end, and we see that hope of Spring I wrote about earlier.
  • We don’t know how long each season will last. Every year is a bit different.  When we lived in Stillwater, MN, we had a THREE-FOOT blizzard on Halloween!  That’s right!  Go figure.  Think that made for a REALLY long winter? Absolutely!  But when we built our last home in 2000 here in Iowa, we had 80-degree days in December which made for a much shorter winter season.  And a great year to be building a new home!  Despite “The Farmer’s Almanac” predictions, no one nails it 100%.  Similarly, with your life seasons, seldom do you know how long either the good or the difficult times will last.  (But God does.)
  • Some “miniseasons” are just cold fronts or heat waves. Within the four major seasons, we often find strange phenomenon showing up such as unexpected freezes or heat waves.  They may be in and out in a couple of days, and then you return to what you expect of the season.  Sure, they break it up a bit, for better or for worse, but there’s usually not a long-lasting affect.  When you go through a few days or weeks of “the blues,” you might just be experiencing one of those cold fronts.  Hopefully, your life returns to a sense of normalcy soon.  And getting some joyful news in the middle of a tough year might just be a little heat respite for your winter-weary soul.
  • God knows every detail of the seasons. Not only is God the Author and Creator of every season in every location from the beginning of time, but He knows EXACTLY what He’s doing as He takes you through the seasons of your life.  Nothing is arbitrary.  No pain is wasted.  Every one of your days is planned.
  • Look for the beauty in each season. Of course, we all have our favorites.  I toggle back and forth between Spring and Fall being my favorites.  I love the new life that Spring brings each year, but I also marvel at the spectacular colors of the Fall.  And even if we aren’t fans of the extremes of Summer and Winter, I’m sure we have all admired some incredible beauty during those days.

What about the seasons of my life?  Do I see beauty in each of them?  Do you?  Do I appreciate my favorite life season while I’m in it?  Am I purposeful about finding the good in my difficult days?  It’s pretty hard sometimes to do either, isn’t it?   It’s so easy to take for granted our happy days – until they’re taken from us and we’re plunged into a harsh winter season.  And then it’s difficult to see how any good could come from it.

But trust God to be in each of them with you, even if you don’t sense His presence.  And know that He will never leave you in your dark days longer than necessary for Him to teach you important life lessons, like entrusting these days to Him.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…

Ecclesiastes 3:1 KJV

 

The Lonely Crowd

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Well, isn’t that a title that makes you want to jump in and gobble up this post!?  But it’s a subject that’s been on my heart for a while now, and one that I believe God has given me some insights to share with you.

First, true confessions.  I’ve been struggling with loneliness A LOT lately.  Not really surprising since the words “lonely” and “widow” are often linked together.  Of course, I miss not living my life with Dale – and memories continue to make my heart ache for those bygone days.

A widow friend, whose husband died about 8 years ago, told me early on that loneliness was one of the hardest parts of being a widow.  And she said it gets worse over time because she has now been without him for more years.  Yep, I can certainly relate to that.  Getting harder, not easier.

Despite my best efforts to stay active with church and friends and the ministry, the reality is that I spend the large majority of my time alone.  Yes, my pets definitely help, but they’re no substitute for human interaction.

Because the circumstances leading to this loneliness aren’t going to change, i.e.  Dale’s NOT coming back, I realize that I am the one who needs to change – or at least figure out how to navigate through this.

This season of loneliness has opened up my eyes to a new reality.  MANY people live lonely lives!  I’m starting to see this condition in a whole new light.  Widows certainly don’t have the corner of the market on loneliness.  Anyone who is single or divorced or childless must certainly fight these same emotions.

And one doesn’t have to BE alone to be lonely.  Many people in unfulfilled relationships suffer as well.  Maybe you are an empty-nester and your loneliness is a result of a quiet house now that the kids are gone.

