It's kind of funny to think about the different times when writing actually calls to me by name. Usually, it's when I'm fired up by something, circumstances igniting a burning passion somewhere deep inside my soul that demands to be written about to alleviate it. Other times, it's quiet, quivering voice that asks to simply sit with it, perhaps scratching out a few words while I'm there. But this time, it's something more of a contented sigh, a quiet, understanding laugh as the summer yawns and stretches its arms, well aware that September has already arrived and that it won't be staying for an encore performance this year.
WHEN THE VOICES IN YOUR HEAD ARE PATHOLOGICAL LIARS
I have anxiety.
And actually, a lot of people have it. Anxiety related disorders are actually the most common type of mental illness, and for me, it usually takes the form of the voice of a pathological liar skulking around in my head. It doesn't always have to be huge things either. That's the thing about having the voice of a pathological liar living in your head; it lies about everything. Sometimes it lies about littler things whether you proofread that assessment for work enough or whether you were too awkward at that get together, when everything was really fine. But sometimes it lies about bigger things too, like whether your life is worth living or whether or not you're good enough of a person.
Anxiety lies about the little things and the big things. it's just what pathological liars do.
Something anxiety's lies often do to me is that they temporarily trick me into thinking I don't matter to anyone. It whispers into my ear saying that because this friend canceled those plans or because this person didn't text me back that they're just completely done with me. They're throwing me away and don't want to have anything to do with me anymore. It can sound a little overly dramatic, but it's one of the looming threats that anxiety holds over me, that all these people I care about are just going to one day pick up and decide that they're tired of me, and it's a terrifying cycle of thoughts. And it doesn't help that anxiety also often likes to borrow from the misguided words of the church when it hisses at me and says that people like me don't get to love or be loved because of who we are. It spits as it says that God doesn't love us and that we're damned to a life of loneliness while everyone around us gets exactly what we've been dreaming of. And it's those tiny snippets of lived experiential truth and the littlest fragments of maybe-they're-right questions that form the hooks that sink into me.
And I'll admit, it's hard and exhausting to be in a constant battle with the voices that populate your head, but the cheap trick they use over and over again is turning legitimate truths or fears into blanket statements, saying that because you don't have that relationship right now that you never will, or because you don't have it that you don't matter to anyone. It takes the truth that we're recipients of undeserved and unearned grace and tells us that we're the scum of the earth and that God could never love us. It takes all the honest truths that keep us humble and human and twists them just enough to make us feel like nothing.
their cheap trick is twisting legitimate fears or truths into blanket statements just enough to make us feel like nothing.
But the thing is: blanket statements are still lies, even if they've been inflated with partial truths that only apply part of the time. Knowing this, I think I'm slowly learning to see through the thin fabric of all those lies, and something I'm blown away by is that even as hard and arduous and emotionally turbulent as things like them can be, I'm finding myself so honored and often surprised that people in my life want me to be a part of things like meeting their significant others, witnessing their weddings, and savoring the final moments of their going away parties.
Though I'm often fixated on the things I wish I had, I'm finding myself newly reminded that despite what my anxiety says, I matter enough and people care enough to want me to be a part of those sweet moments. Sometimes I think to myself that perhaps this is a small and obvious realization, but it's also a powerful one that gives me another weapon to fight the voices and the lies that are often hard to distinguish from the truth, especially when they're so emotionally charged and play off the fears that already live in the recesses of your mind. This weapon of perspective and recognizing the lies for what they are is something that will need to be continually refined, but it's one that's already slowly proving to be effective.
And if any of them happen to be reading this, I just want to give a quick shout out to the following people who have, perhaps unwittingly, been helping me learn more about how the Lord sees us and the different forms love can come in. Maybe that doesn't make quite as much sense in writing as it does in my head, but I just want to say I love them and am thankful for them. So thank you & love you: Hannah Penz, Jasmine Bashore, Elise Krohn, Caitlin Gallagher, Ruth Schaefer.
Thanks for reading this post. If it resonated with you and you found yourself in agreement, please consider sharing and/or liking this post and subscribing to my blog via email. If it stirred up thoughts inside of you regarding this topic, let your voice be heard in the comments below. Let's talk about this. And if you want to get in touch about this post or anything else, send me a note!
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Just the other night, I was having dinner with a few friends when I was reminded of what a precarious space LGBTQ Christians occupy in the current cultural, spiritual, and theological systems. It started out as a rather elementary discussion of how several of us had come out in the church and what our experiences of that had been, and through a retelling of our stories, I realized that in many ways, it's not uncommon for us to find ourselves between a rock and a hard place as LGBTQ Christians.
I recently had a really eye-opening conversation that left me pretty stunned in retrospect, not necessarily because I was surprised about where the conversation went, but more because it was a powerful reminder of something I already knew to be true. The feeling that overtook me the next day was that of a hard truth finally beginning to settle into your bones and not being quite sure what you're supposed to or can even do about it. And it's been something I've been thinking of ever since.
During this conversation with a group of self-described "not religious" people, I was reminded of the fact that the perception the majority of the world holds is that faith, but Christianity in particular, is wholly incompatible with also being LGBTQ. This is far from shocking, but something I didn't realize is that many people who don't adhere to any specific religion often don't see faith as being something that's also intrinsic.
For anyone who doesn't know, I'm a writer and I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) back in November, and it's been giving me an awful lot to think about in terms of both writing and life. I'm just starting to read through this first full draft in preparation for editing, and parts of the writing and editing process have got me thinking a lot about the process of life as well.
January has always been a difficult month for me, sometimes for specific reasons, sometimes not, and this year is no different. Maybe it's part of that whole seasonal affective disorder thing. I wouldn't be surprised, given that Minnesota becomes a frozen hell for a couple months every year, and yet so many of us still live here.
This particular January, I've been considering more in depth how my word of the year, Abide, applies to all the different things we might experience in a given calendar year, including that odd "winter blues" sensation that tends to come around when the temperatures drop and the days get shorter. What I've been pondering is how maybe these valleys we find ourselves descending into are just another place God challenges us to remain in for a time. Maybe you're supposed to be in this low point for a while, and maybe that's okay.
If I'm being honest, I think 2017 is going to be one of the hardest years for me yet. All accusations of pessimism aside, I really believe I'm being realistic when I say that. Though the past several years up until now have definitely been challenging (and also growing) in their own right, I think this year will be especially trying because it plays to one of the areas where I need the most refinement in my opinion.
