Justice and Mercy

Oh Omar,
What have you done?
You, like Cain, have killed your brother.
How many times must I see this story unfold?

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How many times?

You may not know this story.
It is a buried part of your faith story, though.
Those you call your people; they also came from the line of Abraham.
All tribes lead back to the brotherhood of Cain.

I said to him, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires you, but you must master it.”
Oh Omar, you did not master hate.
You let it set you against your brother.
You have done what is wrong.
Your brother’s blood cries out from the ground upon which it spilled.

Your heart sought to honor me,
But filtered through your anger and hatred, you misheard my call.

Oh Omar!
Welcome home to me.
My grace abounds.
Because you came so soon, there are some things still undone.
While I prepare your room, allow me to fill your heart with MY love.

Allow me to give you MY eyes.
And as penance for your sin, you will see the suffering you caused:
You will face those whom you have slain,
But you will do so with MY heart.

It is my will.

It is finished.

Your Allah

The Sabbath of Grief

Last Sunday, my pastor preached about Jesus’s surprising behavior at the Temple in Jerusalem. I have been thinking and praying over Jesus’ surprising behavior that first day in the temple in Jerusalem described in Matthew 21:12-17. He beautifully engaged this passage, which many Christians find disturbing or confusing. In the context of that message, he spoke about typical sabbath practices – a conversation that I find curiously and disturbingly absent in many Christian communities. He also argued there is no theological reason to believe the money changers and sellers of sacrifices were intentionally cheating the people. The religious and cultural sanctions against such behavior would have likely prevented such abuses. Yet Jesus’ entrance into the temple was remarkably confrontational.
As I have continued to meditate on this, I have come to recon with my own reluctance to engage with the pain of loss that Good Friday represents. This is a different kind of sabbath; a sabbath of grief, but first… a story.
The first day of Spring Break, I mowed the yard, unintentionally demolishing a bunny warren with approximately 9 day-old baby bunnies in it. Bunnies don’t leave their nest until 10 days or so after birth, and are still nursed by their mom at night. These bunnies were unharmed, but the nest was a wreck. I stopped the mower, plucked the bunnies out of the divot, and into a box. I showed the bunnies to the kids. The kids thought they were precious. I told them they could play with the bunnies until I finished mowing and figured out what to do about them. By the time I finished with the grass, my kids had named all three, according to their observable attributes: Jumpy, Hide-y, and Fluffy. And then the requests to keep them came. This came as no surprise to me. I often asked to keep critters I found as a child, and was frequently allowed to, “until your mom comes to get you.” Only this time, I am the mom… a mom who loves nature, and finds magic in those moments when nature and people connect. We now have pet bunnies. Sigh.
For me, this story yields a deeper understanding of Jesus’ actions in Matthew 21:12-17. Jewish folks often refrained from participation in market activities as a part of Sabbath. While for some, this was surely a religious duty, it was borne out of a celebration of the Lord’s provision (think manna). Some sabbatarians take deliberate care to ensure that they experience a sabbath that does not require buying or selling, or the exchange of money. That has long been the case in Jewish culture. So – the sellers would have been disrupting this… for the sake of convenience. And the people likely tolerated, even accepted the practice out of convenience. But I suggest the practice of buying and selling sacrificial animals on the sabbath diminished the experience of sacrifice.
We recently went to White Sands National Monument, where sledding down sand dunes is a thing. We were able to purchase sleds in Alamogordo on the cheap, because it is not sledding season. So, we did. When we arrived at White Sands, sleds were being sold for $17.00 each! Blessed preparedness saved us so much money, but also allowed us to celebrate the experience of sledding down the dunes without worry or regret about wasting money!
I know a handful of Orthodox Jews. They take great delight in being prepared for even an unexpected visitor on the Sabbath, because the Lord has provided. IF the buying and selling that Jesus reacted against was not happening in the Temple, the people would have likely purchased the animal they were planning to sacrifice at least one day in advance. This means that for AT LEAST a day, the family would have had to take care of, provide for, and protect the sacrificial lamb (or cow, or goat, or bird… or bunny). After only an hour, our family was attached to our bunnies. After a day, or a pilgrimage, it may very well have become part of the family. Consider that it was not unusual for all family members to share the one-room tent with any vulnerable livestock during a pilgrimage. The family would have taken special care to ensure the critter made it safely to Temple. But after a day, it’s got a name, and a character as a member of the tribe. How much more, then would it cost to sacrifice such an animal. I propose that the people selling the doves or pigeons were allowing the Jewish people to avoid the pain of sacrificing a creature they have cared for. This has diminished the pain of sacrifice. I imagine Jesus might find it offensive to enter the Temple gate to find the people numb to the pain of sacrifice. As he is aware of his impending ultimate sacrifice, these doves and pigeons are a mock sacrifice. The people have not connected or cared for them. They are someone else’s livestock – a convenient way to appear righteous.
May we not fake righteousness. As Easter is upon us, may we be mindful of the true cost of the sacrifice before us. That God Himself, in Jesus Christ served as our sacrificial offering. May we grieve in the silence of the Sabbath of Grief (Good Friday-Easter). And celebrate with God’s thorough and miraculous provision on Easter Sunday! And may you not avoid the anxiety of Good Friday, nor the grief of that three day wait.
Blessings upon you.

