Letters to Luthien

Letters to My Future Bride

A Haven of Tempests

Caught in the StormDear Darling,

The fireflies are gone from the meadows, their light replaced by the whirring buzz of cicadas.

I don’t find a lot of answers hanging from the overhead limbs near the bridge as I walk tonight. Maybe that’s because I’m too tired to ask the questions. Last weekend, the lightning lit up the sky terrifically and while it quite reflected the disquiet within, it also shortened the time spent outdoors. And yet, sometimes the best shelter is the storm.

The moonless night offers very little sympathy, and off yet another long week of shifts, with barely time to wash, dine and sleep before rising to repeat, I find myself mentally probing through the lack of havens I have. I have plenty of friends with whom I can call up and go see a movie. Plenty that identify with the dim and daunting view of a rotting society. But no one that’s proved much of a shelter, nurturing, energizing, pleasant, and yet without sacrificing the knowledge and understanding that might contribute to such concern. It’s uncanny that some of the people with whom I am on best terms are at work. Long labor is, like people themselves, both the curse and the cure.

“What’s really wrong?” I imagine you asking, as if you were in spirit at my elbow and writing the question across the page.

Darling, you know enough, and I needn’t multiply these thoughts by spreading them.

You’re hurting. Tell me.

Very well, you asked.

What’s wrong is that I’m tired, the kind of tired that cannot be fixed by a vacation. It dawned on me this week that for the first time, I grow a little tired of this job, or at least of its dominance in the schedule I keep. Whether clouds or sun, there is a tempest within that cannot be fled.

I grow tired of an amoral society. Of mediocre friends who neither understand nor support nor share my fledgling attempts at righteousness, who don’t see the storms forming in the eastern sky. Of working and eating and showering and sleeping, and then working and eating and showering and sleeping. Tired of dwelling with those who put forth a fraction of effort and reap far more generous harvests, enriching businesses but not lives. He produces value for companies; I produce value for people, one tender and failing soul at a time. Everyone looks down on someone whose job expects of him to bathe old people for a living — until it’s their grandmother that needs a gentle hand. I don’t understand the people who live for themselves and their personal pleasures. “Day is done, now my life can resume”; the people who get loud and drunk, who have card games and drinking matches, club binges, all-nighters.

I’m tired of being inundated by sex; of seeking a quarry so necessary and yet so elusive.  Tired of needing someone who understands, but too tired or or too unwiling to lift the weights and raise the gate. I don’t want to feel invaded, nor to be someone’s burden. Tired of seeming worthwhile and impressive to everyone except the people I find worthwhile and impressive. Tired of making sacrifices which are seldom seen and less often appreciated. Of giving all night and being underappreciated. Of sleeping through the choice times of day because I need the money by night.

I met a man who told of revitalizing the asphalt industry by infusing greater percentages of polymer into the mix, at a time when it was most needed. Then competing companies orchestrated false reports of danger to undercut his efficiency and maintain their lucrative contracts. There now, you see? Everyone who does important work is overlooked. The cleaners and bakers, the butchers and road-makers, pilots and engineers. I suppose in the end, everyone’s story is forgotten, even if their labors live on.

I’m tired of eating right, living right, exercising right, working right, and sensing no reward. Of all that I need being all that I lack. Of the song and singer, act and actor, the poet and lover, all confessing “You are all I need” and “how could I live without you?” and knowing their fear has been my reality I every day of my life.

Tired of feeling like I have no true haven. Tired of being suspicious of those that portend compassion, holding people at arms length because I distrust the ambition behind their kindness.

I’m tired of a ceaseless flurry of thoughts unfulfilled. Of becoming dull and witless, by virtue of time spent in the company of the dull and witless.

Of loving more and not being able to. Of hungering and thirsting and not being filled. Of seeking the kingdom of God and not having the rest added. Of being told God is enough, yet feeling empty as often as not. I’m weary and heavy laden, but not given rest. But then, maybe Jesus didn’t mean those choosing to work overtime hours to put themselves through school.

I’m tired of civil enemies and uncivil friends. Of waking up on a Friday and having no idea what to do with the evening because places are closed and you aren’t here to spend it with.

Of looking for something new.  That’s why a stranger saying hello at the theater was welcome, even though I was guarded against it. Even though I had to tell her I wasn’t looking for a relationship, not with someone who wasn’t in the kingdom. It’s also why I bought a trove of new books recently. Maybe one day I’ll take you to that store and buy you some books.

I suppose, in the end, I see very few caretakers left in the world, and I worry that I won’t be able to find someone to take care of me.

I flatter myself in taking for granted that I will care for you. Caring is in my DNA. To protect you, I have worked federal and private security, trained with weapons, my hands and my mind. I am tall, my gun is never far, and I train to be strong. To provide for you, I have left the calling I thought I knew to pursue a sure career. It will provide opportunity to grow and advance. I have given of my life to learn how to save the lives of others. To look after you, I’ve learned about how your body works, and the battle-plans of the many diseases which afflict mankind. To please you…well, we will discuss that when the time comes. To plan for you, to prepare for you, to listen to you. I’m ready for that. I’m ready to try. I’m not afraid.

One reason I hesitate to venture into the land of internet matching is because I am ever the writer; in my head, the story you and I are writing separately, but will one day harmonize, writes much better if we meet and happen to hit it off unintentionally, rather than selecting each other as acceptable to meet in hopes that we will hit it off. There is so much less pressure, obligation, expectation.

There you have it, dearest. There’s the lion’s share of the clouds in my heart tonight. Thank you for asking, and listening. To know you care, well, that is a gale that would daunt any dark horizon. They aren’t always yours to drive away. Sometimes God drives away the storm…and sometimes His greatest lessons are taught in its midst.

I remain ever

Yours most sincerely,
Beren

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August 2, 2014 Posted by | About Me, Loneliness, Nights Like These | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Not Enough

Dear Darling,

The fireflies are back.

I know I’ve described the creek and bridge to you plenty of times, and always inadequately, but I find myself in hushed awe again tonight as I cross the bridge and see the muted glimmers of a thousand twinkling fireflies along the tree line, the meadows and beyond.

