A Divided Heart

At my church here in Sterling we’ve been working through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and this Sunday the portion we looked at was Matthew 6:25-34. You know, the whole segment about not being anxious. I went into the sermon not expecting to be too surprised by anything the pastor said about it; after all, I’ve heard those verses a million times and I even memorized them as a kid.

But as I was listening and reading along, something new struck me. It was the first word of the first verse we read.

“Therefore…”

Wait a minute. When you see a therefore in Scripture you’re supposed to look back and figure out what the therefore is there for. (Don’t think I’m good at making plays on words. I heard that one a long time ago – I just don’t remember when or where I heard it.) So I looked back up at verse 24.

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

Then verse 25 follows up immediately:

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

I like to write notes and thoughts in all the blank spaces in my Bible, and at the end of verse 24 I have written that referring to serving money is really materialism, which is idolatry and despises God. Well, this Sunday as I was pondering the connection between the section on serving two masters and the section on worrying, I realized – the “therefore” is there because worrying is materialism. It is valuing your material circumstances so highly that it affects the way you live and view life. Valuing anything to the point that it controls you is idolatry.

Let me say it again: Anxiety is idolatry.

As I was considering that, the pastor gave a definition of anxiety as “to be distracted or divided”. There it is again. Divided between two masters – God, and the thing that is consuming your mind and keeping you up at night. By devoting your thoughts and energies to worrying, you in turn despise the Lord, because you can’t serve both at the same time.

It’s funny, because everything I’ve been studying and listening to recently is tying together. If you remember, on Saturday I wrapped up my ramble by sharing Psalm 86:10-11. Here it is again for your reference.

For You are great and do wondrous things; You alone are God. Teach me Your way, O Lord, that I may walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear Your name.

In addition, I’m currently reading Loving God with All Your Mind by Elizabeth George and it has been talking about how instead of worrying we need to consistently and intentionally think about what is right and true rather than what is imagined. The pieces all go together. Anxiety is dividedness. Dwelling on truth is the proper alternative to anxiety, one that unites a once-divided heart to be able to reverence God as He deserves. We cannot serve God and our worries. We must choose truth and a unity of heart so that we can fully serve Him as our one God.

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Loved

My God loves me so much! He knows that I struggle to be able to sense Him speaking directly to me, so sometimes He sends me the sweetest reminders through my friends. Earlier this semester one of my roommates told me about a very intimate time she had with God. It was a really neat story and it encouraged me greatly – but what blew me away was what she shared at the end. She told me that as she was wrapping up her time with God, He directed her – no, enthusiastically prodded her! – to tell me all about it. Why? Just because He knows that I need stories like that to encourage me and to help me to grow closer to the God I struggle to sense on my own.

Yesterday a completely different friend who I have only known since August did it again. We’ve talked about writing and art and cooking and photography and furnishing apartments (she recently got her own place and I’m looking into getting an apartment this summer), but we’ve never really gone into anything much deeper than that. Until yesterday, that is. She shared with me about a bunch of deep things that God has been teaching her in the past couple months and how she has been growing closer to God, and we had a really wonderful, deep conversation – the kind of amazing conversations I crave and get frustrated when people aren’t willing to have. And then at the end…you can maybe guess what’s coming…she told me that God had been telling her to talk with me. *Really* talk with me. Why? Just because He knew that her stories about God and her deep conversation would be a huge blessing and an encouragement to me.

You can’t convince me that God does not love His children dearly. To see that He loves me enough, not just to give me little blessings all over the place – and He does, constantly – but even more to specifically tell people, “You should tell Calista about that; she will love to hear about it!” — I can’t even comprehend it anymore. My God continually opens my eyes to just how very much He loves me, and my mortal being can’t even handle the thought of it. My own love, even were it to attain impossible, complete perfection, is far, far too poor a response to offer my Maker for this wonderful, overwhelming love He gives. I am bankrupt, over my head in a marvelous debt that I can never ever repay in a million lifetimes.

