A Better Future

futureShe looked to young to be a mother. I was at an ESL (English as a Second Language) Conversation Café this past week and had just met the people at my table. Two of the women were immigrants from Albania and two were from China. Fortunately for my sake, this was a level three class and they all spoke enough English that I could understand them and we had a great conversation. The woman sitting across from me that looked too young to be a mother was from Albania and actually did have a child, a husband and a strong desire to learn English. She also had a very winsome smile.

As the conversation got going, I learned a lot about these ambitious women. All of them had families and most of them had jobs. Some had immigrated to the USA quite recently, but most had been in America for a few years and had just heard about this program or had just gotten up the courage to give it a try. They seemed to be enjoying themselves and were not annoyed that these classes added onto what was already a long day for most of them. Instead, they were almost competing with each other to practice their English with me and to understand the things that I was saying. At one point we discussed how much harder it was for the Chinese women to learn English as their language is so different and the written language looks nothing like our alphabet. One of the Albanian women asked a Chinese women to write her name in Chinese and then tried to copy the writing herself, but could not get the hang of it.

It was clear that many things motivated these women to study English, but as I asked them why they had come to America in the first place, the answers were remarkably similar. All of them had come for a better future. For some this meant their children and grandchildren and for others this meant themselves as well. Already this desire was being fulfilled as one women who had been in the USA for a while had a daughter who had recently graduated from a prestigious university in Washington D.C. and a son that had gotten into the best high school in the city. She was clearly proud of both of them. She herself worked at Subway, but did not see that as a hardship. Instead, she was grateful for the opportunity for work with her limited grasp of English.

As I reflected on these conversations later in the week, I could not help but remember the hundreds of cars parked by the side of the road in Trinidad to watch the bodies being burned in the traditional Hindu funeral ceremony. Each of those people and even the ones who had died had a similar hope and desire. They wanted a better future and were going to do everything to make sure their relatives had a proper cremation with the goal that they would be reincarnated as a better person in a higher caste with more opportunity and status. What a sad state of affairs to be locked into an endless cycle of reincarnation where one wrong step could lead to the opposite.

Truthfully, it is easy to cast aspersions on other religions when some of us Christians have similar misunderstandings. We come to faith in Christ and assume that our lives will improve, things will get better and our future is bright. While on one level this is true – our future in eternity with Christ is something to look forward to – our life on earth is not guaranteed to improve. In fact, as we grow in our faith, we begin to see that often we are called into a life of suffering and sacrifice just like the one who died to save us. This can be very disheartening and even faith shattering for some.

As I spoke further with these women around my table, I realized that I shared a lot in common with them. I am a striver, I want a better future and I am often doing whatever it takes for that to happen. In a great irony, Jesus is calling all of us to the same future – to put our complete faith and trust in Him. This can be frightening, overwhelming and even seem quite foolish to those who eyes have been blinded like mine once were. His call is to a life of surrender, not striving, to dependence not self-improvement. As the conversation came to a close, I could not help but notice that English was not the only thing these women were learning. They were interacting with Christ followers every week and their eyes were being opened little by little to the only lasting hope that truly exists and an ultimate future better than they could have imagined.

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Jose and the Black Car

chyrsler 200It is no surprise that I had not tried the Uber App until this week. I am not exactly an early adopter of technology. In fact, I am much more inclined to let other people get the latest gadgets and apps and work out the kinks. Lots of people had told me about the cost savings using this new private car service that is rapidly becoming the taxi of choice for people around the country. On Monday, I had to get to the Miami airport from my friend’s house in Homestead, Florida and decided to give it a try.

After downloading the app and setting up my account, I discovered how incredibly easy it was to use. Within about 15 minutes Jose arrived in a Black Chrysler 200 and our adventure began. He politely asked me to sit in the front seat and treated me like a new friend. To be clear, apparently anyone going to the airport with Uber is going to get asked to sit in the front seat so that airport authorities who are not particularly thrilled with this new service will not be alerted.