It’s such a blessing that my eyes alone are awake to observe this silent spectacle. Were I absent, still it would be beautiful, and yet because I’m here, it’s no less than if it were meant only for me. And to think, how many other sights like this go unobserved each night? Even a blessing like this strikes the lonesome chord of my inner heart, because my instinct is to share it with someone, and of course there isn’t anyone. What good is it to stand on the edge of the Grand Canyon alone?

As always, I am beset by a disquieted restlessness, wondering whither now can I go to find peace. I’m struck again how I can be blindsided by the blanks in my schedule. Dizziness comes about when you feel as though the world is moving even when it isn’t. Me? I feel the weight of inertia…the feeling within that the world isn’t moving and should be. In laying plans for this weekend, I realized that in essence, no one can give me what I need or desire and no activity would satisfy me in your absence. That rendered everything else null, bland and quite nearly meaningless.

They say enough is as good as a feast. But sometimes it seems people have different definitions of what “enough” should mean. That is, they set a feast with which they would be pleased, not realizing such foods don’t satisfy others. I think those who would peer into my life would, on the merit of their own appetites, suggest I have almost enough, and should certainly be grateful for what I have.

But if I’m being honest, as I take stock in who I am and what’s around me, even if it should be, it’s just not enough.

I don’t get enough sleep. That’s my fault, I have a lot to save for, and as you already know, time is not on my side.

I have friends who care, but it’s not enough. They still don’t understand me, and at the end of another long week of shifts, there’s still no one with soft voice and tender compassion to say lay your head down honey, tell me about your day.

I benefit greatly from the preaching at this church. But the worship isn’t enough. Quaint and bouncing little melodies, not a one of which was composed longer ago than a decade. It leaves the soul parched for the old and strong.

I’m grateful for the experience of drawing near to the throne, to feel the pain of conviction and know the weight of my sin as I set it before the cross. I’m not enough, and as strange as this sounds, it’s good to feel that weight.

I’ve waited a long time. I’ve worked a lot, and planned a lot. I’m becoming a better man every day. But it’s not enough. I’m not where I wanted to be in preparation to meet you. My wait isn’t over yet, even as the restless fires flare up within. I’ve gone this long without truly botching things, and now it’s a long way up…or down. Sometimes the pressure itself makes you want to fall.

Every night I can manage it, I go walking to find some peace. The other night, it was something like two miles. I think how someone once said that Dwight Moody, when asked to pray, simply said “God, stop.” Sometimes I think my prayers are just a fumbling attempt at eloquence in repeating the same sentiment. It’s funny that I learn about myself and others as I pray, thinking and reflecting. I’m not sure if it’s right that I skim off the top from those thoughts and confessions to God and put them here. There may be the slightest intersection between that which I tell the Almighty, and what I put here for you to find.

Time goes by. Someone observed the other day that I’m an old soul. You and I already know this, but it was the fact that she deduced this that made it unique. Sometimes I feel like I was born in the wrong decade, maybe century. Such stock placed on luxury and pleasure nowadays! Such incompetence and dishonor. My people aspire to so little any more…they want greatness, but make little provision in their lives for the tools or training that would enable them to perform deeds of which men would tell stories.

The boys now take little initiative; they’re drifting and listless. Instead of cooking like their mothers, girls nowadays drink like their fathers and swear like sailors. We’ve gone from “I loved you the moment I first laid eyes on you” to “I loved you the moment I first laid on you.” The other night I impressed upon Alegfast’s friend Gladhbrui the importance of women not stripping down to the barest of clothing for their poolside escapades. She suggested I was too sensitive to the whole affair, that I should accept society’s evolving context of decency, and that even though her friends have come dressed in bikinis, they’re not immodest people by nature. Modest is as modest does though, Darling, and if I’ve never commended this to your attention, please hear me now. So much as it depends on you, please understand that it is very important that you keep yourself covered. We men…our eyes play such tricks on us. So easily awakened are the passions within us, and while the burden lies with us to wage that battle of discipline, if you are not careful in what you show, then you lend strength not to us but to our carnal appetites. You will not always be so fortunate that the eyes whom you bless are waging a war of honor within. You have not been privy to the locker room conversations as I have.

Enough on that subject.

Most people you know would ask “did you have fun?” if inquiring after someone’s day or experience. That’s what sets me apart; if asked, “did you have fun?” I’m at a loss to respond. That’s the peculiar thing about it; I can’t answer such questions. I don’t live for my own pleasure. I weigh matters by their benefit or utility, not their frivolity or amusement. Sometimes I envy those who can easily make up their minds what will bring them pleasure, and then set about doing it. That’s something else that makes me different. They make quite the sport of me among the halls of the healers for bringing in food (chicken, vegetables, fruit) which they don’t find appetizing. But I’m eating with a specific purpose, to last the night, to gain nutrition, and to continue my fitness pursuits. I don’t mind it so much, because as I look in the mirror, I’m pleased with my results.

I’m not sure I was born for evil days such as these. Can you see it growing, Darling? Do you hear the rumblings of the land, see the world turning to greater evil? I can. I see acceptance of evil which men call tolerance. I see the pervasive displays of vice acted out as our nightly entertainment. I see the moral degradation, the decay. I see the cascade of instability lurking beneath the surface of all we think to be true and steady. I see sloth and inaction.

And somehow, the fault is mine for noticing.

I feel quite often like I’m on a pedestal overlooking others. I didn’t earn this position, but it did arise as a result of many decisions I’ve made, and it’s a peculiar vantage point of humanity. I try to be congenial and cheerful with people, but still find it strange that I find such favor with them. One night last week, one of the doctors took note of my initiative during a resuscitation attempt and asked if I was a medical student. I explained I was in nursing school, but he didn’t let that stop him from commending me and offering to help me out if I needed anything. This week it became apparent, even though I’m no longer in my role with politics, I still have major play with people in the industry. The article of which I spoke before created such a local stir that it was reported by every media outlet in the region, prompting the interview subject to hold a press conference. An editor for the organization called me to ask if I might lend some insight as she prepares her own interview.

And then, the group I once headed is now making poor decisions and drifting, but they’ve decided to call a conference of their own, largely ignoring me in the process. And yet, the people they call upon to speak are calling me to inquire my advice!

