Spring Break

My family, the one-once-intact, used to drive to Florida every year.

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For many Mays, this meant getting on Interstate 75 at the last Michigan exit before Canada and following the signs until the last exit in Florida, a thousand miles and a climate change later.

It was always an adventure: 6 bodies in a minivan, the oldest throwing up in New Jersey, the youngest throwing a tantrum in Georgia, books on tape and gas station snacks and music marathons until, at last, we’d arrive, sometimes still talking.

My then-husband and I would drop the kids at my folk’s place and spend a week dining out, conversing with other adults at his work convention, and sipping frozen drinks on hot-white sand.

As a young homeschooling mom, I relished these days, looked forward to them all year, mourned when they came to an end.

I loved my kids, of course – even managed to spend one “special day” with each of them during our time down there – but the break –  O that break! –  from the routine of math and meals and domestic mania.

Naples and the swanky hotel where we’d stay was how I remembered Florida: $8.00 drinks, valet parking, new cars and old money.

But this spring, I took a break from my now 200 school-sons and drove instead to the Panhandle to hike a section of the Florida Trail, a 1,000 mile corridor that snakes from Fort Pickens National Seashore in Pensacola down to the Everglades, south of my beloved Naples.

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I discovered that the Panhandle is not only a different time zone from Naples, but it also felt, in so many ways, like a whole different planet.

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The first person I met on the Panhandle drove an hour out of his way to deliver me to the northern terminus of the trail. Matt, one of the Florida Trail’s many “trail angels,” almost talked me out of being afraid of alligators as we crossed the many bridges from Pensacola to Fort Pickens and snapped this picture on the cold Tuesday morning I began my hike.

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The cold lingered for the next few days as I walked 12 miles of sugar sand (hard) and even more miles of road (harder).

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Unlike many of the trails up north or out west, the Florida Trail must parcel together brief bursts of nature linked together by longer stretches of pavement or dirt roads.

Had I done my homework better, I could have carried a much lighter load, as I passed convenience stores and even restaurants every few hours my first days on the trail.

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Road walks are a cruel necessity, but the time hiking in and out of communities allows one access into that community’s heart.

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I remembered the opulent vehicles that were the norm in Naples, but folks on the Panhandle drive pickups you can work out of, splattered with the red clay of back roads and farm towns and carrying lumber and table saws and hound dogs.

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I watched as a lady trooper, unfazed, donned rubber gloves and dragged a dead deer out of the road. A man pulled over one day and told me he had “seen me walking all day and wondered if I need a lift.” Haha. Thanks but no need, kind man.

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I found 9 pennies one day on a 21-mile road walk. A friend calls these “God-winks,” and I always seemed to find one when suffering a low point of the day.

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I found that folks on the Panhandle still say yes ma’am and no ma’am, hold the door, linger over coffee.

I loved everyone I met, particularly one ridiculously generous trail angel who let me stay at her house, slack-packed me for two days, and, along one sketchy piece of road, drove her car between me and a driveway full of 10 snarling Mastiffs guarding what looked like a trailer cooking meth. When I was finished, Nancy drove me the 100-plus miles I had walked back to my car. Unreal.

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But I went to Florida to walk in the woods, and despite the many road-walks, I found myself in some beautiful but alien terrain.

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I was surprised by the sandy-bottomed streams, clear and cold, that criss-crossed the trail and some haunting spider domes that appeared one foggy morning in the trees.

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Some prettier sections of the trail wended through Eglin Air Force Base, and it was a bit of a logistical nightmare to time walking these bits when my permit allowed so as not to be taken hostage by training rangers or bombed into oblivion. To be allowed on the base, you actually have to pass a quiz on what to do should you encounter unexploded ordnance along the trail. It was a little tense, but some strange scenery kept my mind off being blown up.

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I thought I would see more wildlife, but in the week I was on the trail, all I saw were a few black vultures feasting on some dead thing along the road, a dead squirrel behind the payloader I tucked in back of to pee, the aforementioned dead deer, a huge tick that crawled across my foot, and two snakes.