I just did a quick Google search on “the loneliness crisis” and I was shocked at how many articles address this subject.  One study suggests that nearly half of their respondents describe themselves as lonely.  Another study called loneliness an epidemic and a public health crisis more serious than obesity.

Of course, everyone has an opinion on what’s behind this crisis, from sleep deprivation to social media to prescription drugs.  There’s no shortage of opinions on the causes or the solutions.

But for the believer, that solution list might look a bit different.  As I’ve prayed over this and studied the scriptures, here are some of the insights God has graciously given to me.

  • My loneliness is not unique. Even Jesus knew loneliness, and certainly never more than as he was dying on the cross.  David wrote endless passages in the Psalms about his times of loneliness.  So, to a certain degree, it IS one of the sorrows we will suffer in this lifetime.  And there is comfort in knowing that our Savior experienced a loneliness greater than we can imagine.  He understands this pain.
  • Focus on eternity. I find GREAT comfort in thinking about spending eternity with Jesus and my loved ones in heaven. Meditating on God’s promises of no more tears, no more sadness, no more sorrow, no more LONELINESS, is a great balm for my soul!
  • Be grateful for times of fellowship. I want to appreciate more and more the time I spend with good friends.  We were not created to live in isolation.  God wants us living in fellowship with others, and I want to soak up that joy and preserve it for as long as I can!  Maybe even take a portion of it into my lonely days and nights.
  • Deepen my relationship with God. There’s no better time for this than when a heart is hurting and longing for relief.  God’s word is full of promises to bring joy and peace to your soul.  In fact, just this morning as I was contemplating this blog topic, God brought this scripture to my mind: “I have loved you with an everlasting love.”  Jeremiah 31:3. Boy, it doesn’t get any better than that!  Lord, help me to run to you for comfort in my loneliness.
  • Learn to rest in God alone. I know this is similar to the previous point, but I want to stress that sometimes we need to learn contentment in our loneliness.  Be careful what you use to fill up your lonely life, or substitute as a temporary fix.  God is all-sufficient.
  • Do something for others. This is good advice for anyone at any time!  Pouring ourselves into someone else’s life, especially someone who is hurting, shifts the focus from our pain to their comfort.  I know it’s so hard to get started on this one, but the rewards are many!

So, if you are one of the many who struggles with loneliness, you are not alone!  That knowledge, however, is generally not enough to make any of us feel any better.  Know that Jesus is our forever friend, one who sticks closer than a brother.  He will never leave us or forsake us.  Pour out your heart to him, and then let him pour his love back into you.

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.

James 4:8

The Wedding Ring

wedding ring

I’m a big fan of the show, “Blue Bloods.”  Maybe it’s because I’ve also always been a fan of Tom Selleck from back in the Magnum P.I. days.  But I’ve come to appreciate every character on the show over the past few years.

So, you can usually find me curled up on the couch with 2 or 3 animals every Friday night at 9 PM watching the professional and personal interactions of the Reagan family dynasty.  (Yes, we widows lead exciting lives…)

Detective Danny Reagan, one of Frank’s (Tom Selleck) sons lost his wife tragically on the show a while back.  So, he is now a single dad trying to raise two teenage boys.  Sometimes he’s successful, sometimes not so much.  But through it all, he is clearly heart-broken over the loss of his sweet and sassy RN wife, Linda.

So, there are definitely episodes that take Danny through some of his grief that are hard for me to watch – and I relate to the pain and loss he is experiencing.

But I was NOT prepared for a portion of the show this past Friday night.  Linda has been gone for over a year and Danny is still wearing his wedding ring.  I completely relate to that.  I still wear my wedding ring, in part because I still feel like I’m married to Dale even though he’s been gone 18 months this week.

In this scene, Danny has gone to visit a woman who is some sort of psychic or counselor or combination thereof.  She comments on the fact that he still wears his ring.  He looks a bit sheepish as he acknowledges that with a little nod.  She then “reminds” him that Linda is gone now.  (REALLY?  Do you think he’s not aware???)  Then she tells him it’s time to stop wearing it.

