The Gift of Life.

I would say a good majority of my life I’ve woken up and done one of two things: I’ve either A) despised my existence, or B) forgot what it means to exist. Both reactions to my existence itself fail to take into account one primary, unavoidable truth: life is a gift.

It’s hard to believe life is a gift sometimes though. If I’m honest, I think it’s a curse most of the time. It seems like the world always has another sad story to tell. Thousands of people die in a monsoon in India. Hurricanes devastate an entire coast. There’s an eviction notice on the door. Mom is diagnosed with cancer.

Nonetheless, there still remains this unshakable feeling within me: the feeling that I’d rather be alive than dead. It breaks my heart to know that many people deny this feeling and make the choice of opting out. But I can’t say life hasn’t tempted me to do the same, if we’re being honest.

The problem is I know much more about existing and much less about being alive. Most days I simply exist.

I rarely live.

I’ve found that I’ve lived much of my life as a drone, moving through each day in this sort of self-automated, auto-pilot mode. It’s almost as if, on many occasions, I’m standing outside of my self watching myself go through the same motions over and over again, being dragged along the lifeless conveyor belt of existence from one place to the other.

But then I have these profound moments.

I get still and I quiet myself. I take a really deep breath (in through the nose, out through the mouth). And in these moments, God speaks:

“Life is a gift. It can be taken away from you any second. Do you want to look back on your life with regret, only to find that you went through the motions? That you simply existed? Do you want to look back only to find that you spent most of your time wallowing in self-pity, laziness, and complacency? What about all the people I put around you to love and encourage and empathize with and yet you could only see yourself? Do you really want to look back on your life, only to find out that you wasted your life rejecting its beauty?”

It’s in these moments where I wake up to this undeniable gift that is life. It’s much like the story of Walter Mitty, who finally got tired of simply existing and made the conscious decision to embark on the adventure of treasuring life. And even though I’m absolutely confident my adventure won’t involve long boarding down mountain roads and escaping volcanic eruptions, I have an adventure to live nonetheless.

We all do.

So I will choose to be thankful. I will choose to love others.  I will choose to relish these moments of being alive. I will treasure this moment right here, right now.

It very well could be my last.

 

 

 

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How I’m Learning to Drop the Act

Letting Go of the Performance

Recently, I had lunch with a very close friend. The thing about this close friend of mine is that he’s an effortlessly funny guy. Comedy comes as second nature to him, as he always knows how to lighten the mood with laughter from one of his witty jokes or just his natural demeanor. And I admire that about him. But I started to notice something about myself as I was having lunch with him.

As we talked, I kept feeling this gnawing pressure to make a joke. I really wanted to say something funny. I racked my brain twice over thinking of a punchline or a funny voice or anything that I could muster from my personality in order to get a laugh. The pressure grew and grew as the conversation went on until lunch was finally over and I realized I had not said anything remotely hysterical. I felt like a failure.

For some reason or another, I felt dejected; like I lost a significant battle with myself. But I’ve felt this pressure before. I’m no stranger to it. I’ve felt this pressure for as long as I could remember. In fact, I’ve become so accustomed to the pressure that it has become engraved in who I am. So much so that I’ve been blinded to it’s consequences on my soul. And while I’m often prone to overlook this pressure, for some reason I couldn’t overlook it this day.

After lunch was over and as I was mulling over the defeated feeling I had in my soul, I finally asked myself the question I’ve always neglected: Where is this feeling coming from?

Why did I feel like I had failed at such a trivial thing as making a joke? That’s when I was reminded of something Donald Miller shared about himself in one of my favorite books, Scary Close.  In his book, he shares how when he was a kid and his dad split, he felt like he had to prove he was intelligent in order to matter.

One time, his sister and her friends were over so he took a broken tape recorder apart and he spread the pieces across his bed. Then, as he sat there holding his screwdriver, he pretended to act like he was fixing it by looking at the pieces intently and moving the parts around on his bed. When his sister and her friends asked what some of the parts were, he would say that they wouldn’t understand. But in reality, he had no idea what he was doing.

