Author Archive for Russell Brown

20
Jan
21

Do it now? Or do it later?

One of the people in this house (not naming names) likes to do things RIGHT NOW! Action is his (or her) middle name.

The other one likes to sit with it a bit… let it marinate… wait for additional information to materialize before leaping into action. He (or she) is studious and thoughtful.

Do it before you forget about it!” argues A. “No time like the present.”

What’s the rush?” B asks calmly. “We might not have considered all the angles.”

“Do you want to order pizza tonight?” B asks idly.

Sure,” A replies. “Let me pull up the Krazy Karl’s menu and get our order started. Do you want the combo again?”

“Hang on… hang on. That’s just my first thought. No need to jump right on it. Let’s see… what are some other options?” comes the languid reply from B.

Does this dynamic sound at all familiar to you?

A dispassionate sociologist might observe this interesting blend of personalities and see a healthy tension… one that allows both action and circumspection to vie for supremacy, creating a beneficial blend. 

The people living in the middle of that dynamic might see it as something a lot more discordant… a source of friction and annoyance.

The question we all want answered is… so who is right? Is it better to be the Action Jackson person? Or is the Studious Stewart superior?

Both approaches, of course, have their distinct downsides. Leaping before you look can result in mis-steps, miscalculations, and mistakes. Spending too much time in probing, in-depth analysis can cause you to miss the moment altogether.

As the Bible so wisely tells us, the real answer is, “Both.” The Teacher (and much later, Roger McGuinn and the Byrds) told us, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal…
 (Ecclesiastes 3:1-3, NRSV).

But instead of “both,” maybe the real answer is, “Sometimes it’s one, and at other times, it’s the other.”

Which makes me wonder: would that be a preferable answer to other dichotomies we face in life? In this highly fraught moment of mid-January 2021, my thoughts naturally skew in the political direction. 

As we look on from the cheap seats, we see the advocates of conservatism insisting that, “The conservative approach is the only valid approach to governing,” while liberals and progressives loudly and emphatically assert exactly the opposite. 

What if sometimes it was one and at other times it was the other? What if we were to become a people less concerned with defending our TRIBE and more concerned with defending the TRUTH? What if there was a way for us to lift our eyes above the immediacies of our narrow, self-interested cost/benefit analyses and to instead think in terms of the WIDER well-being of the WIDER human race?

What if?

Well, as it turns out, dear friend, there IS a way. And that way is GOD’S way. 

King Solomon in his legendary wisdom writes, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NRSV). 

 What would happen if we all did exactly that?

I’m not sure it would resolve a lot of disputes about what to have for dinner, or where to go on vacation (that is, when we get to go on vacation again), but it would certainly help us figure out where we go from here as a society.

And you know what? I think that would be a pretty good place to start. 

Abundant blessings;

15
Jan
21

Certain Uncertainty

I may have said this before, but I just LOVE Google!

Questions which, in bygone days, might have floated off into the ether unanswered, can now be resolved in the blink of an eye, thanks to Google.

Just yesterday, for example, I idly wondered what the shape and size of the 970-telephone area code is. I wanted to know what other towns besides Fort Collins it includes, what its total area is, what other area codes are nearby… you know – important, life-changing questions like that.

Being decidedly OLD, I can vividly remember the work it once took to answer even a question as simple as that. I would have started by pulling down the big white page version of the phone book and then thumbed through the front of it looking for an area code map. Failing that, I might have taken a trip to the local public library and posed my question to the research librarian. 

Today? I just hit the button and say, “OK, Google; show me a map of the 970-area code,” and BINGO! There it is, before you can say “Jack Robinson.”

And guess what, kids? You can do the same thing with ANY question at all! Curious about how many ounces are in a pint? Ask Google! Want to know the racial make-up of your county? Ask Google! What if you HAD to know George Brett’s batting average in his rookie year? In less time than it takes you to ask the question, you can have the answer, thanks to Google.

In fact, it is hard to imagine a question that could not be answered in the twinkling of an eye by the miracle of the Google Machine.

Welcome, my friends, to the age of CERTAINTY where NOTHING is unknowable.

