Name Your Storm…by Anne Stewart Helton

PERTURBED…PREPARED…PRAYERFUL…PANICKED…PARALYZED… PETRIFIED….PESSIMISTIC…PERSISTENT….PASSIVE…No words can really describe the actions and feelings one has when information hits social media or the airwaves about a coming weather storm. The Meteorologists, for the most part, become your best friends!

For some, a coming storm, conjures up memories of past storms, denial of the potential hurt, feelings of piling on to existing problems, shock about what to do or perhaps going into a control mode of preparation, attack and craziness! When there is time to anticipate a Storm in life, it seems like people go into a grief process and once the shock of what is coming hits the reality of what needs to be done, they move quickly forward to manage and get through it…sometimes leaving their feelings trailing on a leash by necessity.

All normal. All explainable. All part of the Storms of life.

The recent 2017 Hurricanes, Harvey in Houston and Irma in Florida, brought out many feelings, actions, desperate situations, shock, denial, scapegoating, leadership traits, mobilization, heroes, supporters, workers, bonding situations and forever changes. These storms brought out mostly all of the good in people, even when some tried to focus on any bad. The people spoke. The people showed up with…”we don’t have time for negative“. We have to get ‘boots on the ground’ and fix this situation and help each other. We are forever changed.

Yes. Forever. Changed.

In Houston, as I still watch my City and friends struggle with the pain of rebuilding their homes, jobs and lives after Hurricane Harvey’s flooding (many of them having flooded several times recently), I realize they are forever changed. How could it be possible to not be changed whenever we go through a major Storm in life? In Houston, many remember Hurricane Carla from the 60’s, in New Orleans, we remember Hurricane Katrina, in Beaumont we remember Rita, in the North East we remember Sandy, and now in Florida and the Caribbean, we remember Irma. We learn from these named Storms and all the life events that surround them.

With a named Storm, we can put the experiences, the pain, the good, the feelings, the lessons, the new friends and the grief and loss in a box and name it. It’s not to minimize the situation but we can ‘time stamp’ the Storm. And it allows us to put these named Storm boxes on shelves in our brain and have some control over them, bringing them out when we want. We can tell stories from them, we can remember lessons, we can help others learn from our experiences and we can cry on our pillow about them, if needed. We can reach back and compare new situations to them and we can learn to feel stronger because we went through them. Think of the stories we have heard of the past storms…usually named by locations. My grand-father spoke of the “Great Storm of 1900 in Galveston”, and my Mother often remembered the Long Beach Earthquake, scaring us to death about jumping over cracks in sidewalks! Currently, residents are describing the fear surrounding the La Tuna Canyon or Montana Fires. In the Gulf Coast we even named the floods in Houston of the past few years: the Memorial Day Flood and the Tax Day Flood, both for the dates they occurred. And when people speak of moving from New Orleans the word Hurricane doesn’t even have to be mentioned, just the word Katrina says it all. And now as Hurricane Irma has devastated parts of Florida and the Caribbean, her name will define the entire event just as Harvey will define the great flood of Houston, 2017.

We grow from these stormy situations and we bond with each other, we reach out and help, we learn new skills, we move on to new places and we reach up, yes, reach up to God. Sometimes the washing of flooding waters brings new spirituality, life and hope.

So, I propose that we name all the Storms of our lives. They are already in our memories so let’s package them and define them. We can put our arms around them and put them on shelves with the memories, the lessons, and then move forward. For instance, name the storm of your divorce, your miscarriage, your lost child, your job loss, bankruptcy, flooded house, automobile wreck, health issue, emotional crisis, etc., etc.

Yes, name your Storm….names like: Hurricane Cancer of 2016. The Flood of Tears when the baby died. The Overdose Fire when the brother was in ICU. The Poverty Wind when a bankruptcy took the home. The Terror Tornado when the car was hijacked. The Boyfriend Quake when a heart was broken or the Mommie Tsunami we went through when my Mom died.

