Will the Real Captain America Please Stand Up?

Will the Real Captain America Please Stand Up?

img_9661The man in the suit wagged his finger between my white teenage son and the 30-something black man standing next to him in line at Jerry’s Subs.

“Hey!” he yelled, making us all jump, “Which one of you is the real Captain America?”

The two guys looked down at the stars on the t-shirts they were wearing with surprise, and at exactly the same time, they looked up and pointed at one another.

Everyone within a 10-foot radius got a good laugh out of that one.

And I got a glimpse of hope for this – Day One of my Month of Good News 2016.

Let’s back up for just a second and talk about who Captain America is. He’s a patriotic Marvel Comics superhero who first appeared in 1941 and often fought the Axis powers in World War II. As Wikipedia explains:

Captain America wears a costume that bears an American flag motif, and is armed with a nearly indestructible shield that he throws at foes. The character is usually depicted as the alter ego of Steve Rogers, a frail young man enhanced to the peak of human perfection by an experimental serum to aid the United States government’s efforts in World War II. Near the end of the war, he was trapped in ice and survived in suspended animation until he was revived in the present day. Although Captain America often struggles to maintain his ideals as a man out of his time with its modern realities, he remains a highly respected figure in his community….

I’d like to think that so many of us are ‘men and women out of our time’ living for ideals such as respect, dignity, equality, and freedom for people of all races, religions, genders, income, etc. Basically, Captain America could be any one of us, because we are all ‘Steve Rogers.’

And we have ample opportunities to be “Steve Rogers” (minus the experimental serum, thank goodness). Who hasn’t been in school, sat on a sports bench (or on a bleacher watching their kids), in a workplace, or in a community group within someone “different” from us by any one of the previously mentioned definitions?

I bet you can think of 5 people right now.

Now here’s the harder question – What did WE do to get to know them?

Are we all working for a nation that embraces our differences and cherishes what we have in common (which, I would submit, is so much more)?

Ask yourself – For every one of the people you just thought of – that you have in the past or do currently associate with – do you know…
Where they live?
Who they live with? (And some personal things about their family members? Those people’s names?)
Anything about their personal lives?

Let’s go further. Have you…
Invited them to your home in the last 6 months?
In the last month, eaten lunch or had coffee with them for a non-business reason?
Shared with them something personal about yourself? Allowed them to see you vulnerable?

These are tough questions. And they’re even tougher to act on if you’ve never stepped out of your comfort zone before.

But it takes intimacy to build trust – the kind of trust that tears down walls and replaces them with indestructible shields of love – tender hearts that are ready to help a neighbor in need at a moment’s notice.

The good news about two guys wearing Captain America t-shirts is that at our core we all believe in the values of American community because the human heart seeks Love and connection with others. Some of us are misled, and think we can forge our paths all alone, foregoing the brilliance and input of one another, but we know that’s wrong. The Truth of our inter-connectedness is always there, buried in the mess somewhere.

Let’s cling to that Truth. Let’s become Captain America. Each one of us. And cling to the Hope our forefathers had of a great nation. In God We Trust.

Wrapping Love Around Goodbyes (Two Years Since Claudia’s Passing)

Wrapping Love Around Goodbyes (Two Years Since Claudia’s Passing)
Bleeding Heart Flowers. Photo by By Wuzur - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
Bleeding Heart Flowers. Photo by By Wuzur – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

You could tell it was a goodbye just by the way they hugged.

I saw the two women locked in an embrace as I passed them in my neighborhood. They stayed wrapped around one another for longer than two friends typically would, were it just an average parting after a breezy Tuesday lunch.

And when they pulled apart, one dabbed her eyes with a tissue, while the other patted her shoulder.

I don’t know them – don’t know what kind of a goodbye it was. Maybe an altered way or place of living? An illness that makes days less fruitful or pleasant? Or was it a more permanent farewell?

They were near the animal hospital just up the road from me, and if you’ve ever lost a beloved pet you have empathy for that kind of grief. But they were also in a driveway, surrounded by homes. And people experience all kinds of goodbyes every day for reasons far beyond our understanding.

