Vital Signs: The Year That Was
Dear friends of Vital Signs Ministries, January 2016
This month’s letter comes in two sections. The first is a brief account about the Thanksgiving Jar project that Claire and I enjoyed throughout the year but which gave a special beauty and significance to our Christmas season. And then I’ll follow up with a 2015 year-in-review of Vital Signs. And let me tell you, 2015 was quite a year!
The Thanksgiving Jar
In 2015 Claire and I attempted to significantly increase our gratitude attitude by keeping a Thanksgiving Jar on our kitchen counter. And into that jar we dropped notes throughout the year — notes on which we had jotted down thanks for blessings given us by God. We wrote down encouragements, answers to prayer, deliverances, special moments of beauty and adventure. You get the idea.
It was a very stimulating way to sharpen our sense of thanksgiving, to reduce complacency and complaining, and to deepen our appreciation of the constancy of God’s mercies to us. We started the project as a result of a New Year’s resolution and it turned out to be a niftier spiritual exercise than we had imagined so we’re doing it again this year. In fact, we started on Thanksgiving Day.
But what of last year’s notes? How did we use them? Well, they added a delightful new spice to our Christmas celebrations. Every other night or so, Claire and I sat with cups of tea in the living room, basking in the glow of the Christmas tree lights while we pulled 5 or 6 of the notes at random out of the bowl. (The number of notes had grown so that we dumped them from the Thanksgiving Jar into a large bowl every once in a while.) We then read through them one at a time and thanked God afresh for each of those blessings. They always stimulated conversation and related prayers as well. It was very neat.
So there you have it. Perhaps you might consider making a New Year’s resolution to start a Thanksgiving Jar project for you and your family. It will no doubt help make Thanksgiving a whole-year practice and will also provide an added bounty to your Christmas season.
And now for the 2015 year-in-review using 10 highlighted categories.
1) Early in the year, the ministry was given a beautiful and wonderfully efficient 2003 Toyota Highlander by longtime LifeSharers whose wish was to give the gift in private. Claire and I had been trying to keep up our hectic schedule with just one car and not doing too well. The Toyota has proven to be of immense help.
2) Also early in the year, we again hosted my Belarusian friend and ministry colleague Hleb Yermakou when he was visiting the States with Encouragement International. Hleb was only here a few days but we really packed his schedule: two radio interviews, a Sunday morning sermon at Herman Community Church, several classes and chapel services at Omaha Christian Academy, a luncheon with the pastoral staff of Country Bible Church, and a bit more.
3) Correspondence. Our letter-writing parties were very successful this year; even though the numbers of writers were sometimes small. In the first of our three parties this year, we produced 85 letters and cards. The second produced 150 letters. The third (with just 7 people) produced 68. In addition to these parties, Claire and I wrote more than 200 letters and cards throughout the year. The themes of our letters were pro-life and pro-family advocacy, religious freedom, letters of encouragement to persecuted Christians, and thank yous to heroes of the Faith.
4) A very big step in 2015 was Vital Signs Ministries going back on the air via Bott Radio Network’s KLVC out of Omaha, Lincoln, and other translator stations. These 60-second commentaries began broadcast last July every weekday morning in between Chuck Swindoll and Adrian Rogers. The technology has advanced to the point where we record, edit, and send to Lincoln these broadcasts from my back room office. And, in addition to the on-air broadcasts themselves, we post the audio files on the website, Facebook, and Vital Signs Blog where they are conveniently catalogued. Also, the radio program led us to streamline the VSM website and keep it up to date on a weekly basis as we direct listeners to feature articles.
5) Our campaign against the barbaric abortion corporation that is Planned Parenthood reached new levels of intensity in 2015 as the video evidence of PP selling parts of aborted babies for profit awakened the world to their heartlessness and deception. This year we continued our presence outside the PP abortion. We continued promoting our “3 for 5” prayer campaign. We participated in two national events calling for the de-funding of the evil business. I got a letter to the editor published in the World-Herald and did an interview with them about the PP scandal. I also did an on-air interview with KPTM outside the PP building. I was contacted by Senator Fischer and we talked specifically about de-funding the organization. And, finally, we spent quite a bit of time in our letters, conversation, prayers, and the blog on this campaign.
6) “When Swing Was King” went swinging its way into the hearts of residents of senior care centers throughout 2015 just as it has done for the 5 years previously! The programs are better than ever…and as beloved and appreciated. Our regular schedule takes us to 11 facilities every month – always completely free of charge. Plus 2015 saw “When Swing Was King” on a couple of exciting road trips: 3 shows in senior facilities on the Front Range of the Colorado Rockies and 2 shows in northwest Iowa. And then there was the December schedule which involved our regular 11 senior facilities, 2 extra ones, and 4 church groups!
7) Our ongoing involvement with books in 2015 saw Claire and I host book discussions over Norm Geisler’s and Frank Turek’s I Don’t Have Faith Enough to Be an Atheist, Francis Schaeffer’s A Christian Manifesto, and Randy Alcorn’s Heaven. But 2015 saw a lot more of our time spent with another book; namely, The Christmas Room, my new novel that emphasized the gospel, the sanctity of life, intergenerational friendship, compassionate caregiving, and family. We have been greatly encouraged by the response. Also, it led to such exciting December events as a local book club invitation, radio interviews, and a book signing at Divine Truth bookstore.
8) There were quite a few speaking engagements in 2015 and, not surprisingly, many of them were directly related to Christ-centered pro-life activism. Those events included sermons at Herman Community and Grace Bible Church, small group presentations in Blair and at an Immanuel Courtyard coffee klatch, a couple of Grace University courses, and two presentations at the L’Abri conference in Rochester, Minnesota of a talk entitled, “Christian Pro-Life Activism: A Winsome Witness in a Wild World.” The year’s presentations also included other applications of a Christian worldview: “Chivalry and Christianity” delivered to a men’s group at Emmanuel Fellowship, “Recovering Fumbles: Lessons in Real-Life Sanctification” to a men’s group of Grace Bible Church, two funerals, “Top Ten Hints for a Marvelous Marriage” given in the Sunday morning services of Community Bible Church, and “Piety on the Plains: An Anecdotal Religious History of Omaha” at a meeting of the Omaha Genealogical Society.
9) Miscellaneous happenings. A) Our learning that the film Patrice Kabore, Tom Sharman, and I made in Burkina Faso several years ago was aired this past summer on Christian TV in Kenya with wonderful impact. B) This year we made available (both online and CD) radio-quality presentations of “The Appointment” and “The Christmas of the Talking Animals.” C) 2015 also saw us start creating video clips for the blog and Facebook. D) We had a few physical trials this year. Claire needed surgery on her thumb to help deal with arthritis and she was diagnosed also with osteopenia and carpal tunnel. I wrestled with a lower back injury for a brief bit last summer and with a sinusitis-caused vertigo that affects me from time to time. However, our strict dedication to a Paleo lifestyle and greatly increased physical activity over the last 18 months has paid great benefits in weight loss, improved health, mobility, discipline, energy, and more. Before this latest cold snap, for instance, I was doing 2 hours a day prayer walks (7.2 miles) several days a week, often with Claire joining me for a portion of the course.
And finally number 10) on our 2015 list? For the first time in many years, Vital Signs Ministries ended the year in the black! Praise the Lord! And, of course, thanks to all of you whose contributions and prayers and encouragement helped make this financial provision and this year’s spiritual effectiveness so solid. Now on to 2016!