As we headed up the road together, I discovered that Jose was 72 year old Cuban immigrant who had lived in the USA for over forty years. He has some pretty strong views about the current easing of tensions with Cuba as he had spent two years in jail there before coming to America as a refugee. He seemed a little embarrassed about his halting English and kept using the word “pero” for “but”. Despite this I could understand what he was saying just fine and appreciated his willingness to chat on what was going to be a long ride through traffic at that time in the morning.

Jose’s story was really interesting. He has started out as am ambitious young man willing to do whatever it took to get ahead and make a name for himself. Fairly quickly he got involved in home repair and building houses. Somewhere along the way he acquired his first home to develop for sale and this began his long career as a real estate developer. He became quite successful and eventually was developing and building large tracts of land and several members of his family were involved in the business too. Then it all fell apart.

In 2008, he was working on a development of over 300 homes and had borrowed millions from the bank. When the housing bubble burst, he lost everything and had to start all over again. As he was telling me this story, I was surprised at his demeanor. He was not resentful or bitter, but seemed to have accepted what had happened to him. Just as I was beginning to wonder about this incredible change in life circumstances, he casually mentioned his church. He also told me about another man, a friend of his, who had also lost everything at about the same time and had committed suicide. Clearly his faith and his church had played an important part in helping him through such a difficult circumstance.

Our trip was coming to a close when Jose got a call on his cell phone from one of his sons. This son had worked closely with him in the real estate business and was now a manager a local Home Depot. While I could not hear the whole conversation, you could tell that this was not an unusual circumstance. Apparently, his son had just called to check and see how his “Papi” was doing and it sounded like they kept in contact pretty frequently. As he hung up, I was touched to hear Jose say, “Have a good day, I love you son.” While Jose may have lost all his material wealth in 2008, he still has what matters most – a strong family and a strong faith.

Who knew I would learn so much about a stranger on my Uber ride to the airport. As we were parting, he wished me a good trip and I felt like I had made a new friend. I sometimes pray for divine appointments in my ministry. On this day, I had simply prayed for a safe trip to the airport and God provided the appointment anyway. Next time I use Uber, I think I will pray more intentionally and see how God will open my eyes to what He is doing in the world around me.

 

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Harvest Season

IMG_2494You can usually tell when the seasons are changing. The leaves begin to change color, the weather gets colder and at some point it begins to snow. At other times of the year it is the appearance of the first flower or the first 90 degree day that provides the evidence that things are changing again. This week I spent time with our CLC teams in Trinidad and Barbados and saw evidence that a new and exciting season is beginning for these teams. There is a new wind blowing in the West Indies and God is getting us ready for a time of harvest.

After landing at Piarco International airport on MoIMG_2474nday, I could not help but take a quick picture of the beautiful blue sky and gentle white clouds that greeted us. The humidity was far less than at other times of the year and the dry season was clearly in full swing. This beautiful welcome was a hint that this would be a special week. We were going to see much of the island of Trinidad, meet all our team members and begin planning for the future.

January is usually inventory taking season in our retail stores around the world and that was true in Trinidad as well. In the Caribbean and especially in Trinidad, this time of the year has a particular rhythm for our teams. For generations the beginning of Lent has been celebrated by the time of Carnival. The carnival week often takes place in February and is a time of celebration, music, dancing and incredible costumes. It is also a time of drunkenness, debauchery and sometimes violence as calypso and soca bands compete for dominance in various competitions and their fans get rowdy. As we traveled around the island, we could see and hear signs of the preparations for Carnival and realized that this was a unique season of its own.