There is suffering. There is separation. People we love go. They move from us here on earth – emotionally, physically, and spiritually. And they leave this earth altogether, traveling to a place we can’t see or feel. Only heaven knows why. Only heaven can help us bridge the distances that swell up between us and those we love.

My heart lurched when I saw those women, and it’s no wonder. Today I wish I could wrap my arms around so many others who are hurting from goodbyes, too.

This day marks two years since the passing of my stepsister Claudia, the remarkable woman whose fight for her life over three weeks in an ICU became a focal point of prayer for hundreds. So many people miss her feisty spirit, yearn to see her brown-eyes dance, ache for her laugh. I owe this blog to her, and to the whisper that came to me in the weeks after she went Home, after the Lord stepped in and gave me a bravery I’d never had before, to pray publicly for her on Facebook. Desperation makes us humble. Faith makes us bold.

Grief is a terrible process, and I have no eloquent words of wisdom. It seems to me especially hard for parents, because the death of a child – no matter how old that child is – defies human logic. It goes against what we think of as the “natural order” of things. There is simply nothing to compare to the sadness I have seen in the eyes of grieving parents.

I wish I could be with Claudia’s mom Ingrid in Texas today – to hold her hand and remind her that her beautiful daughter lives forevermore with the King. She was and is God’s child, and nothing can ever separate her from His love, through the saving grace of Christ Jesus our Lord. But since I can’t grasp Ingrid’s hand or wrap her in my arms, I will call her. I will “reach out” with my voice.

Physical closeness can be uncomfortable for many of us, but when someone we love is gone, it’s reassuring to feel the strength of another standing by, ready to literally hold us up as waves of sorrow threaten to drown us. If you are mourning, or experiencing a goodbye of any kind, my heart and prayers are with you today. And if not, please ask God to open your eyes to where your capable hands can be ready to serve. Our world needs you, because our world needs God’s unfailing love, pouring out from your heart.

My Life: A 6-Word Memoir

My Life: A 6-Word Memoir

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A kindred spirit in my online writing group – Hope*Writers – said she went to “Back to School” night this week and was given an assignment from her child’s teacher: Write a 6-word memoir.

Before I tell you what I came up with on the fly (and promptly posted on FaceBook), let me tell you a quick story.

I am not fainthearted. So I decided to give the same assignment to my teenage son.

I reviewed the basic principles of memoir and asked him, “If you had to write a 6-word memoir, what would yours be?”

He began in his wry, salty sort of way…

“Was born. Grew up. Will die.”

“No, no, no,” I admonished him – as I do when I’m cheerfully scolding him for some not-at-all-serious error. “It’s not the story of everyone’s life. It’s yours. Yours.”

We looked at each other sideways, my eyes asking him to humor me and his telling me he would.

He smiled. Sighed. And drew in a breath.

Then this….

“I am called the imaginative one.”

It was not quite what I expected. But when you ask your children to talk, be ready to hear what they say.

“Huh. Cool,” I said.

I know he didn’t mean it as a comparitive statement. He wasn’t saying he’s more imaginative than someone else (especially his siblings). He just loves to challenge his mind to find new solutions to everyday problems – especially those of the scientific sort. I want to revisit this conversation with him in about 15 years.

But there was another thing that was interesting about both of us writing 6-word memoirs in 30 seconds on an average Thursday – our perspectives.

He immediately chose 1st person – “I.” He stayed close to his subject – himself.

And he used the word “called” – indicating a relationship to others, or just one other. And through that he assigned himself a quality he assumed that the ‘other’ would see in him – imagination.

While I know my son has an intuitive maturity beyond his 13 years, and I don’t think his memoir is wrong, overall I felt it reflected a younger person’s view – the manner of seeing life simply through one’s own eyes.

So what was my 6-word memoir? The one I posted on FB after 30 seconds of thought?

She finally heard Him calling her.

I toyed around with many others for the remainder of the day but never came up with something truer.

I used 3rd person. It shows distance from myself.

Like my son, I used a variation of the word “call.” The apple doesn’t fall far.

My memoir reflects years of missed opportunities to respond to the Lord’s whispered invitation of peace on my heart. It shows that I don’t see myself as the center of my world anymore. I am here to listen, and to do what’s asked of me. And it shows I look up and out for my direction on a day-to-day basis, as a child responds to a father who is calling her name.