He went on to say,

Ever since I was a child, ever since I became wrongly convinced I had to be bigger and smarter than I really was, I’ve been trying to perform, trying to convince people I was more capable than I really was. I’d been sending that same nine-year old kid who took the tape recorder apart out into the world to speak and perform and interact with people.

When I went back and re-read this, I realized that’s me. Somewhere along the line as a kid, I felt like I had to prove something in order to matter. Whether it was proving I was athletic, smart, or funny,  I felt it necessary to prove I was any of these in order to belong and to matter to someone. That kid has still been interacting with others in my place to this day. Consequently, my relationships have suffered from it ever since.

Attraction Isn’t Intimacy

I couldn’t even be myself with one of my closest friends. I felt like I had to impress him with a joke or else he would see me for the fraud I really am and decide to bounce. I was afraid he would abandon our friendship after finding out how boring I was. That’s when I realized I didn’t just do that with him either, but with almost all of my relationships. I started to notice this pressure to perform to some degree manifested itself in every relationship I had. And while I was reluctant to make this revelation, it felt good to finally realize why I felt so much “performance anxiety” all the time.

Miller goes on to say,

The reality of trying to be bigger and smarter than we are is that it sort of works, and then falls apart. It’s true people are attracted to intelligence and strength and even money, but attraction isn’t intimacy. What attracts us doesn’t always connect us. I can’t tell you how many friends I have who have been taken in by somebody sexy or powerful or charming but soon after find themselves feeling alone in the relationship. It’s one thing to impress people, but it’s another to love them.

That’s the lie I’ve believed my entire life: attraction is intimacy. It’s a dangerous lie that has wreaked havoc on all of my relationships, and even more so my soul. I’ve sacrificed intimacy time and time again for the sake of making myself “impressive” or “attractive.” But thankfully, I’m starting to see the truth more clearly.

If you’re feeling lost because you believed the same lie your entire life, let me encourage you with the truth. And trust me, I’m preaching this to myself even more so. Here it is:

You don’t have to be smart, funny, athletic, or sexy to find love. No, you are loved regardless. Jesus looks beyond our outward, external reputations and identities, and he peers into the depths of our inward selves. He sees that little boy or little girl still trying to prove they matter. And he is telling us that we don’t have to be that little boy or little girl anymore. He tells us that we matter, that we belong, and that we are loved unconditionally, regardless of our talents, abilities, skills, appearance, or intellect.

Do I have a hard time believing that sometimes? Absolutely. And I’m sure you do too. But it’s true. I believe it’s true because Jesus went to the cross to prove it’s true. That’s what I forget far too often. It’s because of Jesus that we are free to be ourselves. He doesn’t ask us to impress. He just asks us to love.

All that being said, I think that’s what I’m going to do now. It’s time for me to drop the act and stop performing.

I can already feel the pressure fading. The peace and love of Christ are flooding in.

 

 

 

How to Let Go of Likes 

I decided it was time for a break. It seemed as if my entire life had come to revolve around this digital, hand-held device. But it wasn’t the phone itself that was appealing to me. No, it was what it offered. It offered the allure of high praise, the possibility of connection, and my personal drug of choice: validation.

It presented me an opportunity to write a narrative about myself to friends, family, and strangers alike through the medium of carefully edited photos and well put together captions. I could be who I wanted to be. I could convince those peering into my profile that I was living a life of adventure, wanderlust, and whimsy (for those wondering what ‘whimsy’ means, it comes from the Bob Goff book of life). I could convince people that I had a lot of friends and was really popular. I could trick people into thinking I was on cloud nine, constantly walking through fields of daisies, without a care or worry in the world.

But while I could possibly trick others, I could not trick myself. While my profile exhibited an exciting and abundant life, my real life felt far from it. I painted a picture of my outward life that did not represent my inward life. 

To put it simply, I was a fraud.

Truthfully, my life was fairly mundane. Most of my days consisted of me doing homework, working a desk job, wasting time on YouTube, reading a book, or hanging with some friends. 

Furthermore, what social media didn’t capture was the days I felt lonely. It didn’t capture the moments where I hurt people and felt hurt by others. It didn’t capture the extremely embarrassing moments I’ve had. It didn’t capture my immature qualities and  insecurities. 