Our ministry has four bookstores on the island of Trinidad and they are all on the western side of the island where the IMG_2488majority of the population live. Our first trip was to the very southern tip of the island to visit our team in Point Fortin. This entailed a two hour trip down the Highway and then onto a long and windy road that ended in a bustling town of several thousand people. Our small store is located in a prominent spot on the main road and is an important lighthouse in the community. As we were graciously greeted by Alice and Marva, I could not help but remember that this was the same town where our previous store manager had been murdered in the bookstore. This remote place had been the scene of violence and devastation. Yet we are still there like a Phoenix rising from the ashes.

IMG_2495Trinidad is an island of many contrasts. As we left the Point Fortin store after being duly impressed by the hard work and dedication of team and the well merchandised store, we passed a funeral pyre on the road to San Fernando. This place was where Hindu’s bring their dead to be cremated in public. It was a stark reminder of the many gods competing for hearts and minds in this place. Arriving in San Fernando, we found our new store after some unintended detours around the hilly town and were delighted to meet the two men were running the store. Lester and Stephen are an unusual pair as they represent the only time in recent history that two men have been responsible for running one of the stores. They shared with us the challenges they face in their new location as some of the customers still have not realized that we have moved after several years. Despite this, they have a critical role in providing resources to churches, Bible Colleges and Pastoral Training Institutes that are prominent in this part of the country that is affectionately referred to simply as “south”.

On Wednesday, we took a day trip to visit our small and intrepid team on the beautiful island of Barbados. This team IMG_2507has faced many challenges in recent years as the economy of the country suffered greatly when tourism declined after sargassum seaweed choked the beaches. We were encouraged to learn that they had a great Christmas season and sales had increased by 20% over the previous year. This was especially surprising when we learned that many of the books in the store were used Christian books from our BookLink program and that they still had a great lack of new and best-selling titles. Despite their lack, this team spent the entire day with us looking toward the future and trusting God for his blessing in the new season of harvest they were anticipating in the year ahead.

IMG_2511Returning to Trinidad we were reminded at the Board Meeting that the island was heading into choppy waters. This small country has been blessed by an abundance of oil, but is also really affected when oil prices plummet as they have in recent days. Headlines in the local papers had declared that a recession was already underway and that it could last for five years. Our board members did not accept that report. Like the two spies in the book of Joshua, they rejected the words of the majority and declared that there would be no recession for the church or for God’s people no matter what was happening around them. There was a palpable sense of excitement about what God would do to prove himself faithful to our people and our ministry. A quick trip to the Arima store later that afternoon proved that even a small store can have a big impact and the team is well prepared to be in the vanguard of the next move of God on this island nation.

On the last day of the trip, we spent a morning with the team leaders for each store and with Sandra Robinson, the newly appointed National Director. We celebrated all the events that had taken place in the last six months since the sudden and unexpected death of the former leader Marlene Ramroop. All the stores had received a facelift and been painted in from top to bottom, a new store had been opened in the sister island of Tobago and their Christmas season had been even better than the prior year. Yet, even with all these accomplishment and exciting developments, there was a clear sense that this was only the beginning of what God has in store for this team in this new season. We dreamed about new technology that would ignite these teams with resources they did not have, easier access to new books their customers had been asking for, and most importantly, new methods of working together. Whatever happens in the days ahead, one thing is for sure – our team is facing the future with a holy anticipation of a new move of God that will impact this island nation for generations to come. This will be a harvest season.

EDITORIAL NOTE: I did not visit the Caribbean this week to avoid the Blizzard of 2016, but getting “stuck” in Florida (as all flights to Philly were cancelled) for three days this weekend with my friends was a great way to extend my birthday celebration. God does work in mysterious ways and sometimes provide special presents to those of us that have snowphobia (I believe that is a real psychological condition).

