Deep Breath: A Sabbath Practice

God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full

to receive them.    St. Augustine

 

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Our work this week has piled up heavy and we’re sure we won’t be able to climb out from under it all. I still have two loads of laundry glaring at me to be put away and a writing deadline looming. Sabbath rest feels awkward after a week like this. What if we were to sit still with all that’s weighing heavy, look at each piece clearly, and one by one place each concern in Jesus’ capable hands? He’s got big hands. He’s got this.

Sometimes we need Sabbath rituals to mark a new type of time: a fragrant cup of tea on the porch in the early morning, an afternoon nap on the couch, a slow walk by the creek hearing the trickle of water rush by. Maybe this simple prayer would open up a little breathing space until you can “Come to Him and rest.” Matthew 11:28a

 

May you find not just places of worship this Sabbath and and moments to realign your heart to His True North, but time to be refreshed in His Presence.

Summer

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Day 5: Sabbath, The Sacrament of Now

We spend so much time fighting with comparisons, don’t we? (I like this ice cream shop back in PA better than that one.) We build a fantasy world comprised of all the places we’ve ever lived or think we’d want to. This exercise asks us to be fully in the present. What I’ve learned is that being fully present in the now is a surprising gateway to thanksgiving, a gateway to awareness of God’s presence, and a gateway towards the contentment we seek.

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I needed a day off. I could feel the rising crankiness, the need to gaze quiet. I had created Monday’s schedule to fill, refresh, to build something worth standing on for another week, a Sabbath.

 

There was just this one other thing to fit in: the oil change. No problem, I thought. But the voice on the other line said he only had one appointment left…smack dab in the middle of my well-planned day. With annoyance, he grumbled, “Ma’am, is that the time you want, or not?” I had been dreaming of a hike around Slippery Rock River, skipping stones into the current, a slow saunter around a bookstore, even a Target run (FYI, I love Target entirely too much, enough to be included in this “favorites” list.) Noon? I could feel a whine rising. The car would take at least an hour and a half and the day’s schedule was now smeared.

 

We would have to be content on our own familiar streets.  No adventures today.

 

I pushed the button for the garage door to open. “Xavier, we’re going a walk. You lead.” Exercise always clears my head. He swung his thin four-year-old leg over his muddy BMX, still balanced with training wheels. I held onto his black leather bike seat and pushed him up the short hill toward town until he could pedal forward himself.

 

I had lost the heart to lead: “Left or Right, Xavi?””Left!” he steered down the curb between the two white lines. Again and again he pedaled north taking us beyond our normal boundaries, one block after another, straight down Beaver St. We landed at the bottom of the hill in Edgeworth in a triangle of a park, huge oaks, small brook, inviting child-size stone bridge. Sometimes you don’t need to leave town to visit new kingdoms.

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We were in unfamiliar territory in our new town. We scrambled down stone walls directing fast moving run-off water. He combed through the pebbles with his fingers, water trickling through then piled them together to build a dam. Running up and down the creek, He tried to stay on the dry sidelines, looking back again and again to see if I was watching, eyes shining. I watched the magic gather and spread. Under the bridge, he spread out his arms, a strong man holding it up. I sat down in the middle of the joy fully immersed in the present.

 

My own stuck stream of delight was undammed by entering into NOW, senses alive, scrambling on rocks, listening to water grate over pebbles, breathing in the freshly mown grass. Simple, I know. But I wondered, how often am I truly Here, Now?

 

Back at home, I took out the dollar-store bottle of bubbles and the “fancy” camera. Just last year he could barely blow a bubble, more soap would spill on the concrete than spin through the air.

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As he blew into the wand, I held my breath. How often do I live life shrouded in a tangle of emotions and lists written long, pounding hard after life, when Life can be blown up full right here in the present?

 

I’ve always wanted to be one of the fully present people. Available. Paying attention. Listening. An “icon” of Julian of Norwich hangs above my writing desk, she who was cloistered in Norwich’s cathedral, present to the Presence, anchored.  So often I spin dizzy through life, my feet barely feeling the fake brick kitchen linoleum, missing the present as I reach out anxious toward the future.

 

The present is as temporary as a bubble floating upwards and all we have is the gift of now to enjoy, to taste and see that God is good.

 

And I know: He is almost five and I want to memorize the surprised giggles, the smell of his sweaty blond head, the shine of his eyes as he twists around and searches for mine, to live thankful Now.

 

I want to be marked “present.”

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Today’s Action: 

A spiritual exercise: The Sacrament of the Present Moment

We live life stuck in yesterday’s regret or deep in the future of “have-to-do’s.” How often do we miss the daily feast found right HERE? This is the Sacrament of the Present Moment, the Sacrament of NOW, a way to receive the gift being sent. This is a practical way to stop, pull up to the table, grab a fork, and taste the feast He has sent.

