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Psalm 40:12: God is Listening

Friday, June 28, 2019

Lord, do not withhold your compassion from me; may your enduring kindness ever preserve me. 

There are lots of times – and they seem to last for too long – when it feels as though God does not listen.  I know that God is everywhere, including within me, but there are days and weeks and months and even years when I feel as though I walk entirely alone.  Why does he not hear my crying?

God says: Believe it or not, I do hear you, and I understand how you feel.  I came to earth to live as one of you so that you might believe me when I speak to you.  I love you so much that I have been willing to suffer as you do.  I too, have felt alone, misunderstood and maligned.  But do not worry.  Even though your grief has brought you to a place where you feel no warmth and no compassion, I am with you.  I have always been with you.  I will always be with you.  I will never abandon you.  I will save you from the fear that grips you.  Let go of that fear so that I can take it away from you to put it in a place from which it will not escape.  I have that power.  I have that love for you.  I will preserve you.  Come to me and lay your worries at my feet.  Then rest awhile with me.  I am here.  I have always been here.  I will always be here.

Wishing you a bit of peace so that you might feel God’s love and compassion.


A re-post from June 14, 2012.

Image from: http://rowenleaf.blogspot.com/2011/11/conversations-with-muses.html

Visit The Narrow Gate page on this blog and examine what it means to travel through the eye of the needle.

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Hebrews 11:1: The Dogwood Tree

Monday, June 17, 2019

Today’s Noontime is a reflection written for the dedication of a dogwood tree in the memory of Sophie Myers who was born and died on September 25, 2011.   It springs from the first verse of Hebrews 11.

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

I share with you today some thoughts about how the small and beautiful dogwood tree is a symbol of life and faith – a reminder that despite the fact that we cannot see or hear or smell or touch someone . . . she does, indeed, exist.

The dogwood tree is one of the smallest in the forest but just because it is small does not mean it is any less alive.  Older, taller, more substantial trees tower over her but it is the dogwood – even when quite young – that dresses nature with airy pastel blossoms. She brings beauty and lightness and hope to the otherwise darkened forest.  Despite her size, the dogwood tree is an integral part of the woods.

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

My son Will reminded us on the day of Sophie’s funeral that the shortness of her life does not diminish her significance.  That shortness does not mean that we love her any less and in fact, her quick coming and going make her existence all the more powerful.  This brevity reminds us to tell and show the people we love that we do, indeed, love them.  This brevity calls us forward to live our own lives in the assurance and in the conviction that Sophie is here with us today despite the fact that we cannot see or touch her.

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

The urn that contains the earth-held remains of Sophia Josephine Myers is decorated with four dogwood flowers.  Each of these flowers has four petals that symbolize her family: Gabby, Will, Vivian . . . and Sophie.  On the prayer card created for Sophia’s funeral there is a photograph of one small, green dogwood leaf floating as it moves along the surface of a crystal clear stream.  A sunbeam glints off the rippling water.  One tiny droplet rides on the leaf and is carried downstream to an unknown destination.  We do not see the end . . . yet the journey takes place.  We do not know the moment of arrival . . . yet the arrival happens.  Of this we are assured.  Of this we are convicted.  This we know.  This we live . . . in faith.

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Sophie died in her transit to this world and yet . . . still she lives.  We pause to reflect today – in faith – on what that might mean.  We pause to reflect today on the beauty and the power and the importance . . . of the Dogwood Tree.

Amen.


A re-post from June 3, 2012.

Image of dogwood flower from: http://www.ridgewoodcameraclub.org/steinmeyer.html

To discover how to create a garden as a living memory of a loved one click on the dogwood tree image above or go to: http://www.recover-from-grief.com/memorial-garden.html

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Acts 18:9-10: Do Not Be Silent

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

The Risen Christ

Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.  For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you; because I have many people in this city.  This is thinking we have visited often in our Noontimes.  The Risen Christ constantly reminds us that there is nothing to fear – even when we wander into enemy territory.

We are afraid to risk loss – loss of a friendship, loss of status, loss of youth, loss of vigor, loss of value in any way.