Normal people would share these impressive developments and flattering events as they unfold. I withhold it. The people with whom I work…they just wouldn’t understand.

I suppose what I’m telling you is what I’ve already told you before. I’ve never met anyone like me, and that’s as flattering as it is disturbing. How then can I find someone like you? The odds now aren’t in our favor. I’ve always had in my head this idea that you’d just absolutely need me, much the same as I need you. But the passing of the years means we each will have learned how to get by on our own merely to survive. You aren’t going to need me quite so much as I’d have thought. It may be that the darkening years have infiltrated your own thinking and clouded your perceptions of society versus the Word.

And of course, I’ve built up my own guard up too much now for love at first sight.

Funny how my overthinking brain lands so heavily on each of these thoughts, rather than enjoying nature or friendship or weekends like I ought. I cannot ask you to make sense of this. It wouldn’t be reasonable to expect you to fill such a gap. I suppose all I ask is that you try to understand, take it into account, and respond accordingly.

I’ll take you out to the bridge some time to see the fireflies, Darling. If time and limb permitted now, I’d be out here til morning.

Yours always,
Beren

June 2, 2014 Posted by | Loneliness, Nights Like These | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What is Love?

Dear Darling,

Do you find it unthinkable that anyone who writes letters of love to an unknown bride for a half-decade still question its definition? On its face, the question seems rudimentary.

But if we look beneath the face of love, the question is anything but. Our native tongue is woefully inadequate to define love; you cannot love cake with equal avidity as you love your job, or summer, or friends, or parties, or your mother, or your spouse, or your country.

To Scripture we must first turn, to find that God created love and God is love. When we love, we are like God, but only because love makes us like Him, not because we have approached Him or belong to Him. All lovers may for a time become better for having loved, more godly and virtuous in their behavior, more charitable and patient in their demeanor. The blessing of love is not confined to those who belong to God; He is generous enough to bestow its blessings even to the unrepentant. Because God is love, and loving makes us like Him, sometimes people mistake the two for each other. God is love; but love is not God.

1 Corinthians 13 famously expounds on its virtues by telling us that love is patient and kind, without envy, boasting or pride. It doesn’t dishonor others, nor is it self-seeking or easily angered, nor keeping records of wrongs. It rejoices in truth, not evil. It always protects, trusts, hopes and perseveres.

All of these describe love, as we ought to aspire. But do they define it? The same may be shown to a sister as much as a wife. Nor can a list of mere descriptors fully define love, any more than the words “swift” or “beautiful” define a horse.

What does the world say?

The scientist says love is in our chemistry, neurons firing in the brain.

The teacher says love is in our actions.

The preacher says love is a commitment and service to others.

The mother says love is in the heart.

The philosopher says it is a force of nature, irresistible and untamed.

The hedonist says love is God, obeyed heedless of cost. The lover says it is a feeling; you have to go there to know there. The cynic says it is an illusion; the sensualist that it is sex.

This also is true, that some loves we choose and some loves choose us. After all Darling, you could not guarantee you would seek out and love every member of your blood kin had you not been born into their family. Families love each other, even when they don’t like each other. And some loves endure long after reason says they should.

The Greeks find greater variety of descriptors for love; in their tongue, there is ludus, the playful and unripe love among children. Then there is agape, the unconditional love and charity we show towards the world and its natives, a selfless Christian loving-kindness and altruism. There is philia, a deep affection, friendship and connection between comrades, which may be only friends or may be romantic partners. Of course there is eros, which may be the primal and passionate fire which presses towards any physical consummation, and the sense of being romantically in love with one in particular. There is storge, the natural love between family. Finally, there is pragma, the abiding devotion brought about through mutual understanding and longevity.

Why should such a question arise after so long? My Darling, I ask because I wonder how I’ll know that I love you. Such revelations take time, but may dawn suddenly or gradually. Some say there came a specific moment at which they suddenly decided, or realized that they loved. Others say it was a gradual process. Love (philia), I think, cannot come suddenly and spontaneously, not for me. I’ve inoculated myself against such uncontrolled sentiment. Reason has built walls and buffers to ward off such insensible emotionalism. (Though make no mistake, much of me still devoutly longs for surrender to such passions.)

It worries me, you see, because some say that love is putting someone else’s needs before your own (agape), and I think I would not be overly generous to myself if I say I tend toward this already. It’s hard not to be charitable of deeds when your life’s work is with the sick. Nor do I say this to congratulate myself; half the time I hate it. I hate feeling responsible for others, I hate feeling their pain and mistakes. I hate that people won’t listen. I hate that I am only human, much less others. I hate that “only human” is the excuse so many conjure in defense of their wanton misdeeds. I hate that I give so often and receive so little. I can’t deny this is just how I was created, one of God’s built-in cushions of the universe to balance out the selfish. I just have to make peace with it. That is, after all, one of life’s greatest blessings: to carry the burdens of others without breaking. To break, and only be kinder for it.

So Darling, how does a Christian discern between agape, eros and philia? How much play do we allow Venus and Cupid? What happens when you decide to spend time with someone, and resolve to model the behavior you hope is characteristic of yourself as a husband (why else would you date?) and you can’t tell between the deed and the feeling? It’s second-nature to me. More than getting doors or paying for meals, it’s an ongoing “how was your day” or “tell me your troubles.” It’s reading someone’s face to see what hidden meaning lurks behind polite formality. It’s being willing to get up at 5am if necessary to take you to the airport. It’s coming over and nursing you back to health if you’ve taken deathly ill. It’s sacrificing sleep to come help you change a tire. Within reason, it’s basically being available 24/7, and dearly hoping the same is offered in return.

Now don’t mistake me, Darling. I can be a selfish pain in the neck as well as anyone. That’s what will make our love last, a resolution to put behind us the parts which make us intolerable towards one another. But my inclination is towards serving as I describe above. You see how that already looks like love? Add to that a physical chemistry, which can present its own quandary by posing the question “do I like you for you, or do I just like having anyone to be with for a change?”

When do you choose to love someone, and when do you “fall” in love? How much is controlled and how much is loss of control? When do you possess love, and when does love possess you? To one who places high value on maintaining control of one’s senses and faculties, it takes a great deal of trust to be willing to let go. When do you love someone for what they do for you — for their mind? Do you need someone because you love them, or do you love someone because you need them?

