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I think back to when I bumped into a friend at the mall just days before my maternity leave was over. With her own baby on hip, my stay-at-home-mom friend explained she needed some fresh air — and what better place than among the clothing racks, shoe sales, and hubbub of other SAHMs looking to get out of the house.

I just stared at her. Her life seemed so carefree. Anyone passing by would covet (what looked to be) a life full of free afternoons and minimal stress. But within how are you’s, you look so good, and give me life updates, she pulled me in between clearance racks and divulged. (That’s what we do, you know. Us women can’t help where we are. If there’s secret confessions to be made, we will SPILL… Even if it means hiding under hangers.)

My dear friend grabbed my shirt, her toddler started screaming, and her shoulders collapsed. She said, to be honest, some days are hard. Many are lonely. And sometimes she just wishes to be back at work, enjoying a lunch with her colleagues, and feeling accomplished by a marked-up to-do list. Doing something for HER for once.

 

Later, I bumped into another friend who returned back to her office, briefcase, and dress suits after spending months at home with her kid. Another round of how are you’s, you look so good, and give me life updates. All the same, she spilled the beans. “It doesn’t help when he screams at daycare drop-off,” she permits. “That can make anyone cringe – but as I sit in meetings, I’m wondering how he’s waking up from naptimes and looking up to an unfamiliar face. Wondering why it’s not mom.” The worst – those days when she comes home late just in time to put him down for bed, she wonders if it’s worth it.

Both situations are completely understandable, common. Even predictable. You want to be there to witness every major milestone in your baby’s childhood, and you can’t imagine sharing the responsibility of raising your child with someone else. I’m nodding right along with you. But there’s a pull to follow your dreams, pay the bills, and/or get some social time (aka me time) for your extroverted self. I’m still nodding. Which to choose?

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I like the concept of setting some resolutions for the new year. I feel like January is a time of reset, a chance to take a deep breath and head into the next year with a plan to become someone, well…better.

 

Numerous polls and articles list the top resolutions. Some people want to be thinner, some stronger, some wiser, some wealthier. Some want to be more generous, while others want to read the Bible more. Most of these goals have something in common—people want to be better versions of themselves. Let’s face it, we all want to improve. And the start of a new year gives us an opportunity to start fresh.

 

After all, the writers in the Bible are continually encouraging us to try and follow Christ’s example, reminding us to be…better.

 

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:12-14)

 

Julius Caesar instituted New Year's Day on January 1 to honor Janus, the two-faced god who looks backwards into the old year and forwards into the new. The custom of New Year’s resolutions began in ancient times, as the Romans made resolutions with a moral bent—mostly to be good to others. To them, Janus was the god of beginnings. 

 

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You probably base your self-image on past experiences. If you’ve failed, you feel like a failure. If you’ve made poor decisions, you think of yourself as stupid. That’s the old way of thinking. When you gave your life to Jesus, he made you entirely new. Your poor choices—made either before or after beginning a relationship with Jesus—do not define you. You need to feel good about yourself or you will never live the life God has for you.

 – Leon Fontaine, The Spirit Contemporary Life

 

The other day I received yet another free gift in the mail. It seems that once you give to a charity, your name gets around. It must be an effective way of incentivizing donations—mailing out calendars, note pads, labels, cards, coins, stickers.

 

As I was opening my latest envelope—from a charity I had never heard of—I perused the enclosed gifts; the Christmas address labels went into the trash—my name has been misspelled for years with a small “a” and I just couldn’t do it again. Then my eyes landed on the Christmas gift labels. I might keep those.

 

My relationship with labels, though, has become rather intense lately.

 

There are some labels I just love. I thrive on order, and anything that helps me achieve that is comparable to Sony and Cher (yes, I know they broke up later, but I’m still in denial).

 

Labels help my life run more efficiently. They let me know what I and my family and friends can find in certain bins without digging. Labels tell me what package goes to which special person. They tell me what ingredients and nutrition are in a bag or can. They tell me how I can most effectively wash each item of clothing.

