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“Your romantic relationship, is meant to make Jesus look big more than it is meant to provide you personal fulfillment.”

That quote from an article  I read on The Gospel Coalition the other day really stuck out to me. The idea that my relationship with my boyfriend is meant to make Jesus look good more than it is meant to make me feel good is nothing new. In fact, that idea was something that we outline as one of our primary goals in dating each other before we even began dating. On our list of boundaries, we even listed 1 Corinthians 6:19, 20 (“You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body,”) as one of the definitions of the way in which we would relate to each other.

So, at least on paper, I had an understanding of this idea.  However, in this season of my life, it’s been becoming more and more obvious. Now, before I get started, I want to make it clear. I love my boyfriend. He is wonderful. He is kind, funny, gentle, loyal, patient, thoughtful, humble, loving, and affectionate. He has one of the biggest servant’s hearts I’ve ever seen. He is a man of God I’m blessed to be dating, and yes, he makes me very happy. I have a ton of fun with him. Our relationship does provide me with an immense amount of satisfaction.

BUT (there’s always a but), that’s not the point of our relationship. And I’ve been seeing that play out. Clay is a year older than me, and just graduated. We’ll be spending this next year (at least) in a long distance relationship as he lives Columbus and I live in Athens. We’re stuck being far apart. We don’t get to see each other like we’d like to. Because I’m school and he needs to work, our relationship can’t be at the stage we’d like it to be.  We submit ourselves to boundaries and restrain our affections.

Those things aren’t fun. I’m not going to lie. They just aren’t. I’ve cried about all of them. Sometimes, I really hate them. But we do them because we believe that making Jesus look good is more important than making ourselves feel good.

But there, in obedience born out of our deep love for Jesus, is something very sweet. There is a deep, surpassing, unfailing grace. Grace that makes me able to say “no” to myself, and “yes” to glorifying the Lord. Grace that enables me to get through the days when missing him seems unbearable, and savor the days that we’re together. Grace that allows me to praise and give thanks in ALL circumstances, even this one. Grace that enables me to say, “Not my will, but thine.”

And that is love. Not what our culture says of love, which is made unbridled passion, shirking responsibilities, or breaking rules. But real, true, deep love. Love that is willing to give up what it wants for the good of another.  Love that is willing to wait, for a season, for a sweeter and greater reward. Love that is patient, kind, gentle. Love that bears all things, even when it means separation. Believes all things, even when the belief is that it is best to be apart. Hopes all things, even when that hope seems so far off. Endures all things, even when the thought of a year of this seems unendurable, because there is a far greater Love we submit to. 

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
(1 Corinthians 13:12 ESV)

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Grace – a gift; something given even though the recipient has not only done nothing to earn it, but has in fact earned punishment, not reward.

God’s grace is seen most clearly in Jesus, and his sacrifice. But that gracious crucifixion plays out in my life over and over and over in the way that my family, friends, and loved ones treat me. Specifically, I see such a wonderful picture of what grace is in the way that my boyfriend, Clay, treats me. (Yes, this post is pretty much all about him. You’ve been warned!) Even when I am being irritable, obstinate, stubborn, and argumentative, his responses always point me back to the cross. The following are just a few examples of his gracious responses to my ungracious actions.

  • When it was actually my fault that the cooler spilled (twice) on a long car trip, and I angrily blamed him with unkind words and an attitude – and he responded by stopping, helping to clean up the mess, and apologizing.
  • When I got us lost in Michigan, and he never blamed me, but then when he got us “lost” (we took the long route) in Ohio, and I got mad at him – he responded by apologizing, and didn’t bring up the fact that I had gotten us lost.
  • When I lost my wallet, and gave into hysteria. He (kindly) called and offered to come over and help me look for it, to which I responded by (angrily) telling him not to come.- He came over anyway and delivered the wallet to me with a hug. (Even though it was right where I told him it most definitely wouldn’t be….)
  • When I call him in hysterics over the present state of affairs in my life, and he calmly listens as I cry and reject every suggestion or comfort offered – And then he always calls back later to check back in.
  • When every single time I get impatient, use unkind words, speak in a harsh tone, act selfishly, demand my way, take out my frustration on him, and generally sin like crazy – he responds with kindness, gentleness, and a loving reminder that, “it is for freedom you have been set free… walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Gal 5:1, 16)

Every day I’m learning about the Gospel, and grace, and what it means to be loved, cherished, and honored in spite of my sin. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to learn.

