My own vineyard

So, my last blog entry was about chapters five and six in The Pursuit of Holiness and I talked about the little foxes that get into the vineyard and ruin it. I ended the blog post talking about our failure to notice or take seriously the little foxes in by brother-in-law’s vineyard. But I can’t let you think I don’t have foxes in my own vineyard. In fact, the reason I ended the post where I did last Monday was because I had to leave for Circle. Going to Circle last week was a small battle with a small fox.

Somewhere recently (Fresh Faith by Cymbala perhaps) I read a comment where the author was talking about someone who was ready to stop a particular form of service in the church. He said that was fine, we do not need to burn out and it is a good idea to be aware when it is time to back away from something to let others do it. But the danger, he said, was when we do not move into another service or good use of our time and we wander away. Now, that isn’t to say we have to be busy all the time and can’t have any time to ourselves. I truly believe there are things we should trim out of our hectic lives and I do evaluate at times to see if I am doing something I should let go.

But I also know that I have an unhealthy tendency to create a small hole for myself and lock myself away from others. This becomes a self-centered thing, and I am usually either wasting my time or engaging in morbid introspection. I need down time, quiet time. But I don’t need inordinate amounts of that down time because I get unhealthy. So, I also evaluate what I am doing to make sure I am reaching out, participating in certain activities, serving in certain ways so keep me connected and convicted.

Church activities can become my little fox. I may want to stay home one night from Circle/Bible Study, or family night, or some get together. It sounds innocent enough, I deserve some time and some weeks just get booked solid. But I know myself and I know why I go to these events. First reason is the time spent studying the Word and discussing the truths that I need to remember over and over again. Second reason is to be a part of the lives of the women and families at these activities. That requires quality time and that usually occurs during a Bible study or a get-together, or cleaning dishes at Family night.

Last Monday I wanted to stay home to read a novel. I had not had what seemed like good reading time all month (although I had managed to read a fair amount) and I just wanted a block of time with no other commitments. But I want to be at Circle, I want to spend time talking with these women. And I am so glad I went. We had some very good conversation, even though only four of us were there. Perhaps because only four of us were there. We discussed some fears and frustrations and family concerns and we also discussed the faithfulness of our God.

And why have I not had “good” reading time this month? Because I have had wonderful time with friends and family. Every choice is a sacrifice and I know why I am choosing to spend time with family and friends. These are people I love and people I want to be with. Sometimes it’s my time to support and provide encouragement, and sometimes it’s my turn to receive the support and encouragement. And there was a lot of both this month. How can I complain about that?

Another little fox is my regular Bible reading time. I do not believe that a consistent devotion time and Bible reading time or even Bible study time makes someone a good Christian. But I do believe it is hard to be a good Christian without that time in the Word. But it’s easy to get busy, stay up too late and have trouble getting up a few minutes early to fit in the reading before the day gets started. Then the schedule doesn’t slow down enough to fit it in later. Although I do manage to keep up with my email, Facebook, twitter, and blogs I follow. Ahhh, I know better. So each day is a fresh start and some days I do better than others. But the times when I make myself aware of the need to make that time are the times when I succeed.

******************

I was listening to the sermon Sunday and it struck me that what is most amazing about the gospel and yet difficult to believe is that we are being told to be holy and we are also given the ability to do just that. Sometimes my sin seems so relentless and the improvements seem so absent that it is discouraging. Pastor David was preaching from Galatians 3:1-15 where Paul is pointing out that no one can live a righteous life under their own power. Every one of us requires the indwelling Spirit. This is exactly what Bridges is teaching, of course. Paul is saying that we can do this. Not all at once, and not perfectly this side of Heaven, but we can know success in this battle against sin. That is something worth pursuing!

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Little foxes

Chapter five in The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges talks about the change that is made in us and being made in us when we come to believe in Christ. He calls it a change of kingdoms. We die to sin (Romans 6) and that is true whether we realize it or not. Then we are called to live as if it is true (because it is). Christ died for our sins and we then are enabled to pursue holiness. We do have to work to overcome the habit of sin (and overcoming our sinful nature can make stopping smoking and drinking and drugs look simple).