It's right about that season of life right now where romances begin kindling, rings are bought and resized, and save the dates are sent out. The feeling is already thick in the air, and it's perhaps only compounded by the fact that Christmas and New Year's are rolling around, wonderful holidays, but also notorious for their relationship emphases. After all, what else could your extended family that you haven't seen in months possibly ask you about other than whether or not you have a significant other yet? Any other questions or life updates (grad school, job promotions, and other achievements) obviously pale in comparison to this all-important query.
Want to hear a confession of mine? There are so many days when I feel like so many of the things I do aren’t worth it anymore, that so much of it doesn’t have a point because it’s not “making an impact,” or maybe just not in the way I might expect it to. There are days when I wonder why I still keep up this blog, why I still write my famously long (and sometimes dramatically pensive) captions on my Instagram account, or why I have my separate Facebook page for my blogging and writing. There are days why I wonder why I still write at all, why I did NaNoWriMo when the chances of actually being a published novelist aren’t always the highest. And these are thoughts that most creatives probably have once in a while.
Because you know what the real, selfish reason is for all that? It’s that we wonder why we’re not wildly successful yet. We wonder why with all the hard work we’re putting into whatever we’re passionate about, why we aren’t famous yet. We wonder why we’re not the next big musician or New York Times Bestselling novelist. And we wonder all those things because that’s how we’ve been so conditioned to view success and to view influence.
We wonder why we aren't famous yet.
This is what society tells us.
It’s not good enough unless you’re photographing Fashion Week. It’s not good enough unless your novel gets a movie deal. It’s not good enough unless you’re designing for an international company. It’s not good enough unless you have tens of thousands of followers on Instagram. It’s not good enough unless it gets enough likes. It’s not good enough unless it goes viral on Twitter. It’s not good enough unless…fill in the criteria here. And by extension, it tell us that it’s not worth it or that it doesn’t matter, because it won’t be good enough unless it fits into one of those boxes.
Society tells us it's not good enough unless you have tens of thousands of followers on Instagram.
And it’s hard to keep creating when the world’s standards of evaluating the worth of your art are so different from God’s standards of evaluating it. He didn’t necessarily give us our creativity or the gifts we have to become famous or to go viral on social media. That might happen, and if so, we then have to bear the responsibility of that platform, but that’s never been the goal of why we create.
We create because we’ve been made in His image as the Creator. That’s why we have the ability to craft stories, make images, and string together melodies. It’s all because it reflects on Him and the little pieces of His essence that He’s placed into each and every one of us. In reality, maybe it’s better than more of us aren’t famous, because that can be so distracting and take our eyes off the One who truly deserves all the fame this entire little planet hurtling through space can muster. It should all really be for Him, but some of the creative climate has robbed so much of that from Him, telling us that it should be us getting all that glory.
But that's never been the goal. We create because we've been made in His image as the Creator.
But the truth of that matter is that whatever we create should remind us, subtly or overtly, of where that desire and magic of creation comes from. And the underlying message then is that it is good enough, whatever you’ve created.
You're good enough.
Your art is good enough. Your writing is good enough. Your music is good enough. Your images are good enough. Your design is good enough. Your copy is good enough. It’s all good enough, because the point of it all isn’t to make us famous, but to remind us that all of our creating flows out of the one Creator who gives us the ability to do it all.
So keep creating. It's good enough. You're good enough.
Something about foggy mornings filled with gray light always seems to pull me out of myself, in the best way possible. Still not sure exactly why. Maybe it’s the way everything seems to stand still and you’re more cognizant of all the little sights, smells, and sounds around you that might normally get lost in the chaos of a typical American day. Or maybe it’s the atmosphere around you that seems to whisper that it’s finally okay to let all your muscles relax and just breathe and be for once, taking a moment to slow down in our world that’s normally always running at a million miles an hour. Whatever it is, these slow, tranquil mornings always seem to return a little more of the perspective I’ve been missing throughout the rest of the week. And maybe we all need a little more of that. Regardless of what season of life we might find ourselves in, there always seems to be this nagging sensation that you should be doing more, accomplishing more, or otherwise never stopping. We might allow ourselves to take a single day, or maybe even just a single part of a day to take a breather and reflect, but more often than not we still feel guilty about that rest we so desperately need. It’s the curse of productivity baked into the fabric of American culture, or so it seems. We feel like we need to be constantly on the go otherwise everything else that’s going by at breakneck speeds will pass us by. But that might be where our ever looming sense of dissatisfaction comes from, or at least that’s what I’m starting to discover about myself.
Every time we ramp up the speed on the treadmill of life, it’s so easy for us to think we’re still not getting enough done or that we’re still just barely keeping up with everyone around us, when we’re already running ourselves ragged. We set all these goals and milestones for ourselves (that may or may not be realistic), and we start to feel all sorts of angst when things don’t play out exactly the way we want them to, whether that’s not graduating from school when we thought we would, not having the job you want right after graduation, not paying off your student loans as fast as you thought, or whatever else it might be. With a myriad of expectations we set for ourselves (or that are sometimes set for us), it’s easy to lock ourselves in a mindset that only welcomes disappointment and pushes us to move faster and faster to get to where we want to be.
But these slow mornings have been reminding me that with slowing down comes more perspective, letting us look backwards instead of just forwards. And when we start to take the time to look back a little more, we’re able to see all the things we have to be thankful for and all the things we’ve already accomplished and already done instead of just the things that we’re striving for in the future, which is a powerful reminder that not all is grim just because we’re not right where we want to be in the present. And if those moments of stillness are hard to come by, start creating them for yourself. They don’t have to exist only on the weekends or during long periods of rest. There are spaces to create that stillness for yourself even during the storm of the week. We just have to look out for them and be more intentional.
Sometimes you just reach a breaking point. It’s not that you don’t care anymore or even that it’s not important anymore, but sometimes you just grow weary of the constant tension, the constant sensation of being “always on.” Because why wouldn’t that be exhausting? That’s sort of how I feel right now when it comes to Christian LGBTQ things and LGBTQ things in general, the dialogues, the conversations, the controversies, the debates, the activism, all of it. I feel burned out if I’m being completely honest.
