5/24/19 — Still Alive.

This week has been challenging. I am doing my best to take care of my various obligations. Blog writing got bumped again. Look for some content next week.

In the meantime, if you’re the praying sort, pray that our air conditioning gets fixed (temps in the 90s around here this week). Thanks.

“We’re in the endgame, now…”

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Photo by George Becker on Pexels.com

If you’re not into movie/comics geekery, bail out now. It’s cool. See you later this week.

I know the Russo Brothers have “officially” lifted the spoiler embargo on Avengers: Endgame (and goodness, the Spiderman: Far From Home trailer is interesting, innit?), but I know what it’s like to have to wait weeks to see blockbuster movies these days (#ParentLife), so rather than dive right in on my reactions/comments about the final chapter of the “Infinity Saga,” I’m going to post them in the comments below.

Feel free to respond, share your thoughts on the movie, your quibbles, your favorite moments, all that jazz.

And if you haven’t yet seen the film and have any inkling about seeing it, please do yourself the favor to click away now. I want you to be as un-spoiled as possible.

Excelsior!

Placing the Big Rocks.

20190311_084109My wife made this picture for me when we were dating. (One of her many gorgeous papercraft creations.) It’s based on the analogy of the rocks, gravel, and jar. In short: a teacher challenged his students to put several sizes of rocks, along with sand and water, in a jar, but they could only do it by putting the big rocks in first. The lesson is this: if we don’t prioritize the things that matter most, they will get crowded out by the lesser things that take up all the space.

Early on in our relationship, H. knew that one of my greatest challenges in our marriage would be trying to manage the big rocks, so she made me this as a reminder.

Lately, I’ve been focused on three big rocks in particular.

My Household: Thing have been going well at home. My wife and I will be married 5 years this summer, and married life is a blessing. We’re looking forward to a family beach vacation in a few months and making plans for the near future. The kiddo is now a year and a half old, and just brilliant; her mind is a sponge, and she’s got a goofy and playful personality.

But the biggest news on the family front is this:

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Baby girl #2 is set to arrive this summer, and we couldn’t be more excited. We have been duly warned that going from 1 to 2 kids is a game-changer, but nevertheless we’re eager to meet this little sweetheart.

My Church: Being an elder at my church is already rewarding and stressful. There are new and more challenging questions I’m asked to consider, more conversations to be had, more responsibilities to shoulder–but I love it, y’all. The biggest challenge for me currently is working through the vast amount of material and training for child safety and abuse prevention materials. As I’ve noted before, this is becoming a big ministry focus for me lately, as I work to make sure all of our policies and procedures are consistent and up-to-date. I’ve been filling up a legal pad with ideas and questions, and what I really need is a day or so to sit and synthesize all the information I’m learning. (Anybody got a spare day laying around that they could loan me? Because I’m time-poor at the moment.) Unfortunately, this isn’t an issue that can or should be put on the back-burner. The time to address these issues is now, and I want to make sure I’m moving forward with the intentionality the issue deserves.

My In-Person Relationships: One of the ideas kicking around in my head as a result of reading Cal Newport’s latest book (review forthcoming) is that in-person communication and relationship-building is more powerful and more meaningful that digital, mediated communication. What this means is that being in the same physical space as the people you care about and want to connect with is worth the time and effort to do so. Sometimes that looks like driving across town through the evening rush to visit a family member in the hospital, or meeting a long-time friend for breakfast whom you haven’t seen in a few months. Maintaining these connections takes effort and grates against the easy-everywhere connection of likes and comments. But I’m finding that it’s worth it.

That said, there are a few big rocks that I’ve neglected lately, like exercise and writing and prayer, that I need to work back into my life. The fun distractions like social media and movies are sand and water in my jar. They work fine as fillers, but if I don’t get ALL these big rocks in place first, they’re just not going to fit.

I’m chewing on some ideas about how to do this better. I’ll share those when I come to conclusions worth reading.

So there’s the update. Hopefully, you’ll see me back here sooner than 2 weeks from now, which appears to be my average time between posts lately. I bet we can do better than that, though, right? Let’s try.

