Scriptural Metaphors Used to Describe Experiencing God’s Presence (Part 1)

Because of my extensive research and writing on the theology of work, I deeply understand the value of experiencing God’s presence. It has become a critical theme that I am passionate to share with my brothers and sisters in Christ who work in ordinary jobs.  I want to empower others to be able to consistently integrate their faith at work and see God working in and through them.  God’s presence at work, despite the conflict and difficulties inherent to work due to Adam’s curse, can be a source of great joy, peace, and purpose in the places where we spend the majority of our waking hours.

However, based on some of the responses I have gotten, I sense that this idea of practicing the presence of God at work (many thanks to Brother Lawrence for that term) may be perceived as unique, radical, and a departure from orthodox Christianity.  A significant number of people just do not seem to get it, which is frustrating.

In this article, I want to show that this newly articulated concept ties in well with other commonly accepted biblical ideas. There are three main metaphors that are used in the Old and New Testaments to describe how Christ-followers can remain close to God throughout their daily lives.  Let us look at the images of walking with God, abiding in Christ, and being filled with the Holy Spirit.  Due to the depth of our discussion, I will present this in two parts.

Walking with God in the Pentateuch

The first recurring picture of humans who display a consistent personal faith in Yahweh that we see in the Old Testament is that of walking with God.  In Gen. 5:22-24, it states twice that Enoch walked with God.  This same metaphor was said about Noah in Gen. 6:9.  In the context of Yahweh’s covenant of circumcision with Abram in Gen. 17:1, the LORD commands, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless.”  One could argue that the prepositions with and before are not synonymous, but they both indicate close proximity to God.  Abram did in fact walk with God, as did his son Isaac.  This is confirmed much later when as Jacob was blessing Joseph’s sons (Gen. 48:15).  Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Isaac all walked closely with God, living out their faith.

Moses also frequently uses this word to describe living a life of covenant faithfulness to the LORD. When Moses reiterates the Ten Commandments, he leaves them with this final imperative, “Walk in the way that the LORD your God has commanded you” (Deut. 5:33).  Moses exhorts the Israelites to walk in obedience (Deut. 8:6).  (See also Deut. 10:12, 11:22, 19:9, 26:17, and 30:16.)  As you can sense from reading these verses, even in the Old Testament context, living out this faith was never meant to be merely a Law-focused, trying to earn one’s salvation sort of thing.  It was a life of love, listening, submitting, and enjoying the blessings that come with adhering to the covenant.

It is interesting to note that in Lev. 26:12, God promises that He would walk among the Israelites if they followed Yahweh’s commands.  God’s presence with them in the tabernacle, a picture of the Immanuel that was to come, would function as a reward for obedience, motivating them to continue.  More importantly, His presence is the sole means to enable them to obey.  This idea is articulated quite well by J. Ryan Lister, in his book, The Presence of God. Lister indicates, “The presence of God is a fundamental objective in our redemption and, simultaneously, the means by which God completes this objective.”

Walking with God in the Psalms

This idea of walking in the way of righteousness (i.e., with God) is also a recurring theme throughout the Psalms.  At the very beginning verses of the Psalter, Ps. 1:1-6 presents a stark contrast – one who generally walks in the way of the unrighteous versus one who delights in God’s way.  Whichever lifestyle one chooses determines their destiny.  In Ps. 15:1-5, David uses the term walk to lay out what it means to be a man or woman who dwells in God’s presence by living out one’s faith by word and deed daily.  In the most well-known psalm, David describes the comfort that his Shepherd brings him through the most difficult walk, “the valley of the shadow of death” (Ps. 23:4).  He fears no evil because he knows, understands, and has experienced God’s real presence (Ps. 23:5) in his life.

There are many other psalms that directly use the metaphor of walking with God to indicate living out one’s genuine faith (see Ps. 56:13, 84:11, 89:15, 116:9, 119:1, and 128:1).

It should be no surprise to see that David’s son Solomon also leaned on the picture of walking extensively as well. (See Prov. 2:7, 8:20, 10:9, 14:2, and 28:18.)  One who walks in purity and wisdom is the one who truly walks with God.  The converse of that is also true, which was Lister’s point as described above.