You might say I’m an overthinker. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been accused of such. But asking too many questions? Nonsense, my dear. The secrets of life are reserved for the one who never ceases to ask questions.

Here is what I know. Love is priceless. It cannot be bought.

Love is a flame that cools us, and an ice which thaws.

Love is the sixth sense that makes no sense.

Love is needing someone, as well as wanting them.

Love is more than a feeling, but it isn’t just all the bolstering spiritual intangibles. There’s head spinning, heart racing and blood pumping, and it’s here that I need the most work.

Love is a Verb. It isn’t what you think and feel and say. It’s what you do that defines you to another.

Love is a Command. God said to love one another, no options, no exclusions. That means even when you don’t feel like loving someone, you love them anyway. Love is a Commitment.

Love is a decision. It’s an act of will and sometimes runs counter to all our instincts.

Love never looks the way you wanted or expected. It will change us and shape us and transform us. In time, it will define us. Love is a force and a power, and like any power, it must be controlled. We must change and shape and transform it ourselves. We channel it.

Love is unconditional.

Love is a multiplicitous, jumbled, wonderful mess, one in which I can’t wait for us to become entangled.

I will meet you there. Someday. Somehow.

 

I remain ever yours sincerely,
Beren

May 26, 2014 Posted by | Loneliness, Questions | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Balancing Head and Heart

Balancing Head and Heart

Dear Darling,

And here you are, arrived at another weekend. You are probably sleeping as I write; I ought to be. But sleep eludes, and we both know our relationship is more important than sleep, even if it exists only in the letters we write.

I think we all experience the moments (hopefully brief) where we don’t like ourselves. We balance our looks, knowledge and personality against what others have and find ourselves wanting. I’m sure you’ve looked at yourself, at your life and possessions, and not liked what you see.

I think all wise people at some point in their life come to dislike themselves, by knowing themselves too well and dislike the frailties they see. Sometimes I don’t like me. I find it strange that a lot of other people seem to. But then, I don’t think they like me…they like the side of me that they see. They like social me, professional me, the me that has learned how to make fast friends with people, especially with whom you’ll be working for the next twelve hours. We all have different sides we show, different masks we wear. We all become just a little bit of someone else if we like them and are with them.

That’s why people like hanging around Alegfast. He’s happy and positive most all of the time. There are people who artificially portray this (the overcompensating fakers…we’ve all met one of those) and then there are those who are just generally positive and outgoing. I have a classmate who constantly radiates sunshine and joy, and I truly don’t know how she does it. Happy just isn’t who I am deep down, not all the time. I’m no war-scarred veteran, but I’ve seen death and sadness and tragedy. I stay alert to what’s happening in my world. I hear the thunder-peals of storms approaching. I’ve studied the darkness, the better to know how to prepare against it. The heart doesn’t break; it just has a thousand tiny fissures in it. Soon enough they calcify and harden. “To love at all is to be vulnerable,” wrote Lewis. “Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become breakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

Still…there’s something to be said for a heart immune to the sting and stench of brokenness. Or at least, a heart so accustomed to ache that it bends with pain rather than breaking from it.

What if you could go back and visit yourself as a child? What would you wear? What would you say? I haven’t the slightest idea where I’d begin. But I’d like to think that the me of fifteen or twenty years ago would look up to the tall man of his future walking towards him, confident and grown…and he’d be glad to know he’ll grow up to be at least most of the man he wanted to be. And as for advice? Well, how does one summarize two decades of life, in all its disappointments and triumphs? Like love, it’s really something that has to be lived to understand. Life is truly just a process of building up and then breaking down our illusions.

But again, this chubby young lad with his hick accent, goofy smile and hopeless personality was also naive enough to think adults knew what they were doing. Perhaps that would be the quickest rumor to dispel. Christ really is the solid rock, and everything else really is sinking sand. No one is ever absolutely certain of what they’re doing, and can seldom advise others any better. Often when I confront life’s dilemmas, I want to hear a word of wisdom from someone who cares enough to offer some sage counsel. Life seems increasingly flat, and people increasingly unintelligent as they offer such witless suggestions as “it’s just one of those things” or “you’ll just have to let that go.” I don’t know why I keep asking questions of people and thinking they might have a better answer than I. By the time they’ve offered a thought or a suggestion, my brain has already gone six steps ahead, and wants a new thought or a new perspective. Illuminating insights are hard to come by. And that’s why I’ve resolved to at least try to be that voice for others…advice and reason and compassion.

A nurse was obviously angry with her husband this week while we were working, and it bled over into her work. (She was unapologetically but consciously venting.) Well I don’t quite know what got into me, but I came over and massaged her shoulders and told her she needed to calm down. Then when she enumerated her cold intentions for the husband in question, I suggested going one more level up…the level of angry response where you’re so angry that you resolve to kill someone with kindness. “Tell him he may be a jerk but you love him anyway,” I suggested. “Bring home Chinese food.” She liked the Chinese food idea.

Sometimes I wonder if being Christ to the world doesn’t always mean just sharing the Gospel. Maybe it can be just the voice of being Christlike. But then, Christ emphasized to those He healed that salvation and forgiveness came before physical cures. It’s no good acting like Christ if you never meet Him.

I’m trying to reclaim that concept. I’m trying not to lose sight of what’s important. I’m trying to wrap my head around the concept of grace, and if there’s such a thing as too much grace. For example, if a couple is living in sin and violating God’s design for sex, marriage and relationships, is inviting them over for dinner a form of acceptance and fellowship with darkness (that which light ought not to have) or is it an opportunity to be a gentle witness? Why does it seem like those who throw grace at you are merely wanting you to add your signature to the permission slip they’ve written themselves to sin?

