When I opened the door I found the vine leaves speaking among themselves in abundant whispers. My presence made them hush their green breath, embarrassed, the way humans stand up, buttoning their jackets, acting as if they were leaving anyway, as if the conversation had ended just before you arrived. I liked the glimpse I had, though, of their obscure gestures. I liked the sound of such private voices. Next time I’ll move like cautious sunlight, open the door by fractions, eavesdrop peacefully. ~Denise Levertov, “Aware” from This Great Unknowing.
I need to be cautious or I also would be swallowed up inch by inch by a variety of vines surrounding our home and farm buildings. Between the ivy, Virginia creeper and our opportunistic ubiquitous blackberry vines, I’m mere audience to their varied plans of expansive world domination.
As part of generations of human creep, I can’t indict the vines as aggressive interlopers for going where no vine has gone before. Much human migration has been out of necessity due to inadequate food sources or inhospitable circumstances. Some is due to a spirit of adventure and desire for new places to explore. Nevertheless, we human vines end up dominating places where we may not be really welcome.
So we human vines whisper together conspiratorially about where to send out our tendrils next, never asking permission, only sometimes asking for forgiveness later.
I can’t help but listen to those private voices – one of which is my own – who feel discontented with the “here and now” — we suspect somewhere else may be better. Rather than choose to stay and flourish in place, we keep creeping and overwhelming our surroundings.
We drove across high prairie, the Mississippi behind us, nothing ahead for miles but sky,
a loamy sky, thick enough to put a trowel into, but off to the south clouds pulled
away from one another as if to stand back take a long look, and in that
space what light was left of the sun already gone below the horizon
flowed up and held there and we did too hold our breaths at the sudden beauty. ~Athena Kildegaard “We drove across high prairie…” from Cloves & Honey.
We didn’t drive this time; instead we boarded a plane with other masked people, holding our breath with the unfamiliarity of being so close to strangers— rather than a response to the beauty of what we saw.
The vast landscape appeared below rather than stretching out before us, its emptiness stark and lonely from the air as well as from the road.
We hold our breath, awed by the reality that we are truly here. Really here, one way or the other.
In two hours, rather than two days. Masked, but never blind to the beauty.
She lingered in that charming little garden to say hello to the gnomes, such a glorious infestation! How few wizards realize just how much we can learn from the wise little gnomes- or, to give them their correct names, the Gernumbli gardensi. ‘Ours do know a lot of excellent swear words,’ said Ron… J.K. Rowling in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
It is hard to say exactly when the first one moved in. This farm was distinctly gnome-less when we bought it over thirty years ago, largely due to twenty-seven hungry barn cats residing here at the time in various stages of pregnancy, growth, development and aging. It took awhile for the feline numbers to whittle down to an equilibrium that matched the rodent population. In the mean time, our horse numbers increased from three to seven to over fifteen with a resultant exponential increase in barn chores. One spring twenty years ago, I was surprised to walk in the barn one morning to find numerous complex knots tied in the Haflingers’ manes. Puzzling as I took precious time to undo them, literally adding hours to my chores, I knew I needed to find the cause or culprit.
It took some research to determine the probable origin of these tight tangles. Based on everything I researched, they appeared to be the work of Gernumbli faenilesi, a usually transient species of gnome preferring to live in barns and haylofts in close proximity to heavy maned ponies. In this case, as the tangles persisted for months, they clearly had moved in, lock, stock and barrel. The complicated knots were their signature pride and joy, their artistic way of showing their devotion to a happy farm.
All well and good, but the extra work was killing my fingers and thinning my horses’ hair. I plotted ways to get them to cease and desist.
I set live traps of cheese and peanut butter cracker sandwiches, hoping to lure them into cages for a “catch and release”. Hoping to drive them away, I played polka music on the radio in the barn at night. Hoping to be preemptive, I braided the manes up to be less tempting but even those got twisted and jumbled. Just as I was becoming ever more desperate and about to round up more feral cats, the tangling stopped.
It appeared the gnomes had moved on to a more hospitable habitat. Apparently I had succeeded in my gnome eradication plan.
Or so I thought.