Practice opening up to the senses one at a time:

What do you see? Let your eyes stop on a detail of life. Study it.

A minute later, open up your sense of hearing. Listen. Let the sounds of life in without needing to evaluate them. What do you hear?

Then, after a minute, ask yourself, what do I feel? What’s under your feet, between your hands? Feel the warmth of the mug, the wet sand under your toes.

This one we often forget…a sense of smell, the clean fresh smell of laundry? The sandy smell of your child’s head after a day at the beach?

And then when eating or drinking? Be fully present, taste each herb, feel the texture, fully enjoy the bite. Savor.

Savor the moment, receive the gifts of God, watch for the joy. Allow the practice of the senses to send you straight into thanksgiving. Thank God for what you are seeing, hearing, feeling, touching, tasting. Acknowledge that He is present, the Giver of all good things. Stop. Invite Him into the moment. Enjoy His company.

Share with us one of your favorite ways to be fully present. On the back porch with your first cup of coffee? Rocking that little one to sleep? Deep in the arms of your love?

Want more? I’ve typed out post after post on this struggle toward present joy. Start here?

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Dear friend, I’m always blessed to have you as a companion on the journey and right now we’re five days into #31 days of writing learning to fall in love with our zip code. Want more? Slip your email in the Connect box on the front page.

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Day 1: How to Fall in Love with a Zipcode

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Just this last month, the Gross’ family adopted a new zipcode, driving through the mountains of five states and landing in northern GA. You too friend? Have you moved and are still reeling a bit? Or do you live with a chronic case of discontent and wanderlust? 

We’re taking 31 days to learn to love this place we call home.

Journey with me? 

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From the reading Sunday:

Proverbs 8:30-31 “Then I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.

You, dear one…you have been called to love a zipcode.

 

Jesus cried over one, begged Jerusalem to find life under the generous width of His wings.

 

He loved a rambling, hillside town.

 

You will too.

 

Dear one, even though you feel uprooted, your heart raw from grieving, begin to ask God for His love of your new town.

 

And these strangers who look so unfamiliar, they too are made in God’s image –great walking beings weary from the fight, who wear a mask just like you are sometimes tempted to do lately.  Don’t. Engage real.

 

Your new librarian fidgeting behind the great oak desk, she is His image bearer and He adores each hidden facet of her heart.  He delights in her as she sits by the window, hot coffee in hand drinking in the chirps the birds sing back and forth in the early morning.

 

Your kids new teachers are exhausted with overwork, underpay and under-encouragement.

 

And your neighbors’ doors are shut now but behind them is a tangle of heart-breaking and glorious stories waiting to be known and honored and loved.

 

And He…He is waiting to walk through those doors holding your hand.  Through You the King comes. You push open the door and the Light of the world glides in, bringing waves of Resurrection with Him.

 

Cause dear one, this move is about you, but mostly it’s not.  He moves love-bearers around the world to bring Kingdom life, His pounding, loving, grieving heart for the world zipped into their suitcases.

 

“Go ye therefore”always requires us to pack, exchange zipcodes and suddenly friend, whether you meant it or not, you are smack dab living in the center of the Great Commission and there are hearts here just waiting for the seed God wants to plant…seeds you carry in your pocket.

by Summer Gross

And you, friend, how do you choose to love your town?

Do you have a friend who has recently moved or who struggles with where they’re planted? Consider sending this series to their inbox or facebook it to encourage all your newly transplanted friends.

Want more? Remember him?  How easy it can sometimes be to fling seeds?

Join the journey? Submit your email in the CONNECT box on the right hand side of the front page. Don’t worry…it’s safe with me.

 

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Father’s Day Feasting with Daddy

Without you, I would have been content to walk sidewalks, unaware that there are worlds just beyond the concrete to be discovered.

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Yesterday, we celebrated your Father’s Day and you showed us wonders. We hiked around Slippery Rock River, up waterfalls, and splashed into tadpole filled puddles.

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I watched you pulling out crawfish with Caedmon, discovering shrimp to show the children, wiggling camas in your hand.

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I watched you relish the personalities of your children, your eyes twinkle at their silliness.

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They inched closer to enjoy Your delight of them.

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You are giving us the world, Andrew. You pull it up hidden out of the water for us to watch the last glimmer of light bounce off the scales.

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And in your delight, they are learning about a God who delights in them.

Thank you…for loving us all so very much. We love you THIS much!