She finally heard Him calling her.

That’s my 6-word memoir.

What’s yours?

3 Ways to Savor the Last Weeks of Summer

3 Ways to Savor the Last Weeks of Summer

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I’m digging into my salad when I see that a friend has posted on FB a photo of his Yellow Lab sleeping in the grass and captioned it, “Dog days of August.”

Ah yes…dog days. Lazy days. I too want to do…absolutely nothing.

Just a few weeks left of summer vacation, and what a fabulous summer it’s been. Family trips to the Outer Banks and Maine, long days spent poolside, and plenty of time for reading, movie-watching, and sipping lemonade. Heaven on earth.

I appreciated the dog photo, because it reminded me that it’s easy to become lulled in these hot, humid days into taking this season’s blessings for granted. So here are three ways to renew your appreciation of August.

  1. Visit the farmer’s market. We go every weekend to find the juiciest corn, mouthwatering heirloom tomatoes, and biggest cantaloupes around. I love to fill my bags with the fruits of the earth, knowing that these fresh foods are divinely designed to nourish my body in exactly the right way. And oh – the peaches this month! Don’t get me started on my love for peaches…
  2. Make a date with a friend. In this season more than any other, it’s easy to lose touch with people because families go their own ways. Within communities there are fewer routines, and we don’t cross paths with friends we see on a regular basis at other times of the year. I saw a dear friend at Mass on Sunday, and we hadn’t connected in weeks! If you’re missing someone, let them know, and make a date to get coffee or have lunch. We are created to love; we need one another. We need to connect with our friends.
  3. Take a day trip. Go see something new. Or revisit someplace you haven’t been in awhile. We’re going to Ocean City, NJ – my husband’s childhood summer retreat – to eat pizza and play mini-golf. Take a short escape from the ordinary and go, while keeping your eyes open to the wonders that await.

As I grow in appreciation of the beauty of each season, I see the world for what it is – a home for me and for all of us, created in love, by Love Himself, to be cherished and utilized conscientiously. And the more I meditate on its offerings – the more I savor life in all its fullness – the more I realize that I can’t begin to count my blessings.

Happy are those who dwell in your house!

They never cease to praise you.

-Psalm 84:5

Thoughts on What’s Happened in Orlando

Thoughts on What’s Happened in Orlando

We were in the 8th grade and sitting on a school bus in Florida when my friend, Michelle, gave me special gift.

I opened the tiny white box she pressed into my hand and found a gold “Chai” pendant. The look of surprise and questioning must have been all over my face. image

Michelle explained that in her faith tradition, Judaism, people often wore the “Chai” – pronounced similarly to “hi” in English – on necklaces. It is the symbol of life. The Hebrew word consists of two (2) letters in the alphabet: Chet (ח) and Yud (י).

“I thought you should have one,” she said, leaning her face close to mine, as she often did when sharing something deeply personal with me.

“But I’m not Jewish,” I said.

She merely shrugged her shoulders and smiled,

“But it means life,” her dark brown eyes twinkling.

As I asked her more questions about it, I learned that her deeply religious parents were very surprised by her desire to give me this. And that it was basically only worn by Jews.

In retrospect, I think Michelle was a sort of ambassador. She equated “Chai” with Love, the kind that God has for every person on Earth, and she was sharing His love in a way that seemed perfectly natural to her.

Shiva.com – The Resource for Jewish Mourning explains it this way:

The Symbolic Meaning of Chai

Traditionally, the Jewish religion, similar to many other religions and cultures, place an emphasis on the significance of life. As such, the literal translation of the word “chai” to “life” is meaningful on its face. In addition, individuals who observe Judaism or identify with the religion are generally guided by basic principals which include characteristics such as kindness, thoughtfulness, selflessness and remaining good natured, both morally and ethically during life on Earth. 

I wore that pendant every day for years, and I was very sad when I couldn’t find it this morning to share with you.

Many people, of many faiths, backgrounds, races, creeds, nationalities,  sexual preferences, and so on display the qualities of kindness, thoughtfulness, and selflessness, and adhere to moral and ethical codes that celebrate life in all its fullness. But as humans, we are quick to draw lines and boundaries where none need exist.

