when you can’t skim over life

As a writer, there are two hard things I have found to be true. The first is that I can’t just write here about something that sounds good and spiritual and meaningful – I have to actually live it first.

The second is that as I, just like you, live through my own lessons and learn (often the hard way), I personally cannot process what I am experiencing until I write about it. Eric can normally start to tell when I haven’t written in awhile, because I complain about feeling “off” but I don’t know why. The way God has seemed to wire me to process by writing is something I love, but it also requires courage. Writing something down makes it feel more real, exposing pain and unfinished stories in which I could feel overwhelmed but instead am challenged to respond with truth about Who God is.

Very rarely do we as humans willingly embrace pain. We love the short cut and the easy way and the smart-enough-to-plan-ahead.

But the more I read the Bible, and the more I read authors who help me to read the Bible differently, I see pain laced in-between so many of the narratives. Where I once focused on the miracle at hand and the way God showed up, I am now slowing down the happily-ever-after I so love to celebrate and instead identifying with the characters, recognizing their pain in ways I have previously just skimmed through.

It’s so much easier to summarize the past than it is to live in the process.

Take Hannah’s story, for example. 1 Samuel 1 tells us, “Elkanah had two wives. The name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other, Peninnah. And Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.” How much life is actually built into that blunt statement! We know the whole story – that God is going to show up and provide a son who will be instrumental in the shaping of Israel’s history. Knowing the whole story can cause us to keep reading to get to the good stuff: the angel’s promise, the answered prayers, the boy who would later audibly hear God’s call. But Hannah didn’t have that advantage. Day in, day out, Hannah lived through this harsh and constant comparison, uncertain of her future and of her God’s plan.

The death of Lazarus, Mary and Martha’s brother, is another happy ending we can gloss over too quickly. The whole story is in John 11 but basically Mary and Martha send a messenger to Jesus to ask Him to come heal their brother, who is sick. Jesus somewhat cryptically responds, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” He then waits before going to visit this family, and by that time it is seemingly too late. Mary and Martha have been mourning their brother’s death for four days. What do you think those four days were like for Mary and Martha? If you have had a loved one pass away, what were the first few days like for you?

When Jesus finally shows up, Martha runs out to greet him, but Mary doesn’t leave the house. When someone comes to tell her that Jesus is calling for her, she runs to Him, falls at His feet, and wails, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

We know Jesus is about to do something great. But for the past four days, I bet Mary was lost in grief. She knew Jesus’ authority and power, yet she and Martha waited and waited and He didn’t show up.

We don’t get to read ahead in the story of our lives to see how God is going to act or what He is doing ultimately for His praise from our lives. We have to live each day in uncertainty of the future, certain only that life doesn’t always go the way we hope it will. There is an ultimate happily ever after when Jesus comes back for good, but until then we are surrounded by brokenness.

The sweet thing I am noticing in the midst of the pain is the way that pain draws a person into deeper intimacy with God – and, in my recent studies, especially in examples of women in Scripture. We don’t read a lot from the perspective of women in the Bible, but often in the times that we do, there’s a desperation present in their need for God to show up. We get to see Hannah praying so intensely that the priest Eli thinks she is drunk. We see Mary fall at Jesus’ feet and audibly question what He is doing. At the end of Genesis 29 we are privy to Leah’s heart as she names her sons to reflect her own pain of being unloved – and as they reflect her transition over the years from craving her husband’s affirmation to being able to praise God despite her marriage reality.

It’s a beautiful picture of the Gospel, our desperate need for God and His grace to meet us in our lack.

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In When Life and Beliefs Collide, Carolyn Custis James writes (referencing Mary’s interaction with Jesus after Lazarus’s death):

Jesus does not stand above or outside of Mary’s pain, much less urge her to snap out of it. He is neither philosophical nor patronizing… He acknowledges her sorrow and validates her suffering by entering himself into the full measure of her distress without reserve. Surely Jesus’ behavior should prevent us from ever thinking good theology makes us impervious to our pain or indifferent to the suffering of others… Good theology ­– in Jesus and in us – coexists with broken hearts, shattered lives, and unimaginable pain.

Jesus is with us in pain. He doesn’t chide us for being overwhelmed with sadness as we walk through the hard seasons of life. Faith in Him doesn’t mean that we are able to endure trials personally unaffected by what’s happening; faith is experiencing the grit of life and crying out against it yet still choosing to cling to Him in the midst of the unexplained.