It didn’t capture my raw, unedited humanity. 

Which is partly why I began to worship the platform of social media. For a couple hours a day, I could lose myself in a narrative in which I could be a different character. A character which was admired, affirmed, and “liked”. As a result, I became addicted to the dopamine hit I would get from every like and follow.  

So I did the only thing I knew to do: I deleted my social media accounts and got as far away from it as possible. 

I decided to detox my life and remove myself for as long as I needed so that I could come back down to planet Earth and do some work on my soul. And it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

In my absence, I spent a lot of time in reflection and prayer trying to figure out how and why social media affected my life in such a negative way. Subsequently, I learned many valuable lessons, of which I may or may not write about in future posts, but there is one lesson that was more valuable than all the rest. There may be a different and more vital lesson for others to learn individually, but here was my big lesson to learn:

Real connection, real joy, and real life are neither manufactured nor measured by likes, retweets, or follows. Real connection, real joy, and real life come only as a result of being defined daily by love. A love which must be defined by the life and love of Jesus. 

This is it for me. I don’t care how novel, clichè, or simple it may sound. The remedy for my need for validation, my incessant coveting, my envious desires, and my constant comparisons is none other than the life-changing, soul-shaping, deep, and abundant love of Jesus! 

When I allow myself to be defined by His love, I stop worrying about what people think. I stop comparing myself to others and start accepting myself. I stop envying and coveting other people’s lives and start being more grateful for my own. I stop judging other people based off their profiles and start seeing them through the loving eyes of Christ. I stop painting a false narrative of myself as the main character and start seeing Jesus as the real hero of the story. 

Because the love of Jesus defines who I am, I stop living for a like and I start living to love. 

Because the love of Jesus defines who I am, I stop thinking about how I can make myself look better and start focusing on making known the riches of God’s glory and beauty. 

Because the love of Jesus defines who I am, I stop looking for happiness and connection through a virtual world and start looking for it in the life that Jesus offers. 

I hope you know how much Jesus loves you; that He gave up his life for you so that you may be forgiven and redeemed and made new; that His love for you doesn’t waver according to how “bad” you are, but that His love is unconditional and never-ending.

The real problem was never with social media, but with my sinful, idolatrous heart. I began to let a social media profile define who I was instead of letting the love of Christ define me. Accordingly, I’ve come to realize the more I receive Christ’s love, the more I love Christ, and the more I love Christ, the more I love others, and the more I love others, the less I worship myself. 

Once I understood that, I was able to enter back into the social media world with a redeemed perspective and a fresh lens. 

If you came here looking for more practical tips for social media, there’s a lot of articles out there that can help you more than this. But if you find yourself lost and feeling like a fraud, then I hope my story helps you see how extravagant the love of Jesus is and the implications it has for each of our individual worlds. Even our virtual ones. 

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If you want to keep up with my blog and join me on this journey of diving deeper into the love of Christ, then feel free to subscribe to my blog and follow me on social media. 

Instagram: @coltonbanks__

What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do.

My friend texted me a picture of her room the other day. It was a catastrophic mess. She had just moved all her stuff into a new room and it looked like someone planted a bomb in her laundry basket.

She said,”I don’t even know where to start.”

It reminded me of a story one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, tells about her little brother growing up. He had a writing project on birds due the next day for class and he had no idea where to start. He was overwhelmed and frustrated. Then Anne’s father, who was also a writer, sat down, turned to her little brother, putting his arm around him, and simply said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

With that story in mind, I texted back to my friend: “Just start. That’s all that matters.”

Oftentimes we are the little boy. We are my friend, staring into the messy abyss of our rooms. We don’t know what to do or where to begin. Overwhelmed by the weight of options, plans, possibilities, expectations, (fill in the blank), etc., we don’t know what to do with ourselves.

Just start.

Stop worrying about the possibility of whatever it is you’re doing being a total disaster. Stop ruminating over the thousands of different ways you could fail. Your fear is only paralyzing you. Just start already.

When you hike a mountain, you don’t just sit there and stare at the peak, then eventually end up at the summit. You can’t wish yourself there. Instead, after staring for a little while, you get down to business and start hiking. One foot after the other, step-by-step.