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Women, you were made as God’s gift to man. And gifts are supposed to be received with joy and treated with care.  The amount of care one gives to a gift should be directly proportional not necessarily to the preciousness of the gift itself, but of the preciousness of the one who has given the gift.

And if he is a man of God, he will know that God is the most precious being in all the universe – thus, you, woman, will be a most precious gift because of your most precious Giver.

Women – Are you waiting for a man who knows this truth, and acts on it? If not, you are a diamond being used as gravel. You are a gift. Not because of who you are, but because of who made and redeemed you. Wait patiently.

Men – Are you treating women in light of this truth? If not, you are not only abusing the gift, you are insulting the Giver. Pray. Repent. Abide.

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” … So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”
(Genesis 2:18, 19, 21-23 ESV)

I’m a Christan. And I’ve been single for 1 year, 1 week, and 3 days.

It sounds like the introduction for some sort of support group. A little cheesy, a little rehearsed, and definitely ridiculous. But, according to what appears to be the prevailing attitude in the Christian subculture, it might be necessary.

As a member of the Christian subculture, I am part of the problem. This I will openly admit. So please, in the post that follows, don’t misunderstand. I am critical if only because I care.  I’m seeing (and experiencing) the damage that this subtle attitude does to our young men and women, and it makes me sad.

At the surface level, the preoccupation with relationships is natural.  Christianity is a faith that emphasizes relationships above all else.  At the head of our lives is our relationship with our God and Savior, Jesus.  Through his love, we are enabled to form rich relationships with others – spurring them on to turn to a relationship with Christ, or further one they already have. All relationships, whether filial, familial, friendly, or romantic, are beautiful and enriching when centered on and formed through Christ.

The subtle tendency to emphasize marriage relationships, and therefore dating relationships, though, has somehow crept into American Christianity.  Maybe it’s a backlash to the tragically high divorce rate.  Maybe it’s a reflection of our secular American culture, which emphasizes the idea that without a significant other, you have nothing of significance.  Most likely, it’s a combination of both.

This idea of the “hurry up and marry so you can have a family and be a ‘Proverbs 31 Woman’ ” is a trap that I have fallen into over and over again.  I lose sight of my love for Jesus because I’m so focused on finding a man to love.

But here’s the truth. The “Proverbs 31 Woman” isn’t blessed because she has a husband and children to serve.  She’s blessed because she serves. She serves with skill, wisdom, strength, courage, and humility.

And whether single, married, widowed, or divorced, those who have been covered by the blood of the Lamb are always blessed.

I may be single. But I’m not cursed. I’m blessed.

I really wrestled with whether or not to post this, simply because it is so personal and vulnerable. After sleeping on it and getting it proof-read, I finally decided that it would be worth it to post it, because of this – in the past few days, I have noticed a trend among my friends in our conversationsAs women, we have a few similar desires. We want to be loved. We long to feel beautiful. We ache to know that we are worth it. But everything in this world is fighting against us, trying to distract us from what will ultimately fulfill those desires. It’s good to be reminded of the truth. So, here it goes.

Sometimes, life is really hard.

Maybe it’s being in a secular college setting, or maybe it’s taking a tough double-major course-load, or maybe it’s just life. But sometimes, it’s really hard – I feel lonely. I long for love. I battle with myself as I fight the temptation to attract inappropriate attention to myself with the way I dress. I want to be beautiful.

But, in times like this, it is wonderful to come to the Lord and be in His presence.

To come to him and remember first knowing Jesus as my savior, and recalling how his perfect love finally filled that hole in my heart.  Remembering how, for the first time in my life, I didn’t feel alone.  When my longing to love and be loved finally had a place in which to be fulfilled.