And this…this is the God we serve. This is the God whom we strive to know and love for the few years we have on this tiny planet. I – you – we are loved by the most powerful, awesome, perfect, and overwhelming Being in all of eternity. How can you beat that??

“For You are great and do wondrous things; You alone are God. Teach me Your way, O Lord, that I may walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear Your name.” ~ Psalm 86:10-11

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Like Rain

There are some days when you just know that God has a sense of humor. As I write this I’m sitting in my room with soggy towels all over the floor because the rain got in from somewhere and proceeded to wash the floor that I haven’t bothered to mop in months. (I know, nasty…) And I have to laugh, just a little, because God’s using even a rain-covered floor to show me His goodness today.

I guess it’s story time. Honestly, I’ve been struggling emotionally the last couple weeks. It’s nothing new; I’ve dealt with it off and on for quite a while, but in the last couple weeks the struggle intensified, and with it, of course, the accompanying depression. (Good old depression…) I started thinking of myself as a Shieldmaiden when I’m struggling, because it helps remind me to keep my chin up and keep seeking God, but his past week has been especially difficult to fight off the unhealthy thoughts.

In the middle of it all, God steered my attention to Hosea 6:3 (a verse I was familiar with especially because I used it in a lesson while I was at STEP this summer) which says this:

Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; His going out is sure as the dawn; He will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.

He will come as the rain. I continue to have questions that remain unanswered, but He will come to me like the rain, as sure as the dawn. As if to confirm it, on the day that He reminded me of that verse, it rained. And then a couple days later when I was struggling again, it rained again. You might laugh at me, but it’s too good of timing for me not to notice the correlation.

Today – this afternoon, actually, I was spending time in His presence, realizing once again how carefully thoughtful and detailed His is in His care of me. He knows I’ve been struggling with my thoughts and depression, and He also knows that in those instances I need something else to occupy my mind. Every day this past week He’s given me something new as an alternative to the thoughts I struggle to evict therefrom. Realizing and counting up the ways in which He has specifically taken effort to love me recently overwhelmed me. And right about then it began to utterly POUR down rain, to the point of overwhelming the basement’s waterproofing and running all across the floors. (Which effectively occupied me yet more when I discovered I needed to rescue my floor, haha!)

God is good. He knows I need the small things, and He gives me plenty of them to keep on reminding me just how overwhelmingly He loves me. To think that the Creator of the universe cares enough to specifically take care of me when I’m having a tough time, just like a loving husband looking after his wife. To think that He cares that much about me – and YOU, too! I hope that you know the kind of love I’m talking about. Not knowing it with your head, but from raw, overwhelming experience. If you haven’t, I pray that you do. Because if the God you worship is too busy to attend to the smaller details of your life just for the sake of making you smile because He loves you, well… you haven’t had a chance to really – REALLY – get to know this awesome God we serve.

My words are too small to do Him justice, but He is good. What more can I say?

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Desires

I was talking with my mentors this morning, and the subject shifted to desires. I don’t remember what exactly was said at the moment, but it sparked a thought.

Why does God give us desires – to serve in a specific way, to do a specific thing, to get married, etc – that, sometimes, can take years and years and years to come to pass – or never come to pass at all? I think of people who had great hopes and dreams but died before they could achieve them. What about people that have enormous talent and a desire to use it, but never get the chance? Why does God do that sometimes?

I used to assume that if God gave me a desire to do or be something it would for sure come to pass. But today I stopped and wondered – I have a lot of things that I want to do, and there may not ever be a chance for me to do them in this life. If God gave me a desire, that makes it good, right? And if it is a good desire, it ought to come to pass, right? But what if He gave me a perfectly good, God-honoring desire that wasn’t meant to come to pass? Why would He do that?

What if sometimes God gives us desires in order to see what we will do with them? We assume that an unfulfilled desire is a bad thing, but what if the real tragedy is a desire wrongly handled?

I want my life, everything, even my desires to honor God – whether or not my life has a so-called “happy ending”. If I continue through my whole life with ungranted desires that are deeply important to me, and choose even in the midst of that to continue to seek God and serve Him and surrender the desire to Him for His glory, then I’d say that’s no waste. That’s a battle for sure, but every battle is also an opportunity to allow God to be strong in place of our weakness. And every time we surrender our weakness and allow God to be our strength we glorify God. That’s not such a bad ending at all.