It’s more about the journey than the destination.

I’ll be honest: I don’t know what my blog page/website is about. I read and researched extensively on what makes a blog successful and the overwhelming majority, in unison, all stated that you need a niche, a central theme, something that makes your blog unique. I racked my brain a million times over and still could not seem to muster up a decent answer. I still don’t know what my niche is (if you figure it out, let me know).

But I had been in this position before with so many other things in my life. I can’t tell you how many ideas or projects that have popped up in my head, that I’ve elaborately sketched out in my mind, with an intense ferocity and passion to carry out, only to watch them fade to black and never think about again.

This is because I always overthink how it might fail or the massive overload of work it might bring or how deeply under-qualified I might be for the task.

But I started anyway. I told myself that if I could just start, I could worry about the rest later. If I can just put one foot in front of the other, step by step, I can be better. I can grow. Maybe I’ll even find out what my blog is about one day. But I’m not worried about that right now. All I have is this moment. And that’s all you have to.

I don’t know what it is you’re not starting today because you’re afraid or overwhelmed by the amount work or possibility of failure in the future, but I’m here to tell you one thing: Just start.

Don’t know where to begin?

Bird by bird, buddy.

Just take it bird by bird.

 

Rain, Writing, and Forgiveness.

It’s been raining in Joplin for the last two weeks and it’s starting to feel like Seattle. Granted, I haven’t been to Seattle, but I hear it rains there a lot. God said he would never flood the earth again and he put a rainbow in the sky as a promise, but he never said he wouldn’t flood an entire town again. So I’m building my ark as we speak and the only people I’m allowing on are pugs and chimpanzees. Deal with it.

Granted, Seattle has beautiful mountain ranges, good coffee, and Powell’s City of Books, but I don’t think I’ll move there if this what it’s like most days out of the year. I imagine it’s because I probably have that seasonal depression thing. When it’s sunny outside, I’m sunny on the inside. When it’s cloudy skies and rainy weather, I’m as useful as a slug.

But here’s one thing the rainy weather is forcing me to do: stay inside. And I’m the type of person when I stay inside, I start thinking. And when I start thinking, I write.

So here’s what I’m thinking about today:

“but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:15)

This is one of those hard sayings from Jesus that I don’t like to hear. Honestly, I’d rather pass over that part of Scripture and pretend it doesn’t exist. Nonetheless, the Lord knows I need to hear it.

The first thing that comes to mind when I read it is the word “trespasses”. I don’t know about you, but when I hear that word I think about all the times as a kid growing up that my friends and I would see a sign on someone’s property, which said in big, red, and bold letters: NO TRESPASSING. Naturally that was our invitation to adventure, and the next thing we know, we’re in our neighbor’s yard in an old-fashioned Mexican standoff with their large, slobbery dog. But it’s what we wanted. We were the Sandlot generation and we all just wanted to be Benny “the Jet” Rodriguez.  

I think Jesus calls them trespasses because that’s what sin is. When we trespass against someone, we’ve disobeyed God’s NO TRESPASSING sign and foolishly marched onto the property of someone else’s soul. We stomp our feet on someone’s emotions and trample around on their hearts, leaving boot-sized scars in our wake.

But someone has done the same to us and we remember those scars all too well. Not to mention, some of our guard dogs were chihuahuas, which didn’t make it any easier.

Here’s the really hard thing: Jesus calls me to forgive my trespassers or else the Father won’t forgive me.  Now I’m not a Bible scholar, but that seems pretty straightforward to me. If I don’t forgive others, God won’t forgive me. How is this possible?

Some of us have had terrible sins committed against us. Some of our scars are still fresh wounds. Deep, painful wounds like sexual abuse, bullying, murder of a family member, etc. Why can’t God just forgive us first and then let us worry about forgiving others later?

I think part of the reason Jesus says this is because we cannot receive forgiveness in full as long as we still carry resentment in our hearts.

To put it simply, it’s because resentment and vengeance stand directly counter to the gospel. God goes to the cross to forgive us our sins and wipes away our eternal indebtedness to Him, yet we still hold others in our debt? I’ve been naive enough to actually believe that.

