Monday, August 26, 2019

100-word Photo Story*

            “He’s smart and handsome, and he’s traveled the world,” Shirley promised.
            Mary wasn’t getting any younger. She was game for any date—blind or otherwise.
            She arrived at the grange hall at precisely six o’clock, dressed in her Sunday best.
            “Hello, Mary.” Her boss strolled in the door behind her. “Did you finish the filing before you left work?”
            “Yes, Mr. Dickson.” Ugh. Why is he here?
            Mary excused herself and escaped to the hallway. 
            Shirley appeared around the corner. “Mary, he’s here!” She pulled her by the arm and introduced her to her date—Mr. Dickson.
(97 words)

* I love old photos. Many of my stories are inspired by them. I invite you to write your own stories...and share them with me in the comments (100 words or less). You may use the caption or tell a completely different story! Have fun!

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Perfect Verse.

I like to write the scriptures...literally.
The other day, I copied this verse:

Hebrews 12:13...make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.

It spoke to me.
I wasn't sure why.
I use a study bible, but there were no notes on that verse.
Plenty on the verses before and after, but that verse floated in mystery.
After reading it five or six times, I moved on.
But I pondered it that day and the next.

I recently wrote a new little prologue for my novel.
Two pages of fun before the first chapter of the book.
I liked it, but something was missing.

How do I make it fit...make it comfortable?
I prayed about it.
Lord, I know this is right, but it seems out of place just sitting there before the first chapter.
It's a whisper of hope.
My readers need it before diving in.
As I prayed, it hit me...
Start with scripture.
But what verse?
I thought about it.
And then I remembered the verse that jumped off the page.
They jumped and jumped, and I couldn't figure out why.
Now I knew.

My main character has been hurt.
She is nurturing bitterness as a prized possession.
But what does Hebrews 12:13 say?
"Make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather healed."

Knock me down with a feather.

She wants to be healed, but it's become comfortable to hold on to the hurt.
Ouch. Been there, done that.

Will she move to the straight path so what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather healed? You'll have to read the book.
Maybe, just maybe it'll be published one day!

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Be still...

Today I am editing a scene in my novel about striving.
The striving has to do with forgiveness...
Nurturing bitterness as a prized possession.

We do that.
We protect our hurts.
They're real, after all.
No one would argue they're not
But it doesn't help us to do that.
It stops us.
We cease to move forward and wear ourselves out in the deep mud of striving.

Forgiveness is a thread running through all of our stories.
We've all been hurt.
People are like that.
We hurt each other.
But we hurt ourselves by striving.

I write to tell stories of God's grace,
But as I write, I learn.
I learn about forgiveness when my character forgives someone who's not apologizing.
I feel the burden lift as the words flow onto the page.
She's finally free.
And I ponder...
Am I free?

Are you?

Forgiveness is the key to unlocking peace that passes all understanding.
Yet we think we're comfortable clinging to our hurts.
We don't know what's possible.
We haven't tasted freedom.

If we don't forgive others, God will not forgive us. (Matthew 6:14,15)
If for no other reason...
But there is more to it.
That freedom.
Prying satan's claws off a stronghold.
The lightness of liberty.

Are you clinging to hurt?
Are you tired?

Be still and know that I am God...Psalm 46:10
Let it go and know that He knows.
He understands.
He saw it all.
And He doesn't want you to carry it any more.
Take His freedom.
Unlock peace.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

My Cathedral...

Those of you who know me, might know I'm not a flamboyant worshipper.
Worship time is one of my favorite parts of the church service.
My hands don't reach for the sky when my heart overflows.
I might clap, but only if someone else claps first.
Singing is something I do rather quietly...I think...I hope...
I don't want anyone else to hear me.
(You're welcome.)
I might sway a bit or close my eyes in worship but that's as crazy as I get.
Whoa there.

I have a hang-up.
I confess.
Sometimes I want to raise my hands.
But, I don't.
Partly because I've been annoyed by flamboyant worshippers...
People who disregard personal space and stick their arms in front of others as they reach for the heavens.
And partly because flamboyant worship can be deceptive...and that's all I'll say about that.
(I'm being real here.)
And...I know me.
I don't want to be fake - to raise my hands to appear to be worshipping when my heart isn't in it.
(I might have done that once or twice.)
And I don't trust myself to mean it when I'm in a crowd of my friends and acquaintances.

