Two days, two centuries: My first-ever Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic

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No one greeted me at the finish line.

Despite the crowds cheering on the sidelines as I rode in a cadre of fellow cyclists into Holladay Park in Portland, the end of a 202-mile, 15-hour cycling journey in the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic was rather anticlimactic as I set my bike down, picked up my finisher badge and moved on.

Instead, it was every single second, every pump of the pedals, every inch forward that made the pilgrimage worthwhile.

Fourth of July in Pe Ell, Washington

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I chose to spend my Independence Day evening in a town a short way off the beaten path. Pe Ell, Washington is not big by any means, and most people just pass through it on their way to the coast from Chehalis.

But tonight, the town banded together to put on a fireworks show that would rival those of larger cities. A friend and colleague of mine was part of the pyrotechnics team that put on the show — and I must say they did a tremendous job.

Thanks to the good folks at New Harvest Assembly, and all those who donated to make the show possible.

I’ll let the photos take it from here!

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Travelogue: Hiking to Coldwater Peak

Mount St. Helens seems to keep a watchful eye over a forest it blew down when it erupted in 1980.

Mount St. Helens seems to keep a watchful eye over a section of forest it blew down when it erupted in 1980.

Today, my friend Aaron and I took a hike to Coldwater Peak in the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. It was my fourth trip to MSH in the past two months, and this one offered the best views so far as the landscape and terrain changed many times throughout the hike.

The trail afforded us opportunities to get glimpses of four Northwest peaks: Rainier, Adams, Hood and the one looming closest, St. Helens.

In all, the hike totaled 12.7 miles and took 4 hours, 19 seconds of moving time to complete. We rested a few times, so our total trip time was a little over 6 hours.

I thought I would do something a bit different with this photo set and develop them in black and white. I think it gives the photo collection a different feel.

That peak in the middle was our destination. Coldwater Peak stands at roughly 5,700 feet.

That peak in the middle was our destination. Coldwater Peak stands at roughly 5,700 feet.

Nights Over Chehalis, Part 2

The stars show themselves brightly over my rented house in Chehalis, Washington early in the morning on Saturday, June 21, 2014.

The stars show themselves brightly over my rented house in Chehalis, Washington early in the morning on Saturday, June 21, 2014.

Just trying my hand at some more star photography in completely manual mode on my Canon Digital Rebel T2i with a Rokinon 14mm lens.

I shot this with a 20-second shutter speed at ISO 200 and f/2.8.

Here is the real reason I moved back to the Pacific Northwest

It is great to be among evergreen trees once again, but the scenery isn't the real reason I came back home.

It is great to be among evergreen trees once again, but the scenery isn’t the real reason I came back home.

On a late November day in 2011, I took a phone call from a man in Springfield, Missouri, working as the digital content (read: web, mobile, etc.) manager for a television station there.

It was a call that would change my immediate future. You see, just a month or two earlier, I had felt the need to leave my job at The Chronicle, a newspaper in Centralia, Washington, and do something bigger and better that could enhance my career.

I answered the call. Two hours later, I wrote a resignation letter and told my friends and family I would soon be off to Missouri where I was going to work for a television station.

Maybe it was a need for validation. Maybe I sought effusive adulation. I don’t know, but at any rate, I was convinced a job at the #1 TV station in a city 10 times that of Centralia would validate my career and be a springboard for me to work in a similar capacity in Portland someday.

I moved to Springfield, and things were great…

…for six months.

My parents, whom I was close geographically to in Springfield, decided to move to Louisiana, where Dad got a job. My supervisor left, and even though I applied for his position, I was passed over for it (and to be frank, I never forgave the powers-that-be for doing so…again, read the need for validation above). Over the coming months, I felt relegated to a lesser role than I had known when I first arrived to the TV station.

The glass case that held my dreams shattered under the weight of something known as reality. It crashed loudly, shattered into pieces that could not be repaired, and left a mess in its wake.

I could never come to terms with the fact my job kept me behind a desk, in a building, doing something I increasingly did not want to do. I began to wonder why I moved in the first place.