Not long after, I had the distinct feeling of being watched as I walked past some rose bushes in the yard. I stopped to take a look, expecting to spy the shining eyes of one of the pesky raccoons that frequents our yard to steal from the cats’ food dish. Instead, beneath the thorny foliage, I saw two round blue eyes peering at me serenely. This little gal was not at all intimidated by me, and made no move to escape. She was an ideal example of Gernumbli gardensi, a garden gnome known for their ability to keep varmints and vermin away from plants and flowers. They also happen to actively feud with Gernumbli Faenilesi so that explained the sudden disappearance of my little knot-tying pests in the barn.
It wasn’t long before more Gardensi moved in, a gnomey infestation. They tend to arrive in pairs and bunches, bringing their turtles and dogs with them, like to play music, smoke pipes, play on a teeter totter, work with garden tools, take naps on sun-warmed rocks and one even prefers a swing, day and night through all four seasons. They are a bit of a rowdy bunch and always up for a party, but I enjoy their happy presence and jovial demeanor. I haven’t yet heard any bad language as we have a “keep it clean” policy about bad words around here. They seem quite hardy, stoically withstand extremes in weather, wear masks when asked and only seem fearful when hornets build a nest right in their lap.
As long as they continue to coexist peaceably with us and each other, keep the varmints and their knot tying cousins away, and avoid bad habits and swear words, I’m quite happy they are here. Actually, I’ve given them the run of the place. I’ve been told to be cautious as there are now news reports of an even more invasive species of gnome, Gernumbli kitschsi, that could move in and take over if I’m not careful. In fact, several new little fellows moved into my hanging baskets and back into the barn this week – someone obviously had put the word out this is a great place to winter over. Now I need to watch for more mane tangles again.
A gnome explosion.
I shudder to think. There goes the neighborhood.
I promise – not a single photo of a gnome in this book – available for order here:
My great grandfather had some fields in North Carolina and he willed those fields to his sons and his sons willed them to their sons so there is a two-hundred-year-old farm house on that land where several generations of my family fried chicken and laughed and hung
their laundry beneath the trees. There are things you know when your family has lived close to the earth: things that make magic seem likely. Dig a hole on the new of the moon and you will have dirt to throw away but dig one on the old of the moon and you won’t have
enough to fill it back up again: I learned this trick in the backyard of childhood with my hands. If you know the way the moon pulls at everything then you can feel it on the streets of a city where you cannot see the sky.
I may walk the streets of this century and make my living in an office but my blood is old farming blood and my true self is underground like a potato.
I have taken root in my grandfather’s fields: I am hanging my laundry beneath his trees. ~Faith Shearin from “Fields”
It just isn’t possible to completely take me off the farm – I have generations of farmers extending back on both sides of my family, so I have dug myself a hole here, resting easy in the soil like a potato and ventured out only as I needed to in order to actually make a living.
A gathering of all my vaccinated clinic colleagues came to our farm yesterday to help me celebrate my retiring from office life. They brought beautiful flowers, plentiful food, kind and restoring words, thirty year old photos and lovely parting gifts, as well as my singing doctor buddy sharing a sea shanty about bittersweet parting. It is helping ease my sorrow at leaving regular doctoring behind, knowing there are more days to come, more time to grow things in the ground, more blissing out over sunrises and sunsets and more hanging laundry on the clothesline.
My dear friends know where they can find me – on the hill above our farm – we may or might never, meet here again but it was such a fine time together yesterday, thank you!