 

There is another type of label, though, that I am disliking the more I get acquainted with it... And those are labels we place on people.

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“I’m feeling very thin and vulnerable, in a good way.”

Amy Layne Litzelman

 

It hit out of nowhere. The flu.

 

It started as a simple little sore throat the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

 

Soon the “dripping facet” phase kicked in, and I couldn’t get Kleenex’s to my nose fast enough.

 

The bug hit my vocal cords next leaving me speechless for almost a week. Which some may not have thought such a bad outcome. But, then, gravity pulled it all down into my lungs and the coughing fits began, leaving me exhausted.

 

I won’t bore you with any more details. But, let’s just say there is a reason why I’m sharing my woes with you.

 

You see, it’s the holidays. And with the holidays come certain expectations.

 

Gifts, for one. As I’ve been incapacitated these days, shopping is out. Fortunately, we live in the days of Cyber deals. So at least I’ve got that one covered.

 

But, there are other expectations.

 

Like cookie baking. By this time in December I would’ve had several varieties of Christmas cookies made and in the deep freeze. But, this year I just baked my first batch. And it may be the only batch.

 

Like decorating. Most of my decorations are still in plastic bins out in our garage.

 

Like hosting parties. Due to my nasty bug, there will be no parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting or caroling out in the snow...

 

I find it all a bit depressing not being able to pull it altogether and create the kind of Christmas we’ve had in the past.

 

But, I know that I’m not the only one struggling to keep up this Christmas.

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My toddler was a tiny one-year-old last Christmas, fascinated only by the basics—staring at the lights on the tree, rearranging ornaments, and thrashing around wrapping paper.

 

This year, Oscar is two, and things are obviously different. He wonders why Rudolph’s nose is red and laughs when Frosty says, “Happy birthday!” instead of Merry Christmas. And he’s not only preparing for his very first Christmas pageant, but he doesn’t chew on the manger scene anymore either. Instead, he places the angel correctly above the stable and hums “Away in the Manger” while rocking pretend baby Jesus in his arms.

 

Even though Oscar experienced Christmas last year, his ever-growing mind soaks up all the songs, stories, decorations, and lights like it’s new this time around too. In a way like everything’s fresh. And the awe in his eyes is plain for all to see—showcasing just how captivating and extremely interesting every detail is.

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Amidst the wonderful smells of turkeys basting, gravy simmering, and pies baking, I smelled something foul this past weekend. I caught a whiff of it on the way to Grandma’s house, passing homes basking in the glow of twinkling lights and plastic nativity scenes. I stole a sniff of it when I noticed the peppermint creamer served alongside the caramel macchiato and pumpkin spice varieties. I couldn’t ignore the disgusting odor settling into our conversation around the Thanksgiving table as well-meaning aunts and uncles asked my kiddos what they were hoping might show up under the tree next month. The scent is not easy to ignore. It’s the sneaky stench of Christmas panic.

 

This panic likes to boil up like a pressure cooker. It starts sometime in November and increases in strengths and potency as we move into December. I don’t really know if this sense of panic is only reserved for mothers. I can’t imagine this impending dread is gender specific. I just know that it’s real, that it’s palpable, and that it is already threatening to overtake that sweet, lingering aroma of Thanksgiving thankfulness—a time that we are supposed to give only gratitude. No gifts. Just thanks.

 

I have decided that this year, I’m going to be intentional about keeping the air around me fresh from the stench. I made a choice to at least preserve the month of November as stench-free. This is not easy as my stack of Christmas cards sit unlabeled on the dining room table. The smell is difficult to ignore as I open up the paper stuffed with shopping ads and coupons. The aroma of greediness and busyness threaten to overpower my sweet smell of peace. But I am trying. This year, I am trying to ignore the sneaky stench of Christmas panic.

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From our hearts to yours...