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Sabbath: Time to Witness Heaven Touching Earth

I’m at the end of Emily Freeman’s lovely book, A Million Little Ways, on life and art and an art filled ordinary and also carrying the heaviness of my Nona’s passing.

(Isn’t she stunning?

Classy. That’s the word I keep hearing. Inside and out. She never gossiped, risked everything for love and dressed as if today she could be invited to tea with the queen. Today is visiting hours. Tomorrow Andrew and I have the privilege of leading the funeral service.)

This quote from Emily on page 185 rang authentic for these days:

 

“When we stepped off the elevator for the first time on the Palliative Care Unit to visit Frank, I had the distinct feeling of the presence of God. This is a place where heaven touches earth. It was real, palpable, comforting. But heaven touches earth in my living room too. In my bedroom and in my front yard and on top of the Empire State Building and on an island in the middle of the sea and in the cardboard houses in Manila and on my front porch. Heaven touches earth every minute, when I touch my husband’s hand and look into his eyes, when the girls whisper good nights and I love you and the boy makes a mess with toy airplanes and crayons. Heaven is touching earth right now. But sometimes it takes endings for us to see it.”

 

I pray that today the dust of earth will be washed from your eyes. That you will see heaven touching earth, His glory spread like a soft blanket of light into your everyday.

 

Take time to look, taste, touch, smell, hear and breathe deeply of this God-made life. Feast on the present. Blessings, my friends.

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Sabbath: The Gift of Slow

This week my precious Nona was dying from Alzheimer’s.  Children and Grandchildren huddled around her bed soaking up her presence for one last day. We adored her Irish red hair, her mama bear spunk and the love she wrapped us in whenever we came to visit her white suburban ranch.

 

When pulling up to Nona’s house with the tangle of perennials out front, we slid the metronome dial down a few notches and entered a new rhythm. Nona lived on slow. We padded around in slippers until noon, took long winding walks around Silver Lake catching glimpses of the swans and perused antique shops, looking, lingering, savoring.

 

But Slow never felt empty, just a sinking down into the soft down of Rest.

 

Slow allows ample room for wonder. A short walk around the garden in early May revealed bright orange poppies bowing awkwardly on long hairy stems and Lily of the Valley, their tiny bells in a uniform line giving off a disproportionately powerful sweetness. Slow leaves room for making messes, for bringing half moons of watermelon to our mouth and giggling with the trickle of juice down chins and elbows.

 

As we swapped stories around the hospital bed, chairs pushed together, one general theme kept rising. Everyone felt loved in Nona’s presence. You were always her favorite. She knelt down on the floor with children playing babies or cars or bringing out her miniature rosebud tea set for us to pour tea for the queen. She listened quietly to dreams and shared wisdom sparingly.

 

Rest leaves plenty of margin for love. And this is what we crave in the Sabbath, a rest that will lead to refreshment and renewed ability to love.

May we SLOW and sink down and shut off and pause to listen to Love so that we can easily repeat His refrain.

Summer Gross

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When our Love Gets Suffocated

I hear a call in the quiet of the early morning:  “Deepen,” He whispers. God is using the specific vocabulary of a Madeleine L’Engle lover.

 

I was shaken Saturday.  Triggered, that is.  They were dressed straight off the cover of a JCrew catalog and I shrunk back, sure they could see straight into my uncool.  The message of the arrows came back loud. (Have you read Sacred Romance by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge?  Classic and beautiful.  So worth your time.)

 

“Here comes rejection,” swirled unbidden from somewhere deep.

 

Lies that are sewn deep, demand excavation.

 

I felt uprooted, pulled up and honestly?  I felt separated from God.  The anxiety earthquake was so strong that I couldn’t scurry for cover, couldn’t hide under the banner of love (Song of Songs 2:4).  I was 12 and had braces and permed frizzy hair. I might even have forgotten to put on deoderant (every junior higher’s worse nightmare…or maybe just mine.)

 

I was sick, but didn’t really know it at the time.  A chest cold.  Asthma.  The voices come back loudest when I’m sick.

 

But, honestly, there’s been a lot of hard work done already.  I found myself going faster to Jesus, bypassing the intense shame that used to descend like a thick cloud.  But, bummer, (yes, I say words like “bummer” and “shoot”) I thought I had healed from that and wow, will this anxiety surge every time I walk up to these fashion goddesses?

 

 

“Deepen” I hear again.

 

Have you read A Wrinkle in Time?  I love it.  I read it again this last summer with my kids on a rainy day.  It’s still good as an adult.  Now, have you read A Wind in the Door?  It’s seriously one of my  I- need- this-with-me- on- a-deserted- island  books.  Brilliant theology.  It makes me want to worship.