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I managed to snap a photo of the cute little green guy, but I was too busy screaming and running away from the other monster to consider pulling out my phone. Yikes.

Oh yeah: and on the beach, I saw a dead jellyfish and some shore birds, so there’s that.

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Are there gators on the Florida Trail? Apparently, yes, but I didn’t see any, and I’m not at all sad about that. Some northbound thru-hikers told me that when walking through the swampier areas, alligators “sense your vibrations and swim away.” Alrighty, then.

I had planned on hiking longer, but a nasty blister under my foot and a seriously sore quad forced me off sooner than I would have liked, but isn’t it always better to leave wanting more?

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I’m finding that it’s okay to do things alone, to be alone with my own itinerary, my own thoughts, my own path.

On the Panhandle, I never felt truly alone, and having a new tradition in Florida – spring break on the Florida Trail – seems like an exchange I can live with.

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It may take me years to hike the whole Florida Trail, but I learned a ton this time around and I’ll be more ready when next spring break rolls around.

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On Friendship

I went to Panera’s after church on Sunday with my dearest friends.

While two of us joked about how the cashier had butchered our names the last time we were here, the third confessed that she always gave a false name when asked by restaurateurs: the stranger, the better.

JoJo. Winifred. Mary, Queen of Scots.

It had gotten to the point that when a waiter called out one of her ridiculous pseudonyms, her family would knowingly look over at her and roll their eyes.

Of course, we played along.

Joining our friend in this harmless game, we were further rewarded with a bored young cashier with a flair for creative spelling.

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It’s good to laugh with friends who get you.

You see, we had just come from a church service that had emptied my very soul.

A week filled with dark dreams, children dealing with injuries and illnesses and hard choices, and pondering the fate of my boy who was gone had left me raw, vulnerable.

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Church is perhaps the best place to be in such a state, and when one of the elders’ wives asked if there were anyone present in a state of deep lament, I felt she had peeled back the very layers of my heart and exposed the dendrites of loss and loneliness, doubt and ache.

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My friends surrounded me as I sat, sobbing, a balled up kleenex in my fist, and spoke over me the truth I desperately needed to hear. Who else would sit on a cold concrete floor at your feet while your face leaked, wrap your knees in firm embrace, weep and intercede for you with groans that words cannot express? (Romans 8:26)

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There’s a verse in the Bible about friendship that I call to mind when I consider these women: A person of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24)

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True friends are family.

I feel so blessed for the dear friends, sisters, in my life, who have stuck by me when it would have been easier to run.

The ones who propped me up through divorce and death, the ones who cooked my family meals, bought me flowers, and helped pack up my house when moving was the last thing I wanted to do. Ones who text me still with “I remember’s” and nostalgic photographs, work out beside me, or meet me at restaurants despite the distance or time. Ones who don’t mind when you invite yourself over to the Superbowl party they didn’t even know they were hosting.

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Jesus called his disciples friends.

Us: not servants who do not know their master’s business, but dearly chosen friends to whom He can trust with the heart of the Father and whom He has appointed to bear fruit for His kingdom. (John15:15,16)

And not only that – as if that were not enough – our intimacy with Jesus gives us an all-access pass to the Father. So when we bring our children, our marriages, our jobs, our health, when we bring whatever it is we are in need of, whether in despair or hope or doubt or trust, to Him in prayer, Jesus promises that whatever we ask in His name the Father will give us. (John 15:16)

As the three of us sat drinking our coffee and nibbling our toast, I marveled at how it was only the beginning; our friendship was not something even death could end.

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I expect the neighborhood we lived in together on earth, our families entwined in an elegant dance of love and struggle, is only a dim foreshadow of the place that has been prepared for us by our loving Father in heaven.

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So even though my one friend craves the dry heat of the American Southwest, where she can wear a sweatshirt when it’s 80 degrees outside, the other dreams of a day when she can power out of her crazy driveway on the first try, and I – I am content with the seasons that usher in a new just when it is needed most – even though the vision of our heavenly homes is as distinct as we are –  I am thankful that all eternity awaits for us to finish conversations and sip tea and ponder the wisdom and love of a Father who had the good sense to make us all friends.