We are afraid to speak up and to speak out.  We shrink from what my Dad used to call Stand up time.  We do not want to be shunned.  We want to be part of the whole.  We want someone else to voice what we are thinking and fearing, believing that if we do not say the words we can disown the fear.

We do not like uncomfortable silence.  We avoid pregnant pauses and knowing looks.  We know that the dictator’s greatest weapon is fear engendered in others and yet we succumb to the tyrant’s whippings by hiding our words and thoughts.  We unknowingly – or knowingly – hope to keep ourselves safe by using passive aggression but this always backfires on us and leaves us less than whole.

We want to either solve our own problems or totally give our worries away to let them bother someone else.  Solutions stand before us but we humans seem bent on avoiding the Spirit’s help at all costs.  And it need not be so.

Jesus tells us to shake away the dust of those who reject us; he tells us to move on in our mission and leave to him the task of converting hardened hearts. (Matthew 10:14, Mark 6:11, Luke 9:5)

Matthew’s Gospel (10:18-20) records Jesus’ words to his disciples: On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.  But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it.  At that time you will be given what to say for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

Luke’s account is similar (12:11): When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say. 

Jesus himself relies on the Father for both words and nuance (John 12:49-50): For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it.  I know that his command leads to eternal life.  So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.

It is clear that we are never alone and yet we childishly refuse the help offered by our creator, our redeemer and the gentle abider.  We cling to wrong thinking because we do not want to make waves or cause turmoil . . . yet how much turmoil does wrong-headed thinking cause?  All we need do is steady ourselves and rely on the creator of all things.

It is obvious that we are in constant company of the Spirit . . . yet we do not use the words we are given because we fear we are not up to the challenge.  How much more difficult is the struggle when we fail to act as we are asked?  All we need do is to quiet ourselves and listen.

It is evident that we are not alone . . . and yet we refuse to recognize the company of our brother and constant companion in life.  How much anxiety is caused by our refusal to see who stands before us?  All we need do is settle ourselves . . . and speak.

We are not alone.  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: all three remain even though we reject their advice and deny their presence.


A re-post from May 21, 2012.

For an interesting story about the image above, click on the photo or go to:http://www.oocities.org/saibaba_risenchrist/eng.htm

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Acts 7:54-60: Martyrdom

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Andre de Giusto (Manzini): Stoning of Saint Stephen

It is difficult to connect the idea with God as a Good Shepherd to accounts like today’s NoontimeIn this famous scene of Stephen’s martyring, we have much to observe, much to absorb.   On this Sunday when we celebrate good shepherding, let us pause to examine the story and ourselves; and let us reflect.

When the crowd heard Stephen name them as stiff-necked and in opposition to the holy Spirit, they were infuriated and they ground their teeth at him.

How often do we gnash our own teeth and plot our arguments when we hear others make statements we do not believe?

But Stephen, filled with the holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

How often are we able to put aside our rising anger and look for God and Jesus in the ugliness we see before us?

The crowd covered their ears, cried out against Stephen and rushed toward him.

How often do we rush against witnessing when we hear words that call us to something greater than we are willing to be?

They threw him out of the city and, and began to stone him.

How often are we more intent on silencing someone than listening to their inspiring and heart-felt words?

The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the foot of a young man named Saul.

How often do we gloat in silence while others suffer?

As Stephen fell beneath the stones he cried out, “Lord Jesus, receive my Spirit”.

How often do we stand by and watch as injustice takes place?

Stephen said with his last breath, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”.

How often are we able to forgive those who transgress against us?  How often do we intercede for our enemies before our forgiving and loving God?

When we are in turmoil and pain and we look for the Good Shepherd to lead us to safety, where do we look?  We find good shepherds amidst the mayhem of life, in the fury of human battles, and in the chaos of darkness that seeks to overtake the light.  We find good shepherds tending to the shunned and the belittled, living with the marginalized and forgotten, healing the lonely and broken-hearted.  And once we find our Good Shepherd, this best of all shepherds, we must follow where he leads.  This following may take us along dangerous paths and through storm-tossed seas.  We may want to cover our ears and gnash our teeth as do the witnesses we hear about today.  We may, like Stephen, feel ourselves falling beneath the weight of too many stones thrown in rage against us; and we may see too late the martyrdom that overtakes us.

