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The Year of 2016 Year-end Review

Dear friends,                                                                            January 2017

            Christmas, alas, is over. Indeed, the new year is well underway. And yet I’ll take as one of my first tasks of 2017 a very quick overview of 2016, including a bit closer look at the Christmas season just passed. Let’s get right to it

            Of course, 2016 included a lot of our regular tasks: daily updates on the blogs and social media, a praying presence at the abortion mill four mornings a month, the quarterly letter-writing parties, a lot of correspondence and conversation, a host of advocacy and networking duties, participation in various pro-life events, and the ongoing preparation, presentation, and follow-up that is involved in our “When Swing Was King” shows in area senior care facilities.  And, in addition to keeping every show fresh and effective in 2016, we added 2 new care facilities to our schedule, making it 12 places every month that we visit.  Also, this year we started publishing a 4-page “When Swing Was King” newsletter every quarter. That has proved a big hit and it helps us more effectively share the Reason for the hope that is in us. And, oh yes; I mustn’t forget that 2016 saw us taking “When Swing Was King” on the road to Lincoln (3 shows), San Antonio (5 shows), and Oklahoma City (4 shows). 

            The year did present a few unusual events for us such as helping promote Franklin Graham’s prayer rally in Lincoln, our involvement in a Christian Brotherhood reunion, and receiving a wonderful honor from Assure Women’s Center for our role in starting the AAA CPC 30 years ago.  A “new yet old” event occurred in November when we decided to revive the Vital Signs Pie Social.  That went very well. Our hospitality/discipleship ministries continued in 2016 but there was one party that stood out.  That was when Congressional candidate Don Bacon came to dinner at our house to discuss pro-life, pro-family concerns with us, the Vital Signs Governing Board, and a couple members of the Assure Women’s Center staff.

            In 2016 I taught an adult Sunday School series on heaven, had several speaking engagements in churches, and participated in a L’Abri conference in Rochester, Minnesota.  We organized reading projects, including one that involved more than a dozen people reading the entire series of The Chronicles of Narnia. These and other activities were designed to help Christians be less plugged in to worldly entertainment and more plugged in to quality Christian literature and service projects.

            Also of great significance to Claire and me (and many praying friends), 2016 saw me total 1,379.9 miles of walking. And that doesn’t count the miles involved in climbing the 14, 065 foot Mt. Bierstadt on my 65th birthday.

            And that brings us to December. (I told you it would be a quick overview!)

            Our Christmas ministries this year seemed particularly moving to us personally and, we trust, to many others as we presented our special Christmas edition of “When Swing Was King” at 15 places. Each event represented a delightful and inspiring celebration.  One especially warm-hearted show was an evening performance at Herman Community Church where Pastor Doug Russell invited members of the community as well as the church.  The result was a terrific audience who loved the program and who were remarkably gracious and generous to us. Thank you so much, HCC. Another notable show was one we did in our living room in conjunction with a cookie exchange with our neighbors.  What a time we had!  As you may know, the Christmas “When Swing Was King” is overtly Christian with its inclusion of traditional carols, dozens of pictures of the nativity, and Christmas facts I weave into my narration.  Well, on this afternoon, the show was not only well appreciated, but it sparked 2 and a 1/2 hours of spirited conversation that included matters of faith. For instance, I was given a perfect opening to telling my conversion testimony when one of our neighbors asked, “Denny, I may be out of line and getting way too personal here, but could I ask if there was ever any specific turning point in your life that made you become so, well, religious?”  May we all have a lot more of those kind of opportunities in 2017!

            Claire baked a lot of cookies in December – both her signature chocolate chip cookies and sugar cookies that I decorated. And what I lacked in artistic skill, I tried to make up for with plenty of color and fun. Our Paleo diets, of course, make such sugary treats off limits for us, but we make them anyhow for our Christmas parties and in order to pass out generous platters (accompanied by Christmas cards) to neighbors, friends, our hairdresser, the staff at the Panera restaurant I most frequent, the firefighters from the station near our house, and the police officers at the precinct a couple of blocks from us.  At the police station, they asked if they could take our picture (that was a first) and it ended up on their Facebook page.  And, on Christmas morning, again as is our tradition, we took cookie platters up to Life Care Center for the staff there, visiting with both staff and residents after our “Santa run.” 

