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The Books I’m Thankful for and Why

“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.” -Oscar Wilde

I love to read. I have loved reading for just about as long as I’ve been able to read. My earliest companions were the Boxcar Children and the Babysitter’s Club. I was Laura’s best friend as I journeyed with her in the Little House on the Prairie books. I experienced alien worlds through Bruce Coville’s novels. I solved mysteries with Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. And I trekked down the rabbit hole with Alice. I’ve always found books to be a place where I could escape to exciting adventures. As I’ve grown older my love for books has not diminished. But instead of escaping into another world, I now find that books shed more light on this world. They can surprise me, excite me, anger me, and inspire me. Here is a sample of the books I’m thankful for–books that have inspired me to change what I do or believe or think.

 

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“You are a generation of hip, resourceful, creative DIY warriors: Bored by the traditional T-shirt, you want something with personalized pizzazz.” –Megan Nicolay, Generation T

“Distance running was revered because it was indispensable; it was the way we survived and thrived and spread across the planet. You ran to eat and to avoid being eaten; you ran to find a mate and impress her, and with her you ran off to start a new life together. You had to love running, or you wouldn’t live to love anything else. We were born to run; we were born because we run. We’re all Running People, as the Tarahumara have always known.” -Christopher McDougall, Born to Run

“One of the things Ford Prefect had always found hardest to understand about human beings was their habit of continually stating and repeating the very, very obvious.” -Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

I’m thankful for books that inspire my quirky habits. I had no idea that running could actually be a fun activity until I read Born to Run and was inspired to try running with my shoes off. Now when I run, I’m always barefoot or in minimalist shoes. Generation T introduced me to T-shirt reconstruction, giving me a fun way to personalize my fashion, and so many excuses to pick up more T-shirts at thrift stores. Douglas Adams introduced me to nerd culture. Long before I ever watched a Doctor Who episode, I was reading about the meaning of life, the universe, and everything (42, if you haven’t read the book), the dolphins’ final message (So long and thanks for all the fish) and the hitchhiker’s most important travel resource (a towel).

 

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“If God is the God of all pots and pans, then He is also the God of all shovels and computers and paints and assembly lines and executive offices and classrooms. Peace and joy belong not to the woman who finds the right vocation, but to the woman who finds God in any vocation, who looks for the divine around every corner.” -Rachel Held Evans, A Year of Biblical Womanhood

“I am neither male nor female, even though both genders are derived from my nature. If I choose to appear to you as a man or a woman, it’s because I love you.” -Wim. Paul Young, The Shack

“Sexual orientation involves much more than just sexual attraction. For both gay and straight people, it also encompasses our capacity to channel our physical attractions into a lifelong covenant with another person.” -Matthew Vines, God and the Gay Christian

I’m thankful for books that have revolutionized my understanding of gender, patriarchy, and God. Growing up in an evangelical setting, I learned early on that there were certain ideas about gender, gender roles, sexuality, and God that were never to be questioned because they were “Biblical.” So it was with great delight that I read Rachel Held Evans’ book A Year of Biblical Womanhood, where she set out to prove the ridiculous demands of living “biblically” by demonstrating just how many things women of the Bible did because of culture. She helped me to explore what it really means not to be a Biblical woman, but rather a godly woman. Matthew Vines explores a similar idea in his book about understanding what the Bible actually has to say about sexual orientation and marriage. While I’m aware that God is not male, reading The Shack forced me to examine this by casting God as an African American woman. My perceptions on many subjects have changed as I grow in my faith.