Kind Friend and Companions, Come join me in rhyme, Come lift up your voices, In chorus with mine, Come lift up your voices, all grief to refrain, For we may or might never, all meet here again Here’s a health to the company and one to my lass, Let us drink and be merry, all out of one glass, Let us drink and be merry, all grief to refrain For we may or might never, all meet here again Here’s a health to the dear lass, that I love so well, For her style and her beauty, sure none can excel, There’s a smile on her countenance, as she sits on my knee, There’s no man in this wide world, as happy as me, Here’s a health to the company, and one to my lass Let us drink and be merry, all out of one glass, Let us drink and be merry, all grief to refrain For we may or might never, all meet here again, Our ship lies at anchor, she’s ready to dock, I wish her safe landing, without any shock, If ever I should meet you, by land or by sea, I will always remember, your kindness to me, Here’s a health to the company and one to my lass, Let us drink and be merry, all out of one glass, Let us drink and be merry, all grief to refrain For we may or might never, all meet here again Here’s a health to the company and one to my lass, Let us drink and be merry, all out of one glass, Let us drink and be merry, all grief to refrain For we may or might never, all meet here again
You may well love this book of Barnstorming photos, available to order here:
The Northwest Washington Fair in Lynden is underway this week and for the ninth year in a row, our Haflinger horses aren’t there on display. I feel wistful as I wake up too early on a foggy summer morning, remembering the twenty years where I would gather up our sleepy children and their friends and head into the fairgrounds to clean stalls, walk the ponies and prepare for the day. We are no long “doing” the fair as a farm, and I’m still a little bit sad about that.
Our farm, BriarCroft, had been a consistent presence at this fair for nearly two decades, promoting the Haflinger breed in a well-decorated outdoor display, providing 24 hour a day coverage for the horses for the 6 days of the fair. We petitioned the Fair Board for 5 years in the late 1980s to allow us to display at the fair, and they finally said “okay, here’s the space, build it yourself” and we did! We were not there for classes, competition, or ribbons. We were there because people enjoyed our Haflingers and we enjoyed the people.
But now that our children are all grown up and moved away, we lack their help to “man” the horse stalls. I miss spending that intense one week time with all of the several dozen “kid” helpers from over the years, most of them now with children of their own.
Every year between 1992 and 2012, we were there, sometimes sharing space and duties with other Haflinger farms (Rodenbergers and McKees), along with several brave young women (Kelsy Smith, Chesna Klimek and Emily Vander Haak) who did Haflinger “trick riding” as part of the daily Grandstand show. The older kids watched the younger kids, the in-between kids did most of the horse stall cleaning duty, and we adults sat and shot the breeze.
Our display created good will for the fair visitors who depended on us every year to be there with horses that they and their children could actually pet (and sit on) without fear, who enjoyed our braiding demonstrations, and our various Haflinger trivia contests with prizes. Our horses came to represent what dreams are made of.
Countless times a day there would be a bright eyed child who approached our stalls, climbed up on the step stools and reached up to pet a Haflinger nose or neck and looked deep into those big brown Haflinger eyes, and lost their heart forever to the breed. They will not forget that moment when a horse they had never met before loved them back. Haflingers are magic with children and we saw that over and over again.
Our first year, in 1992, a mom and her 6 year old son came up to our stalls, as do some 10,000 people a day, and spent a long time petting the horses and talking to them, and enjoying them. They walked off, with the little boy looking over his shoulder at the Haflingers until they turned a corner and went out of sight. An hour later they were back and spent more time with the Haflingers. I offered the little boy a chance to sit on a Haflinger, and he agreed readily, and sat and sat and sat, playing with the mane and petting the shoulder and neck and was simply in heaven, quietly dreaming his own dreams on the back of a horse. His mom told me that they lived in a suburb near Seattle, but always spent this particular week in August at a local beach cabin, and the fair was one of their favorite activities each year. Her son Gary had never had an opportunity to sit on a horse before.
Next year, they were back, and Gary was a little taller, but still a quiet boy, and he kept dragging his mom back to the Haflingers, and she’d sit and visit as he’d sit on the Haflingers. He watched as we watered the horses, or fed them hay, or cleaned their stalls, and pretty soon he was asking if he could do the scooping, or dump the buckets or brush the horses. So he became, out of his own initiative, a helper.
By the time he was 8, he was spending several hours at a time with us at the stalls, taking his turn at the chores, and his mom, trusting that he was in good hands, and that he certainly wasn’t going to wander away from the Haflingers, would check back with him now and then to see if he wanted to go on rides, or see a performance, and his response was always “no, I can do that anytime, but I don’t get to see Haflingers very often!” He would talk a little about his hope someday to have a farm where he could raise Haflingers, and one year even said that his folks were looking at property to buy with acreage, but apparently a job for his dad didn’t materialize, so he remained a city kid in reality, even if he was a future farm kid in his heart.