When we find ourselves backed up against a howling, angry pack . . . we, like Stephen, must also look to God and to Jesus.  And we must give ourselves over to the Spirit.  We will likely be surprised by the miracle in store for us.

This week we will read more stories about the man Saul at whose feet Stephen’s attacked tossed their cloaks.  We will see the miracle of this man’s conversion as he witnessed the martyring of Stephen.  And we will remember that God always pulls goodness out of evil acts; God always calls forth miracles from martyrdom.  For this reason alone . . . we must not be afraid.


A re-post from April 29, 2012.

Image from: http://all-art.org/DICTIONARY_of_Art/a/Andrea_Giusto1.htm

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Jeremiah 11, 12 and 13: The Infinity of True Happiness

Saturday, May 11, 2019

These three chapters are filled with sad yet beautiful images, and they follow closely on the heels of a conversation which I have just had with a close friend.  The wicked appear to prosper – they have the immediate joys of this world – the faithful gain, through their suffering, the joy that is abiding and eternal.  True happiness comes from knowing that the correct thing has been done, that justice has been enacted, the broken-hearted have been tended to, the weary have been comforted, the exiled welcomed home.  True, deep and abiding happiness permeates the body, the soul, the mind and the heart when God is allowed to dwell within, when a welcome hearth and table have been laid for the guests, when the Spirit finds a resting place within us.  True, deep and abiding happiness blooms when the soul finds its homing path to the Creator.  True, deep and abiding happiness engenders serenity – even during conflict – when the ego is emptied of self and Christ steps in.  Today, on this Feast of The Sacred Heart, we celebrate the groom who takes us to himself.

The verses from Jeremiah speak of complaint, corruption, a broken wine flask, disgrace, skirts stripped away, violation, sacrifices to no avail . . . yet this prophet asks, as we ought, in chapter 12: You would be in the right, O Lord, if I should dispute with you; even so, I must discuss this case with you.  Why does the way of the wicked prosper, why live all the wicked in contentment?

He challenges further: How long must the earth mourn, the green of the whole countryside wither?  For the wickedness of those who dwell in it, beasts and birds disappear because they say, “God does not see our ways.”  If running against men has wearied you, how will you race against horses?  And if in a land of peace you fall headlong, what will you do in the thickets of the Jordan?

He speaks of innocence defiled: Yet I, like a lamb led to slaughter, had not realized that they were hatching plots against me: “Let us destroy the tree in its vigor; let us cut him off from the land of the living so that his name will be spoken no more.”

Then the answer to this plaint finally arrives: Give ear, listen humbly, for the Lord speaks.  Give glory to the Lord, your God, before it grows dark; before your feet stumble on darkening mountains; before the light you look for turns to darkness, changes into black clouds.  If you do not listen to this in your pride, I will weep in secret many tears; my eyes will run with tears for the Lord’s flock, led away to exile. 

Tears shed in mourning and petition rise to the Lord in a cloud of incense.  Suffering offered as an act of redemption in unity with the Christ ends the wickedness.  Our mourning becomes dancing with the indwelling of the Spirit.  The economy of God’s plan must and will be fulfilled – in a kaleidoscope array of acts of kindness that counteracts acts of scandal.  Division is transformed into union in a symphony of promise and fidelity as the Lord turns all hate to good.

There is no place, no thing, no person who heals as does the touch of Christ.  There is no achievement, no award, no comfort as lasting as is the true knowledge of Christ.  There is no separation, no sin, no evil that cannot be bridged by the covenant with Christ or undone by the strength of Christ.  There is no miracle, no impossibility, no marvel that cannot be achieved by the courage of Christ.  There is no harm, no sinner, no lost sheep that cannot be converted by the love of Christ.