Just being honest.

But I do have a no-holds-barred cathedral.
No one else is there, yet people are all around.
It's just me, God and whatever worship song is playing.
In my car.
Not every time I'm in my car, but sometimes.
I don't doubt my heart when no one will know and no one but God sees.

I turn up the radio and belt out my praise.
It's loud.
I sing.
I cry.
I pray.
I raise my hand...only one, because Jesus won't LITERALLY take the wheel.

I stop singing at stoplights if it's a crowded intersection.
Then, when the light turns green,
I laugh,
And sing some more...

I don't think I'm the only one.
Is your car a cathedral?

Monday, May 20, 2019

Coffee with Gentlemen (The time I had coffee with scientists and confounded them with a 5-letter word.)

            I sat at a table for four with my coffee and breakfast sandwich in a crowded coffee shop in Connecticut. As I sipped my coffee, two gentlemen came through the door and one approached me.
            “Young lady, would you mind if we sit at your table?” 
            I liked him immediately. Having recently let my hair go back to its natural gray, the word young—in reference to me—was delightful to hear.
            “Not at all,” I replied, waving them to the chairs on the other side of the table.  
            “Thank you, it’s not often people are willing to share a table these days. I’m Robert and this is Rex,” he said, pointing to his companion.
            “I’m Heather,” I said. “Nice to meet you.”
            They got in line and it wasn’t long before they joined me, and the three of us began to chat. 
            “Do you come here often?” Robert, a short, balding man was the first to speak.
            “No, I’m on vacation from Washington State.” I replied.
            “We were just there,” he said, glancing at Rex. “For a climate symposium, brilliant lectures, very academic.”
            “Yes, we very much enjoyed it.” Rex was tall and thoughtful. The quieter of the two.
            “That’s wonderful, isn’t the Northwest beautiful?” I couldn’t hide my PNW pride.
            “Oh yes, it’s lovely,” Robert enthusiastically agreed, “What are you seeing while you’re here?”
            I told them what I planned to do and see, and then they had some suggestions for me—which went something like this…
            “She should see the blah blah blah,” Robert said.
            “Oh yes,” Rex agreed.
            “She could get there by boat I think.” Robert added.
            “No, they don’t have boats there.”
            “Yes they do.”
            “No, they stopped running a while ago.”
            “I think they do. I’m sure of it.”
            “No, remember, we read about that in the paper. They stopped running the boats last year.”
            Long pause. “Oh, you’re right. I do remember that.”
            After no less than five of these old-married-couple exchanges, it occurred to me that the men were, in fact, married. 
            “We're planning to visit Yale,” I said.
            “There’s a restaurant near the library, a vegetarian place, it’s lovely.” Robert said.
            “Oh, are you vegetarian?” I leaned in. “My son is too, he used to be vegan—but not the militant, save-all-the-animals kind of vegan.” (I should have inserted my foot in my mouth right then, but I’m typically tardy in doing so.)
            “Vegan is difficult but yes, we’re vegetarian and we do advocate for animals.” Robert said. He told me of his tour of a Perdue chicken farm and the horrors he witnessed. I redeemed myself by sharing that I keep a small flock of spoiled hens, none of whom would find themselves on my dinner plate.
            “We should get some chickens,” Robert said to Rex. 
            “You think so?” Rex shook his head. Dressed in a suit, I could see he wasn’t the chicken-farmer type.
            I took a bite of my dead pig and chicken embryo breakfast sandwich and felt a little foolish doing so.
            They told me about a lecture series they’d recently attended at Yale—explaining that they were scientists. “It was quite enlightening.” Robert said. Rex nodded quietly.
            Then Robert asked the question I always dread. “What do you do?”
            I took in a breath and said, “Well, I was a stay-at-home mom for many years and then I wrote a novel. I’m working on revisions.” I looked back and forth between them for a reaction. They smiled and nodded.
            “What is the name of your novel?” Robert asked.
            “The Grace Writers.”
            “The what?”
            “The Grace Writers.”
            “The great writers?”
            “No, grace.”
            “Excuse me?”
            “The Race Writers?”
            “Grace.” I said the word loudly and clearly. Up to this point neither Robert nor Rex had any trouble hearing what I said, so this exchange was a bit odd to me.
            “G-R-A-C-E?” Robert asked, spelling the word for clarification.
            “Yes, The Grace Writers.” I smiled and took another bite of my death sandwich.
            “Oh.” Rex gave Robert a look. Robert returned the look and their body language told me our conversation was over.
            Robert turned to Rex. “As I was saying earlier about time-space continuum…blah blah blah…” 
            I’ll be honest, as I finished my coffee and listened to his observations on the evolution of time and space and the dimensions therein, I was taken aback by how one little word had abruptly ended our conversation. 
            Grace had confounded the scientists—and the end of our enjoyable conversation confounded me.  
            I’ll grant them—grace is hard to understand. It’s mysterious and startling—not scientific in the least.  
            I hope my sincere enjoyment of their company allowed them to see people of faith in a different light. Perhaps they noticed that we’re not all that intolerant of those with differing beliefs—that we can be on opposite ends of the spectrum of belief, but still enjoy coffee together…so long as they don’t mind dining with a carnivore.
Micah 6:8
This is what the Lord requires of you: Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Easter Surprise!