We pray that each one of you will find a reason to give thanks!

A blessed Thanksgiving!

 

Heidi, Jo, Julie and LuAnn

The Heart Matters gals

 

 

 

 

 

*Artwork by Heidi Lee Anderson

 

 

 

 

 

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They ate till they were gorged— he had given them what they craved.

Psalm 78:29

 

There is a difference between eating and drinking for strength and from mere gluttony.
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

 

The sparrows that moved into the neighborhood in recent weeks number in the dozens. Since their arrival, my favorite songbird, the little house wren living in our veggie patch, has flown the coop. In fact, they’ve driven out several of my sweet bird friends.

 

From sunup to sundown, they gorge themselves at my feeder. Every spot filled with little brown birds. And they’re not much into sharing, either. At least not with birds of other varieties. My cardinals and chickadees must make do with the leftovers they scatter on the ground below.

 

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I’ve gone to some lengths to scare them off. I’ve even trained our dog to chase them off. But, they just toy with her now…they’re not in the least bit frightened by the sight of her.

 

I’ve taken the feeder down for a several days, only to discover them back in droves once it goes back up again.

 

The feeding frenzy happening in my backyard reminds me a lot of the frenzy to come. You know the one. It occurs every year around the holidays.

 

The time when folks camp outside of stores all night long hoping to be the first to grab all those door-buster deals. The time when tempers are short and lines are long. The time when we conveniently forget about calories so we can gobble down goodies without guilt.

 

That time of year when we human beings begin to look, and act, a lot like my sparrows.

 

To most Americans the holidays mean overindulgence.

 

A time when we loosen our belts. Eat too much. Drink too much. Buy too much.

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“There is a Me that I cannot see.”

– John Ortberg

 

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He was doing it again.

 

The kids and I just looked at each other, laughed, and rolled our eyes and let him continue.

 

You see, my husband was telling someone yet again about his year off from drinking Mountain Dew.

 

But well, really…

 

About six months into his third time of trying to go off this very addictive beverage, my husband returned from our neighborhood gas station.

 

As he walked through the door, I heard my daughter, McKayla, say, “Oh dad…and you were doing so good! Hasn’t it been about six months that you’ve been off?”

 

Brent looked at her baffled.

 

Mc pointed to the beverage in his hand.

 

“What? This?... This isn’t Mountain Dew.” He said.

 

“Isn’t that a Mountain Dew icee?” she asked.

 

“Yes. But that’s not the same thing,” he replied.

 

“What?!” Mc laughed.

 

From the kitchen stove, I leaned back and took a peak at him standing in the mud room. He had to be messing with her I thought. I searched his expression. No. He wasn’t joking. 

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Beginnings are always messy.

John Galsworthy

 

Last year, our family moved into a charming, full-of-character, little blue house that was built in the 1920’s.

 

Almost everything is beautiful in its own regard: The wide farmhouse sink. The French doors peeking into the living room. The sturdy hardwood floors. The composed clawfoot tub in the upstairs bathroom. And since we are in no way Chip and Joanna Gaines, my husband and I breathed a deep sigh of relief when the inspection came back clear, and it was move-in ready! Nothing to fix, change, or update.

 

Well, almost nothing.

 

When you walk into our kitchen, sure, you first see the woodworking of our tall cabinets paired with that drool-worthy farmhouse sink. (To which my husband actually said, “We will take this out, right?” I can almost hear you gasping through the screen. I know, readers...I have since enlightened him.)

 

 

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But when you look to the left, you see a randomly placed stove and when you look to the right you see a floating fridge, and when you take a closer look, you see no countertop space, and I hate to even write this down, but no dishwasher. It’s random. And ugly. And somewhat maddening.

 

So this week, we’ve looked our kitchen square in the eye and started making progress towards renovating it into something functional and aligning the charm with rest of the house. Starting with the paint.