Walking with God is the first scriptural image used to describe a genuine faith that is consistently integrated with our daily circumstances. It should be clear that this Old Testament image pairs well with my focus on experiencing God’s presence.  As I have walked with God the Father only by His mercy and grace for the last forty years, His divine presence, through Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, profoundly affects what I think, say, and do everywhere I go.  It is a life of dependence on, obedience to, and intimacy with the triune God of the universe.

In our next discussion, we will explore the metaphors that Jesus and Paul used to graphically show what it means to live out one’s faith throughout our day, whether at home, in church, or at work.

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Parenting Transitions (Part 4)

This is the fourth and final installment of the series of articles I wrote a few years ago.  This one was originally posted on August 28, 2011.  I think there is some wisdom here worth sharing again.  Enjoy!

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I heard a great song on iTunes on the way to work one day this week – Wayne Watson’s, The Class of ’95.  It’s another tear-jerker, no doubt.  The guy wrote some powerful songs that elicit strong emotions, especially for parents, with songs like Watercolor Ponies, Somewhere in the World, and this one.  It made me think once again about the complex process of letting our children go.  Although Linda and I are 2/3 of the way through, we are still trying to figure out what works, what doesn’t, and how we can best meet our youngest son’s needs as a young adult and the needs of our older son and his sister (plus their spouses) as newly married couples.

I actually heard Wayne perform this song at a 1995 Promise Keepers Conference.  (Not sure where it was, though; I went to three PK conferences that year – Houston, Denver, and Dallas.)  I remember thinking that Melissa was only ten at the time, and was eight years away from her own high school graduation.  How far off it seemed then, and how quickly it became my turn!

Because the title of the song is tied to what I presume to be his son or daughter’s high school graduation, and since it was more than a few years ago, it probably never got the annual radio station airtime that it deserves.  I think the message is timeless.  Here’s the chorus to this song that many of my fellow middle-aged parents of teens and young adults should be able to relate to:

To the Class of ’95

Congratulations are in line

God has surely been most faithful

He’s been so much more than kind

So get ready to test your wings

And fly away but when you do

Remember you are loved

And somebody here is always praying for you

The universal fear (or dread) of parents as their children approach that high school graduation day is the knowledge that their offspring will inevitably test those wings and fly away, when they are truly ready.   We hope that as they do, they will remain close to us and will always remember that they can come home whenever they need to.

For a Christian parent, however, prayer is always going to be an important element in this letting go process.  I tell all of my kids almost every time I talk with them on our weekly phone call that I pray for them every day, and I really do.  I know Linda does, also.  It brings great comfort to believe that God actively cares for them, just as much, if not more, than when they were home under our roof.

The second verse is worth mentioning here as well, as it shares a deep truth that those who haven’t yet experienced it cannot totally grasp:

So this is what I bargained for

Hushed hello and a rushed goodbye

Old folks said I’d be amazed at how

Quickly the time would fly

Even so, I’m thankful that my God saw fit to lend

This child into my unworthy hands

Who’s less a child now and more a friend

I’m tearing up, reading these lines now.  Like the songwriter, I too am thankful that God lent Linda and I, for a season, our three precious children into our unworthy hands.  And when I say the word “child”, I too truly understand and accept the fact that they are no longer children in the normal sense of the word, but are fellow adults just like us.  And I am truly amazed to see our adult relationships, yes, even friendships, grow with each one of them as time goes on.

So, how have we been showing love to these dearest of friends lately?  Well, we’ve welcomed both of our married children and their wonderful spouses home for a few days, on separate occasions, this summer.  They came when they could, and stayed as long as they liked.  It was great to see them.  We were impressed with how well they treated each other as new Christian families; separate and distinct, yet connected to and rooted from our own.  We bought a new bed for the newlywed couple, after the son cleaned up his old room during his visit, so that he and his bride and his sister and husband can have their own beds to sleep in if they all happen to come home for the holidays at the same time.

A month ago, we brought our youngest son back for his third year of college, a few weeks early like he wanted, to help him get settled into his off-campus home.  We even made another trip this weekend to bring some stuff he left behind.