Even when our Storms are named, we will still hurt when we recall them but we can talk about them a little more objectively and place the Storm in the past tense. We can describe the event, the lessons learned and realize how strong we were / are, knowing we survived them. Perhaps we can move forward more readily and know that as it is written in John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

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“Sizzlin’, Summer, Sun” by Anne Stewart Helton

The jazzy, buzzing, Spring June Bugs have stopped jumping in town and the cicadas are screeching.

It is Summertime. It is Texas.  And. It. Is. Hot.

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As it is written in Ecclesiastes 3- “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens” but every year when the seasonal calendar turns over to Summer, it seems we forget we live in Texas and we are surprised. Its’ like a light switch is turned on and overnight the temperature soars: 92-95-98-then the century mark countdown begins! Old-timers start reflecting on the hotter days of yesteryear, spouting copious stories that usually begin with, “You think this is Hot?? Well, we didn’t have air-conditioning in the summer of_____ (take your pick)”! I have to admit I remember talking about those old days too. As a child, we ate dripping popsicles on the porch, never stayed inside and opened our windows at night, yes, in Houston, Texas of all places. We left the Attic fan on all night long to allow a breeze through the windows until Dad would get up and turn it off to save electricity. Of course, we turned it back on and then the fan wars would begin only to have Mom settle it with Dad. We won!

I remember the perspiration on our pillows and hearing the sounds of the night through our screened windows and sometimes sneaking out to play with neighbors to run through lightning bug filled yards. Yes, in Summer, the Winter and Spring creatures step aside for the dragonflies whizzing by as Sunflowers stretch high while Texas cooks. As the Bible says there is a time for all Seasons, but it also says in Psalms 104:19 “He made the moon to mark the seasons, and the sun knows when to go down.” So, we often say okay Sun, it’s HOT, you can go down a little now.

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Y’all need to know, that in Texas when we say HOT we mean devil-type-pitch-fork waving heat! We are known to say “Oh, it’s just the humidity that gets you” but that’s just to compete with our Nevada or Arizona compadres who have the oven type dry heat. But hot is hot . Our Texas heat is the all encompassing overall mirage of waves of heat soaring from concrete that make 98 degrees seem like you are in a desert and should have buzzards circling overhead. We are frequently proud and boastful to pretend Summer doesn’t bother us, after all we are tough Texans, but it is common to see families sneaking away for weeks to Colorado or Cozumel to escape the heat. They may say they are going on vacation but we know what is really going on.

We adapt and change our schedules in Summer….running or walking in early mornings or late evenings, avoiding crowded freeways filled with road-rage-squared drivers waving hot fists in the air and we LOVE our air-conditioning. After all, we did build the world famous, air-conditioned Houston Astrodome before it was fashionable to have indoor stadiums.  The Summer heat also is known to trigger bucket loads of rain drop surprise showers that fill up our bayous and creeks. The thunderstorms leave us with flooded roadways, overgrown elephant ear ditches and hoards of people hungry, whelp producing, skin itching, west nile and zika carrying virus mosquitoes! So, we spray ourselves like safari explorers before we go outside and we zap mosquitoes with every type of mosquito repellent or spray systems invented, most of which work like snake oil! Oh, and we have more snakes after the flooding rains and we even have heat-crazy alligators walking out of ditches and Rivers onto golf courses and into the roads! We also have three species of Copperhead snakes in Texas that show up in groups in the summer.

Yep, one has to be tough to survive Texas summers.