To counter the lies with the Truth, and realize that I am so desirable and so worthwhile that Jesus suffered and died and bore the wrath of God’s sin for me – even as my rebellious soul hated him and wandered.

To read his Word and realize that I am already wanted. I am already being pursued.  And nothing I can wear or do will ever change that.

To come to the Scriptures, and hear the words “You are beautiful, because I am beautiful,” whispered between the lines on every page.  The message ingrained in between every word in a book that describes a God so mighty that he could create the vibrant cosmos out of nothing, move the mountains with his hands, tell the sea to calm with his voice. A book that describes the same God working every moment of history to bring his people to him, to save them. To know them personally. To love them intimately.

To come to realize that in Jesus, I have everything that I long for – A man who stands in front of me, with more love in his eyes than every man in all the world – past, present, and future combined – could ever muster, and thinks more than “Wow,”.  He thinks, “Yes. This one is mine. I formed her before she was born.  I watched her as she grew.  I predestined her to know and love me.  And on the day that she came into my arms, I and all of heaven lept with joy.  Yes.  This one is mine.  Forever.”

On days like this, I am speechless. What words can describe a love like this? He is good.

Confession: When I look in the mirror, all too often, instead of thinking “Look at that daughter of God, physically formed just as He intended for the purpose of His glory,” I think “Wow. I look really gross.”

Surprise, surprise – in this culture of tiny super-models and airbrushed ads, I am a woman with image issues.

I cannot tell you how long I’ve struggled. It seems forever. The list of flaws seems never ending – I weigh too much, my hips are too big, my nose too big and crooked, my skin marred by scars and acne. They are painful for me to even write out and post on the internet, because I want to hide them. Because, deep down inside, sometimes (not all the time) – I think I’m ugly.

But what a sin that is.  To believe that a perfect God, who formed me exactly how he wanted me, somehow made a mistake. To believe that I am anything less than a beautiful daughter of God, made radiant by finding my hope in the Lord and my salvation in Jesus – well, that’s just plain wrong.

But, like any sin, any wrong, it can be repented of and righted. I can agree with God that I am in the wrong – He can change my heart.  Make me focus less on myself, more on others. Look to Him, instead of myself.  Learn to love Him, instead of struggling to love myself.

Admittedly, this will not be easy. It may be years until I can accept that I am who God made me. There will be many more times when I think I am a mixed-up mistake – a girl that talks too much, laughs too loud, trips too often, forgets things, and is way too awkward. But “I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Phil 3:12)

I long to be beautiful. I hope that I will learn that when I glorify Him, I am beautiful, because He is beautiful. That is the truth I am trying to learn.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time” – Ecc 3:11

Don’t you just love it when God leads you into unique, and yet terrifying situations?  I’m seeing God’s provision for me so much this first quarter of college.  So many things I have prayed for have just started to fall into place, and I know they are only from Him.  One of the most miraculous things about God, at least it seems to me, is the way he speaks through us if we allow Him to.  I have been praying that God would give me both the opportunity and the boldness to witness lately, and that, when the time comes for me to do so, that He would put the words into my mouth (I have a nasty habit of babbling and rambling).

God just loves to give us what we ask for! Last night, I was involved in a conversation with a friend of mine who is not a believer.  He expressed embarrassment and regret for something that he knew that I would consider a sin, but I assured him not to worry about it.  Honestly, I didn’t care.  Then, out of the blue, he asked “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?”.  I should have been shocked – that’s generally not something you ask in polite conversation with someone you’ve just met.  I should have scrambled through words, sorted through all my worst deeds, trying to pick one that wouldn’t make me look too bad, attempting to word it correctly, to make myself seem less of a monster.  But I didn’t.  Instead, the words popped right into my head – “Man, I killed Jesus.”