The past two weeks, we comforted one after a serious fender-bender, and grieved with them at the total loss of their car.  Most recently, we have rejoiced with recent college and grad school degree recipients who have just started jobs in their chosen fields that they are passionate about.

So, for my children, I echo Wayne Watson’s heart-felt words for his own precious gift.  Remember you are loved, and somebody here is always praying for you.

Reflections on the 100th Anniversary of the Chemical Corps

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At the end of last month, the U.S. Army Chemical Corps celebrated its 100th anniversary on Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.  Even though my Soldiers and I were directly involved in the planning, preparation, synchronization, and execution of these events, I cannot take credit for the success of this week-long celebration.  I am compelled to give glory to God, whose unseen Hand protected and provided divine extraordinary strength, wisdom, resources, and peace as I worked in His presence and for His kingdom.  It was one more confirmation of my own theology of work, which I have expounded on in my book: Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession.

First, let me provide some highlights of our celebration to give you a glimpse into the figurative garden in which I have been placed to do the work of subduing, cultivating, and expanding.  (See Gen. 1:28 and 2:15.)  Second, I want to summarize how I experienced God’s presence at work during the process.  Third, I want to show how this work supplements the work that God wants done to bring shalom to this world.  Lastly, I want to encourage other ordinary workers as they work on major projects to depend on God and give Him the glory.

Our week-long celebration this year was similar to what we had done in the past.  We had a conference that brought together a select group of senior leaders from around the world.  There was a technology exhibit.  We also had an espirit-de-corps two-mile run, a sunrise service honoring our fallen heroes, and a formal ball at the end.  In addition, the Commandant gave us clear guidance to provide opportunities for our veterans to celebrate with us.  We set up a tour of one of our training facilities, a lunch with Soldiers, and a recognition ceremony to honor veterans that served from WWII to the present day.  We oversaw the planning process for ten months.  We conducted a dozen internal planning meetings, wrote three operations orders, conducted rehearsals, sent and received over 900 emails, made countess phone calls, and had daily conversations.  I did not do all of this alone.  We had a strong team of Soldiers and civilians working hard at all levels to make it happen.

What people need to know is that during the whole process, I was “leaning on the everlasting arms”.  I knew I could not handle this alone.  I was constantly trusting God for wisdom and strength to meet the unique challenges and high expectations of the leaders I was commanded to serve “as unto the Lord”.  There were many days I was overwhelmed by the thorns and thistles brought on by the curse (Gen. 3:17-19).  Then, I would remember that God’s grace was greater.  His peace that passes all understanding came just when I needed it.  There were more days where I experienced God’s presence clearly through prayer and meditation on His Word.  I knew without a doubt that God had equipped, called, and sent me here for such a time as this (Esther 4:14).  (See previous article on how I experience God’s presence in government work.)

I am grateful I saw God work in and through me every step of the way.  I also am grateful to know that these efforts will have long-lasting impact on the veterans, leaders, and Soldiers who participated in these events.  Ultimately, the celebration accomplished a number of important things.  After key leaders met to discuss issues and solve problems, they went back to their assignments a more unified team, committed to support the Army as a whole.  Our veterans’ recognition ceremony inspired young Chemical Soldiers and leaders to strive to achieve great things with their own Army careers, standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before them.  Celebrating our 100-year history will better prepare us to meet the challenges of the future in defending our nations and allies against weapons of mass destruction.  I know that our efforts here have directly increased shalom in this world, which is something that our Lord desires.

In closing, I would be remiss if I did not use this opportunity to encourage other ordinary workers as they strive to faithfully accomplish the tasks God calls them to do.  Christians work in a variety of fields to meet the needs of people.  Some will have a similar experience of being responsible for a milestone celebration as I did.  Some will oversee a multi-million dollar construction project, put on a high school musical, negotiate a deal, complete a research paper, or raise a child.  However, most employees will find themselves doing jobs that may never bring recognition, but are every bit as important if they are done as unto the Lord.

For all of us, work can be overwhelming at times.  Bosses can have unrealistic expectations.  Team members may not want to pitch in.  We may have to do things outside our comfort zones.  These times will require us to totally depend on God to work in us so that He can work with us and through us to meet the needs of people that are depending on the goods we sell and the services we provide.  When we see that our efforts have resulted in a successful outcome, we can give all of the glory to God.