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We learn Wisdom from these tough Texas Summer seasons. The June bugs teach us that what lies dormant in the ground as a grub all year has Hope and can emerge with joy and dancing. The little seed of the sunflowers show us how Patience grows with Faith into Glory from the Summer rains. The elephant ear filled waterways and bayous help slow and “still” the water down to feed the dragonflies, turtles, birds, frogs and even snakes, which are kept in balance by the alligators!! A large population of cicadas can be deafening but soothing as they sing us to sleep at night but beware…a flock of cicadas can be a meal and dessert all in one for Copperhead snakes. So be careful where you walk barefoot when you hear the cicadas screeching. The snakes of Summer teach us caution. Did you know that some Copperhead snakes have a little bit of a greenish-yellow color on the tip of their tail resembling a caterpillar? They coil up and stick their tail up, wiggling it to lure a frog or lizard, then they strike and gobble up their prey. It’s funny, this resembles the song “Smiling Faces” to me, where some people will lure us with fake smiles, pats on the back or pretty words only to strike and devour us too! Yes, the Copperhead snake teaches us caution, as everything may not always be what it seems!  As far as the mosquitoes???  Really Noah, you had to pick two of them too?  Well, I guess we can be grateful that they feed the birds, but as for a benefit to people?….all I can say is at least mosquitoes make us go inside, into our beloved air-conditioning!!

We will weather through this Summer season too and we will enjoy our steaming 4th of July fireworks, wave our wilted Flags, watch neighborhood parades and perspire at bar-b-ques. We will lie down on floats in swimming pools or close to sprinkler heads in our yards, if necessary. We will drive to Galveston Beaches or the Hill Country lakes and Rivers for cooling breezes and water sports. We will watch our flowers and gardens turn brown and scorch and we will watch and wait for possible Hurricanes that eventually may form in the bath-tub like heated water of the Gulf of Mexico. We will get through this Season with our own stories of the Summer of 2016 with a lesson of gratefulness that we have the Seasons, the weather, the creatures and the memories to carry in our hearts to pass on to others in our own stories that may start with: “You think you’re hot now?? Why, in 2016, our summer was…..(take your pick)!!”

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“BLOOM. REACH. PLANT.” by Anne Stewart Helton

It sounds so simple.
Just blossom or do something wonderful in life, then get it out there, reach far, plant it and let it grow! I watch my wonderful Walking Iris plants do this every year. People can do this too, right?

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These Irises are beautiful wearing their purple vests against their white skirts, they bloom, sway, reach out and then plant themselves elsewhere and grow. It’s kinda spooky when you think about them moving around in my garden and it sounds pretty simple in it’s design…right?

Uh, well, I don’t think so!

I tried to watch the blooms for awhile this year, to check the process and I observed the flowers daily to see what was happening. The weight of the blooms became heavier and heavier with pollen, attracting me and the bees, as well as moisture. Then, when the March winds came to town, the blooms ebbed and flowed within the windy waves around my garden. Each gust allowed them to reach out more and then the rain storms actually weighted down the blooms with water and little sticks or debris blown down upon them. I was tempted once to remove the sticks until I realized they pushed the blooms closer to the ground to receive new life. While I wanted to keep the blooms unscathed, in their flawless purple glory, I left the sticks and water in the blooms, and watched and waited…

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But I missed the real transition one rainy, stormy night. I had thought about protecting them from the predicted storm but I didn’t. So, when I went outside the next morning I saw that the Irises had already planted themselves firmly in the dirt. The storm had blown them all around, pushed them down and allowed the blooms to put down hardy tendrils to find new nourishment in the dirt in order to continue growing and to multiply. One Iris looked pretty beaten up but its’ bloom stood tall. Not only had it survived the loud thunderstorm but it had been tried and tested now and would live on to survive more storms.

My Honeysuckle Ivy is doing the same thing now too. It is blooming but it’s using a distraction of an intoxicating fragrance while it performs it’s slight of hands and wraps its reaching tentacles around my sweet little Orange Tree. I can let it go like this for awhile, as it is blooming and growing but eventually….chop, chop! You see, it’s a tricky little vine, not rooting itself but trying to survive off the life of something else!

