Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Matthew 22:1-14The Wedding Garment

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Written on June 1 and posted today as FavoriteSunday’s Gospel reading was the story of the wedding guest who appeared without a wedding garment . . .

The Parable of the Wedding Garment

This story frightened me as a child.  So much violence, so much anger.  Weddings were enormous family celebrations for us; just inviting aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents was automatically a guest list of at least two hundred.  My parents were from large families, and these families valued and celebrated life, and they accepted all – even the various black sheep.  On the Sunday this parable was read we five had lots of questions for Mother and Dad: Why did this guy invite people who did not want to come?  Who would miss a wedding and a chance to gather the clan in the first place?  Why did this guy kill people who made him mad?  Why did he invite people and not tell them there was a dress code?  When we were young Mother and Dad would patiently explain that those who were invited should have gone, that the images here are dire because Jesus is making a point, that in those days everyone had “a wedding garment” that was worn when one was invited to a wedding.  When we were older it was explained that this story was more about the presence of the kingdom here and now, and about the “wedding garment” being our own conversion of heart.  Our “wedding garment,” they explained, cannot be bought or borrowed from another.  It cannot be feigned or imagined.  God has a specific measure and infinite mercy.  He calls each of us.  He has a plan in mind which Jesus shows us and the Spirit nurtures in us.  Our proper response to this invitation is to follow Jesus’ model, and to allow the Spirit to live within in order that we discover true repentance, so that we cultivate an honest softening of the heart and a willing obedience to do as God asks.  When we receive the invitation to the feast, which happens frequently – in case we hadn’t noticed – we are to go . . . and we will need to be prepared.  We understood this since the traditions of scouting and the military life were woven through everything we did as a family: One needs to always be prepared for any eventuality, we learned.  This was only prudent.  This was wise.  This was wearing how one wore the “wedding garment”.

I am amazed at the haphazard way in which so many people live, bouncing from one problem to another like a pin ball – or from one thrill to another, from one addiction to another – without much investment in discovering how to stop any insanity in their lives.  I understand when I read this story today that the ejected guest is the colleague I work with who complains but does not want to solve the problem, or the family member who persists in unhealthy behavior and refuses to move down a path that brings clarity and resolution to a worrying problem.  Mother and Dad were right.  This story is not about the nit-picking God who invites all to come to the banquet of life . . . it is really about the stubborn creatures who have heard a message and refuse to believe it.  Once seen in this light, the parable makes sense . . . and it is something to be taken seriously.

For today we might pause to reflect and ask ourselves . . . Do we have a wedding garment prepared to wear when we receive invitations to wedding feasts – are we ready to do God’s work when called in the Spirit and as Jesus does?  Do we know where our garment is, does it need mending, does it need cleaning up – when was the last time we examined it carefully?  Do we know what this wedding garment signifies – are we ready to say to the God who created us . . . “We have worked hard on ourselves to soften our hearts and bend our stiff necks.  We have discarded our wide phylacteries and long tassels to put on the simple garment of Christ.  We have come to labor in the vineyard to do the work you need rather than the work we want”.

In the Christian Baptismal Rite, a white garment is often bestowed on the baptized child.  Many infants wear a special white baptismal dress.  We later see white fabrics used in First Communion dresses and suits, in confirmation and graduation robes and dresses, and even in wedding gowns.  With all of this imagery to remind us, let us dig out our own wedding garment from the closet or chest where we have stored it for a special day.  Let us clean it, repair it, refurbish it . . . for every day is Banquet Day in the Kingdom and we have need of it often . . . Do we act as if this is this something we know?

A re-post from October 12, 2011.

Image from: http://edharewood.fatcow.com/Life_of_Jesus_Christ/parable-of-the-wedding-garment/

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2 Samuel 23: Last Words

2 Samuel 23Last Words

Saturday, July 21, 2018

A favorite written on June 18 and posted today . . .

We have no way of knowing the impact of our words on others.  We might guess.  We may even have the good fortune of receiving thanks from someone for words we may have offered during a crisis.  Or we may have the misfortune of discovering that our words were unkind or even damaging.  In all of these circumstances, we do well to remember that words may hurt or heal.  Words represent ideas and actions.  Words are sometimes our only vehicle for communication.  What then might we want to offer as last words to those with whom we struggle?  What do we offer to those we love?