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Stepladders

I have a tendency to panic. You know the feeling – that constriction of the chest while the brain begins a blurry dance of fear. It feels like my soul can’t sit still, and I can’t focus either.

Thankfully, when the panic creeps in I have learned to ask several trusted friends and mentors to pray for me; but I have a nasty habit of neglecting to calm my own self in the presence of my Lord in order to lay my frustrations before Him myself. What prayers I do manage tend to be frenzied, desperate, and seemingly unheard, instead of confident and trusting. I begin to feel as though I need to beg my Father God in order for Him to listen to me.

Recently I’ve been waiting on several things to iron out. It’s hard especially when there seems to be no end to the wait and you have a deadline coming up that is highly dependent on the thing-for-which-you-are-waiting. As I was fighting the panic over this particular thing, there came up two separate incidents where someone else needed prayer, and although I barely prayed God answered instantly and tangibly, and in the wake of the second incident I came to a realization:

The God who took the trouble to stoop down to my level to save my soul does not now require me to get on a stepladder in order to be heard.

He never stopped caring – and He has proven over and over how deeply He cares about every little detail of my life. It is I who forget His character and consequently lose my ability to entrust myself to Him. And there, in that realization, I was able to again find the peace that I had let my circumstances steal from me. And He answered. Isn’t our God good? 😀

 

Meanwhile, speaking of STEPladders, His answer is going to result in my absence from the internet for five and a half weeks whilst I serve on staff at STEP once again. (Which you can learn more about here. I highly recommend it to every young lady!) After I get back I do hope to post on here a little more regularly for the remainder of the summer. (And who knows how that will go once school starts up again. We already saw how that worked out this past school year…) I’ll be leaving this upcoming Tuesday (yes, the 23rd – four days hence) and will be back June 28 or so. As in past summers, feel free to contact me, either by letter to

IAA attn: STEP Calista Holmes
One Academy Blvd
Big Sandy, TX 75755

or by email to step@alertacademy.com with ‘Calista Holmes’ in the subject box. I may or may not have time to answer, but I would love to hear from you all. Even just chatter about your daily life. I love hearing from you. 🙂

Don’t burn the house down in my absence, but I won’t feel hurt if you sell my stepladder on Ebay while I’m gone. Consider that one a lesson learned. 😉

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Blank Canvases

The other day I journeyed to Hobby Lobby to hunt down art supplies for one of my classes. That store is not a safe place to go alone! I don’t like shopping in general, but I love browsing Hobby Lobby’s aisles and dreaming about what I could do with all the fascinating materials I find. This time I walked through an aisle full of empty canvases in all different shapes and sizes, and I felt a little thrill go through me. It was the same reaction I get to aisles of empty notebooks and gel pens. (Am I weird?) Apparently I get excited by potential. Thinking about it a little bit more, I realise I don’t feel the same way about a finished piece of art – even a gorgeous one – as I do about an empty canvas. I love beautiful artwork and it makes me happy, but it’s not the same as the exciting potential of an empty canvas.

So I wonder… does God feel the same way about us? When we come to Him with our own plans set in our mind – even if they are good things – we’re comparable to a canvas filled with the blotches of color we have picked for ourselves. It seems to follow that when we come before Him and lay everything – desires, preferences, plans, possessions, loved ones – at His feet in surrender, we become a blank canvas, empty and clean, ready for Him to paint the masterpiece He envisions. I’ll bet He gets really excited about that!

Life has a tendency to empty us on occasion. It takes away our plans in the blink of an eye with something as quick and irreversible as a wreck. It takes all our energy until we feel like we are utterly empty and have nothing left. I will always remember what a friend once told me when I was at that point of utter emptiness. She said that “sometimes God has to empty us before He can fully fill us.”

I want to be filled with Him. I want my life to be a masterpiece that reflects His creative genius. And so, I want to be like those empty canvases in Hobby Lobby.

