All Saints Day


This past Sunday was All Saints Day, the day in the liturgical church calendar we remember and honor those who have died in the Lord.  This has always been a really meaningful service for me, but this year I walked into our little Anglican church in Nashville with some trepidation.  Our pastor, Thomas, had sent an e-mail out to everyone in the congregation asking us to tell our stories of loved ones no longer with us whose lives impacted ours in a profound way.  Teachers who changed our minds and hearts, parents, grandparents or siblings that loved us well, friends who pointed us to God.  He was devoting the entire sermon to these testimonies and wanted us to honor those lives publicly.

Death is no stranger to my family.  I lost my father five years ago to a rare disease when he was only 56.  I’m still feeling the ripple effects of how that has changed my views on God, life, death, parenting, expectations for my time on this earth, everything.  To be honest, it is harder in some ways today than it was initially.  Now that I have three children of my own I think of his suffering and death with a heaviness that I could not understand in my twenties.  I don’t know what he was thinking or feeling in those last days before he died, but as I imagine leaving my own children I have a little more understanding of the weight he must have carried leaving us behind.  I now feel free to be very, very sad about it sometimes.  Not just for my dad but that suffering and death exist at all.  During lent when my pastor puts the ashes on my head and says, “From dust you are and to dust you shall return” I’m always a bit jolted.  Our youth-obsessed society is not comfortable talking about these things and most of the time, neither am I.

But something amazing happened that Sunday morning with those two-hundred or so people crammed into our sanctuary.  Our collective sorrow, shared with each other, turned into the most beautiful and cathartic peace.  Jesus’ peace that passes all understanding.  I heard elderly widows honor their husbands and end by talking about Jesus’ blessed assurance.  I heard men honor their grandmothers and fathers and former professors and friends.  I heard a young woman honor the husband and father she and her daughters had lost only a year before with such dignity and grace that I knew again Jesus was real.

And then I got up there and bawled like a baby from my first sentence to my last.  I was a mess.  No poise, no grace, just a really terrible and awkward cry-face.  And somehow in that safe place I was completely okay with that.  I talked about my dad and where he came from, what he loved and how he pointed me to Jesus.   How he left me with a legacy that would outlive him and all of us in this life, a heavenly Father whose kingdom has no end.

By the time the service was over and we sang our last hymn there wasn’t a dry eye in the place.  To be able to laugh, cry and embrace all of life from birth to death with my church family is a precious gift.  To know that mine is one of countless stories and that I am not alone gives me strength and comfort. All that is required is for me to show up and occasionally make a fool of myself to be known as I really am.

If you want to continue this exercise of honoring those who have gone before us, share your story here.  As Thomas said that Sunday, we see a small part of the communion table now but one day we will sit at it in its entirety with all the saints:  past, present and future.

Amen.  Come Lord Jesus.


  1. paulh

    Jim Skeith – A WWII Vetern, father of 2, TWA airplane mechanic for over 40 years, and my maternal grandfather.
    Even though he had restled with his ghosts and demons such as bitterness, alcoholism, harshness, etc., I loved him so much. He taught me to fish, how to take a bath in a lake, hunting, pipe smoking (indirectly), showed me actions and what you do are best and the less is more when it comes to words.

    My grandmother and the rest of the family had prayed for his salvation for years. Both his children, a daughter (my mom) and his son (who was and still is with The Navigators) were believers.

    One night, at the age of 50. He got in his car in KC, MO. and drove to Seattle, WA. to see his son. There was a burning question on hs heart and he had to deal with it.
    He got there and asked if “this Jesus is the real thing and please explain it in detail”

    He accepted Christ that night.

    I have not witnessed a life change like my Granpa’s. He COMPLETELY changed over night. He went cold turkey on the booze, became an active memeber in his church, openly loved us all with words and actions from his heart. It shocked me to hear him end our phone conversations with “I love you, Paul”
    but i know he meant it.

    His heart was alive in Christ, and I got to see a glimspe of what God meant when He made Granpa Jim.

    7 years ago he developed Alzhiemer’s. The decline was sad to watch. He got to the point he didn’t know himself or us. He lived in a nursing home where he passed away 2 years ago. He was 85. The evil one sure is harsh, trying to steal his memory and joy, but did not succeed.