And it’s gotten pretty darn close to the point of cynicism when it comes to these things now. Maybe it’s because I’ve already had 4 years to think about and process all my own thoughts and conflicts. Maybe it’s because I’m already out to my friends, family, and whoever else might care to know. Maybe it’s because I haven’t had to deal with many of the harsher realities of what this life and what this identity means for some people recently. Maybe, like Taylor Swift, it’s been a case of overexposure over the course of the last few years, with all the writing, rambling, and rallying I’ve been a part of.
I feel burned out if I'm being completely honest.
But maybe it’s also just a natural part of the ups and downs and cyclical nature of life itself. Maybe feelings and sensations like this come and go in waves. Maybe in a few weeks, months, or a year I’ll be back on the activism train and maybe even working in a position that would require that. That seems logical to me. It’s burned into my heart and soul after all, and there’s no running away from this existence, from this life that I’ve been living and will continue to live until the Lord decides my time is up.
For now though, I just want to live. And maybe this is a pipe dream or a symptom of some sort of privilege I didn’t quite realize I had, but I just want to be able to live my life without having to continually defend my own existence, my own convictions, my own identity, my own choices. I just want to be able to live my life without endlessly needing to explain why I think a certain way or why I’ve reconciled my identity with my faith and the rest of my life. That’s all really. I just want to live. I just want to be, and I long for the day when people can look at me, another anomaly among many (read: LGBTQ Christians), and others like me and just accept it at face value, without needing a long, drawn-out explanation or a theological argument to satisfy their own inner nagging curiosities or bouncer-to-the-Kingdom mentality.
I just want to be able to live my life without having to continually defend my own existence.
I just want to live, to wake up in the morning and go to work, to go to dinner with my friends every once in a while, to love the people I love, to hold someone’s hand, to talk about the future, and to be able to go to bed at night not feeling like I stick out in the church pews with a neon sign above my head just by virtue of being here on this earth.
And maybe one of the ways to fulfill that longing to just be, to just live is take a step back and do it. Obviously, this is always going to be something kindling in the depths of my heart and spirit, but I think I’m also willing to go with the ebb and flow.
So, who knows? Maybe now that I’m starting to get settled at work and having a functional computer again (long, strange story…haha) I’ll be back to writing here semi-frequently, but maybe I’ll also just lie low for a while to try this whole “just being” and “just living” thing. I have no idea. That’s where I’m at, and I’m going with the flow.
At any given point in life, there's bound to be quite a bit going on (or maybe that's just my life, but I have a sneaking suspicion that's not the case). And I suppose "quite a bit going on" can be taken to mean a myriad of things, but rightfully so. It could be difficult things. It could be wonderful things you've been waiting for. Or it could just be things in general that aren't necessarily good or bad, just things that happen that add another dimension to your daily existence, for better or worse. Honestly, I was almost hoping that my life would go the route of becoming one of those boring adult lives where nothing really happens over the course of several months and you just go to work, go home, occasionally see friends, and everything remains stable for the foreseeable future. But that hasn't really happened yet. For the time being, it seems like there's still a number of random events and "life things" cropping up at every twist and turn, and that's been a struggle as of late. At the same time, something I've been seeing is that with so many new things around every corner, old songs have started taking on new meanings for me.
For the majority of our lives, I think we have most things nicely planned out for us, with a set structure that allows us to know what to expect from life for the most part. Up until the moment we graduate from college (or perhaps high school for some), we have a plan we can fall back on it, because life tends to follow a linear pattern. But after that, I think many of us are taken off guard by the fact that a lot of that structure evaporates once we enter what so many millennials affectionately (or maybe not so affectionately) call "the real world."
At that point, things become a lot less certain, because the more or less straight line that's been painted on the ground for us to follow usually ends there. We emerge in this big world without a clear sense of what to do, or at least I feel like I did, and we're forced to rely on God more than we perhaps ever needed to before arriving at that place.
Because of that new reliance, I've found that the song Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) has really begun to hit a lot closer to home. Maybe it's just because we don't necessarily take worship songs for what they mean a lot of the time, but I feel like I didn't quite understand what the song was really saying until just recently in my life. And it's saying a lot of scary things that are hard to actually mean when you sing the song I think.
If you think about it, what does it really mean to say, "Spirit, lead me where my trust is without borders. Let me walk upon the waters wherever you might call me?"
That's a crazy thing to say, especially when so many of us, and especially myself, like to have that clear cut certainty about where our lives our going and what our next step is. And perhaps this is even scarier and more powerful when God has already revealed to us what that next step is supposed to be or where our lives are going, but the seeming reality of the world and our life circumstances makes that seem so daunting or unrealistic. It's easy to sing that line, but it's a lot harder to take a hard look at life when our trust in God is reaching our borders and say "Okay, God, I'm here at the edge of my comfort zone. I don't know where I'm going or how You're going to make this work, but I trust you to let me walk upon the water to where you're calling me."
That's crazy. That's scary. That's not easy, especially when we hit harder points and start to sink into the water a little. Suddenly, it's not just a line in a song anymore; it's real life and we have to really mean what we're saying, which is something I think a lot of us aren't prepared for, to really ask God for that faith. At least, I know that I wasn't prepared for it when I reached this point of life, and maybe that's why this song suddenly seems so real.
Some Saturday reflections for you...
Here's a piece I wrote back in the spring about some good changes and things I see happening back at my alma mater (that sounds weird to say...). Bethel is one of my favorite places, and I'm thankful for the ways God is moving there, especially in the sense that LGBTQ students are starting to feel safer and that the atmosphere is shifting for the better. Hopefully, this is just the beginning.
I feel like this is probably a super millennial thing to say, but the transition to the adult world has been pretty jarring over the past few weeks. My college student body isn’t used to getting up at 6am to make it to work at 7:45am and then going to bed early to do it all over again, and my mind isn’t accustomed to all the new routines and mental switches I have to make during the day. All of that being said, it hasn’t been too rough yet, but I think one of the hardest things for me was also one of the more cliche things you could probably say about leaving college and starting to work full time: I honestly miss Bethel so much, and not necessarily specific friends or specific people at Bethel (though I definitely do miss all my friends and everything SO much; don’t get that mixed up, haha). But it’s more the sense that Bethel really did become my second home over the course of my three years there and it was so bittersweet to graduate and leave. I actually applied to a couple jobs at Bethel as graduation was coming up just to see if I could stick around a little longer, and as my job search got longer and more tedious over the summer, I actually started to get upset about the fact that I wouldn’t be going back (now that fall has rolled around, it’s more like tears and a lot of emotions, lol).
