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Monthly Archives: August 2012

Coming next week: sister acts

Sometime ago I strolled through our local Barnes and Noble bookstore. When I paused at the sale section, a bright pink cover caught my eye, and then its title: You Were Always Mom’s Favorite! It now resides on my bookshelf.

Cover of "You Were Always Mom's Favorite!...

Cover via Amazon

What an insightful title! How many times had my sister and I bantered with that exact phrase, especially when our mother was present? The author, Deborah Tannen, explores one of the most powerful and perplexing relationships: being sisters.

When I began this blog, I made a list of potential topics. After reading Tannen’s book, I added Bible sisters. Do you know there are at least five sets of these sibling types, and a couple of maybes?

Next week we’ll delve into this fascinating topic.

Thanks for stopping by. A journey of discovery is always more enjoyable in the company of friends.

The Hospitality of Two Women

Before leaving the topic of hospitality, two more examples come to mind. Both are in the Old Testament and both involve anonymous women—one a widow and one apparently a person of means.

The widow of Zarephath

Things were not good in the nation of Israel. King Ahab committed a great sin and married Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Zidonians. She brought with her a pagan religious system complete with 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah (I Kings 18:19). Her husband allowed the idolatrous system to exist and even thrive.

English: Ahab was king of Israel and the son a...

English: Ahab was king of Israel and the son and successor of Omri (1 Kings 16:29-34). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Herbert Lockyer says, “Baal had no more dedicated devotee than Jezebel” (All the Women of the Bible, “Jezebel”). Full of religious enthusiasm she sought to convert all Israel by attempting to exterminate the worship of the true God.

“The pagan religion imported by Jezebel horrified devout Israelites, and it also found many new followers….for centuries the Israelites themselves had often given in to the temptation to blend the Lord and local gods into a single cult. Within a few years, many of the people of Israel had embraced paganism” (Great People of the Bible and How They Lived, Reader’s Digest, 1974, page 207).

Deliver the message and go!

As a result fear and religious turmoil prevailed, and more importantly, God was highly displeased with Israel. As a result He sent his prophet Elijah to deliver a stern message to King Ahab: “As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word” (1 Kings 17:1). Anticipating a murderous reaction, the word of the Lord instructed Elijah to flee to the safety of the Kerith Ravine where there was water, and where he would be miraculously fed.

Eventually even the brooks and tributaries of the Jordan dried up. The Lord told Elijah to move on to Zarephath, a Zidonian town in the very homeland of his furious adversary, Jezebel. “I have commanded a widow there to provide for you” (verse 9).

Not enough to spare?

Now picture this non-Israelite widow as the prophet of Israel’s God approached and requested the customary amenities of hospitality: water and bread. Imagine the distress in her voice as she replied, “As surely as the Lord your God lives, I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug” (verse 12). These meager amounts represented a last meal as she and her son prepared to finally succumb to starvation.

Elijah pledged if she filled his request for precious sustenance, she would never run out of flour or oil as long as the drought lasted. What a test of faith! She took him at his word, prepared him some food, and lived to experience the miraculous “hospitality” of God, just as He had promised.

The Shunammite woman

Now it happened one day that Elisha went to Shunem, where there was a notable woman, and she persuaded him to eat some food. So it was, as often as he passed by, he would turn in there to eat some food. And she said to her husband, “Look now, I know that this is a holy man of God, who passes by us regularly. Please, let us make a small upper room on the wall; and let us put a bed for him there, and a table and a chair and a lampstand; so it will be whenever he comes to us, he can turn in there” (2 Kings 4:8-10)

What a different set of circumstances for Elisha to encounter. Here we have a prominent woman in the community voluntarily extending hospitality to him as a holy man of God. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary mentions that this woman was well-to-do, literally in the Hebrew, “a great woman.” (See 2 Kings 4, Note 8.) The Note continues, “Being a pious woman, her concern for the prophet was purely spontaneous and bears the impress of a genuinely godly sense of hospitality.” Her home became a frequent way station for Elisha as he traveled the countryside.