    I know God had him in his arms then and today he is with our Lord, more alive than ever.

  2. Sherry

    I lost my grandfather a few years ago. Last December, my grandmother joined him along with their son who had passed away many years ago. My grandparents are honored every year at my aunt’s church’s All Saints Day celebration. I can only imagine my grandmother’s face and her joy when she saw her precious son and her beloved husband again. I can’t wait to see them all again. We miss them so much.

  3. Macie

    My Aunt Ruelle passed away 8 years ago, she was 42. I was 15 years old, it was the first death that I had to deal with up close and personally. I remember going into the hospital room and seeing her there–cold and dead. I remember it was the first and only time I’ve ever seen my grandfather cry.

    She was a woman who served others. She loved those whom many of us see as unlovable.

    She’s now fully alive in Christ!

  4. LJ

    “ I feel like if I walk alongside you through this, I’ll begin to see the light of heaven on your face.” Dad responded quickly and indignantly, “ You don’t see that now? “ “ Sure I do, but I think if I stick close by, I’ll learn something about heaven that can only be known in the face of death.”

    Death can hit you in the face. That conversation took place shortly after my Dad was diagnosed with inoperable cancer. Faced with the reality that Dad was dying, regret began to stir within me. Regret that although I loved my Dad, in many significant ways I didn’t feel I knew him. So many years had been shared between us and yet he’d so rarely given me his heart. And I’d rarely shown mine for fear of being rebuffed or thought of as overly sentimental. Now a death sentence had fallen squarely in our path and we both knew it wasn’t likely to go away.

    Somehow you never think much about how the loss of a parent will impact you. It had rarely crossed my mind but in the first days of Dad’s diagnosis, the loss was all I thought about. I don’t know when the focus shifted, but the ache to know him better upstaged my thoughts of what would be lost with death. I started to imagine what could be gained through the eight months the doctors had predicted he would live.

    I remember making a very conscious decision to “ get to know “ my Dad. At first my pursuit was met with resistance. We’d had little experience talking about the matters of the heart and initiatives in that direction felt awkward for both of us. I remember one day asking Dad if he would pray “ conversationally “ with me. ( I had rarely heard him pray other than dinner blessings and I found myself wanting more. ) Dad responded telling me prayer was a very personal matter and he wasn’t comfortable praying out loud. Though I prayed for him I longed to pray with him in the face of cancer. Most men I know long for meaningful conversation with their fathers and it seems to rarely happen. Dad’s discomfort left me doubting we would ever join together in his journey toward death. And God didn’t seem to be doing much for my longing.

    A few weeks later I was leaving after a visit with Dad when he said, “ Son, I want to pray with you. “ I wonder if he caught a glimpse of my surprise as I turned and knelt at his bedside. He began to pray, tentatively at first, but soon gaining momentum and breadth. It was as if a great deep reservoir had been tapped inside my Dad’s heart. The enormity of the moment, of his words tumbling forth, the experience of his strong and passionate heart left me speechless. I was stunned and thrilled. And the hope I had for joining Dad in his journey started to grow.

    Over the months that followed Dad and I laughed and dreamed big and lived our relationship to the fullest. I asked him a hundred questions I’d never had the courage to ask. We marveled over heaven and pondered things only angels know. Even as Dad’s body became increasingly frail, his spirit seemed more alive. Every day spent with him seemed touched by holiness. As cancer spread its ruin through his once strong frame, our two stoic hearts tasted life. Rich, redemptive, bountiful life as we drew near the gates of death.

    As Dad slipped into the final stages of cancer, our conversations were less frequent. Dad’s words were measured and few, but always infused with hope. Nearing the end of our long journey he took my hand and said, “ As God is my witness, He is my only hope. “ I live differently because of the haunting truth of His words spoken on the threshold of death.

    Dad was silent. Now we were simply waiting. The waiting is the hardest part . And for me it was the place where death seemed most cruel and relentless. In those quiet moments there was also a sense that Heaven was closer in proximity. I expect only those who have stood at the edge of death can know such sacred places. It is as if for a moment you can feel a breeze more refreshing than anything you’ve ever known yet you feel unsure if it’s real or imagined.