I remember the last conversations I had with each of my parents.  They were completely typical.  Words of love and comfort going back and forth over the phone wires between Mother and me.  Each of us giving.  Each of us receiving.  Words of encouragement and life philosophy with Dad, even though he floated in and out of consciousness.  Each of us giving.  Each of us receiving.  There was no need to iron out wrinkles or un-ruffle feathers.  My parents and I were always open with one another.  Hidden agendas and anxieties were not allowed to fog our relationship.  The gift of honesty and truth is a settled heart.

I also remember my last conversation with my oldest brother and sister, both now deceased.  My brother knew his end was near as he died a protracted and painful death from cancer.  He and I joked and laughed as much as his condition would allow.  We both knew that each exchange held the potential for being the last yet we did not let this clutter our thinking.  We both acted on the belief that death is a mere transition and not an end.  The twelve-year difference in our ages was bridged by our love of family and commonly held values.

My sister died a sudden death and so our last words were ordinary.  We spoke about when we would see one another again and what we would be doing; yet there was a distance in her eyes.  Perhaps she already knew that her exodus was near.  Perhaps she held something too close to yet share.  I do not know but I also do not worry.  All will be revealed in God’s time.  I followed her across the lawn in the gathering dark as we walked to her car.  “Don’t walk all this way with me,” she smiled, “Go back to the campfire.  We all had a great time tonight.  Thanks for having the party.  See you soon”.  They were pleasant last words, normal and content, holding nothing deceitful, nothing dishonest.  We had celebrated the birthdays of her two oldest children.  She was satisfied.

We were all taught to live by a double axiom.  It was a happy combination of Dad’s “Hold nothing back” philosophy tempered by Mother’s “It will keep” viewpoint that unprepared thoughts were best held until processed and delivered at a better time.  It seemed like walking a tightrope to us five extroverted children as we grew.  Now I know that it reflected the working relationship my parents had forged through sixty years of living together.  Hide nothing – but say what you have to say with kindness.  We never know what words may be our last.

Being king and a man raised up, David knows that his last words will be recorded.   We do not have that luxury or – as some will think – that burden.  But when we think on this we realize that we utter last words constantly.  Friendships fade while others blossom.  Colleagues retire or go to other work with honest promises made and meant to be kept; new workmates join us.  Circumstances constantly change.  Someone is always moving on.  Yet our words remain forever, reverberating in the minds of others.   They capture memories accurately or wrongly.  They convey meaning poorly or well.  They accompany our actions and as such they are our legacy.

As we move through the last days of spring and step into summer, let us take a moment in time to pause and consider the weight of our words and what they might say to us and others about what we hold dear . . . and what message we want to leave behind for an eternity.

We will be away from the Internet for several days. Please enjoy this reflection first posted on July 30, 2011.

Image from: http://www.thecancerhelpblog.com/tag/poems/ 

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Exodus 17In Our Midst

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Fear of abandonment is a horror that grips many and as a result lovers jilt one another so as not to be left by the other, parents abuse their children so as to not be disappointed, colleagues betray one another in order to keep a job, supervisors coerce workers in order to maintain complete control, friends disappear from relationships rather than work through conflict.  We can imagine how the kingdom might bloom if we were to fully comprehend one single fact . . . we are never alone . . . God is with us always and so there is no need to allow the terror of rejection to govern us.

Christ brings us a message of inversion, as we have said in many NoontimesHe tells us that what is up in our physical world is actually down in his.  The poor and the humble inherit, those who mourn rejoice, the hungry and thirsty are sated, and those who suffer persecution because of this belief reign.  When any of my siblings or I complained of an injustice – perceived or real – my mother would remind us easily and with a smile: The first will be last . . . the master is the servant. 