Let’s compare

It’s interesting to consider the actions and reactions of these two women. Both extended hospitality. However one did so by request and the other voluntarily out of her plenty. One complied with certain misgivings, thinking she was sure to hasten impending starvation; and the other acted out of an innate sense of respect and altruism, having no threats of looming consequences.

Both enjoyed the Lord’s graciousness. The widow and her son avoided death by starvation. But later her son became ill and died; the distraught mother came to Elijah asking why? Elijah turned to God in passionate prayer, and her son’s life was mercifully restored.

English: Elijah Resuscitating the Son of the W...

English: Elijah Resuscitating the Son of the Widow of Zarephath (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The prominent woman had at least one ongoing sorrow: She was childless. As a result of her generous ministering to Elijah’s needs, God miraculously granted her a son. Like the widow, her son, too, got sick and died. Elisha followed Elijah’s example, placing his petitions for mercy before the Lord. God heard, and the woman’s son enjoyed life once more.

My hope

It is my hope that these series of posts will add a new dimension to Bible reading by alerting readers to the many subtle threads of hospitality woven throughout the fabric of its pages. We have only touched the surface.

Hospitality…or Else!: Abigail’s Dilemma

Who is this David? Who is this son of Jesse? Many servants are breaking away from their masters these days. Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to the men coming from who knows where?

With an insulting dismissal, Nabal confirmed he was a foolish, shortsighted and contemptible man. In a time when hospitable treatment of others was a duty, and those in need of food and shelter had a right to request it, Nabal flouted the courtesies expected of a rich man.

A sacred duty

“It was believed to be a sacred duty to receive, feed, lodge and protect any traveler who might stop at one’s door” (Unger’s Bible Dictionary, “Hospitality”). Hospitality is rooted in scripture: The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God  (Lev.19:34).

In the time of Nabal “any lack of civility or kindness to a guest meets severe reprobation” (Hastings Dictionary of the Bible, “Hospitality”). This proved true for Nabal because his selfishness ended in death. Were it not for the bravery of his wife Abigail, Nabal would have died by the sword rather than from heart failure.

The arrogance of a very rich man

Nabal was a rich man. He had three thousand sheep, a thousand goats and many servants. David and his men resided in the wilderness where Nabal pastured his sheep. Without taking anything for themselves, they protected Nabal’s sheep and herdsmen. At the festive time of sheep shearing, David expected some hospitable acknowledgment of their efforts. As strangers who aided Nabal’s business, David requested a donation of food for himself and his men. David’s appeal was “the epitome of courtesy” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 755), asking only for what Nabal might spare (I Samuel 25:8).

Nabal had plenty to spare–cash from selling wool and provisions for the shearing festivities. And Nabal knew David, at least by reputation. His shepherds commended David’s men. These men were very good to us. They did not mistreat us, and the whole time we were out in the fields near them nothing was missing. Night and day they were a wall around us all the time we were herding our sheep ear them (I Samuel 25:15-16).

Mending offenses

Stung by Nabal’s arrogance, David prepared to avenge himself. Having been informed of her husband’s rash behavior, Abigail acted without hesitation and averted David’s anger. At the time, did she understand the power of hospitality to change someone’s perspective? Was she a practiced giver-of-hospitality? Did she know by nature the essentials necessary to turn David from revenge?

Español: David y Abigail

David and Abigail (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She delivered a large gift of food accompanied by an attitude of humility and self-sacrifice. David was “stopped in his tracks” by the size of her offering: dressed sheep, two hundred loaves of bread, wine, bushels of roasted grain, hundreds of cakes of dried fruit. Abigail also met David’s needs for respect and appreciation. She spoke to him of God’s purpose (I Samuel 25:26-31) and that placed her generosity in the best context. ♦ Mary Hendren


Abigail’s actions still resonate today as examples of courage, wisdom, and artful hospitality.

Pattern for Hospitality in the Old Testament

While many of the threads of New Testament hospitality are rather inconspicuously woven into the fabric of larger accounts like Luke 10:25-37, the Old Testament gives several examples where hospitality comes off in a bold pattern. One of these is found in Genesis 18:1-16. It is the account of Abraham and his three special guests.