    Our family gathered around Dad’s bedside on a Sunday afternoon to pray, read scripture and to sing hymns. Dad had not spoken for days and we’d really no way of knowing if he heard us or even knew we were there. Late that afternoon I read these words to him from Ephesians 3;

    “ For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom His whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever. Amen. “

    At that, out of the silent stupor, a frail image of the man he once was, Dad responded, “ Amen.” It was the last word he ever spoke and in less than an hour his dead body lay before us.

    This time of sadness was ironically a time of inconceivable joy as well. My ache was deep and at times inconsolable but never experienced apart from an awareness that God had visited us and had given us the rare gift of His redemptive presence. We were changed by death. And I can’t wait to hear Dad’s next word.

  5. becky

    My grandma learned her faith from her mother, and passed it on to her children and her children’s children. She was a quiet rock for our family, and followed Jesus her whole life. I remember her saying when she was in the carehome that God was teaching her patience. And she started looking for ways she could help other residents, and show God’s love to them. She died 9 years ago tomorrow. She woke up very early in the morning, feeling sick. The nurse went to get something to help her sleep. She said, “If it’s not my time it would be good to sleep a little longer, but if it is my time, I’m ready.” Those were her last words. When the nurse got back she had gone home to Jesus. I have inherited a lot of her physical attributes, and I hope I have been given some of her spiritual ones, too.

  6. Brian

    Evelyn Dora Stine-Murphy-Allen, my grandmother, recently passed from this world into paradise. She was a woman who had many heartaches along the way, but somehow kept her course following after Christ and seeking to lead others to do the same. In her mid 20’s, she, her husband (Murphy), their daughter (quite young) and the baby in her womb were involved in a terrible accident: She was the only one who survived. At 27 she and her two young boys (my dad and uncle) blended with a family of 2 boys and a girl who’s mother had passed during or shortly after the birth of their daughter and my grandmother raised all 5 of those plus on more son produced from their union. Nearly 5 years ago, the youngest grandchild (grandson) was killed in an auto accident. These are merely the deaths and losses she lived through, ever keeping her eyes fixed on the prize.

    She, also, has left a legacy that I will seek to pass on to my children…

  7. Russ Ramsey


    William Morgan Reno (May 16, 1973 – May 11, 2007) was one day older than me. This was one of the first things I remember learning about him, after learning about his aggressive brain cancer. We buried Will the day before his 34th birthday, two days before mine.

    From the very first time Will and Ruth Reno walked through the doors of the church I pastor, I suspected they would be people who would give far more to this congregation than they would ever take.

    On that first Sunday, he and Ruth told me quite candidly that they were looking for a church that was close to their house, and we were close. That’s why they came to visit. This attitude was not because they were indifferent to the church. It was because they were passionate about the Lord, and so long as they found a house of worship, they’d happily adopt the people that came with it.

    This is just what they did. And by God’s grace, we got to be those people. I’d love to be able to say Oak Hills took Will Reno in, but the truth is it was Will who took us in. He taught us about faith, about how to love God in the midst of suffering, about how to care for those around you even when you were hurting and about how a man can honor his wife by loving her with a Christ-like love.

    I know I speak for many at Oak Hills when I say we love Will Reno, and we thank God for bringing this incredible man of faith into our lives. He gave us so much— stuff he’s left behind that remains for us to put to good use.

  8. Andrew

    Marc Holton was a casual friend of mine through our high school years. He was a passionate musician and a passionate follower of Jesus. The context in which I really came to know Marc was during our college years, when in the summer of 2003, we worked together for a summer of missions involvement with international refugees in Belgium.

    Looking back on that summer, just a few short years later, I recognize the transformational times those were for me, my wife and Marc. Our relationships with God were tested and we struggled in many contexts to see God in the midst of the suffering of the poeple who surrounded us. The reality of pretty constantly being forced out of our comfort zones was a perfect context in which we learned an entirely new dynamic of individual relationship with Jesus, and dependence on Him.

    The community we shared with the other workers there was such rich and firtile ground where we could share our deep struggles, questions and very cool “God stories”.