The struggle, of course, is that we still have our sin natures and Satan does a good job of confusing us about what God has done for us and what we need to do. The next chapter goes into more detail about the indwelling sin and what we must keep in mind to overcome it.

First – sin dwells in the heart and the heart is unsearchable and deceitful. We do not always understand our own motives so we are fighting “with an enemy we cannot fully search out.”

The heart is also deceitful. It excuses, rationalizes, and justifies our actions. It blinds us to entire areas of sin in our lives. It causes us to deal with sin using only halfway measures, or to think that mental assent to the Word of God is the same as obedience. (p 64)

In the discussion of why we must let the Holy Spirit search our heart and expose our sins to us, I recognize myself in both traps of morbid introspection (the Accuser loves this one) and missing the real issues. The first trap is where I can become obsessed with what I’ve done and never accept God’s forgiveness. As I was talking about this with Alison tonight I explained that I am punitive when I look at my own sins. My need is to punish (and not always just when looking at my own sins). But God is restorative – and that means I need to trust Him when He says I am forgiven and then move on to grow and improve, not stay stuck in my little mud-hole picking open my wounds again.

The second trap is just as likely, and I think they often go hand in hand. If I’m down in my mud-hole worrying the same sin over and over, I am less likely to notice something different that God is ready for me to work on. It’s almost easier to bemoan the sin I’m familiar with than to actually wrestle with some sin I’m not ready to get rid of yet.

Second – indwelling sin works largely through our desires and those desires can be insatiable. When our desires overcome our reason we sin.

Third – indwelling sin deceives our understanding and reasoning. This begins with drawing away from watchfulness, and then from obedience. We become overconfident. We abuse grace by sinning knowing we’ll be forgiven, and when we ask for forgiveness we focus more on the mercy than on the holiness and judgment of God. We begin to doubt God’s Word – why obey it if it isn’t true.

Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards are in blossom. (Song of Solomon 2:15)

I must stay watchful, open to the leading of the Holy Spirit for where I need to work and where I need to accept forgiveness and move on. If I let down my guard, my sinful nature will jump at the advantage. The fall into sin can take months or years, but it will happen. I am to pursue holiness, that means I must work at it, every day.

I believe the Word of God, and that Word tells me to pursue holiness – to be holy because God is holy. Some days (and months) I’m better at this than others.

Because I believe the Word of God, I also care about family and friends and their spiritual walk. I am naturally not a meddler and am not likely to judge someone else’s decisions or choices unless it is obviously sinful. But I struggle with that because I’m watching the devastation caused by my not noticing the past few years of Dave and of Alison’s struggles. I believe  that Dave began wandering away – letting down his guard, becoming overconfident in certain areas, ignoring “little” sins, and then even doubting the very Word he cherished at one time. The little foxes got into his vineyard and I never noticed. Well, maybe I noticed one or two, but I always thought there was time to deal with it and I assumed David was dealing with it correctly. I don’t know if Anthony or I could have done anything to really stop this from happening, but perhaps some conversations should have been deeper with more prayer for discernment.

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What is its motivation?

Post title from Galaxy Quest – a fantastic movie:

Sir Alexander Dane: You’re just going to have to figure out what it wants. What is its motivation?
Jason Nesmith: It’s a rock monster. It doesn’t have motivation.
Sir Alexander Dane: See, that’s your problem, Jason. You were never serious about the craft.

But seriously…

Chapter four in The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges is about the Holiness of Christ. Bridges argues that we must understand the righteousness of Christ so that when we become more aware of our own sin we can be reassured by the fact that it is Christ’s righteousness that is credited to us. And we can look to the life of Christ as an example of holy living that we should follow.

Christ’s holiness was not just the absence of actual sin, but a perfect conformity to the will of His Father. This includes His actions, attitudes, and motives. We can rest in this, we can flee to this when we are under attack and when we are discouraged by our own sinfulness.