The pattern

As the scene unfolds, Abraham is sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day and sees three men nearby. Immediately the rules of hospitality kick in:

  • He greets them and invites them to stay.
  • He offers them water so they can wash their feet.
  • He offers them food.
    Abraham Receiving the Three Angels

    Abraham Receiving the Three Guests (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Once they accept, Abraham enlists Sarah to make cakes out of “fine meal,” arranges to have a “tender and good” calf killed and cooked, and then, as a gracious host, serves his guests under the welcoming shade of the terebinth trees. Once their repast is finished, Abraham fulfills his final duty by seeing these strangers on their way.

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia describes this vignette as “an exquisite example of the etiquette of hospitality” (article, “Hospitality”).

Pattern repeat

His nephew Lot responds to two angels in much the same manner (Genesis 19):

  • He sees them and bows before them.
  • He issues an invitation to put them up for the night.
  • He offers them water to wash their feet.
  • He makes them a feast.
  • He acts as their protector (although in a way I find hard to comprehend).

And repeats

Here are several other examples for further consideration:

  • Genesis 26:28-30  Isaac provides food and lodging.
  • Genesis 29:13  Laban welcomes Jacob.
  • Exodus 2:18-20  Jethro scolds his daughters for lack of hospitality.
  • Job 31:32  Job says he opened his door to the traveler.


While the principals in the above accounts are men, there are several examples of hospitable women in the Old Testament. Mary Hendren will be introducing us to one of them in our next post. Her name is Abigail.

A Point of Focus

As I sift through a treasure trove of information on hospitality, especially in the Old Testament, I focus on something that has somehow eluded me in times past. I’ve found it in two separate scriptures:

  • Deuteronomy 10:18  “He [God] administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing.”
  • Psalm 146:9 “The Lord watches over the strangers; He relieves the fatherless and the widow….”

A comment from the article, “Hospitality,” lends even greater acuity:

“The ‘ger,’ the sojourner who lived with a Hebrew family or clan, was assured by the Biblical law not only of protection against oppression (Exodus 23:9) and deceit (Leviticus 19:33), but also of love from the natives (Deuteronomy 16:14), who were to love him even as themselves (Leviticus 19:34)….”

A page from Leviticus, in the Samaritan bible

God Himself loves the stranger and keeps him under His special protection. By His actions He models the scope, depth, and meaning of true hospitality.

Won’t you come in?

My ninety-two-year-old mother is my living example of hospitality. She lives in a condo and manages to connect with all of her neighbors. A common query when we drop her off after an excursion of some kind is, “Won’t you come in?”  If we take her up on the invitation, she typically offers us a beverage of some kind, or possibly a meal.

Mom is also very aware of others’ needs and tries to address them in her endearing graceful way, which ranges from sharing coupons, to placing daily newspapers outside her neighbor’s door, to making phone calls, to taking snacks to church. She is, plain and simply, a people person.

Over the years I have met others, some of my mother’s generation but not all, who share stories of feeding the less fortunate who come to their doors—as they did especially during the depression years—and on some occasions letting strangers who have no place to go spend the night in their homes or on their property.

Today demonstrations or even requirements of being hospitable vary throughout the nations of the world. However, our topics for the next posts will concentrate on the common threads of hospitality woven throughout the Old and New Testaments.

In New Testament times

The Greek word for hospitality is philoxenia  (Strong’s NT:5381), “love of strangers” (philos, “loving,” xenos, “a stranger”).  Adam Clarke comments with regard to Paul’s exhortation not to forget to entertain strangers found in Hebrews 13:2: “In those early times, when there were scarcely any public inns or houses of entertainment, it was an office of charity and mercy to receive, lodge, and entertain travelers; and this is what the apostle particularly recommends.”

The other New Testament references to being hospitable are: Romans 12:13; 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8; and 1 Peter 4:9.

What was the cultural backdrop to these comments? How did New Testament Christians understand Paul’s words? Following are some interesting tidbits I uncovered in my research.