My first thought on the public reaction to the deaths of 51 people in Orlando was: Where is the empathy?

Social media is usually lit up with cries of prayer and pain for the lives that were lost and the families and friends affected, and yet it seemed comparatively quiet in the last two days. We could blame it on the fact that this happened over a weekend, but I believe it’s because people don’t want to step out of their comfort zones to extend sympathy to a group they don’t understand. We’re hearing lots of words about the hate that fueled the attack, and more calls for gun control, but not enough words of Love.

The LGBT community is reeling in shock and trauma right now, and the beautiful people in it deserve our compassion, concern, and endless prayers for peace.

While we may not always share the same experiences as our neighbors,  every single person alive is called to be an ambassador of Love.

“Chai” means life. It’s a gift that was given freely to all of us. And it is meant to be cherished, honored, and preserved.

‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

-Mark 12:31

The Darn Near Perfect Man I Married

The only photo I have of our first date is the one in my mind.

I heard his knock at the door of my Northern Virginia apartment, and when I answered it, I saw something amazing. This guy, who I knew was from Philadelphia (where I spent my high school years, came of age, and developed a sense of humor) was wearing jeans, a shirt I liked, and…cowboy boots.

My dad wore cowboy boots.

And I really love my dad.

And somewhere in the depths of my mind, I think I already knew that this guy was darn near perfect – for me.

We were married 17 months later, but as I’ve told countless people, “If he’d asked me to marry him three weeks into our relationship, I would have said yes. It might have seemed crazy, but I wouldn’t have been wrong.” We’re coming up on 18 married years together, and he still amazes me.

My husband and me on our third date - one week into our relationship. We were headed to an inaugural ball for President Clinton's second inauguration. I thought he looked quite spiffy.
My husband and me on our third date – one week into our relationship.  We were headed to an inaugural ball for President Clinton’s second term.  I thought he looked quite spiffy.

Today is his birthday. We celebrate him. And here are just four of the many reasons why I love him.

His faithfulness. If you are his friend, you know this to be true. He will be there for you when you need him. There’s no way to tally the number of late-night calls he’s taken, listening to a friend.

And when there’s a family event, he makes every possible effort to attend or, at the very least, to call or send a gift. He knows that actions count, and so he takes action to make sure that those who are important to him know where his heart lies.

His thoughtfulness. For my first birthday after we were married, he gave me a 1920 Pathe Freres Victrola, along with antique records of foxtrots and waltzes. I cried with joy. Its sound was almost deafening in our WWII-era apartment, with its ultra-thin carpets and hardwood floors, but oh how I loved it. It’s still my favorite gift, and there have been many over the years. He has a knack for giving, because he thoughtfully considers the enjoyment of the receipient. Again – his heart is in the effort, and it shows.

His humility. Sometime in those early years before we had kids, we had a conversation about education. He said he was grateful for his Catholic schools, and thought it would be good to give back. “Maybe some day we could send a kid to school,” he said, “someone who couldn’t afford it otherwise.” I looked at him with wonder and felt gooshy inside. “Yes,” I said, “Sometimes you hear about people doing that.” He looked right into my eyes and said, “Well, no one would know. It would have to be anonymous.”

I was gobsmacked. Giving so generously without seeking credit was something that had never occurred to me. I was in awe of him – in awe of the way he was emphatic about this. There would be no changing his mind. With three kids in Catholic schools now, and college on the horizon, we are still a ways off from being able to make a gift of this size. But if we ever do, you will never know.

His desire to grow. My husband has a way of speaking that conveys an air of authority. At first, this unnerved me. So much so that when we were dating, I suggested he start prefacing statements with, “I think,” so as to sound a bit less declarative. And to my shock, he immediately thought that was a very good idea. He continues to look for ways to develop his mind, body, and spirit, and this habit still impresses me.

There is so much more to every person than meets the eye. And no one has taught me this more than the man I married.

Over the years, we have grown together in countless ways. But he is still the most generous and least stubborn of the two of us. He is the better friend. And he is so humble and willing to do what’s right that he is pretty much always the first to apologize when we’ve had a disagreement.