How Do Parents Avoid the Extremes of Isolation and Interference?

Biblically Parenting Adult Children

I wrote the article below and posted it on my blog on May 31, 2011.  It was my third post on this subject.  I think it might be helpful to a number of parents now.

My approach to parenting is based squarely on biblical principles.  Let me summarize the pattern I articulated in my last post.

God brings a man and a woman together to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28).  Children must learn to obey their parents as well as honor them (Eph. 6:1-3).  As children approach adulthood and develop independence, obedience to parents is no longer required, yet honoring remains (Ex. 20:12).  Then they go off on their own (leaving) to start the cycle over again (cleaving) (Gen. 2:24).

This article deals with more practical application of these principles on how we relate to our adult children after they have left the nest.  It comes down to loving our neighbor, as that is what they become.  I invite you to read what I discovered.

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I’ve posted a time or two last fall on my unique perspectives on “letting my children go”, but I still feel that I have lot more to learn, especially as our number two child is about to get married.

I honestly think Linda and I have been more or less successful at that figuring out that process, with almost eight years’ experience since our eldest started college in 2003.  We have watched all three of our little birdies leave the nest and fly off to college.  Two of them have already graduated with bachelor’s degrees, and a little over a week ago, the eldest received her master’s degree.  She also got married last spring, and the middle child gets married in just a few days.  The youngest is now half-way through college.  Major milestones!  We are so excited to see what God has been doing in their lives and are so proud of their individual accomplishments.

But now many questions remain in my mind.  How do we as parents maintain a healthy involvement and interest in their lives while they assert their independence?  Where are we most comfortable on the continuum between total isolation on one end and total interference on the other end (both of which are not good)?  How much communication is required to keep in touch?   How much is too much, causing them to cringe every time we text, call, or post something on Facebook?  How much is too little, communicating a lack of care and concern?

There’s a biblical basis to this discussion.  It has become quite clear to me over the past couple of years that the principle of “leaving and cleaving” is so basic to the success of a Christian marriage.  The leaving process starts at birth, literally, and our children continue to leave us, moving from complete dependence to relative independence over the next 18-22 years.  They must leave us, sometime before they get married, and we must let them go.  It’s not easy for any parent, but doing it right is one of the best gifts we can give our children.

Also, as I discussed in detail in a blog I posted in November 2010, we have to get our children to move past the biblical command to “obey your parents”, which is temporary, and only applies to actual children, and to begin to live out the command to “honor your parents”, which is for life, and applies to both children and adults.

Moms and dads naturally are eager to help their children throughout every stage of development; it’s one of the main ways we show love for them.  As they become adults, however, helping them isn’t always very helpful.  We can all recall when we went to tie our children’s shoes or tried to fix their hair at one point, and they told us emphatically, “Let me do it!”  It probably took us by surprise, but it was a good thing, because they were moving towards independence.

When they become young adults, parents still want to help them.  We may remind them of things they said they would do, but haven’t gotten around to yet.  We may want to help them find a car or a job.  (That’s where I am at now.)  Some may even want to help them find a spouse.  (Ours have done just fine without any help from us).  Some parents seem to want to give unsolicited advice.  Not sure all this helping is appropriate or appreciated.

Perhaps the biblical principle of “love your neighbor” should guide us as we relate to our kids as adults.  By telling us to love God and love our neighbor, the two greatest commandments, Jesus specifically meant for us to obey God and properly meet our neighbor’s legitimate needs.  Love is not just an emotion, it is an action.

What do our kids need?  They need us to believe in them.  They need us to trust them.  They need to make mistakes to gain wisdom and experience.  They need to be independent, for us to let them do it.

Rather than telling it like it is all the time, perhaps we can ask them some hard questions to make them think or challenge their thinking.  If they are about to make a really bad decision, we can and should confront them at the proper time and place, just like we would any other adult brother or sister in Christ that may be heading into dangerous territory.  The difference is, we will commit to approach it as one adult to another, no longer as parent to child.

What we always want to do is to be interested in and involved with their lives.  Not so much that we appear to be interfering, but more than enough so that they know we are not through with them.  We don’t ever want them feeling isolated from us or their family of origin.