You’re staying for how long?

Joseph Gift, in his Life and Customs in Jesus’ Time offers an interesting perspective. He says that three days were considered the normal extent to which one could presume on the hospitality of others. He goes on the cite H. Clay Turnbull: “In case a guest seems disposed to prolong his stay beyond the ‘three days of grace,’ his host will suggest to him, on the morning of the fourth day, that as he is now one of the family, there is such and such household work to be done, in which he can bear his part; and so he is set at work for his living” (pages 61-62).

Français : Biskra - Tente de Bédoins

Français : Biskra – Tente de Bédoins (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Lion Encyclopedia of the Bible agrees: “Among the nomadic, tent-dwelling people, a traveler was always welcome to stay—for three days and four hours!—the length of time the hosts believed their food sustained their guest. Flat loaves of bread and milk were basic to the menu. For the time of his stay the traveler became one of the clan” (“Meals,” page 187).


Gift continues that simple hospitality meant the host should provide rest and food for a guest. As meals were often taken in the open, “strangers could come and go during the progress of a meal” (page 62). Offering a stranger a cup of water (or requesting a cup of water) was a gesture of peace, trust and good will.

An invited guest could expect a welcoming kiss, and the act of having one’s feet washed. An enlightening verse with regard to the latter is found in 1 Timothy 5:9-10: “Do not let a widow under sixty years old be taken into the number, and not unless she has been the wife of one man, well reported for good works: if she has brought up children, if she has lodged strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has relieved the afflicted, if she has diligently followed every good work.”


Women customarily served meals to the guests, and according to at least one source ate elsewhere. Guests would either kneel on cushions or mats around a low table (possibly a meal tub turned upside down), or, if in a wealthier home, recline on couches (which may be alluded to in John 13:23-25).

Personal services

Fred Wight comments that the custom of anointing guests with oil “is an ancient one among nations of the East (Manners and Customs of Bible Lands, 1953, page 75), and cites Luke 7:46 where Jesus reminds Simon the Pharisee that he, Simon, had not performed traditional acts of hospitality. The Woman’s Study Bible in its note “Sinner at Simon’s House” says Jesus “reminded them [Simon the Pharisee’s guests] that this woman had performed the common courtesies due any invited guest.”

Français : Lavement des pieds de Saint Pierre ...

Français : Lavement des pieds de Saint Pierre par Jésus. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Public accommodations

I found an entry in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia filled in some blanks. People were not always housed in private homes as is explained by the following: “…in New Testament times, if not earlier, and even at present, a room was set apart in each village for the use of strangers, whose expenses were borne by the entire community.” It mentions some feel the manger where Jesus was born (Luke 2:7) could fall into that category.

Ramifications in the New Testament church

Additionally, with regard to the growth of New Testament churches, the encyclopedia further comments: “As the first Christian churches were founded, the exercise of hospitality took on a new aspect, especially after the break with the Jews had begun. Not only did the traveling Christian look naturally to his brethren for hospitality, but the individual church looked to the traveler for fostering the sense of unity of the church throughout the world. Hospitality became a virtue indispensable to the well-being of the church….”

Reading through new lenses

Though mine has been a very brief exploration of New Testament hospitality, I find I read the following scriptures with a new understanding of the subtleties  they contain:  Mark 6:8-10; Mark 9:41; Matthew 10:11, 41, 42; Matthew 25:43; Matthew 25:35; and Luke 10:7.


The next post or two will explore hospitality in the Old Testament.

A Preview of Things to Come…

Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible says, “Hospitality, kindness to strangers, and ‘especially unto them who are of the household of faith’ (Gal. 6:10), had roots in the Old Testament and became an integral part of the teachings of the New Testament” (page 467).

The next several posts explore hospitality—how it’s defined in Bible times, demonstrations and expectations of the day. This promises to be a fascinating study, and we hope you’ll join us as we delve into the art and requirements of being hospitable.

How did you do? 