Currently, I work in the office at a charter school in St. Paul, and even though I do really like it, there’s still a large part of my heart and soul that misses Bethel and aches to be back there this fall, coupled with the fact that so many of my closest friends are still seniors there. At the same time, I wholeheartedly believe that wherever we happen to find ourselves at any given moment is exactly where God wants us to be for that season of life. That’s something that was hard for me to accept, being in a place where I maybe didn’t want to be, and something that I’m still working on and through during this period of so much change and adaptation to a different world, a different schedule, a different mindset, and a different group of people that I find myself spending the majority of my days with now. But I still cling to the promise that God never has us walk through specific corridors of life in vain, and right now, as much as I might not like it, I know that where I am is exactly where He wants me to be.
But at the same time, maybe just as an encouragement to me (today was the first day of school at work, and it was a crazy, hectic, draining day), God seems to have reaffirmed that eventually my desire to return to Bethel will be fulfilled at some point in the not too distant future, prompting some ugly tears from me in my bedroom circa 8:30pm tonight. This promise came through a section of Acts 18 I was reading. In it, Paul has been moving all over, preaching and teaching in various cities as the Spirit led him. Right around verses 20 & 21, he’s leaving Ephesus and it says that the people asked him to stay with them a little longer but that he declined because he felt the Lord calling him to continue traveling and ministering elsewhere at that point in his life.
However, it also says this: But as he left, he promised, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” Then he set sail from Ephesus. – Acts 18:21
In all of my weariness and also maybe bitterness about not being back at Bethel this fall, I think this was probably one of the gentlest ways that God could’ve encouraged me and told me to keep at it for this stage of life. And maybe that promise seems like a stretch, but I also think that’s the way that God tends to operate and maybe what He meant when He promised that His word would always be relevant to us, over the course of all of time.
Throughout my time at Bethel, Ephesians was always a go-to book for me, and it was also the first time in my life I could actually say I had a favorite book of the Bible. I still want a tattoo eventually to commemorate two of my favorite verses from it (v. 20-21 also super not coincidentally, because that’s how God likes to roll), and it quickly became a home base of sorts in the Bible, just like Bethel became a second home to me, mentally, relationally, spiritually, and physically. So, it seems just like God to sneak this reminder and promise into my day just before bed after a day where I honestly questioned whether I’d be able to make it through the whole year working at this school where every day just seems to suck all the energy right out of me. It’s seriously mind blowing how God does that, how He speaks to us when we’re at our lowest that bring tears to our eyes and an nodding affirmation as we wipe them away that yes, we can do this, but only because He’ll be walking by our side the whole way.
I’m not exactly sure when God will bring me back to Bethel, and whether that’ll be in the distant future or whether it’ll be a little sooner, but I’ll be anxiously awaiting that day while simultaneously asking Him for the strength and grace to get through this season that He’s brought me to. I want to love and serve as much as I can right now, right here where I am, but look out, Bethel, because I’m coming back for you someday, and I’ll probably be crying buckets when I finally make my way back.
where do memories live?
in all the crevices of your long term memory,
where they’re crammed down,
waiting for a prompt from the temporal world,
to rouse them from the depths,
of the storage banks in your brain,
like worms tunneling towards the rain?
or perhaps fragments,
reside partially in the places they’re conceived,
where they lie latent,
waiting to be ushered back into the,
realm of conscious thoughts by,
the physical presence of one,
in the spaces where mind meets matter.
Today marks the end of my 14-day writing challenge (though this post might not actually end up making it online until day 15, since it’s currently storming and the internet and things don't like that too much), and I can honestly say that working through these two weeks of writing definitely was a challenge, but it was also incredibly growing from a creative standpoint as well, which I’m thankful for. I originally decided to start this project because my creative reserves were basically empty, and I had recently had a good conversation revolving around the idea that sometimes simply stoking the fire of whatever you might be struggling with might be exactly what you need. So, instead of taking some time to think and brainstorm for creative purposes, I chose to force myself to write something, anything, for two weeks instead, to see what I could come up with, and it was surprisingly effective.
Over the course of the 14 days, I found myself writing in a couple different genres and styles, which was stretching and growing from a literary standpoint, but I also found myself enjoying some of those styles more than I thought I would, especially given my previous experience and history with styles like poetry. Prior to performing this experiment, I always would’ve told myself that I wasn’t a poet and that I’d probably never write poetry, but my perspectives have begun shifting ever since I forced myself to write even when I wasn’t feeling like it. I think something about that internal pressure caused some of my ideas to seep out in forms they wouldn’t otherwise would’ve taken. At the same, I justified dabbling in poetry because poems could be shorter and maybe wouldn’t take as long as writing a longer piece of prose, but I ended up spending roughly the same amount of time composing the various lines and stanzas of my poems, polishing them until they conveyed precisely the messages I was aiming for. By the time I more or less ended my poetry phase of this writing challenge (though I will doubtlessly return to writing poetry, since I’ve discovered I actually really enjoy it now that some of my own psychological inhibitions towards it have been cleared), one of my friends pointed me to a quote saying that poets are poets because they enjoy the interplay between words, not necessarily because they think they have good things to say or because they’re exceptionally good at it, and I found that to be true while I was writing poetry. I definitely didn’t think I was a poet, adding that very line as a disclaimer to some of the pieces I published here, but I did take a certain pleasure in seeing how I could get the words to play off each other and how they sounded to the ear, and in the end, I suppose I did become an amateur poet through that, something I never would’ve discovered if I hadn’t taken part in this challenge to myself.
Beyond that, it’s been so rewarding to see where inspiration comes from for all the various pieces that I’ve written under the time constraints that come with trying to get myself to put out a quality or semi-quality piece of work every single day for a specified period of time. I think part of that comes from being able to prove to myself that I actually can write something, and write something good in a short period of time if I’ll actually be dedicated enough to finish it.
Finally, I would say that this challenge accomplished the one goal I set for myself when I first conceived of it: causing me to actually like writing again. In the weeks leading up to my creative dry spell and my decision to force myself to write no matter what, the mere act of writing had started to feel like a chore and I was dreading sitting down at my computer or with my notebook more than I should. Though I would still call myself a writer, I could hardly discipline myself enough to take the time to actually write something.
