These Boys . . . These Men

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I partially own them.

This group of good looking guys have a lot of my love.

This is a unique group because most of them have been together since school began. They have been in and out of my life and home for many years. There are three sets of brothers who are best friends with each other – two of those are my sons. My furniture has been draped by their clothes, the floor piled with shoes and their bodies strewn all over anywhere for a night or two at a time. I’ve had random pair of socks, stray pairs of underwear (makes you wonder how they missed that), and T-shirts that no one claims as theirs.

My kitchen table has been surrounded, my grocery bill has been pinned to the wall of fame at the grocery store for the longest running receipt, and there have been more chocolate chips cookies leave my home than butterflies heading to Florida.

And I loved every minute of it.

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When I look at this picture I see a pile of spaghetti all tangled together, covered in love. That is my favorite dish.

One of my boys (not son) got married last night and all the rest of the mangy crew arrived – most of them.

As I made my rounds hugging necks so many times I heard “Hi Mom!” I was superb at controlling my emotions because I couldn’t let my make-up be ruined. Music to my ears. Two words became a symphony for me.

This group of guys get together at least two times a year. They come from all corners like robins returning in the spring. They purpose to have this relationship.

There are many reasons why this group is so special. Over the years, they have held each other up, called each other out and were the best and worst for each other. They have survived themselves. Through the years there have been mothers and fathers who have passed. There have been good choices, bad choices and horrible choices made by this group, but the best choice was and is, is to be better. Be better together, be better as a person, husband, father, son, friend.

I’ve always known this group was extraordinary but got to see it in a different light last night – a brighter light.

My son brought a friend from Turkey to the wedding and he had been telling her all about the guys and their history.

She told me he had nothing but good to say about all of them and she thought “that’s nice.” It wasn’t until she saw them all together that she started to see the whole picture. And, to ad blessing onto blessing, the boys who are married have the most wonderful wives and they all seem to get along too. She felt very welcomed and included in the group. She categorized this group as a culture of their own.

I guess I’m blogging about this to show my love for them and appreciation that I get to have them in my life.

I also want to encourage parents who still have kids at home – open your doors and open your heart. Set another plate at the table and throw another pillow on the floor.

Cookies and milk around the kitchen table is excellent ground for sowing seeds – sowing seeds of love, grace, mercy, understanding and the reality of Jesus Christ and eternity. No Bible is necessary to share the love of God.

While I would never impose, I have no doubt that just about any of these would come to help me if called.

There are a lot of wonderful young people out there that just might turn into something wonderful if they have a landing place to be loved on. Not that home loving is bad or was lack in this group but there is something about someone who doesn’t “have to” love you that does.

This group is amazing. We have IT guys, designers for international companies, lawyers, occupational therapists, veterans, security, business owners – amazing young men.

I’m so proud of these men and the journey they’ve traveled thus far. I pray you all have a group in your lives – you may have to look for them but there are those guys out there.

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We're a Farm, Not a Responsiblity Training Camp

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“You’re so lucky you could raise your kids on the farm. What a blessing. They got to learn how to work and be responsible.”

“Is there anything my kids can do on the farm for you? I want them to become responsible and have good work ethics.”

“Can my kids live with you this summer? I think it would be good for them to see how to live and have to work.”

Seriously, all three have been spoken to me. While I appreciate people associate farming with hard work – which is an understatement, I just don’t get the disconnect with working and home life.

“If my kid is hanging around with whichever son they were referring to, then I know they will make good choices and be responsible.”

Heard that one a few times too. I consider it a complement and a blessing but my sons shouldn’t have to be the “good choice” meter.

Since I am running a dairy farm and not a responsibility training camp, I thought I might share a few ideas to help the “non-farm” population grow their kids into responsible, hard working, appreciative adults.

Do you eat?
            Kids can shop with you – carry in the groceries, put them away, set the table, clean the table, do the dishes, load the dishwasher, carry out the trash.

Do you wear clothing?
            Kids can do the laundry which includes sorting, folding and putting away.

Does your house self-clean?
            Kids can dust, vacuum, wash windows, re-arrange furniture, clean out the garage, clean out the basement.