Gary was one of our regular kid helpers every year until he was 12 when he started turning out for junior high football, and the football summer camp coincided with our fair week, so we’d only see him briefly on Saturdays as he got into his teens. He’d stop by to say hi, pet the horses, catch up on the Haflinger news, and because he only had a few hours to spend at the fair, he’d head off to other things. I really missed him and his happy smile around the stalls.
When he was 15, I missed seeing him because I was working when he stopped by. When he stopped by at age 16, he strolled up to me and I found I was looking up at this young man who I had to study to recognize. I’m a tall woman of 5’10”–he was at least 4 inches taller than me! He told me he wanted to come by because some of his best summer memories were of spending time with the Haflingers at the fair and he wanted me to know that. He thanked me for welcoming him and allowing him to “hang out” with the Haflingers. He told me his hope and dream someday was to live somewhere where he could raise Haflingers, and he was working hard in school so he could make that happen. He was a 4.0 student and the first string quarterback on his high school football team. I was as proud as if he was my own son.
This young man received a full scholarship to play football at a major university, and over four years waited his turn to be the starting quarterback. Once he had his chance, after only a few games of being the starter, he was tackled hard, sustaining a neck fracture which thankfully resulted in no permanent damage, but his college football career was suddenly over.
I have lost track of Gary over the years and I hope he is faring well. I hope his connection with our horses left him with a legacy of love for animals he’ll pass onto his children someday.
So on this misty late summer morning, instead of heading to the fairgrounds to clean stalls, I’m going to turn our dusty, unbathed Haflingers out in the field as usual. They don’t even know all the excitement they are missing.
I do hope the fair-goers still miss the friendly golden horses, with the big brown eyes, who helped make dreams come true.
Thank you to Lea Gibson Lozano, Emily Vander Haak, Kelsy Smith, and Chesna Klimek for their photos in this collection.
A photo of our Haflingers and poems are found in this new book from Barnstorming, available to order here:
Without realizing it, we fill important places in each others’ lives. It’s that way with the guy at the corner grocery, the mechanic at the local garage, the family doctor, teachers, neighbors, coworkers. Good people who are always “there,” who can be relied upon in small, important ways. People who teach us, bless us, encourage us, support us, uplift us in the dailiness of life.
We never tell them. I don’t know why, but we don’t.
And, of course, we fill that role ourselves. There are those who depend on us,watch us, learn from us, take from us. And we never know.
You may never have proof of your importance, but you are more important than you think. There are always those who couldn’t do without you. The rub is that you don’t always know who. ~Robert Fulghum from All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten
If there is one thing the pandemic taught me, it’s noticing the people in my life who may have not been as obvious to me before. I hadn’t realized how many folks truly are front-line serving others. It is not only the health care workers, grocery store clerks and school teachers but suddenly the list of “essential workers” has grown large, including law enforcement, plumbers and electricians, child care workers, water, sanitation and sewer maintenance, postal clerks, technicians who fix our cars and appliances and the farmers who tend the crops and livestock we need to live.
I realized how oblivious I had been before not taking the time to acknowledge the daily services I receive from so many varied people. In fact, it became even more urgent for me to tell my family members and friends – some thousands of miles away from me – how much they mean to me.
I’ve tried to remedy this: I try to tell others as simply and clearly as I can, whenever possible, that I appreciate what they have done and what they continue to do under difficult circumstances, how important they are to me and others and make life better for us all. I also need to continue to nurture those relationships with family and friends crucial to my well-being. I need them all.
It is so important for them to know.
Well over a thousand of you receive these daily Barnstorming emails and posts yet I only hear from a few of you – I treasure those messages, thank you! Let me know if I can do better at reaching out to each of you in a meaningful way – either by commenting on posts or emailing me privately at firstname.lastname@example.org – we all need encouragement that we can make a difference in others’ lives.