I left my church in search of a new one, although the reason for that was not connected to my job at all — rather, that was a matter of personal need. But for most of 2013, I began to put my faith in Christ on a shelf of sorts, knowing that I believed in God and communicating with him at will, which became increasingly less.

An opportunity arose in mid-August (I think) of last year to go visit my parents in Louisiana. They had just bought a new house and were attending a small Assembly of God church in a town just off Interstate 20. Life for the most part was decent for them.

I visited my parents’ church and was instantly struck by the contrast between it and a megachurch across the freeway. Not even half the pews were full, the pastor himself led worship, and the building was aging. Yet I noticed something when an elderly man walked up to the stage and led those present in three hymns, one of which was “Revive Us Again.”

We began to sing.

Hallelujah, Thine the glory
Hallelujah, Amen
Hallelujah, Thine the glory
Revive us again

The music wasn’t great, the singing may have been a bit off key, and there wasn’t anyone raising their hands — but this man stood up front vigorously leading the worship. I sang along, and in the middle of the song, I felt a sort of calm in my heart that I had not felt in awhile.

It wasn’t some major earth-shattering spiritual moment in which I started crying and fell to my knees, overcome with emotion. Rather, it was as if a bell resonated in my heart and I listened to its clear tone ring out above all the noise in my life. From that point forward, my faith in Christ was revived as I sang a hymn that in my mind had been tucked away for years.

I probed inside my mind and I realized the mess the dream that had shattered left was cleaned up, just as if nothing had ever been there.

Over the coming months, I began to foster an intense desire to move to the Northwest, a region I knew in my heart I was inexorably tied to. I knew I wanted to return home to the people and territory I felt dear.

A job ad appeared for a business and education reporter at The Chronicle — my former position before I left for Missouri. I applied.

And on a late November day in 2013, I took a phone call from a man in Centralia, Washington, working as the editor for the newspaper there.

That too was a call that would change my immediate future. But it wouldn’t change just that — my response to it meant a permanent change in one important facet of life.

By accepting the job, I acknowledged I would start over again in Centralia — and that I would forever forgo that dream of enhancing a career with the goal of climbing up the ladder. I knew I would instead have to focus on a rather rural area that I had a big love in my heart for.

In the months that I have been back, the Lord has been at work. I have returned to the church I attended before I left, I have made new friends in addition to connecting with old ones I love dearly, and God is opening doors to impact the small community in which I live through teamwork and vision.

Connecting with people in this community has been easier and more impactful than I could have ever imagined, and I have surrounded myself with people who share a similar passion for the people of the Lewis County area. They serve to encourage and invigorate me.

I saw the movie The Fault in Our Stars on Saturday, and it brought forth a salient point. Without giving too much away, one of the main characters reveals that they are scared of oblivion, stating that when one dies, they are largely forgotten, and that they wanted to make a big impact on people when they are alive and be remembered in a big way, by many people.

My desire had always been to do just that: to be a person who showcases his intelligence to many and solves some sort of grand problem in the world or invents some sort of product that changes people’s lives for the better. I had always wanted to make a grand impact on society somehow and deluded myself for many years into thinking I was going to do so.

But as in the movie, when the person’s love interest tells them that the person has their love and that should be enough, the perspective I used to have has similarly shifted.

The lights and busy streets in my visions have faded to a point in which they no longer exist. They have been replaced by rural roads snaking through farmland, forests, mountains and serene areas, with people interspersed throughout who just want to offer a friendly word or share about life as it is.

My desire today is to somehow benefit the community in which I am a part, and I don’t even need to play a grand role in doing so. I have realized that I can impact one person, who can in turn impact another and the result can be exponential because of many people working together.

And that’s the real reason I have come back to Centralia — not just because I love the area and I wanted my old job back, but to bless this area as part of a team that can change things for the better. I truly believe it is going to happen.

I am a blessed man, and I am given a tremendous gift in which I enjoy this life day by day with a renewed sense of purpose and faith.

Travelogue: Harry’s Ridge and Truman Trail at Mount St. Helens

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It is no secret that I am endlessly fascinated by Mount St. Helens.

That fascination has led me to the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, about an hour and fifteen minutes away from my home, three times so far this year. Saturday, I took the opportunity to drive there again, but this time wanted to hike to Harry’s Ridge to get what I thought would be an unrivaled view of the volcano.