Do you live on land?
            Kids can weed, plant flowers, mow lawn, plant, weed and harvest a garden. They can clean the driveway, front porch, etc.

 Wigglie #2 helping his dad - Son#2.

Wigglie #2 helping his dad - Son#2.

Do you own pets?
            Kids can feed them, water them, brush them, check them for ticks, treat them for fleas, go to the vet with them, clean out their pens, litter boxes or cages.

Do you own a vehicle?
            Kids can wash it, and vacuum it. They can help change the oil, check the tires, etc.

I could continue. Everything listed here can be done in their own home. Bonus – they can do this for other people and make a little money or just be kind and bless others.

 Grandkids and friends picking rocks with Farmer.

Grandkids and friends picking rocks with Farmer.

Farm kids do work hard. They are responsible – they must finish the job. There’s no quitting at 5:00. Holiday weekends aren’t on the farm calendar. Bad weather doesn’t stop the job for some things. There’s no time or space to lay the blame for something – just get the job done, do it well and move on to the next one.

I’m proud of my sons and their ability to work efficiently, honorably, responsibly and do a great job.

Also, we love having outside kids come work for us. Some have been with us for years, became full time and some have moved on to great opportunities.

We enjoy sharing our work with others when possible but I personally have a hard time knowing there are neighborhoods filled with kids sitting on couches injuring their neck muscles because of phones, and other devices.

I also see too many kids that need “intervention” from someone when things go wrong. They haven’t had enough real-world reality to deal with things. Learning that as a breathing member of this earth comes responsibilities, hard work, some hard times and there will be things that make you uncomfortable but you will survive. 

None of my kids liked hauling poop, missing an outing or smelling like spoiled silage. We didn’t take the hard or uncomfortable things away – which probably had a little to do with them becoming good, responsible adults. That and a lot of prayer.

 

 

 

 

Two Scores and Six Years . . .

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Forty-six years ago, I married my best friend, no . . . soul mate, no . . . OK – I married Farmer.

Forty-six years ago, I married Farmer and we lived happily ever after, no. . . committedly and determinedly ever after.

Never, as a young girl, in a million years would I have thought I’d be sitting here at my dining room table looking out at a hayfield, surrounded on the other 3 sides by corn. And, loving it.

Has married life been all I thought? Nope, not by a long shot.

The dreamy eyed 18-year-old that got married had grand delusions. Then, reality happened.

Many disappointments and sorrows have been my traveling companion.

Happiness, joy and blessings have journeyed also.

There were too many times that I felt like giving up. There were too many times when we both had reasons to leave. Never from infidelity but other legitimate reasons as far as the world is concerned.

Yet, for me, those reasons were just trials to get through. And, honestly, I caused many of those problems myself – not all but many.

Would I do it again?

Yes, I would. My kids and grandkids are enough reason to pick this life again.

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Would I do things differently?

Yes, I would. I think different choices definitely would have resulted in a better life in some areas.

I’m grateful Farmer didn’t quit. I also wish Farmer would change in a few areas but I doubt that will ever happen. And I know Farmer would give his left arm for me to change some things – that I doubt I will. See – it’s a two-way street marriage is.

It’s way too easy to quit. Not just marriage, but a lot of things. There is value in sticking with it and working things out. Sometimes what you feel is a hindrance becomes most valuable. When your spouse is as irritating as sand paper it may be because of you and the work needed to smooth out your rough edges.

Lest you think my life is unhappy and miserable, it’s not. My life is busy, joyful, loud, and messy at times. I am blessed more that 99% of the population I believe and thank God for my spot here on this ball of mud daily.

I pray my children have better lives and marriages – who doesn’t? My kids haven’t seen a perfect marriage, but they have seen commitment and determination to work through and make better.

Back to School Woes

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What do you think when you read the title Back to School Woes?

All the moans and groans of the kids who are trying to hang on to their summer like a dog with his bone?

Well, that’s one scenario.

What I’m referring to are the parents, especially moms, who are taking their babies to college. Or for the mom (I speak what I know, so you’re getting a mom’s point of view) who has no one left at home to send to school. Her youngest graduated last year and this is her first year without school.

