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Goin' Christmas Crazy?

Dear Vital Signs LifeSharers,                                                    December 2014

            Some of you probably thought the Branson tree-lighting I described in last month’s letter would provide more than enough Christmas cheer to last us for the year.  Not hardly.  In fact, we’re only getting started. Let me give you a brief rundown of what’s been happening just in the first week of December.

            The week actually started on November 30 with my final sermon at Faith Bible Church.  As I described a few letters ago, I had announced to the church board last August that I was leaving but I stayed a few extra months to help with the transition. It was, of course, sad to go and the party they threw for us after the service, complete with kind testimonials and a lot of memories shared of our 7 years there, didn’t make the parting any easier. But we didn’t have the luxury of feeling sorrowful because we had to get rolling pretty hard the very next day.

            For instance, I needed to finish all the changes to our new Christmas edition of “When Swing Was King” and it took all of Sunday evening and a lot of Monday to get that done. Meanwhile, Claire had to have everything ready for the quarterly Vital Signs Board meeting Monday evening.  That meant house cleaning, meal preparation, printing out the financial records, and finalizing our always-detailed agenda. The Board meeting went well.   It always does.  But the tone was a bit more somber than most because Vital Signs isn’t doing well financially.  In terms of spiritual energy and effectiveness, we are in fine form.  But our finances…well, that’s a different story. Nevertheless, our discussion was upbeat as we thanked God for the impact Vital Signs has had this past year and as we look forward to the tasks at hand. Yes, we talked about stepping up our efforts to recruit new LifeSharers and supporting churches (we currently have only 7 that contribute even small amounts), but most of the evening’s conversation concerned upcoming ministry opportunities.

            One of those exciting opportunities was scheduled to get underway the next day, Tuesday, December 2. That was Claire and I taking our Christmas “When Swing Was King” program on the road!  We called it our grand tour of central Nebraska for, in the next two and half days, we would visit senior facilities in Henderson, Holdrege, Gothenburg, Grand Island, and Doniphan. Whew! Now, the highlights of this momentous trip are too numerous to adequately describe, but let me try to give you just a few. 

            * The audiences were packed in for each of the 5 shows and they were as enthusiastic, appreciative, and kind-hearted as any we have ever entertained.  And, believe me, that’s saying a lot.  At each facility, we were treated to hearty complements and applause, laughter and warm-hearted conversation, and plenty of memories, hugs, and invitations to come back soon. We all had a fabulous time. 

            * Our program at Christian Homes Care Community in Holdrege drew the largest crowd they have ever had for a chapel service, probably due to the reputation of our sponsors, Back to the Bible’s Harold and Donna Berry.  Of course, there may have been a strong curiosity factor too! 

            * Besides the new friends we met at these 5 different presentations (150-175 seniors, family members, and staff), we also enjoyed wonderful fellowship with longtime friends.  Among those saints were the Berrys, dear folks who have been steady friends and mentors to us for decades now.  How precious to us was their enthusiasm for our “When Swing Was King” ministry.  There was also a lively time with Deb Koch and her Mom.  Claire lived at Deb’s house before we were married (that’s way back in 1971…for those of you interested in ancient history) and we have only recently connected with her again. What a delight she is. Indeed, Deb was the spark that ignited the whole “grand tour” and we are really grateful to her. Along the way, we were also privileged to spend some time with other friends who attended our presentations, Tim Kumpost in Holdrege and Lonn and Lani Heiser in Henderson.

            * Finally, there was the wonderful time Claire and I enjoyed with one another. In the car (our “new” 2008 Equinox SUV that is proving such a dependable, comfortable vehicle), Claire and I spent a lot of time in prayer, a lot of time talking and reminiscing and planning, and a lot of time listening to Christmas music.  We also had time to drive around each town we visited.  It all made for a meaningful, memorable time – a lovely, Christmassy adventure as well as a mission trip.