She brings a little velvet jewelry pouch over and he slowly removes the ring and drops it in the pouch.  I burst into tears!  Where did that come from?  I was SO unprepared for that reaction – and for the visceral, immediate nature of it.

In a split second, I experienced what I assumed Danny was feeling – the physical, visual acknowledgment that his marriage and relationship were over.  It hit me like a ton of bricks, like the body slam that it was.  I couldn’t stop crying.  Just one more reminder that this grieving process can go on and on and on…a forever grief.

So, where do I stand on this whole wedding ring removal issue?  Clearly, I’m not ready to take the step Danny took!  I do know that Dale’s gone, that he’s not coming back.  I now mark “widowed” on any forms I have to fill out.  I do know that my marriage is over.  There’s no disillusionment there.  I’m reminded every moment of every day that he’s not here any more.

And yet, I can NOT bring myself to take that step.  I know that I probably will…some day.  But today isn’t that day.  I know some people remove it as soon as their loved one dies; and I know some who still wear their ring, on their left hand, 30-some years after their husband died.

As with everything in this grieving process, it’s our call.  Unlike the “psychic-counselor” of “Blue Bloods,” I don’t want anyone to tell me when it’s time.  It’s a very personal decision and even I have no idea when “it’s time.”  I trust that God will let me know.

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.

Ephesians 5:31

“Feelings…Nothing More Than Feelings”

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One of the downsides of being a musician is that almost everything reminds me of a song. You have to go all the way back to 1975 for this one. For those of you who know it, I apologize already if it became an ear worm for you! If you don’t know it, count your blessings…

But “feelings” is one of the topics I want to discuss in today’s blog post. This may resonate a bit more with the female gender, but I do hope there’s something here for everyone.

I don’t know about you all, but for as long as I can remember, I have taken an inventory of my day every night when I went to bed. That’s when I would, in my mind, scroll through the activities and emotions of the day that had come to an end and settle on a rating of mostly good or mostly bad.

And that rating would often dictate if I felt happy or sad about the day. From there, I would generally head into my prayer time and talk with God about my day. This conversation ranged from gratefulness for a good day, to repentance over any of my thoughts or actions that were less than kind, to pleading with God for something I felt I needed, to intercession for someone else’s needs. And often it was a complicated mixture of all of that.

I’m grateful that the happy endings of those days far outweighed the sad ones. But the point is – my emotions dictated whether I felt good or bad about the past 24 hours. And I honestly never thought there was any other way to gauge the success or failure of my day.

Enter…Widowhood.

I still do a sort of emotional inventory at the end of my days. And I have some of those same conversations with God. But regardless of the kind of day I’ve had, or the good times or joy I’ve experienced, once I’m left alone with my emotions as I retire for the day, there is ALWAYS sadness.

It’s not what I want, but it’s what’s left when the busyness of the day is stripped away. I can’t not (yes, I want the double negative here…) miss Dale in the depths of my soul at the end of each day for the past nearly 18 months. It’s when the tears come and when the heartache is deep and profound. For me, it’s when the real work of grieving is done.

Enter…Hope

It’s also where I’ve learned to lean the most on God. And not only am I leaning on Him, but I’ve begun to FOCUS on His character and His promises. It’s where I put the emotions aside and rest in the knowledge that I am a Child of God. That He loves me with an everlasting love. That He wants only good for my life, even if that comes through pain. It’s where I’m reminded that He will make EVERYTHING right in the end.

And maybe most importantly, I understand that the emotions I’m feeling don’t change His character or His promises one iota. I am not defined by my emotions. I am defined by who I am in Christ. And I find joy and hope in the promises He so clearly lays out for me in His Word.

Emotions really are fleeting. One or two silly events can send us soaring to the mountaintop, or crashing down into the valley. It can be an exhausting way to live. And it isn’t what God wants for us.