And his apologies? They are never of the throwaway, ‘Yes, Dear,’ sort. He means it. He does not hold grudges. He wants to reset our relationship. He wants us to start again – as a team.

If God wants us to see an image of Himself in other people, He gave me a beautiful one in my ‘darn near perfect’ husband. And oh, how grateful I am.

When You’re Trying to Measure Up

When You’re Trying to Measure Up

I was at the gym yesterday (a minor accomplishment in itself), and I took a pure barre class. I think of it as “Ballet for Dummies and Non-Dancers.”

We didn’t have a barre on the wall; instead, we used folding chairs, balls, and elastic straps for balance and resistance. I hadn’t been there for awhile, and it showed.

The full-length mirrors made it possible for me to check my alignment (or lack thereof) during each exercise and, like three-way mirrors in department store dressing rooms, they dispelled any illusions I had about my physique. Further, the rubber bands we used proved that my arms are not as strong as I thought they were.

In short – I’ll just say there is work to be done. And I am loathe to do it.

But I made it through the class, vowed I would be back, and trekked off to the locker room to shower and get on with my day.

That’s when I heard her crying – a woman in the aisle of lockers adjacent to mine. She was on the phone, upset, and angry.

“I’m at the gym, God damn it!!” she said. “I’m trying!!”

I’m not sure what the conversation was really about. Whether it had to do with fitness or myriad other things. But I could tell her spirit was depleted. For whatever it was that was bothering her, she needed reassurance. She needed help in letting go of expectations – her own or someone else’s. She needed to know unconditional love.

This world would have us believe that we are measured by our output. That we have to perform every day. That these things determine our value. But that’s not the Truth.

We are loved beyond measure, simply because we ARE, by One who calls us “lilies among thorns.”

Today, as I tend to my sore spots, I will rest in that.

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Seeds for an Appropriate Time

On a bright spring morning, a walk does my spirit good. And as I circle my block, I come across her garden.

I can almost see her standing there in the shadow of her home, wearing spring pastels and kelly green tennis shoes, pointing out weeds and asking her husband to pull them. Her white hair shines like a crown in the sun. Her eyes dance and her arms wave a happy hello as I walk up her front path.

But she’s been gone to heaven for some time now. And her husband, too – last June. I still miss them – just as much as I did the day I learned that Mr. Schab had at last followed his wife Home. 

So I stand looking at Mrs. Schab’s garden. Her flowers are beginning to bloom.

First, I see a single red tulip.

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Then the blue vinca minor (periwinkle).

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Then the viburnum.

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And her bright pink azaleas.

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Colorful, vibrant life springs from the brown, hard earth.

I seldom see their family visiting the house anymore. I suppose it’s been mostly cleaned out.

But you can’t remove everything that’s been planted, deep in fertile soil. You can’t strip it all – even from ground that appears, on the surface, to be nothing but weeds.

The garden renews my hope in the Promise. That with God’s help, our tiny seeds of peace and love – in our families, communities, nation, the world – will surely blossom into something beautiful, when the appropriate time comes.

As the earth brings forth its plants,

and a garden makes its growth spring up,

So will the Lord God make justice and praise

spring up before all nations. 

-Isaiah 61:62

 

Don’t Laugh at the New Bud

image“That daffodil looks funny, Mom!” she said, laughing and pointing at the new bud.

“Well, it has to start somewhere. And that’s where it begins.”

I knew what she was saying – sometimes things strike us as odd. That tiny, fragile bud pushing its way up through our rocky, leaf-strewn, unkempt garden bed.

But I could felt a tinge of criticism in the air. Whether she implied it or I just created it, I don’t know, but that’s human cynicism for you. We color the beauty of growth with judgement.

Was it meant to be that way?

I would posit that No – it wasn’t. That life was supposed to be carefree. We were supposed to rest in the knowledge that we were created in love and are loved unconditionally from day one through infinity.

But instead, the liar came and whispered in our ears that we could be more. 

He’s still whispering – doing his dirty work of telling us we’re unloved and then making us compare ourselves to others – and I fall prey to him too often. My big downfall is ‘wasting time.’ I always think I’m not getting enough done. As if this life is a big race to finish whatever it is we’re supposed to finish.