So if we are to live as if we believe in this first is last kingdom-building, we perceive abandonment as its inverted companion . . . union.  Christ is with us to remind us that the jilted are his special loves, the lost children his particular darlings, and the oppressed his best and closest friends.  In today’s Noontime, God shows the Hebrew people how much they are loved.  God tells them that they are not alone.  God reminds them that they are unique and chosen loved ones . . . yet they do not understand.  Across the millennia we hear their cry, see their pain, and we ask as the Hebrews did: Why do we suffer?  Why do things like this happen?  How are we to go on?  We are still God’s stiff-necked people.

Water springing from a rock, manna and quail in the desert: God knows that there are hidden gifts in hard, dry places;  God knows that manna gathers itself like dew in the desert morning;  God knows that great flocks of quail migrate over the wilderness and come to ground to rest; yet we persist in disbelief.  We continue to ask as the Hebrews ask: Is the Lord in our midst or not?   

In verses 8 through 13 we watch Joshua defeat the army of Amalek as long as Moses keeps his hands raised.  This story fascinated me as a child and I spent days lurking behind my brothers and sisters willing them to do things I wanted when I raised my hands to heaven.  God in great wisdom did not answer those requests . . . but God has answered many more as God accompanies me on my journey.

After the defeat of the Amalekites, the Lord says to Moses: Write this down in a document as something to be remembered, and recite it in the ears of Joshua.  In Old Testament language, the Lord tells the people that God will always be among them to defend them; God will not allow them to be wiped out.  God tells them that they are not alone, and that God will bring goodness out of evil . . . always.

We are never alone.  We are constantly loved.  We are rescued, comforted, healed and held . . . always and without fail.  There are no circumstances and no people we need ever fear.  The parched desert and the brutality of the Amalekites in our lives need not send us into panic because God is in our midst.

And so we too, can write this down . . . We have nothing to fear because the Lord will war against our enemies . . . throughout the centuries. 

We will be away from the Internet for several days. Please enjoy this reflection first posted on July 26, 2011. 

Image from: http://gambolinman.blogspot.com/2007/10/southwest-usa-precious-water-abounds-in.html 

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Matthew 7:7-11The Answer to Prayers

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

This month marks my parents’ 75th wedding anniversary; they celebrated 60 years together before Mother died in 1997.  It seems a long time ago – yet a brief time ago.  I think of them as I spend time with my grandson on visitor’s day in the middle of his two-week Boy Scout camp.  Both Mother and Dad were heavy contributors to the Boy and Girl Scouts as adult volunteers.  My siblings and my oldest son were all scouts.  I found the Brownies a bit boring (I was not into making “sit upons” or selling cookies – although I love to eat them) but as an adult I participated in Scouting as a Den Leader, a Den Leader Coach and as an Assistant Commissioner.   Scouting, it seems, is one of my family themes . . . and scouting was one of the places that we all learned that collaboration and congeniality are as important as prayer and elbow grease when moving a group toward a goal.  It is one of the places where we learned – and it was re-enforced – that a huge task becomes a small one when broken into parts for willing hands.  It is one of the places we learned that preparedness, forward-thinking, and attention to detail and to one another ease the formation of community.  These lessons came from Mother and Dad yes, but as worried parents they used any vehicle handy to bring those lessons home.  And the scouting movement was one of many tools for them.  This afternoon, watching my grandson scamper along forest paths laid down by scouts who now return as adult volunteers, I felt my parents’ wisdom.  And as a parent and now grandparent, I understand how many prayers my parents offered up to God in our behalf . . .and I understood with a surety I cannot prove that they pray for us still.

In today’s Noontime we see the simple statement that God is a loving parent who wants to grant our wishes.  God wants to give us bread and not stones, fish and not snakes.  God is standing just on the other side of the door we have closely firmly against him like a two-year old in tantrum or a teenager in angst; he waits patiently for us to see what is before us . . . that we are loved, and that we can do nothing to earn this love.  It is a gift freely given.   We may believe this is fact or we may think it fiction.  In either case, God waits patiently, Jesus tells us.  He wants to pardon, to save and to redeem.  All we need do is ask.  God is the eager parent who uses any tool to hand to bring his children together and to build community.  Although we may not see or feel this, God works constantly on our behalf, God moves to answer all of our prayers.  Like a patient parent, God wants to give us all those good things for which we ask.