He didn’t know what to say.  I don’t think he expected me to answer the question.  But I had answered, in complete honesty.  I have killed Jesus.  This answer allowed me to explain further that we’ve all killed Jesus.  And what a wonderful thing that is! Not that we’ve killed the most holy Chosen one, but that, in doing so, we’ve really leveled the playing field.  When Jesus died for us, when we killed him, we all became equally as bad.  We all did the worst thing one could possibly do – murder God.  And how freeing that is! We’re all bad! Say it with me – I’m a sinner! I’m bad! I’m a sinner!!! Whooohoo!!  Knowing that makes us all equals.  None of us can judge.  **None of us can be judged.  We all need the grace and mercy of God just as much as the next person.  **Nothing I can do now can be as bad as that original sin, which has already been forgiven.  And that makes me the freest person in the entire world.  Grace is a wonderful, miraculous thing.

The second thing that I’ve come to realize lately rides on the coattails of this revelation.  Recently, I’ve felt that I’ve been doing pretty well in my faith life.  I’ve got a great community here at OU, and they’re teaching me so much.  I’ve been getting up a half hour early for quiet time with God, I’ve been doing my devotional on a daily basis, I’ve been stopping midway through the day to pray and read the Bible.  God and I have been BFF’s. I’ve been confessing my sins, getting good with God, all that great stuff.  I’m doing great…right? Or so I though. Knowing that there’s no such thing as perfection, I’ve been praying that God would reveal unconfessed and/or unrealized sins to me.  Yesterday, I decided during a discussion at Bible study that Facebook has taken far too much control over my life – when you stare at the live feed, just waiting for it to change, you know that you’re probably a little overly addicted.  I decided the only way to break the habit would be to fast from Facebook for a week.  I gave my Bible study leader Katelynn my password and email and told her to change my password so that I can’t sign on.  Without Facebook, I had nothing else to do at night but shower and go to sleep.  While getting ready for bed, I realized something.  Night is a hard time for me.  Night is when I have to be alone.  And I hate being alone, because that is when I face my demons.  That is when I feel lonely, and long for companionship and love.  It’s when I visit my past, when everything I don’t want to think about comes to mind.  The reason that I’ve been staying on Facebook til 2 am is to force myself into exhaustion.  That way, when I go to sleep, it only takes me five minutes of superficial prayer time with God before I go to sleep.  I don’t have to face my problems.  I don’t have to take these awful, dark feelings to the feet of God.  Problem solved….?

There’s only so long that you can run from things before they get you.  Thank God that he has the grace to gently shake us from our habits, take us by the hand and show us ways that we are still holding back from him.  I still hate nights – I probably will for a long time.  But I trust that God can help me work through those nights.

Finally, the last thing that I’ve been learning lately is that, unique as we are, we all struggle with sins that are relatively similar.  In talking to my girl friends, I’ve been seeing that a major thing we all struggle with is boys.  You hear that boys? We all struggle with you! You are one incredible distraction! (Just setting the record straight here.  No offense intended 😉 )  Our hearts are constantly longing after these young men that we know/are meeting.  I explained to my friend Kate with a laugh this morning that I feel like I’m constantly redirecting my heart, like it’s some little kid I’m trying to guide through the candy isle.  The minute I get it to stop longing after one boy and set it straight, it finds another one and I have to try and redirect it again.  None of us are what you would call boy-crazy, but this is something we’re all finding intensely difficult.  Protecting our hearts takes a lot of will-power, and I’m so grateful that they all keep me accountable.  Thank you ladies.  To my brothers in Christ.  I’m really sorry.  You are intensely attractive.  I look forward to marrying one of you one day.  Until then, I’m trying really hard to consider you only as brothers.  Seriously. I am.

That is about all for today.  I recently got this blog listed on the RSS feeds for athensi.com and on the Scripps School website, so if you’re a reader directed from there – welcome! I hope you enjoyed today’s ramblings.  Usually there’s more of a theme to these things, I promise.

“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11)

*EDIT: A reader pointed out that part of my post might come of as a little ambiguous, so here’s a clarification. I was meaning judgment as in human judgment. No human being can judge me, which means I can’t judge anyone else either.  When you’re freed up from the opinions of other people, you are free to be yourself and that is refreshing. When you’re freed from having to judge other people, you are free to be their friend and love them fully (well, as fully as human beings can love).  That is what I meant.