The first couple days of the challenge were brutal, because I still felt like I was dragging my heels through the metaphorical idealess swamp, but by the halfway point in the challenge, I was beginning to have more ideas than I had time or energy to write about, something that hasn’t happened in quite some time. More than anything, I rediscovered what it feels like to enjoy sitting down to write and to take satisfaction in creating a string of words that communicated an idea the way I wanted it to. And now that I’m at the end of this challenge, I think I finally like writing again.
At this point, I’m sort of just rambling, because there’s so much more I want to say about this writing challenge, ideas I could convey more eloquently if I had time, but it’s currently 9:41pm and I have to wake up at 4:30am in order to get to the airport, so I suppose this will have to suffice for now. Time is never really on a writer’s side it seems.
I’ll hopefully have some time tomorrow to reflect more on this writing challenge and/or perhaps write another nonfiction piece I was planning to write, but for now, I suppose I would just say that sometimes pushing through the creative blocks and the hard spots really is the best way to get back on your feet. I felt like I had nothing left to write, nothing left to give when I started this challenge, and now I’m reinvigorated with, at the very least, enough creative energy to keep me going for the near future *cue infomercial testimonial music*.
Funny side note: this piece is probably one of the least polished I’ve ever written; it’s basically stream of consciousness, but that’s sort of cool in a way. This piece is the written equivalent of a YouTube video, so if you ever wondered what it would be like for me to make one of those, it would probably sound a little like this post, haha.
Sometimes, I think fiction is one of the hardest styles and genres of writing to want to excel at. Maybe it's just me, but I think the inability to churn out piece after piece of fiction (since I've been finding that even short stories are challenging to mass produce, for lack of a better term) makes it seem almost like the loftiest of writing goals. Unlike poetry, nonfiction, or other types of essays, it takes time to develop the voice, style, characters, flow, and all the other elements that go into crafting quality fiction, which I think frequently prevents writers from being able to showcase their fiction ability regularly. It seems to come down to actually publishing a popular novel or getting a short story published in a good literary mag, and that can be discouraging for a lot of writers I feel like.
This has been something that's run through my head a lot as of late, especially since I've mentioned that I've been doing a good deal of storyboarding and outlining for fiction the past few days, and it almost feels like all of that work has nothing to show for itself, since I haven't actually written anything yet, just conceptualized ideas and thought through them.
At any rate, that's some of my internal process I've been going through while trying to write fiction the past couple days. So, today, I'm publishing another piece that I wrote a little while back. Even reading through it now, it sort of seems all over the place, but that makes a little sense since it was originally born out of a sort of literary pep talk I was trying to give myself at the time.
inhale, exhale (you're okay)
You said it. It’s done. It’s out. But somehow, it still feels almost as heavy as the first time. Or maybe it always does.
You inhale and tell yourself it’s okay. Then you exhale and let the silence tell you’re okay. Because the stillness isn’t tense. There’s no thickening of the air. Instead, the quiet invites you to continue telling your story.
So you inhale and tell yourself you’re okay, and you exhale and let the empty air affirm that you are indeed okay. Because there’s no hesitation. There’s no held breath, no ellipsis, no comma at the end of the sentence. For once, a period and its finality are comforting, because it means you’re okay.
Your emotions are okay. Your feelings are okay. Your desires and every unspoken thing are okay. And by extension, that means you are okay.
So you inhale and exhale nervously.
But you’re still okay.
There are no arguments. There are no reasons. There’s no theological rhetoric or overspiritualization. There’s just stillness.
So you inhale and you exhale. You’re okay. Because there are no questions, no comments, no concerns. You’re just okay.
So you inhale and you exhale, letting it sink in, to the depths of your soul and being, something so fundamental, yet something so often misplaced.
You’re okay. You’re okay as a person, and your love is okay too, not bound by binary systems or arbitrary rules. And your heart is also okay, not strange or out of place because its love pulls you toward an identical set of chromosomes.
So you inhale and you exhale. You breathe it in deeply so that it settles in your lungs, so that it puts down roots, so that it fills every empty space of your being, so that it echoes within, constantly reminding you that after everything you’ve even been told:
The past couple days and rest of this week have been and are continuing to be pretty busy, which has been an additional struggle on top of the creative one for this 14 day writing challenge I've been putting myself through, trying to write something or publish something every day. I purposefully timed out this writing challenge to end just about the same time as I'm leaving for a trip, since I'm not sure if I'll have the time to continue publishing work while I'm gone, but hopefully this writing challenge will give me the creative boost I need to at least be storyboarding and brainstorming while I'm gone.
In order to keep myself in the fiction mindset, I've been outlining and storyboarding a bunch related to an older ongoing project that I'm still hoping to finish at some point in time, but I've also been going back to older pieces that I've written a while ago when fiction came a little easier to me, looking at the style, voice, and some of the themes I was working with to see what I can continue to channel into my current work and what I've grown out of.
The piece below is one I recently went back to as I've been trying to rediscover and tap into my fiction energy. Originally published in my university's literary magazine three years ago, this piece deals with several darker themes, something that I've oddly always been drawn to in fiction, which is perhaps why I love dystopian and noir works so much. On top of that, it's still one of the better pieces I think I've written, perhaps because it's partially inspired by real life, though I do see myself having grown out of some of the more dramatic elements as I skim through it a few years later. If you were wondering what kind of fiction I skewed towards writing three or four years ago, this piece would be a prime example, haha.
do you remember?
“Yeah, honey. I’m just leaving now.”
Levi Anderson held his phone between his shoulder and his cheek as he navigated down the front steps of Hill Crest Church, the Minneapolis sunset in the background. He lugged a rolling crate overflowing with music books in his right hand, carried a guitar case on his back, and clutched a travel mug of lukewarm coffee in his left as he spoke in puffs of white mist.
“What about the kids? Oh, sure. I’ll check. Okay. I love you, Clarissa. See you at home.”
He paused near the bottom of the stairs to shove his phone into his coat pocket and then made his way toward the parking lot. Near the front, he approached a green Volkswagen Golf, already surrounded by a myriad of instrument cases and other boxes. With a sigh, he popped the trunk and began loading his car, starting with the things he had just brought out.
The cold fall air whistled around him as he packed up all of his things. Reaching up to shut the trunk, he heard the soft crunch of footsteps. Had he forgotten something inside? Before he could turn or say anything, he felt something cold and metallic pressed against the back of his head and drew a surprised gasp.