I loaded up the car and headed south on Interstate 5, then south again on state Route 505 through Toledo and out past Toutle, eventually connecting with state Route 504 and leading me to Johnston Ridge Observatory. From there, my hike began and would take me the majority of Saturday to complete.

Only the penitent man shall pass!

Only the penitent man shall pass!

There were not too many people on the trail on Saturday, even though it was Memorial Day weekend. Most stayed behind at the Johnston Ridge Observatory, which was the starting point for my hike that I initially planned to only entail the 8.3-mile loop to Harry’s Ridge and back.

Of course, with narrow passageways and a bit of elevation gain throughout the area, a good portion of the trail was not for the young or the not-so-sure-footed to hike.

Don't lose your footing on the Boundary Trail. This can be a dangerous area.

Don’t lose your footing on the Boundary Trail. This can be a dangerous area.

The trail to Harry’s Ridge opens up, and although it temporarily takes you out of view of Mount St. Helens, you get to see some snow-capped peaks such as Coldwater Peak in the distance.

Hiking toward Harry's Ridge. There are many inclines on the way there.

Hiking toward Harry’s Ridge. There are many inclines on the way there.

Keep climbing upward and you’ll eventually come to the Harry’s Ridge trail that takes you to the viewpoint on top the giant ridge. You’ll know you’re getting close when Spirit Lake comes into full view — it looks vastly different than it did May 17, 1980.

A view of Spirit Lake, a brand-new body of water that remains fragile.

A view of Spirit Lake, a brand-new body of water that remains fragile.

Keep walking up the Harry’s Ridge trail and soon you’ll come to an overlook that gives you a grand view of Mount St. Helens directly facing the north side of the mountain, where the lateral blast came from. It’s a great view of the volcano, even when obscured by clouds. It still gives one a great perspective of just how much of the mountain was blown away in the eruption, and it’s mind-boggling to see it from this angle.

The view from Harry's Ridge. Unfortunately, it would be awhile before the clouds would disappear.

The view from Harry’s Ridge. Unfortunately, it would be awhile before the clouds would disappear.

I ended up making decent time, motoring up the ridge from the starting point at Johnston Ridge Observatory in just under 1 hour, 30 minutes.

Made it!

Made it!

The views to the east are spectacular. On a clear day you can see Mount Adams, but even on a cloudy day you can get a view of the picturesque Spirit Lake area and the regeneration still taking place.

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A phone panorama of Spirit Lake, untouched by human hands since 1980.

Once I came down from the ridge, I wasn’t satisfied with my hike for the day. The mountain had been enshrouded in clouds, and even though there is MUCH more than just the mountain to see at the monument, I needed more. So off I went to the Truman Trail, on a journey that would take me through the heart of the blast zone.

Truman Trail begins. You can begin a hike around the mountain from here.

Truman Trail begins. You can begin a hike around the mountain from here.

About a mile into the Truman Trail, the sun began to burn off the clouds. Could it be that I could see the whole crater from the north for the first time in my life?

As I got closer to the mountain, the clouds began to burn off.

As I got closer to the mountain, the clouds began to burn off.

Looking good so far…and just a few minutes after I took that last picture, lo and behold, there stood Mount St. Helens in all her devastated glory.

Fifteen minutes after that last shot, the clouds were gone.

Fifteen minutes after that last shot, the clouds were gone.

The Truman Trail winds its way around several hummocks, small hills and trees — even traversing small streams a few times — before leading hikers into a pumice plain. Welcome to the core of the blast zone.

The mountain looms over the pumice plains.

The mountain looms over the pumice plains.

Stop and take a look to the west, and you can see signs of life. A stream feeds Spirit Lake, surrounded on both sides by vegetation that is beginning to take root and sprout up in the years following the eruption.

A look back reveals new life inside the blast zone. Incredible to see the recovery after just 34 years.

A look back reveals new life inside the blast zone. Incredible to see the recovery after just 34 years.

The further you hike down the Truman Trail, the closer you get to the mountain and the more impressive the view becomes. Before too long, Loowit Falls is visible — a waterfall on the edge of the crater created by snowmelt inside the mountain.