It’s hard. It’s dang hard.

When my youngest left the nearby elementary school, I avoided driving by it for many months. And, it’s right on my way home from just about everywhere. Considering I had put in 18 continuous years there with all the boys it was emotionally hard.

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After raising four sons and sitting through countless basketball games, wrestling matches, track meets, and football games I was invested. I was at home on the bleachers as much as I was in my living room. In fact, I think if I sat on one of those spots on the bleachers now it would recognize my hiney!

And, football was my favorite. So, along with back to school in the fall comes football.

So, not only do I miss the whole school thing, I long to go back to the football field as one of the moms. There were a few of us football moms that coordinated Thursday night supper for the team. The years before we were in charge, it would be pizza or another type of take out. Not us! We had meals. And I mean meals! Steak on the grill, lasagna, spaghetti, and more. Many other moms helped with the desserts. We loved on those kids through their stomachs.

To say Friday nights were my favorite is an understatement.

It’s been 14 years and I still desire to go back. I have a hard time watching the sport’s highlights of the local school’s football games – yes, I need counseling.

But, I’m baring my soul here for a reason.

Especially for you moms who are having a hard time this fall. Whether or not it's football, cheerleading or just plain school.

It’s just plain going to be difficult. Your heart will ache and you will cry tears for a while. There is nothing to take it away. Time will chase away your sorrow.

And, when someone who is trying to help tells you “You’ll always be a mom”, please don’t smack them. They have no clue or they wouldn’t say that. We all know we will always be a mom but it will be different.

What you had cannot be repeated. You can’t go back. It’s done and finished.

So, feel bad, cry and be upset. It’s OK.

Eventually, you will find a new rhythm and dance a new step.

But in the meantime, I’m offering my shoulder.

 

 

Corn? Sweet!

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Summer cannot possibly be summer without sweet corn.

This year Son #2 had a wonderful idea and planted sweet corn several places on our properties. He planted in a field near our milking parlor for our employees. He planted several small plots in the fields we rent. He then went door to door to the neighbors of these fields and explained where the fields were and that the corn was for them and their families to enjoy. His idea blessed many people.

He also planted some directly behind our house that our families and friends enjoyed. And this is the story of that.

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He emptied the corn bins of field corn from the 12-row corn planter and then filled it with the sweet corn. He planted the sweet corn at a ratio of 26,115 kernels per acre. In field corn, you plant around 33,000 to 34,000 kernels per acre.

Behind our house, he planted .3 acres which would produce 7,834.5 plants at the sweet corn ratio. He made two passes with the planter so we had 24 rows of corn. The rows are 30” apart. It was a lot of corn. Especially, this year. The weather was perfect and the corn was beautiful. God did an outstanding job of growing it this year.

So, doing a little deciphering – each stalk of corn averages 1 & 1/4 ears. We figured one out of every four had 2 ears. Just by sight, there were a lot of stalks with two good ears.

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Each ear of corn averages 16 rows on the cob. Also, each ear of corn has an even number of rows – God’s rule.

Each ear of corn averages 800 kernels of corn.

So, if each of those 7,835 stalks produced 1 ear that would be 6,268,000 kernels of corn = 800% increase.

If each stalk produced 2 ears that would be an increase of 1600% and 12,536,000 kernels of corn.

As close as we can figure he spent about $130.00 for seed for our .3 acres. Add in his time which did add up a little – moving from field to field with a 12-row corn planter and the planting just a small swath and then moving on to another field was time consuming. So, figure his time, seed cost and fuel and yes, there was an investment on his part.

We had sweet corn coming out of our ears. Way more than we could take care of as a family so we decided to give it away. I daily put it on face book for friends to come and pick. Most wanted to pay but we said no. Many were reluctant to take too much until I battered them down with “take more, please, take more”.

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We’ve had 58 families come and pick corn. At least 2 of those have passed it on to another 8 families. Once I convinced our guests to take more I can confidently say most took at least 100 ears of corn – some more. And we were excited to see it go!

Someone mentioned how much money we could have got if we would have sold it. Personally, our reward from giving it away is far greater. Also, knowing that our good deeds are being store in heaven we have even more reward waiting for us.