I also never meant to imply that we can get away with sinning constantly.  I was raised in a denomination that equated guilt with repentance and forgiveness. Guilt and I are well acquainted with each other – I struggle much less with repentance than I do with accepting forgiveness.  Additionally, in my talks with other people, especially non-believers, I’ve found that a common denominator is guilt and fear of failure.  Both are paralyzing and lead only to death. Guilt is paralyzing in that it keeps us mired in the past – we cannot move forward to make ourselves better.  I often struggle with the idea that God has forgiven my sins when I present them to Him, which means I don’t have to sit around feeling guilty about them to prove that I’m truly sorry. In fact, doing so is a rejection of his grace!  Fear of failure is paralyzing in that it keeps us from trying anything new, and from taking any risks.  However, to be a Christian is to live an inherently risk-filled life. In knowing that I have already failed in the biggest way possible (and been forgiven and moved forward from it), I feel free to take the risks that God is asking me to take with my life.

So please, don’t misunderstand.  God WILL judge us at the end of our lives/time, and sin is bad, should be avoided, and needs to be confessed and repented of.  Happy reading! 🙂

Behold, you are beautiful, my love
Behold! You are beautiful!…
You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride;
you have stolen my heart
with one glance of your eyes.” (Song 4:1,9)

When you read that, what did you feel? Longing, warmth, happiness, nothing?  Now, imagine that the speaker of those lines is Jesus, and you are who he is speaking to… What do you feel now? Joyful, uncomfortable, kinda creeped out?  Up until recently, I was definitely the latter.  Growing up, I attended Catholic school, so we had to take theology class. I remember learning that Song of Solomon could read  both as a literal love poem for a man to a women, and also as one of the ways that Jesus loves us. I remember being told this and thinking “WHAT?”  I felt kinda creeped out imagining God as “lover”.  That would mean inserting him into the traditional role assigned to lover.  A man sweeping me off my feet, pulling me into a passionate kiss.  Was it even appropriate to imagine God like that?  I decided not and quickly put the thought away.

Oh, if only someone had better explained that to me.  I feel that I have long understood the role of God as “loving father”.  I truly consider God my daddy.  This imagery is easy to deal with, comfortable, warm.  I have a father.  The church I was raised in absolutely loved the image of God as father.  But for whatever reason, they shunned the idea of God as lover.  Maybe it was too sensual, to scandalous, too difficult.  I’m not sure.  But we never talked about it.  And I guess it got buried.  Even when I would read about Christ being the bridegroom, and his church being the bride, my mind would kind of glaze over.  “Yeah, yeah, yeah, bridegroom, bride, got it.”  It got filed away with about as much importance as the calorie content of Oreos and anything I learned in geometry class.

I think this had some serious repercussions for me.  I was involved in a very manipulative and abusive relationship in high school.  After this experience, I came to know and love God, and he rescued me and started the long and arduous process of healing me.  Even with the love and hope that I found in the Father, I still felt something missing.  I chased on relationship after another, giving my heart away multiple times.  I was a hopeless romantic.  I dreamed grand dreams of being swept up by a prince.  When my own boyfriend did not live up to my expectations, I would become devastated.  I never felt satisfied.  It wasn’t until recently that I began to consider God as a lover.

At first, it did feel weird.  I read through Song of Solomon and Isaiah.  Many times I wondered “is this ok?” to think of God as the lover who would come through for me, sweep me off my feet, romance me sweetly, pull my heart into romantic love, with all of it’s desires and longings.  But gradually, slowly, I’m coming to see him as the lover he’s truly meant to be.  I know him as a warrior – rescuing me from the snares of the Devil, pulling me up out of darkness.  I know him as a father, cradling me in his arms, wiping away my tears, tucking me in at night.  And now, finally, at long last, I’m coming to see him as a lover.  My heart (crazy as it is for boys – I am, after all, a teenage girl) is falling more and more in love with him everyday.  I wish every woman could know this love. I wish every little girl would be told “see that prince in those movies?  That’s what Jesus is to you.  He will come when all seems lost, fight for you, sweep you off your feet, clothe you in a ballgown, and dance with you, madly in love, for the rest of your life”.  I wish we all knew this.  I think it would change our world.