    Everywhere Marc went, it was Jesus who was seen. The people who were close to Marc longed to know Jesus as Marc did. He went home to Jesus last December, just before Christmas. A routine surgery on his tonsils caused a blood clot that killed him the day after he went home. My family and I attended his memorial service a few days later. While there was, of course, profound grief, the dominant message of the service was that Marc was now at home with his Jesus. I honestly struggled that day with some jealousy, and still do. How awesome it will be to see Him – our Savior!

  9. Chad

    It is only fifteen years after his death that I realize more fully the impact that my grandfather had on my life as a child. My parents separated when I was young and I grew up with my mom and older sister. While my dad continued to keep in touch with me my and sister, I wanted/expected much more from him than the occasional phone call or weekend holiday visit. I felt that I really didn’t know him and craved to have a father figure in my life. There were seasons where I looked to men at church and found qualities that I desired in a father, but those were only seasons and I desired a father-son bonding that really didn’t fit into those contexts.

    After my grandmother passed away in the early eighties, we began to spend more time with my grandfather. Almost every Saturday morning he would drive his truck over to our house for a pancake breakfast. Afterwards he would often take me for a ride in his truck to run an errand, get our haircut, or go visit a family friend. I didn’t realize it then, but this Saturday morning ritual provided a father-like bonding experience for me that I would grow to cherish.

    My grandfather was a man of few words, but what I learned from being around him was invaluable. His humility, kindness, generosity, and compassion drew me towards Christ and made me want to be around him more and more. Fifteen years after his death, I realize that I would not be who I am today without his involvement in my life. The debt I owe my grandfather is the continuing debt to love others as he loved me when I was a scrappy little kid with not much to offer in return.

  10. Jason Gray


    What a beautiful thread, thank you Jill.

    Tim Helmen was a loving father to his son Caleb and daughter Elaina as well as a husband to Lori. He was a passionate artist who wrote songs in the spirit of Mark Heard, Bob Bennett, and Bill Mallonee and was unflinching in his artistic idealism.

    He was also one of my best friends for the last years of his life. Tim’s great contribution to my life may be that he taught me how to collaborate artistically and was my first and for the longest time only songwriting partner. He not only helped me write some of my best songs but in the process helped me learn how to write with others – a gift that has served me well these last several years as I almost exclusively write with others, hardly ever writing on my own. We shared a love for books, movies, and film that I haven’t had with another since. He gave me great gifts, too, like my hardcover copy of Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry – a book that would go on to become one of my favorite of all time.

    I loved Tim, and his untimely death at a young age is still a sore spot for me. A counselor recently told me he thought deep down I was an angry man and asked me what I was angry with God about. I was surprised to discover that among other things, I still harbor anger over Tim’s death. It was the first thing that came to mind. Be that as it may, Tim died courageously and with great faith and his last sentiments were gratitude for the life he had been given and great hope for the everlasting life he was even then being born into.

    I still remember a dark night and a lonely drive home from a concert when I was wrestling with profound guilt over some things in my past. Unable to see past my own despair, it was Tim that I called in that late hour and he spoke a word of peace and grace to me that remains still. I’m so grateful for Tim and wish he were still here.

    I don’t think he would want me to harbor anger with God on his account, though, and you could say that Tim died perhaps better than I live. So I’m trying to be as at peace with his passing as he was in his final days. I guess maybe we’re still collaborating and I still have more to learn from him…

  11. Amanda

    Margaret Deal – my grandmother died 2 years ago at the end of October. She was an amazing woman. She taught me all of the old Sunday School songs but also a lot about faith – that nothing is too big for God. She prayed for her family continually, making notes in the margins of her Bible (she used one per year) when God gave her a word for one of us. She was passionate about her Lord and not ashamed to talk about Him. She prayed for her family’s relationships with Christ and did not give up on the ones who strayed. She fell ill with Alzheimer’s but her joyfulness remained to the end.

    Now as I deal with the loss of my infant son, Felix David (stillborn at 24 weeks on April 4, 2008), I pray that I can find the faith and strength my grandmother had. If she taught me anything it was to never give up; God has a plan and a purpose even though we can’t see it.