In another book, The Gospel of Ruth, James comments, “God uses suffering to open our eyes to see more of him than we would under rosier conditions.” How my heart longs for my own eyes to be opened in such a way – to not skim over pain in hopes that it will be over soon, but to walk each step looking to see more of God through my sadness than maybe I could if everything went the way I wanted it to.

One of the blessings as I am walking through the unmet desire of pregnancy and a baby has been the reality that I can’t share my story or even how I am doing right now in that skimmed-over fashion I might normally use. It’s easy to tell others how God has worked in my life in the past now that I can connect the dots and see what He was doing. In this moment, though, I don’t see the full picture. I don’t have the promise of a pretty bow to tie it all together. What I do have is the confidence that He is present, even in the midst of sorrow, and I am grateful for a platform that allows me to put what I believe about God to work. I pray that the way I am daily living in this season, though imperfect, is an encouragement to others who will one day – or who, even now – walk through their own trials and broken places.

This unavoidable brokenness is a reality that we live in the process, but we can and must cling to truth in the midst of the day to day: He is with me. He is for my good. He is for His glory. And those truths are worth more than just being skimmed over.

on being almost-27

Tomorrow is my 27th birthday.

I’m not sure where I thought I would be at 27 – it seems like an age with a certain amount of insignificance and monotony in the midst of being a 20-something. As I look back over the past 5-10 years, though, I can see that by 27 I finally feel like I have begun to “grow into myself.” 

High school was rough. I didn’t know how to be comfortable with who I was, and I was constantly seeking my identity in academics and activities and relationships, looking for anything or anyone who could tell me who I was and what value I added. Going into college, Anne Shirley (via L.M. Montgomery) put to words the tension in my mind – “There’s such a lot of different Annes in me. I sometimes think that is why I’m such a troublesome person. If I was just the one Anne it would be ever so much more comfortable, but then it wouldn’t be half so interesting.”

Each fall, I reread the first three books of the Anne of Green Gables series. I get lost in the daydreamy world of Prince Edward Island and the way Anne views the world around her. Each season of the year carries its own beauties and gifts. Every trial or scrape  with it her sense of adventure and a lesson well learned that helps shape Anne into the woman she is becoming. Perhaps this time of year more than any other finds my own heart daydreaming, narrating the world around me as maples and oaks change colors and discover new aspects of their own nature.

As with any other book series, it’s fascinating to observe the ways the author develops the characters and allows them to grow more and more into themselves. The reader gets a birds-eye view as he reflects on what he has read, a position I am learning to take more often in my own life to see how the Greatest Author has been developing my own character – and how I believe He isn’t done yet. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

In college, I really began to recognize how much I didn’t know about myself. I felt like I had lived within a “box” of who I was expected to be until I was 18, many of those expectations created by myself and how I thought others viewed me. Then college brought a bevy of new relationships and new decisions, forcing me to really identify what I wanted and what I enjoyed. This blatant recognition of not knowing myself acted as a shovel, the tool I needed to start digging into my own self.

“They keep coming up new all the time – things to perplex you, you know. You settle one question and there’s another right after. There are so many things to be thought over and decided when you’re beginning to grow up. It keeps me busy all the time thinking them over and deciding what’s right. It’s a serious thing to grow up, isn’t it, Marilla?”

After 27 years, I finally feel comfortable in my own skin. I feel like I know myself better than I ever have before. I have had enough life experiences and vastly different jobs to allow me to understand my personal strengths and weaknesses and preferences and sin tendencies. While there is much self-awareness that can be learned through personality tests and StrengthsFinders assessments, the most powerful teacher in the subject of “self” has simply been experience. New situations allow me to ask new questions, and both successes and disappointments have contributed to the shaping of my life.

“Oh, Marilla, looking forward to things is half the pleasure of them,” exclaimed Anne. “You mayn’t get the things themselves; but nothing can prevent you from having the fun of looking forward to them. Mrs. Lynde says, ‘Blessed are they who expect nothing for they shall not be disappointed.’ But I think it would be worse to expect nothing than to be disappointed.”

And not only can I see that I know myself better at this almost-27, but I know God better. The more time I spend with Him, and the more I find myself depending on Him daily, the deeper my intimacy with this Author. The more I can recognize His voice as a Writer, the more I notice the patterns and consistencies He weaves into my life. Yet, at the same time, I find that there is so much more that I don’t know about Him. The cliche proves true that “the more I learn, the less I know.” I am more keenly aware of the hugeness of God at almost-27, and thus I am more keenly aware that I can’t ever know it all. I see my brokenness to a greater extent in light of this holy, incomprehensible God, and this drives me to desire a deeper relationship than I even knew possible 5-10 years ago.