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Whenever I bloom with…an idea, a song, a creation, a book…I tend to think like the Iris. Okay, I made it, I wrote it, it’s pretty good, now come on wind, just get it out there. Plant it. I’m done.  But life isn’t like that. If something or someone is to be well planted, sometimes it has to reach out and go through some storms or even get filled up with sticks and debris to grow. Sometimes we may create something but we need to bury it for something better to come out of it. Learning to let go is an art in gardening and life…knowing when to prune, weed or fertilize is all part of the planting.  Sometimes, perhaps, we have to do the same with people…to observe and wait, even with our blooming children or grandchildren, to see where they will land and grow. But they have to survive their own storms in order to be strong! Often, we just overthink life believing that we can catch that perfect moment of someone’s transition when reaching out and planting, just to make it go our own way.  As if… we are in control!

Or sometimes we may live like my Honeysuckle Ivy and latch on to someone or something else for support but we must be careful not to overwhelm or suffocate the support with our own growth. If the thing we latch onto is a toxic diversion we will grow off course, perhaps even for a long time until someone helps us cut free or we are blown free from it, usually deep within our own storms. Sometimes we won’t actually go anywhere with our beautiful blooms but that’s okay too because our roots will become really strong and deep and they will last as we keep blooming. And sometimes we will get blown away by the wind and land far, far away from where we wanted to be or should be and then, we may have to actually start over. That is really hard, especially if the soil we land in is rocky and dry and there is no one who cares to nurture us or helps us grow. That’s when it helps to know the ultimate Master Gardener and to know that it is all designed, purposefully and perfectly in the production. After all, even a vicious forest firestorm prepares the ground deep in the forest which then produces the strongest of seedlings. In nature and in life, the sooner the better for us that we realize that whatever happens is  “all God’s timing. And sometimes we are left in a stormy period for awhile to refine our character.” (From “Happy Jesus Nurse: Heart Lessons”)  http://bit.ly/HappyJesusNurse

And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and I will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people; and they shall say, The Lord is my God.”– Zechariah 13:9 (KJV)

I still continue to Bloom. Reach. and Plant in my life, even as the sun is lower on the horizon for me and my garden. I continue to wait with wonder at what survives, grows and multiplies around my life. I continue to work at being thankful for the Grace and Mercy that allows me to say ‘The Lord is my God’. And I remind myself daily to see His glory in the majesty of nature because it all belongs to God. I also know that prayer keeps me on that rich and fruitful garden path of life.

And…every now and then I light a candle for myself and for those I love, who may need a little extra light in their lives in order to Bloom, Reach, and Plant wherever it is that they are going and growing.

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“EVEN BROKEN WINGS CAN FLY” by Anne Stewart Helton

It was just a Bird. Well, actually a tropical Mexican falcon.
I was watching him in his cage at a small Zoo as he sat on his perch and kept turning around, as if to show me his right wing. He was a beautiful creature of God’s making, with tenacity, strength and nobleness. Falcons are raptors, like Hawks and they can be ferocious to other creatures! They are birds of prey with strong, sharp talons, keen eyesight and hooked beaks used for their hunting skills. As I watched him I realized the right wing looked different than the other one and it seemed to hang down a bit. It looked to have been damaged, maybe even broken at one time.

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If one ponders on all the travails a Falcon could encounter, it’s not difficult to imagine a wing being damaged or clipped. Texas is awash with different types of birds, particularly Hawks, as they winter in our fields and cities, soaring high over buildings or perching in our many pine trees to swoop up a field mouse, rabbit or snake! It never fails when I hear the birds in our neighborhood squawking loud warning sounds that it’s usually because a Falcon or Hawk is flying overhead or one has already managed to pick up a fledgling bird. The neighborhood cats become wary also!

Birds can do funny things with their wings, besides during their mating rituals, they can use their wings as protection. Just like I picture my Guardian Angel does for me when needed!

Once, when out for a walk when living in the Texas Hill Country, we saw a large momma Quail in the brush. The chubby Quail had a nest for her baby quails and when she saw us she started “dragging” one wing dramatically on the ground and scurrying away from her nest. She served her purpose of distraction as we watched her instead of going to look at her nest. Such a smart design God!