Bridges refers to the hymn Just As I Am, Without One Plea (see below), which is a hymn we will be singing this Sunday in church. As the Holy Spirit begins to open our eyes and reveal our sins to us, Satan attempts to use this very knowledge to discourage us and convince us we are unworthy and not really Christians. We must remember that we are unworthy but we bring nothing to our own salvation. We receive that freely from Christ.

So, if Christ is to be our example of a holy life, we must look at the question “do I always do what pleases God?” This is how Christ presented his life (John 8:29). Is it how I could present my own? Bridges points out we often do good things for the admiration of others, not to please God. We do many things just to please ourselves, with no thought for the glory of God. The high road we are to pursue is to please God in all we do.

This reminded me of a great blog entry I read earlier today by Paul Tripp. The title is Parenting: It’s Never an Interruption and it deals with the motives of the parent. Here’s how he puts it:

Along with this, you and I must remember that our Lord loves our children more than we ever could, and his commitment to their growth and change is more faithful and persevering than ours could ever be. Because of this, in his grace and love, he will manufacture moments that expose the needy hearts of our children to us. He will faithfully employ the little moments of everyday life to expose to us and our children their need of rescuing and forgiving grace. And he will not do this only at the moments that you feel are appropriate and when you feel most prepared.

Then he relays a great story of an outing with his family where he had one set of expectations and God apparently had a different set. (bolding mine)

What’s going on is that a God of grace is taking a mundane moment of daily family life and using it to do something wonderful for my children and for me. He is making the condition of their hearts visible in order to produce concern in me that would hopefully result in awareness and a desire to change in them. But I’m not at all encouraged in this moment with what God is doing. You see, I’m not angry in the parking lot because my children are sinners. No, I’m angry that God has exposed their sin, and because he has, I have to forsake my agenda for the day and parent them! It all seems like a huge imposition, a hassle that I just didn’t want to deal with.

A few paragraphs later he sums it up with this line: “But my problem is that there are moments when I tend to love my little kingdom of one more than I love his”

That right there is my single biggest problem. I really recognize this, even thought I do not parent children day-to-day. In my interactions with my husband, my mother, my friends, my co-workers – what is my motivation? Do I take my craft (living a holy life) seriously?

Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need in Thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, Thy love unknown
Hath broken every barrier down;
Now, to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, of that free love
The breadth, length, depth, and height to prove,
Here for a season, then above,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

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God’s holiness

I am listening to The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges. It’s a book I’ve read in the past and it happens to be the free audio book from Christianaudio.com this month. So, I listen to a chapter in the morning a few times a week and then I go back and read that same chapter later that day or the next. There is plenty to think about and meditate on in this book.

The book progresses from the broad and necessary truths to the practical responses to those truth. Chapter 2 starts it off by talking about the holiness of God. Having just read the book The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul in Nov/Dec this was a brief refresher.

Bridges reflects that the holiness of God means He is completely without evil and perfectly consistent with His character. God doesn’t struggle to know what is right or to do what is right. This should reassure us, as we can trust that God is always perfect and just in His actions toward us. Bridges admits we are often tempted to accuse God of being unfair. My Bible reading plan has me in Job again and he is complaining that he would rather be dead, in fact rather never even have been born. Much later, of course, Job stops talking such foolishness.

From there Bridges talks about how dangerous it is to imply that God is not holy. He quotes Stephen Charnock who said

It is less injury to Him to deny His being, than to deny the purity of it; the one makes Him no God, the other a deformed, unlovely, and a detestable God…he that saith God is not holy speaks much worse than he that saith there is no God at all.

Now comes the rub. Not only is God holy but He calls us to be holy. Our actions, motives, everything. One sentence that Bridges wrote really stood out for me.

Probably none of us ever imagines that God is actively soliciting us to do evil, but we may feel that God has put us in a situation where we have no choice.

The biblical reference is that of Saul making the sacrifice himself because Samuel didn’t come when he said he would. (1 Sam 13:8-14)  That chapter just came up in my reading plan yesterday. Saul justified his actions, not realizing that his performing that action was much worse than anything that would happen if Samuel was late. But God is holy and He hates sin. We must learn to hate sin too. This can be difficult, especially those little sins we secretly love and hold on to.