Marie Barone, the family matriarch in the T.V. show, “Everybody Loves Raymond”, clearly (and humorously) epitomized the interfering approach towards her son and his family.  Both Linda’s and my parents took the opposite extreme, that of isolation.  I do think that they meant well, but whether they realized it or not, they left the burden of working on any kind of relationship with each of them on our shoulders.  This was extremely challenging at times, since they were divorced and remarried on both sides.  We generally had to take the initiative to call them, plan visits, etc.  They valued independence in us, which did cause us to lean on each other and the Lord.  However, it also communicated that they were greatly relieved of any responsibility for us, financially, emotionally, or otherwise.

Linda and I don’t want to be like that. We understand that adult relationships are a two-way street.  Both parents and adult children have a responsibility to reach out to the other to maintain the relationship, communicate if boundaries are crossed, and need to be committed to figuring out what works throughout the course of many years and in every season of life to come.

Until next time . . .

More Thoughts on Parenting Transitions

This is the second article on this topic that I wrote and posted on my personal blog, The Spark is Still There back in November 2010.  (The first one was re-posted a few days ago.  You can read it here.)

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There was some spirited discussion on the topic of parent-child relationships a few days ago in my adult Sunday School class. It seemed like a harmless comment.  I didn’t mean to be controversial; it wasn’t like our recent study on the Five Points of Calvinism, or anything close to that.  I merely stated what was obvious to me that the command found in Ephesians 6:1 (and Colossians 3:20), given to children to obey their parents, was not addressed to and did not apply to adult children, but only to actual children.  Let me try to elaborate on what I was thinking, and then share a little more of our adult children releasing adventures over the past 7-10 years that I discussed a bit in my post on September 9th.  Marvin Lubenow, the pastor who married Linda and I almost 30 years ago, taught me a simple principle regarding interpreting Scripture.  He said, “If the plain sense makes sense, any other sense is nonsense.”  I’ve used that nugget of wisdom so many times, and it really applies to this passage in Ephesians.

When the original readers read Paul’s letter, they would have thought that it meant the same then as we do now. They most likely would not have read into it, “adult children”, meaning anyone who is married or otherwise, is living independently, and has left their childhood and adolescence behind.  I even looked it up in the Greek, which I rarely do.  The word used in this verse, techna, does in fact mean “children” in the natural sense.  Let me say this in a different way.  This command pertains to kids, rugrats, punkinheads, bambinos, etc.  Paul did not use the words “son” or “daughter”, which obviously would apply to all.

I also wish to point out that Paul himself, in another letter, refers to his own adult development that is well worth mentioning. I’m surprised I didn’t think of it before.  “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” (1 Corinthians 13:11.)  I do not think he thought of himself as a child any more, and I cannot imagine him thinking he still needed to obey his parents either.

Surely, all of us are or were someone’s child, in a limited sense. (Chances are, if your parents did not have children, you would not be here.)  However, this command is clearly directed towards actual children, to those not fully grown.  For example, it would be an incorrect interpretation to read into it and conclude that this biblical command should apply to a normal 60-year old woman and her 85-year old mother.  Paul (and the Lord) could not possibly have meant it to be understood in this way.  This daughter is not required to continue to obey her mother for life, regardless of whether or not they live under the same roof.  For her mother to expect total obedience from her daughter would be ludicrous, and it would indicate a rather unhealthy relationship between two mature adults.

Okay, so maybe my hypothetical example of a senior adult child and her elderly mother was a bad example. But it’s clear to me that this command for children to obey their parents is temporary based on the reality of human development, meaning that all children (under normal circumstances) eventually become adults.  The next command in verses 2 and 3, to honor one’s parents, was addressed to children, but does apply to both children and adults, and is lifelong based on the fact that it originated in the Ten Commandments.  (See Exodus 20:12.)  The point I was trying to make is that parents need to change their expectations and take the lead in getting their children to move towards honoring them rather than obeying them as they transition into young adulthood.

However, at what age does this transition take place? Who gets to decide?  The parent, reluctant to let go?  The eager child, ready to spread his or her wings?  Linda asked me, “Doesn’t it vary with culture?”  Good question!  I think so.  More importantly, how do parents get their children to the point where they are no longer considered children in the true sense of the word?