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One With Them

one with themSo this month I am wearing a new wristband. For those who know me, this is not typical. I am not one to jump on bandwagons (other than winning Philadelphia sports teams) or follow the latest trends in fashion. I was even late to the WWJD fad a few years back. This wristband is different. I got it at Urbana and it says “One with Them” on it. It has symbols of barbed wire and is designed to remind me of the suffering of persecuted Christians all over the world. To be really honest, I a wearing it because I realize that in many ways I am not one with them and that is a problem. I also have been wrestling with the question of who “them” is when it comes to persecuted Christians. Even as a Christian missionary, I find it all too easy to ignore these questions and to avoid pain and suffering all around me.

A few years ago I was sitting down to lunch with the man who is the head of our work in Pakistan and wanted to get to know him. He was young, deeply committed to our work and also pretty quiet. I knew that we had dealt with some really significant opposition to our ministry in Karachi right after the 9/11 bombings in New York and I was curious if he had ever dealt with similar things himself. As we chatted, I asked him if he had ever been in danger as result of being a part of CLC. He looked up at me and told me of a time that he had been praying before the store was to open. At that moment he was sitting near the plate glass window in the front of the store when a bomb went off in the street outside. The bomb blast was close enough that it shattered the entire window all around him. Amazingly he was not hurt at all.

After nearly 20 years in the CLC ministry, I have gotten to know many of my brothers and sisters who take great risks to simply show up to work every day. The act of opening the door to a Christian bookstore each morning in a predominantly Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist country is an act of courage. The interesting thing is that as I have gotten to know these brave people, I have discovered that they are not “super saints” or people that love and seek danger. Instead, they are pretty ordinary individuals with a heart sold out for God. What is common in all of them is that their calling supersedes their concern for personal safety. Some have confided in me that they can be fearful and worry about what might happen to them. They do take reasonable precautions and avoid reckless behavior and yet – they keep opening the doors every day.

With all this background and people who are close to me that have suffered and are in danger on a regular basis, you would think that I would have a special empathy for persecuted church around the world. Truthfully, I am just as quick as the next person to turn the TV channel or skip the news story when things are too harsh to absorb. Watching the calculated killings of Christians by ISIS or learning about the attack on a Christian college in Kenya becomes so much white noise in a world that calls me to pay more attention to a new pair of shoes or the next hot new “reality” show. I have become a part of the numb and apathetic majority if I am really honest with myself.

Now before you get the Kleenex out and join my pity party, let me share what God is calling me to this year. I am committing to be a better listener. That’s right, my first step is not taking any action at all except to change how I hear other people. As a “can do” person, I am really tempted to make this problem in my life simply another New Year’s resolution and find some kind of activity to assuage my guilt. At Urbana we were urged to listen to each other’s stories and that is what I will be doing more of this year. This wristband is a reminder to me that when I am tempted to turn the channel, skip the blog post or avoid a conversation, God is calling me to lean in and pay attention.

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The Urbana Floodtide

urbana logoIt was 6AM and pitch black outside. We were on the road again headed for St. Louis and the rain started to pelt against our windows. The forecasters had warned us that it was coming, but we were not prepared for how intense it would become. Our intrepid band of four women, two men and a trade show booth was headed to the Urbana Student Missions Conference and had been praying for divine intervention on our behalf, but this was not what we had been hoping for. Given that we were on the western end of the Eastern Time zone, we had no idea when the sun would come up and how long this torrential rain would last. At that time in the morning as we were buffeted by the high winds we were grateful that it was only us and the truckers on the road.

Little did we know how badly this same storm system had affected the St. Louis area to which we were headed. Aboutflooding an hour from the city, we got a message from the woman who had generously agreed to provide housing for us during the week ahead. She suggested that we watch a video she had just posted to Facebook. As we watched the video, we realized that her housing development had been completely cut off by the flood waters all around her and we had no way of getting to her. Now we really knew that we needed divine intervention — and it came. After a quick prayer, we checked on housing options in downtown St. Louis for a couple of nights and were astounded that we could find accommodation. Hotwire (a great hotel app) found us a couple of rooms within walking distance of the convention center for only $50 a night. That should not have been possible. Every room should have been filled with the 16,000 college students attending this conference and certainly no available room should have been that cheap. We had experienced a miracle and we knew it.