Sixteen Easters ago,
Our yard was abuzz with eight kids hunting Easter eggs.
It was a beautiful day.
The adults watched and basked in the sun, talking, laughing and enjoying the day.

Then it happened...
A low hum on the horizon.
We looked around, nothing.
The hum grew louder and then the cloud appeared.
A dark mass of bees, like an airborne amoeba slowly moving through the air.
We gathered the kids on the other side of the yard.
We watched.
It was amazing.
Scary and amazing.
We'd never seen a swarm of bees before.
Then they a tree in the yard.
A living, humming blob of bees.

We called a bee wrangler.
He was THRILLED to help us on Easter Sunday.
No, really, he was.
Free bees? He was here in a heartbeat.
We spent our Easter Sunday watching a beekeeper do his work.
It was so interesting.
When he was done, he took his box of bees and went home.

A couple of months later my doorbell rang.
The beekeeper stood on my porch with a jar of honey.
Honey from "our" bees.
How sweet!

I tell this story because I don't want to forget it.
Also, you never know what a day might bring.
This Easter Sunday, keep your eyes and ears open.
Something amazing might be humming on the horizon!

He is Risen!
He is Risen Indeed!

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Locked In...

I volunteered (or was I voluntold?) to chaperone at the Youth Group all-night-long party.
On its face, being locked into a church with 50 (yes, 50) teenagers, and staying up all night (translation: do not sleep under any circumstances) to ensure their safety and welfare, sounded a lot like torture.
But I did it anyway.
(This is where I admit that sometimes I volunteer to do things I don't want to do, because deep down, I still struggle with the misconception that I must earn God's favor. For the record, that's a bunch of bunk.)
My attitude wasn't great when I agreed to volunteer a few weeks ago (I might have whined), but as the day approached, my excitement grew...
Not about the stay-up-all-night part, but about the getting-to-know-the-kids part.