As accurate as that description might be, I have to wonder if that is entirely good news. I mean, is certaintyreally the end-all, be-all we make it out to be? Does the elimination of all mystery and uncertainty really mean our lives are quantitatively BETTER? 

In asking these questions I am not advocating a return to a stone age understanding of the world… the one where people cower in fear in the belief that the moon swallows the sun every time a solar eclipse happens. 

My question more has to do, I suppose, with how we think about FAITH in an age of certainty. Here in GoogleWorld 2021, does faith become more like a passive placeholder, as we wait for greater certainty? That is, do we say, “Well, until the science comes along to either prove or disprove this proposition, I will just have to have faith”?

If that is how we see faith, I can’t help but be a little sad. I have always been encouraged to see faith as something ACTIVE rather than PASSIVE… as an intentional choice we make about the metanarrative we live out of. 

I have lived a lot of years and learned a lot of things during that time. A lot of uncertainty has been vanquished with the help of education, connections, and the miracle of Google. And yet somehow, at the very same time, the scope of what I do NOT know about the universe seems to be expanding at an even greater pace. 

How is that possible?

But ultimately, it is FAITH that assures me that it is OK to just stand here in awe… drinking in the sheer wonder of the world around me, trusting that the Unseen Hand behind it all loves each of us completely and unconditionally.

And that brings me peace.

[Incidentally, in case you wondered, George Brett’s batting average in 1974 – his first full season in the bigs – was .282. Not bad for a kid.]

Abundant blessings;

12
Jan
21

That Small Rudder…

“The words of a president matter.”

These words were spoken earlier this week by the incoming U.S. president and were pointedly directed at the outgoing guy. They were meant to be a stinging rebuke of a set of words Mr. Outgoing spoke earlier from a podium over a microphone that then ignited a violent uprising in our nation’s capital.

Those weighty words from Mr. Incoming also seemed to contain a promise; “Once I am safely ensconced in the oval-shaped office, I promise to remember to use my words with care, intention, and purpose… unlike this other guy.”

I am sure you all know the events I am referring to, right?

But were you also tempted – as I was – to wipe the imaginary sweat from your brow and say, “WHEW! It’s a good thing that principle only applies to people who hold the office of President of the United States! Thank goodness I don’t have to worry about the effect of MY words!”

I hope you didn’t fall for that trap. Because although the scope of your power might not extend any further than your kitchen table, YOUR words (and mine) matter too. 

They have the power to heal… or harm… or encourage… or dispirit… or enlighten… or obscure… or bring joy… or bring sorrow. 

You – yes, YOU – exert influence when you speak. Believe it or not. As the writer of the book of James tells us, “Or look at ships; though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder… So also, the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.” (James 3:4-5, NRSV). 

People who hear you speak believe your words are born of conviction… that is to say, they trust that you only say things because you believe them. 

If you tell me I am an idiot, you clearly believe that to be true. Or if you tell me I am kind, generous, and devilishly handsome, you also say that nonsense because you believe it. 

And if you believe something, well… there must be a good reason you believe it. 

After all we have been through in 2020 and these early days of 2021, we would all do well to remember that our words DO indeed matter to those who hear us…

… and to use them accordingly.

Abundant blessings;

10
Jan
21

Invisible Burdens

Just the other day, I had to make a trip to Home Depot. Not a terribly unusual occurrence in the life of most homeowners. Some days even call for more than one trip to my “home away from home,” as Joan also calls it.

As I pulled into the parking lot, scanning for an empty parking space, a figure caught my eye. It was the figure of a man struggling with a large package. Because of the distance between us, I could not tell what was in the package, but it was definitely something heavy and unwieldy. 

That guy needs help,” I thought, and hurried to park my car so I could give him a hand. 

As these things usually go, by the time I parked and made my way back to the site of the struggle, the man and his package were gone. 

It was a quick, relatively meaningless episode in my day. And yet despite its utter mundanity, the moment somehow managed to impress two different, important lessons into my skull.

The first lesson concerned our (that is, “guy with package” and my) respective places within the width and breadth of human community. The man in the Home Depot parking lot was a guy who needed help. Period. It didn’t occur to me to stop and ask whether he was a Republican or a Democrat before helping him. I didn’t try to discern whether he REALLY needed help or was just PRETENDING to struggle with his package. His race, his gender, his religious preference, his sexual orientation, his NFL rooting preference, his education, his income, and his citizenship status were all irrelevant in that moment.