On Other-ness

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

You are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say.

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.

~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 ~The following is taken from part of an chapel address I gave at my school last week. Other information has been added since then. The opinions contained are entirely my own. ~

Have you ever felt like the only one?

The only child at a table of adults? The only kid who didn’t have the popular shoes?  The lone conservative in the family? The only person who didn’t get the joke?

Have you ever felt like the only one?

Did it make you feel different? Strange? Uncomfortable? Left out? Other than?

Did you perhaps wish that if only – if only they could see me, know me, hear me – then they would understand?

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This past week, we honored the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

At times, I feel that Dr. King’s message of hope, love and justice is needed more today than back when he first began fighting the good fight. 

In an age where a few unverified clicks on social media can ruin a person’s reputation; when a difference of opinion is grounds for the termination of a friendship or a job; where civility seems like an antiquated notion and offense seems to be our first response – yes, in this present age, it seems that what we truly need is a double dose of Dr. King.

Rooting out injustice in all its insidious forms seems like it should be such a simple thing. We all have hearts and souls, desires and dreams, the will to learn and try and plan and do. We all have the capacity to see one another, in all of our other-ness.

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But if we have learned anything from the Holocaust and the myriad slaughter of innocents before and since, is that all it takes for injustice to advance is passivity.

There can be no spectators in the race for human rights.

It seems especially apt that on the brink of full blown war between Syria, Iran, and the nation of Israel, when missiles could be striking targets across the Middle East even as you read these words, that we take King’s words to heart.

He once observed, “Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles but misguided men.”

I would add “…and women.”

We hear an awful lot about tolerance these days, and to be honest, it almost seems like the ones screaming the loudest are the least willing to see the other side. Perhaps, as my headmaster suggested last week, tolerance should not be our goal.

Was it not a twisted form of tolerance that led to the extermination of 6 million Jews, the proliferation of slavery, the shameful internment of Japanese Americans, even cyber-bullying?

And what of the 60 million babies slaughtered in the womb since 1973?  Or New York, who has now decided that killing a full term human person minutes from delivery is a reason to celebrate?

Monstrous. 

I weep for the babies who were never allowed to draw a breath and I weep for their precious mommies who thought that they had no other choice.

No, we must NOT tolerate these and any other forms of evil or hatred, but seek instead to eradicate them from our body. Standing passively by is NOT an option.

We must not, as the apostle Paul once wrote, be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21).

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But to do that, we must also understand. To recognize that EACH of us is the ONLY one.

I believe that we live in a society where we can not only see but live the manifestation of Dr. King’s iconic dream. Every day, I break bread with boys from China and Mexico and Korea and Japan, from uptown and downtown and north and east and south and west.

We see each other and love each other as we are, for all of our differences. 

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The faces before me reflect the manifold diversity and creative beauty of God’s tender hand, and I am grateful that there is no discrimination in His kingdom; His unconditional love is free to all nations, all tribes, all tongues.

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I pray that God would help us to love as Jesus loves.  To give us courage to ferret out evil and injustice, to tear each insidious occurence out by its very roots until no remnant remains.  

I pray that we might steward our blessings well, that we may be a blessing to those who are poor, or marginalized, or forgotten.

I ask Him to help us to be gentle, humble, and unoffendable in our patience with each other.

And I pray that someday, soon, we will be joined together in perfect unity – one heart, one passion, one harmonious purpose – and that love would be the true mark of our maturity.  

On Day One

2019: The Year, if it is anything like 2019: Day One, has the potential to blow expectations out of the water.

The night before, celebrating New Year’s Eve with colleagues I am also blessed to call friends, the hosts dropped a cascade of balloons onto a bevy of squealing, twirling children at midnight-is-really-8 o’clock, so I was home in bed by 9:30. Perfect for an introvert like me, easily fatigued by conversation and social situations.

Waking up to snow always makes me happy, like memories of school closings scrolling across the bottom of a TV screen, hours of expectant potential right outside the front door. I was already imagining the sugar-dusted boughs overhead on the hike that was only a short drive away.