This new book from Barnstorming is available to order here:
Serene the silver fishes glide, Stern-lipped, and pale, and wonder-eyed! As through the aged deeps of ocean, They glide with wan and wavy motion. They have no pathway where they go, They flow like water to and fro, They watch with never-winking eyes, They watch with staring, cold surprise, The level people in the air, The people peering, peering there: Who wander also to and fro, And know not why or where they go, Yet have a wonder in their eyes, Sometimes a pale and cold surprise. ~ Max Eastman, “At the Aquarium” Max Eastman: A Life
The fish are drifting calmly in their tank between the green reeds, lit by a white glow that passes for the sun. Blindly, the blank glass that holds them in displays their slow progress from end to end, familiar rocks set into the gravel, murmuring rows of filters, a universe the flying fox and glass cats, Congo tetras, bristle-nose pleocostemus all take for granted. Yet the platys, gold and red, persist in leaping occasionally, as if they can’t quite let alone a possibility—of wings, maybe, once they reach the air? They die on the rug. We find them there, eyes open in surprise. ~Kim Addonizio “Aquarium,” from The Philosopher’s Club
Our shadows bring them from the shadows: a yolk-yellow one with a navy pattern like a Japanese woodblock print of fish scales. A fat 18-karat one splashed with gaudy purple and a patch of gray. One with a gold head, a body skim-milk-white, trailing ventral fins like half-folded fans of lace. A poppy-red, faintly disheveled one, and one, compact, all indigo in faint green water. They wear comical whiskers and gather beneath us as we lean on the cement railing in indecisive late-December light, and because we do not feed them, they pass, then they loop and circle back. Loop and circle. Loop. “Look,” you say, “beneath them.” Beneath them, like a subplot or a motive, is a school of uniformly dark ones, smaller, unadorned, perhaps another species, living in the shadow of the gold, purple, yellow, indigo, and white, seeking the mired roots and dusky grasses, unliveried, the quieter beneath the quiet. ~Susan Kolodny “Koi Pond, Oakland Museum”
The water going dark only makes the orange seem brighter, as you race, and kiss, and spar for food, pretending not to notice me. For this gift of your indifference, I am grateful. I will sit until the pond goes black, the last orange spark extinguished. ~Robert Peake from “Koi Pond”
…the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish.When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. Matthew 13: 47-48
I caught a tremendous fish and held him beside the boat half out of water, with my hook fast in a corner of his mouth. He didn’t fight. He hadn’t fought at all. He hung a grunting weight, battered and venerable and homely. I looked into his eyes which were far larger than mine but shallower, and yellowed, the irises backed and packed with tarnished tinfoil seen through the lenses of old scratched isinglass. They shifted a little, but not to return my stare. – It was more like the tipping of an object toward the light. I admired his sullen face, the mechanism of his jaw, and then I saw that from his lower lip – if you could call it a lip grim, wet, and weaponlike, hung five old pieces of fish-line, or four and a wire leader with the swivel still attached, with all their five big hooks grown firmly in his mouth. Like medals with their ribbons frayed and wavering, a five-haired beard of wisdom trailing from his aching jaw. I stared and stared and victory filled up the little rented boat, from the pool of bilge where oil had spread a rainbow around the rusted engine to the bailer rusted orange, the sun-cracked thwarts, the oarlocks on their strings, the gunnels- until everything was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow! And I let the fish go. ~Elizabeth Bishop from “The Fish”
All my life, I’ve taken care of a variety of fish in tanks and ponds. As a child, I would watch, mesmerized, as our tropical fish glided around, happily exploring their little ten gallon world. I willingly cleaned away the algae, rinsed the gravel and changed the filter. As a teenager, I boasted at least three different tanks aerating away in my bedroom, my own little aqua-cultural world of bubbles and fins.
During college and medical school, I chose to share my room with goldfish and bettas, thriving on their apparent contentment within a clear glass bowl. I didn’t think of them as emotional support animals, but there was a joy obvious in their albeit limited existence: they still thrived when I was away, not missing me, but were always thrilled when I fed them, and tolerated my messing with their home maintenance.
My current thirty gallon aquarium is decades old and boasts over two dozen fish and plenty of furry algae and plants. Some of my watery friends have lived ten years or more and when they pass, I miss them. Even the dozen koi and goldfish in our farm pond have expressive faces and individual personalities that I’ve gotten to know well as they come when I call.
I know the heart of compassion I feel for any creature I’m responsible for, as I know and have experienced the compassion of our Creator.