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A few fun facts about corn:

            Each ear has an even number of rows
            Each silk hair is associated with a separate kernel of corn – I tell people the silk hair is                           like an umbilical cord.
           The tassels on top of the corn plant pollenates the silk hairs which make the corn.

This is just another example of how cool God is. He created a seed that gets buried in the dirt. You drown it with water and then the seed dies, comes back to life, fights to get through the crusty ground. It grows a few months and then the one seed becomes 800 – 1600. How cool is that. And, to top it off – it’s delicious!!!!

 

 

 

Transparent and Vulnerable

Transparent.

That’s what I set out to be when I started blogging.

Being transparent is risky. It’s hard to be transparent without dragging someone else into the fray with you.

So, having said that, I’m wading into murky waters here.

The last few years have been hard. I’m not one to air dirty laundry, point fingers, call out people – especially family and friends.

Things are rough enough that I look at other people’s lives and wonder if they are really that happy. Do they have any problems? Other’s activities look picture perfect at times. I drive by cars and see people laughing, others outside playing in the yard, shopping together or whatever and I wonder what it would be like to be them.

Is my life horrible – by no means, it’s just been tough the last few years.

Am I more fortunate than others – absolutely. Compared to 99.9% of the rest of the world my life is a cake walk.

Am I writing this to garner sympathy – no way. I don’t want sympathy or words of “praying for you”, “sorry” or anything like that.

I am hoping to put into words something that will help someone else that feels the way I do. That no matter the degree of your sadness, disappointment, lack of joy – it’s not just you. You are not alone on your island of unhappiness.

Maybe it’s the stage of life I’m in. Maybe it’s hormones. Maybe it’s just the devil screwing around with my emotions. Whatever the cause it’s real to me.

A few years ago, my youngest son decided to leave the farm to pursue a different job. While I supported and still support his decision 100% it was extremely hard. One of the joys I had was being able to walk across the road and see three of my sons daily. I could jump into a tractor or other vehicle, ride along and chat. At any time of the day they would stop in for leftovers, cookies or a quick “I gotta lay down a minute”. His kids would ride with him and sometimes be part of the drop-in crowd.

Basically, my “dream” life, my personal picture perfect life was starting to unravel.

Myself and my siblings spent close to a year taking care of our father. Three of us live 2 hours away which was a problem for us. Take time off work, travel – bad weather conditions, etc. My other brother who lived nearby had the burden of living close. I felt guilty that he had to handle the things that would come up – while the rest of us took turns helping. It was exhausting yet a privilege to care for him. We wouldn’t do it any different and he is doing great now. Never the less the exhaustion, unknown outcome, never ending frustrations and circumstances all took a toll we felt.

If anyone reads my blog or follows me on face book knows about Charlie. You can read about him in previous blogs. He was more than a special dog. There was something that can’t be described about Charlie and how much I loved that dog. He and I had a special connection – hard to describe. Holding his head in my hands, looking into his eyes for the last time, saying good-bye to him and then looking for him in his usual places for weeks after he was gone was physically painful. Yes, I know he was a dog, and yes, I know people lose other people – I’m not trying to lessen other’s pain or elevate mine – it just is.

In the middle of all this for a few years we’ve been trying to transition the farm to our son(s).  How do you take what you’ve worked the last 45 years (for me, longer for Farmer) and figure out how to divide things in a way that keeps the farm running while blessing other family members? The attorney would suggest this – and the accountants would say “tax consequences) and back and forth we went. It’s tricky business trying to leave an inheritance that still produces a livelihood and isn’t eaten up by the government.

And, will my kid(s) be able to continue in the future? Have we prepared them sufficiently? What more can we do? Can they handle the stress? How do you do all of this without making them feel like you don’t trust them or feel they are inadequate? Is there a better life with less problems for them? Sticky business.

Then, this year another son decided to leave the farm to pursue other interests. One less son to drop in, visit, run down the road to see. Once again, we all supported his decision and know he will do fine, it’s just another piece of my “dream” drifting away.