But the Zoo Falcon I was now watching was standing tall, hopping around on his perch and adapting quite well when another, larger bird pen-mate jumped closer to him and took over his perch. I watched their pecking order ritual and then suddenly saw my broken wing bird start to fall and wiggle on his stick. The other bird stayed strong, didn’t help at all by moving over. Definitely a bird with boundaries!
My broken wing buddy, fluffed his feathers, looked tenuous and then suddenly picked up and stretched both wings, albeit one being crooked, and flew to the other side of the cage. He landed safely and balanced, turned his swivel head around and looked at me. Well, you can fly old bird, I thought.

Such a symbol of experience, adaptation and strength this guy was. The injured Falcon in all it’s glory was made of good stock but mindful of it’s surroundings and limits and ready to learn as well as move from harm if challenged or threatened. So much like me, so much like us all, it seems.

Life lessons abound around us, all the time. We don’t always pay attention or at least I don’t. Lessons that can comfort, heal, protect us and allow us to have peace and enjoy life. Like the importance of “staying focused” in life and not becoming distracted by extraneous social noise or other birds.  Or lessons like, “staying mindful” and appreciative of God’s gifts by living in present moments, listening to what matters in one’s own environment and not another birds‘. Or lessons of “paying attention to one’s instincts“, or feelings, to gain wisdom and truths about ourselves to know when or how quickly to move to another perch!  And one of the best lessons, “being proud of our own feathers, color, and wing span in life”.  Who knows, some of us may turn out to be the prettiest of them all, like the pinky Flamingo-like, Spoonbill bird who represents love and fun in the human flock but looks so different growing up in the bird world!

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When my daughter Missy was little she bemoaned her very curly hair. She didn’t understand why she had to have curly hair when all her friends had straight surfer-girl hair. She conditioned her curly hair. She put straightener on her hair. She wet her hair and wore a tight knit hat on her head to school. She even ironed her hair. But it always stayed curly. As she moved into different seasons of her life, the times caught up to her hair. Soon, everyone wanted curly hair and put potions on their straight hair. Missy beamed with her natural look. She became a proud and beautiful curly feathered bird!

God gives us all different feathers and wings. Sometimes we use our wings to preen too proudly, to cover ourselves in old shame, to comfort ourselves, to protect others or sometimes we use our wings to distract a dangerous foe. Sometimes our wings get broken along with our hearts and we feel we will sadly limp along for the rest of our future. No…remember my feathered Falcon friend who was able to fly when needed. We may have to rest, be comforted, nurtured and then heal for a season or two but most of the time, ‘even broken wings can fly’.

In life, we are protected by Wings, both spiritually and earthly. God covers us with protection and gives us Grace when we least deserve it. The Holy Spirit moves us and Jesus teaches us how to fly. And those people who love us on Earth cover us with sweet supportive Wings made of downy feathers of understanding, encouragement and loyalty. Some of our earthly friends will even distract foes for us by showing strong spread-out Wings of warning. And some of us are still learning life’s lessons and are growing our own Wings to help cover and protect others and it’s just like the phrase in the movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life”…”everytime a bell rings, an Angel get’s it’s Wings”.

So, stretch out…Accept your own color of feathers, use your own Wing span to help others…Ask God to help you, then spread your Wings, feel the wind under you and soar like the Eagles.

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“Seeking Shells of Shelter” by Anne Stewart Helton

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It is often while walking on the sands of a Beach where I truly comprehend my smallness in the universe. Just as the shells that wash up as noticeable gifts for me, I explore how my life in the natural is nothing but a fleeting gift from God…a breath of wind blowing by in all of it’s different velocities and directions. When I see the sea shells that were somehow sheltered on their journey to become sand, I feel protected too. I feel connected.

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Anne walks Galveston Beach

It’s a juxtaposition. It is all free when I walk on a beach and yet I become rich. Oh, I expend energy to pay for the walk but it is a homeostasis energy that is equaled by what I gain. My heart and soul fill up with fuel, my lungs expand with salty oxygen, my hair blows in time with the gusts, my muscles ebb and flow like the tides and my smile widens with sunny joy. The skimming beach birds skip alongside me and share their space, always keeping a wing flap ahead of me, as we look together toward the timeless waves and foam working toward the shore.