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Your Turn: What are the “big rocks” in your life right now–the most important things you actively make time to pursue? Feel free to share below. See you next time!

Midweek Odds and Ends (2/20/2019)

man old depressed headache
Photo by Gerd Altmann on Pexels.com

[Above: How I’m feeling this week.]

Another one of these posts, Dave? Yeah, sorry about that. Lemme tell ya a little story:

My wife and I celebrated Valentine’s Day on Saturday, with a tasty Japanese / Korean BBQ fusion place (highly recommended), so our plan for the big day Thursday was to watch a Ramsey Solutions “Money and Marriage” event live-streamed, while we enjoy a delicious home-cooked meal. (My wife is an amazing cook. I’m double-blessed, y’all.) All was going fine until we put the kiddo down and discover she has a 103.6 fever. Onward we went to the pediatric urgent-care doctor. This poor baby, who had just gotten shots not a week before, flipped right out when she saw nurses in scrubs with rubber gloves on. Like, full-body-tremor terror. My heart broke over it. After the kiddo had to get her throat swabbed to check for strep, I rocked her in a chair and sang over her, while my wife was calling her sister (a nurse) about next steps. (There’s something special about singing hymns over your child, as they settle down after a good cry.)

The good news: we came home and gave the baby some OTC meds to break the fever, and she was right as rain. (She’s been a little iffy over the last day or so, unfortunately.) Her parents, on the other hand… Between a possible virus we got from the kiddo, and the roller coaster weather we’re having in our part of the country, my poor allergies didn’t stand a chance. I missed church on Sunday and will miss our mid-week meeting with our Care Group. (Work progresses unabated, unfortunately, so I’m just keeping to myself at work!)

My current status: feeling like hot garbage, thanks very much. But God is good, so we press on, yes? That said, I would appreciate your prayers for a quick recovery. Thanks.

Now, onto the hail of bullets!

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  • I read this Bloomberg article the other day and immediately went on a Twitter rant (now deleted). The idea here is that allowing the government to hold more of your money for a year before giving it back to you at no interest is a “good” thing–at least that’s the spin. And that’s exactly what it is: spin. Like him or hate him, you have to acknowledge that the current administration lowered taxes (and NOT just for the rich, no matter what the hype-train tries to tell you), which means less is withheld from people’s checks because they are paying less in taxes. This isn’t a bad thing, no matter what some presidential hopeful says about it. But the Bloomberg piece contains a pretty insulting assumption: many Americans, particularly lower-income Americans, must rely on Daddy Government to hold their piggy bank because they can’t control themselves enough to save on their own. Talk about the bigotry of lowered expectations.
  • So let’s change gears and think on something fun: Baseball is coming! Full squads are practicing, and spring baseball is on its way! Go Cubs! (And if you don’t like baseball, I have five words for you.)
  • I’m just starting Jocko Willink and Leif Babin’s follow-up book to Extreme Ownership, called The Dichotomy of Leadership. Also on the nightstand is Nassim Taleb’s Antifragile. Waiting for me at the library (very excited about this one) is Cal Newport’s brand-new book Digital Minimalism. Hopefully all of these will spark some great thoughts (and posts!)
  • Still reading short stories, still making notes. One of these days I’m going to bust out with a bunch of #52Stories posts, just you wait.
  • Latest musical find: This one-hour symphonic medley of music from the smash-hit indie computer game Undertale. While the chip-tune version of the soundtrack got on my nerves just a bit, I *love* this.
  • If you’re a Christian, I would ask you to pray for churches in the Southern Baptist denomination. Lots going on this month. Lots to think through and do. Pray for wisdom, grace, fidelity to God’s Word, and the courage to act with integrity and honor. I’m trying to take in as much information as I can, so that I can serve our church by making sure we have policies and processes in place to protect our kids.

That’s all I have this week, gang. Thanks for reading and thanks for your patience. I know many of you are subscribed because you like certain types of content, and these kinds of TIWIARN posts aren’t that. Nevertheless, I appreciate that you read, and I hope you continue to do so. Have a great week.

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Your Turn: What’s your favorite restaurant to take your significant other (or closest friends) for a birthday or celebration? Post it in the comments below. (I may need ideas for my next date night!)