The Greeting

What greeting will be offered to you as you enter eternity?
Has it perhaps already happened repeatedly?

What greeting will your Lord offer? One suited just for you?
Is your relationship here and now an eternal debut?

How will he greet you, my friend?

Will it be a tackle-hug, complete with running start?
A joyful celebration of long separated, but linked hearts?

Will it be a distant head-nod from across a crowded space?
Yes, he belongs to my tribe. I recognize his face.
You’re worthy of acknowledgement, and I’ll be there in a few.
I’m sure you’ll understand, there’s something I must do.

Will he greet you with such fresh forgiveness it’s offered from the Cross?
With gruesome wounds and stink or death, He dispels your fear.
I’m sorry I have not cleaned up, but we are so glad you are here.

Will you be welcomed into a quiet candlelit space? Encouraged to rest a while, simply gazing at His face?

Will you be welcomed with a task or duty to fulfill?
He’ll help you wash the dishes, after a homecoming meal.
He will never give you a task that he does not wish to join you in.
For some, love is rooted in service to Him.

Will you be the first he visits every morning with the dawn?
Will you be the last he leaves, when all the wine is gone?

May we look forward to asking each other, “How did you come to be here?”
And revel in the varied welcomes through the endless years.

May your greeting, that first of eternal hellos be appropriate to you, and mirror the life of love you’ve lived, with the One who welcomes you.

Why I Don’t Shield My Kids From Grief

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I am a mother who is generally warm, mostly kind towards my kiddos. I comfort them when they are hurting. I help them to understand their world, and their place in it. I am a therapist, and I’ll admit I approach my kids with a slightly biased love and preference. At times I am more strict than my partner, and I often have high expectations – which my kids usually meet. In short, I am a good(-enough) mother. So, why then would I not shield them from sadness, loss, failure, or grief?

Let me clarify by saying I do not set out to expose my kids to these negative feelings. I believe and understand that these are normal experiences of life on this beautiful, broken planet full of beautiful, broken people.

I feel the intuitive pull and desire to spare my children from grief, to protect their fragility, and encourage them to succeed. I recognize to some extent that my position on this aspect of parenting may sound offensive, or at least counterintuitive to many parents. We (parents – adoptive, and biological) love our kids. We want only the best for them.

Shielding children from grief dims opportunities for conversation about these negative experiences. It’s much harder to have a meaningful conversation with children about something they have not experienced. Creating this kind of secrecy or avoidance around experiences of grief may communicate to children that they should not talk about such things. If internalized, these beliefs can prevent our children from connecting well with other people.

Brene Brown speaks and writes extensively about shame and vulnerability in the context of human relationships, and our ability to be authentic, vulnerable, and intimately connect with other people. If you experienced a mini-emotional-roller-coaster upon simply reading the words “vulnerable” and “intimate” in the previous sentence, I wonder what connotations you have attached to these words. When I say “intimate,” I am not implying sex. When I say ‘”vulnerable,” I am not implying weakness. Do these words need redemption in your life? What will your understanding of these words lead you to teach your children about them?

In allowing my children to experience appropriate levels of grief, I am training them, teaching them how to feel heartbreak and respond appropriately.