            We returned from the “grand tour” on Thursday night and had just enough time on Friday morning to catch up on blogging and Facebook duties before heading out to our first local presentation of the Christmas “When Swing Was King.”  It was the first of our regular 12 facilities we visit each month. And that means that when our regular list is added to our central Nebraska tour which is then added to two special presentations we’re doing for senior groups at Glad Tidings Church here in Omaha and Country Bible Church in Blair, we will be doing 19 presentations this month!  That beats the old record by two! 

            But that first week of December wasn’t quite over even yet. Saturday morning we were out early for our regularly scheduled prayers and public pro-life witness outside the Planned Parenthood abortion mill.  It was cold and kinda’ windy but even more bracing was the chance to sing Christmas carols together, another longstanding Vital Signs tradition. It is an opportunity to defy the devil by raising our voices in praise and thanksgiving to God – right there in the face of America’s most grotesque evil.  Standing alongside us that morning (and in very good voice, I might add) were several of our most stalwart friends and fellow pro-life activists.  (By the way, we will be doing this again several times yet this Christmas season.)  Lord, thank you for each and every Christian who continues to pray for a restoration of a sanctity of life ethic in our culture.

            Then later on Saturday, Claire and I had yet another Christmas highlight as Santa and Mrs. Claus graciously visited our home! No kidding. For the price of a few cookies, a splendidly tailored Claus couple (neighbors from across the street) came by so that the guests we had invited over could have their pictures taken with these North Pole legends. Our guests included a couple of other neighbors and their dogs. But it was the 4 Troutman kids who really made the event spectacular fun for all of us. Thanks, kids. However, we were not quite finished with Santa for on Sunday night Claire and I went up for the tree lighting ceremony at Boys Town where Santa arrived on a wailing fire engine! Very cool. Before Santa’s arrival we had taken in the annual student performance of The Gift of the Magi and afterward we had a wonderful visit with a longtime friend and treasured pro-life colleague, the Director Emeritus of Boys Town, Fr. Val Peter. For more years than we can hardly count, Fr. Val has been one of our most enthusiastic encouragers. It was great to spend a little time with him as he led us a “secret” back way through the kitchen and into Boys Town’s Great Hall.

            Like I said, it was a very Christmassy week! 

            And now comes the rest of December which, if the Lord allows, will include all of those “When Swing Was King” presentations and the Christmas caroling at the abortion mill I’ve already mentioned.  And other activities upcoming?  1) We have a pro-life Christmas card party on Monday, December 15 at 7:00 at our home. Our cards will concentrate on the new Congress and Senate, men and women of the U.S. armed services and, utilizing resources from Voice of the Martyrs, we will writing in behalf of persecuted Christians.  2) Also this month, I’ll be working on a lecture to be given twice at the L’Abri conference in Rochester, Minnesota on February 13 and 14. It’s titled, Christian Pro-Life Activism: A Winsome Witness in a Wild World. 3) Writing projects. And that includes all of our Christmas correspondence, a couple of short stories, and an article I’m writing about King Herod’s slaughter of the innocents. 4) We also have a bunch of Santa runs where we take treats and spend a little time with individual seniors around town.  In one case, we’re going to tape an interview with one of WSWK’s biggest fans, a fellow who loves music and history and company but who lives a rather dull life in one of our area’s saddest nursing homes. He is blind and almost friendless so when I asked him if we could come visit, have coffee, and do some oral history of he and I talking old music, he wept with joy. 5) And finally, last but not least on our December agenda, I hope to finish editing The Christmas Room which, at this point, is 75% done.

            Needless to say, we are so very, very grateful for all of you who pray for Vital Signs, who contribute to our financial needs, and who pass along much welcomed encouragement.  No doubt about it, you are an indispensible part of Vital Signs’ year-round Christmas ministry. That’s right, our year-round Christmas ministry. For as one of the slides in our December “When Swing Was King” show wisely reads, “If you keep Christ in your heart, Christmas never ends.”  Merry Christmas!