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Looking Over My Shoulder

The year flew by, and yet last January seems like ages ago. About this time last year I had begun to toy with the idea of going back to school, not knowing why I wanted to or if it was even God’s leading. The idea was simply there, and it refused to leave. So, about a year ago scared little me visited campus for the first time. I had no idea what I was getting into, and I didn’t even have any confidence that the visit would lead to anything. And yet, a year later, here I am getting packed up to head back for interterm and spring semester 2017.

I know for sure, all this had to be God’s doing.

It’s funny, because 2016 has become infamous, yet for me it proved the biggest adventure I’ve gone on yet. When I started the year out I had no idea what was going to happen or where God was leading for sure, but I stepped out the door like a hobbit and followed with faltering steps. I visited campus, hunted for scholarships, worked at my job, went to Bible study, and in general just did life. I knew that I couldn’t get to college in my own strength, and quite frankly I wasn’t sure I would make it there at all. But I felt like that was the direction everything was leading. Then God decided to test my trust. He chose to close the coffeehouse where I had happily worked for almost two years, and consequently took away the only steady income I had. It was as if He was asking – and I could almost physically hear it, it was that clear – “Do you trust Me?” And I had to learn to answer yes, and trust that He knew what He was up to.

Then He gave me another job – actually two – working at the school there in town. I never, never in my life dreamed that I, the introverted and awkward homeschooled kid, would someday work in a public school (no matter how temporarily). It’s funny how the Lord works! It wasn’t a job I would have expected, but it kept me going until school closed for the summer. And then as I felt the strangeness of being unemployed once again, He asked me, “Do you trust Me?” Yes, Lord, I do. I was looking to serve on staff at STEP (you may remember, that’s the camp thing I’ve gone to several times and absolutely love), and waiting to hear back whether they needed me. I desperately hoped I could go, but God inexplicably told me no and closed the door in my face. Instead, He asked me to give towards scholarships for several girls who wanted to come as students but didn’t have the money to do so. He asked me to give way more than I was comfortable with – so much that any reasonable person would look at me – the girl who didn’t have money for college but was trying to get there anyway – and announce that I was insane. And He asked me again – did I really trust Him enough to give away what I had been saving for school? Yes, Lord, I trust You.

So I did it. And He showed me an ad in the newspaper. Someone was looking for youngsters willing to work and do odd jobs around their property. I didn’t know the person, and my parents didn’t either. I didn’t really want to call the number (I hate making phone calls), but the ad had been in the paper for several weeks now and it seemed they must not have gotten any responses from people. So I called and discovered a wonderful lady who was overjoyed to have Noelle and me come as often as we could to help her with various odd jobs. She paid us well, and when the summer was almost over she even gave us extra to put towards school. And so, God used a stranger whom I didn’t even know existed until I needed her to provide yet again.

Then He gave me generous gifts from the former coffeehouse board and my church board to help pay for college. It was enough that I could make the first tuition payment right before I was supposed to move on campus. I barely had anything leftover in my checking account afterwards, but it was enough for the moment. At about the same time, He also provided me with the promise of a job. It was one where most college students work as walk-ins; that is to say, they walk in whenever they have time and if there is something for them to do, they work. Yet for me, He gave me a steady position helping one specific person. I could have a regular work schedule, always knowing there was something there for me to do, and I could start as soon as I moved in.

It has been such a blessing to have the job, but with the very few scholarships I was able to hunt down my tuition payments were still impossibly high. I had made the first one, but only by the gifts given me by people I love back home. The next one was staring me in the face, and I did not have nearly enough to pay for it. I panicked, and turned to my two mentors, begging them for prayer as the deadline loomed closer. And then, at pretty much the last minute, after I had spent the day pleading with God to provide somehow, I found that someone had paid the vast majority of it for me, and I needed to pay less than $75 to make up the difference. I have never in my life felt so relieved and thankful and joyful and humbled and ashamed of my unbelief all at the same time!