Let’s explore the concept of “appropriate levels of grief.” I will not lay out specific information regarding how or when a child is ready for what kind of grief. Each child is different. In general, younger children are ready for smaller doses of grief, and older children are able to handle more complicated grief-experiences. The older a child becomes, the more self-aware s/he is, the better vocabulary s/he has to communicate his/her experiences.

My preschooler grieves when we do not get to finish watching the movie she wants to see, or when we run out of strawberries. These are little woes. She has recently experienced grief associated with the prolonged absence of a parent who was travelling for business. Her response, while at times mournful, was demonstrably less intense than her responses to the aforementioned woes.

My elementary-aged child grieves over not receiving the small plastic trinket that his classmates got, because we did not participate in that particular school fundraiser. He grieves when I cancel an anticipated get-together with friends. He even grieves in his own way, the absence of great-grandparents who have passed in recent years.

While some of these may seem trivial to an adult, at this time they are meaningful and significant to my kids. Parents, remember that a child’s demonstration of grief may not be congruent with the weight you attach to that experience in your adult mind. These mini-grievances prepare children for the more disturbing experiences of grief that will come later on.

Shielding a child from these initial grievances may seem kind or loving early on, but leaves a child open to being blindsided by a more significant experience of grief later on. Children who are shielded from these minor disappointments may not have the experience of successfully coping with earlier grievances, which increases the likelihood of later grief-experiences being traumatic.

Adults, it is never too late to begin this process yourselves. If you have never yet reckoned well with the existence of grief in your life, please begin today! Acknowledging the experience as a normal part of life brings it out of your heart-shadows, and allows you to connect with others who can show you that you are not alone. Recognizing successful handling of grief experiences can reassure you later on that you are equipped, and will not drown in the misery of loss when a more traumatic harm occurs. May you live fully, grieve well, love deeply, and laugh often.

The Weight of Water

Yesterday I came home to find my husband in the front yard with a wrench in one hand, another tool I couldn’t make out in the other, bent over a hole in the front yard. He was dressed still, in his business clothes, in near 100 degree (farenheit) heat. My next door neighbor stood by with a mixture of bemusement, and concern on her face. They were her tools.

“They shut the water off. They said there is a leak, and they shut it off to prevent us from getting an outrageous bill.”

Not three days before, I had observed that there appeared to be more green grass in that area, with said neighbor, and we had discussed the likelihood of that indicating a(hopefully minor) leak. Apparently the small leak fully ruptured while we were all at work. Fortunately, the city utility department happened to be in the neighborhood, and shut it off for us in the only way they could.  It was apparent that a good amount of soil had been washed away, so apparently it was a major leak at this point. The on-call utility worker kindly came out, turned the water back on for us last night, to show us where the problem was, and then showed my husband how to turn it on if we really needed it overnight. Only, we didn’t have his nifty tool.

So, we called a couple of plumbing companies, none of whom could make it out until “sometime tomorrow.”

It’s amazing how the moment we don’t have something that we have previously taken for granted (like water), you suddenly evaluate more carefully your need for it. For us, this meant taking an inventory of how long each family member has gone since last bathing. But suddenly the need to run the dishwasher, or a load of laundry, or bathing the dogs felt more urgent.

But we didn’t have water.

I texted my neighbor at 7:00am this morning, to ask permission to fill a tub of water from her outdoor faucet to allow for toilet flushing, providing the dogs with water, and of course, making coffee. She kindly obliged. I got some curious stares from the garbage collectors, though, as I filled the bin dressed in business wear, and heaved it back to my house. Hurry kids, we need to get off to school before the police come out to ask questions and make me late for work.

Today I went to work as usual, filled a co-worker in on the drama, and went on about my business, sporadically calling the plumbing company to request updated ETA’s. The strange thing was, through all of it, I did not get mad. Not even a little bit of anger reared its head. And as I told a co-worker about it today, he offered accommodations if I needed to get home to take care of it. I responded, “You know, this is a first-world problem.” Through it all, I find that I am more grateful than anything. Sure it’s inconvenient. It’s potentially expensive. But I can expect to have predictable running water on-demand, in my home, within a day! The majority of the world cannot say this!

So today, I am mindful that there are rural wells drying up in California and Nevada because for years, we have decided to grow the majority of our produce in their desert. Those people can’t likely restore the water access they may have taken for granted in the next day.