 

We (and I mean we, as in my husband) laid down the prime the other night, and as I walked into the kitchen to see the progress as only a dutiful contractor would, he quickly said, “It’s just the prime! There’s streaks and you can still see the wood paneling underneath, but don’t panic. It’s going to take a few coats to get it to look how we imagined.” He knew I would panic. Lift my eyebrows. And wonder what we were thinking trying to DIY. He knew I would be skeptical, discouraged by what appeared a messy situation. Because I like to see betterment in the progress.

 

But sometimes, it gets messy before it gets good. Have you ever experienced that?

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Autumn, the year’s last, loveliest smile.

-William Cullen Bryant

 

This morning the sky looks different. The sun is lower and not quite as bright. There is a nip in the air. A big change is taking place, and I can’t stop it…even if I wanted to.

 

Every October, the transformation is set into motion. In our yard, it starts with a lone maple tree, the one that soaks in the sunlight all summer long and offers a shady place for the perennials to grab shelter from the heat. As the sun angle shifts, that same statuesque tree begins to turn a beautiful crimson. I catch a glimpse of it through the window in my hallway, and I know that this wonderful summer season has come to a close, and fall is going to be rushing in before I know it.

 

I have always been fascinated by the changing of seasons. Maybe that is why I chose the Midwest as the place I wanted to live and work. I feel the change in the weather is also an opportunity for change in my own life, and I find myself looking forward to this seasonal change even more than maybe I should. Fall always brings hope of a spiritual reset of sorts, a time to prepare for a season of rest, and I am almost always ready for it.

  

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Counting other people's sins does not make you a saint...

 

Unfortunately, it’s a reality of this dark and fallen world. It isn’t one we like to talk about, maybe because we can hardly fathom the situations ourselves.

 

Maybe even you have been subject to the pain of this not-so-rare phenomenon; it knocks us off our rocker when the people we suspect the least commit a moral failure. Chances are you have felt the confusion, shame, or hurt in one way or another. A famous speaker, a local pastor, and even someone in our own friend and family circles.

 

It’s the very reason some have chosen to avoid Christianity like the plague saying they have no desire to be apart of a group that represents hypocrisy. Christians and non-Christians alike are all stuck wondering: how can someone who claims to follow God commit such actions?

 

Initially when I would hear about someone committing a moral failure, I separated that person as far from someone I could ever be as possible. Like I am walking on the side of light and good and that person like Anakin switched over to the dark side. Without doing it intentionally, I got this lens of disgust and belittlement while placing myself on this pedestal of Christian superiority. 

 

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An Unsettling murmur of melancholy

 

Don’t let anyone dull your sparkle.

Unknown

 

There is something disquieting to me about autumn. Perhaps it’s the heavy gray skies or the shiver that runs down my spine when a northerly gust blows cold…hinting at days to come. With shortening days, slipping temperatures and the unsettling murmur of melancholy whispering on the wind, I can easily succumb to the haunting voice of dismal foreboding.

Then I step out my front door and am greeted by a riotous display of color.

Creation isn’t gloomily yielding itself to season’s change. Maples in orange, yellow and red are singing anything but dirges of death. They let go with exuberance. Will you? Will I?

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Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower.

Albert Camus

 

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Fall has always been my favorite season. The time when everything bursts with its last beauty, as if nature had been saving up all year for the grand finale.

Lauren DeStephano

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I used to click my heels into my college classes, smooth out my pencil skirt with matching blouse, and confidently stand before my classmates for presentations on market share, conversion rates, and customer acquisition costs. This was all so energizing as a marketing major, and I envisioned myself down the road bustling around a quick-paced advertising agency, becoming a successful project manager of sorts, and quickly climbing the corporate ladder to utter greatness. Dream big, right?

 

But after exploring internships and experiencing work cultures, I realized so much of the for-profit world was cut-throat and bottom-line driven. Bulldozing you as a person, all for the sake of earning revenue and keeping stockholders happy. And I just wasn’t into that.