I imagine great wonders under the waters and look with creative eyes toward rising fins of sharks, dolphins and strutting jaws of pelican. I watch the diving birds pick up their fleeing prey and whisper a prayer for both as the circle of life spins. I see clumps of Sargassum seaweed full of shells and fish rolling toward me and imagine pirates of old grabbing it with hooks and nets for fuel, medicine, food or hidden treasure.

My walk on the beach zig-zags toward sheltered shells in trapped tidal pools and I carefully observe them for unbroken shells and especially for the commerce of mostly whole sand dollars. Finding an unbroken sand dollar is rich, it’s empowering, it’s a blessing. I wonder how far the shells have traveled and I look at their majestic design and shining, gentle colors…all different, all with perfect purpose. Most collected shells end up in a display bucket but some are maneuvered by a glue gun as a crafty gift.

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Beach shells……………………………Become Wreaths

My heart is full of the beauty around me and my connection to it all and I hope that everyone can experience the cleansing feelings of a walk on the beach. I picture friends and family I know who are old, lonely or sick and I pray for them to see the healing beach in person again or in their sweet dreams.

Most of my memories of beach trips from the past were activity driven…let’s get there fast, let’s hurry, let’s jump in the water, let’s go,go,go! As a child it was more about gathering stuff to take to the beach rather than getting something from the beach. Now, I ponder the design of it all and am amazed that I missed it in my younger days but I know that my thoughts are in a different season and relevancy now. It is glorious to ponder that the gulf sea around me has secrets, gifts and routes leading to deeper imagined thoughts and adventures. As I walk, I wonder if my parents wondered too…so many years ago when they packed us ten children into a station wagon, with towels and toys so we could roast hot dogs on the beach and play in this same sand? Did they look out at the sea and wonder what was below?

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The blue sky above me is searching also. It has fingernail scratch marks as if the clouds are trying to see what is beyond them too. Even the jet airplanes get into the act as they make their mark trying to help the clouds push through the boundaries of the sky and beyond. The merging of the forever sky and sea brings hope to my own heart as I think about growing closer to both.

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Cloud “Sky Scratches”……………..”Jet Scratches” too!

Without a doubt, in a storm, trembling waves of the sea could caress or rock you to peril and the shell covered sea floor could slip and shift, with rip tides possibly carrying you where you never wanted to go. But a gentle walk is just mostly a connection that allows for appreciated boundaries of shelter…even before a storm. A stormy sea is predictable nowadays with our radar scanning news and people by the sea can prepare with vigor as the fear and excitement of an impending storm looms. But just as in life, storms can hit when they are least expected, like a thief in the night. As I wrote in “Happy Jesus Nurse: Heart Lessons”, http://bit.ly/HappyJesusNurse , “Storms can come in all forms…a phone call, a diagnosis, a betrayal, an estrangement, discovery, a lie, a revelation, a confession, a death-even an actual meteorological storm. Storms of life are tests, revelations, and building blocks of our inner strength-and yes, often much good can come out of a storm, just like a real storm has rainbows. It is in adversity that we meet ourselves and learn or change our character.”

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Anne & John at the Sea

So, when I am in a stormy mood or period of life, a testing time of my strength, I go to the sea. I take my hubby John and we picture the timeless waves, tides, birds, and fish and seek the reminder of protection from the strong sheltered shells…the shells that have weathered so much to be at my feet and offer themselves as gifts. I am then reminded of the designer of the shells and sand and the ultimate protector from stormy seas of life, as described in Luke 8:24- “And they came to him, and awoke him saying, Master, Master, we perish. Then He arose, and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water: and they ceased, and there was a calm” (KJV)

With those words, I allow trust and peace to come in to my heart like a gentle wave. I scoop up the shells in my hands; I look to the sea and I smile.

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