He was a guy who was struggling, and I was in a position to help him. Much later, the passage from Paul’s letter to the Galatians came to mind: “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2, NRSV). 

I couldn’t help but notice that nowhere did Paul include the caveat, “… IF they are worthy.” 

The other thing I learned from my Home Depot parking lot moment had to do with the idea of the “season” for compassion. 

What I mean is, I am sure that most of us in that situation would respond and do exactly what I did… Step 1.) See a person struggling, Step 2.) drop what you are doing and rush over to help. 

Nothing heroic. Nothing super-special. It’s just what folks do.

But then, in the very next breath, I realized that burdens can be both VISIBLE and INVISIBLE. There in the Home Depot parking lot, I could easily see what the guy was wrestling with. It was a big, awkward, probably heavy, cardboard box.

But what about his – or anyone else’s for that matter – INVISIBLE burdens? I don’t know… maybe there are tensions in his home because of COVID, or finances, or obnoxious in-laws. Maybe he was also carrying the burden of trying to shake an addiction of some kind. What if he was weighed down by a mountain of guilt over the way he had treated a son, a daughter, a co-worker, or the Home Depot clerk just now? Maybe he is at the point of not being sure what the real purpose of his life is anyway and is beginning to lose hope. 

Sure… I’m just making all of that up. But isn’t it just as likely to be true as not?

The truth is every person you meet – whether in person or on Zoom – is carrying some kind of invisible burden. 

And so the question then becomes: why wouldn’t we feel just as immediately compelled to rush over and help someone with their INVISIBLE burdens as we are to help with the VISIBLE kind?

Good question. The answer is that we probably hesitate because of fear of not being knowledgeable or trained enough to offer that kind of help. I mean heck, anyone with a broad back can pick up a cardboard box for someone. 

The good news is that we really don’t need to be a trained psychologist or counselor in order to offer that kind of “burden carrying” help. Our help might be as simple as introducing them to the One who said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28, NRSV). 

Because as we know, the One who carried the cross can also carry anything – and everything – we choose to give him.

Abundant blessings;

07
Jan
21

Lord, in your mercy…

… hear our prayer.

  • Hear our prayer for humility in the face of chaos and confusion.
  • Hear our prayer for justice, administered without regard for place or privilege.
  • Hear our prayer for softened hearts and willing hands.
  • Hear our prayer for vital, life-giving connections between all of your people, recognizing common bonds of humanity.
  • Hear our prayer for the resiliency of hope in the middle of dark times.
  • Hear our prayer for a new willingness to listen deeply to voices other than our own, and those who echo us.
  • Hear our prayer for the relief of the physical, emotional, financial, and spiritual suffering of brothers and sisters around the world.
  • Hear our prayer for a supernatural infusion of wisdom into those we have appointed to govern over the unremarkable affairs of our lives.
  • Hear our prayer for new courage to do your will… even in the face of opposition and hardship. 
  • Hear our prayer that the sharp edges of power might be hammered into the productive edges of plowshares.
  • Hear our prayer for gentle rains and warm sunshine to nurture the fragile, green shoots of new life bursting forth all around us. 
  • Hear our prayer for the birth of a new world, reshaped into the image you intended at the Dawn of Creation.

In your name and in the name of your incarnate son, Jesus Christ, we pray…

AMEN

06
Jan
21

The Enemy Within

Raised voices.

Shaken fists.

Popped forehead veins.

Tensed muscles.

We all recognize the signals of anger. We have seen it at work many times before; in ourselves and in others. We are seeing overwhelming amounts of it in our nation’s capital today.

We know its destructive power and its crazy, irrational flight path. 

We quickly identify it as a threat to the peace we seek to cultivate.

And yet, if we really are as savvy and self-aware as we pretend to be, why do we keep moving TOWARD anger, violence, and mayhem instead of AWAY from them? Why do they fascinate us so? What primordial force is at work, drawing us in, like moths to a flame?