So I ordered a quad latte and showed up.
Those teenagers, they taught me a lot while I didn't sleep...
  1. They're magicians. 17 pizzas disappeared in a matter of minutes.
  2. They are 50 different stories...interesting, funny, sad, inspiring, hopeful stories.
  3. Many kids are seeking family (they may not put it that way), because they don't have a stable one. They're looking for a place to be accepted. 
  4. It's so cool to see 50 kids paying attention...listening intently to the message.
  5. It's utter JOY to know students were impacted by the message...that it begged more conversation.
  6. Even shy/insecure/quiet kids will stand up in front of 49 of their peers and SING! (I would NEVER have done that at their age.)
  7. They're BRAVE. (See #6.)
  8. They're supportive of each other. They cheer for each other. (See #6 & #7)
  9. They're HILARIOUS. Oh man. So many kinds of hilarious. One kid took it upon himself to hide water bottles in the most clever places all over the church. Why? Because all night long, every time we found one above a doorframe or in a high windowsill, we laughed. Genius.
  10. They like to talk to adults (to older adults with gray hair even). Did I, when I was their age? I don't think I did. I don't actually remember adults reaching out to talk to me (it was a different time). And, since I'm on the subject, teens are FUN to talk to. They're interesting, open, curious and kind. They answered my questions...and truth be told, I can be nosy.
  11. They want someone to be interested in them. (See #10.)
  12. Some kids do not need caffeine...period...cartwheels at 3am, running at full speed through the church at 4am...I'd like a teaspoon of what they're having, please.
  13. There are EXCELLENT student leaders in the TGW youth group.
  14. It is VERY satisfying to be included in their their games.
  15. It is even MORE satisfying to be sneeringly accused of murder and killed as a result of their utter disdain of your deception while playing their game.
  16. But it is the MOST satisfying to get away with murder(s), after playing many rounds of Mafia BEFORE being killed.
  17. It's fun to watch kids include each other, get to know each other and enjoy each other's company hour after hour.
  18. Sitting makes one tired. Standing or walking or talking helps one stay awake (caffeine at 3:30am doesn't hurt either).
  19. The dedication of the youth staff is inspiring. They care deeply about the kids. They love them utterly. TGW youth are so very blessed!
  20. It is BEAUTIFUL to watch kids (who haven't slept) happily clean a great big church after having messy fun all night.
  21. Laughter makes time go by faster. It was the fastest awake-all-night of my life
  22. I take great pride in the fact that I did not so much "power nap" for 5 minutes, yet young whippersnappers curled up as early as 1am because they just couldn't stay snooze you lose. ;)
  23. My "wall" is 5am. Good to know because I would do this again. I'd stay up all night all over again. They're so worth it.
I don't write this for any other reason than to encourage you. If you have the opportunity, volunteer with youth. I realize it might not be for everyone, but I think it might be for more of us than we think!

The biggest thing I learned is that you don't have to be "cool" or "up on all the things" to be a youth volunteer (I've never been accused of being cool). You just have to step out of your comfort zone and open up your heart...or agree to do something you don't think you want to do...and see what happens.

Those kids nudged their way into my heart as I yawned through the night and I couldn't be happier about that. They are the future of the church, the future of our country and they are about to be adults, deciding if God - if God's people, are worthy to associate with in the future. Knowing we care about them will go a long way in helping them decide! 

Friday, April 5, 2019

God is God and I Am Not

Habakkuk 1:5 says: Look at the nations and watch and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe even if you were told.

God is God and I am not.
Yet, I like to think I can figure it all out.
Sometimes when I pray, I lay out the plan of action that would be most efficient for God to take.
Lord, if you’d just help so and so do this or that…
Lord, please help the situation to go this way or that way…
Basically: God, I know you are in control but here’s the best plan, thank you in advance for seeing it my way.

A couple of years ago, my dad’s cancer came back with a vengeance, 
I immediately saw all of the ways God could be glorified if He healed him.
A few months went by and I realized he wouldn’t be healed. 
I suggested that God could take him peacefully, painlessly in his sleep.
When that didn’t happen, it hit me…
God is God and I am not.
Five days of hospice were the worst kind of torture, and I cannot imagine what it was like for my dad.
If I know God—the God of Habakkuk and Esther,
He was working behind the scenes for my dad the same way he was working for me.

When my dad came home from the hospital for hospice, I told God that I didn’t think I would be able to handle watching him die - then I prayed, God, please take him quickly.
But still he suffered.
Eventually I stopped praying altogether because words escaped me completely and my thoughts were muddled and jagged.
All I could manage was “Help him…Help him.” 
Why didn’t He help him?
God is God and I am not.

When it was over, I recognized that, moment by moment, God was with me, giving me strength to do what I had to do to be there for my dad—my dad, who jumped at the chance to help me my entire life. 
Excruciating as it was, I’m so thankful I had the privilege of walking through the valley with him. 