Later on in the semester I had a new need – one that I had not anticipated at all. I came back from Fall break to find that my bike was not where I had left it. Nor was it in any of the other places where I would have been likely to leave it. (That bike was the only means of transportation I had with me because my parents couldn’t afford to send a vehicle with me, and I couldn’t afford to buy one for myself.) It was just a rusty old garage-sale bike with no brakes or gear shifts and no suspension whatsoever. And now it was gone and I had no bike to ride the mile from campus to work. To say I was upset would be an understatement. I was distraught and furious at whoever decided my bike was up for grabs, and panicking because I couldn’t afford to buy a new bike – not with my tuition payments!

I did the only thing I could think of. I told my online friend group among whom we have all shared prayer requests as we need extra support and asked them to pray for me, and then I walked to work. The next day I found my bike laying on the ground under the tree in which someone had decided it would be funny to hang it. Its chain was broken, rendering it useless, and so I walked to work again. And that’s when God provided again. That day a friend gave me some money for a bike, and my supervisor at work offered to get his buddy to fix the old one. After work he drove me back to campus and picked up my forlorn-looking bike to take to his friend. I asked him to see if his friend would put brakes on it while he was at it (I would pay him). But God had something else in mind, and the next day when I got to work and neared my desk I found a beautiful brand new bike with the glitteriest giant red bow on it. My supervisor had decided that the old bike was too junky to be worth fixing, and so he and his wife bought me a new one. Once again the Lord overwhelmed me and provided more than I could have asked or imagined.

And so the whole semester went. God has provided for me, not all at once like I wanted Him to, but enough for every step just as I needed it. He has provided for me in countless ways, both big and small, and never the same way twice. As if to top the year off, just before finals He provided an extra grant for the next semester that lowered my tuition payments to a point where my income should be able to cover it, with some left over. He is so, so good! I wish I had trusted Him more fully, and stressed less along the way. I wish I hadn’t doubted Him so often. He has brought me on this incredible adventure, and though I still don’t know exactly why He chose to send me back to school, it has been such an amazing experience to stretch my faith and grow closer to Him that it has been worth it. So tomorrow I head back for Round 2. It will probably be crazy. It will most likely be exhausting. I doubt it will be easy. Contrary to popular expectations, I don’t know if I will finish my degree. But I do know that the God who has brought me this far will continue to take me as far as He wills, and when He changes my direction (whether with a degree or without one), it will be just as wonderful an adventure.

God doesn’t work according to human understanding. This whole adventure has proved that to me over and over. Everyone expected me to get loans for school, and took it for granted that I would do so. Yet I believe that debt is not God’s will for anyone, and so I trusted Him to provide without my going into debt. He has. Human understanding would never say to give away the vast majority of your school savings, but God asked me to do so, and provided for me just the same. He cares for me even when I am doubtful and fearful and emotional and react in ways that don’t honor Him. Last year was a crazy roller-coaster, but I am so glad that He took me on the roller-coaster with Him. I can’t wait to see what adventures He brings this year!

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Individual Initiative

It has been quite a while since I have posted and I apologize for my negligence.

Here we are in the eve of yet another election. I have kept pretty quiet about politics in general, but I’ve been pondering and it felt like a good time to share my thoughts.

Most of us have an opinion about the presidential candidates and most of our opinions are pretty strong. But let’s face the facts, folks – there’s not one single candidate who can fix our problems. Not even the most perfect candidate in the world has what it takes to make everything right. Why do I say this? Because it’s not a government official’s job to fix everything. All a government can do is make laws and create programs. Laws and programs are good to a degree, but they have no power to cure the real issue at the heart of our country. They are only things, and things can’t fix the root problem.

See, the root problem is the same as it’s always been – sin. Sinful people can only be changed on a personal level one by one. The right person in the government simply can’t do that. It’s our job as individuals. Our personal conduct day in and day out, our taking the initiative to find ways to care for the people in need in our circles and communities, our own attitude towards every single face we see as we go about our lives. We, especially as Spirit-filled followers of Christ, have the power to make it break a nation; a single president can change the governmental structure of the country, but we can change the heart and soul of it.