  • We can’t get enough of sporting events featuring violence.
  • We HAVE to slow down and check out the accident on the side of the road.
  • TV commentators have to shout at each other to gain our attention.
  • Our favorite television programs center on crime, injury, death, tragedy, and egregious harm done by one person to another.

We know we should disdain it, but we remain mesmerized.

It is too easy to shake our heads, point our fingers at “them” and say things like, “Shocking!” and “Shameful!” and “Outrageous!” It keeps us from looking too deeply inside ourselves and seeing the seeds of violence living there. We are quick to pronounce absolution on ourselves, saying, “My constitution might include a few unwholesome urges, but at least I don’t do things like THAT!”

But while we are busy looking “out there,” for insight we are missing a golden opportunity to examine what is “in here.” None of us really want to acknowledge how dangerously close we are to being part of The Mob… you know, the very same people who cheered for Jesus on Palm Sunday and then shouted, “CRUCIFY HIM!” five days later. 

Dear God, please hear our prayer. Please, God, lead us in acts of repentance that first recognize our own violent tendencies and then help us to turn our backs on those tendencies and seek the path of peace. 

In your name and for your sake we pray…

AMEN. 

29
Dec
20

Passing Through Waters

It snowed here last night.

It wasn’t much – maybe two inches total. But it was enough to make me glad I was not out trying to drive through the fast-falling flakes.

On other occasions, I have not been quite as lucky. My extensive catalog of life experience includes multiple instances of trying to navigate one-and-a-half tons of gas-powered sheet metal through horrific weather conditions…

… often in the dark,

… often at highway speeds.

I think particularly of one nighttime drive along the Pennsylvania Turnpike in a torrential rainstorm. It was my first time ever on this stretch of road, so add “road unfamiliarity” to the mix of nervous-making conditions. 

Then there was that time in college when I was driving north on Interstate 5 in Washington State. It was at night (of course!) and there were blizzard conditions all around. You should know that in Washington, they are kind enough to add little raised bumps to the lane-dividing stripes on the highway to give you an audible signal to help you know when you are crossing from one lane to the next. 

So blinded was I by the snow, that I navigated by listening for the rhythmic “thrum thrum thrum” of the little bumps beneath the tires on the right side of my car, which caused me to correct toward the left a little… until I heard the same sound on the left side. 

In both cases, it was at least two hours of sheer, white-knuckled terror until I finally arrived safely at my destination.

In neither situation did I consider pulling to the side of the road and waiting for the storm to pass. I just kept plugging carefully, nervously ahead, one anxious tenth-of-a-mile at a time. I am not sure why, but I somehow trusted that I would ultimately get through the mess and come out safely on the other side.

It occurs to me that sometimes we have to do the same thing in life. 

Sometimes in life we hit turbulence. Sometimes we face conditions that have turned unspeakably hostile. Sometimes pandemics threaten us. Sometimes the diagnosis is bad. Sometimes all of our options seem to have vanished like smoke.

And just like me on the highway, life does not give us the option of pulling off to the side of the road and waiting for the storm to pass. We have to keep trucking, putting one foot in front of the other, wiping the snow/rain/tears from our eyes and trusting. 

I suppose when I was behind the wheel of the car, I trusted my (*cough, cough*) pretty amazing driving skills to get me through. 

In many of life’s storms, we start out doing the same thing… right up to the point where we can’t anymore. 

That is the moment when we are faced with two distinct choices: either sink deeply into despair or call upon the words of Isaiah 43:2. That is where we hear God say, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” (Isaiah 43:2, NRSV).

I note here that God did not say IF you pass through waters, or IF you walk through fire. He said WHEN.

All of us hope that 2021 will be a huge improvement over this year. For many of us, it likely will be. For others, it might be even worse. 

But no matter what kind of storm you end up driving through next year, I hope you will keep driving, supremely confident that if God is with you the rivers will not overwhelm you and the flames will not consume you.

Abundant blessings;

26
Dec
20

An Unfinished Christmas

I may have mentioned this before (apologies to you if this is old, stale news), but Joan and I are in the middle of a giant remodel in our home.

Shortly after moving in to this house, we decided to flip the locations of the kitchen and the dining room. And just for fun, we decided to throw in a living room fireplace replacement project at the same time.