In reflection, I see God’s faithfulness throughout my story. Like any good author, He uses each aspect of the plot to beautify the story and to add depth to my character development. He creates scenarios that will aid the development of the story. He foreshadows a bigger picture in the story. Even if the revelation won’t occur for many chapters to come, He can be trusted as an Author.

“When I left Queen’s my future seemed to stretch out before me like a straight road. I thought I could see along it for many a milestone. Now there is a bend in it. I don’t know what lies around the bend, but I am going to believe that the best does. It has a fascination of its own, that bend, Marilla. I wonder how the road beyond it goes – what there is of green glory and soft, checkered light and shadows – what new landscapes – what new beauties – what curves and hills and valleys farther on.”

So as I enter my 27th year and carry new hopes and expectations into what’s in store, I am grateful for the character development God as Author has worked in me. I fully believe that He is sovereign over this story, and He can see the bigger picture of chapters to come that I won’t understand from where I am now. But, as Anne Shirley does, I am seeing the beauty of where I am now and content with the understanding I have been given up to this point. In another ten years, I expect to look back and see how much I actually didn’t know at almost-27.

walking through autumn

Autumn is such a paradoxical season in comparison to the rest of the year.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s my favorite. October holds the key to my heart, and I could pretty must camp out on my front porch and just listen all day to the sound of the wind chasing dried leaves across the sidewalks. When we were dating, I taught Eric to notice the scent fall carries with it. Not the pumpkin spice and apple cinnamon candle scents we all have filling our homes; it’s more akin to the married smell of dirt and sun-dried leaves.

But there is a marked difference between fall and the other three seasons of the year. Spring and summer are all about growth – what’s in bloom, what to plant, what new projects to start. We enjoy the vitality of the world around us during these months, everything seeming to be bolder and brighter and alive. And winter holds herself with a silence eagerly anticipating the coming spring and summer, holding faith that the world will be green once again. Chosen plants for the holidays are evergreens and poinsettias, things that live through harsh temperatures or lower amounts of sunlight.

But in autumn, we celebrate death. 

We earnestly desire for the trees to slowly lose life in their branches, the leaves changing hues in response to the dying in their veins. Foliage fades from green to yellow to brown as we excitedly watch from our windows or on morning walks. What is this inconsistency in perspective at this time of year?

There’s something about how these trees die — they die well. They die in the best way possible, waving their multicolored branches in the afternoon sun as if showing off one to another who can die most vibrantly. They die slowly, evidenced by the maples in front of my house whose lower branches hold bright spring green leaves while the upper branches hold crimson and cherry tinted ones.

Ultimately, we can take joy in these deaths because we know their death is not the end. As the leaves let go of their branches and float to dirt,  we can savor the blissful crunching under our feet knowing that there will be new ones in their place next spring. This death makes way for new life, so we are able to enjoy this season. We don’t dread what spring will be like without these leaves. And maybe this is the secret to dying well – to hold the perspective that something new awaits, that the story is not over. 

While I eagerly await October each year, I admit I am less excited about the experience of death in my own life. As I think about death – to self, to desires, to plans, to expectations – I am not sure that I can say I typically go out with the same fanfare fall does. I cling to those leaves, my dreams, dreading the changing colors and, worse, the loss altogether. Autumn is all about the process, and we find beauty in her process, but so often when it comes to our own lives we want to rush the process and be at the end result.

As I look at the trees, which yield to the course of nature God has established, I wonder of my own life –

Can I die well?
Let go of what I hold as “mine”
Watch it change colors, then wither
(There’s beauty in that process)
Then let it go altogether
to drift freely down
And I, to contentedly stand bare
Anticipating another to take its place in time
A new leaf
Green and whole and bearing fruit

I think we dread death in our lives because we focus on the present crisis instead of the present beauty, and with that we forget the coming spring. We doubt the goodness of God in our losses and our disappointments, fearing if we let go of this we will be stripped forever. We forget that He promises to make all things new, to work out all for good, to fulfill the plans He has for us. And we don’t realize the beauty He creates as we surrender to Him and walk through the process of dying.