 

“Hell is a state of mind–you never said a truer word. And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakeable remains.” -C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

“Everything pleasurable we know about life on Earth we have experienced through our senses. So, when Heaven is portrayed as beyond the reach of our senses, it doesn’t invite us; instead, it alientates and even frightens us. Our misguided attempts to make Heaven ‘sound spiritual’ (i.e., non-physical) merely succeed in making Heaven sound unappealing.” -Randy Alcorn, Heaven

I’m thankful for books that paint a picture of Heaven. In seasons of grief, the words of these books have breathed hope into my very soul. I’ve known about Heaven since I was a child, but for a long time the only thing I knew was that it was a better alternative than Hell. Lewis and Alcorn stress the real and physical reality of Heaven. It will not be an existential experience, it will be a true and wonderful place where we will dwell with God, where we will experience all the joys of Earth without the curse of sin. Now, that’s something to look forward to.

 

“But Puddleglum, desperately gathering all his strength, walked over to the fire. With his bare foot he stomped on the fire, grinding a large part of it into ashes on the flat hearth. ‘Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things–trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones….We’re just babies making up a game if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.” -C. S. Lewis, The Silver Chair

“The time of business does not differ with me from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great a tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”  -Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God

I’m thankful for books that encourage spiritual development. I love the kinds of books that teach important theological truth through story. Along with Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, The Little Pilgrim’s progress, Ted Dekker’s Circle trilogy, and A Wrinkle in Time are all books that weave spiritual truth into a story. I also include Brother Lawrence’s simple book on the Practice of Presence, as well as other books about spiritual disiplines and the Christian life.

 

“Maybe we should develop a Crayola bomb as our next secret weapon. A happiness weapon. A Beauty Bomb. And every time a crisis developed, we would launch one. It would explode high in the air and send thousands, millions, of little parachutes into the air. Floating down to earth–boxes of Crayolas. And people would smile and get a little funny look on their faces and cover the world with imagination.” -Robert Fulghum, All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

“New socks. Two socks. Whose socks? Sue’s socks. Who sews whose socks? Sue sews Sue’s socks. Who sees who sew whose new socks, sir? You see Sue sew Sue’s new socks, sir.” -Dr. Seuss, Fox in Socks

I’m thankful for books that remind me to see the common with uncommon insight. I love Robert Fulghum’s words of wisdom, and what I like most is that he talks about everyday things and experiences, but his fresh perspective allows me to see the same objects with new eyes. He inspires me to think differently about the world around me. Dr. Seuss does the same thing in Fox in Socks–common objects are strung together into tongue twisters.

 

What books are you thankful for?

 

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5 Books I’m Thankful For That Helped Shape My Spiritual Walk

I connect Thanksgiving to reading books. This is because I still recall being in the fourth grade and finishing my very first chapter book, “The Baby-Sitters Club #13: Good-Bye Stacey, Good-Bye” (by Ann M. Martin) while underneath the kitchen table while my mom cleaned up after our huge family meal. Reading was difficult for me to learn, so most of my classmates had finished their first real book a year or two before me. I was so proud of myself for sticking with the book and actually finishing it.

I have always loved books, but really enjoying reading has come late in life…. as in the last 9-ish years. What I appreciate the most about books is what they have to teach me. I love that AHA Moment you get when you read something new. Fascinating indeed! I love learning from what I read. Nothing can replace it! So, this Thanksgiving, I wanted to share with you some books that I am grateful for having the opportunity to read.

So, if you are like me, and you call winter Reading Hibernation Season, and you’re looking for a good book to go along with your hot cocoa (or tea), fuzzy blanket, and the glow of a fireplace while snow whisks in the chilly wind outside, here are my top 5 suggestions of books that have influenced my Christian walk…

The Giver

5. “The Giver”   Author: Lois Lowry  Synopsis

This book was part of my 8th grade English academic year.   What I remember most about the book is that I loved it and it fascinated me.   I re-discovered this book a year or so after seminary, and found the book to be a lot more insightful than what I remembered from my adolescent brain. Recently, there was a movie made from the book, which was a pretty good adaption. The disappointing part that greatly separates the two was in the book you have this ability to draw your own conclusion, but in the movie, they tell you the conclusion (and this is why the book is always better :-) ). The conclusion I gather is the vitality of free will and chaos in any given life. God ruling over us as a great robot commander would look pretty boring and blah (for a lack of a better word). Life, death, hate, love, birth, anger, war, peace, joy, soul-searching, memories, etc… Without these things, we only merely exist, not live. God did not give us a life to merely exist in; He gave us a life to live!