Yes indeed, we are the kind of wacky, carefree scalawags who get our jollies from doing that sort of stuff.

We started planning the project in the spring, just after the onset of COVID-19. Allowing for a little extra time for delays and setbacks, we conservatively estimated it would be finished by Labor Day… and then Thanksgiving… and then Christmas. 

As you can see from these photos, it is almost, but not quite, finished, here on December 26, 2020. 

Having no kitchen for the last three months has been something a struggle for both of us, but especially so for Joan. True to her Italian heritage, she is most at home in her kitchen, cooking up big servings of love for friends and family. 

When the goal of cooking Thanksgiving dinner in the new kitchen died a reluctant death, all eyes turned instead to a lavish Christmas feast. “Sure… you’ll have a functional kitchen by Christmas,” our contractor told us. 

“Functional,” we noted, is not the same as “finished.” And that is exactly what we got when he knocked off for the weekend early Tuesday afternoon. 

Undaunted, we set the dining room table back up, pushed the wet/dry industrial vac into the corner and started COOKING and DECORATING!! And you know what? It actually worked out pretty well.

We nicknamed 2020, “the unfinished Christmas.” And when you stop and think about it, in a way, God could have given the very first Christmas the same name.

Yes, God came to earth in human form, just as the biblical Christmas story tells us. God’s purpose in making this Cosmic House Call was to – as we were told in Matthew’s gospel, “… save his people from their sins.”(Matthew 1:21, NRSV). 

SAVIOR. That is who Jesus is. That is what his name means. In Jesus, God provided a doorway that humanity had never had access to before… a doorway from sin and death to life and peace. 

And yet despite that gift… despite that doorway… God’s saving work is unfinished until we do our part. 

The life-saving rope can be perfectly thrown to the drowning man; but until the drowning man reaches out and grabs that rope, he is not saved. 

God came to live among us… to live as one of us… to throw us the life-saving rope of God’s love and grace. But the work of Christmas remains unfinished until you and I reach out and say, “YES” to the gift Jesus offers us.

He is still offering it today and will continue to offer it every day for the rest of your life.

Will you take it?

Abundant blessings;

23
Dec
20

Put Some Meat On It

What has Christmas cost you… so far?

Close up Christmas gift box. Christmas presents in red and brown boxes on Christmas Tree background in loft interior copy space.

And no, I am not talking about the money you have spent on presents… or decorations… or food… or postage for all of those cards… or gas for your car.

In fact, I am not talking about the financial cost of Christmas at all. 

I’m talking about the cost of Christmas…

… To YOU. Personally.

I ask this because – for Christians at least – Christmas is supposed to be about INCARNATION… the word that derives from the Latin carne, meaning meat. Fittingly, the central event of Christmas – the birth of the infant Jesus of Nazareth – was all about God putting MEAT on God’s divine, unconditional, infinite, sacrificial, life-giving, all-affirming LOVE. 

It was history’s ultimate gift. And so we choose to memorialize that act by our own giving. 

But the point of the season is still INCARNATION… that is, putting MEAT on our aspirations. And anytime we do that, there is a cost;

  • It means instead of wishing there wasn’t such a thing as racial injustice in the world, we actually invest our own flesh and blood in helping to end it.
  • It means instead of wishing people didn’t live in poverty, we invest our own flesh and blood in helping relieve poverty for a specific person or group of people.
  • It means instead of wishing we weren’t such a polarized country, we invest our own flesh and blood in helping to bridge that fissure.

However, like most of us, I would rather ASPIRE than PERSPIRE.

I love hoisting the flag of the causes I believe in, or opining passionately on social media, or bending my neighbor’s ear about all the rotten cruelty and injustice there is in the world. 

But when it comes right down to investing my precious blood, sweat, and tears, well, let’s not get too carried away here, shall we? Let’s slow our roll and take it EASY, mmmK?

Except that’s not the actual spirit of Christmas. 

Giving gifts to friends and family is a good start. It symbolizes God’s supreme act of giving that inspired John the Evangelist to write, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NRSV).

But I believe Christmas is meant to spur us to live as GIVERS even after all the wrapping paper has been thrown into the trash. 