I’m not saying we ignore our emotions, or fail to validate someone else’s. God did create us with those emotions. What I am proposing, however, is that we limit the power they have over us by switching our focus to GOD’S power. When you feel your emotions sending you on a downward spiral, consciously and purposefully meditate on the Good News of the Gospel.

I can tell you it’s the ONLY way that I bring some balance into my emotional life. And when your days end with sadness, you too can be filled with hope again if you focus on the only One Who can bring true happiness.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,
that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12:2 ESV

The Hope of Spring…and More

My most recent posts on this site and on my ministry site have been a bit dark lately.  And while it is important to be honest and transparent about this whole ugly grieving thing, I wanted to find a more hopeful “bent” for this next post.

Let’s face it – this was an awful winter for so many of us, no matter where we live.  Here in the Midwest, we were enticed into a hopeful expectation of a mild winter with our uneventful November and December.  And then, WHAM!  The rest of the winter was just so full of record lows, record low highs, record monthly snowfall, record days without sunshine and probably a lot of other nasty records that I can’t recall.

That is hard on even the most Pollyanna-ish of us all.

For me, I also struggled with the second winter season without snow blowing equipment that worked.  So, lots of hand shoveling – at one point with a broken shovel because I couldn’t find any new ones in Des Moines.  More than one “melt-down” out on my driveway…

Add to that the difficulty of second year widowhood and it resulted in the worst winter of my life.

“Gee, Lynne, if this is your idea of a more hopeful blog post, you might want to work on your approach a bit.”

Admit it – you were thinking that, right!?

Don’t worry, it’s coming!

The past few days here in central Iowa have finally brought us a taste of what we hope lies ahead.  Spring weather!  I just finished walking my dog, Miss Daisy, and I was so encouraged by the sunshine, the kids out playing in the yards or riding their bikes, lots of dog-walkers, people in cars with their windows down, birds singing, a few brave flowers peeking out.  That’s a decent list, isn’t it?

Spring flowers.jpg

And it absolutely lifted my spirit out of that dark, winter hole.  I hope you’ve all been able to experience that as well.  To me, that’s part of what this Spring season is about.  New growth, new life, new hope, new season.

Because my brain is almost always in “blog mode,” I look for lessons in the simplicity of life.  I believe one of the lessons learned as we get ready to turn the calendar to April is that, eventually, the winter ends.  Oh sure, I know we could get a bit more snow, but we know it won’t last.

We don’t hope IN VAIN for Spring to arrive.  God will undeniably usher it into our lives soon.  And Spring arrival is such a perfect example of how God also ushers comfort, peace, healing, relief, and reprieve into our lives after a winter season in our soul.

I’m not saying God will always eliminate our heartaches.  I know from personal experience that He does not.  But I do believe He understands our limits and brings relief when we need it most.

Dale and I experienced a very difficult 2013.  He suffered through one illness after another after another.  So many trips to the ER and to hospitals across the state – with the associated bureaucratic headaches.  I struggled to juggle work and household responsibilities with all the time and energy expended on his health needs. Add to that a couple of deaths in our family and we were both at the end of our ropes.

And then… the calm.  I kept waiting for another shoe to drop, but it did not.  You might expect me to have learned a deep, theological lesson from that horrible year.  THIS was my lesson – eventually it all came to an end.

Yep, that’s all I got.  I was actually a bit disappointed that it wasn’t more profound.  But then I realized that it was!  God DOES bring our difficult seasons to an end.  Maybe the difficulty is actually removed or resolved.

But maybe, the relief comes in the form of a new perspective.  Maybe a scripture text, or a devotional, or a sermon, or a kind friend’s words have caused you to see even your most difficult season a little differently.

Ultimately, the best way for us to view our difficulties is in light of eternity.  If you’re a believer, your hope lies not in the arrival of Spring, but in the promise of heaven where there is no more pain, suffering or tears.  Where we reunite FOREVER with our Savior – and with the loved ones we so long to see.  I can’t imagine a hope more glorious than that!

