My two brothers and I spent summers on a farm. My Mom was a single-working-mother at a time when it wasn’t culturally acceptable. I tell folks my biological Dad received three lovely presents that were wrapped in ribbons called Responsibility, but he couldn’t open the gifts. Maybe the ribbon was too thick, the pattern was too scary, or there was too much of it. I don’t know. So when school was not in session, we were on the farm. Eleanor and Donald, who are now basking in the peace of Our Lord, owned the farm. They had four kids of their own, grown and gone by the time we arrived. We had some really grand adventures out there. But like all good adventures, there were also mountains and lowlands to traverse. Coal Valley was a very small town, where secrets and skeletons were kept in locked closets and whispered in the back of pick-up trucks undercover of country music. My “neighbors” weren’t always kind nor compassionate. Truth was generally a rumor hidden in a lie. Gossip often ran the town and the sheriff’s name was Vengeance. Don’t mess with him, by the way. But here’s the deal, I’m not any different: Sometimes, I am not always kind or compassionate. I make myself look good by overlooking my faults. I want control of everything. I want retaliation when hurt. Sometimes I am the not-so-nice-neighbor. Here’s more of the deal: When I mess up I want absolute forgiveness, but when others hurt me I want revenge or justice. It’s true, right? Without God’s grace in my life, I can’t really love my neighbors. I need to love God with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my mind, and with all my strength, or this “loving my neighbor as myself gig” isn’t going to happen. That’s why the first thing is to always love God. All else follows. #amen