A man ahead of me...

A man ahead of me…

The hike along Truman Trail leads one along several areas teeming with plant life and fauna as well.

The hike along Truman Trail leads one along several areas teeming with plant life and fauna as well.

Getting closer.

Getting closer.

As mentioned before, plant life is coming back along the trail. Red paintbrush is abundant along several areas of the path, and the color reminds one to stay on the path and not veer off it — these plants are, once again, very fragile.

Red paintbrush is in bloom, and plentiful close to the volcano.

Red paintbrush is in bloom, and plentiful close to the volcano.

The Truman Trail alternates passing through landscapes of rock and vegetation, also leading people through small creeks. The closer you get, the more rockfields you navigate through. The trail becomes much more narrow and begins to be delineated only by large posts that show you the general direction in which to travel.

More navigating through rocks.

More navigating through rocks.

Small trees like this are few and far between, but it is encouraging to see them begin to pop up again.

Small trees like this are few and far between, but it is encouraging to see them begin to pop up again.

Another look back shows just how far one has come, along with giving a rather impressive view of Spirit Lake surrounded by smaller mountains.

Foreground: A hummock. Background: Spirit Lake.

Foreground: A hummock. Background: Spirit Lake.

The trail passes a neat geological feature in which a mud and water flow had carved a passageway from the mountain. Seeing Mount St. Helens in the background and this in the foreground made me wonder what kind of force the eruption blasted the valley floor with.

Amazing to see the path carved by a water and mud flow down from Mount St. Helens.

Amazing to see the path carved by a water and mud flow down from Mount St. Helens.

The walking path hugs the edge of the bank.

The walking path hugs the edge of the bank.

I checked my watch just after 6 p.m. and noticed I was still 2 miles from Loowit Falls. I wouldn’t quite make it out there, but I was satisfied with a hike that brought me the closest to the north side of the mountain that I had ever been. I turned around, but before I left I grabbed my Canon camera and got a shot of the mountain before clouds began to cover it again.

One final look back at the massive mountain, and again it is amazing to see the lava dome in the middle.

One final look back at the massive mountain, and again it is amazing to see the lava dome in the middle.

The way back is just as scenic as the way to the mountain.

Which way to go?

Which way to go?

Parting shot from the Truman Trail before daylight ends.

Parting shot from the Truman Trail before daylight ends.

Stopped for a quick shot with my Canon T2i.

Stopped for a quick shot with my Canon T2i.

It was fitting to see a sunset right before I returned to my car at the Johnston Ridge Observatory parking lot at 9 p.m. After 16.78 miles, I needed to rest my feet and I did so as I watched the sun go down. It was also fitting that I was one of the last people there that evening, just hours after the parking lot had been so full that I needed to park far from the observatory’s entrance.

The sun sets over my hike. I knocked out 16.78 miles in total!

The sun sets over my hike. I knocked out 16.78 miles in total!

If you want to hike to these points beyond the Johnston Ridge Observatory, note that you’ll need to bring a few supplies. There is no water source along the trails, so a hydration pack is the best option. Carry some food as well (I carry a massive supply of granola bars), and invest in some good hiking boots and trekking poles. The poles will prove invaluable throughout the hike.

A trip to Seaquest State Park

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Seaquest State Park is probably one of the least talked-about gems of the pristine landscape that is Washington state. Just five miles east of the small town of Castle Rock, the park offers a cozy camping and hiking experience in a setting that is home to an old-growth forest that tells quite a story.

My father worked at the park in the early 1980s, before I was born — and subsequently would take my brother and I to Seaquest many times over the years. We would walk the trails, see the changing scenery in the forest and then stop for lunch before visiting my dad’s alma mater, Toutle Lake High School just east of the park.

It’s a place I still enjoy to this day, and Saturday I took my first trip there in three years. It was as if the park is frozen in time and has the same tales of history to tell among the hundreds of thin tree trunks that tower over the forest floor like organ pipes.

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Saturday’s walk was much like many others I had taken throughout my life there, but my father and brother were not with me this time. Instead, I sought solitude in the forest after a week of emotionally draining work. It would prove to be just the remedy I needed as I trod slowly past damp moss, growing ferns and a thick mass of forest undergrowth that insulated me from the outside world.