This fall, as I bask in the glorious weather and the grandeur of the world around me, I want to be drawn to the heart of God and reminded of His good in my own deaths, in the things I am slowly letting go of so that I may hold more of what He has for me. The story is not over, and new fruit will be produced in time. But for now, I want to enjoy the present beauty He brings even in walking through my own autumns.

what freedom feels like

IMG_5289I woke up two hours earlier than normal this morning, and after 30 minutes of trying to fall back asleep, I finally got out of bed. The crickets and cicadas are louder at this hour, and the quiet of the world has been begging me to stop and listen. To create space for thoughts and musings and maybe some written words to cling to for the day.

 

I think most of us crave words in ways we don’t realize. There are words during different seasons that seem to resonate with our hearts – whether it is one that provides hope in the midst of darkness, or safety during uncertainty, or promise when it seems like nothing is going right. It doesn’t even have to be a word contrasting to life; we can fix to words like joy and faith and intentional when we feel like we are living in those places. These words can come up frequently in every day conversations or books we read or prayers we find ourselves praying. They have a way of following us around, revealing themselves when we need a reminder or when we are looking for affirmation. We seem to love emblems and themes we can recognize in our lives – maybe it helps us feel that there is a purpose in this world, that there is a Master Planner Who is in control and working all things according to His design.

The crickets and cicadas have been a theme for me during these past couple of months. I hear them at all times of the day in all different states of my heart – rest or chaos. When I think about these insects, I find myself grateful for the ways the world is humming around me and following a pattern of seasons even when my life seems all over the place. I hear the chirps and am compelled to sit and think and be. I am curious by the ways I can’t see them, yet their voices come together in a way that you can’t miss what they are singing.

Another concept that seems to follow me around is freedom. I am finding this word constantly, or maybe it is finding me – in my conversations, in the books I am reading, in the Scripture I am processing, and in the goals I am recognizing for myself as a writer and as a person.

Freedom.

With this word comes its own set of questions. What really is freedom? How do we get it? How do we know if we are living in it? Is there something I am not experiencing freedom in, or it is just a word that I need to savor and store for a later time?

I love the way Toad describes freedom in The Wind in the Willows:

Sitting up, he rubbed his eyes first and his complaining toes next, wondered for a moment where he was, looking round for familiar stone wall and little barred window; then, with a leap of the heart, remembered everything–his escape, his flight, his pursuit; remembered, first and best thing of all, that he was free!

Free! The word and the thought alone were worth fifty blankets. He was warm from end to end as he thought of the jolly world outside, waiting eagerly for him to make his triumphal entrance, ready to serve him and play up to him, anxious to help him and to keep him company, as it always had been in days of old before misfortune fell upon him.

Now, Toad is an extremely narcissistic character in the story, so his view of freedom is completely wrapped up in how the world can best benefit him and serve him. He has escaped from jail, and he thinks the world is now open and ready and waiting for Toad to return to it. And I have a feeling that Toad is spot-on when it comes to what freedom feels like, but it wrong when it comes to what it actually is.

I was talking with a couple of college students last week about the Gospel, and as we read Ephesians 2:8-9, I found myself talking about this concept of freedom.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

I see freedom illustrated in this grace – that the Christian life is not up to us. Our salvation is not reliant on our ability to earn it and achieve it. Our joy is not a result of trying hard enough to live in a perpetually happy state of mind. The hope we have in eternity does not depend on what we can do. All is a result of grace. And the weight I hold in myself comes off.

I think of freedom in the way that Christian probably experienced it in The Pilgrim’s Progress.

Now I saw in my dream, that the highway up which Christian was to go was fenced on either side with a wall; and that wall was called “Salvation”.

“In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah; We have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks.” Isaiah 26:1

Up this way, therefore, did burdened Christian run; but not without great difficulty, because of the load on his back.

He ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending; and upon that place stood a Cross, and a little below, in the bottom, a sepulchre. So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up to the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble; and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.

Chills run across my arms and legs as I reread those words. As he ran to the cross, ignoring the weight of what he was carrying, it just fell off.

This summer, en route to Alaska, I found myself doing what I hoped I would never have to do: running through the DFW Airport with a 65L hiking pack strapped across my shoulders, my back, my waist. Honestly, it wasn’t so much even running as it was hunched-over waddling at half speed. Or a slow-mo scene. If I were watching myself, I would have said it was unattractive and comical, so you have permission to laugh. It was even worse when I didn’t make it to my gate in time and I burst into tears, mostly from the stress of running across the airport and the disappointment in missing that flight – but let me tell you, I was in pain.