Christ is the transforming bridegroom which Jeremiah promises in later chapters.  This groom will write his vow of fidelity on our hearts.  Let us open ourselves to this Lord.  Let us open ourselves to this pledge.  Let us open ourselves to this miracle of love . . . in this place where the wicked no longer prosper.


A re-post from April 26, 2012.

A Favorite, written on May 30, 2008 and posted today.  The Feast of the Sacred Heart is celebrated 19 days after Pentecost and in 2012 it falls on June 15.

For more information on the touch of grace in Haiti through Samaritan’s Purse International Relief in Haiti, click on the image above or go to: http://www.samaritanspurse.org/index.php/articles/encounters_with_grace/

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Jeremiah 18:18-23: A Prayer for Revenge

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Yesterday we considered the words of Jeremiah and how a marvelous inversion takes place when we allow God to move in our lives.  The sorrow of the Good Friday grace becomes the Easter joy of new life.  Today we share with you a reflection written on February 16, 2008.  It is Jesus’ call to a new kind of life, a life of turning the other cheek, a life of intercession for our enemies.

My mother was so wise.  Her mantra was: Kill your enemies with prayer.  Kill them with kindness.  Her words have always served me so well.  Today as we let the poetry of these lines filter through us, we can also look at the words of the one who fulfilled this prophecy of Jeremiah.  The words of Christ brought to us in Matthew’s Gospel . . . which happens to be the Gospel reading for today’s Mass.

Jeremiah: Heed me, O Lord, and listen to what my adversaries say. 

Jesus: You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 

Jeremiah: Must good be repaid with evil that they should dig a pit to take my life?

Jesus: But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.

Jeremiah: Forgive not their crime, blot not out their sin in your sight!

Jesus: For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?  . . .  And if you greet your brothers and sisters only, what is unusual about that?  Do not the pagans do the same?

Jeremiah: For they have dug a pit to capture me, they have hid snares at my feet; but you, O Lord, know all their plans to slay me. 

Jesus: So be perfect, just as your heavenly father is perfect.

This perfection which Jesus speaks of is the New Law which fulfills the old Mosaic Law.  It is the perfection which Paul describes in 1 Corinthians chapter 13 . . . it is Love . . . patient, kind, enduring, bearing all things, longing for unity and not separation.

Today’s Morning Prayer in MAGNIFICAT gives us more to reflect on from Romans 12: Bless those who persecute [you], bless and do not curse them.  Do not repay anyone with evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all.

The MAGNIFICAT Morning Intercessions lead us to intercede for those who hurt us most . . .

Let us pray for those with whom we do not live in peace; asking God through the intercession of Mary:

Grant them every blessing, Lord.

For those who have hurt or harmed us. Grant them every blessing, Lord.

For those who dislike us. Grant them every blessing, Lord.

For those who look down on us. Grant them every blessing, Lord.

For those who refuse to speak to us. Grant them every blessing, Lord.

Amen.


A re-post from April 23, 2012 .

Cameron, Peter John. “Prayer for the Morning.” MAGNIFICAT. 2.16(2008). Print.

For more insight about killing our enemies with insight, click on the image above or visit The Daily Awe.com at: http://www.thedailyawe.com/2010/10/kill-them-with-kindness/

For more on the book of Jeremiah, go to the Jeremiah – Person and Message page on this blog.

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Psalm 112: The Just

Saturday, March 30, 2019

I have never noticed this before and now that I have, I cannot stop thinking about it.  Light shines in the darkness for the upright . . .  God knows that those who follow him, those try to enact his commandment of love, those who are merciful and full of compassion will inevitably be subjected to the darkness.  They will be hounded by the wicked.  They will have to struggle to get out from under the bushel basket where they have been hidden.  Earlier this week my daughter and I were discussing how sad it is that once people begin to shine with God’s goodness an army of naysayers attempts to douse the light they produce. And yesterday in a meeting the theme appeared again: What do we do when those who prefer power, fame and money begin to overtake the righteous?  We might turn to the Gospel and then reflect with Psalm 112.  As always, we will answers when we seek them.