Midweek Odds and Ends (2/13/2019)

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Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

Happy Wednesday, friends! What can I say, I can’t bear to stay away too long. 

I don’t have anything specific prepared for today, so I figured I’d provide a little “This is Where I Am Right Now (TIWIARN)”-style update.  Brace yourself for the hail of bullets!

  • My current season of work is uniquely challenging. There have been times when the vibe around the office has been pretty light, pretty loose. The current atmosphere is…decidedly not that. Nevertheless, we persevere. I’ve been reading Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin and have had opportunity to put their personal discipline and leadership principles into practice (thinks like “taking ownership,” “prioritize-and-execute,” and “simplify”). And if that sounds like cubicle-jargon…well, whatever, man. It’s useful to me. All this to say, work has been a beast, and my lunchbreaks have become times to shut off my brain for a bit (usually watching Youtube or reading fiction). The downstream effect of that is that I’m not writing as many posts during that mid-day break. Sorry.
  • Man, I am LOVING this #52Stories project. I’ve got notes on 5 or 6 stories that I’m going to turn into posts soonish, but just the actual reading has been a joy. Plus, as I had hoped, it’s getting my brain clicking on some short-form ideas of my own. At some point (the procrastinator said), I’ll share the fruit of that brainstorming with you. But for now, just know: this project was a great idea. (Though not an *original* idea; check out Jay’s yearly “Deal Me In” Challenge! Dude has been killing it for YEARS!)
  • Interesting and providential confluence of events: the Houston Chronicle’s heartbreaking series on sexual abuse and cover-up inside Southern Baptist churches, coming just one month after I become an elder in my Southern Baptist church. Needless to say, I see addressing this issue as a serious and urgent responsibility. While I’m not aware of any concerns in our church, I’m also not naive enough to think something awful *couldn’t* happen. We have plans and policies in place to vet our children and youth workers, but we can always do more. If you know of any good resources for churches who want to do more to prevent abuse, drop it in the comments or shoot me a message in one of my other feeds. I’m happy to read and learn so I can serve my church family well.
  • Married life is great. We’re coming up on five years in June, which itself is amazing to me–it seems so much shorter, and yet longer (in a really good way). It’s becoming harder and harder to remember daily life before marrying H. She’s so much a part of my day to day, I couldn’t imagine life without her. She has my heart.
  • Not only that, but our little baby isn’t so little anymore. She’s 18 months old, talkative, fearless (climbs on EVERYTHING!), and a sweet kid. She’s also getting a head start into the “terrible twos.” We need prayer, y’all. Kidding aside, this little girl–ugh. She’s my delight.
  • I will try to post something on Friday, but realistically, my next post may be Monday. Lots going on. Thanks for hanging with me.

Quick round-up of my “currently’s”:

  • Currently watching: Life Below Zero on Netflix — a BBC docuseries about people who live near or above the Arctic circle in Alaska. FASCINATING program about what it takes to live in such an unforgiving environment. The language is often harsh, and the footage itself can be unflinching when it comes to hunting/trapping for subsistence and survival. My wife discovered this one, and I started watching it with her pretty early on. This is the only TV show I’m watching these days. I lost interest in what’s currently on network TV–which is probably for the best, to be honest.
  • Currently Listening: My favorite Pandora channel lately is “Coffee Shop Covers” because I am a SUCKER for good covers. My favorite track on there right now is “Wish You Were Here” by the Milk Carton Kids. At work, if I’m not listening to podcasts, I’ll listen to video game soundtracks as background music–today’s selection was Assassin’s Creed, I think, but SimCity is my usual go-to.
  • Currently Reading: Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin; The Gospel and Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever; and a bunch of short stories!
  • “Currently” Playing: When I have a little bit of extra time once in a while, I fire up my SNES Classic. I’m about halfway through Super Metroid and a few hours into The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (my favorite video game of all time, I think). “Extra time,” however, is becoming more and more scarce.
  • Currently Thinking: Oh yeah! I have coffee brewed. See y’all later!

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What’s going on with you? Anything cool happening that you’d like to share? Drop it in the comments below!