Did you know there are neighborhoods in the capital city of Texas that have not ever had running water? They weekly fill large reservoirs that the families truck in.

I am aware of the concerns of the Navajo, who are impacted by the chemical spill in the Animas River. Their food and water supply may be impacted long-term.

I am simply more thankful, and aware of the plight of many others worldwide. Let us not fail to revel and delight in the miraculous provisions, and abundance around us. Lest, we lose it having failed to appreciate it.

What you’re doing is normal… But there are rules.

I have a story to share that has been bubbling within me for some time, now. I have been reluctant to share it with you, because of my concern that someone, sometime down the road, may attempt to use it to cause embarrassment for one of my kiddos, but I have made peace with that.

I do want to acknowledge the difficulty about writing candidly about parenting, especially in the realms of discussing sexual identity, development, gender identity, or sexuality in general.

Someone recently remarked to me that she was convinced that my child might become POTUS one day. In this current setting, that is a weird thing to predict… and I try to receive it with grace. You see, we are terribly hard on those who would lead us — who would assume positions of public service through political or spiritual leadership. We place them on a pedestal and micro-criticize their every potentially embarrassing moment — throughout their lives! We sometimes forget that they are people. We fail to give them the grace or kindness – or reality checks – that we would offer to a friend or brother or neighbor. They may change their minds at a later date when new information becomes available, but we critique, deride, and pick on them for this, labeling them as wishy-washy, or worse. Seriously. When someone is willing to re-evaluate their stance on something as a result of new information, we should celebrate that! They are not so narcissistic as to assume that they always make the right call the first time!

So with that said… and my previous acknowledgement of the potential for this to be broadcast at a later date… If you are referencing this blog or story in an effort to shame or embarrass my child, you are a schmuck! And you did it, too!

Now for the meat.

Some time ago, I was tucking my pre-schooler into bed. While we were reading stories, I was aware of some unusual gyrations going on next to me in the bed. I continued reading, wondering what would come of it. I did not have to wait long. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my child sniffing his or her fingers. I paused in my reading of — probably a Little Critter book, and asked, “Does it smell interesting?” My child sheepishly made eye contact and nodded. I put the book down, and told my child this:

I remember a time when I was about your age and I was exploring all the parts of my body and what they smelled like. What you are doing is okay. It is normal. But there are some rules.

I watched as embarrassment yielded to incredulity, to a warm and interested smile, to rapt attention, as my child awaited the boundaries I was about to share.

There was no shame. Not even a hint.

I continued:

The rules are: you may touch your body in whatever way you want, in the privacy of your own room or the bathroom when you are alone.

You may not touch other people until after you have washed your hands.

If you are in bed,  be sure you wash your hands before you go to sleep.

Try not to put your hands in your mouth after touching your bum.

My child expressed understanding. “Got it.”

I offered two options:
1) I can continue to read to you and then tuck you in, but you will need to go wash up first, or
2) Reading time can be over, and I can leave you in privacy.

My child chose option 1 and promptly returned after going potty and washing up. Bed-time routine continued without any further distractions.

It worked! Whew! That was easier than I expected. Simple, appropriate, easy rules, No shame. How do I know it worked? Two ways.

  1. It hasn’t come up again for about 6 months.
  2. About 20 minutes after said child was tucked in, I was standing in the laundry room emptying the dryer when I see my child skitter past into the restroom. With mom-like reflexes, I poked my head into the restroom prior to the child closing the door, and asked, “Why are you out of bed?” The response, “I had to wash my hands.”

If you think this is inappropriate or gross, I imagine you have already stopped reading. For sex-positive parents… This does not have to be an awkward of scary process. Just remain mindful in the moment of your commitment not to link normal sexual development to shame. Remember your own sexual development and don’t be afraid to share, in developmentally appropriate ways. You are the parent. You are the first and (for now) most reliable resource your child has!

My struggle at this point, is how to continue to raise my child in this way, in what has the potential to be an alarmist, or sexually-shame based culture.

I am not finished!

Wow! Wow! Wow! I have multiple stories this touches deeply in my life. I am so thankful for Becky and her words.

Red Tent Living

“I wasn’t finished!” Elsa stomped her foot and ran to the living room. We were watching Mary Poppins and my sweet two and a half year old granddaughter had come to the end of her allotted thirty minute screen time and I needed to turn off the video.