When I try to picture what initial freedom looks like, I picture, like Christian, running up the hill towards the cross, eyes fixed solely on that destination, and the Lord loosening the multitudes of straps holding that pack to my body. The feeling of the pack slowly slipping off and having no concern for what is happening except that I am getting closer to the feet of my Savior. What joy, what gratitude would result from such an encounter!

I don’t know what burden you might be carrying right now, what is weighing you down and jailing your soul. Or maybe you aren’t carrying a pack at all – the straps have already loosed and fallen off, but you have forgotten the weight of the pack and therefore the weight of gratitude for the One Who removed it.

I think I am still trying to figure out exactly what freedom is for me — but I know what it feels like.

stepping over rocks and roots

As a child, when I wanted to write, I just pulled out a pen and my notebook and started a new story. I didn’t spend time thinking about how the plot should progress or what would be a strategic way to introduce new characters. I simply started writing and let the words take me into the story.

My best friend Anna and I wrote a book together in third and fourth grades. We filled a whole journal with stories and illustrations about two horses and the family who owned them. We would pass the book back and forth so I could put in words and she could put in pictures. Sometimes, that’s how I would spend my recess time (when I wasn’t playing touch football or basketball with the boys)- seated at a picnic table with a pen and my ideas for what new adventure Penny and Misty would go on.

Now, as a grown up, I spend too much time thinking and planning and crafting. I want to write, but it takes so much more effort. I don’t know if my imagination has drifted into more of a need for structure, or if I have just developed a habit of over-thinking. I want to write, and I find it life-giving, but I spend so much time being overwhelmed at the idea of pursuing writing instead of just doing it.

I think adults are like that in general with their dreams. We are told as children that we can be anything we want to be. Even in college, we daydream about the crazy things we could do once we graduate. But something happens within the season of getting a job and starting a lease or mortgage and paying bills and getting married where dreams seem unobtainable. No longer do we feel like we can do anything – decisions have to be made with strategy and budget considerations and logic. One can’t just quit his job to move without a new job already set up in a new location. You typically can’t take a month off to embark on an epic road trip. Bucket lists have to be accomplished within the span of weekends or vacation days. And the dream of writing outside of this blog one day seems so daunting that I don’t sit down to just start writing.

Graduating college and becoming an adult used to carry with it this hope of freedom, of finally being out of the confines of school and studying and having your next step planned out for you. If I am being honest, though, in the past four years since graduating, I have felt more trapped in the confines of adulthood. My next step may not be planned out for me, but I find I am less willing to take risks. I like to think I have an adventurous and brave perspective on life, but it is often more in my daydreaming than actually carrying out those dreams.

I also like to think I can come up with all of the answers I am looking for, especially within the span of a blog post. If I just write long enough, maybe my fingers will subconsciously type all that I need to know. I like the idea of my writing being like a guided hike; I want to be just a few steps ahead and encourage you in what I have learned on the trail so far (often thanks to mentors and guides who are in turn a few steps ahead of me).

As I have been pondering these questions, though, all I can figure out is to look at the next step – to hike on without knowing exactly how to get to the end of the trail except to step over one rock or root at a time. 

My rocks and roots to pursue writing involve creating space to write, savoring words I love, and learning to be more honest with myself and with others. Maybe for you it’s a new job, and your next step is to start a brainstorm list of what skills you have and what things you are passionate about. Or, if you want to take a trip, start saving and collecting maps and travel tips. Whatever your dream is, don’t get overwhelmed by how unattainable it seems. Simply figure out the next attainable step.

Don’t let the length or the difficulty of the trail scare you away from trying to hike it. And I am preaching that more to myself than to you.

 

{What does it look like for you to pursue dreams? How do you keep yourself from being caught up in the boundaries we create for ourselves as adults? What does freedom truly look like?}

lena love story

Moss and sponge-y dirt coat forest floors as we hike through the closest I have ever been to Narnia. Gnats scatter like pixie dust in the rays of sunlight peeking between tree tops, and our eyes focus on tangled roots I am just waiting to see move and trip us, the tree planning to walk away. This is the perfect setting for a fairy tale, and I half-expect the eagles I hear calling in the trees to swoop down and land on someone’s shoulder.