Taking my camera into the forest might not have been the best idea initially, as a cloudburst spewed forth rain for 15 minutes, muddying up the trails and forcing me to seek shelter under a bent-over tree.

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I stayed under that tree for a time, but once the rain passed, the sun peeked out and illuminated the trail a shade of green more vibrant than it had been upon my arrival. Just that scenery change opened up a world of memories for me, as I remembered visiting my grandparents who lived just one road over from the service entrance to the park at my back.

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A part of the Seaquest State Park system exists on the other end of State Route 504, as a walkway takes one over the slowly-disappearing Silver Lake. There, you can see wildlife — especially small colorful birds — singing their songs and calling out into the open air.

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Silver Lake is interesting in that, as mentioned before, it is slowly disappearing. It is plainly evident by the presence of more greenery in the water than in years past when I visited there. But it is still a beautiful sight nonetheless, and one that I will always hold dear in my heart as an embodiment of everything Northwest, everything home: the trees, hills and beautiful shades of green that the rain so generously contributes to.

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I highly recommend taking a couple hours and enjoying Seaquest State Park. To get there, take Exit 49 from Interstate 5 and head east on State Route 504. The entrance to the park will be on your left, five miles from where you exited the freeway.

Nights over Chehalis

The moon shines brightly over a field just off Airport Road in Chehalis, Washington on the evening of May 1, 2014.

The moon shines brightly over a field just off Airport Road in Chehalis, Washington on the evening of May 1, 2014.

Travelogue: Hiking the Boundary Trail to Johnston Ridge Observatory

Mount St. Helens is seen from the Johnston Ridge Observatory on Saturday, April 12, 2014.

Mount St. Helens is seen from the Johnston Ridge Observatory on Saturday, April 12, 2014.

The weather here in the Pacific Northwest was absolutely gorgeous yesterday, so I traveled to the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument and took full advantage of it.

I drove from my home in Lewis County to the Hummocks Trail parking area, a trip of roughly an hour and 15 minutes covering 60 or so miles. I set out on the Hummocks Trail before taking an eastward turn on the Boundary Trail to reach my end goal, the Johnston Ridge Observatory. Bear in mind the Observatory is closed until mid-May each year, but hikers are welcome to come on through and utilize the trail system.

I spoke with a friendly staffer from the U.S. Forest Service when I reached the observatory’s parking lot, who noted the extreme lack of snow at a place that normally has a few feet well into May. He and I chatted for a bit and he told me some good routes to take if I ever wanted to hike beyond the observatory. I will within a couple months and will post photos of it when I do.

All in all, the hike was a 12-mile round trip that climbed about 1,800 feet. I took the closed State Route 504 back, with the Forest Service staffer’s permission, which added 2 miles on the return trip. My feet were sore when it was over, but it was well worth it, as you’re about to see.

Here’s the activity summary from Strava:

Photos after the jump!

Why the concept of time scares me (and why it shouldn’t)

I am going to turn 30 this year, and I am supposed to enjoy it.

I returned to the Northwest this year, and I am supposed to enjoy that too.

In fact, I am enjoying the Northwest as much as I can. The scenery is gorgeous, the rain is refreshing and Mount St. Helens gives me an intense desire to drive to its base and run up to the crater rim.

But the scenery, as much as I love it, is not what brought me back here. The friends I made during the two years I lived here before banishing myself to the hinterlands of Missouri compelled me to come back, and the job I held before came available — blasting open the doors for my return.

I asked God to show me the way home from the Show-Me State, and He did. But the dynamic here is different now, even as people have been gracious in welcoming me home and doing the best they can to involve me in their lives.

Times and people change faster these days than they ever have in my life. My married friends have added to their families, and many of my unmarried friends have taken a giant step with that special someone that forces them to frantically plan how perfect their union is going to be.

I watch it all happen around me in fast-forward. When I think of my friendships and relationships at this time in my life, I see everyone else’s life moving rapidly as I just cheer them on from the sidelines. I’ve thrown a lot of rice too as a man and woman walk past me into a car and drive off into the sunset, by the way.