 

So I went into ministry. Where I taught hundreds of kids Bible stories, pumped up a volunteer base in the mission to serve Christ, and even grabbed a spot behind our church’s podium because I was told I was compelling with my words and inspiring with my vision.

 

And I felt that. I felt energy brimming over inside of me, and I knew I was working in my element. Fulfilled beyond measure, saw myself powerfully being used by Christ, and blessed to call it all work.

But there was a stronger call within me. I had just gotten married to the most wonderful man in the world, and we couldn’t wait to start a family. So we didn’t! 10 months later, we welcomed our sweet boy, Oscar Tyler, into the world—and the moment I saw him, I cried enough happy tears to fill the Pacific Ocean, and I soon gave my two weeks’ notice.

 

My expectations? They were Pinterest-board worthy. I would wake up every morning to a snuggly baby who would patiently wait for his milk. Breastfeed effortlessly. Cart around said flexible baby with the car seat easily hooked in my arm. Take long, relaxing walks around the neighborhood. Have hours of me-time while baby naps. And schedule loads of coffee dates to catch up with friends.

 

But I soon came to find that motherhood looked different. Actually, quite different.

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Our group of close-knit friends was outside enjoying each other’s company while the sun’s rays warmed and darkened our skin, like a toaster working its magic with a piece of bread.

 

Finally someone said something.

 

We’d all been thinking it.

 

“Lori. Seriously. Girlfriend… How can you handle those sunglasses?! That one lense is so scratched up. I don’t know how that doesn’t bother you?! That would really bother me. In fact, it’s bothering me just looking at you!”

 

Several of us chimed in with agreement.

 

Lori gave a hearty laugh as her brunette head bent back in amusement. She seemed highly entertained, and we were baffled as to why. Seriously. How can anyone find a severely scratched lense anything but irritating?

 

 

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“Girls, that is so funny. That’s my bad eye! I can’t see out of that eye, so it doesn’t bother me! I love these glasses, and the other lense is great!” She continued to laugh.

 

We offered up, “Ohhh, of course!... Yes, that makes sense!...” And tried to join in her laughter.

 

But secretly, a part of me was horrified.

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Faith is, picture it done. – Josiah Cullen

My kids are obsessed with the show, American Ninja Warrior. It is a program of intense moments, showing men and women tackling an obstacle course of tremendously difficult challenges, starting with the easier feats and moving on to these crazy, complicated tests of physical endurance. One of the most difficult obstacles is the “warped wall.” It’s a nearly vertical climb of 12 feet… that means these people are basically running up a wall, in Spiderman fashion, without a web to assist them.

One of the women who completed the course was asked how she tackled the warped wall obstacle. She said, “I picture myself getting over the wall, not getting up the wall.”

I only wish I could apply that kind of philosophy to the walls I face. Whether it’s a physical hurdle, a relational wall, or a spiritual one, I tend to stand at the bottom and stare at the problem—wondering how I’m ever going to make it up.

I have a little plaque on my front hall table that says, “Faith is… picture it done,” a quote penned by Josiah Cullen, an 11-year-old boy who has an innate gift to see God’s words in action.

So why does it seem that when faced with an obstacle, we tend to focus on the obstacle itself, instead on the power of the One who can not only get us over the wall—but can even destroy it if He chooses?

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Her eyes laser beamed into each yard she passed. Squinting refined this endeavor. My husband saw her as he was working outside. Finally, he called out to her, “Hello ma’am!”

 

Her eyes shifted to him and became raisin-small as they zeroed in on him. “Are you new to the neighborhood?” she asked.

 

“Yes, ma’am.” my hubby replied.

 

“Do you have a large black dog and a small white one?” she followed up in no manner of friendliness.

 

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“Yes, that would be my dogs” my hubby replied.

 

“Well, your large black dog crapped in our yard!” she exclaimed with severe agitation.

 

“Oh, I’m sorry,” hubby replied. “I will be right over to clean it up! Our dogs were playing escape artists the other day when the movers were coming in and out with our furniture.”