We will be away from the Internet for several days. Please enjoy this reflection first posted on June 26, 2011.

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Matthew 1:1-17: Genealogy

Jesus’ Family Tree

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

As commentary explains the issue of genealogy, the purpose of Matthew’s inclusion of this long list of who begat whom serves to describe the fourteen generations in this listing, 14 being the numerical value of the letters in the name David.  I once heard an entire lecture on numerology and the Hebrew alphabet, concepts important to Matthew’s audience, the Jewish people at the time of Christ.  The salient point here is that Matthew was making the case that the man Jesus was indeed the long-awaited Messiah who springs from David’s line.  Yet, despite this affirmation that emanated from their way of thinking, despite the many signs and fulfillments of Old Testament scriptures and the prophets, the people refused to accept the evidence before them. We might ask why; and the answer is . . . because they wanted to.

When Jesus came into his family, his town, his country, his culture, he upended many of the long-held tenets.  He came to set the world on fire, to cause discussion, to move the people out of their comfort zone.  He did this in his own time and he continues to do this with us today. He does this with an inversion that startles and even frightens us, but that also transforms us.

We might turn to Paul to better understand the genealogy we share with Jesus. Paul explains to the Galatians, and he explains to us . . . When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God. (Galatians 4:4-7)

Family was important to my parents – both the generations before us and the generations to come. These cohorts formed a foundation on which Mother and Dad stood and from which they drew strength as they met the daily challenges of life. We need to practice standing and stretching. We need to practice patience and forgiveness.

Today we read of Jesus’ legitimacy.  Let us reflect on our own legitimacy as his adopted sisters and brothers.  Do we share his patience?  Do we share his love for those who curse us?  Do we share his love for doing God’s will?  Are we legitimate heirs of the redemption Jesus has given to us?

For more information on Jesus’s Family Tree, visit the PBS Frontline site at: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/jesus/tree.html 

For details on this tree, for comparisons of Luke’s and Matthew’s genealogies, visit: http://www.complete-bible-genealogy.com/genealogy_of_jesus.htm

Tomorrow, loving our enemies. 

Adapted from a reflection written on February 4, 2008.

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Sirach 46In Praise of Ancestors

Friday, January 27, 2017familyroots

 A Favorite from January 25, 2010.

In this Noontime we find ourselves in the chapters of the Book of Sirach in which the writer spends time praising the Hebrew ancestors for their openness to God’s message and for their fidelity in following God.  In this particular chapter, we relive the Hebrew transition from nomadic tribe to settled people.  Joshua and Caleb, two leaders who have always been loyal to Yahweh and who have followed Moses from the beginning of their journey out of Egypt, now lead the people into the place of promise – the territory God secured for his people.   The Judges are the leaders who continued to shepherd the Twelve Tribes until the time of the Davidic Kingdom.  Samuel is the last of these and we may read more about this federation at the following site if we are looking for more information.  http://www.jcpa.org/dje/articles/judges.htm

Notes will tell us that Joshua’s name means: The Lord is savior and this is apt since it is through Joshua’s wisdom and leadership that the Hebrew people are able to conquer enemies and receive their inheritance.  The Book of Joshua will give us the details of this story.  Caleb, whose name means wholehearted faith and devotion, is also appropriately named.  Here is a site with a synopsis of the interesting story these men share.  If you like espionage and are intrigued by the seamy parts of life, read about how these two friends who were able to secure a legacy for a people through some very unusual means.  http://www.bible-knowledge.com/Joshua-and-Caleb.html

Samuel’s story is well known and the books named for him will remind us of the story read out to us on Sundays during particular times of the liturgical year.  We will remember that his mother Hannah prayed for children and was rewarded for her fidelity with the birth of this child and others.  We will remember how as a boy he ran to Eli in the temple, thinking that the priest was calling him in the night when all the while it was the voice of God he was hearing.  Eli tells him to respond to this voice by replying:  Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.  Samuel serves God as a prophet, and he becomes the final judge of Israel who ushers in the kingdom by first anointing Saul and later David – all at God’s bidding.