“Don’t turn around.” The higher-pitched, but masculine voice had a forced sternness. “Get in. Drive.”
With a racing heart, Levi obeyed, inching toward the driver’s side door. He cracked open the door with a shaking hand and slid in. He heard the door behind him open and shut, the assailant also slipping in, as he started the engine. Was this actually happening?
“So where am I going?” Levi glanced in the rearview mirror as he backed out of his space and pulled out of the parking lot. His teeth clattered as he let out focused breaths of mist.
“You were about to head home weren’t you?”
Levi inhaled deeply, gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles as he turned onto the main road running alongside the church.
“About thirty minutes or so, if I recall?” the assailant asked in a suddenly conversational tone. “Strange that I still remember, eh, Levi?”
Levi no longer felt the muzzle of the gun against his head, but he still resisted the urge to snap around. “Who are you?” he strained himself to maintain a calm tone.
“You don’t remember me?” the voice whined. “Oh, Levi, I was sure you would remember me. It’s only been, what, fifteen years now? What a shame. You were so important to me, though.”
Levi’s mind started spinning as he made his way down the city streets toward the interstate. “Why don’t I remember you?” his voice was ripe with confusion.
The voice gave a bemused chuckle. “People did always mean so much more to me than I ever did to them. It reminds me of you and your siblings, actually. How are Caleb and Rebekah?”
“Just fine,” he replied tersely, making an effort not to react physically, but he was wracking his brain for any possible connection.
The voice laughed. “Do you still not remember me, Levi?” Then it became stern again, but this time it wasn’t forced. “Well, I better help you remember.”
He half expected to have the gun jammed against his temple again, but instead he felt the figure lean forward, his breath on his shoulder as he merged onto the interstate. In the rearview mirror, a sliver of his face was now visible, but all he could see was a single brown eye and dark hair. Still nothing.
“I was never cool enough for you to like me in school,” he began, his face to the ground. “I wasn’t athletic. I didn’t like Call of Duty. I was too weird for you.”
Levi was speechless.
“Remember that basketball tournament your sophomore year? You and all the other guys threw me in the pool in all my clothes and I had to walk all the way back up to my room soaking wet.” He took a deep breath. His voice was pained. “And then your junior year, I was in your room and you told all the guys I was gay because I didn’t want to sleep on the floor.” There was a moment of silence before he spoke again. “Remember now?”
Levi swallowed. Bits and pieces had risen to the surface. He did remember, but he couldn’t put a name or a face to any of the incidents.
“The same year, you convinced one of my best friends that I was in love with her. She stopped talking to me. The next week she started dating you.” The voice gave what sounded like a stifled sob. “Then at prom, you and the other guys got wasted and hid the bottles in my locker. Remember now?”
“Do you remember?” the figure lurched forward, his voice cracking halfway between a shout and a sob. Levi flinched, his breathing heavy. “Do you remember me?”
In his current position, Levi could see most of the figure’s face in the street lights. He barely looked different at all. Same eyes. Same hair. Same everything. His emotion-painted face was just how it had looked fifteen years ago. “Isaac…”
“You haven’t completely forgotten me, I suppose,” he whispered, leaning back. As Levi wove onto an exit ramp, Isaac began rhythmically tapping his gun on his knee, the sound of each tap lingering in his ears.
“Isaac, I’m so sorry. It was high school and if I had—
“Your apology is a little late,” he interjected, suddenly composed again. “Not that it changes anything. You can’t take any of it back.”
“Isaac, you don’t have to do this.”
“I know,” he answered as Levi pulled up to a red light. He raised his weapon and Levi braced himself, squeezing his eyes shut and gritting his clenched teeth. He heard the gun click empty and then silence before Isaac spoke again. “But I would never stoop that low.”
Levi raised his hand to his chest. His heart shook his entire body as he exhaled. “Isaac.”
“I just wanted to talk.” His breaths were weak and labored. “I just wanted you to understand.”
Levi heard the back door open and snapped around. Isaac stepped out of the car without looking back at him. “Isaac!”
Just then, the car behind honked loudly at him. Glancing forward, he saw the light had turned green. Turning around, another car blared its horn as the first sped past him in the next lane, then another and another.
“Better get going,” Isaac murmured as he kicked the door shut, meandering toward the oncoming traffic.
“Isaac!” Levi voice cracked, but another car led a blurred curtain of vehicles that blocked off his view. “Goodness,” he muttered as he stepped on the gas. Looking back, Isaac was gone, lost in a sea of headlights and metallic sheen.
As the street lights passed overhead, he couldn’t get it out of his mind. The gun could’ve been loaded. He could’ve done it, but he hadn’t, even after everything. Yes, he had abducted him at gunpoint, but Isaac had shown more character than he ever had.
Levi sniffed and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand as he braked and turned onto his street. Pulling into his driveway, he sat there in silence, staring at the clock on the console. He had been right. Thirty-one minutes.
Sobered, Levi shut off the engine and dragged himself inside, leaving everything in his car. He flipped on the kitchen light and tossed his keys on the table, leaning back on a chair.
“Levi! Oh my goodness!” Clarissa’s voice called as footsteps clomped down the hall.
“Hi, honey.” He couldn’t even force a smile. He felt so hollow. “What is it?”
“Look what Kira mailed!” she exclaimed, handing him a thin shred of yellowed newspaper. “It’s nearly ten years old so I almost didn’t recognize him, but I could hardly believe it when I did. How did we not hear about this sooner? You do remember, don’t you?”
Levi could hardly speak as his eyes glazed over the words. He covered his mouth with his hand and tears spilled from his eyes as he could only nod his head and clench the clipping.
Bright college honor student, Isaac Stone commits suicide. October 22, 2003.
Currently doing some storyboarding for some more fiction I'm working on, but I discovered another piece hidden away in the archives that I had never published (seems like this is a semi-frequent occurrence). As I'm transitioning back to writing some fiction, I've been finding that it's taking me a lot longer to figure out how I want to write things and what kinds of ideas I want to use, but maybe that's more normal than I'm giving myself credit for.