 

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing,

so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Romans 15:13

 

 

 

The Therapist’s Couch

When I began writing this blog over a year ago, the main purpose was to help me process through my grief after losing Dale.  It was essentially my therapist’s couch!  But I was hopeful that I would find little nuggets of wisdom to pass along to the readers as well, so that God could use this blog to help others along their own journey.  And honestly, finding that nugget was a goal for each and every post.

Well, today I am deeply entrenched on that therapist couch because today’s post is, unfortunately, just me processing some very difficult days.  You may get nothing out of this.  And for that, I apologize.  But I decided last night after another grief-filled day that I needed to pour out my heart, not only to God (as I often do), but to this cyber page.

Image result for free image woman on therapist couch

If you do decide to keep reading, let me preface this with a few disclaimers.  This season does NOT mean that my faith in a good God has wavered.  I still trust Him, still believe in His sovereignty over everything, still turn to Him in prayer during my dark moments.  And I still cling to His promise of eternal life with Him when this life is past – and for my reunion with Dale.

I also still live a pretty normal-looking life on the outside.  Most of the time I don’t have public break-downs.  I don’t walk around with my head down crying, “Woe is me!”  I’ve learned how to function in this new “normal.”  And yes, that new normal does have times of joy and blessing for which I am truly grateful.  Many (most?) people might even think I’ve healed and moved on.  My grieving season must be over.

But, the reality is that every single day is overwhelmingly marked by sadness and loneliness.  I feel bombarded with memories of my good times with Dale.  Not just a couple of times a day, but too many times to even count.  I would go so far as to say they are almost a constant presence in my day.  It might be a specific memory of something we enjoyed together.  But so often, it’s the memory of how much I loved him and how much he loved me.

I seem to have no influence over this bombardment.  I’m not sitting around for most of the day, trying to conjure up these memories so that I can have a good cry.  They can hit me at any time of the day or night – whether I’m sitting quietly or in the middle of an activity with a group of people.  Sometimes I know what triggered the memory or the emotion.  Other times, they just stab my heart with no warning whatsoever.

It’s exhausting.  I’m exhausted.  I’ve tried to be a glass-half-full kind of gal most of my life, so it’s incomprehensible to me that I’ve been so sad for 514 days.  And to have no idea when the sun will come out again.

You might wonder why those good memories bring me to tears.  Clearly, they are bittersweet.  I’m grateful beyond words for the life we had together before his dementia stole that from us.  But, the larger-than-life reality is that those times are over and I long for them…and him…like nothing I have ever experienced before.  And the depth of the pain and heartache is also like nothing I have ever experienced before.

You might also wonder if there’s something fundamentally wrong with me to be grieving this deeply 17 months after his death.  Harder now than a year ago.  And maybe you silently want me to start taking some meds.  I won’t rehash my thoughts on that subject here, but feel free to visit a previous post about that!

Over this past year, I have had lots of conversations with other widows or friends who have experienced a deep loss.  And either purposefully or accidentally, I’ve landed on many articles or blog posts written by those suffering a loss.

Almost universally, they talk about how much harder the grieving is 2-3 years after the loss.  Some are still deeply grieving DECADES after the loss.  That does not encourage me!

But it does tell me that the reality of this season I’m in is not “just me.”  I find myself nodding through almost all of these articles, relating to their pain and their wonderment at how long it’s lasting.

So, no, I don’t think what I’m going through is unique.  What IS unique is the sharing of it.  I believe so many people suffer in silence, not wanting to be an emotional burden on their friends.  Or they may share within a grief support group.  Those can be extremely healing for anyone grieving a loss, but often the experiences shared there, stay there.  And sometimes, just maybe, those experiences need to be shared with the grieving person’s circle of support.

Well, I think that’s enough gloom and doom for today.  Thank you for listening!  Since I cried through this whole post-writing, I do feel better!  And putting it out there as transparently as I can is healthy and helpful for me.