IMG_2442As we set up our booth later that day, we had the sense that God was working on our behalf in a special way. While our booth space was small, it was quite adequate and happened to be located strategically at the end of an aisle. Our goal was to create an environment which would draw students into conversation and we had made the risky choice to go low tech with the booth. Instead of utilizing lots of new technology, we brought an old typewriter, some 200 year old books and a few very used wooden crates for display purposes. We had designed some really fun t-shirts to give away and decided that in order for a student to get their shirt, they had to tell us their favorite Christian book and how it had impacted their lives – on camera. That’s right, we had set up a little video studio in the back of our booth to capture whatever these students wanted to share with us. Somehow this crazy combination of low tech and video was a big hit.

It was amazing to watch how many students stopped to play with the typewriter that simply had a sign in front of it that IMG_2445said “Try Me”. Many had never touched a typewriter before and some had never seen one at all. Lots of students enjoyed the tactile experience of opening and examining “ancient” books that looked so different than the ones they were used to reading. As we began giving away the t-shirts and doing the videos we heard some great stories and learned a lot about this generation of college students. To our delight, many of them were still readers and actually loved books. It was not hard at all to get them to talk about how a Christian book had impacted their lives. Not surprisingly, David Platt and Francis Chan (speakers at Urbana 15) were mentioned frequently as favorite authors, but interestingly, for many C.S. Lewis still held great appeal.

IMG_2448By the end of the third day of the week we had run out of t-shirts and were overwhelmed by the number of conversations we had been involved in. Our goals had been far surpassed and by the last day of the event, we had close to 200 students who had provided us their contact information for us to follow up. On a daily basis, we had experienced a flood of humanity as students waited patiently to talk with one of the four of us in the booth. We hardly had space or time to breath, as students engaged with us for hours each day. Once again we had experienced a miracle of God’s goodness and faithfulness to us.

One story captured the essence of what took place that week. A man who looked older than a typical college student approached our booth and noticed our CLC logo. He stood back for a minute and then approached me and said “CLC – I Love Corrie ten Boom”. While we were the publishers of Corrie’s books, I was not quite sure why this seemed to mean so much to this man. Then he shared the rest of his story. He had been in prison not long ago and was now out looking to see what God might want to do with the next season of his life. While in prison, he had written to us looking for some free books. One of our team had provided these books which included some written by Corrie ten Boom. He said that these books had changed his life and that this was one of the ways that God had turned things around for him and he was grateful. What a divine appointment – that we would be in that place at that moment to hear his story.

On the very last night of our time in St. Louis, something extraordinary happened again. We had finished a very busyIMG_2466day and headed into the huge cafeteria hall for our last meal together. We got our food trays and headed to a table to eat. As we were sitting down, I looked up to see who else would be at the table with us. The organizers of this event were very efficient and made sure that every table was full and so our team of four expected to have at least four or five other people at our table. What we didn’t know was how strategic God was in arranging this group. As we sat down to eat and talk we discovered that one of the people was from Mexico, two were from India and one was from Africa. This was a great reminder to us that God has brought people from all the nations to study in the USA and that our ministry can impact people in many different ways.

As we drove home from Urbana, our hearts were full. We passed many fields that had been flooded and rivers that had spilled over their banks and were reminded to pray for the people of St. Louis that were still suffering from the heavy rains of the previous week. At the same time, we were rejoicing in the floodtide of people with whom we had interacted. We prayed for more miracles as we followed up with these young people who might become the next generation of missionaries to serve with our ministry.

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Surprised by God in 2015

2015So I know that it is already 2016 and I am supposed to be looking forward. Somehow, I just couldn’t do that without looking back one more time with gratitude for all that God did in 2015. There are some years that have been more memorable than others in my life and they seem to happen when the year ends in 5. In 1985, I met my wife. In 1995, we decided to become missionaries with CLC. In 2005, I was elected as the U.S. Director for CLC. This past year was no exception and I thought I would share some surprising ways that God moved in my life and ministry.