Giovanna Garzoni - Figs - WGA8492

Giovanna Garzoni – Figs – WGA8492 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The last Memory Checker asked how many fruits and nuts are listed in the Bible. Here’s my list:

  • Apples (Song of Solomon 2:5)
  • Almonds (Genesis 43:11; Numbers 17:8)
  • Figs (Nehemiah 13:15; Jeremiah 24:1-3)
  • Grapes (Leviticus 19:10; Deuteronomy 23:24)
  • Melons (Numbers 11:5; Isaiah 1:8)
  • Olives (Isaiah 17:6; Micah 6:15)
  • Pistachio Nuts (Genesis 43:11)
  • Pomegranates (Numbers 20:5; Deuteronomy 8:8)
  • Raisins (Numbers 6:3; 2 Samuel 6:19)
  • Sycamore Fruit (Amos 7:14)

In addition: Dates (II Chronicles 31:5). The marginal reference in the KJV indicates the word “honey” can be rendered “dates.” A syrup made from dates (or grapes, raisins, carob beans) is referred to as honey. (“Honey,” International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia)

Of Cookbooks and Recipes

Ancient cookbooks discovered

In wrapping up this series on food and cooking, I thought I’d share a couple of bits of trivia. In The Woman’s Study Bible, under the topic, “Cooking: What’s for Supper?” there is an interesting note about what is perhaps the world’s oldest cookbook. It consists of three clay tablets dating back about 4000 years. Following is one of the recipes:

“Take some meat. Prepare water; throw fat into it, then add leek and garlic, all crushed together, and some shuhutinnu [probably onion].”

The note continues that one tablet “has twenty-five recipes, including four vegetable dishes and twenty-one meat dishes (featuring deer, gazelle, lamb, pigeon, and wild dove).”

You might find the following links about ancient cookbooks and recipes interesting:,0,7456100.story


Have you tried….?

If your family is bored with your menus lately, perhaps you could suggest locusts, a food quite familiar in New Testament times. Joseph L. Gift, in his Life and Customs in Jesus’ Time, includes the following citation originally written in 1895 by Edmund Strapfer:

Desert locusts feeding.

Desert locusts feeding. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Lunch on the wing

“Four kinds of locusts were edible. …We learn from the Arabs of our day how locusts are dressed for food. Sometimes they are simply roasted and eaten with a little water and salt….But usually, the preparation was more elaborate. After killing the locusts, they were dried in the sun; the head and claws were taken off and the body ground to a powder, either by a mill or in a mortar. Flour was mixed with this powder, and it was made into a sort of bread slightly bitter; camel’s milk or honey was added to correct this’” (page 21).

Locusts are commonly eaten in some parts of the world today.

The Staff of Life

For thousands of years bread has been a basic staple worldwide. In the past “most of the world has gotten most of its calories from bread” (Oman Tribune On-line, “Bread the Giver of Life”). The roots of the phrase “bread is the staff of life” may be the Bible. Bread is mentioned often in scripture as an important essential for life and hospitality. The verse that relates bread and the staff of life is Ezekiel 4:16. Here God warns Jerusalem about coming punishment.

Barley grain

Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, behold, I will break the staff of bread in Jerusalem.

Earlier God gave Ezekiel an intriguing list of grains and legumes that he was to make into bread.

Also take for yourself wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt; put them into one vessel, and make bread of them for yourself (Ezekiel 4:9).

Today’s artisan bread makers appreciate the nutritional value of Ezekiel’s grains. Peter Reinhardt notes that the whole grain movement of the 1960s led to improved bread in the United States. “Whole grains became the symbol of a healthful, holistic way of life that had fallen by the wayside” (Artisan Bread Every Day, Peter Reinhardt, Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA, p.1). He adds that “part of the problem was most of the whole grains of that era, while nutritionally superior, weren’t particularly delicious (or even palatable), so they came to be labeled ‘health food’ breads, not fit for general consumption” (same source, p.1).

The Food for Life Baking Company in California aims to make whole grain breads that are both nutritious and delicious. On their website, Food for Life states that the inspiration for their version of Ezekiel Bread is Holy Scripture. They add, “We discovered when these six grains and legumes (wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet and spelt) are sprouted and combined, an amazing thing happens. A complete protein is created that closely parallels the protein found in milk and eggs.”