We shouldn’t continue in sin that grace may increase, but obviously the Lord forgives and wipes away the debts of our immoral deeds, and rejoices over the repentant sinner. Of course, I’ve asked the question before if “behaving” is worth it, since the prodigal son is invited in for a feast (having sipped dry the fountains of sin) while the loyal brother stays in the field. When I was young, speeding was a cardinal sin, and I once admonished my father for it from my car seat. Even when older, I was careful to follow it. I suppose I’m still proud I’ve never been pulled over, while other friends share their amused commiserations of the traffic schools they’ve attended and tickets they’ve had to pay. I assumed from the Bible and my upbringing that alcohol was, if not sinful, at least a vice and certainly less preferable. But that aversion evolved into something akin to a graceless and proud perspective — graceless in struggling to accept drinking in other believers, and proud because I’ve never joined that activity. And anyway, if God forgives, what’s the point of trying? If obedience pleases God no more or less than anyone else because all our righteous acts are as filthy rags, then why wouldn’t you have a little fun? Why not let that profanity slip out a bit more easily? Why not watch movies or TV or music that set a tone far more resonant with hell than heaven?

Maybe grace is what’s more important. Maybe I’ve just been to uptight about all of it. After all, God didn’t even get on King David’s case for multiple wives…only for having a kid out of wedlock. And God was pretty matter-of-fact: “You’ve done wrong, you’ve got some consequences to pay.” The baby died, and David was sad. No death penalty. No time behind bars.

God forgives. He’s really, really forgiving. And we should all be grateful, because no one doesn’t need grace. But beyond that, I’m understanding increasingly less the fact that additional obedience doesn’t matter. Whether you’re Mother Teresa or a reformed killer, no one can “earn” God’s favor, and anyone who tries is just admonished for falling into the trap of earning God’s favor, or trying to be better than someone else. And the more people to whom I pose this question, the less answer I get in return.

That’s the balance, Darling. Balancing the head and the heart…believing what God said and lining it up with what we feel. Feelings, someone said, should be viewed through Scripture, not Scripture viewed through our feelings. Finding the heart to accept people even if your mind assertively stamps their behavior as intolerable. I stopped by to see a few friends-of-friends that are becoming friends last night. One was meeting a man she’d talked with online, and asked me for my advice. She abruptly mentioned my pursuit of purity in a mate (something I hadn’t mentioned since I’ve resolved to keep that quieter, so obviously our mutual friend brought this to her attention) and this immediately became a focus of the conversation. “It’s not a standard for me!” announced one of the girls. “You have to have some grace!” Clearly pride can be found within grace as much as in its absence. I changed the subject.

On another subject, I picked the wrong field to be a gentleman. I spent all Thursday night and Friday morning studying even further the art of breastfeeding, its pitfalls and complications, with a great many accompanying photos, illustrations and videos, along with a helpful teacher gesturing with her own body. It makes me appreciate who you are as a woman my dear, able to produce and nurture a baby. And no doubt it makes me more attuned to these things for later reference. But I can’t shake the feeling I’m being slowly desensitized and conditioned in so systematic a way as to rob from some future date the pleasure of that discovery.

In closing, I was profoundly amused tonight when my silent and stoic roommate returned home this evening with a woman with whom he’d apparently shared a date. They are both older, easily their forties or fifties. He’d only said “a friend” was coming over, he’d said nothing of a woman or a date, and I was thus unprepared to meet her. But we immediately hit it off and launched into a twenty minute conversation about politics, government and our mutual opinions of world affairs. If I had to guess from what I know of him, this was the most animated the conversation had become all evening. He sat there rather silent for most of the conversation, until I realized even if he’s been self-absorbed and remote, I should still leave him alone with his date. A brother never shows up another in front of his date, so hopefully that wasn’t the most amused she’d been. But I laughed all the way to the shower on that.

Good night, love. I hope your dreams are pleasant, and your waking no less.
Beren

February 23, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Needs and Wants

Dear Darling,

I’m back home again. Alegfast won’t be back for another week, so I have the house to myself. I walk through the door, suddenly finding it interesting to realize that home can now be in more than one place. I should have turned off the heat before I left; it’s comfortably warm in here and I haven’t been home in three days. I deposit my gear and it’s off to a shower by candlelight. (Cheap, fragrant and romantic…what isn’t to like?)

Playing overhead is the album Christmas Hymns by Paul Cardall. Darling, if you ever find yourself beset by the return of winter’s melancholy and in need of something to underwrite your Christmas blues, these songs offer a companionable solace. And yes you’re quite right, sometimes I am too comfortable reverting to my sighs and sadness. I have every reason to be a little lonesome…and yet, no reason at all. I need to be reminded of both those truths sometimes.

I should be praying as I shower, but instead I’m composing this letter to you in my head.

There’s a fine line between needs and wants sometimes. By most standards, I’m flourishing under the blessings of the Lord. Someone may argue I could easily reach the end of my days without having ever had you by my side. I may even be happy. They also say not to seek someone for completion or dependence. Marriage is mutual and complementary, but without it, I won’t die.

Well now, don’t the scribes and scholars tell us a man unmarried will die sooner? Doesn’t the Word tells us that finding a spouse comes from the favor of the Lord? Maybe I’m doing it wrong, but I think I shall be looking for someone to complete me, and on whom I can depend. I’ve never yet trusted someone so completely as to lean on them and trust them not to fall — not even myself. I know that even I will let myself down if I trust myself too much. But God made us to need  — or is it want? — each other, and there is no shame in the confession. I’ve never yet found someone who aspired to be that person…or who seemed to feel that she needed me in return. But I think anything less than a love which shamelessly needs me and requires my attention, which will fight for me and cultivate in me the same response, is not worth my time.

We all need to be loved. We need to be listened to, cared for, adored, needed. Maslow says we even need sex.There is a sleepless appetite which does not disagree.

We need also the practical needs to be filled. There are deadlines to be reminded about, bills to pay, meals to make. We need new ideas, different perspectives and conflicting preferences. We need someone to tend, guard, fret about, someone with whom to fight, and dream and share the popcorn. We all need someone to take to bed, someone tuck us in when we’re sick or to wake us when the alarm doesn’t go off.

We need someone to make us be our best, and feel and look and act our best. Someone to guide us on all those subjectives we toy around with. Do I like this perfume? Do you like that tie? Are these towels too ugly, and what kind of dog should we get? What shall we name it? Hardwood floors or carpet? I’m letting my hair and beard grow out for convenience (no matter how many times my family pointedly ask when I will be shaving) but as far as I’m concerned, this is nearly as much your decision as mine.