We reflect on Matthew 10:34-42, Luke 14:26 and John 12:25.

Jesus warns us that following him is difficult; he also tells us that we are well rewarded.  Jesus reminds us that his followers will suffer; he also tells us that we will experience great joy.  Jesus asks us if we are ready to follow; he also asks if we are ready to drink from the cup of salvation.

Those who act in Christ are never bereft.  They experience and share with others the great mercy God has bestowed upon them.  Let us remember that when we choose to follow Christ we will find ourselves swallowed up by great darkness . . . yet we will not be alone . . . and we will be rescued.

And so we pray . . .

For all those times we speak although we are fearful . . . All goes well for those who conduct their affairs with justice.

For all those times we step forward to be counted among the few . . . The just shall not fear an ill report.

For all those times we act in the Gospel . . . They shall never be shaken.

For all those times we are shattered and broken yet struggle to stand . . . The just will be remembered forever.

For all those times we cry out for God’s help . . . The just shine through the darkness, a light for the upright.  

For all those times when discipleship separates us from those we love . . . Their descendents shall be mighty in the land.

For all those times we are uncertain and full of doubt . . . The hearts of the just are tranquil, without fear.

Let us join the ranks of the just, receive God’s blessing, and shine through the darkness with God’s light.  Amen.


A re-post from March 30, 2012.

Image from: http://explore1984-a.blogspot.com/2011/02/what-is-that-light-in-darkness.html

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Job 12: The Undisturbed

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The undisturbed esteem my downfall a disgrace . . . yet the tents of robbers are prosperous, and those who provoke God are secure.  I imagine that each of us has wondered at one or another how it is that the sleek and flourishing experience success while the downtrodden suffer endlessly.

Job tells us that the beasts of the earth and sea and sky understand that God is in charge.  They do not credit themselves with victory in life but rather understand that the world is ordered from a point outside their control.  In his journey of sorrow and pain Job will learn that the trust he has placed in God is warranted; and he suggests that we take a lesson from these creatures: But now ask the beasts to teach you, and the birds of the air to tell you; or the reptiles on earth to instruct you, and the fish of the sea to inform you.  Which of these does not know that the hand of God has done this?  In his hand is the soul of every living thing, and the life breath of all mankind.  Job continues to delineate God’s power in clear terms.  There is no power greater than God’s; there is no understanding more deep, no prudence more sensible.  As followers of Christ we especially know that there is no love more forgiving and more enduring than God’s.

In his reply to Zophar, Job attempts to describe the enormity and omnipotence of God.  And in speaking to his friend Job assure himself – and us – that even though he suffers innocently he is not forgotten by his all-knowing and all-powerful creator.  Job knows that with patience and an open heart, he will gain the insight of a life lived well: So with old age comes wisdom, and with length of days understanding.  These are gifts from God that we receive through suffering . . . and this is something that those who live undisturbed lives will never learn.

Job is not the only one in scripture to warn us about the opposing worlds of the troubled and the undisturbed.  Paul writes to Timothy: Tell the rich in the present age not to be proud and not to rely on so uncertain a thing as wealth but rather on God, who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment.  (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

The prophet Jeremiah also understands the irony of justice in the world. He recounts the Lord’s words: Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the Lord.  He is like a barren bush in the desert that enjoys no change of season . .  . [The wicked] grow powerful and rich, fat and sleek.  They go their wicked way; justice they do not defend by advancing the claim of the fatherless or judging the cause of the poor.  (Jeremiah 17:5-6 and 5:27)

In the book of Wisdom it is the wicked who say: Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training.  He professes to have knowledge of God and styles himself a child of the Lord.  To us he is a censure of our thoughts; merely to see him is a hardship for us.  (Wisdom 2:12-14)

Scripture is full of advice about how to behave and how to align our lives; but the story of Job is one we will want to hold close, especially when we undergo trials while the successful and cozened lead seemingly charmed lives.  Job’s story – and in particular this response to Zophar – tell us that the dichotomy between the just and the unjust is real.  It is a trial to be borne.  It is a misery to be endured.  Yet through this suffering we receive a gift that the undisturbed will never have.  It is the gift of fully knowing and experiencing God’s great and abiding love.