 

The youngest sibling, Charles Wallace, is sick and getting sicker fast and the doctors can’t tell them why.  Death feels immanent.  Obviously a plot straight out of a fantasy novel, a few characters are shrunk inside his body to survey the damage, to see if they can discover a path toward healing.  While inside they meet the culprits: farandolae, a microscopic species inside his cells, who don’t want to deepen, don’t want to grow roots, and so are spinning out of control, dying, slowly killing their host.  I know, a little dramatic (though possibly a great social commentary on our culture.)  But, it’s fiction, there needs to be drama.

 

“Deepen,” I hear.

 

God, I cry out, it’s not that I don’t want to grow roots, don’t want to deepen, it’s just that there is so much darn stuff to do!  My life is stuffed with people and children and ministry.  There are dust bunnies under the futon and my sink is clogged with dirty dishes.  Most of the activity and of course the people…I love dearly.

 

The truth comes down firm. Pay attention to first things.

 

I’m not paying attention to the One Thing that Jesus chided Martha about.  Her sister was resting at Jesus’ feet, in listening mode.  Martha was spinning around so fast she wasn’t even aware of the magnetic force of God breaking open true Life in just the other room.  One thing is needed, Martha.  Just one. (Luke 10 38-42).

 

I hear it too.  Stop spinning, Summer.  “Deepen.”  Sit here at my feet.  Listen.  Abide.  Be fully present.  Pull some of that stuff out hogging God’s oxygen and get rooted in love.

 

Practice my Presence.

 

I have clarity in this early morning calm.  Healing will come out of this will-work, this conscious knowing of God’s presence here in this moment.  I feel Brother Lawrence daring me to practice God’s presence from his post doing dishes there in that medieval monastery in France.

From his second conversation:

“That in order to form a habit of conversing with GOD continually, and referring all we

do to Him; we must at first apply to Him with some diligence: but that after a little care we

should find His love inwardly excite us to it without any difficulty.”

 

Here is the “aha moment”: if I am deepened in His Presence, truly dwelling there, resting from that center, I can invite others smack dab into the center of our ongoing communion.  When I am safe, deepened, roots down, stable spread into unconditional love then I can humbly, gently open my arms to another…

 

without disturbing the root system.

 

 

 

I turn to Bible Gateway and find this gem, this billboard, as my kids’ babysitter Kim would say:

Jeremiah 17:8 ESV

(S)He is like a tree planted by water,  that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

 

God, plant me, deepen me, spread my roots so firmly into You that I am free to love all of your precious ones, even fashion goddesses.

 

Summer Gross

All tree photography found at this beautiful etsy shop: Amy Tyler Photography

 

 

Friend, what work is the Lord doing in your life?  Do tell.  Please share in the comment section and then, if you have a blog, add a link to your site so we can say thanks to God too. 

 

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Getting our Grooves on Every Wednesday Morning

We swing our hips, the coins sewn to our hip scarves jingle and we are transported.  And how we crave our weekly passport stamped!  We are living in a Western Michigan Winter.  The frigid cold has taken over our sweet little lakeside town and we wrap ourselves tight against the fierce wind putting our heads down as we travel from warm house to cold car to WalMart and back again.  Our world has shrunk, the grey clouds hang low heavy with snow and our skin, every inch covered, hungers for sunshine.

 

We are the 9am Zumba class at the Shoreline wellness center.  Six generations of women smiling, shaking, shuffling, sweating, bopping and sometimes busting out laughing into a dance room mirror.  We play dress up putting on colorful scarves and sounding like a troupe of gypsies ready for a performance.  Our resident male, very cooly plays hollow sounding sticks, keeping us on rhythm.  And how we truly need the help!  The dark days of winter have slowed down our cycles, and all we want to do is crawl under electric blankets and hibernate.

 

We are short women, tall graceful women and everything in between packed with color and getting our grooves on to the sound of warmer climes.  Most of the time we glue our eyes on our fearless leader, edging us over country border lines but sometimes, just sometimes, a woman finds her eyes closed and lost in the steel drum beat gets carried off in her own imagination and we all nod having been to that same locale.

 

Bollywood and hip-hop and salsa compel us to move in ways my strict Christian School upbringing would not have approved.  Prom at my high school included a “Grand March,” no jazz or techno beats to get endorphins surging.

 

The Latin beats take me back to the park in Dominican Republic where I was taught to Meringa with a class of children in uniforms after a long day at a Medical clinic with my dad.  Or the time when I was 15,a nurse from our medical mission trip held my hand and two Ecuadorian guys led us deep into Rio Bamba to a pulsing bar to teach us salsa.  Every once in a while one of my middle eastern belly dance jiggles comes out on the kitchen floor before dinner and my husband, Andrew, raises his eyebrows and grins wryly.  Straight faced, I honestly say, “honey, I’m working on my abs.”