Jane, Michael, Bert and Mary Poppins were on their merry-go-round horses and beginning to gallop off into the spring meadow. It’s a glorious moment in the movie. But I respect my children’s parenting wishes and told her we’d watch more tomorrow.

My heart hurt disappointing her understandable desire. She took the fly swatter that hangs on a hook and ran to the living room and swatted the floor and again said, “I wasn’t finished!”

Something about that sentence, “I wasn’t finished” brought tears to my eyes. I could hear her quietly rocking in her rocking chair. I was so proud of the…

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An Open Letter to My Evangelical sister

Dear Sister,

Some time ago, I stumbled into… okay, no. I boldly but cautiously (is that possible?) engaged in a tense, yet playful, yet challenging exchange with you. You are dear to me, and highly esteemed. We have our differences, and often play with these differences in what I believe to be fruitful ways. You are certainly more ‘conservative’ in your ideological and theological leanings than me. This often leads to engaging and lively conversation about social and spiritual matters, and I love you for it!

In reflecting upon our recent conversation-turned-debate, I am so aware of how surprisingly defensive I felt. You named this response, as you saw it before I did, and I thank you for that.

As our conversation quickly moved from the micro-issue of a mother’s feelings around her child[ren]’s spiritual choices to the macro-issue of identity-in-faith to the meta-issues surrounding the existence of hell, or who’s ‘in’ or who’s ‘out’ [of either hell, or God’s grace], with a few typical other stops on the ‘Fundamentals of Christian Faith’ checklist.

What are the fundamentals of Christian Faith? These vary, depending on who you ask. This is the problem of our Protestant heritage. There has been so much division and protesting against heresy, church corruption, or other social and spiritual ills, that we Protestants seem to have whittled our understanding of who acceptably shares the faith down to a strangely narrow point. I feel, dear sister, that our last conversation was a symptom of the bottleneck created by this little feature of identity development: the more precisely we try to delineate who’s ‘in’ versus who is ‘out,’ the narrower our field becomes. This applies to both the field of candidates from whom we can effectively learn, as well as the field of influence we can potentially have on others around us – our mission. And the more I learn about and get to know Jesus, the more concerned I get about anything that smacks of exclusive or narrow spiritual identities. Jesus somehow managed to hold the tension between orthodoxy and invitation in a way I can only hope to emulate. Yet I find that in my readings of his teachings and works, Jesus seems to to favor the side of loving invitation and embrace more often than the alternative. Jesus’s critical and judgment teachings seem heavily weighted toward the religious folks– those who held to a rigid and exclusive orthodoxy.

I find it depressing how much time I could spend defending my own faith – for other believers! What a waste! And what impact does that have on those who may be observing our lively exchange? I am aware that in our earlier conversation, there were three men present who awkwardly disengaged – became silent (Oh the vestiges of Adam!) in the midst of the exchange. I desire, and feel called to a much more generous, inviting belief system — one that would not defend itself, but humbly learn from and with even those who disagree. For a great text on this, check out Generous Orthodoxy, by Brian McLaren. I long to see us live together in peace, without a need for sharp and quick tongues or defensiveness.

As I have considered my own defensiveness, I am intrigued and curious about what in the conversation felt unsafe to me. I still don’t know for sure. Perhaps the nagging concern that you might decide I didn’t belong in your tribe. Perhaps confusion about how the existence of hell, or whose names appear on its roster became a critical determinant of the truth or validity of my belief. I felt that the sheer mention that said mother might not grieve a child’s choice to go a different way led to a rapid need to identify me as a universalist or relativist. I am still amused, and a bit dumbfounded by the urgency with which I was called to identify and describe Hell, and who will be sent there. Why should I presume to have the authority to make that call. It is not my decision whether Jane finds herself in heaven or hell, and I am thankful for that. Might focusing on the theology of hell distract us from our failures to love and turn us back towards a sales-like praxis of sharing the Gospel message: create a need (focus on the terror of hell) and then resolve that need? Whereas, living a life of love for one’s neighbor in the here-and-now makes this focus on one’s idea of hell seem irrelevant, or at least a less significant criterion.