With this piece, the primary idea behind it was conceived through a series of discussions I had at my Bible study where we talked about what it means to actually be a Christian in the 21st century, in 2016 and how we can sometimes read our own biases into the parables and stories we read in the Bible. Oftentimes, this manifests as us, as mostly privileged, American Christians, identifying more closely with the oppressed people groups described in the Bible rather than with the oppressors. However, something that we realized over the course of our discussion and Bible study was that while the Israelites and the entire nation of Israel have typically been the minority ethnic group and minority religion in the majority of eras, that's not really the case for most Westernized or American Christians. What we decided is that more often than not, our actual lived realities align more with those of the oppressing Pharisees than with those of the oppressed Israelites. Interesting food for thought for sure.
have we become the pharisees?
When I was younger and still in Sunday school or just in school for that matter, since I went to a Christian K-12 school for a long time, sitting in a sagging, scratchy couch in one of the many rooms scattered along the length of the Catholic church activities building that my school rented, I always thought that things were pretty straight forward. By the time I left that school after my sophomore year of high school, it was easy for me to assume that I had a lot of things about my faith and about the Bible all figured out, something that remains one of the most false thoughts I’ve ever had in my entire life. One thing that particularly sticks out in my mind is the way that we learned to categorize people in Bible stories. I always used to think that the Pharisees were the bad guys in the Gospels, but something I’ve been realizing is that they really weren’t, at least not at the time. No, quite the contrary, the Pharisees were the good guys in their day, and they were probably viewed as the ones who were as good as anyone was going to get.
The Pharisees knew their Scriptures. They knew the Old Testament law. They could probably recite entire chapters from what they had of the Bible without missing a beat. To make a loose parallel, the Pharisees were the pastors’ kids who were born and raised in the church, the kids that showed up to church every Wednesday and Sunday, the kids that were on worship team and hospitality team and everything else in between. Unlike how we were taught to view the Pharisees in Sunday school, they were the good guys, the good Christian kids of Biblical times.
And Jesus and His disciples? They were probably seen as the rebels of youth group and Sunday school. Jesus was the lone rabbi who may or may not have actually had rabbi credentials who went around Israel with his ragtag group of twelve, give or take a few. As far as we know, Jesus didn’t work during His ministry, instead living primarily off the support of his followers such as Mary and Martha and perhaps His family. When you think about it that way, it’s actually not too hard to imagine why the Pharisees and the other religious folk didn’t like Him.
Jesus was the unemployed fake rabbi wannabe who lived in his parents’ basement and only seemed to stir up trouble wherever He went. He took out the moneychangers in the temple with a whip, he hung out with the other good-for-nothings in Jewish/Roman society like the tax collectors and prostitutes, and he repeatedly broke the Sabbath, which, last I checked, was probably just as central to the Pharisees’ theology as being pro-life and saying that marriage is between one man and one woman are to conservative Christian theology today. On top of all that, he told them over and over again that they were being too legalistic, using all kinds of relatively nasty metaphors to get that message across. Wolves in sheep’s clothing. Whitewashed graves. Blind guides. Jesus didn’t hold back when it came to telling the Pharisees exactly what He thought of them.
The more I think about those dynamics, the more I think that perhaps I would’ve been pissed at Jesus had I been living during that time period too, and that’s a scary thought to have, because I think that many of us have been raised and taught to identify more with the oppression and hounding of Jesus and His disciples than with the self-righteousness of the Pharisees responsible when I don’t think that’s the place that we hold in modern Christian circles. I think that if we’re honest with ourselves, it makes more sense to put ourselves in the Pharisees’ shoes than in those of Jesus and His disciples, if we’re being very, brutally honest.
Again, the Pharisees really knew their stuff. They knew what the law said about what you could and could not do on the Sabbath or the regulations stipulating this or that about ceremonial uncleanliness, and I think that’s really reflective of many of us today, myself included. Many of us were raised in the church, and we also know all the Bible stories as well as what they’re supposed to mean and what we’re supposed to get out of them. Along the same lines, we also know all the verses that tell us what’s good and what’s not. We know the verses that supposedly tell us that women shouldn’t be leaders in the church. We know the verses that say homosexuality is an abomination. And we know the verses that “clearly” state every other thing we’ve learned in church or in school, but because of that we’re missing the point, just like the Pharisees were.
Because the truth of the matter is that it’s not about the rules or the law or anything else that makes the world seem like it’s black and white to us. It’s always been about standing out and being different, with radical love as our banner, because that’s what Jesus did, even though it doesn’t necessarily seem to make sense all the time. If you think about it, Jesus didn’t have to heal or do miracles on the Sabbath. He didn’t have to be kind and loving to the tax collectors who were seen as sellouts to the Romans. He didn’t have to heal the Roman centurion’s servant. He didn’t have to do any of it if He really wanted to fit in with the Pharisees and live His days as the good Jewish boy that He could’ve been, but instead He chose to be radical in way that directly opposed many of the religious traditions and norms of His day. He prioritized people and meeting with them, touching them, and loving them individually over religious correctness, and I think that’s crazy. I also think that the saying is true that we would probably crucify Jesus all over again if He walked the earth today, regardless of whether that’s physically, politically, socially, or culturally and that saddens me, though I would also include myself in that statement.
Something else that I kept asking myself as I was going through elementary school and middle school was how all of these people missed what Jesus was trying to do and how they couldn’t seem to understand some of the most basic concepts that He was trying to teach them, but I think I understand now because our American world has become so similar to the world that Jesus lived in, filled with people who know the Bible backwards and forwards, who know theology like it’s their native language, who know facts about God and arguments for this doctrine or that doctrine, but also filled with people who don’t know what love looks like anymore. All of sudden, love looks like being right when it comes to this or that theological question and knowing all the proper motions to go through at church, because you know that your love for God is measured by how often you show up to church, or how good of notes you took at that last sermon, or whether or not you’re on the church or school worship team, or whether or not you support the right political candidate, or whether or not your views on a particular issue align exactly with those of your church. That’s what love and devotion to God look like in 21st century American culture, and I think that’s the exact same kind of religious atmosphere that Jesus was born into 2000 years ago, at least by my reading of the Bible, and that makes us the Pharisees, regardless of whether we like it or not. We’ve become the bad guys that we loved to hate in Sunday school, all without even realizing it, because just like them, we think that we’re the good guys.
In light of that, I think that we need to try and do what the Pharisees failed to do. We need to follow Jesus’ example and start worrying less about being the good guys and more about loving the way that He did, because that’s the only way that we’re truly going to transform and engage with culture, not by being right or good, but by being loving.