I miss my dad every day. 
But God is so kind. 
I began to realize that He is not just my Savior, my Redeemer…
He is my Father. He is the best Father. 
But didn’t I already know that? 
It wasn’t long after he died, that one of my kids did something that would have made my dad so proud. 
I asked God to tell my dad the story—to pass the news along to him in heaven. 
Then I heard His still small voice remind me, “I’m your Father, tell me.”
Of course. A Father who will never leave me, nor forsake me. 
Joy filled my heart and I told Him the story as if He didn’t know.
God is God and I am not.

Habakkuk ends this way...
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
Though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
Though there are no sheep in the pen
And no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The sovereign Lord is my strength;
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
He enables me to go on the heights.”


Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Hands in the air!

I had to learn to like roller coasters.
They scared me to death when I was younger.
I don't remember the exact moment I gave in and climbed aboard,
But I'm glad I did.
I'm pretty sure coaxing was involved (lots of it).
Every time (to this day) I get into the last car of a roller coaster (the back is the best),
And pull down on the bar,
My heart fills with fear...excitement...and more fear.
The excitement wins over the fear and my hands go up.
I trust the bar and the track.
I've done this a time or two.
I know how it ends...
Messy hair, 
tears from wind speed and laughter,
a little bit of nausea (it goes away as soon as I get back in line),
and joy (the best part).

It's cliche, but life is like that.
No different from a roller coaster.
The hardest part is getting in line and climbing aboard.
Once we join in, we get it. 
It's fantastic,
But it's a risk.
The plunge might be deeper than you expected.
You might pull a few G's and get nauseous.
But when the train pulls into the station, you have stories.
"That first hill was the best!"
And your eyes are filled with laughter and tears and you tell the apprehensive soul stepping into your seat as you leave,
"It's the best ride in the park."

I've remained on the sidelines and watched the ride fly over my head, hearing the screams of fear and delight.
It's fun to watch,
But more fun to experience.
I don't want to watch life pass me by,
and allow fear to keep me from joining in.

And just when I think I'm fully engaged,
God reveals another facet of life to enjoy.
Another fork in the road,
An opportunity stretch myself,
An impossible challenge.
Fear tells me I'm good right where I am, but I know better...
And with a prayer for strength,
I pull down on the bar...

Philippians 4:6
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Struggle is Real!

As I mentioned in my last post, my least favorite fruit of the Spirit is self-control.
Still is.
I challenged myself recently.

(I hope this doesn't sound like a self-serving's not meant to be at all.
The struggle was/is real.)

I just completed a 21-day Daniel Fast. (Google it.)
Basically a vegan diet on steroids. (I've never been a fan of veggies.)
No meat.
No dairy.
No sugar.
No yeast.
No white flour or white rice.
And my achilles heel, no caffeine.

What's left? (Not much.)
Vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains, nuts, some oils and water...yes, just water to drink.

My daughter asked me to do it with her and I said, without hesitation, "NO!"

I went about my day as the invitation gnawed at my mind - and heart.
Why can't I stop thinking about it. I'm not doing it.
I'm not! (Food has always had a certain power over me.)
But the gnawing persisted.
So after a few days, my conscience was raw and I agreed to join her in the Daniel Fast.
Surely I can handle 21 days. (Don't call me Shirley!)

My other daughter joined us too. (Hooray! Doing this with my girls was amazing.)
We set a start date and a private Daniel Fast text group.
We were actually excited!
Because the Daniel Fast is less about food and more about our relationship with God.
Removing the junk and aiming our focus.

So we began.
And I'm not gonna lie...the first week was hard.
If you know me, you know how much I love my morning coffee...
and my late morning coffee...
and the occasional afternoon coffee...
But after the first week, coffee wasn't a big deal.
Sugar was....and bread. (Oh, man, give this woman a hunk of sourdough slathered in butter!)
After the second week, bread and sugar didn't matter much either.
But two days before the end of the fast, my attitude changed.
The enemy challenged my resolve.
"Heather, you did it! Why wait two more days for a cup of coffee? Have one NOW!"
Good point! Excellent idea!
I complained a bit (a lot), but I stuck it out and completed the fast. (I'm a little proud of me.)
Yesterday I enjoyed a HUGE cup of coffee...and then another.

So what did I benefit from this exercise in self-control?