  12. Leanne

    Wow, I really appreciate reading everyone’s stories. I don’t really have a loss of a loved one to share, but it sure is meaningful and poignant to read these joyful, hopeful, grief-filled tributes. It makes me miss the Anglican liturgical church calendar, too. Such a rich way to practice our faith.
    Amanda, I’m so sorry about your son. It’s impossible to imagine the grief of losing a child.

  13. Bret Welstead

    Beth Scheffler – She was one of my Young Life leaders. Beth and her husband Jerry invested in me and ultimately helped me find my way to Christ. Beth was caring and fun to be around, and entirely giving of her time and home to the cause of Christ. She died in 2002, as my brother and I were on assignment at a Wyld Life camp. They are one of the reasons I’m in ministry today.

    Harold and Marjorie Welstead – My grandparents taught me about joy and peace. Though my grandma died 9 years ago, I can still hear her laughter and it still makes me smile. My wife recently acquired her recipe for “monster cookies” which were sought out and coveted every family reunion. Every time I eat one I think of finding them hidden in their camper at the reunion, stowed in gallon ice cream buckets between layers of wax paper. Grandpa died 2 years ago, a man who seemed at ease and at peace with life. In the 7 years without Grandma, he became a social butterfly at a retirement home. He was best friends with his neighbor, and they’d cuss at each other for no reason and laugh in the next breath. Seeing how they lived gives me hope for my later years.

  14. Chris

    My father passed away on July 23rd, 2001 at the young age of 53 after finally losing a two year battle with pancreatic cancer.

    While going through his rebellious young “greaser” phase of life, he met my mother at the age of 15…the daughter of a minister…accepted Christ as his Lord and savior and a year later stepped forward at a missionary event to give his life to serve however God wanted him to. Well that decision led to him becoming a pastor for the last 30 years of his life and as much as I loved him as my father, I also respected him as a servant of God.

    In the first half of his ministry while pastoring a church in Flint, Michigan one of the things he did was join an entirely black minister’s association. At first the other pastors were skeptical of this very pale featured man, but after a year or so they welcomed him in as a fellow pastor who was deeply committed to helping the community. Through his denomination he also co-started a missionary effort to the Islands of Micronesia in the South Pacific for which he gave up 2 weeks of his summer every year to go teach, preach and train. During his last 14 years, he pastored a church in East Central Kansas during which he led an association of churchs to start a Christian school which now has a scholarship in his name. These are just a few of the examples of how he always tried to allow God to work through him to minister to others.

    While in Kansas, we were fortunate to have several people from the local newspaper attend our church and during his illness, they took time to write several articles and do a few interviews that I still cherish and share with others as often as I can. From one of his last interviews that he actually did with a young 15 year old girl from his church who wanted to write something for the school newspaper about him he said, “I look back at my life as a gift from God and now that he wants it back I have no right to complain”.

    He was a really great man and a really great dad. I remember the times when he’d ask me to go play tennis with him, or he’d wrestle with us on the living room floor or take us to the arcade and play “Elevator Action” for an hour. I think about some of those moments and just smile.

    What a great legacy he lived and left for me and my family and we miss him dearly. Thanks Jill for starting this post.

  15. jeremy

    being a doctor i see loss accenting the ebb and flow of life in patients’ lives almost daily. it is easy to become immune to the feelings that accompany the tide of death: can you imagine this prepondency not to feel. the “trick” for the doctor Christian is to see the value in each life. as lewis said, we live in a world of potential gods and goddesses and are all helping one another on toward heaven and hell (paraphrase). it is great to hear those who have flown to the distant sky.

  16. Jill Phillips

    I am deeply moved by everyone’s comments and stories. Thank you so much for being willing to share!

  17. Kendall

    Oh wow. I read this while I am waiting for pumpkin bread to bake in the oven. Pumpkin bread that I am learning to make because my grandmother made it every Thanksgiving, but she passed away in September, and I think we need this pumpkin bread on the table this Thanksgiving. My grandmother raised seven children, 19 grandchildren and countless others. You sell, my grandmother sort of “collected” people- neighbors and their kids, extended relatives, friends of her grandchildren, employees of her husband. She taught me so much about hospitality and practically loving my neighbor.