 

Rethinking My Feeds: Outrage.

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Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

What a difference a weekend’s non-stop news cycle makes.

I was going to write a post about the latest internet debate last week, concerning razor advertisements, implications of toxic masculinity, and the necessity of teaching young men virtue. (Of course, by the time I had started to put some thoughts together, several writers of higher calibre had already written excellent pieces in that vein, so I left off.)

Then I spent Friday and Saturday with some other men from church thinking through discipleship at home and in the church, and Sunday with my church family and friends. As I slowly got back online yesterday evening, another outrage had replaced the last outrage–this time, regarding the issue of racially-based disrespect and (later in the day) media narrative bias. Some people who were quick to repost the initial reporting began stumbling over themselves to walk back statements and reassess the latest available information, while others were doubling-down and disregarding any other data points or newly-available information.

One could point the finger of blame at social media for the flare-up of such stories, but then again, if not for alternative outlets beyond the “big three networks” and the cable news channels (ever the bulwarks of, um, “fair and balanced” reportage), we would not often get additional data points that challenge the way stories are framed.

Yes, there’s the ever-present danger of “fake news” and false leads (as was demonstrated when a young man was apparently misidentified as the infamous “smirker” and was hashtagged, stalked, harassed, and doxxed over the course of a few hours). On the other hand, if you limit yourself to what the “officially verified” and check-marked set report, you still may not get the full story. (After all, what’s the good in listening to only one verified source of “real” news when that source is Pravda, comrade?)

Suffice it to say, social media was abuzz with the reaction, the counter-reaction, the reactions to both, and the finger-wagging and tongue-clucking pointed in various and sundry directions. I got sucked in, reading about the drama, forming opinions on second- and third-hand accounts, until I realized I was doing the same thing everyone else was–feeding on the drama as an outside observer.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I engage with social media and how that engagement affects me.

Some of that thinking has been helped by recent books (Jonathan Leeman’s How the Nations Rage, Andy Crouch’s The Tech-Wise Family, and Senator Ben Sasse’s excellent book Them). Some of it has grown from observations in myself and others, through the ebbs and flows of social media’s outrage spin cycle.

I’ve arrived at a few conclusions about how I need to change my social media use, which I will think through and share over a few posts in the coming weeks. Here is the first:

I am choosing to minimize the amount of rage-baiting in my feeds–both in terms of what I write and what (and whom) I read.

I doubt that term’s original, but I haven’t heard it used much, so I’ll claim it. “Rage-bait,” like “click-bait,” is an attractive invitation to engage–but specifically to engage in order to get angry.

Ben Sasse talks about “nut-picking” in his book Them–the practice of finding an extreme example of bad behavior or ignorance in another ideological tribe and holding it up as an example of that whole group. I think a lot of us are guilty of this, even without realizing it. We post and share stories that incense us, but if we were pressed, I doubt many of us would honestly say that “Wacko #5” is truly representative of the millions of people we would classify in the same ideological tribe.

But man, Wacko #5 gets us those sweet, sweet clicks, doesn’t he…

I want to resist the temptation to rage-bait. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things that deserve our outrage; on the contrary, there are realities that rightly require attention, comment, and even strong rebuke. It may not be healthy to fly to the opposite extreme and live in blissful ignorance of real-world concerns and issues, if we want to be good citizens and neighbors.

The problem is, to borrow a phrase from The Incredibles: If everything is outrageous, then nothing is outrageous.

Internet outrage becomes white noise. It’s barely a blip. One outrage sweeps in after another like waves lapping the shore, and we are all awash in it–partly because we choose to accept it and engage in it.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can choose to distinguish which issues are worth discussing, and which ones we can just ignore. In other words, we don’t need to go off every time someone is wrong on the Internet. We can just shake our heads, close the browser window, and move on.

(And if there are specific people or sites in our feeds that are light on information or content and heavy on rage-bait, maybe the best response is to click that “unfollow” button. But that’s a discussion for another time.)

So here’s my challenge to you, reader: Take a step back and look at what you post and read on your various social media feeds. Consider the posts and tweets and shares that provoke you to anger the most. How much of it is actual issues-focused interaction…and how much of it is rage-bait?