Here’s a poem I wrote about it all.  It’s rough, but enjoy.

Behold, you are beautiful, my love
Behold! You are beautiful!…
You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride;
you have stolen my heart
with one glance of your eyes.” (Song 4:1,9)

The Lord is my lover,
sweet and tender.
he gathers me in his arms,
whispers in my ear
“I love you, my darling, my dear.
I love you, and you are mine.”
The kisses on my lips are not selfish or spiteful.
They are purest,
sweetest love
and with each they carry away
the bitterness
that the world has placed on my tongue.

The Lord is my lover,
we twirl and we dance,
whirling around.
He says to me
“You are radiant, my girl, my love.
Your skin glistens like snow in sun,
your lips the buds of a rose,
your eyes like deep blue stars,
your hair a bundle of hay
come undone.
And your soul
oh, your soul.
Your beautiful soul.
You, my love,
are so beautiful.”
With the God of the universe I dance,
beauty divine,
out of all the women in the world,
the only hand in His
is mine.

The Lord is my lover,
my light and my song.
He chases away the dark,
holds me close against his chest,
and on rainy days
I lay in his arms
and together we rest.
In the mornings, I wake
to him at my side,
staring sweetly to say
“Good morning, my bride.”

The Lord is my love,
with him
I’ll grow old and gray.
And in our old age, we will hold hands as we sit.
He’ll whisper to me
“you, my love, are still beautiful.
I love you more than ever before.”
He’ll smooth his hand
over my wrinkled face,
gaze at my radiance
filled with his grace.

And it will be he,
my love, my God,
at my side as I fade and die
pull me away,
out of my body,
into his arms,
forever together,
my lover,
my Lord.

My lover speaks and says to me
‘Arise, my darling
my beautiful one and come with me.’” (Song 2:10)

Although I’ve considered myself a “Christian” for almost two years now, very little time of those two years has been spent considering or practicing modesty.   It wasn’t until lately that I’ve decided that it probably should.  I went through my wardrobe and purged a lot of what I had.  It wasn’t the most fun thing I’ve ever done – the clothes were cute!!! But they weren’t modest.

I had two real problems with modesty. One – I enjoyed the attention that I got from guys.  I realize it now to be a negative effect of my past – I was searching for acceptance from guys, no matter how negative.  I was enjoying pleasing the world and not pleasing God.  The real thing that I want to talk about today though, stems from reason number two. The second problem that I had with modesty was more of a mindset. “Why should I be modest?” I thought. “Guys should control themselves and not look at me. They should exercise a little self-restraint and not think about what I look like!”  And yes – I’m not denying that men should attempt to control themselves.  They should.  But lately, I’ve felt convicted that modesty is something important that all Christian women should practice.  There are many reasons behind it, but this is the most important one –
We as Christians are commanded to do all that we can to help each other avoid sin.  When I dress immodestly, I tempt my Christian brothers and lead them into sin.

When I realized that – it became very clear to me. How could I not dress modestly?  How could I not do everything in my power to help keep my brothers from sin? The same brothers that care for me and protect me, that make me laugh when I’m sad, give me advice, pray for me? The boys that go out of their way to make sure I stay safe, and will drop what they’re doing and inconvenience themselves to come walk me home after dark. If they could do all of these things for me, it feels a very small sacrifice to give up a few cute outfits here and there to keep their minds free from sin.

That being said, I’m still learning.  I’m tempted to wear the cute outfits I see around campus – then I remind myself that Ephesians 5:1 tells us to be imitators of God, not of the world.  Occasionally, I miss the negative attention – then I pray to God that He will renew my heart and make me long only for His love.  Sometimes, I can’t even tell whether something is modest or not – I’m not a guy!

I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts on this topic – What are your standards for “modesty”? Should you confront a Christian friend who is wearing something you consider to be immodest? What about guys – are there standards of modesty that men should have to follow too?

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Past Musings