Do I expect this post to change your interactions with me?  Not really.  It was never about that.  I absolutely understand that people aren’t going to be following up with me on a daily basis as some did in those early days.  And that’s how it should be.  We do most of the hard work of grieving alone.  (Stay tuned for the April 2nd post on my ministry site for more on that!)

So this post is not a call to action for any of you.  At the most, maybe it gives you a little perspective.  Maybe it busts a myth or two about the length and depth of grieving.  Maybe it reminds you to keep praying for me.  THAT I will take!

This was just me trying to articulate, mostly for my own benefit, the difficulty of this path I’m on.  I will still look for blessings in each day – and I know they will be there.  And I will continue to witness God’s refinement of me and my faith through this trial.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted

    and saves the crushed in spirit.

Psalm 34:18

Blog-iversary

As a writer, of sorts, it’s probably not appropriate to make up silly words like I just did for this title.  But, it popped into my head, so there you go!

This week marked the one-year anniversary of my first blog post on this site.  As with the commemoration of so many key dates, we often are torn between how quickly the time goes, on one hand, and how it has painfully crawled along on the other.

I have some of those same emotions over this date.  In some ways, it seems like a lifetime ago when I clearly felt God directing me to work through this deep sorrow by writing about it.  And yet, I’m surprised by the realization that a year has passed.

I just reread the original post and it brought back many of the feelings I had then – excitement, but a bit of trepidation stepping into a world I knew very little about.  Blogging OR widowhood!

While wedding anniversaries are a time of reminiscing over all that a couple has shared together, so this anniversary will be one where I reminisce about all that has transpired from a ministry perspective.

The timing is appropriate because just a few days ago, I gave my newly “retooled” videotaped presentation to a group of friends at my church.  It felt like a new beginning – and one clearly led by God.

Maybe more than anything this past year, that’s what I take away from this.  Even though I’ve been a believer since I was 14-years-old, I have never so clearly seen God open up doors, drop people into my life when I most needed their expertise AND their kindnesses, and time after time give me words to express ideas and concepts that seemed to land in my mind out of “nowhere.”

It’s an incredible, humbling experience to be used by the Almighty God!  And I’m so grateful that He can take this pain of widowhood and use it to help others learn how to bless their hurting friends.  It is so like God to not waste an ounce of our pain, but to use it for good in this fallen world.

I’ve written about how the second year of widowhood is so much harder than the first, and as I was living that reality and struggling with extra difficult weeks recently, I tried to develop the infamous “attitude of gratitude.”  It might be a silly, secular idea, but there is also much biblical support for embracing this. (See my closing scripture.)

So, I decided one of the best ways to escape the daily heartache of this season (widowhood AND this nasty winter!) would be to look for blessings in Every. Single. Day.  It really isn’t that hard.  Every day does have good things and one of the blessings that rose to the top of the list was this ministry.

For the first time in almost 20 years, I don’t have any (human) family members whose care is my sole responsibility.  For the first time since I started working at the Pella Super Valu in 1971, I don’t have a job to fill up my days.  This ministry is now my life’s calling – and I take it seriously!

And the purpose and joy and excitement and insights and spiritual growth it brings to my life cannot be understated.  I’m grateful beyond measure.  If you haven’t been to the ministry website, I’d love for you to visit!

For those who have prayed with me, cried with me, laughed with me, challenged me, and simply hung in there with me through this last year – THANK YOU from the bottom of this grateful heart.  YOU are a blessing that rose to the top as well.

I look forward to the year ahead, not knowing often from day to day what that looks like.  Quite a change for this Type A planner!  But a more sovereign Planner is now in charge and I yield to His vision.

So, whether you spend your days in the workplace rat race, at home with children, in school, volunteering, or occupied by any other busy-ness that the world can throw at you, I pray that you too can put your trust in that same all-powerful and all-knowing Planner!

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances;

for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18