 

“Oh” she replied more meekly, being thrown off for a moment from her anger pedestal.

 

My hubby followed her with our slightly “used” but efficient pooper-scooper. As he chatted with her, he discovered we moved from the same area and our kids had been in the same school. When he arrived in her yard, the husband was there, acting rather meek and embarrassed. Brent talked sports with him. The wife continued to complain about all manner of things, including the pesky mosquitoes. When Brent asked if another “pile” was from our dog Mia, she said, “No! That one is from Jake! I’m still trying to track him down!” Brent offered to pick that one up, too. But she said, no, she would track down Jake’s owners.

 

That was the second time we had been in the dog house with a neighbor that week. And literally both times it was because of the dogs.

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From weekend getaways that bring bellies aching with laughter to late night conversations that bring sleeves wet with tears, friendship is surprising.

 

I had all the friends I needed, until one day I didn’t.

The yearbook sentiments of “BFF” and “Always and Forever” which seem oh so true when you’re 18 and going away to college prove pale in comparison to saying an actual goodbye after decades of friendship when you’re pushing five decades old yourself. I wasn’t prepared for that final goodbye of my BFF.

As I stood by her grave site I thought to myself, Yes… friendship has certainly surprised me.

I never thought that as a grown-up I’d need to call another adult woman at four in the morning because I was so emotional that I just needed to hear the voice of my friend. I never thought I’d so look forward to a coffee date with another mom with whom I shared so much in common—from parenting philosophies to prayer, favorite books to beloved vacation spots. This friendship journey has taught me a lot about the complexities of relationship with another human being, and has taught me even more about myself.

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They were longing for a better country… a heavenly one.

Hebrews 11:16

 

Think for a moment about the word paradise, what comes to your mind? Is your first thought a tropical retreat with white sandy beaches and swaying palm trees? Or does a cabin up in snow-capped mountains with stunning views better fit your notion of the word?

 

My idea of paradise would be a little cottage surrounded by flower-filled gardens set in the Lake District of England.

 

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The mere thought of getting away to places such as these stirs our hearts with longing.

 

There is something almost magical in the plotting and planning of a trip, whether it is to Boston or Barbados, Portland or Paris. Once we’ve settled on where we are going, the anticipation begins to build as the longed-for day of departure approaches, which to me is half the fun. After counting down the days on your calendar, you finally begin your journey, and before you know it, you are finally in the destination of your dreams - you are in paradise.  

 

But, a strange thing begins to happen to me after I’ve been away awhile. I begin to feel a lot like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. In spite of the fact that Dorothy and I once ached to be somewhere over the rainbow where all our dreams would come true, it is not long after our wishes have been fulfilled that we begin to yearn to be back home.

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It’s not what you gather, but what you scatter that tells what kind of life you have lived.

Helen Walton

 

Whoever clings to his life shall lose it, and whoever loses his life shall save it.

Luke 17:33

 

It’s midway through August now, and I’ve already spotted signs of season’s change.

 

I’ve spied goldenrod blooming, burning bushes blushing in shades of pink and red, and tall grasses waving taupe-colored plumage. I’ve noticed crabapple trees shedding their yellowed leaves and stood gazing in marveled wonder at the peapod-shaped seeds that now top what was once a cheery carrot-orange butterfly weed.

 

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I’ve been so taken by those odd looking seed pods of late, that I’ve started taking pictures of them. Have you seen them in your neck of the woods? If not, you ought to be on the lookout for them.

 

They’re green now. But, as the waning days of summer march on, they will dry into a tanned husk and break open. Then, the seeds inside will fly.

 

Last year I picked a dried pod that was chuck full of seeds and placed it on my desk. I can’t explain it, but, it spoke to me then… It speaks a clearer message to me now.

 

Here's what it's whispering...

 

My life. Your life. Our lives. They’re fleeting.

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