 

They remind me of that bachelorette party last summer here and Maya Angelou’s story of women overcoming female competition and learning to celebrate the womanhood of each in the driving drumbeat one hot evening in Egypt.

 

I love these women, courageous and unassuming, unique and beautiful… and never taking themselves too seriously. One wears crazy tights and another a sequin dress and we are allowed to bring our full person-hood out on this dance floor where we are never judged, black biking shorts and all.  I love their bold moves and the laughter between songs and imagine that Jesus adores watching their peppery personalities come out in a celebration of joy, Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings at 9am.

Summer Gross

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January Saturday Morning Thanks

Here at the little yellow cottage, it’s hard not to dance our thanks:

1.  English Premier League.  Waking up to Tottenham and Queens Park Rangers instead of Saturday morning cartoons.

2. Milk, whey protein and blueberry smoothie with chia seeds for breakfast…high protein and fiber for high energy mom-hours.

3. Giada’s Spezzatino on the stove, (Giada’s Italian chicken soup) ready for Sunday’s lunch.

4. Kids jumping on bubble wrap in jammies and cowboy boots.

5. Cinnammon candle glowing on the kitchen table.

6. Overhearing Andrew’s casual conversation with Caedmon as they sat side by side on the futon talking about the book of  Acts.

7. A warm January day with a fresh breeze and open windows.

8.The youngest two’s imaginative play: feeding rows of stuffed animals plastic McDonalds food, a questionable choice.

9. Conference call with my gorgeous mom and sister covering futures, and pre-diabetes and dreams deeply rooted.

10. Paper whites growing in a black urn on the kitchen table

11. We OK by The Very Best and K’Naan turned as high as the ihome will go, filling the neighborhood out open windows with African harmonies and a pounding rhythm making us jump like Massai.

And you friend, what are you thankful for today?

Summer Gross

Beautiful paper white photos found here.

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This Week December 14, 2012 – What Nourished Me

After school I pulled Madeline onto my lap and we sunk deep into the red bean bag chair.  I memorized the smell of her hair and the beautiful dimple that comes out in her left cheek when she’s being tickled and couldn’t get enough.  I rubbed Caedmon’s cold cheeks with my hands and pulled his head onto my shoulder whispering that I was so glad I got to be his mama.  And Xavier?  We splashed in the Wellness Center therapy pool later and giggled as he emptied my water bottle on my head.  It was a halting giggle, but after today’s New Hope tragedy, I have baskets full of patience.  So thankful for my safe little family and so extremely sad that we live in the kind of world where some are not safe.

Jesus, Redeemer, Resurrection, bless with healing sleep those New Hope families in homes lit up for Christmas but heavy with grief.  Be present, risen Christ and walk through their walls, even those presently being built in fear.

 

And this last week?

I fell in love with this magazine, the simple life, at Barnes and Noble today.  The fresh Donna Hay-like photos, the message, the call to fully enjoy what we have already been given.    Plus, it is British and I get to vicariously enjoy spying on simple lives across the large water. The magazine is deliciously seasonal and makes you want to sink into an easy chair in front of a fireplace with a book and a full teapot complete with tea cozy.

In the simple life, I discovered Susannah Conway who guided the reader through thanksgiving by being fully present in their senses, a type of feasting on the present.  Thank you, Susannah, I love perusing those gorgeous polaroids strewn through your site.

To hers I add these simple joys:

My favorite Christmas humidifier? A simple pasta pot simmering throughout the hours filled with oranges, whole cloves and a cinnamon stick.

The elaborate notes my daughter leaves around the house.  This one found after decorating the Christmas tree.  “I love you mom and dad and brothers.  You bring so much color to my life.  My heart could burst.” (All in a first graders spelling, of course.)

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and our 17th wedding anniversary coming up.  The simple joy of a marriage that has traveled over hard bumps and found an open restful space.  Yup, that’s us.

 

Then, I found this, a post by Justin Zoradi, founder of the organization, These Numbers Have Faces which again grounded my ego.  Thank you.  And my favorite lines?

“Your relative smallness next to God’s great vastness enables us to do something small and to do it very well. Your calling to the small things is the great invitation from the light that the darkness cannot overtake.”

I am called to small things, not big things, and in fact, God’s small things, not even my small things.  Clarity.

And you friends?  How did God nourish you this week?  What are your simple joys? What are you reading, listening to?  How did the New Hope tragedy affect you?

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