What do these stories mean to us and for us?  They tell us about our spiritual roots.  They remind us of how and why we are created.  They are our link to a past which brings us to this present.  They are an opportunity to re-investigate who we are and what we mean.

These stories also bring another opportunity.  They are the chance to think about our own immediate ancestors – who they were and what they mean to our own lives.  Our forbears may have had a great influence on our spiritual life – either because of their dedication and fidelity to God, or perhaps because of their lack of any spiritual direction.  In either case, our predecessors are the flesh from whom we come, they have given to us the habits and gestures we have inherited.  Theirs may well be the message that we continue.  As we reflect on our roots, we will want to think about whom we praise . . . and why.

Let us take a few moments sometime during this hectic day to reflect on the stories we have heard about the people in our family tree.  What message does the story of their lives leave for us?  And what part of their story do we wish to pass on as part of the great Story of the World?  What or who will our own lives praise?

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1 Kings 21: Deception – Part II

Thursday, June 9, 2016tota_vineyard-rows-russel

Oh what tangled webs we weave, when first we practice to deceive!

My mother’s quoting of Walter Scott’s words peppered our growing-up years. Her use of Scott’s poetic words was her method of teaching the lesson of Ahab and his temper tantrum.

Ahab wants something which someone else cherishes and does not wish to give up.  Ahab goes home, puts his face to the wall and refuses to eat.  His unfortunate wife, Jezebel, colludes with him to get the coveted vineyard from their neighbor, and if we read the entire story, we see what kind of an end these two come to.  They both pay a heavy price for their egregious crimes of trumping up false charges, conniving, lying, stealing, inciting a crowd to stone to death an innocent man. Naboth’s mistake or error is merely the cherishing of something that someone else wants.

We hear Yahweh’s words through the prophet Elijah in verse 20: You have given up yourself to do evil in the Lord’s sight.

Frederick Leighton: Jezebel and Ahab met by Elijah

Frederick Leighton: Jezebel and Ahab met by Elijah

Since my childhood, and because of the wisdom of my mother, my family has not worried about belonging to a particular group.  When my family opens our home party, all are welcome. Universal hospitality, bridge building to fringe groups, invitations to include all at the table have grown out of my mother’s teaching about Naboth, Ahab and Jezebel.

In this year of presidential politics in the U.S., we have become aware of many Naboths, many Ahabs and many Jezebels in the public eye. As we take in the daily news, we recall more words Mother and Dad recited from scripture: The measure that you measure with is measured out to you.  Ostracizing others says more about you than it does about the others.  There is really nothing that can be kept secret.  The truth always comes out in the end. I hope you can stand it when it hits you in the face.

What a wonderful gift we are given in the friends and neighbors God sends to us.  What a wonderful treasure is the vocation of building community to which we are called.  What a blessing to work, play and live beside people with whom we hold things in common, and people with whom we hold little in common. We learn more from our enemies than we do from the people with whom we feel most comfortable.  We are all God’s creatures, made in God’s image.  What do our daily actions say about the relationship we have with our Creator?  Do we turn away in anger when we covet something someone else has? When we open our hearts and homes, are all welcome?  Do we extend invitations with ulterior motives?  Do we interact with only a select few and bully others to bow to our wants? And when God asks us to invite the faithful to the table, whom are we willing to invite?

From a reflection written on June 1, 2008.

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1 Kings 21: Deception – Part I

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Vineyard in Wadi Biyar

Vineyard in Wadi Biyar

Oh what tangled webs we weave, when first we practice to deceive!

These words, often mistaken attributed to William Shakespeare, are found in the epic poem, Marmion, by Walter Scott about the Battle of Flodden that took place in 1513. The poem was published in 1808 but my mother repeated the words of this poem she had read in high school any time she found any of her brood even thinking of doing something that was not above board, open, honest and fair.  The story of Naboth is one that haunted me as a child; the envy, lies and deceit go beyond anything I experienced among family and friends. But as I grew older, I began to see Naboths everywhere; and from time to time I have been Naboth myself.

Verse 4 sends a chill down our collective spine when we realize what is about to happen: Lying down on his bed, [Ahab] turned away from food and would not eat.