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The path jumps up, then curves around the coast. Glimpses of rocks and water tease us, but as we push through the trees a magnificent view comes into focus. Seaweed and barnacles cover rocks below as the wake of a distant passing ferry gently crashes, the faint smell of salt lingering in the air. A lone sailboat has the cove to himself, and we watch from lichen-covered cliffs 20 feet up. Sunlight reflects off the water, slightly blinding my vision, but I can’t take my eyes off the blue color palette displayed in the waters and sky and staggered mountains in the distance.

A love story happened here.

Not the kind with a chance meet of two strangers in the woods.
Not a Romeo-and-Juliet-esq adventure of running away together.
Not the long-awaited wedding ceremony of a prince to his Cinderella.

But the kind of a Creator wooing a girl to Himself through His creation, her heart stopping in break-taking awe of the detail in every crest of water, in the spray emerging from slight shadows of whales hidden underneath the deep, in the opening of clouds to reveal the sun’s warm rays reaching for her legs.

The kind of love that catches your breath and races your heart, chilling skin with an audacious breeze and drawing her close like arms into an embrace. Safe. Secure. Content. The mark of true love. It continues to pull her near, His presence consuming her every thought.

Waves play tricks on eyes, teasing hope for a second glimpse of the whale.

His love is boundless, cannot be understood. His love is unconditional and foolish in the eyes of those who don’t understand. His love asks her to rest – not perform, not earn, not strive. And in that moment, she wonders why she ever thinks anything else matters.  All of the value of life is contained here, in Him.

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Yet once she leaves the cliffs of Lena, the memory of that moment fades. Not enough to forget the romance – you never forget your first kiss – but enough to cloud the clarity she once had about life and purpose and value.

Her heart longs to be on the cliffs of Lena again. Time seemed to stop in His presence. Those moments had a storybook glow, a picturesque quality unable to be contained in an Instagram post. Yet time does not stop, so she clings to the memories of that love and tries to push forward in a world where things are earned and lost and transient.

But it’s not that easy. One day, she finds herself breaking down as she feels the weight of all of the things she once knew didn’t matter but has since started carrying. The expectations she has placed on herself and the identity she has sought in her accomplishments have grown into something more than she can bear. In the midst of her tears and her racing thoughts, she hears a whisper of GRACE.

Was it possible that He was there, meeting her in the midst of the flood?

When you can’t carry it all, look to Me. I am here, in the everyday pieces of your life.

Her breath caught in her throat, then she slowly exhaled, feeling the beat of her heart calm in her chest. Maybe Lena was where the fairytale began, but life couldn’t stay there. Her failings and her attempts to do it alone wouldn’t negate the happily-ever-after she was hoping for; they would simply be a part of her figuring out how to find that happily-ever-after in ordinary moments and in ordinary ways. That intense, incomparable love had not ended but only changed scenes, showing up in little ways as reminders of what does matter and how she is loved.

Even after leaving Lena Point, the love story continues.

flight to juneau

Rolling over in bed, I dare to open my eyes and see daylight streaming in past the closed blinds. My phone says 5 a.m., and my body begs for more sleep, but daylight begs to differ.

Yesterday felt like a long day. I arrived at the airport before 6 a.m. for my first flight, which took off on time but was delayed in the air due to weather. After attempting to run through DFW’s airport to get to my connecting flight, I arrived to the gate five minutes too late. (I do say ‘attempting to run’ thanks to the 65L Osprey pack strapped to me, causing it to be an awkwardly fast walk that felt like a run.) Having never missed a flight before, I of course started crying while the sweet American Airlines lady did some research and put me on two new flights, since missing that second flight also meant that I would miss my third flight. A new two and a half hour layover in Dallas, then a five and a half hour layover in Seattle meant I would arrive much later than planned in Juneau (and a lot later in central time hours than my body was used to staying awake).

But the last flight from Seattle to Juneau was breathtaking. The moment the mountains were visible, I just stared out the window, unable to stop grinning. At first – they were just watercolor paintings in the distance. But as we got closer, they gained dimension and detail. Sun reflected off lakes below, coloring them a brilliant orange as if liquid gold was pooling together. Clouds, snow, sky blended together, confusing where one ended and another began. Fog curled itself around crests of mountains, intertwining itself just below the peaks.

The descent – we hit the layer of clouds, and visibility was nonexistent. Yet as we continued to descend, a light shone through, a reflection from water. Water, land, and sea began to separate, and mountains rose in greeting.

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And my heart had this strange sense of coming home, even after being away for five years.