Side note: I also recommend what you might consider the adult version of this book, “The Perfect Day” by Ira Levin because I think it carries the same essence of a message although the plot is quite different (FYI: “The Perfect Day” contains adult themes).

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4. “Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture”   Author: Adam S. McHugh   Synopsis

I found this book about 6 years ago while surfing the net. It sounded amazing, so I ordered it and read it in a few days’ time. I grew up an Evangelical and spent so much of my life feeling inadequate for not being out-going enough. This book really put into perspectives that not only are Evangelists needed but so are the thinkers and theologians. The book is written by a pastor’s own experience, which made it more real to me. I recall one part, where I had to put the book down and just cry, and it was the section that spoke about how introverts are natural servants who don’t want recognition. Being a pastor, I am constantly in front of everyone and if I do something, it gets recognized, and truthfully, that gets old for me really quick.   I miss my days, of what I call being an Invisible Servanthood, where I got to do stuff in the background and no one noticed. Another thing that is pointed out is McHugh did a survey of congregation members and asked what they looked for in a leader. The survey revealed attributes from both introvert and an extrovert category, which only goes to show, introverts and extroverts are both needed. McHugh is great at explaining that extroverts get congregation members in the door, and introverts keep them there. We all have a place and must work together. A church without extroverts or a church without introverts would be greatly hurting because something would be missing in The Body of Christ.

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3. “Rose Guide to End-Times Prophecy”  Author: Dr. Timothy Paul Jones  Synopsis

I discovered this book while browsing the theology section in our local Christian bookstore, and it was a fantastic find! Dr. Jones explains everything Eschatology (the study of ‘last things’). Although, it is true, I’m a sucker for books about end-times and the afterlife from a theological perspective. :-) This book covers the entire subject from life after death, the four main perspectives of end-times, the four main interpretations of Revelation, Daniel, Matthew 24-25 and Jesus’ other teaches on the topic, Paul’s teachings on the topic, the New Heaven and the New Earth, Genesis 1-3 connection to Revelation 21-22, etc… It’s written in an extremely down to earth manner and easy to follow along (it doesn’t even seem theological), he adds humor into the book, and it is written in an unbiased way so that the reader can draw his/her own conclusion.   It was a book that broadened by understanding of Eschatology by seeing how it runs throughout the entire Bible, which absolutely blew me away! There is also a DVD series to go along with it that explains (briefly) the four perspectives and four interpretations of Revelation.

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2. “Humility: The Journey towards Holiness”   Author: Andrew Murray  Synopsis

I have written about this book before in a previous blog, which you can read about here.

Strength to love

1. “Strength to Love”   Author: Martin Luther King, Jr.     Synopsis

While visiting the King Center in Atlanta, Georgia, in September of 2013, I came across this book at the gift shop of MLK Jr’s birth home, and I am so grateful I did! This is by far, one of the absolute best theological books I have ever read! If I ever become a teacher, this book will be required reading! The book is composed of sermons MLK Jr. gave throughout his ministry. And trust me when I say this, his speeches were great, but his sermons were far more amazing! His sermons helped me to understand equality, how the American Culture impacts Christianity, and pacifism. The greatest understanding I got out of this book was that love takes strength. It’s easy to hate when treated unfairly, it’s easy to gossip when someone is judgmental, it’s easy to get revenge when someone is cruel, and it’s easy to justify a war. It’s easy to forgive and be passive and it’s easy to hate and stand up for oneself.   But to love while demanding justice in a meek and peaceful way… to turn the other cheek…. It takes a great amount of strength that only comes from God. I now understand love as a spiritual discipline. This book really opened my eyes to how much confusion and cloudiness I had been taught by our Christian culture when it comes to agape love. Anything you can get your hands on that is written by MLK Jr or teaches MLK Jr’s philosophy is great, but this is my favorite that I have read so far.