The year started with a startling Facebook message from my brother. I was on a date with#2 my wife when I got this urgent message to call him. After panicking for a minute or two thinking that a member of my family might have died, I learned that this was all about an airline ticket. He had found an incredibly low price for a round trip ticket to Panama where he lived and wanted Deb and I to come for a visit. Not one to make spur of the moment decisions, I took a couple of days to decide what to do. Ultimately, Deb was not able to go, but I was able to take my younger son Mike and we had the trip of a lifetime. That unexpected call turned into a delightful spring break where I had many new experiences including learning to ride a horse for the first time.

MarleneShortly after I got back from Panama I got the kind of news that no one likes to hear. One of my dear colleagues had died very suddenly. How could this be? She had seemed so healthy the last time that I had seen her and her husband was the one that had been ill for many years. In God’s providential timing she died like she had lived – serving God in the CLC bookstore in Port of Spain, Trinidad. I had the privilege of attending her funeral service and appreciating the impact of a life well lived. This sudden death left a big hole on the local team, but God filled that hole pretty quickly with a good friend of the ministry who had been CLC’s accountant for many years. Sandra Robinson is now leading the CLC Trinidad into a new season of growth and possibility.

In August, I went to Thailand for a couple of weeks to help with a huge book table and to facilitate the launching of a new American missionary couple who are joining the local CLC Thailand team. This was my second time to travel to IMG_2062this country and I was not really looking forward to the trip. Besides the 16 hour flight and over 24 hour travel time one way, I was also not excited about the spiritual climate I was heading into. On my last trip, I had visited Bangkok and was overwhelmed by the darkness of the spiritual warfare taking place all around me. The prevalence of sexual perversion and the ever present evidence of the sex slave trade made it a disheartening experience. This time around, I visited Chiang Mia and was blown away by the differences between the two cities. It was quickly evident that God is on the march in Thailand too and that his servants are active in the battle.

CLC WorshipEarlier in the summer, I had been approached by one of my team members about a possible change in the way that we were dealing with prayer as a team. He suggested a radical new method for doing our prayer times and I was not completely on board with his idea. After some prayer and discussion, the Lord changed my heart and we presented to the idea to our Executive Team. In August we disbanded our old methods and began praying for 15 minutes each day as a team before the work day began and instituted a weekly hour long chapel service. This change was exactly the “fresh wind and fresh fire” that we needed and the weekly chapel services were soon enhanced by the addition of a volunteer worship leader. These services are now the highlight of my week and have been a catalyst for team development.

In October, I helped to host a huge book table for Pastor Eric Mason’s Thriving Conference. During the weekend, I met videothe videographer who was responsible for all the videotaping going on during the conference. She approached me about what CLC was doing and how much she appreciated our work. As a result of the conversation, God began working in her heart and she and her husband began connecting with us on a deeper level. This talented couple are now in the process of applying to serve with CLC as missionaries and have been a huge asset to us this fall. Who knew how a random conversation about our work would lead to a new path for this couple.

So many other great things have happened as well that it would take several more blog posts to cover it all. Whether it was a Korean church approaching us about using our auditorium on a weekly basis and bringing new life to our dormant facilities or the “gifting” of another not-for-profit ministry to CLC USA, one thing was clearly evident this past year. God is in control. His timing may not be my timing, but it is always perfect. As I head into 2016, I can be confident that this same God has plans to prosper me and not to harm me, plans to give me hope and a future.

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A Few of My Favorite Things

Book-Christmas-TreeSometimes the best presents are not under the Christmas tree. Having a few days off this week has given me time to reflect on some of the gifts I treasure most. Here are a few of them:

1. A wife who still laughs at my jokes. I am often called upon to speak in front of groups these days and I love to share stories. Occasionally I tell a joke or two. It never ceases to amaze me that when Deb is in the group she is often the one laughing the loudest and sometimes the only one who laughs at all.