Oh, and why not add in horrible milk prices so it makes it next to impossible to survive financially. Lack of money causes more disagreements – where to spend the little we have, what do you live with, what can we change to make this work. No money = no cushion for wrong decisions. This could be a whole blog in itself.

Just differences between employees, father and son, son and mother, husband and wife can suck the life right out of you. Being the mother I constantly feel like I'm in the middle and make no one happy.

On the outside looking in I wanted to show the good, the fun, the pleasant part of farm life. I also wrote about the hardships of farming but kept the personal out. Not that I wanted to portray a lie, I just didn’t want to give credence to any of the hard stuff.

But there lies the rub for me. By keeping this hard stuff in the closet, how does that help anyone – other than me or perhaps Farmer who is extremely private about things.

I find I get more help or encouragement by hearing the hard stuff people get through. I want to know of struggles and rough stuff – not that I enjoy other people’s pain, just that it sort of helps me knowing someone else is in the crap too. It helps quiet the condemning voice that says, “you should have, you could have, why didn’t you” that comes straight from hell.

The physicality of farming is life altering. Three sons have ruptures, herniated or bulging disks in their backs. Some days are pretty good and other days can be crippling.

Many hours are taken away from family time in this profession. We fight the weather constantly. When we aren’t fighting it we are in a glorious spot working like crazy to use up every last drop of opportunity.

Then there’s the “fake news”. We farmers have been dealing with fake news way before Mr. Trump came on the scene. It sickens and angers me with the number of lies being spread about our profession. Specialty groups with their own hidden agenda (hidden to most who follow the piped piper), celebrities that want one more soapbox to get attention all spout lies that consumers believe. The picture painted is that farmers slide by using poisonous products that will line their pockets while killing those who eat their product. And for a couple of the groups that’s exactly their agenda – don’t eat animals.

Restaurants cave, food companies cave and advertise in any language the puppet public deems good. I can’t blame the public – they hear the loudest voices. We try but while the liars stand on podiums with mega phones we’re speaking out while our heads are down working the soil growing their food. So, the loudest voice is heard. Loudest isn’t always the best nor truthful.

So, everything smiley, shiny and pretty looking isn’t necessarily so. I have a core group of other farmers (women) who can totally relate to this. Some of their issues are greater than mine.

There’s one of my farm sisters who has suffered extreme family loss through death. Another who has major health issues, another who has hard issues with depression. Many of us are isolated in our profession and even logistically. More than one is over paying a non-farming family member for the farm that the parents wanted (but never put in writing) those who stayed on the farm with them to continue. Funny how after the dust settles siblings will want to invest in the farm – just enough to get a chunk of money, create hard ship for those who are left and then leave.

While we can or at least we could try to leave the farm behind and try another profession, we usually don’t. I really doubt some of us could. It would be like cutting off an arm or leg and expecting to run an obstacle course. This position in life is understood by a very slim number of people.

I’m not sure if any of this has resonated or helped anyone understand where they may be personally, or where a friend may be at this moment in their life or not. Once again, no sympathy comments -  my intent was to show that while there are blessings untold on the farm that everything that looks green and growing may actually be slowly dying inside hoping to be resurrected before it’s too late.

 

 

 

 

 

To Non-Farm Friends, Neighbors and Strangers

Just a few things that I thought I’d go over to make co-habitation easier for all of us. After all we’re in this, together right?

1.      Please don’t drop off your stray pets you no longer want or can keep. Just because we “professionally” have animals doesn’t mean we are a drop off location for unwanted critters. The local critters don’t take kindly to new arrivals and there can be a showdown at the corral that doesn’t end pretty for the newbies.

2.      Just because there is a field on a back road doesn’t mean it’s open for recreational use – whether it be driving, dirt biking, making whoopy, or sleeping off a drunken stupor. And while we’re at it – it isn’t a free garbage dump either. We don’t want your tree trimmings, old furniture, TVs or any other manner of junk.

3.    Those big open fields that you like to look at are food for our animals. Animals eat, then they poop and then the flies come. So, there will probably be more flies out here than in the city. We don’t like them either but it comes with the territory. Also, we have become pretty good at recycling and respecting the earth. We spread that poop as fertilizer so there will be times it smells pretty bad. We don’t like that either but once again, it comes with the territory. 