You and I have had to cope without all of these things for a very long time. And when those around us continually settle in with their temporary beloveds, sometimes it does make us wonder what we missed…and where the line is between patience and torture. “Better to have loved and lost than never loved at all,” they say. I ask this question often enough of both the forlorn and the fortunate, but there seems to be little consensus. If starvation is checked by one hearty meal, is it a kindness or a cruelty?

I do “need” you…unapologetically. You are among the many bright hopes I have for the coming year. So I hope you will stay strong as we alternate trudging and sprinting towards that wonderful finish line of each other’s arms.

I hope to find out a little more of the story behind those letters in the attic. They seem to promise stories, secrets and antiquity — a concoction you know I can’t resist — and a story that includes love, romance and a secret marriage!

Goodnight my dear. Look for me under mistletoe, behind snowflakes and next to the shadows cast by the flickering candlelight. And perhaps next to the Christmas close-out bargain bins tomorrow.

Love, cheer and Christmas kisses,
Beren

December 27, 2013 Posted by | Holidays, Loneliness, Questions | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Worth It?

Saddened Knight

“He believed in the things that he always thought he knew
And had done all the things that he always wanted to do
Collecting each thing, reflecting his worth
But now he pondered, how he had wandered this earth

For we all seem to give our lives away
Searching for things that we think we must own
Until on this evening when the year is leaving
We all try to find our way home.”

Dear Darling,

The storm’s blown over. I woke up this morning before alarm or sun, finding myself feeling hurt and distant, continuing this feeling of being on the outside looking in. Four and a half hours’ sleep will have to do. I roll over and begin telling these things to God, but even He feels distant.

I don’t have to be at the church for two hours, but I dress anyway and prepare breakfast while asking of the Lord what He would have me do. Am I truly in His will? To be sure, He has blessed me with unique and rare gifts and experiences this year, and taken care of all my needs. I am not rich, but if enough is as good as a feast, then I have feasted. But does that mean I am doing what He wants me to do?

The question that has been haunting me of late is, has any of this been worth it? Trying to be worthy…worthy of God’s favor by following His laws. Worthy of men’s favor by being a servant, a hard worker, someone who helps. Worthy of you.

I have not seen my family in a week; it’s the first time such hostility has gone down, the first time I actually thought I would be disallowed from spending Christmas with family. I serve them as best I can, and am treated worse than my elder brother. Mounds of ill overshadow mountains of good.

Is it possible to please God? “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Therefore, there are very specific things that I have tried to avoid in deference to remaining unstained from the world. I don’t drink. I don’t indulge the angry or frustrated impulses to swear, although God knows the words have entered my ears often enough to be found in my heart in times of anger. I don’t go to see movies which I feel dishonor Christ with such behavior, and I view dimly the celebrities who do so.

These are rifts between myself and my culture, and with this culture, they grow ever wider. Very often they occur between myself and my friends, or coworkers, or even would-be mates. I struggle not to think less of them for these behaviors…drinking to become drunk or even “tipsy” or leaving unbridled their tongue of fire. A good friend of mine explained that she would not have had the courage to dance unless she’d “had a few.” Friends gather to watch movies or shows that are crude and crass. “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving,” wrote Paul, and so I try to avoid indulging in such entertainment. The other night I made excuses to leave a gathering because their plan was to watch an R-rated movie…a gathering which revolved around “church.” I still wince inwardly at every single profane word (particularly that of my Savior’s name) even though I hear these words constantly. The minute someone casually swears, they have told me a lot about themselves and it saddens me. When someone shuffles around in tight-wrapped jeans, indecently short skirts, obscenely tight yoga pants or revealingly low-cut tops, they too broadcast a message which saddens me.

Whatever happened to Philippians 4:8 and thinking only on what is righteous? Whatever happened to walking as children of light? Whatever happened to putting away “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth” or not even naming sexual immorality and impurity? Is life so miserable that we must chemically augment its reality with fermented grain and grape? Is God asleep that we should defy Him by conversation riddled with the ugly and bitter words of profanity? Is the darkness not sufficient for our ignoble deeds that we now parade them into the light and make them acceptable? “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”

But why? What is the good of trying? Why worry about trying to please God? Where did we get the idea that our good behavior will be rewarded? The Bible talks of obedience “so that it may go well with you” but even the Psalmist worried and wondered about the righteous man suffering while the wicked prosper.

The challenge goes like this. I hold a standard, of finding a wife who is wholesome and dignified and pure. People ask me what I’m looking for, and then question that decision because it tweaks their own guilt. “We’ve all made mistakes,” they say. “If you’ve looked with lust, it’s the same as having sex,” others insist. (Looking with lust is a sin, but surely not equivalent to the deed itself?) “You have no room to judge if you’ve ever looked at pornography.” Can it really be true that the occasional loss of every man’s battle is tantamount to fornication itself? Do the moments of weakness which I would easily forgive or overlook in a mate nullify the hope or expectation for a partner who is not plundered of physical purity by choice and surrender? Are some sins not greater than others, or do we damn a child’s lie with equal enthusiasm as a murdering rapist? And if the sins and their penalties are commensurate, why wouldn’t someone struggling to please the Lord choose the sin with greater pleasure?

The Workers Wages and the Prodigal Son, of which I’ve written before, both point to the futility of sacrifice, of following God and disciplining one’s self to remain unstained by the world. Where is the incentive to act in a way which pleases the Lord if there is not greater merit to be found in obedience? I esteem more highly those who take God’s will seriously, and who have disciplined themselves sufficiently to follow His word. Likewise, I aspire to the same standard to please God and show Him to the world. But in doing so, I’m accused of thinking myself better than others, or of looking down on others. Not to say I am better than anyone else, but if there is not greater value to be found in such pursuits, why ever would we try to uphold a higher standard, or to find fellowship with others of like mind? Why not drink? Why not carouse? Why not flirt with disaster and dance on the fire’s edge?

Thus is the riddle. Obeying a standard earns no favor. Asserting such a standard means you are judging. Seeking it of others is too discriminating. A disappointed or diminished opinions from such behaviors make you critical and harsh.