Ten days ago, I was sitting with my grandma, lamenting my general lack of industry, when I told her my ‘battery theory.’ “I think people are born with different sized batteries,”  I said. “Some people get D batteries, others Cs. I got triple-As!” She laughed and said, “I think you get that from me.”

I was surprised. But then she told me about some of the things she hadn’t done –  like photo albums – and I loved her all the more. Because I don’t care about her accomplishments. I love her for her. 

All the people I love most are the ones who are so genuinely themselves. Sometimes they have even persisted in a rocky atmosphere. Yet, they always maintain a certain air of grace that is unique to them.

Some of these loved ones are successful in a worldly sense. Some are not. Some seem to be well known, while others are like hidden gems. But they all have one thing in common: they have not stopped growing, and reaching for the Light.

I can’t help but think that that’s what the Lord wants from me too.

Flying Over Rapid City

The pilot just announced that we’re at 39,000 feet and flying over Rapid City, South Dakota. The man to my right across the aisle is playing an online crossword puzzle. These might be irrelevant details to some. But to me and my aching heart, they are clues that I’m not alone in my thoughts.

During this flight home to the East Coast, no other cities have been mentioned to us passengers. Just this one. And Rapid City just so happens to be one of the few places my grandparents lived in their 74-year marriage. Yes – the same couple I left a few hours ago in Seattle, WA, where the three of us celebrated Grandpa’s 94th birthday yesterday. And where Grandma has taken a liking to online crosswords as a replacement for the paper ones she’s done for decades.

Rapid City, South Dakota.

In the 1950s, my grandfather was a service and marketing engineer with Boeing – the mammoth aviation company. His piloting experience during WWII paired well with his University of Washington degree, and one of his long-term assignments was Rapid City. There, my grandmother was also busy – raising young children, my dad and my aunt.

In Seattle, they had left their brand new home to renters. “And while we were away,” Grandma tells me, “our church tore down its original building and put a new one up in the same place.”

This spring, that ‘new’ church building will be demolished as the congregation christens yet another one on Easter. My grandparents’ ‘new’ home, now 63 years old, has also been sold, and will disappear into the earth as a developer moves in to make use of the prime real estate.

Time marches on. Decisions are made. We collect the mementos we want to save and move forward. But the process rips at our hearts.

Do you ever wonder what might have been – had you made a different choice? 

Wondered about the ways that life moves – with or without you? 

And how His hand is at work in it all? 

Sitting in my dorm room at Dickinson College senior year, in the spring of 1994, I was contemplating life after graduation when I had a thought. A thought I have never forgotten in the 22 years since.

‘What if I moved to Seattle?’ 

I pictured myself trying to fit in to that city – a place where I had never lived, only visited – since my dad became a military officer and we were assigned elsewhere.

‘I could apply for graduate school at the University of Washington. I could get a Master’s in English. Or go to law school. Or maybe get a job. I could see more of Grandma and Grandpa.’ 

But I was fearful, and lacked the resolve to throw caution to the wind and move where I had no solid prospects. Or friends. Instead, I accepted a job as a legal assistant in New York City, and headed off on another adventure that ultimately took me to Washington, D.C. and into the arms of my future husband – a wonderful man with whom I’ve forged a life I desperately, desperately love.

But what if? 

Sitting with my grandparents this weekend, during yet another visit that is too short and too infrequent, I listen with my whole being. It is beautiful, sacred, joyful time. I want to recapture years. I want to fill in gaps.

I study the details of their faces, try to imprint their voices on my mind, and take copious notes on these people I love beyond words. I try to nail down the essentials and some of the family flavor, but I know the essence of it all is slipping by.

Ultimately, everything I feel comes down to an ache of gratitude and a longing for more. I want to say, ‘Thank you. Thank you,’ every single second, and ‘Please, don’t let it end.’

I hold up fairly well, keeping relatively dry eyes until I’m alone at the airport and suddenly everything spills over like waterworks. The missing them. The missing my husband and kids. The knawing knowlege that you can’t savor any morsel of this world’s goodness forever, eats away at my insides.

What would God say to me now?

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

-Isaiah 51:11

The promise of life without heartache is a balm to my spirit. If only I could grasp that perfect state here, for longer than a few precious moments at a time.

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