4.     We really want to get along and enjoy each other’s company so if you’re having a special picnic, birthday party or gathering please let us know ahead of time and if we possible can we will change our course of spreading, planting or harvesting – if we can. There will be times when we just can’t. But, we really want a good relationship and we will definitely try hard to make it work for all of us.

5.     We are not a temporary hiring business. So many will ask if their kid can help during the summer. And, there have been a few who did and stuck with us. At this farm, we don’t shovel out a few pens, ride on a wagon collecting some bales of hay, gather eggs, throw grain out to chickens or any other easily learned jobs. And, we have a few busy times of the year where we need help – but it usually involves heavy machinery or other abilities a 13-year-old can’t handle. At best, we can occasionally offer a random few weeks sporadically depending on the weather. We always feel bad saying no.

6.  No, we are not rich because we have all those silos, tractors, cows (insert your own item) land or whatever. All those things are tools for us to do our job. They are expensive and necessary. Many times, they breakdown causing more expense. And the weather is either our best friend or worst enemy when it comes to our crops. Our purchasing prices of materials is set for us – not by us. And then our selling price is set by others, not by us. So, things can be and right now are pretty dicey.

7.  Farming is not “what’s left” in the occupational bowl you draw from. New technologies and new advancements are helping us feed more people with less. And, we must continue to expand our knowledge and ability to do better. My son plants corn using 4 display screens connected to GPS. And there are many other advancements in the industry. Continuing education is part of farming like any other business.

8.  For the most part, we farmers prefer you would get your information from us instead of celebrities or non-farmers who have no clue. We would rather show and tell than correct and fix false information spread by specialty groups. If you want to know how, why or what for, ask us.

9.  Dairy specific – cows are not hooked to milking machines 24 hours a day and they do not die when they give milk. It takes about 2 years to raise a cow to have a calf. Once the calf is born the cow gives milk. The two years prior the cow is being cared for daily – inputting feed, water, nutrients and care. Once the cow has the calf she is milked. She is bred again after about two months and we will stop milking her the last two months of her pregnancy so all her energy goes into her well-being and the calf’s.

10. On a fun note we bathe or shower more often than Saturday night. We can even get the dirt out from under our fingernails – grease stains, not so much. But we know how to “pretty up” and smell good. And, there is no better person to receive help from than a farmer who isn’t afraid of hard things and knows how to stick with it until the job is done.

Happy Birthday Dad!

Today is a very special day – my dad’s 87th birthday.

How is it that I was chosen to have him as my father? I’m not sure how God decides but I am so grateful I was chosen to be his daughter.

From the very beginning my dad has been a big presence in my life. I remember “helping” him when he was building our home. He built my childhood home just about single handedly. And, it’s wonderful to be able to come home to that same house.

I remember him helping me to ride a bike. I learned to plant sweet corn with him. When we went fishing up north it wasn’t “we” that fished. It was me – he was continually baiting my hook, removing a fish or untangling my line.

On Sunday mornings before church we used to kneel and pray in the living room. I remember liking to be by his side.

He took me to piano lessons – which I totally felt was a waste of time.

He spent a lot of time building the church we went to. It was fun to see behind the scenes as the building was going up.

He was by my side at church when I accepted Christ and when I was accepted by my husband.

Growing up he always stopped in at bedtime and sat on the edge of the bed and told me how much he loved me.

Never do we say good-bye in person or on the phone without me hearing "I love you and I'm so proud of you."

My dad has been involved in my life and I love him so much.

 

Now, he’s also my kids’ Grampa. And all my boys are drawn to him and will sit and listen to his stories of how he grew up etc.

My dad is tough – he just went through a year of medical treatments that were discouraging, time consuming and limited his involvement in life. He made it through fine.

And, all of this is a result in his relationship with God. That has always been the plumb line in our family.

Over and over again, my dad pointed out how God was working things out and that his Presence was responsible for all.

So, I want to wish my wonderful father a Happy Birthday, tell the world how great he is and I pray you all have a father or father figure in your life as wonderful as I do.