Very well then, why have I tried so hard, consciously trying to prepare myself for a wife of virtue, faithfulness, kindness and compassion when none seem to be found who desires the same, and when others encourage me to lower these expectations out of practical reality in the world? Why place a higher premium on good behavior if everyone in the kingdom is redeemed, and preference beyond that is subjective and ungracious? Perhaps she has slept with a man or two before she got holy. That is no reason to reject her. I might just as well bring home a repentant murderer or a penitent stripper — after all, if they are forgiven, who am I to judge?

You cannot earn God’s favor but through Christ. But can His favor be earned beyond that? Are all really on the same platform, the repentant serial killer and the charitable benefactor? Does God really care whether we drove ten nails or ten thousand into the cross? If there is no favor except by the blood of Christ, why try to be “good” if you cannot maintain any higher degree of pride, favor or approval from God for “behaving”?

And what of your favor? As my third decade dwindles and I cannot find anyone to match your description, I find myself asking what was the good of trying to anticipate how to please you, when all I can find are those who insist I should lighten up and relax.

But fear not, Darling, if fear you ever did. Conscience and principle still forbid great departures from the path of wisdom. But increasingly, I fail to see the solution to this riddle between virtue and virtue’s reward. Increasingly, despite the words of Paul in Romans 5, blanket pardons and those who wave them increasingly appear as a license not to worry overmuch about one’s sins. Let those who read and follow hereafter gainsay if they can.

Love ever,
Beren

“For we all seem to give our lives away
Searching for things that we think we must own
But on this evening when the year is leaving
I think I would be alright if on this Christmas night
I could just find my way home.”

Trans Siberian Orchestra

December 23, 2013 Posted by | Holidays, Loneliness, Purity, Questions, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Present in Absence

Present in Absence
John Hoskyns

Absence, hear thou my protestation
Against thy strength,
Distance, and length;
Do what thou canst for alteration:
For hearts of truest mettle
Absence doth join, and Time doth settle.
Who loves a mistress of such quality,
He soon hath found
Affection’s ground
Beyond time, place, and all mortality.
To hearts that cannot vary
Absence is Presence, Time doth tarry.
By absence this good means I gain,
That I can catch her,
Where none can watch her,
In some close corner of my brain:
There I embrace and kiss her;
And so I both enjoy and miss her.

December 13, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On This Beautifully Treacherous Night

Dear Beautiful,

This kind of weather always sends my city scrambling. Schools cancelled, roads clogged, and bread and milk quickly snatched off the shelves. I have a decent reservoir of food at the house, so I’m not fearful of starving, but I also know the weather here is rarely truly dramatic. It’s only a little ice. My truck is quite capable of holding its own in the snow, and as I drove home tonight from family movie night by the Christmas tree, the last hints of snow cloak the night in winter. Not a soul is on the roads. The tree limbs are crystallized, shaking and cracking like brittle bones, or the leaves they surrendered just a month or two ago.

Few things compare to the scent fresh snow on the winter air. I want to make more of it. I would settle for snow all the rest of this month. It’s easier to feel drowsily pleased when you’ve been up thirty-six hours, of course. I wonder if I shouldn’t work Christmas Eve night so as to feel the warm and sleepy happiness that exhaustion sometimes lends.

I saw a heart today…a true, live beating flesh and blood heart. It was amazing, and I would have regaled you with other tales of the day as we had dinner tonight, if I’d found you by now. I’d have told you how the anesthesiologist team was kind to me, and how intelligent the surgeons were. Then I’d have asked you why you didn’t marry one of them, since you are clearly a woman of such quality as to find one. (A disconcerting thought when I think of the alternatives that could tempt you; I’m not sure I’ve yet compiled a future comfortable enough to satisfy you, but the potential is brimming and the future bright.) Here, my dear, is where I hope you’d silence me with assurance there is no one else and no amount of money that could tempt you to a future different from ours. That’s what makes you so wonderful, you know.

I’d have gone outside to see the snow after dinner and stand in it with an upturned face and closed eyes. You’d have come as far as the door to see, and watch me, before complaining about the cold. I’d have come back to the door, taken you into my arms, dipped you around, and kissed you. Then you’d have pulled me back inside.

We are to be happy with what we are given, and what I have been given is what and where I am now. So I should be content tonight, a peaceful trip with gentle Christmas carols playing and the snow falling. As with so many things, it seemed only a single emphatic note away from being a complete symphony of joy.

Easier to surrender when you’ve been worn down, both to despair and to contentedness. Perhaps a hint of each as I drift off to sleep tonight?

Love ever,
Beren

December 7, 2013 Posted by | Holidays | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sundry Thoughts for December

My Dearest Love,

For some reason, it feels like it won’t be long before you’re calling me to bed; my body feels at ease as if it knows it will soon be lying next to yours, drifting off to dream. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I actually went to a church this morning, and had that “welcome home” feeling of relaxation and ease, knowing the afternoon was mine to plan. It makes me think of the days to come when you and I will come back home, our home, shaking off the cold as we enter. I’ll help you off with your coat, and maybe more. You’ll fix lunch while I build up a fire. We can both sit on the couch, huddle under the covers and enjoy being in each other’s arms as the sun sets.

Don’t you wish?

1) I’m a little blue again today. The holidays, I think. But it’s time we began making allowances for the fact that on some days, I will feel a little blue in spite of your presence. Doubtless, the small efforts you make to cheer me will make any such triflings far more pleasant than now.

2) It is the sad province of men that he can neither speed nor slow the passage of time to suit his whim. I cannot slow down Christmas to enjoy it, nor can I speed it up to find you. We take time as time finds us, not counting the years but making the years count. A German poet named Freidrich von Logau once wrote “though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small; though with patience He stands waiting, with exactness grinds He all.” We’ve yet to be ground, but I wish for the sake of the child in me that I could slow down time and breathe in Christmas this year.