Does the rage-bait actually make you a better citizen? A better neighbor? A better person? Or does it just make you angry?

And what might you do about that?

Need just a bit more time!

Hey y’all! I apologize for missing my Monday post deadline. I’m working on some neat stuff right now for you, but I just don’t seem to have enough time with work and other obligations. Here’s what’s (potentially) coming in the next 10 days or so:

  • A review of the documentary American Gospel
  • Two #52Stories posts
  • Some thoughts on razors, masculinity, and virtue (possible cross-posted on my Medium feed)
  • The next round of #FridayFive
  • A post about internet outrage
  • A mini-review of Senator Ben Sasse’s book Them

Hoping to have something new posted by tomorrow afternoon. Thanks for your patience! Have a great day!

 

Feeling the sting.

landscape photography of dried trees on snow covered ground
Photo by Simon Matzinger on Pexels.com

My grandfather died last Thursday. He was buried yesterday.

He was almost 90, ravaged for the last several years by Parkinson’s. Over the years, he has been losing the ability to communicate clearly, to understand, to care for himself. And in the end, his final decline was sudden and heart-breaking.

He was a good man, a godly man. He was a strong Christian, an ordained minister, and a faithful husband, father, grandfather, and church member. He loved and poured himself out for children; he taught school for more than 2 decades and taught Sunday School for longer than that. He would drive around the neighborhood every Sunday morning for years, picking up kids in the station wagon to bring over so that he and my grandmother could teach them Bible stories and songs, give them snacks, help them do little art and craft projects, and let them know that they are loved by God. I can’t imagine how many hundreds or even thousands of young lives my grandparents touched over the decades.

My grandfather’s hope in life and death was firmly and securely in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as his Savior. And now, my grandfather is enjoying the presence of his Lord, without pain or disease, without the encumbrances and restraints of mortality and frailty.

I miss him.

For almost my entire life, I’ve lived a thousand miles away from my grandparents, so I don’t have the “every Sunday” or “every holiday” memories with extended family that others do. But I have some very clear and very warm memories over the years of time spent with my grandparents. My favorite was how he used to give the biggest, tightest bear hugs. He wasn’t muscular, but he was as wiry and tough in physicality as he was tender and warm in spirit.

He had a playful sense of humor, which was often incredibly dry and subtle. He told good jokes. (That’s one of the things I love about my dad, as well: how he almost can’t contain himself when he tells a joke.) And I remember my grandfather’s laugh after telling a joke: silent, mouth open, bobbing up and down slightly.

(One of my touchstone “embarrassing” memories was when I misunderstood a joke he made and he had to explain himself; I was 10 and he probably forgot it immediately, but for some reason, that one memory sticks with me–one of those silly moments I cringe about from time to time, just to myself. I don’t know why that one memory sticks, but there you go.)

There is so much more to say about him, so many more memories to share. But that’s not why I’m writing this.

I’m sharing this for two very simple reasons this afternoon:

First, I wanted to emphasize that my family is mourning this week, but we don’t mourn as those who have no hope. It’s not some vague, “we-hope-we-see-you-again” wish, either. When my grandfather’s body was laid to rest in the ground yesterday morning, my family was planting him there with the full knowledge that one day, that very ground will break apart and his physical body will be resurrected and restored to life, when Jesus comes back to call His people to Himself. Our hope–our only hope–is found in Jesus alone: in His sacrificial death to pay the penalty for our sins, in His glorious resurrection to give us the promise that we too will be raised up to life. If you are afraid of death, or unsure of what happens next, I’d be happy to talk to you about the hope you’re missing. Please, please ask.

Second, I want to encourage you: reach out to the family members you haven’t talked to recently, especially the older ones. When I first heard that my grandfather passed away, what hit me most was a very palpable and deep regret that I didn’t keep in close contact over the last few years. He wouldn’t have the chance to hold my daughter as an infant or toddler. While I “knew” that he wouldn’t be around forever (at least in this life), I kept putting off regular phone calls and emails. I got busy with the “urgent” things in my immediate vision. Whenever I would be reminded that I haven’t talked to my grandparents recently, I would feel sincerely guilty, and say to myself, “Oh man, yeah, I should get on that. Maybe next weekend…” Now, that window has closed. It’s now incumbent upon me to make up that lost time with my Sweetie of a grandmother, for all the years we are blessed to continue having her here.