Wow, writing this piece was definitely more of a struggle than any of the others I've written recently, but it does mark my return to fiction writing or fiction style writing for the first time in a while. Figuring out transitions and how this piece was going to flow from beginning to end were probably two of the hardest things I had to overcome while writing this one, which sort of threw me for a loop.
At any rate, this piece is based off a passage from Ezekiel 37, and I thought that adapting and reimagining something already in existence would be a good exercise to stretch out my stiff fiction writing muscles. Hopefully this will spur on some more fiction writing and energy in the next few days, but for the moment, I'm just glad I was able to get through this piece.
Warm streams of wind spiraled around me as the mist cleared from my eyes. The churning air beneath my feet ceased its whistle and began to settle as the familiar edges of gravel and stone greeted me underfoot. Safely on the ground again, I turned and surveyed the land from where I stood at the southern mouth of a brown, deadened and dry vale, craggy walls jutting upward at steep angles on either side. All along its entire length dirt-stained boulders and rocks were strewn, of many strange shapes and sizes, some elongated, some round and smooth. Only when I started into the gradually widening corridor formed by the stone walls to my right and to my left did I realize they were not stones at all. I raised a hand to my mouth in shock as my eyes widened. Littered throughout the valley bed was an endless pit of bones reaching as far as I could see, a mass grave completely dehydrated from a years’ long bath in the sun’s rays. Skulls lay with their faces turned toward the heavens, and a thousand hands poked through the skeletal debris, futilely grasping for the sky.
As I traversed the desert basin where a river surely must have once flowed, brittle calcium fragments cracking and snapping below my feet, a golden light shone down from the cloudless expanse above, taking the form of a ball of light flanked by soft, hazy halos of the same color. Startled, I recoiled from the light, but a warm voice emanated from within its brilliance.
“Child of this earth, tell me, can these bones once more return to life and breathe in the air I’ve created to fill their empty lungs?”
“Father of Lights,” my voice began, shaking but gaining stability, “you alone know the answer to this question you pose.”
“You have spoken wisely, my son,” the voice replied. “Now, lift your arms to me and turn your face heavenward as these souls have done. Prophesy to these people of dust with the words I shall give you, and you shall see for yourself the answer.”
Turning from the light to face the valley of withered bones, I lifted my arms to the sun above and began to speak. At the same time, the earth below trembled and a slab of rock heaved itself away from the surrounding dirt, forming a platform for myself and the ball of light above the rest of the ravine so that I could see all of the lifeless bodies I addressed.
“Dry bones and thirsty souls, hear the words of the Father! Look now, for he will restore the breath to your lungs and cause you to live once again. He will rebuild your bodies with flesh and muscle and wrap your sinewy frames in skin, and then he shall breathe his breath into your sleeping souls again to call you back to life. By this resurrection, you will know who he is.”
Once the words had left my lips, the entire valley began to rattle and shake, all the bones knocking against each other, moved by a force I had never before seen. All at once, the bones were drawn to each other like magnetism and began to assemble themselves into complete bodies, erecting a ghastly skeletal legion before my eyes. Stepping back in awe, I watched as ribbons of red and yellow light then whirled around these incomplete frames, drawing tendons and muscles onto the bone as they glided between the ranks, and when they were finished, they flew over in a second pass, dressing their humanoid features with flesh. As the lights spun around themselves into the sky, dispersing over the barrenness of the canyon, an assembly of fully formed bodies was left standing before me, heads bowed in submission. Yet, they were still. Though restored in body, lungs still lacked breath.
The sphere of light pulsated at my side, drawing my attention, and then spoke again. “Now, prophesy to the winds, child of earth. Tell these children how they will be restored and it shall be done.”
Stepping to the front of my little platform once more, I held my arms out at my sides and called to the multitude before me. “As the Father of Lights has spoken, let life and breath flow in from the four winds. Come and breathe into these dead bodies so that they may life again and the light be returned to their sleeping souls!”
Before the words were even off my tongue a thunderous current rushed through the valley, roaring between the earthen walls on either side of me. Steeling myself against the force of the air, I looked to the light beside me as dust and stone cut through the air, carried by the hands of the wind. The gusts threatened to throw us from the stone pillar we stood on, but the light only pulsated, as if to nod towards the valley below.
Throughout the deadened basin a white mist had rolled in, led by the gale. Weaving between the undead bodies, streams of mist twisted about each of the figures, adorning them in battle clothes and forming swords, shields, and bows and arrows in their hands before funneling themselves into the mouths of the soldiers, filling their lungs and beckoning them back to the realm of the living. At once, the soldiers’ eyes opened with a piercing gleam in each one, and they once again turned their faces to the sky. Inhaling and gasping for breath like a swimmer saved from drowning, the whole crowd began to cough and heave and breathe all along the length of the valley where their bones had once been scattered. Now rather than a sea of bones, they comprised a great army as they regained their breath and stood in formation before the risen pillar on which I stood.
The light then lilted to my side and pulsed again, as if to put a hand on my shoulder, before saying, “Child of earth, these bones represent my chosen people, a people that was once dead and a people that I am now restoring to life. While they were still asleep, they called out to me, saying that they had become nothing but old, dry bones, all their hope evaporating into the desert air like the moisture from their deceased flesh. They believed their nation was extinct, like creatures of old, but I have a new message for them, so prophesy to my people once more to tell them what I have to say.”
With the light beside me, I once again stood before the army gathered in the valley below, looking over the now endless crowd of living and breathing bodies, with light once again shining in their eyes and the air they breathed in once again nourishing their newly revived spirits. Closing my eyes, I felt the words well up inside of me, allowing them to flow out of me as I looked over this crowd.
“Listen to what the Father of Lights says, you dry bones who have been restored. He says that he will exhume your graves of exile and desolation and cause you to rise again. He will bring you back to the land you one inhabited, and when this comes to pass, you will know who he is. He will return his spirit to your bodies and you will live again in your homeland. Then, you will know that he has spoken and done what he promised he would do, for this is what he has spoken.”
At these words, a tremendous cry swelled from the ranks, quickly filling the valley until the sound burst up from the fractured earth. All the soldiers lifted their faces to the heavens and jabbed their arms in the air as the ball of light cast golden beams across the valley, dispelling any shadows from the walls and shining on every face. And as the cheers died down, each one in the army mirrored the next in turn, bringing one fist to his or her chest and then kneeling in the dirt and dust before the light that illuminated the valley that was once filled with corpses but was now filled with rejuvenated souls.