The process is tricky. If you release them before they are ready, they may not have the skills they need to thrive in the wilderness of adulthood.  If you hang on to them too long, you either stifle their development towards independence and they may never leave the nest, or they break away abruptly with bad feelings between you and them that can take years to heal.

I’m not sure I have all the answers, but I think I may have some ideas. Let me share some of the things we did to get our three offspring to the point where they are now, with one newly married, one getting married next year, and the other about 3/8 of the way through college.

I think that it was a gradual but intentional process that started quite naturally when they were learning to drive. You have to admit that letting your son or daughter take your family car or van on the road is a pretty hefty adult responsibility.  I truly enjoyed teaching each of them to drive, and somehow they learned all the rules, mastered the necessary large motor skills (no pun intended), and developed the mental abilities to make quick and safe decisions.  When they were ready, they took their tests and were given the right to go out on their own, under certain restrictions.  As they became better drivers and demonstrated more responsibility over time, they earned the privilege of having some freedom.

The next major opportunity to prepare them for independent and responsible living was in choosing a college. I aggressively conducted a vast amount of internet research for each one of them.  My goal was two-fold: to help them discover the right school for them to best fit their own heart’s desires, and to unravel the big financial aid ball of yarn to help them get there.  I had my preferences, which I made known, but when it came time to narrow down their options, select a few schools to visit, fill out college applications, apply for scholarships, and make a final decision to choose one school to attend, each did it quite well, because that was what was expected of them.

So, exactly when did they leave childhood and become young adults? I think that it happened gradually over a period of a few months during that first year of college.  Linda and I began to see subtle changes that included steady intellectual growth, increasing spiritual maturity, and a new level of confidence that developed each year they were away.  We enjoyed deep adult conversations with them face to face and on the phone about how they chose to handle a variety of personal challenges, and that pattern continued to improve over time.  Now that each of them in their own way have made a series of good decisions about their future, we feel a strong sense of peace.

I’m thinking that they all thought of themselves as adults and we did as well at almost the same time. Impossible to say which came first, but I humbly submit that people often live up to the expectations of others; children will often act as mature as we treat them.  When you start treating them and talking to them as an adult, asking them hard questions rather than telling it like it is, I think they adapt a little quicker to that role.  At least that philosophy seems to have worked for us, only by the grace of God.

I do not want to make it sound like it was a seamless transition over the past ten years as each of my children moved from adolescence to young adulthood. There were definitely some bumps in the road along the way.  I made a lot of mistakes when they were younger that negatively impacted my relationships with them later on.  I know I was not a perfect parent and I still have a lot left to learn.  Linda and I were making it up as we went, and we adjusted to these major changes in different ways.  It is often more difficult for fathers to let their daughters go; the same goes for mothers and their sons.  But it became easier in some respects as we were forced to let each one grow, move on to bigger and better things, and discover God’s plan for their lives.

Our daughter had been on her own for nearly three years when a huge transition occurred last March. I had to do what every daddy dreads, as I walked our daughter down the aisle of a church and literally handed her over to a young man who was to become my son-in-law.  Our role as her involved but not interfering parents is still being shaped as we speak.  I do know that it was a significant emotional event for me.  I completely identified with the country song I heard for the first time last year that goes something like this:

I loved her first

I held her first

And a place in my heart will always be hers

From the first breath she breathed

When she first smiled at me

I knew the love of a father runs deep

And I prayed that she’d find you some day

But it’s still hard to give her away

I loved her first

As for her brothers, we are not quite done raising them yet. Andrew has got a few years left before our roles change radically, but he’s coming along just fine.  Our days are numbered for Brian, who is getting married in June.  He’ll be ready to leave and cleave, just as the Scripture says, and we’ll lose a son but gain a daughter.

We praise God for all of the victories, and continue to pray and work through the many challenges that lie ahead. We still need His wisdom, provided abundantly through His Word, His Spirit, and His people.

P.S. Even though I rejoice in the current independent state of my maturing adult children and their continued transitions towards that end, we still very much miss having them around.