I spent more time with God, in His Word and in prayer. (Something I always struggle with.)
My body was clean of sugar (which I believe is the worst of all the substances I regularly put into it).
I could focus my attention better and the time I spent in prayer availed much.
I realized the joy (what?) of controlling my impulses to indulge.
It's not WRONG to indulge, don't misunderstand...
But the frequency and the REASONS I was indulging were all over the place.
None of them had value.
When I couldn't indulge due to my pledge to this 21-day exercise,
And posted on my blog my desire to work on self-control (accountability),
And asked God for strength - which He doles out generously,
I wanted to succeed more than I wanted coffee and sugar. (Insert shock here.)
Because my success would mean more than saying "no" to impulses.
It would mean saying "yes" to learning so much about what that means in my life and my relationship with God.
I felt the attack of the enemy so often, but knowing that I was not alone in the battle, it was so much easier to change my block the nagging negativity.

As I mentioned, I'm back on caffeine. (Hallelujah!)
But sugar is a glorious poison.
I like the way I feel off of the stuff.
I won't shun it in its entirety.
(I won't be an annoying "No thank you, I don't eat sugar" person. I promise!)
I'm not going to study labels for all of its forms.
But candy and desserts will be treats...rare and delectable.
That will be my new boundary.
And here goes other exercise in self-control.
It never ends, folks.
As long as we're on this earth, we'll struggle to see the good of it.

Self-control is good.
And we have all we need to succeed.
Thank-you Lord!
(Now, I hope I don't forget this.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

My Least Favorite Fruit...

I was at a gathering the other night.
We were invited to stamp a word onto a strip of leather.
The word we wanted to focus on for 2019,
Or perhaps the word we chose for 2018.
I was immediately overwhelmed.
So many words...
I love words...
And to permanently stamp it into leather, well, what will I choose?

I thought about the Gifts of the Spirit:
Love (I love love.)
Joy (I'm pretty good at joy.)
Peace (I can always work on peace.)
Patience (Well sure, but how cliche.)
Kindness (I always try to be kind.)
Goodness (But of course.)
Faithfulness (Well, yeah.)
Gentleness (I could be gentler.)
Self-Control (Ugh. No. Self Control? Yuk.)

I took that as a sign.

I decided to stamp Self-Control.
It wasn't fun.
It's my least favorite of the fruits of the Spirit.
Probably because I consistently fail to control myself.
(Can I get an Amen?)

But...Love has elements of self control.
Even joy and peace require self-control.
Patience and kindness, same thing.
Faithfulness and gentleness, absolutely.
Self-control is the last fruit of the spirit mentioned and it seems pivotal to all of the others.
WE control ourselves...or don't.

As a child many of us were told, "Control yourself!"
At precisely the moment when it was nearly impossible because we were so mad or upset or sad, that screaming or crying was all we could do (as a child).
Self-control is usually addressed in failure...
When we get angry,
When we eat to much,
When we gossip,
When we overspend,
When we don't do what we should do,
Or do do what we shouldn't. (ouch)

But what about the positive qualities of self-control?
What about the fact that the only thing we can control in this life is ourselves?
Let that sink in...
We have NO control over anything else.
We can't control our kids, our spouse, our neighbor, our coworkers, our boss, our circumstances, our environment, our house, our job, disease, the weather...the list is endless.
We control nothing but ourselves.
We CAN control ourselves.

The enemy is prowling around, paying very close attention to the crop of my least favorite fruit.
Where self-control is plentiful, his power is diminished.
Self-control isn't the finger-pointing, condemning fruit we make it out to be.
It's power against the enemy!

So this year, as I contemplate my hyphenated word: Self-Control,
I'm not going to focus on my lack of self-control,
but how I can cultivate it in the nooks and crannies of my life and bind satan's condemning power in the process.
I'll try to pay attention in those moments when I don't fall to the floor kicking and screaming,
when I don't overeat or overspend or say that thing I know I shouldn't.
And celebrate the God-given GIFT of self-control.

Which brings another word to mind...Perspective.


I've been thinking a lot about creativity lately. About inspiration, style, perfection and the beauty of imperfection. I began a journey...