In order to fully celebrate Christmas, I believe we are called to “put meat on” the things we say we care about… for each of the other 364 days of the year, too. 

I believe authentically honoring the spirit of Christmas should cost us something.

Merry Christmas to you and yours. May this holiday season mark the beginning of a new life of costly giving.

Abundant blessings;

21
Dec
20

My Christmas of Shame

As the Christmas of my 12th year approached, I wanted a Sting-Ray bike so badly I could taste it.

Everybody has one,” I told my parents, although I’m not sure that was technically true. There were probably one or two 12-year-olds in Bangaladesh who did not have Sting-Ray bicycles.

The bike I did have was functional, but a little clunky. It certainly did NOT have a banana seat or cool, high-rise handlebars, or a sparkly candy apple red paint job. Those deficiencies caused me to be seriously ill-prepared in the “popping wheelies” department. 

Sting-Rays, as I’m sure you are aware, are PERFECT for popping wheelies.

My solution was to beg and beg and whine and moan and complain to my parents, beginning sometime in August. I assured them my life would be ruined if I did not soon possess a Schwinn Sting-Ray bicycle. The shame, I assured them, would redound to them as the parents of The Kid Without a Sting-Ray. 

Of course, it did not enter my childish brain that I was talking about a very major purchase here. We were not what you would call poor, but with five kids and a stay-at-home mother, there was not a lot of room for extravagance at Christmas time. In all likelihood, my heart’s desire might have eaten up 50 percent of the family Christmas present-buying budget.    

Fast forward to Christmas morning. The kids all woke up early – as usual – and ran downstairs to see what Santa had brought us. We impatiently waited as mom and dad took their sweet time coming downstairs, making coffee, and pretending not to know what we were so excited about. 

Stockings were first, by law. Then came the distribution of all of the other wrapped gifts. My eyes kept scanning for a large present in the shape of a Sting-Ray bicycle, to no avail. 

When everything had been passed out, ooo’d and ahhh’d over, squealed with delight for, or grudgingly thanked for (when the gift was a six-pack of new underwear), there was still no Sting-Ray bicycle in sight. Suddenly my dad looked over and said, “Well, I guess that’s it, kids!” and then with a wink my mother chimed in, “Wait a minute, George… what is that I see out there on the front porch?”

“I don’t know,” my father implishly replied. “Why don’t we go out and look!”

We all trooped out to the porch to see what they could possibly be talking about and there – in all its glory – sat a shiny Quasi-Sting-Ray bicycle.

“Oh look, Rusty!” my father proudly proclaimed. “I guess there was one more thing left after all. And I think it is for YOU!”

My father had taken my old bike – the clunky one described above – painted the frame with some metallic, candy-apple red and green paint, and then replaced the original handlebars with high-rise handlebars and the original seat with a Sting-Ray-like banana seat. 

My father had undertaken a labor of love. He had assessed the wants and needs of his five children, weighed them against the available budget, and come up with a creative solution. He spent hours and hours in a secret place in the garage modifying my bike and turning it into the thing I wanted most in the world.

And in return for his love, hard work, and creativity, what did I do? 

I moped. I sulked. I looked down at the ground and tried to hide my deep disappointment.

I think I managed to mumble out a strained, “Thank you,” but my heart wasn’t in it. 

I knew that all of my Sting-Ray owning friends were going to point and laugh at me when I rode my homemade Sting-Ray down the street. It would be just like wearing a placard around my neck that read, “Hi there! We’re poor.” 

I was ashamed of my parents’ gift.

Today though, I am ashamed of me and the way I reacted. 

I look back on that moment with the hard-won knowledge of what it takes to raise a family. I now know that nothing matters more to a parent than lighting up a child’s face with joy. I know parents are hardwired to do whatever it takes to provide for and protect their children and that the only reward any parent ever wants for all of the work and sacrifice is a smile and hearing a heartfelt, “Thank you, dad,” from that child. 

That Christmas I gave my parents none of those gifts. 

Today, as we approach this COVID Christmas, I hope we can look past the PRESENTS and give thanks for the PRESENCE; the presence of love, the presence of family, and the presence of God incarnate, as the real gifts of this season. 

Merry Christmas and abundant blessings;




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