2. A mom and dad who still care if I call. When I was growing up, I slept in a room not far from my parents. If I called out in the night, they were right there for me no matter how late it was. These days, it still matters if they hear my voice or not. If I don’t check in at least once a week, I am keenly aware of my failing. Before I travel (which I do a lot more these days) they call to pray with me and I love to hear their voices.

3. A brother who keeps it real. Growing up I always shared a room with my brother. I was the stereotypical “bigger brother” and often drove him crazy. These days, he is my best friend and closest confidant. It is always good to have someone in my life who will remind me that at heart I am really a “fair weather” Philly sports fan as I only watch games when the teams are winning. He is the one person that I can count on to ask the hardest questions and actually take the time to listen no matter what I have to say.

4. Men who hold me accountable. For the last several years, I have been meeting with a group of men every Friday morning. Just this week, we got together with our wives to celebrate the Christmas season. These men are my “band of brothers” who listen to me, counsel me, challenge me, cry with me and pray for me. As I get older, I value their input more and more and look forward to Friday morning as a highlight of each week.

5. People who study God’s word together. No matter how much I read God’s word, I often find myself feeling like the Ethiopian Eunuch who read the words, but needed help to understand what he was reading. I have been blessed to be in a number of small home groups where that is the central focus. These days, I have the privilege of being in a group that actually looks forward to wrestling with the deeper meaning in a given passage. It is not uncommon for one of our members to have several commentaries available for us to help provide context and insight.

I am also grateful for a few more mundane things as well:

6. A good cup of tea. This is probably the result of my British heritage. I have never been a coffee drinker and there is something special about asking for hot tea at a friend’s house and discovering how they make it. In America, I am normally given the choice of a number of exotic tea bags to choose from. In England, I am typically offered tea from a pot that has been steeping and brewed in what I am told is the only correct way to make tea.

7. A pen that writes well. For those who know me, this has been something of a lifelong obsession and a kind of quest to find the perfect pen. Unfortunately, I also have a tendency to loose pens, so the quest begins all over again. There is nothing quite like writing with a pen that flows smoothly, does not smudge and never seems to run out of ink. Given that I have to sign so many documents these days, the quest continues apace.

8. A car that is reliable. I have an unfortunate history with cars. My first car was the “exploding” Ford Pinto and it was given to me, so how could I refuse. I should have known better when I could actually see the ground because of the rusting inside the car. Over the years, I have paid my fair share of mechanics to fix vehicles and have come to treasure “the reliable car”. These days, I drive a tiny Honda Civic and every time I am tempted to complain as I crawl in and out of it, I remember that it is one of the most reliable vehicles on the road and as a bonus it gets great gas mileage.

9. A computer that starts quickly. It seems like I have actually spent years of my life waiting for various computers to start (not that I am ever prone to exaggeration). I was a devoted Dell Computer buyer for a number of years, but seemed to forget that each and every one of these seemed to slow down dramatically within a year or so of the purchase. This year, I was advised to purchase a computer with a solid state drive and it has made all the difference. It is the little things in life that make life so better and as I write these words I realize I am once more a victim of “first world problems”.

10. A good book to read. You knew this one was coming. I have spent a lifetime enjoying good books and looking for new books to read. There is just something special about getting a recommendation from a friend and then finding out why they liked a particular book so much. One of the best gifts a friend can give me is a book they enjoyed. This year, I was given one such book and it was very meaningful in my life. At a particular moment when I was finding it hard to read the Bible, a friend gave me a devotional book with a special paraphrase of the book of Romans by Ray Ortland, Jr. It was like I was reading the Bible for the first time and I could not put it down.

As you open presents this week, why not consider the best presents that are not under the tree.

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