Another form this can take is deciding what is actually “righteous anger” and what is a sinful anger and desire for vengeance that should be left to the Lord. There are times where it seems wrong to forgive someone who has done something terrible and hurtful. And there are consequences that should not be avoided. But holding on to our anger and justifying it by the behavior of the other person is wrong. An example for me  recently would be anger at my brother-in-law David. Seeing the pain he is causing his family and the mean way he is treating them (is ignoring someone a form of treatment?) makes me so angry some times. But I have learned from prior experience that when I  get angry at David, I must immediately stop and pray for him. This serves two purposes. It lifts up a man who needs God’s salvation, and it reminds me that whatever God does (either turning David’s heart or punishing him for his sins) is better than anything I can come up with. It makes my desires for vengeance or pain or a deep recognition of just how wrong he is look small and petty. David is both safer and in much more danger in the hands of a holy God.

On a related note, Bridges then makes an interesting point that the Bible shows that “God may judge the sins of His saints more severely than those of the world.” King David, for his adultery and murder, was beset with violence and turmoil the rest of his reign. Moses, for one act of unbelief, was forbidden to enter the Promise Land.

Another point of interest in the chapter included how we think we will sin a little and then ask for forgiveness later. Not only what Paul was so indignant about when he asked if anyone really thought they should sin the more so there would be more grace in their forgiveness. (Romans 6:1) But the even worse step of just thinking that we can sin now knowing we’ll be forgiven, not even thinking of the cost of the grace we are taking for granted.

The next chapter states that holiness is not an option and gives 4 reasons:

  • holiness is required for fellowship with God – He hates sin so to be in fellowship with Him we must be serious about sin and not continue to cherish a sin once it is revealed to us
  • holiness is required for our own well being – He disciplines us because He loves us
  • holiness is necessary for effective service to God – the Holy Spirit is grieved by a life of ongoing sin
  • holiness is necessary for our assurance of salvation – there will be fruit of our salvation evident in our lives

Living a life of holiness is a struggle and we can begin to see some dark and dirty corners of our own life when we pursue holiness earnestly. That’s why the next chapter is about the good news!

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Being grateful

I have a whole page (that I will go update as soon as I finish this post) on gratitude.

With Thanksgiving (the name gives it away), and then Christmas (such good news in the birth of a baby, a Savior!), and the New Year (fresh beginnings) all coming together, I always start thinking about all the blessings in my life, the things I am grateful for.

I must put my wonderful husband at the top. He is funny, and a bit strange, and doesn’t understand how to play charades. He is patient and a great encourager for me. He is a good guy and my best friend.

I am grateful for a safe and easy drive to Raleigh. I know there is plenty to not like about I-85 and I-40, but those roads were good to me in Nov and Dec on many trips. Also grateful for less-expensive gas around Burlington!

I am very thankful that Connor and Duncan and Jacob are growing up into fine young men. They carry on conversations now, initiate games (instead of being dragged into playing with me), and they see ways to be helpful. They are also very funny and fun to be around.

I am grateful for all the time I have been able to spend with my nephews in Raleigh. A few years ago I was there once a month, but the visits recently have been much less frequent. Seeing them for a whole week at a time for a few weeks in a row was so much fun. I enjoy knowing what their schedule is like, what they play with during the days, and they know who I am. I love being someone they want to share things with.

I love how well Alison and I get along. We always have so it isn’t a new surprise. It’s just an ongoing blessing. She is smart and very funny and perceptive. Even with all that is going on right now, and the struggles she has every day, she is still a wonderful person that I love spending time with.

I am grateful for time spent with Christine. We’ve gotten together a few times over the past year and every time I just am so thankful for having her as a sister(-in-law). I love her new yoga studio and really enjoyed the time we spent together the day we drove to Hickory. (And she has a very nice new car now!)