I would hope when the time comes that I end up in His net, that He’ll look me in the eye, see the wonder there as I gape at Him. He’ll count my blemishes and wounds and the number of hooks in my mouth from the times I’ve been caught and escaped, and if He’s not yet ready to take me home, or deems me not yet ready to leave this world, He’ll throw me back rather than throw me away to keep trying to get it right.
He has promised us that.
Rainbows, rainbows, rainbows indeed…
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I try, as best I can, to see the world from a perspective other than my own:
Spending this week with our toddler grandson has helped me to look at things at the three foot rather than six foot level and suddenly I’m overwhelmed with how large everything appears.
I read opinions that differ considerably from my own so I can gain understanding and hopefully compassion for how others perceive the events of the world, even when I don’t and won’t agree.
And I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be a bee – to leave my warm and cozy community to find the best sources of pollen, diving bum-deep into a plethora of colors and fragrances, from ‘blossom to blossom to impossible blossom.’
Bees have a life-preserving mission in the world – not only to sustain themselves and their hive, but pollinating millions of blooms, an essential task for the fruiting of the land. Now that is a purpose-driven life.
We are no different. Our reason to exist goes far beyond our self-preservation, or the preservation of everyone who looks like or thinks like we do, i.e. “hive-mind.” We were created to care for the rest of the world, by dipping into each beautiful and sacred thing that thrives here because of us, not despite us.
And that includes each other, as different as we look and think and act. Each of us a sweet impossible blossom.
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For as a cloud received Him from their sight, So with a cloud will He return ere long: Therefore they stand on guard by day, by night, Strenuous and strong.
They do, they dare, they beyond seven times seven Forgive, they cry God’s mighty word aloud: Yet sometimes haply lift tired eyes to Heaven– “Is that His cloud?” ~Christina Rossetti from “Ascension Day”
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. Psalm 130: 5-6 from a Song of Ascents
Waiting is essential to the spiritual life. But waiting as a disciple of Jesus is not an empty waiting. It is a waiting with a promise in our hearts that makes already present what we are waiting for. We wait during Advent for the birth of Jesus. We wait after Easter for the coming of the Spirit, and after the ascension of Jesus we wait for his coming again in glory. We are always waiting, but it is a waiting in the conviction that we have already seen God’s footsteps. — Henri Nouwen from Bread For The Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith
To wait is a hard sweet paradox in the Christian life. It is hard not yet having what we know will be coming. But it is sweet to have certainty it is coming because of the footprints we have seen: He has been here among us.
Like the labor of childbirth, we groan knowing what it will take to get there, and we are full to brimming already.
The waiting won’t be easy; it will often be painful to be patient, staying alert to possibility and hope when we are exhausted, barely able to function. Others won’t understand why we wait, nor do they comprehend what we could possibly be waiting for.
We persevere together, with patience, watching and hoping; we are a community groaning together in sweet expectation of the morning.
A new book from Barnstorming available to order here
I lived in the first century of world wars. Most mornings I would be more or less insane, The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories, The news would pour out of various devices Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen. I would call my friends on other devices; They would be more or less mad for similar reasons. Slowly I would get to pen and paper, Make my poems for others unseen and unborn. In the day I would be reminded of those men and women, Brave, setting up signals across vast distances, Considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values. As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened, We would try to imagine them, try to find each other, To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other, Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves, To let go the means, to wake.
Juries can’t raise the dead... …a just God governs the universe, and for that reason, none of our efforts are in vain ...God is not limited by our insufficiency, but perhaps might even be glorified through using limited human instruments for his purposes. ~Esau McCaulley, New Testament Wheaton College professor in his Opinion piece today “How I’m talking to my kids about the Derek Chauvin verdict”
How to reconcile ourselves with each other? Indeed – ourselves with ourselves?
How will a single verdict make a difference in the battles fought for centuries between people all made in the image of God but fallen so far from Him?
Juries call us to the truth about ourselves. The rest is up to us: what we tell our children about how to live and love.
What poems do we write to the unseen and the unborn so they do not repeat our mistakes.
And so, now we reconcile ourselves, heeding the call to live out His purposes.