3) Being with someone means doing nice things for them without being asked. But what is a kind deed? What does kindness look like, and how does one set about becoming so helpful and supportive as to become necessary? (That is, after all, what I intend to become for you; vitally necessary, an essential ingredient to your day.) I confess to you, the standard of acceptance for kind deeds is at once both high and low. Low, because I am unaccustomed to kindness unlooked-for, but high because think about what I do for a living. Nurses are consistently present in the lives of the wounded and hurting, the ill and diseased. The worst day of your life may be just another day in mine. I bathe head to foot, deliver a smile and a cup of water, I make you laugh while drawing your blood. This is what kindness looks like to me, and all in the course of a day’s work. I help heal you. Who heals the healer? I don’t mean this to raise an impossible standard, but how do you impress someone with kindness for whom kindness is a career? You may have to rise to the occasion, because I seldom see comparable kindness in the world.

4) I do not ask the question of you without posing the same question to myself, Darling. Kindness for me looks like trash taken out, dishes washed, children (or pets) bathed, rooms cleaned, laundry run, food cooked. It looks like a treasure chest of four hundred letters, written in ink and tears, scattered across the wind until they come home to roost on our wedding night. It looks like anticipating your needs and trying to fulfill them. It looks like looking you over and thinking about what you want, or how I can surprise you with kindness unlooked-for. You can certainly expect foot rubs…and back rubs…and shoulder massages.

5) I’ve always known God had something in mind for me. I’ve always insisted He and I have a standing agreement not to call me to be a pastor, but something in politics. I never aspired to something so high as the presidency, but today during the sermon I felt maybe that would one day be the call. Truly, I don’t want it. And of course, so much to learn before that is even possible. Perhaps because I don’t want it, it is something marked out for me. But God never gives us a task without the means of its achievement, and when I asked, I felt the response was not that He intends me to be president, but perhaps that He wants me to try. What about it, Luthien? Could you be a first lady? It’s a stern and solemn question to consider, not to be answered lightly. If I have preparations towards my goal, then you must take thought into what preparations lie ahead of you, and which you should undertake now. “It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.”

6) I believe I have imparted before my love of all things old and traditional. The old that is strong does not wither, and my love runs deep for old music, old fashions, old customs and books, old speech and vernacular, of old hymns and old hymnals. If I did not believe in God’s sovereignty, I would speculate that I was born in the wrong decade, if not century. Churches and my Bible study are so quick to embrace the overheads, and I find it sad. More than once my stubborn adherence to page and paper has saved me the confusion others experience when technology goes awry. Too soon my people abandon their roots to pursue the latest fad and fashion. Too late they discover the fleeting and hollow transience of pursuing change; too late they realize there will never be satisfaction in chasing the wind.

7) I reach out to people too much. I’ve told you that before too, haven’t I? (Thoughts change shape but not substance, and sometimes I repeat them, forgetting I’ve shared them before. Four hundred and thirty-five letters, surely you’ll forgive a repeated thought or two.) I’m built to reach out, but I don’t like it. I get restless when people aren’t in touch. I have to hold myself back from texting people who don’t care. It becomes a balance between “am I withholding out of pride” and would Christ really resist such an urge because someone didn’t reply?

7) I’m sorry I’m too needy and emotionally thoughtful at times. I look back on these letters, and through them seeps darkness and woe like a vapor; surely it isn’t pleasing to your eyes as they pierce the veil? At times I am glad to reflect on a night’s writings, whether dark or bright, but seldom do I truly find joy or delight in the reading, except maybe with the thought of how it might one day make you glad. I see these distant, hardened men of history or of film, who want a woman but don’t need her. I think sometimes that’s what makes a woman want a man…the fact that he doesn’t need her. Well my dear, I need you. I make no qualms about that, nor about the thoughts that drift through my mind on nights like this. I hope you will need me, and that you need me now — and that you make no objections to feel thus. Yet, for your sake, I hope you don’t feel the need quite so keenly as I.

Sleep well, Love.

-Beren

December 2, 2013 Posted by | Holidays, Nights Like These, Our Timeline | , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Heart Sees You

Dear Darling,

I can see you.

I see you out there, clinging to hope like a climber’s cleft, trying to be strong, just hoping to break even. I see the glory and solitude of the season descending on you, the epoch of bitter and sweet. You’re happy to be doing well on your own. (After all, the mere act of life — with its licenses and setbacks and deadlines and demands — can be gargantuan!) You’re on your own and you’re managing. You’re keeping your head above the tide, you’re keeping the colors within the lines. But it’d be nice to have someone to lean on.

You want rescuing, but you don’t want to want it. You want the hurt to end, you just want a piece of life without its loneliness, without a missing ingredient you can neither name nor place. You want rest and peace. Your eyes are tired from seeking the face of a familiar stranger.

You want to let go, but you don’t want to fall. If you let go, you want to be caught, but not by just anyone. There aren’t many you’d actually trust to catch you, and you’d really rather they be the one destined to catch you for the rest of your life.

You want to be cared for, wrapped up, held. It’s cold outside…just the weather for warm drinks and cuddling on the couch while watching a movie.

You’re tired. Tired of the rhythm of your weary feet, the passing of the years, the meals cooked for one. Tired of trying your best, only to have no one to tell you you are the best.

You’re tired of the almosts and not-quites, the posers, doppelgangers and imposters.

You’re tired of eating alone, and sleeping alone, and being alone. You’re tired of faking a smile every day of your life, because no one will help you carry your sadness, or give you a reason to smile.

You’re tired of the happy couples, the romantic movies and the love songs. You’re tired of pregnant moms and beautiful babies, tired of people telling you you’d be a great mom, asking you when your turn will come.

You’re tired of always having to do the heavy lifting, of being consumed from the inside out, of having to soothe yourself. Tired of feeling like the future is perpetually on hold.

Day is cold, night is long, silence is bitter. You want life to get started. You want to be understood, or for someone to at least try. You don’t want to be trapped anymore. You want a hello with promise, and goodbyes without fear.

You don’t want to be lonely.

Darling, it’s alright. I see you. Not with eyes, not the spectrum of mortal color channeled through the optic nerve, but a sense of the heart, a perception of the soul, an echo of eternity. I know what you feel, I see what you dream.

You aren’t alone.

I’ll get there. I spend every night praying I’ll get to be your hero soon. We are two years closer to our meeting, and though each day has been passed in loneliness and solitude, it is two years of waiting that are complete and behind us. Take heart! White fire and pure reward await those who fulfill their oaths.

Love,
Beren

November 28, 2013 Posted by | Our Timeline, To Be The One, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment