kids & faith: what are we creating?

my kids went back to school last week.  all five of them, out the door by 7:30 am.  ah, a little bit of quiet & freedom back in my day,  although i always hate to say goodbye to summer & oh, yeah, i always forget my refuge life is far from quiet. my oldest is a junior this year. my daughter starts high school as a freshman and my next son is starting middle school.  the twins are now in 3rd grade & every day i am more and more thankful that they have each other since they will have four years alone in the house after the other 3 graduate. all 5 are finally in public school together & i’ve just been thinking a lot about just how much we’ve changed over the past few years when it comes to faith & our kids.

sometimes, i’ll admit, it’s a little scary.  the shifts jose and i have made as christians are one thing, but where does that leave our children?  will they survive the lack of “knowns” that we used to hold on to so dearly?  what will it mean for them to be raised in a wacky eclectic “community” instead of the typical church structure that delivers the kinds of programs that we used to thrive on?  how has our cynicism affected them? does Jesus supersede language & systems? what will their faith journey really look like?

oh no easy answers here, i am sure of that, and i know from talking to a few others on a similar path as us that we’re all a little nervous.  and when it comes to being christians who are pretty sold on the beauty & power of the body of Christ we are sort of in a weird spot.  sure, lots of people i know have shifted their beliefs about God & life but when it comes to their kiddos, they are still quite adamant about making sure somehow they go to youth group & “real church” and learn about God in the typical ways.  i can’t tell my kids story for them, but our oldest two exited the system when they left their conservative evangelical school.  the hypocrisy, the legalism, it all just got the best of them and now, youth group, typical church, anything that smells of organized is just not on their radar.  and i definitely can’t blame it all on their old school. i know we have contributed to all of it, too.  seeing all my church politics & hurt a few years ago didn’t help.  our own doubts & questioning about how wacked out the system has become has added fuel to the fire (trust me, they have elephant ears).  and as we all well know, kids & grownups alike have a hard time untangling Jesus from the structures built on his name.  but it is what it is and now we just have to make the most of it.

so is all lost?  have we royally ruined them in this process?  i don’t know, i really don’t.  but now, a few years into all of this, i am beginning to believe that even though it might not look like it now, maybe they all have a better shot at freedom in their faith than they ever would have had before.  (or maybe i am just trying to make myself feel better, i’m not sure?)

here are a few questions we have been wrestling with when it comes to the kids & faith:

what if we never again hear the “right” words? those “right” words used to bring me so much comfort!   this is the same for kids as it is for grownups.  we all feel a little better when we hear certain words from people.  we used to breathe a little easier when we knew they could spit out right thinking, spiritual language, scripture that make us feel better.  so my kids no longer say the things that used to make me beam as a “christian parent” but they say & do other things that make me think “oh, there is something really beautiful about their character, their heart, who they really are that just got revealed right there” and there wasn’t one bit of religious lingo in the mix!

what if they already have more questions than answers?  it’s almost like it’s okay to ask questions once we lived a life of having all the answers, but what happens when you start out with just the questions & not the answers?  that is what is feeling so foreign.  and because the older ones rub off on the littler ones, all my kiddos are asking some wing-dinger questions that my old-school God cards just can’t trump.  this would be no big deal if we were from a different kind of christian tradition that embraced the mystery a bit more, but we used to be good “because the Bible says so, that’s why” christians & so it just feels weird to communicate to kids the tension of strong faith with unanswered questions.

what if they never get the spiritual high we used to be so addicted to? i really do think most are addicted to the spiritual high & it’s easy to pass that on to our kids (think about how much pressure so many youth pastors are under! their job is always on the line if they can’t deliver the goods.)  what if church was really just about hanging out with people who knew you, loved you, and challenged you to pursue your dreams, your passions, to notice needs? what if that superseded the need to learn a bible story or play a fun game?  my kids haven’t had a spiritual high in well over two years, but when they are around the refuge family they have grownups that look them in the eye, love them, hug them, and care about how they’re doing. they love & play with the other littler refuge-ees whenever we’re together.  with a bit of loosely organized stuff here & there, that’s pretty much what they get in terms of “church”.   is that really enough?

is all of this honesty too much for them or will it help them in the end? our kids are exposed to a lot of topics & people that we used to protect them from.  we are now surrounded by addictions, mental illness, gender stuff, domestic poverty, divorce, oh it runs the gamut.  you name it, it’s just in the circles we now run in (it was in the other circles, too, just more hidden).  i am sure there are positives & negatives involved with this kind of openness, but i do know this, they are forced to reckon with things that i think need reckoning with like:  how could i possibly reject our lesbian friends when i know & love her heart?  how do i feel about the mean things abortion protestors are saying when they are talking about my mom?  how come we have insurance but a lot of other people don’t? why do we live in a nice house but our friends are about to be homeless?  i want the kids to be able to think through some of these hard things & always, always, always associate these issues with real people, real stories, real struggles so they aren’t as quick to jump on the judgement bandwagon.  still, sometimes it scares me, especially when i look around at so many people we used to know who are protected from these harsh realities; their life just seems simpler, sweeter, easier.

can we live with their own creative journey that looks nothing like what we might have originally thought?  the old ways had old measures.  now, with a lot of that stripped away we sometimes wonder what it’s going to be like for them.  i don’t know what twists & turns are ahead for my kiddos. i know we will keep living out the gospel as best we can and they will just have to continually make some important decisions for themselves over time.  my hope is that regardless of the language they use and they way they express it, that the spirit & ways of Jesus are under their skin & into their heart & are reflected in ways that might not be noticeable to the religious system (or even us) but somehow, some way show up in relationship with people.

when it’s all said and done, i think we are learning to let go of what we always expected of ourselves & our kids in this much-more-complicated-than-we-ever-imagined-mainly-because-we-changed department.  bottom line is we’re trying to hold on to what Love (note the caps!) really means.  and yep, the whole thing is messy & complicated & beautiful & scary.  i know we have & will continue to screw it up, but we will keep praying for God’s grace & mercy & for our kids to have it embedded in their hearts, too. plus, we’re definitely, without a doubt, banking on “love covers a multitude of sins.”

please, make me feel a little less vulnerable here & tell me some of your thoughts, questions & fears when it comes to kids & faith.

* * * * *

SIDE NOTE:  on the topic of kids, i do have a recent addition to my small contribution to the kingdom–making other mommies feel better.  you’ll have to read the other post for it to make sense, but here’s a worthy addition to my “top 10 humiliating things about me that will make other mommies feel better”:

# 10 1/2:  during the summer we don’t really worry too much about showers, etc. because we are always at the lake, pool, etc. it’s kind of gross but we don’t really care, it’s summer, right and everyone’s clean enough with all that water around. well the night before the first day of school i told the little ones “hey, you guys need to take a shower”. our friend who lives in our basement was like “when WAS the last time you took a shower?” and jonas, my 8 year old, goes “ummm, i am pretty sure it was in JUNE!”  yeah, we’re good parents. 

24 Comments

  • I love your blog site. What you write I can readily relate to…especially when you mentioned the hypocricy, legalism…etc. Personally, it appears the Gospel has been prostituted and full of ‘political correctness’ that dilutes the message of Christ. Plus, those that are jockeying for postion and are covertous of the ‘praise of men’.

    Having been in ministry for almost 30 years…most of that was outside the USA as a Humanitarian Aid Relief Coordinator and Educator for First Responders… then returning to the states permanently, was like landing on a different planet.

    When I began noticing contradictions, and asking questions etc…I was told by those within my own circle of “friends”(ministry)…that I could not possibly be “a true Christian” and hold to my political beliefs. This was the impetus for me writing the post “Religion & Politics: A Toxic Mix?” and “When Words Are Inadequate”.

    Although I’m a US citizen…I feel like a foreigner. Thank you for your honesty in expressing your feelings. It, truly, was a blessing for me. I plan on visiting your site often.

    Kindest Regards,

    Michelle

    Reply
  • Those concerns would very much concern me as well….. the serenity prayer comes to mind when thinking of all the things you wrote. I’m sure you will take those concerns to Him which is the best thing you could do.

    God bless

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  • i love that john and i have been able to struggle through this issue together with you and jose. reading these words brought me to tears this morning. partly because of the truth of the words. but, to be honest, partly because of my lingering doubts of how this new way really is affecting my kiddos. but, i know there’s no going back to the old way…so, i hope, like you that love and freedom win in the end.

    a year or so ago, john and i were talking (i was crying) about this whole subject. i’ll never forget that conversation. after it all…we believe our kids will look back and say their parents had some crazy spiritual journeys, our mom and papa talked faith stuff to death, there were times when they took us to church, times when they didn’t. but, what we hope and believe will rise to the top…they will say their parents always loved jesus and always loved other people.

    hopefully that will be enough.

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  • Kathy, I’m amazed at some of the topics you tackle, and the questions you raise. You really make me think. I’m going to have to re-read and re-read this post.

    In the meantime, however, regarding the questions about the effect all this has on our kids…all I can offer is my experience with my son, who is now 18 years old.

    He has spent most of his life watching our de-construction from religion, watching the system exploit and abuse us, watching us struggle with learning how to live faith outside the walls…and watching God be faithful to us through it all. We have tried all his life to live our faith in front of him, and encourage him to follow without shoving it down his throat.

    After years of living this way, here’s how I can describe him:
    1. He has a strong sense of justice.
    2. He has no tolerance at all for churchy Christianity, wants no part of it. We can barely get him to step foot into any church building.
    3. He has no set “quiet time” to speak of, but talks to God as he goes.
    4. He has been turned off by every youth group he’s encountered; he thinks the kids are fake.
    5. He has non-Christian friends who disagree with his beliefs but who respect him. He can interact with them freely without following them into sin. He has a strong moral compass.
    6. He loves Jesus very much, and wants to use his gifts to make a difference in the world.
    7. He gets excited about any endeavor he hears of that shares Jesus in a real way without being religious.

    He is not what you would call a “safe” Christian, in that he does not say and do all the things that make parents feel secure about their child’s faith. He stays away from anything churchy. But he *is* a *real* Christian.

    I don’t say this as a boast, but as an observation, because we’ve seen so many ministry kids get so messed up. We’ve taken a different path, and we see the fruit in our son. When we get discouraged at our apparent lack of results in ministry, we look at his life, and we realize that for all the rough edges, he is, in fact, the greatest success we’ve had in ministry thus far.

    Just one person’s perspective. 🙂

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  • My kids have been around with me on this one too. My daughter has been and remains somewhere between agnostic and atheist, and I honor her right to her own spiritual life, as I do my son who goes back and forth on his Christian beliefs. I think N.T. Wright is correct in his reading of Paul, who says that it is God who extends his loving hand to us always, and it is God who ultimately establishes a relationship with each one of us individually. It is an intimate move on God’s part.
    While it would be wrong to bash faith at every turn, I think that it is equally wrong to unreflectively hype it all the time. Our true and sustainable faith is given to us by God, in the real world, and shows up for us in the love we have for each other. The way we are in service to one another as a response to our love of Jesus is a much more enduring and sturdy example of faith than the transience of inspiration from a “pow” sunday morning.
    So as a parent, I must trust God on this and follow him the best I can, witnessing my story and faith with honesty to my children when the moment arises. I trust God to be there for my children, just as he has been there for me. In their own place, in their own time,

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  • My ministry is to conflicted congregations, so my world (and therefore my family’s world) is filled with church fights and Christians behaving badly. What I want my teenagers to understand is that people are flawed…all of them…and they will disappoint you in the most painful and profound ways. Church people are not exempt from this reality. I want them to learn the skills of doing relationships with difficult people and to learn when God is saying “cut ties and leave” and when He is saying “stay and work through this.” I want them to learn to be in community with God’s people even when it is painful. And I want them to learn to be as genuine and vulnerable as you have been in your blog. Thanks for that.

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  • Kathy,
    First of all, I can’t believe you have children that are in High school! From your picture, you look MUCH younger! This is a dear complement!) You are lovely!

    Secondly, I DO think Jesus supersedes language & systems. I believe that being authentic and True to not just conforming to the church systems/institutions…I don’t think that this will “damage” your children. In fact, I believe you’ve modeled what the true Church is meant to be: organic, living and breathing – not attending programs, passively sitting and allowing one person to interpret scripture and give you steps on sin management.

    In “Will they survive the lack of “knowns” that we used to hold on to so dearly?” The Holy Spirit is within them. He guides ALL of us…including your kids. Are they immune from making mistakes, perhaps veering off the path. Sure. Absolutely. And quite honestly, there’s a great chance that they will in some fashion. Life has obstacles. However, be encouraged, your good modeling…and the Spirit within them…increases the likelihood that they will LISTEN and FOLLOW His guidance and remember your words of love and wisdom.

    With regards to “what will their faith journey look really look like?” Ahh…even though I am not yet a mother, I can understand and have compassion for your question. Perfectly makes sense that there’d be some apprehension there. However, the beauty of this transition phase of your life? You’ve done all you could do, your best with what you know and been given, to model keeping their hearts open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. With regards to that, you hit the nail-on-the-head when you stated scripture “love covers a multitude of sins.” Amen. Yes, indeed it does and will.

    Kathy, where you are tat now, you have a beautiful, scary, learning, uncertain yet exciting journey ahead in which you get to continue, yet in a new way, to walk alongside them as they themselves, with the Holy Spirit abiding in their hearts – as they journey through life and all that will come along their way.

    P.S. Have you visited my blogpage yet? I hope you can, when you get a chance!

    http://amyiswalkinginthespirit.blogspot.com

    Blessings,
    ~Amy 🙂

    Reply
  • “how has our cynicism affected them?”

    While I don’t think I’m overly cynical, I know I come across as brash and hypersensitive to things that rub me the wrong way. And I often make comments that I end up having to explain to my kids.

    This is such an insightful and thought-provoking post. I must chew this slowly . . .

    Reply
  • Don’t have time to read the comments–will come back.

    You are a blessing to my heart. Thank you! Wrote and will be writing more about re-entry to school on my own blog. Guess that isn’t really what this post was about but will probably be writing about these thoughts too.

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  • kath, we did all the “right christian things” into high school for our kids. all the jargon, going to all the church stuff, the legalism etc. after totally walking away my daughter is starting to embrace this new way with a passion. my son, although he has walked away from being actively involved, still clings to the regimented way it has always been, but in his heart he feels something is missing, but seems afraid to discard the old belief system that was crammed down his throat for years. it doesn’t seem like this new way could be anymore harmful and possibly it might be better. the jury is still out, but i’m not sure we can go wrong with unconditional love and acceptance and grace.

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  • michelle – welcome! i am glad you found some kindred spirits here. i am thankful for the safety that is here. i know there are readers are all over the place & i am sure some are like “what in the world is she saying now?” but on the whole i have felt very encouraged to say what is on my mind & know that we are so not alone. i do think it’s interesting, your experience with people saying maybe you weren’t a “true christian” because of your political views. isn’t that so wild? that true christianity would mean that we believed a whole bunch of extra things that somehow certain people have the market cornered on? hmm. look so forward to hearing more from you here. sounds like you are in the trenches!

    randi – i am so grateful for God’s bigness & really, despite all of my questions, a lovely peace swoops in knowing that despite the twists & turns, God’s big enough for all of it.

    marty – we are so thankful for you guys, really, you are a gift that i never expected in a time that i needed it most. in all kinds of ways, knowing we are in this craziness together, seeking Jesus & love, i have great hope for their future.

    jeff – honestly, i can’t tell you how much your post meant to me. thanks for taking the time to share. it made me cry and brought with it some really weird peace. it was a reminder in all kinds of ways that my kiddos will so be okay, we just need to keep living out our faith, loving them well & trusting that the rules/religiosity mean nothing in the big scheme. again, thanks. i hope we are able to say the same things in a few years. well done, my friend

    sage – thanks for the beautiful words & reminder of God’s heart & how it is he that moves & pursues & is faithful to us. seeing you live out your faith in such a tangible way in front of your kids & just trusting that they’ll find their way is such a great picture. yes, he will just as faithful to them as he has been to us.

    blake – thank you for your kind words. and i am with you, it really all boils down to learning how to do relationship–to live in the tension of the good & the bad and do the hard work of loving with strength & mercy. that is what i hope & pray we are teaching our kiddos. thanks for the work that you are deeply commmitted to to bring restoration to so much brokenness in the kingdom.

    amy – you are so kind! oh yeah i am over the hill! just last year as a matter of fact. thank you for all of your encouraging words, your heart for God & people is so evident, and it is so reflected in what you share, like a breath of fresh air. thank you. and i am so behind on blog reading but i have your posts in my reader & look so forward to catching up.

    brian – none of you knew me in my pre-cynical days. so many would say “those are two words i’d never put in the same sentence: kathy escobar & cynical!” you all would say “now those are some serious words that go perfectly together in the same sentence–kathy escobar & cynical. but the word that ties them together is ‘church'” 🙂 ah, it happens, but i think we are doing our best to really share with the kids that cynicism has its ups & downs. of course, it can really limit love & peace, but it can also propel us toward pursuing hope & change. that is what we are hoping for! always love your thoughts here…

    minnowspeaks – look forward to hearing your thoughts!

    mike – i am with you and it is always beautiful to see someone catch a glimpse of the new country & begin to walk toward it. also, i do think there’s far less chance for damage with greater freedom & love & grace. it doesn’t mean we’re scot free, but it does mean i think our odds might be a little better. you’ll be around to help me clean up if there’s a mess so let’s hope so.

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  • Hmm… Don’t have time right now to read all the comments. But I wanted to say this: honesty will guide them into truth far better than hypocrisy. What I mean is this. I grew up in the system. And the best I can say at this point is that I came to know Jesus personally in spite of, not because of – He was responsible for that. I have known so many PKs that have grown up and rejected everything about God and the church because it is all so phony and wrong and they know it better than most – or they take up the game with gusto and play it even better than their parents.

    Growing up in an environment where honesty is allowed and not everyone pretends to be perfect will embed the Truth in your children far better than memorizing rhymes and songs and watered-down stories and going through the ritual while seeing the adults stab each other in the back. The honesty allows them to see the real Jesus – see God the way He is, not the way the system paints Him.

    I think your kids will be fine – they may test some boundaries (almost all kids do) but they are seeing something few ‘church’ kids get to, let alone PKs.

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  • I read all the Dobson books in the 80’s, my 4 children and my family were going to be the family Ken and Barbie would of had if Martel had let them get married. I’m glad though, they didn’t turn out to be Dobson’s kids …

    2 have openly confessed their faith and are very active in the Kingdom, 1 sees hypocrisy in the riches “The Church” has and yet the hungry still starve, and the naked still need clothes, my 24 year, metro sexual has “no worries” and sees no need for God – all different, all special – I love them dearly and I’m glad that they are not – “Cookie Cutter” massed produced, chew and spew Christians.

    I have a now 6 year old Grandson because a now 24 year old son saw abortion as not an option that him and his then girlfriend could do in secret … his conscience and hers would be violated.

    Silently, quietly, unnoticed often – the things that we as parents hold dear become, like the ebb and flow of a lunar tide a part of the lives of our children …. I never wanted to ram stuff into their mouths and their heads – I wanted them to watch me and my relationship with God and live as I do because to walk with God is the right thing to do.

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  • So many times when I come here I so identify with what you have to say. We are still attending an IC and every week I wonder what I’m doing when it comes to our kids. I want to walk away because my gut tells me that 2 hours would be better served spent with mom and dad serving others or talking about Jesus over breakfast but it’s so scary to think of not bringing them. They dread going and often end up sitting with us in the service because I can’t bring myself to force them (yes, kicking and screaming) to stay in a preschool class that they clearly don’t want to stay in.
    I will be chewing on this for a while…..thank you again for writing your heart.

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  • The scariest thing for me is that all four of my kids have decided that they can handle everything on their own, that they don’t need a God, and as a result, that there isn’t One.

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  • Your post reminded me of something Martin Zender wrote: He believes that parents 100% should absolutely NOT let their kids attend “church”in the traditional sense of the word until they are old enough to discern the BS from the real. He is so funny the way he talks about it, just the opposite of how most traditionalists would speak of the situation. Zender thinks the parents have to raise their kids to have good discernment and give them a good BS radar, and THEN if they want to go to church when they are older (like in their teens) it will be much “safer” for them to do so. It always makes me laugh when I think of his strong stance on this.

    Anyway your post reveals your heart, and I have no doubt that your kids will follow your lead in matters of the heart, learning to never stop searching and pursuing the Real!

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  • Great post! I feel like this epitomizes all the Christian struggles that we are bred to guilt over–reading your bible everyday, tithing regularly, going to church every Sunday, above all, looking really good, and this, gotta get your kids in a good Sunday School program with all the “good” stories and “right” answers. It’s very hard to break the ways we’ve been led to believe our entire Christian life is the only true and right way. It’s even more difficult to shed the lingering thoughts and questions concerning what the future holds for our kids if we don’t —–. (You can fill in the blank with just about any cultural and/or societal belief.)

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  • I remember when we had a ministry job change from indiana to ohio. we were only in indiana for a short time.

    We had moved from a wonderful church to a very hurtful church in Indiana. The church lied to us about their financial package and health insurance
    (my wife has a chronic illness).

    Thus, because of the lie and financial stress, we had to leave. This was extremely painful because we left the great position in Alabama and moved to Indiana to be close to grandparents.

    Our kids were devestated and ANGRY that we had to move. We battled long and hard on what we were going to let our kids know (9,8,4). We were brutally honest with them and let god’s love and grace surround them and prayed that we were moving into a loving community.

    Thankfully, the church surrounds us wit so much love here and they adjusted well to the move and the town and the schools. They still hold a HUGE GRUDGE to the church in Indiana. However, they also see the love that the people of God can have.

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  • kathy – thanks for writing this. we are on the same journey. I worry for Stella – what is her little mind thinking?! – but I’m hoping for all the same things. LOVE, HONESTY, JESUS, COMMUNITY – I’m doing my best to help her find all these things too. thanks for putting words down on this piece of the puzzle.

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  • katherine – thanks for the reminder. in all kinds of ways i know in my heart that this path is healthier in the long run because it’s filled with honesty, love, and places to wrestle with real questions & doubts, but isn’t it interesting that most of us haven’t been taught these things! and yes, parenting teenagers pushing boundaries is increasing our gray hairs but that has nothing to do with their issues of faith 🙂

    mark – thanks for real life examples…it is so beautiful always to hear of the different wacky unique journies each of the kids have and a reminder that they each just have to find their own way & the part i am responsible for is my walk with God and living that out as honestly as i can. your grandson is so cute, i saw him on one of your posts! that is a cool story & says a lot about them.

    jenn – oh i am glad you feel a little less alone in some of the thoughts…it is all tricky to navigate and i am quite sure there aren’t any “this is exactly what the right thing to do is” but i do think we have to listen to that restlessness because it’s telling us something. thanks for sharing.

    susan – thanks for sharing a really real struggle. my heart will be with you as you keep living out your faith & loving them well.

    tracy – okay that was SO GOOD. did you include that in one of the best parts posts, the zender thing? lmk. really good in all kinds of ways and kind of dovetails a few conversations where a friend of mine said he thought that actually parents were doing more damage to kids by making them be part of these systems that in the end will create all kinds of false expectations in their faith, etc. lots to think about.

    urh – always great to hear from you here. oh i so agree with you, the whole “if i don’t, then ______” mentality. i am glad we are breaking free of it, but you are so right, it is embedded into our culture, especially the christian culture, and we become guilt-ridden & afraid, the exact opposite of the freedom that Jesus brings. thanks. ps: urh2!

    jeff – thanks for a piece of your story & i am glad that you are in a good community with lots of love in all kinds of ways and that you have let your kids be mad and feel what they needed to feel toward the past church.

    christa – couldn’t imagine doing this without you guys & yeah, let’s hope we’ll be able to look back on our experiment in this crazy kind of LOVE, HONESTY, JESUS, COMMUNITY and see a beautiful life-lasting foundation in our precious children. thanks for loving my family so well….

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  • Kathy, nope, I’ve not quoted that part from Zender on my blog yet. I’ve quote from other books of his, but not that particular quote. If I can find it (I’ll look this weekend), I’ll post it and email you the link.

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  • Kathy
    Ok, so I don’t have any children but read your blog after Marty posted it on her Facebook page. One thing popped into my head after reading your blog. Its still stuck there after reading the comments that followed.

    “But small is the gate and narrow the path that leads to life.”

    Isn’t most of our life spent just trying to keep the compass on this path? Its only by grace that we ever even find this path, if even for a moment. Share with your kids the compass, grace will lead them to the narrow path.

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  • tracy – thanks for looking, no worries, what you sent me was enough. so good, i will definitely be sharing that one 🙂

    chris – yeah, we love the nunez, too! thanks for taking the time to read & comment. i am thankful for grace & trusting it will lead us all in the right direction.

    minnow – thanks for the link & for always reading from afar! i always appreciate your contributions…

    Reply

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