            Throughout December and the 12 Days of Christmas proper, we wrote a lot of Christmas cards.  We read.  We listened to music and watched a few Christmas movies.  We listened to audio recordings of “The Innkeeper’s Dream,” “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” episodes of the Focus on the Family radio adaptations of The Chronicles of Narnia, and Leonard Johnson reading “A Candle in the Forest.”  We visited cousins in Kansas City, toured the Irish-decorated home of Fr. Flanagan over at Boys Town, and enjoyed several other Christmas-oriented adventures. Claire hosted her traditional Christmas tea for the girls in her family and we hosted 7 dinner parties, including our Epiphany party which closes the season. It was, as always, a busy but wonderfully blessed Yuletide.

            But before time gets away completely, let me tell you about two other especially meaningful activities of our Christmas season. 1) The first item involved discussing, organizing, and praying about our New Year resolutions. Our resolutions concern many things, but they are primarily related to spiritual growth and improved Kingdom service. For instance, one of the priority resolutions this year is reading through the Bible, a goal which I have never completely finished and which I failed pretty badly again after making it a resolution for 2016. So this time around, Claire and I are tackling the job together. We found a good plan, joined a Facebook team with the same purpose, and established an evaluation process which will help us catch up when we fall behind.  Most of the other resolutions involve continuing and improving on things we have been already doing: our Paleo diets, walking, intercession using Scriptures and our prayer lists, hospitality, quality literature (example – we will be revisiting the plays of Shakespeare this year), and looking for ways to keep our various Vital Signs services fresh and relevant and exemplary of a “living orthodoxy.”

            2) The second thing is that we began at Christmas to go through the 200 plus notes we had placed in our Thanksgiving Jar throughout 2016.  This has been an exceptional addition to our Christmas season and to our overall appreciation of God’s work in our lives.  I’ve explained this practice in a previous LifeSharer letter and I’ve talked about it in a couple of videos I made for the Vital Signs Blog, but let me quickly sketch out again how the project works.  Throughout the year, Claire and I write little notes which record notable victories, milestones, answered prayers, gifts, revelations, and so on and we drop them in a big jar.  It was our second year doing this and, because the practice tended to make us more aware of God’s interventions and other blessings, we ended up with 4 or 5 times the number of entries from the first year.  It was a very good thing for us and it truly elevated our “gratitude attitude” all year round.  But then beginning on Day One of Christmas, we are doubly blessed as we read through the notes, thank God again for each blessing, and use each note to stimulate prayers for related matters.  Every night (almost) we turn down the lights, choose 6 notes apiece from the big sack where we’ve collected them whenever the Thanksgiving Jar filled up, and read them aloud. One by one, they provide stimulus for remembering, prayers, and discussion. It has been really wonderful.  Good for our memories.  Good for our relationship with one another.  Good for our confidence in and love for God.  And good even for our friendships as we remember highlights of the year which have been connected to those beloved heroes of the Faith who are our friends. We could not recommend more highly that you try a Thanksgiving Jar project yourself.

            Okay, that was, in a nutshell, our 2016.  It packed in a lot and we are most grateful to God. We are also deeply appreciative to those of you who help us financially, pray for us, and encourage us in other ways.  We are also pleased that this year is starting off at a good clip.  For instance, we were deeply moved this morning when we witnessed 9 people coming out to pray in front of the Planned Parenthood abortion business – even though it was only 7 degrees!  But, of course, we have seen this kind of courage and commitment from our colleagues for decades and it is a marvelous inspiration.  Coming up in the next couple of weeks will be the Walk for Life in Lincoln, manning a booth at our church for Sanctity of Life Sunday, speaking to a woman’s group in Fremont, moving through our January “When Swing Was King” schedule, and conducting our other regular duties on the street, on the blogs, and all the rest. 

            And with that, I’d better end this 2016 review and get back to 2017. Again, to all of you who partner with Claire and me in various ways, thank you so much.  And may God grant you a safe, serene, and spiritually prosperous new year.