I am always grateful for the house and job that I have. Even when the job isn’t fun, it is still a blessing. I can work from Raleigh if I need to. I get to work from home so I don’t fight the commute every day. And many days I am productive and challenged in a good way.

I am grateful for Pastor David and Mary Margaret. Pastor David is such an encourager for me, and he is a good preacher every Sunday, and he likes working with my husband (at least that’s what Anthony says). Mary is fun and smart and challenges me to see people and circumstances in new ways.

I could go on, in fact the list on the Gratitude page is something I can easily repeat every day. So many good friends and family that I love spending time with, who encourage me and teach me.

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And so the need for great faith in a Great God

The first week I was here at Alison’s, after David left, I came across the book Fresh Faith by Jim Cymbala (Brooklyn Tabernacle). I picked it up and read the first chapter that week and was struck by the imagery of Satan stealing our faith, our first love, our zeal for God, destroying our marriages. I finally got back to it tonight and found a lot of good reminders of the need for faith in God, and what that means in our daily lives.

The greatest Christian is not the one who has achived the most but rather the one who has received the most. God’s grace, love, and mercy flow through him abundantly because he walks in total dependence.

Paul also knew that God uses trouble and trials of all kinds to heighten that sensitivity so that by faith we can use divine resources.  p.47

Don’t give up today because you feel weak and overwhelmed – that’s the very place where divine power will uphold you if you only believe and call out to the Lord in total dependence. p. 47

Reminders that even in the darkest times, we need to hold on and we can trust that God is faithful. He has a plan and He is at work, even in the face of great sin.

Those who walk in faith are still realists. They often admit that they don’t know how everything is going to work out; but they insist that their God will supply nonetheless. p. 95.

Declare war on the cleverness that is a mask for unbelief.

Bring your problem to God, as a little child would, in total confidence that he alone can fix whatever is broken. p. 95

How often do I try to do things on my own. Even while saying it requires prayer and faith in God I am still standing on my own strength. But then the pain is too much to bear on my own – this drives me to my knees and to God.

Many times in life, God waits while a situation goes from bad to worse. He appears to let it slip over the edge, so that you and I say, “There’s no way now for this ever to work out.” But that is the point when the omnipotent God intervenes in our hopelessness and says, “Oh really? Watch this…!” p. 99

Can I believe in Him? Can I trust Him even when I see Alison’s pain? Even when I am the one in pain?

God is looking for a people who will believe him and take him at his word no matter what the circumstances say or what other people are telling us. p. 116

Then I run across this and I just want to see David, to talk to him, to get him to talk to me. I just want to understand what he’s feeling and thinking.

I have often sat in my office, trying to counsel couples who know that they are in trouble. They are entirely accurate as to the surface facts of their situation. But they are also so negative and pessimistic that you want to scream. There is no faith or expectancy for what god hs promised to do for his people. p. 119

But right now David won’t talk to me or any of us. Oh sure, he sends cordial formal emails to Alison to handle logistics, but he is not really communicating, sharing his thoughts and feelings, explaining anything. And certainly not showing any interest in what any of us think or feel.

We like to control the map of our life and know everything well in advance. But faith is content just knowing that God’s promise cannot fail. p. 145

I don’t get to know what David is thinking or why he is doing this. Can I live with that? Can I let go of that frustration and pain and trust God?

God’s purpose for us is a lot deeper than just how we feel at the moment. He lovingly permits pressures and trials, lets the bottom fall out from time to time, so that our wrong reactions come right to the surface. We see our lack of faith, our lack of love – and that is his aim.

God intentionally places us in situations in which we are beyond our ability to cope. He permits difficulties to come with our children , and we say “Why, God?” He is refining us. He is teaching us to trust him. He is drawing us away from our strength to his. He knows exactly how much heat to allow in our lives. He will never scorch us, but if we jump out of one cauldron because it’s too hot, he has others waiting. The dross must be removed. p. 186

…. Shall we not trust Christ and surrender to this process, rather than fighting it? Remember that it is a process of love to bring beauty and growth and enlargement in our lives. It is God’s way of sanctifying us. And we must never forget that the holier the life, the more true happiness we experience within. It is the spiritual impurities that rob us of God’s best. p. 187

Oh but the purification process can be so painful.