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A rainbow!

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No way this day could be sealed with anything more prophetic. Capturing it while driving on the backroads of New Hampshire was a bonus.

It seemed fit to tackle timid 4,003′ Tecumseh as my first hike of the year, my first winter 4,000 footer, and the maiden voyage of the snowshoes I gave myself for Christmas.

Tecumseh, although least-by-height in the clan of the 48 New Hampshire 4,000 footers, is steep enough to call a work-out and a worthy proving ground for figuring out how to walk with clown shoes attached to my legs.

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The Princess and her hubby were gracious as I tripped and apologized up the trickier parts and even agreed to a summit selfie.

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The predicted 50-70 mph winds picked up as we headed down, but most of Tecumseh is protected by a wooded barrier of hearty pines, so aside from a brief moment at the top, none of us minded the cold.

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I didn’t even mind, back at the car, discovering the shredded hems of my rain pants, evidence of an embryonic spacial awareness between where shins ended and sharp claws of snowshoes began. Oh well – I needed a new pair anyway.

An exit on the ride home took me by the boy’s bench, so I stopped by to say hello.

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Anna had left a wreath, and once again my heart swelled with thanks for the friends my son made while he was still here with us.

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Do you know how much they loved you, silly boy? 

Not much snow on the driveway and stairs when we arrived home, tired. Nothing that a quick shovel and a nap couldn’t fix.

Later, under winking lights, I eat dinner cooked not-by-me and watch some football with the fam.

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2019, I have high hopes for you.

Given the carnage of past years, the lightness I feel on Day One seems miraculous.

Perhaps this will be the year that God does exceedingly abundantly more than I can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

Actually, it seems as if He already has.

 

 

 

On Light

Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. ~Genesis 1:3-4

The darkness of the whole world cannot swallow the glowing of a candle. ~Robert Altinger

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It was Hanukkah this past week – the Festival of Lights –  and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about light.

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The other morning, I went out for a run. It was still pretty early, cold and dark, so I threw on some layers and grabbed some gloves.

A friend of mine gave me this pair of gloves a few years back, and I have to say, they are one of my favorite pieces of athletic gear. They have these powerful LED lights that ride comfortably across your knuckles and, when your hands are swinging out in front of you, perfectly illuminate the road ahead.

Anything that has a duel purpose – in the case of these gloves, warmth and safety – is, in my opinion, a win-win.

This particular morning, I was about a mile out from the Cardigan campus on Back Bay Road, which is completely devoid of streetlights, when there was a noticeable dimming of the pool of light in front of my feet. Too late, I remembered that I hadn’t charged the knuckle lights in a while, and they were rapidly running out.

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I thought about turning around, but, probably like some of you, I’m pretty stubborn once I get going. So, I alternated between the glove lights, keeping only one hand on at a time until they both….. went…. out….

I still had a ways to go to reach campus.

One thing I will say about the forest around Canaan – it’s dark.

Really dark.

My eyes gradually adjusted so that I could just about make out the pavement, but I had to slow way down.

Occasionally, a car would drive by, exploding the whole road around me in a sea of brilliant light. The thing is, though, after the car had passed and I was alone again, it was even harder to see through the blackness.  

My whole being craved that sweet light. At last, the halo-glow of the lamppost at the end of Alumni Drive came into view, and I was home….safe.

I told this story in chapel this past Thursday, as we were celebrating Hanukkah.

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Light often serves as a metaphor for good. In fact, in the Genesis account, light was the very first thing that God made, so I’m thinking it’s pretty important.

We must be careful to steward that light well, however. Too long in the dark – looking at things we ought not to look at, hiding things we ought not to have, treating with incivility, unforgiveness, and blame those we ought to cherish and respect – and our eyes might adjust to this absence of light.

Of course, the opposite is also true. Spend enough time in the light – craving it, hunting it, chasing it with all your might – and the darkness no longer appeals.

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I was speaking to a colleague about the properties of light this past week. Did you know that light is actually a wave? And that light’s wavelengths include a spectrum of 7 different bands, only one of which is the light we can actually see?