In conclusion, have you read any of these books? Do you have any thoughts on them? What are some books you are thankful for this Thanksgiving season? What have they taught you?

Added note:  There are some books coming out at the end of this year and the beginning of the upcoming year that I think are worth mentioning, in case you are looking for books for your New Year’s goal.  The first is “Muted Hosannas” by Major Jeff Carter and the second being “The Book of Revelation: A Non-Scary Approach” by Major Philip Davisson.  So keep your eyes out for them as well! :-)

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The Countdown Has Begun

The glorious colors of autumn begin to fade with the chill of early winter. “Pumpkin spice” and “eggnog” flavors begin showing up everywhere. Family gathers, winter clothes are taken out of storage, snow shovels and ice scrapers appear in the stores, and salt is spread on the sidewalks. It’s November, and, oh yeah, the beginning of my most despised season of work. As the holidays approach, more and more responsibilities and expectations are piled on and the stress of completing everything becomes nearly overwhelming. It’s really the worst month of the year. December is not so bad. By the time December gets here, the extra holiday work is in full swing, I have somewhat settled into a rhythm, I can see the end in sight. But November? Ugh, in November everything is still looming in front of me. I really hate November.

In November I start counting down the days until Christmas. Not out of childlike anticipation, but with a desperation for Christmas to arrive and put an end to my misery of a holiday season. I set out to simply survive the month of November.

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. We all have a season when work or life is not easy. If you’re a tax accountant, it might be March, if you’re a teacher it might be the last month of classes. Everyone has a season when there’s too much to do, not enough time to do it, and not enough motivation to care about quality on the job.

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There are times in life when you have to deal with unexpected troubles—the death of a loved one or the loss of a job. I get those times. I don’t like them, but I understand that they happen. You do your best to recover and move on. But it’s the times of expected stress that really burden me. You would assume the advantage lies with a trouble you can see coming. If I know that I’m heading into a chaotic month, I can plan ahead for it.  But not for me. It’s being able to see the workload coming that tends to paralyze me with fear. So instead of using the preceding time wisely, I spend it fretting and worrying and generally making the work about 10 times harder just by dreading it.

Well, that’s how I used to approach the season.

Then, one year in November I discovered something: if you wish your days away, you lose them. Forever. I was sitting in my office, dreading the days ahead, when I realized that stressing over my work does not ease the burden of the work. Jesus said, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matt. 6:27). The answer, of course, is no. But more unnerving is the realization that by worrying you can lose an hour of your life. You can lose a day or even a month of your time. Instead of living each day, enjoying the blessings and enduring the frustrations, I had been missing out on all the good things in those days.

Maybe this is nothing new to you. Maybe you got the message back in high school when your middle-aged teachers, full of life’s regrets, gave you the carpe diem speeches. I hated those speeches. It always felt like I was being told I had to enjoy every day of my life, and well, some days in adolescence are just plain torture. But that’s not the message. It’s not about smiling and pretending every day is awesome because you don’t want to waste your life. Seizing the day means a whole lot more for life.

Paul tells the Ephesian church “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise,  making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16). Evil days? It sounds like he’s talking about November. Notice the message here isn’t despair or exuberance. He doesn’t say, this life is stressful so quit trying. He doesn’t say this life is amazing, try to love every minute. He says the days are evil (not life!), so make the most of the opportunities you have.

The thing I discovered that dark day in November when my aha moment came was this: November brings opportunities. There are moments to speak words of hope, life, encouragement, love into the lives of friends, strangers, children, elderly. There are moments of service, moments of quiet reflection with God. These opportunities are no different than the ones I have December through October, but for the first time I realized I was missing out on them for an entire month because I was spending so much time dreading the inevitable.