We were raised by parents who kept secrets on topics they did not know how to discuss or that brought pain to those already suffering too greatly; otherwise, my elders modeled honesty in every-day life whenever they could. Mother would often say, “If you are keeping something secret in order to have friends, this should tell you that there is something wrong with the people or the event you are thinking about joining”.  Of course, she was correct.  Secrets have a way of surfacing and when they do, their result is always irony.  “You better think twice about what you are thinking of doing”.  She would continue with more axioms.  “Birds of a feather flock together.  There is no honor among thieves”.  Once when I was in the sixth grade, I told my Mother that I could not invite a particular girl in my class to my birthday slumber party.  “Why not”?  Mother asked.  “Because’’, I answered with confidence, knowing that she would agree with me once she heard the terrible consequence that would follow, “If I do, the rest of my friends won’t come to the party.  And besides, she is a little weird and gets on our nerves”.  My mother turned from the stove where she was always standing, and said.  “Here is what you are going to do, or else there is no party.  You will invite all of these girls and when you do, you will all find something nice to say to this one you say gets on your nerves.  If you were paying attention as you should be, you would realize that she is worried that you don’t like her and she doesn’t know what to do about it”.  She turned back to the stove, saying over her shoulder, “And if the rest of the girls don’t come because you have invited her, they are no friends at all.  They are just people who are rude and inconsiderate.  They must have really had their own feelings hurt at some time, or they wouldn’t be acting this way.  You would think they would know better”.  And that was that.  I imagined a slumber party with me and the “weird” girl, but then I knew better than to try to outmaneuver my mother.  And she was right.  All the girls were invited.  All the girls came.  We sat crossed-legged eating popcorn until small hours, making certain that this one friend felt cared for.  We all survived the experience having learning something, and being better for it.  As for the weird girl, my mother was right.  Once she realized that we were not ostracizing her, she stopped being weird.  But really, I think it was the rest of us who stopped being weird.

That was most likely the most important lesson I learned about social interaction.  Mother did not name this bullying. She knew nothing of Mean Girls, or Queen Bees, or give it any other name than what it was: rudeness, a lack of consideration, the mean ostracizing of individuals or groups from a community.  And my mother, growing up in a family of six sisters and one brother, would not tolerate this lack in her own children.  I thank God for the careful shepherding Mother gave us as she handed us tools to handle the meanness of the world.

Tomorrow, Deception-Part II, Ahab gets his way.

For more on girls and bullying, visit: http://culturesofdignity.com/portfolio/queen-bees-and-wannabes/  

For more about Naboths, vineyard, click on on the image above or visit: http://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/passages/main-articles/naboths-vineyard-1-kgs-21.aspx 

Adapted from a reflection written on June 1, 2008.

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Ezekiel 34:23-31: One Shepherd

Wednesday, May 4, 2016shepherd

 We have reflected on God’s home and God’s foolish message. We have watched Paul and Barnabas use sinew and muscle to share the good news of God’s mercy. Today we consider how God’s goodness and love nurture and shepherd us.

Adapted from a Favorite written on April 5, 2008.

Today some of my children have gathered to help me with the chores which are too much for me to accomplish on my own, and I know that my parents are happy about this.  I also know that Mother and Dad are here in spirit, continuing to shepherd from the next world, even as they shepherded in this one.  They loved to call together “work parties” with the ostensible purpose of accomplishing some task . . . but which always resulted in more bonding than any of us could have imagined.

joshua_24_15b--full-800x800Shepherds protect and guard in many fashions.  My parents led us to the nourishing springs Ezekiel describes that rejuvenate even dead bones.  How do we lead others?  How do our actions speak to others?  How do we demonstrate our willingness to love as Jesus loves?

For my part, I will allow God to call me and mine as God sees fit . . . and I rejoice to see my children and their children live lives that are happy not because they are satisfying themselves . . . but because they are doing what they know to be the work of God.

In good times and in bad, in celebration and in sorrow, it is my constant prayer that my children, grandchildren and I might continue helping one another to keep our eyes fixed on the the one shepherd who cares for his sheep so well.

As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15)

Click on the shepherd image above, or enter the word shepherd into the blog search bar to further explore how God leads, supports, and loves us.

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