Did you know that the speed of light is 300,000 kilometers per second and is the “absolute upper speed of anything in the universe?” But even though it’s so incredibly fast, some galaxies are so far away that their light may take BILLIONS of years to reach us.

How remarkable to think that when we look into a night sky, we are “looking into the past across vast gulfs of time” (Tulane University).        

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Marvelous.      

Mysterious.

I can’t help but think that if one single candle can overpower the darkness, imagine what a whole roomful of them could do.

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It could be as miraculous as the story of Hanukkah itself, when one small vial of oil kept a menorah lit for eight straight days.

Of course, Jesus called Himself the Light of the World.

I wonder if, when he left heaven to enter the portal of the world through the womb of a faithful teenage girl, he did so at the speed of light. It would be just like Him.

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Our marvelous, mysterious Jesus.

May we crave Him, hunt Him, chase Him with all our might this Advent season.

The darkness can’t help but hide when we choose to put on the light-armour of our great, great King.

On Grace

My son sent me a photo this morning.

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We are both early risers, so it was no surprise when a text came in around 6 AM – we’d both been up for a while, he opening up the gym at his school, me spending some time praying in the sweet little chapel at mine.

The thing is, I had been looking out the huge window behind the altar at the gray darking the morning sky when, slowly, streaks of brilliant pink sliced through the gaps in the clouds, winking dawn into being.

It made me all warm and fuzzy inside, knowing my youngest was admiring the same sky, the same sunrise, the same Creator of the same expanse.

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Recently, I’ve been reading about Jacob and Esau.

These two brothers came out of the womb fighting and things went rapidly south when Jacob stole his older brother’s birthright then tricked him out of their father’s blessing.

Eventually, Jacob flees from Esau’s wrath, and the two spend years estranged from one another. But when Jacob finally prepares to meet Esau again, their reunion is nothing at all what he expected.

Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his 400 men…

Jacob must have been terrified, watching his brother advance, hoards of burly herders blocking his way.

So Jacob went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother.

But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him.

And they wept (Genesis 33:1-3, 4).

I almost wept, reading.

Grace.

It reminded me of the story of the Prodigal Son, whose father must have also been looking out upon a vast expanse of world that had swallowed his boy and bound him, captive to his own wretched desires.

Why would anyone want to leave the Father?

But just like Jacob, the son finally realizes that estrangement is tearing him apart. He longs for reconciliation, longs for the warm fuzzy of his father.

So the young son set off for home.

From a long distance away, his father saw him coming, dressed as a beggar, and great compassion swelled up in his heart for his son who was returning home. So the father raced out to meet him. He swept him up in his arms, hugged him dearly, and kissed him over and over with tender love.

Then the son said, “Father, I was wrong. I have sinned against you. I could never deserve to be called your son. Just let me be—”

The father interrupted and said, “Son, you’re home now!” (Luke 15:20-21)

You’re. Home. Now.

Isn’t that what we all want? The embrace of grace that tells us I love you even though, even if, even now. 

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I’m so grateful for grace.

Because we are all Jacobs, all prodigals, all wayward children longing for the pink dawn-touch of the Father, a home in the vast expanse of His love.

 

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On Glory

I’m always caught by surprise by the sudden arrival of fall.

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The falling temps and rising colors signal the end to the brutal heat and humidity I could easily live without.  But still.

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Still, I find myself most days, in this beautiful state, spinning and gazing in wonder at the Creator’s endless resourcefulness in awe-ing his children into open-mouthed astonishment.

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Change: I think that might be it.

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We are restless creatures, and crave change even when things seem to have smoothed and the wounds of the past recede like fading summer.

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So, outside!

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I can’t get enough.

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Drunk and reeling on the firmament, I try to gather it all in before it’s too late, before the next change, before it’s gone for good.

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Why is it so hard to just be in the season we’re in?

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There is glory enough, I think, if we are willing to accept its temporal nature.

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Because we are temporal creatures, here on earth.

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One day we will drink of His glory, and it will never end.

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I almost can’t wait.