Yes, I believe that God is one and triune. Yes, I believe that scripture is God’s living word revealed to us. Yes I believe Jesus is the Son of God, fully human, and fully God. And I wish to follow in his ways, and be more like him in this life. I believe that many of us (Christians) fail to recognize that love and acceptance can be offered without necessarily giving approval. I think Jesus modeled that well. I wish to follow that lead. How different would the world’s view of the Church, Christians and Christianity be if we truly lived out an incarnational stance of love and tolerance (or acceptance), whether or not we approved of all of her choices?

Thanks for the challenge.

Warm regards,

Mothers, Sisters, Aunties, Grannies, Friends

Before the arrival, or even the promise of Jesus’ imminent birth, Jesus’ Aunt, Elizabeth, was promised a son. We see from the text of Luke 1 that Elizabeth was a righteous women, of priestly descent. We also see that she was an older mother. She had been considered barren. During Elizabeth’s pregnancy, we are told that Elizabeth rejoiced that she had conceived, and went into seclusion for 5 months. At the same time, John’s father, Zechariah had been struck silent by the Lord, for his response to the Lord’s promise that he would have a son.

Meanwhile, Mary had a vision. The Angel Gabriel paid her a visit when Elizabeth was 6 months pregnant. Mary was a virgin, and engaged to be married. This means that Mary was likely in her early teens. Historically, at the time, women were married usually between the ages of 12-15 years old. Gabriel came to Mary and told her that she will become pregnant soon, and that this pregnancy will be a blessing. (As an unwed young woman, pregnancy could have been tragic!) But Gabriel told Mary that her child would be the King. According to Luke, Mary was confused, and communicated this to the Angel, who further explained that despite her virgin status, she would become pregnant, and in a way that ensured the purity of the child she would bear. Oh, and by the way, Mary, your relative Elizabeth is expecting!

Mary’s response: acceptance. And then a few days later, she traveled to visit Elizabeth. Elizabeth recognized Mary, and with the Holy Spirit’s and her unborn child’s leading, Elizabeth identifies Mary’s status as pregnant with the blessed child. Remember, Elizabeth was in her 6th month of pregnancy at this time, and Luke 1:56 says that Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about 3 months. Mary, a very young (albeit mature) mother stayed with an older mother through the end of her pregnancy and likely the birth of John. What tremendous benefit Elizabeth’s guidance, and leading was to Mary! I am unsure if it was tradition for a pregnant woman to go and stay with another pregnant or recently post-natal family member, but I cannot help but observe the benefit of Mary witnessing the late stages of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, birth, and first moments or days of John’s life. Mary likely learned from Elizabeth how to know when it was time to give birth, and how to nurture a newborn child. This seems especially poignant, as Mary seems to have given birth to Jesus in relative isolation.

As a middle-aged mother of young children (meaning I am neither a young mom nor an older mom), I am aware that had I become a mother at a younger age (let alone as a teenager!), I would have likely struggled much more with the necessary giving and unselfishness required to be a good enough mother. I find that older mothers tend towards greater generosity and patience with their children. I am blessed to have in my life, a number of grandmothers, aunties, mothers, sister-in-law, and friends who have walked this road before me, and can guide me on the way. I am so thankful for these relationships.

I left a church several years ago that was, for the most part single-generational. This small community was filled with people who genuinely loved the Lord, and sought to bless those around them. They were and are doing good work! But in leaving, my family felt called into a larger church community that is decidedly multi-generational. I cannot express the joyful blessings I have experienced in mingling, learning from and doing community with others from varied backgrounds and generations.

May we all have diverse Mothers, Aunties, Sisters, Grannies, and friends from whom to learn how to live life fully, and in a way that honors out Lord, and His story.

When Their Hands Were Small: A Message To All Parents Of Prodigals

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So he got up and went to his father.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.  Luke 15:20

Our hands all tell a story.

They speak of our journey; of the days we’ve endured, and the work we’ve done, and the things we’ve touched, and the wounds we’ve collected.

Last night I was channel surfing and landed on a documentary TV series detailing the world of drug trafficking in America, and the law enforcement efforts to combat it.

The screen showed two young men barely out of high school, their faces and voices disguised, sitting in a squalid, dilapidated apartment. They lounged on a stained sheet-covered couch, talking about their booming empire, and the mountains of cash they were taking in. Their words ping-ponged wildly between detailed descriptions of their business operation, and the kind of…

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