    When the doctor told her she had two weeks to live, she chose to die at home. And she made a point to tell everyone who came to visit her about her beloved Savior. We all stood around her bedside singing “amazing grace” with tears streaming down our faces. The pain is still so raw, but she was an beautiful example of dying with grace, dignity and strength.

    Thank you, Jill, for this opportunity. And thank you to everyone who shared your stories. This has been a “window in the world” on an otherwise painful night.

  18. Paula Shaw

    Wow, I guess I’m a little behind everyone. Having been in the Anglican church since the early 1970’s, and now having been out of the Anglican Church for about 18 months, I can say I deeply miss the Liturgy, the calendar of holy days, and one of the most missed holy day:All Saints’ Day.

    My brother was one of the best friends I ever had. He loved God so much. He led me to Christ after he became a Christian and Jesus delivered him from heroin addiction and alcoholism. He was a passionate lover of God and of his fellow human beings. He was, in many ways, my hero. He died on April 25, 2006 after an almost 2 year battle with cancer.

    During that time, I was very drawn to Andrew Peterson’s “The Far Country” album. I can honestly say that this very album helped me through some of the saddest days of my life. The song “More” became a tangible reality to me during that time, and it still is in many ways. I believe that God used that song to minister to many in my family who are not believers, and to some who are very mature Christians.

    I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt , that my brother sang the chorus of that song to me on the long night of his death. He continued singing it to me during the days before and after his funeral, and Jesus reminds me of the truth of that song when I reach the point of sadness wherein I can hardly breath because the grief is so thick. Every once in a while I catch glimpses of my brother running to Jesus, and to my Mom and Dad and grandparents, as he approaches the truth of where he is, and I know there’s MORE than I can see in those visions; so much more! And I thank God for His abiding love, and for carrying all of us who remain in the strong arms of His hope.

  19. Sue

    Death is no stranger to me either; quite the contrary, actually. Starting from my early years, Death has seemed more like a stalker, stealing away many from my life, young through old with constant regularity. As a matter of fact, the owner of our local “funeral home” knew our family very well. We have joked that someday we would hold a family reunion there…one that did not involve a death. Morbid, perhaps…but you have to laugh to get you through the crying. That being said, Death took on a new name the day I lost my mom to cancer when I was only 18…she, only 49. If anyone could beat cancer, it would have been the feisty, stubborn (understatements!), 4’11” woman who was my mom. And of course, we prayed and prayed for her. When she lost the battle, Death’s new name became “Hopeless”. I no longer believed in healing or miracles. At the very least, any cancer diagnosis meant sure death. I think, subconsciously, God took on a new name also…”Indifferent”. As the years passed and death tolls mounted along with other life difficulties, I found myself withdrawing from others to prevent the pain of loss. It felt like the end of my rope. I had been down on my knees, again and again, crying out for God’s help. And on one particular day when I was literally on my knees crying…feeling as though perhaps I wasn’t praying right, wasn’t worth His time, that He didn’t even care, or worse yet, He wasn’t really there, I received a tangible, though very odd…oxymoronic (if that’s even a word), answer to my prayers. It came in the form of a prayer request from a friend of a friend who was diagnosed with a brain tumor and was only given 6 months to live. I had never, EVER heard anyone speak of trust in God the way this angel of the Lord spoke as she “walked through the valley of death”. And in spite of my desire to keep my heart at a distance from pain, this woman and I became very good friends (a miracle in and of itself). And although she went home to be with the Lord 3 years later, and I lost my other 2 dear friends within days and a few months, HOPE and FAITH were restored. I would love to share more of this, but I know I have rambled on and on already. Perhaps another time if anyone cares to listen.

    In conclusion, the major point of note revolves around Romans 8:28. Would I have chosen to lose my mom? No! However, I know with much certainty that had events not transpired as they did, I would not be married to my husband of 21 years, nor have my two most precious gifts…my sons. Death has many names these days…and although it involves the pain of our loss, feeling the absence of our loved one’s presence, it is a passageway to a love beyond our comprehension…our Hope of all hope. We find it hard to believe that it is for our good, because we know what WE think is for the best…the part we forget is that it is according to HIS PURPOSE, and in the long run, though we may not see it or understand it, HE knows best.

    Thanks for listening…bless and be blessed,

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