We have yet to fully understand the gravity of God’s love and it’s implications for our lives.

I don’t want to undermine the weight of our scars. Some of the sins committed against us were plain ugly and we didn’t deserve them. But in truth, nothing that has been done to us is as severe as the sins we have committed against our infinitely holy and perfect Creator. If He can forgive us for our atrocities, we can forgive others of theirs.

I know. I really wish Jesus didn’t say this either. But I also know Jesus loves us and want what’s best for us. If we can trust Him, we can find the willingness to change.

“We don’t want to grow. It hurts. And yet we do, bravely and scared, bit by bit. We tell it–it hangs in the air with its amazingness–we begin to cooperate with kindness, and we remember the good we’ve seen in our own lives. We soften ever so slightly, with one to two percent willingness, and I’ll be damned if that isn’t enough.” – Anne Lamott

As Lamott reminds us, it’s going to take a little bit of spiritual WD-40 and a whole lot of help from the Holy Spirit to soften these hard, calloused hearts of ours, but what’s waiting for us on the other side of forgiveness is the peace we so desperately desire, along with the healing our soul craves.

To conclude, it’s still raining outside, I’m still building my ark, and I haven’t forgot about the pugs and chimpanzees. But now that I think about it, I think I’ll go ahead and leave the door open for anyone to come on in. It’s less lonely that way.

 

 

 

Featured image: Jarrell Jackson

Instagram: @jarrellmljackson

Check out his stuff at vsco.co/actionjackson9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Groundhog Day.

I’m a little late to the game, but I watched Groundhog Day for the first time today. I’m in one of those classes where you watch movies instead of doing homework. I don’t know if you’re into that, but personally I really enjoy the teaching style.

If you aren’t familiar with the plot of Groundhog Day, let me fill you in.

*Warning: major spoilers ahead.*

The main character, Phil (played by the one and only Bill Murray), is an arrogant, egocentric weatherman who’s been assigned to cover the infamous holiday, Groundhog Day, in Puxsutawney, Pennsylvania. To say he’s reluctant about his task is an understatement. He’d rather be anywhere else than in the rinky-dink town of Puxsutawney with all of its rinky-dink people (“hicks” as he refers to them).

He’s accompanied by two people: his news producer, Rita (Annie McDowell), and cameraman, Larry (Chris Elliott). It’s his fourth year covering this holiday and it’s no secret he doesn’t want to be there.

To his dismay, he wakes up at his hotel and comes to realize he’s reliving the same day over and over again, to no foreseeable end. He’s absolutely shocked, as any normal human being would be.

Once he comes out of shock, he starts to live as if there’s no tomorrow, because…well there actually is no tomorrow. He starts to live lavishly. Plunging into a life of hedonism, he denies himself no pleasure. He robs a bank truck, eats all the food he wants, smokes all he wants, and gives himself over to all he sees fit. He even uses his growing knowledge of daily events to figure out ways to get women into bed.

He eventually tries this in an attempt to seduce Rita, as he did the other women. However, no matter how many times he tries, he finds they’re never good enough to get her into bed. In fact, she slaps him repeatedly as every night ends.

Eventually, he grows weary and begins to despise his existence. He ends up trying to kill himself time and time again, in countless different ways, only to find that he can’t succeed.

Once this no longer works, something begins to change in him. He begins to help a homeless man. Tragically however, the homeless man ends up dying in Phil’s arms. Because of this, he vows to never let a person die in Puxsutawney as long as he’s got something to say about it. So begins a new road of Phil becoming the town hero, as he saves people’s lives left and right, as well as mastering new skills like playing the piano and ice-sculpting, in addition to consuming heavy amounts of poetry. So all the people of Puxsutawney come to love and admire him.

Because of his newfound admiration from the townspeople, he eventually gains the affection of Rita. She falls in love with this new man. And as Phil lies with her in his bed, he wakes the next morning to find that she is still in the bed with him, having broken the curse, liberating him from the eternal cycle. Through it all, he was a transformed person–so much so that he tells Rita that he wants to live in Puxsutawney, the town he initially despised.