Maya Angelou said “We spend precious hours fearing the inevitable. It would be wise to use that time adoring our families, cherishing our friends and living our lives.” Those words resonate with me. There’s so much life to be lived, no matter what season you are in. If the only thing you do is dread the days, you miss out on life.

I still count down the days until Christmas (38 as of the date this is published), but my focus is completely different. Instead of a desperate countdown to end the frustrating, stressful season, I enter a time of anticipation. No, I don’t deceive myself into thinking it’s going to be easy or fun, and yes, I’m still relieved when the stressful season ends. But in the meantime, I count down the days of opportunity. I look for the blessing in the midst of the stress, and I thank God for all my joyful, sorrowful, stressful, sleep-deprived, wonderful, and amazing days in November, and all year long.

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The Family of God and How We Get It Wrong

While growing up, in rural Iowa in a home that served Christ, I always believed I had two families: one was my natural family and my second one was my Church Family. I believed someday my family of origin would be replaced with a husband and kids. Then I grew up, remained a single woman past our culturally acceptable age, and was convinced by others that I was off balance. None of this was taught from a Bible passage, a sermon, a Sunday School class, nor from everyone I met. Rather, this was taught through socializing in rather indirect ways, from some people inside and outside The Church.

A year ago October, I discovered a sermon on Youtube entitled, “Singleness and the Next Generation” given by David Platt. From this sermon, my whole concept of Church Family was completely redefined, reworked and was reborn out of Bible passages instead of the stereotypical Christian culture. For the rest of this blog, a small cased “family” will mean earthly family, whether biological or by legal documentation, and a capitalized “Family” will mean Church Family (just to save on some verbage).

The concept of family is introduced to us from the very beginning. Shortly after Adam and Eve were created, God commanded them to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28). From here on, family lineage and family heritage were vital throughout the Old Testament. God’s chosen people were Israelites, which is lineage and heritage. When a woman’s husband died, she was to marry the younger brother and have children so that she would be taken care of and because of the significance of inheritance (hence the importance of the stories of Tamar, Naomi and Ruth). Abraham was told he would be a father of many nations, which is lineage. If a woman was barren she was considered an outcast and cursed (hence the significance of Sarah and Isaac). From the Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were born the 12 Tribes of Israel which is lineage. The high priest was to be born of Aaron’s lineage. Kings were decided by lineage. Jesus was to be born from the root of David, the Tribe of Judah, to a virgin, which all signify lineage. Then we come to the Book of Isaiah…

Isaiah 53 is a popular passage. It prophecies of Jesus being pierced for our transgressions, how we, like sheep, have gone astray, and of how Jesus, like a lamb was led to be slaughtered yet did not open his mouth. In the midst of this passage, in verse 8, it reads, “For He was cut off from the land of the living”. What’s important about that? Jesus would not marry nor would he father any children. To us, it’s an overlooked fact, but thinking about how important lineage was in the Old Testament, and then to learn, the Savior of the world was NOT going to pass on any lineage or inheritance is a shock! Then in verse 10 we read, “When You make Him a restitution offering, He will see His seed, He will prolong His days, and the will of the Lord will succeed by His hand.” Wait! We just read two verses ago that Jesus would be cut off, and then we read about His seed?   That is a complete contradiction!

Christ will have a seed, but it’s not what the tradition of what The Old Testament holds dear. In John 1:12-13 we read, “Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” In I John 3:1 we read, “How great is the love the Father has lavished upon us, that we should be called the children of God. And that we are!”