The company states that bread made from sprouted grain and baked at a lower temperature (as Ezekiel would have done) is less likely to aggravate allergies and gluten sensitivities. On the FAQ page, they qualify: “Many individuals with mild gluten sensitivities use sprouted grains with no adverse affect or allergic reaction…but every individual’s constitution is different.”

Author Suzanne Robin reminds readers, “Nowhere in book of Ezekiel does God suggest that everyone eat Ezekiel’s bread or that it has any particular health benefits. To obtain all the nutrients in a recommended 2000-a-er-day diet, you would have to consume 25 slices a day” (, “Ezekiel Diet”). That’s a lot of bread!

It brings up the question of why God gave Ezekiel a recipe of grains and legumes with which to make bread? Was it to improve his strength? Was it to set an example of eating healthfully? Most Bible commentators agree that God’s purpose was not to promote health and nutrition.

Gill’s commentary states that most bread was made of wheat, and only in times of poverty did the bread include barley. The other grains God proscribed were primarily used for cattle feed. Only in a time of adversity would flour be stretched out with inferior ingredients. Henry’s commentary, Clarke’s commentary, and the Geneva commentary agree that Ezekiel ate a bread of mixed grains, not for health, but to enact a time of famine.

God measured the amount of bread Ezekiel could eat each day, and it was “the least a man could be kept alive with” (Henry’s Commentary, Ezekiel 4:9). Mixed grains indicated a scarcity in the necessities of life, a condition in which people “would be glad to eat whatever they could get” (Geneva Commentary, Ezekiel 4:9).

Although Ezekiel’s bread has some health-giving benefits and many people choose to incorporate it as part of their diet, Ezekiel did not eat it by choice. God sustained his life at a level of near starvation. He ate the bread of adversity in obedience to God for the purpose of enacting a coming famine in Jerusalem. ♦ Mary Hendren

Breaking Bread

That most bread is sliced, soft and wrapped for freshness saves time. With sliced bread you can put together a quick meal and eat on the run. Sliced bread makes great sandwiches that can be cut into portions, and kids make their own snacks and lunches with sliced bread. The words “sliced bread” have become a motto for innovation. “There’s nothing like it since ‘sliced bread.’”

English: cadifus

English: cadifus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With the popularity and convenience of sliced bread, we may have forgotten that in times past the act of breaking bread, not slicing it, symbolized eating together and hospitality. Originally “breaking bread” meant the literal breaking of a loaf of bread. In time the phrase “breaking bread” expanded to mean, “to engage in a comfortable, friendly interaction” over a shared eating experience (, “Breaking Bread”).

The phrase is “a standard Jewish expression from pre-Christian times which refers specifically to the action of ‘breaking bread’ at the commencement of a meal, and then by extension, to the meal itself” (The New Testament Speaks, “The Meaning of ‘Breaking Bread’” on-line resource).

Customarily the father or an honored guest usually broke the loaf at a meal and asked a blessing over it. The family and guests shared a common meal, taking their portion from the broken loaf—ideally joined for a brief time in the pleasure of eating and conversation.

On many occasions Jesus broke and blessed bread: when He fed four thousand followers (Matthew 15:35-36), when He fed the five thousand (Matthew 14:19), when He instituted the new Passover symbols (Matthew 26:26). Jesus, as the honored guest of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, would likely have broken the bread at the meal He ate with them (Luke 10:38-42). When Jesus ate with two disciples on the way to Emmaus, He assumed the honored role and broke bread at their meal.

Now as it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight (Luke 24:30-31).

Breaking bread was a meaningful practice in which an honored father or guest broke the loaf of bread, the essential “staff of life.”  In asking the blessing over the bread and the meal to follow, he acknowledged God as the Provider of life’s essentials and of life itself.

We will probably continue buying loaves of sliced bread for convenience. At times we should buy or bake a crusty baguette, break off a hunk, hear the crust shatter, and enjoy the uneven nooks and crannies.  ♥ Mary Hendren

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