A repost from March 12, 2012.

Image from: http://erumiou.wordpress.com/2007/06/22/wealth-vs-poverty-in-which-lies-true-happiness/ 

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1 Samuel 3: Familiar with the Lord

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Eli and Samuel

This is such a frequently heard story that we might be tempted to read it quickly and assume that we know what it means.  It may be valuable to spend more time with these words to let their full weight and measure sink into us and speak.  God calls us just as surely as he called the innocent boy Samuel.  God has work in mind for us, just as surely as he did for the earnest young man Samuel.  God loves us fully and always, just as he does the constant prophet Samuel.

Samuel is dedicated to the Lord by his mother Hannah – and we can read this story in the opening chapters.  So that we are not tempted to believe that Samuel has some sort of advantage over us by his living in the Temple, we will want to look closely at verse 7: At that time Samuel was not familiar with the Lord.

George Tinswell: Hannah bringing Samuel to Eli

When we seek God’s wisdom by reading scripture, searching for spiritual reflections that open the word to us, we too seek as the young Samuel sought.  One detail of this story which we may overlook is the corruption of Eli’s sons about which we can read in Chapter 2.  When we consider this carefully, we will no longer have excuses to offer for the reasons we are not always faithful to God.  Our defense of a complicated childhood, a difficult workplace, or a prickly family or neighbors will no longer hold water.  When we see Samuel grow to his potential despite the weeds among which he grew, we come to understand that there is no reason we cannot begin to grow in God . . . in order that we become familiar with the Lord.

When we turn to others to share the good news we have heard about God’s revealed word to us, we too prophesy as Samuel did.  Samuel grew up and the Lord was with him, not permitting any word of his to be without effect.  We may frown at this simple statement and wonder why some of our words fall on deaf ears and some of our actions are scoffed.  Rather than preoccupy ourselves with these anxieties, we might better want to place all of these worries at God’s feet and remember that only God can cure impossible people and mend impossible situations.  As we read the Story of Samuel as a grown man in later chapters we will see the struggles he encounters with the stiff necked people who clamor for a king.  Samuel will confess to God that he has been a poor messenger and God will reply: It is not you they reject, they are rejecting me as their king.  As they have treated me constantly from the day I brought them up from Egypt to this day, deserting me and worshiping strange gods, so do they treat you too. (1 Samuel 8:7-8)  We ought not be surprised when others reject the words we speak in God’s name, we are told.  These people reject God himself.  Like Samuel, all we need do is remain faithful to God and continue to walk in God’s way . . . knowing that we are learning to become familiar with the Lord.

Georges De la Tour: Awakening Eli

When we stand firm in God at the expense of our comfort, when we witness faithfully and run the risk of losing some of what we are in the world, we too will be familiar with Lord . . . just as Samuel grew to be.  The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh: he manifested himself to Samuel at Shiloh through his word, and Samuel spoke to all Israel.  We may wish to hear God’s voice more distinctly.  We may want God to touch us more obviously.  We may long for stark clarity from our God.  Yet let us consider these facts.  We are created in God’s image.  We are dearly loved.  We are accompanied by angels, saints and even God himself.  We are sustained, harbored, cajoled, wooed, healed, restored and saved by God.  We are even given the freedom to return this love . . . or to reject it.  We are given the opportunity to deeply, intensely and even passionately become so familiar with our God that we are able to wake in the night and respond to that quiet call of our name: Here I am!

When we begin to doubt, when we begin to frown at what we believe we do not have from God, let us consider what it is we do have.  And let us grow as Samuel grew, to become ever more familiar with the Lord.


A re-post from December 12, 2011.

Images from: http://my316notes.blogspot.com/2010/12/i-samuel-316.html and http://firstlutheranbp.wordpress.com/2009/01/17/u-pick-the-prayer/

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