Satan wants us to focus on the problem, not the Provider. p.207

I fear for David. I hurt for Alison and those 3 boys. I struggle with my own unbelief. My God is faithful, holy, just, merciful. I rest in Him, I trust Him. I will walk in faith in Him.

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From great desire comes great frustration

I have a need to be understood. And when I am misunderstood, I am very frustrated and hurt. The level of hurt depends on the person misunderstanding me, but it is always painful.

One of the few plot points that most aggravates me in a book or movie is the bad guy who misinterprets the hero’s motivations because he assumes the hero is as selfish and self-centered as he is. I much prefer a bad guy who is at least mature enough to realize not everyone has his same perspective.

This need for understanding goes both ways. I am frustrated and confused when I can’t figure out why someone I know and care about is doing something harmful. I want communication so we can figure it out. It may not be a good reason, but I’m ok with that. If I can just know what it is.

I guess all of this means that refusing to talk with me and explain why you are doing something, or repeatedly misunderstanding and misinterpreting my actions without trying to understand my reasons are the best ways to cause me distress and pain.

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On Christmas gifts and memories

I got what I wanted for Christmas! (Of course, it helps that I ripped the page out of World Magazine with the review of the Cirque de Soleil Elvis album and handed it to Anthony with the words – “This is what I want for Christmas”). I came home from Raleigh a week ago to find iTunes open and Viva Elvis in the play list! The review in World is right, this is great Elvis music. I have really enjoyed listening to the songs over the past week.

My Christmas present also makes me cry. I remember slow dancing with Dad to songs like Memories and Love Me Tender. And watching Elvis movies like King Creole and Blue Hawaii with him. All the times we listened to Blue Suede Shoes and Heartbreak Hotel while playing pool down in the basement. Singing along, dancing, laughing. Watching the Elvis bio movie every year (Kurt Russell!) and crying at the end because it always had the same sad ending.

Elvis brings back my childhood, and so many good memories of my Dad. October made 2 years that he’s been gone. And I really miss him.

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Reading ahead!

I planned my reading in 2009 to a great level of detail, then in 2010 I was much more open, knowing it would just happen.

One blog I love following is Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks. That’s a moderate number of books to read for me, and Robin always has fun facts and challenges to keep people reading.

Related to that is the Mind Voyages blog – another great site for finding old and new Science Fiction writing.

Check it out and think about what you’ll read in 2011. Because, you will read a few books over the course of the year, right?

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Christmas is coming

This is not a real cheerful Christmas this year, as we struggle to understand and move forward with the results of Anthony’s brother’s actions.

But it is still a joyful season. We are saved and secure, no matter what happens here we know where will spend eternity and we are loved by a Holy and Awesome God.

While we were all here the weekend after Christmas I got our Christmas Ladder tree up. I am spoiled by how easy it is to put so many cool decorations on the tree. We don’t have a lot of flat surfaces waiting for decorations in the rest of the house, so this year I even put our nativity scene on the tree. (Someone kept inviting Tigger to the nativity. 🙂

I didn’t leave an empty spot, but one of the items on the tree is a soft bag and Bluetooth has found that spot quite satisfactory.

My favorite addition to my Christmas decorations this year is the fantastic Christmas Wreath that Edie made for me!

Hopefully no birds will build a nest in this wreath (I guess that means I need to take it down earlier than I did last year).

Thursday night while in Raleigh I got to go hear my nephew singing with his Chorus group. A fine way to begin the season.

Tomorrow night, of course, is our Cantata at Church. Last Monday was a covered dish dinner with some good friends. This coming Monday is a Christmas party / ornament exchange. Family get-together next Saturday. Tis the season. I am very happy to say that we’ve done a better job this past year of staying in touch with family and friends, so this isn’t the only month of the year that we get to see each other. I expect to make next year even better!!

Stay warm and spend time remembering how blessed you are!

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