In conclusion, why am I taking all this time to explain an old movie like Groundhog Day?

Because it reminds me of a lesson that Jesus taught long ago. The lesson is two-fold.

First, as Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6, do not worry about tomorrow. Each day carries with it its own trouble and it doesn’t do us a lick of good to stress over something that does not exist, just as tomorrow didn’t exist for Phil. Despite how cliche it sounds, it is undeniably true that we are not promised tomorrow. Therefore, we must live each day in light of such a reality. All we have is today. All we have is right now.

Perhaps, we should learn from Phil’s mistakes. Hedonism won’t do the trick. Jesus calls us to something higher.

Jesus reminds us of the real answer: Love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39). Though the movie did not communicate the former, it is important to realize that true love for our neighbors comes from receiving and understanding what it means to first love God above all things.

As Jesus reminds us, it is in forgetting one’s self that we find true life. It was in loving, serving, and saving the lives of others that Phil found a reason to live. Funny thing is, Jesus was preaching this message long before Groundhog Day came around.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)

It was in denying himself that Phil found life. Love broke his curse. Love transformed him into a new person.

Jesus is calling us to the same life; a life of meaning, hope, and authentic love. He doesn’t say it will be easy, but he promises it’s worth it. So what are we waiting for?

Pick up your cross today and love someone. Tomorrow might not come.

Thanks for the reminder, Bill Murray.

When I Found Freedom

I used to think freedom meant having the ability to say “yes” to whatever I wanted. Now I know real freedom is about being able to say “no” to all the things I used to say “yes” to before.

I passed one class my first year of college: English Comp. Other than that, I flunked out of every other single class I took. Apparently that’s what happens when you skip 90% of your classes. But I’m sure I missed class the day they taught that lesson. Figures.

Up until my first year of college, I was the archetype for cliche high-schoolers. I was all about living in the now and not considering the consequences. So naturally, as one can expect, college meant one thing to me: freedom.

Pure and unadulterated freedom.

As far as it concerned me, I was free to do all that I saw fit. Stay up as late as I wanted. Sleep in as long as I wanted. Drink all the beer I wanted. Smoke all the weed I wanted. Party all I wanted. Go to class? Eh, I don’t think so. Class was no place for a free man like myself.

And to be quite honest, it was pretty fun for a while. I was meeting a lot of girls, making tons of new “friends”, and making even more memories. Every night came with a new adventure or risk. I don’t think I had ever felt more free in my entire life.

Then things started to change.

Too much became never enough. The more I consumed, the more I craved–a craving that grew stronger the more I fed it. It was an endless cycle, and the more I succumbed to it, the more my soul became restless.

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” – Augustine

Little by little, without recognition, I was slowly letting go of real freedom. The more I said “yes” to my sin, the more I was developing the inability to say “no” to it.

Before I knew it, my sin had taken me as a slave.


I guess that’s the thing about slavery. It’s never as obvious and outright as we think. Slavery is a subtle, gradual, and downward slope into a dark, lonely pit; a pit that we walk ourselves into with naive happiness.

I basically dove head first into it. It wasn’t long before I realized I needed someone to come along to loosen my chains and get me out.

And along came Jesus.

What I love about Jesus is that he doesn’t call me to be obedient for the sake of gaining his love or approval. Rather, in His love for me, He asks my obedience because he knows it offers the freedom my soul truly longs for.

I used to think freedom meant not being held down by rules. But real freedom, I discovered, is found in obedience. And Jesus gives us one big commandment to obey: love God above all things and love our neighbor as ourselves. It’s in obeying that command that I’ve found the freedom my soul has always wanted.

“But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:21-23)

I eventually gave up that lifestyle. But it wasn’t out of guilt or fear. I wasn’t afraid that my disobedience would disqualify Christ’s love for me. It was the exact opposite. His unconditional love bred within me a desire for obedience.

I suppose that is the paradox of the Christian life. Real joy comes in trading worldly freedom for slavery to Christ, because slavery in Christ means the freedom to live the life we truly want–a life of unending freedom.

Pure and unadulterated freedom.

 

 

Featured Image: Kathlyn Wieland

Instagram: @kathwieland