Can I encourage you to take some time this weekend and make that phone call you have been putting off, that video chat, that visit to a grandparent or aunt or even your parents? We don’t know how long we have in this life with the people we love. As long as we have a chance, let’s take those opportunities to check in, to share the family news, or just to say “I love you.”

Sorry to end this week on a bit of a downer, but that’s what’s going on with me.

I hope you have a great weekend, and that you have a chance to tell those closest to you (or perhaps distant from you) that you love them.

We’ll see you back here next week!

Happy New Year! Here’s What’s Next.

Hey, y’all!

I only have a few minutes left on my lunch break, but I wanted to check in and say hi!

Programming Note: On Friday, I’ll share something a little more personal, instead of my usual #FridayFive. Next week, I’ll talk a little bit more about my 2019 reading challenge (which my very wise wife suggested I cut down from a very ambitious #100Stories to a more realistic #50Stories–but hey, no reason to stop at 50 if I make it, right?). We may also chat a bit about internet outrage, in light of my 2019 goal to use social media for the good of others. We’ll jump back in with the weekly #FridayFive next weekend. I’ve also got some pretty fun news to share in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for that.

In other words, I’m excited about upcoming posts this month, and I hope you are, too!

But for now, I just wanted to kick off 2019 by saying thanks again for reading, and I look forward to sharing ideas and interacting with you this year!

What are you most looking forward to in 2019? Let me know in the comments!

One More “Thank You”: To the Kindness Ninja, Donna G.

Social media is weird, y’all. It’s tribal and loud and angry and strange, and it’s easy for peaceful, fun interactions to turn suddenly hurtful and frustrating. You have to develop a bit of thick skin and expect to be misunderstood and misrepresented from time to time. It’s easy to become jaded and cynical in your social media interactions.

I don’t remember how I “met” Donna G. No doubt, she found me or I found her through a mutual Twitter follow, but somehow, we were connected. I don’t know much about her. She loves her kids (grandkids?). She loves her Florida Gators. And she was a genuinely kind person.

She constantly tagged people in #FollowFriday posts, and would pull you into group-tweets with 15 or so people to wish you a “Happy Wednesday!” (Have you ever been part of a neverending “Stop-replying-all!” email thread? It’s a little like that.) I have to admit, there were times that I would get a little annoyed when my Twitter mentions would blow up because Donna tagged me on one of those threads, but I never once asked her to stop. I always appreciated it. And I would always try to respond to her (and to her only!) to say thanks.

Donna often asked about my daughter and even asked for pictures. That would be weird, normally, coming from someone I’ve never met. But it made sense coming from Donna. She was like a sweet aunt you don’t ever get to visit, but who tries to stay in touch. So I would DM her a pic now and then of me and my toddler, and she would ooh and aah over how cute she is or how big she’s getting.

Donna’s whole persona, her whole thing on Twitter, was “The Kindness Ninja.” No matter what was going on, you could always count on Donna to share a word of Scripture, an encouragement, a funny GIF, or just a “Have a great day!” She was a singular figure, a bright light in a very hazy medium.

I found out tonight that Donna passed away. I don’t know the circumstances (not sure if she had some sort of lingering illness or if it was sudden). But I have to admit, it’s really hitting me for some reason.

Tomorrow has been declared a Day of Mourning in Texas for the passing of the late President George H.W. Bush. Well, meaning no disrespect to the president, I’ll be mourning the loss of Donna.

I never had the privilege of meeting her in this life. I honestly don’t think I could pick her photo out of a line-up. But her sweet heart, her shining kindness, was and is unmistakable.

Enjoy your reward, Donna. Drink deep of the joy of your Master, and rejoice before Him. One bright day, beyond the River, I look forward to hugging your neck and introducing you to my family.

Thank you, dear Donna, for your kindness. In your daily graces, you have blessed and changed so many of us. We thank God for you.

–Dave