So we shouldn’t worry too much about who wins the election. If, say, you wish we could have a pro-life president (and that is a great thing), I submit to you that you might be missing the point. The point is for you to be pro-life. Not by posting on facebook, slamming the people who disagree with you. That’s not pro-life; that is a disgrace. Be pro-life by looking at that pregnant teen through eyes of love. Be pro-life by investing in her long-term, both now and after the baby is born. Be pro-life by being that person who adds to her quality of life. Be pro-life by being willing to take on her baby if she feels she can’t keep it.

The kind of politics that matter the most are the ones we live, not the ones we talk about. It’s easy to just vote and have done, but if you want to see hearts change, you have to be willing to take the initiative as an individual. Because that kind of change is our job, not the government’s.

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Whaaaaa?

(You can tell how far downhill my brain has gone when the title isn’t even a real word. 😉 )

Today Matthias asked me to build a LEGO castle for him. I had a new design I wanted to build, so unlike previous similar constructions I didn’t build it from the ground up like he expected. I wanted to do something new and fascinating, and so for my design I built several disconnected (and confusing-looking) pieces that I would later attach to each other. He watched in perplexity, trying to figure out what I was doing, but I didn’t explain how the pieces would fit. It’s not that I wanted to confuse him, but I knew that if I tried to explain it to him he wouldn’t really understand. I wanted him to have the surprise and delight of finally seeing and understanding the design when all the pieces were ready to be put together. I think his appreciation of the castle was greater because of the way he watched it come together than it might have been otherwise.

And then it occurred to me that God does the same thing. He builds our stories in many different pieces that don’t look like they fit together whatsoever. We pester Him for explanations and answers, but He doesn’t always stop to explain. Sometimes He simply keeps on working quietly, knowing that, while we are not capable of visualizing now what He has in the works, when we do finally see it we will understand and praise Him for what He has done. Sometimes our appreciation for what God does is greater when we can’t understand all the little pieces until they come together. Then in awe, we praise and thank Him, overwhelmed by His goodness.

So… in a way, it can be best when we don’t  understand. The end result may very well be mind-blowing.

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Don’t Fear

I was reading in Luke this morning, specifically chapter 21. Jesus had just finished describing the chaos and the fear and the uncertainty of the end times and then He said something that caught my attention. Luke 21:28 states it thus:

Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

Straighten up and raise your heads. Don’t be afraid. Take these fearful signs and acts of violence and confusion as a sign to be even more bold. At a time when everyone around us is running and hiding away, we’re to stand up straight in anticipation of the joy and the hope that will soon be fulfilled.

I think the concept applies not just to the end times. It applies to the present. Today, when we’re facing an unappetizing presidential election, when we’re bombarded with story after story of atrocious acts of violence and cruelty, when the world is reeling in confusion because it cannot define right from wrong, when the media spouts out scandals and conspiracies, I’m reminded of Isaiah 8:12-13:

Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, Him you shall honor as holy. Let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread.

The Lord knows the intents of the hearts of men better than any of us, and He is in control of the future, conspiracies or no conspiracies. Our hope has never been in perfecting our country or our world. Our hope is not even in peace. Our hope is not in personal comfort. David wrote in Psalm 23:4,

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evilfor You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

Our hope is founded in, and comes from, the God who walks with us. He is the God who knows what is going on in the world and who is working all things toward their final climax, in which He will once and for all gain the victory over the enemy, over death, over pain, over sickness, over every evil and wretched thing. Why should we fear because of what is going around us? Even if we face persecution and death in the near future, why should we fear? They cannot touch our souls. They cannot steal the joy that only comes from the God who created us and who holds us in the palm of His hand. They can take every personal freedom, privilege, and right; they can even take our lives; but they can never take away our inheritance in the kingdom to come.

What then should our response be to the chaos around us?  I’ll end with Philippians 1:27-28 which sums it up pretty well:

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.

Let our boldness be the sign to the world of our salvation. Perhaps by our example according to Christ’s power, they will see and come to know that He is the true King over all.

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