I’m going to bring some real talk here for a second, but this is not going to be long or drawn out, so here goes: In June 2011, I went through a breakup that affected me in a way I never thought it could. I’ve spent 2+ years since that day ensuring that I become a different (better?) person. There was no hope for reconciliation, and I had to be okay with that. Even after I moved on, the cold truth remained that you can’t be happy with someone else if you’re not happy with yourself.

So I grew. There was nothing I could do but grow. I prayed, studied the Bible, worked on relationships with the small circle of friends I made while in exile and I learned how to live by and with myself. I grew spiritually, and my perspective on servanthood and Christian life changed so much that I took it upon myself to simply want to encourage others in the faith and in their own lives.

But I’m not meant to be a cheerleader my whole life. I’m going to be 30 this year, and although my friends tell me I’m a good guy and all that (I appreciate it for sure), before too long I want to be the guy up there reciting wedding vows to a woman that cares as much about faith and the welfare of others as I do now. But I feel like I’m running out of time.

Why do I say that? Get out your pencils for some ‘rithmetic.

The average life expectancy for the American male is 77.6 years. I Googled that, so it has to be gospel. If I am 29 right now and my birthday is July 20, I have lived 10,693 days. Seventy-seven and six-tenths years is 28,343 days. Take the total number of days I have lived (10,693) and divide that by the number of days I’m expected to live (28,343) and you get 0.3772712andsoforth. Carry the decimal two numbers to the right, and voila — I have lived 37.7 percent of my total life expectancy.

Let me phrase it this way: I have lived 37.7 percent of my expected lifespan while seeing everyone advance around me. It’s like the game of Life where everyone keeps spinning a 10 and landing on spaces that make them rich, while I spin the number 1 and have to pay out my you-know-what.

That’s a real downer, but let’s all be real here: When you’re in the situation I’m in now, with a good job and a good location and good friends and STILL nothing to show for advancing in your personal life, it makes you wonder if you are doing something wrong.

Well, I’ve grown so much spiritually and put forth a great effort to consider others, pray for them and encourage them in their walk with Christ. I’m doing the small things right, which should be fulfilling — but it actually serves to make this situation more confounding, disheartening and frankly frustrating.

I continue to forge forward, but it feels like I go nowhere as time ticks away.

There’s that word again. Time. I see time as nothing but a cruel enemy that scares me like nothing else can.

Time is slow when you’re waiting for something great, but it accelerates beyond control when you’re actually enjoying it. Time continues to exert its control over the universe as it passes on, making everything but a distant memory while at the same time aging us, changing the environments and dynamics around us and reminding us that someday we will run out of it as it continues dictating the world six feet above us.

And as if that isn’t enough, it decays what remains of us.

Time is precious in the sense that we have so little of it. There are moments in my life — fragments of time itself — that I spend remembering the past 29 years and pinpointing specific memories that took place at a certain slot of time that I wish I could rewind to and erase or redo.

That’s another reason time is my nemesis. You never get any of it back. It ensures that everything that was ever created on this earth will end at some point.

So if the passage of time leads to death, maybe it’s death I’m scared of. I will readily admit that.

And what scares me more than death itself is dying alone. How horrible would it be to die never having truly loved? I don’t want to find out, and I certainly don’t want to be in my 77th year of existence, on my deathbed ruing what happened when I was 27.

Amid all these thoughts that continue to dance around in my mind, I place my hand on a Bible, open it and search for a relevant Scripture. Bingo, I found this in Matthew 10:28-31.

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

I read that again, and I feel like a fool to have even lost sight of the fact that the One who created time cares about me and my well-being. So why should I fear time or death when I follow the God who, if the Bible is to be believed, has a tremendous future for us in heaven that will never end?

Makes my fear of time seem kind of trivial, and now I feel like a fool to an extent. But these aren’t just wasted words; they prove a real struggle that affects a man like myself who gets a bit frantic sometimes when I know I can’t take control of everything I’d like to.

Maybe it is better leaving everything in God’s hands. He says to wait on him, and knowing how much I hate time, it’s just another example of why I have to cast aside my fears, anxieties and temporal concepts for a greater cause. In the end, it’s really not about me anyway, is it?