In the Old Testament, the Tabernacle was a physical place of worship. In Hebrews, we see the Tabernacle expands to mean Jesus. Then in Revelation, we become the Tabernacle. This concept of worship goes from something physical, to Jesus fulfilling it, to something we will all live together as one day! I see the family evolving the same exact way! The nuclear family is created in the Old Testament, Jesus then fulfils the concept of Family to include all people (Gal. 3:28-29) and someday we will all live and reside together as one Family (Rev. 19)! So what does this mean? This means, I have a family: Mom, Dad, sisters, brothers, sister-in-laws, brother-in-laws, nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles and grandparents, and then expanding from there is my Family. I don’t have two distinct families; I have one gigantic Family that someday will all reside together in Christ’s presence and made whole!

The purpose for the family is to populate the earth and to teach about what it means to be a Family. There’s a saying that goes, “I have my family, and then I have my second family” but I disagree. Because usually this means we look at people who we get along with and label them as our second family. The problem is that how well I get along with someone doesn’t determine whether they are Family or not, the blood of Christ does, and F/family sticks together through the good and the bad!

When I was in my first appointment, I had a volunteer approach me and tell me about a dinner she had attended, “…and guess who I sat by? Your Aunt Opal! She told me all about your dad and you when you were little.” I replied, “Oh yes… Aunt Opal…” Then I went home later that day and phoned my dad, “Do I have an Aunt Opal?” I asked. My dad said, “Yes.” I give this illustration to say, not knowing someone very well, or not at all, doesn’t make someone any less blood related than someone in our family we know well. Same goes for the Family. There are millions of people in my Family that I have yet to meet, and they are not any less my Family than those I know well and have met.

There is a Bible passage I now claim, hold close to my heart, and brings me comfort.   It is Matthew 12: 46-50, where Jesus is teaching the crowds and someone gives Him the message that His mother and brothers were outside wanting to speak to Him. Jesus replied, “Who is My mother and who are my brothers?” then he motions to His disciples and says, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven, that person, is my brother and sister and mother.”   When I was a kid, I always thought it was horrible Jesus didn’t just go running to His family. Now I understand, He wasn’t neglecting His family, but rather, He was being inclusive to all who follow God’s will, and was teaching them He came to expand the Family, not to limit it.

We also see in John 19:25-27, as Jesus was on the cross and John and Mary were standing next to each other, Jesus says to His mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then Jesus says to His disciple, John, “Here is your mother. And the passage concludes with this sentence, “And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” Why? Because they were Family, that’s why.

If we go back to Isaiah 54, we read this in verse 1, “Rejoice, barren one, who did not give birth; burst into song and you who have not been in labor! For the children of the forsaken one will be more than the children of the married woman,” says the Lord” and then it continues to address barren women. Although, this is speaking directly to one group of women, I think this applies to anyone who is “lacking” in their family. In the Family, the fatherless find their fathers, the motherless find their mothers, and the childless find their children. The abused family members find Family members who want to cherish, and where the abandoned family members find committed Family members, etc… The Family of God is inclusive and everyone fits in perfectly!

My shift in understanding my Family has changed my ministry. In Church, I do not sit alone in the front pew, as many probably perceive, instead, I sit with Family. I am not childless; there are kids I work with in ministry at camp and in youth programs. I have a limitless amount of mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters who need my support. I have a limitless amount of fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters that I need. It has brought me closer to others, and it has made it easier for me to love those who I share differences with and see the vitality of agreeing to disagree.

The biggest change that has come for me is, once again, I’m reminded of the importance of everyday. I do not have family that I get to take from appointment to appointment. With each move, I am required to leave Family behind to be nurtured by someone else, while I go to a new place to meet more of my Family and start all over again. As a single, I feel it is necessary that I take every opportunity to create memories with my Family, because I will only be allowed to create memories with them for so many years before I move on to minister to more of my Family. That may be the down side of things, but the exciting part of it is I will never run out of Family! With each new appointment, with each new group of people, with each new corps, with each new community, my Family will continue to expand. I will not die alone, as people like to say to singles so often, I will die with an amazingly large Family that I will not be able to count all the members of, and that my dear Family, is awesome to know!