Wednesday, November 30, 2011

4,660,677 and counting: what statistics can teach us about Christmas

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.

NUMBERS! It's an interesting phenomenon for a confirmed "liberal-arts" guy, but I've always been interested in statistics; not so much the mechanics of them as the insight they offer vis-a-vis social commentary.

(Disclaimer, on the off-chance that my college statistics professor is reading. I logged some really good grades in psychology, then graduated summa-cum-laude for my teaching degree; but the best I could manage from my statistics class was a weak "C".)

RAW DATA: Personally, I've found statistics to be most useful when it comes to measuring progress. For example, I started this year with the goal of walking twenty-five hundred miles (that works out to roughly five million steps), and I realized that a weekly count would help to keep me on track.

I knew that I already walked Scout Labradoodle maybe five miles a day, and that I probably logged a couple more just moving around. But, recording a specific daily count would tell me exactly where I was in the process, and therefore help to facilitate a change in both behavior and outcome. Would I walk 2,500 miles in a year? Could I walk 2,500 miles in a year? Keeping track essentially removes the element of chance.

The math was simple. Five-million steps divided by 50 weeks equals 100,000 steps per week. Those numbers came with a built-in two-week buffer to allow for travel, sickness, summer rains and other interruptions to the regular schedule. In other words, break a HUGE GOAL into manageable, bite-sized, pieces, and then program in for reality; it makes pretty-much anything doable over the long haul.

SO WHERE AM I? So this morning I've gone back through my journal with a calculator. And the result, with just one month remaining in 2011? Drum roll, please... Four million, six-hundred sixty thousand, six hundred and seventy-seven steps. That's 4,660,667 steps, or around 2,330 miles. I have 339,323 steps to go and one month to do it.
  • Me: "A question? Yes, the New York Times reporter in the second row, go ahead..."
  • Reporter: "Isn't it a little presumptuous to give yourself a one-mile credit for every 2,000 steps?'
  • Me: "Good thinking! But that variable is built-in to the equation. You see, my step-counter is not overly sensitive. In a calibration test that I've repeated countless times, the counter only clicks 88-92 times per 100 steps. That means a consistent 10% undercount. The error more than covers any discrepancies in distance."

Advent is a series of steps on a deliberate journey to Christmas...
BOTTOM LINE: Today is the third day in the season of Advent. I believe it's true to say that we all want to have a certain quality of Christmas experience, but it's also true that most of us tend to leave it to chance.

The lesson of statistics is this. If we make the deliberate choice to spend just a few minutes, each day between now and December 25, thinking and praying about the real meaning of this season, then we can reasonably predict that we will be ready for the coming of the Christ Child.

Just a certain number of steps each day. One foot in front of the other. Considering the meaning of Hope, Love, Peace and Joy. Reading scripture. Spending concious time in the presence of God.

If you're interested in a more meaningful Christmas experience, then I recommend the following options (or all of them)

  • Order from Upper Room Books or
    Visit this blog every day

  • Read my book, "In My Heart I Carry A Star: stories for Advent"

  • Read the daily Upper Room devotional

  • Sing or read a different Christmas hymn/carol every day

  • Talk with God for a minimum of five minutes every morning

  • Read and digest a short scripture passage very day..

If you do, then this Christmas will be one of the best ever. I guarantee it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The power of light (a tale of four photographs)

Light of the World!
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God... - John 1
Monday turned out to be another day when I had absolutely no time to write. The house finally emptied out but it took two trips to the airport. That plus four other excursions pretty much emptied a tank of gas and a workday of time.

So, and this will be all BONUS for the attention-span-challenged among you, today's post will read like an edition of Headline News. Or, because of some great photos, think LIFE magazine instead.

Checking out his first Christmas Tree...
ADVENT! First, it's Advent, the season of expectation for the coming of Jesus. And, while I do not like the picture of me, I'm willing to sacrifice personal pride in order to share the image of our grandson, David Henry, taking a look at his first Christmas Tree.

David woke up fussy, so I walked him around the house. Then, when we rounded the corner to the front room, his eyes suddenly lit up and he looked over at the tree. It was like a moment of instant peace, and as if my six-week-old grandson had an intuition that he was gazing on a different kind of light, a light that I pray with all my heart he will always follow.

It's a mistake when people limit the impact of God's initiative and say things like, "Christmas is really for the children." But it is very true to say, "Children help us to understand the meaning of this time of the year." Thanks, David. Maybe the light will get my attention too.

David and Grace Maul with the "greats"
Timeless Portraits: Sunday evening the immediate family gathered in Palmetto for family pictures. We'll get the official set next week, but I shot a few around the patient professional photographer. For today I'll simply share this image of my parents, Grace and David Maul, with their three great-grandchildren, Haley, Hudson and David Henry.

What captures me about this image is the serenity. You see, there's light in this picture too, and it has the same source of origin as the light that caught David Henry's attention in the Christmas Tree. "In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." (John 1:4-5)

Every picture tells a story
PHOTO-JOURNALISM: The best pictures I take are those that tell the story all by themselves. This is one such image. The entire three-and-a-half day visit is evident simply in the way Naomi looks back toward me to say her last "goodbye." It's a look that says, "We had a wonderful time... Craig and David and I are so blessed and so loved... Spending time with Andrew was awesome... I love my family... I love being a mother... April (next scheduled visit) is too far away...."
It's easy to see the light here, too, Naomi is awash with it.

But please don't misunderstand this post. I'm not trying to paint an artificially rosy picture, and I'm not saying, "I'm blessed... too bad about you...." I'm simply taking a snapshot of the light as I stumble across it; I'm holding up a mirror and letting it reflect the truth about the world through the eyes of faith.

With Rebekah, saying "goodbye" at the airport...
GLOW IN THE DARK: When we took Andrew to the airport it marked the end of 18-days together for the two of us. What a treat! All I can say is that my son has grown into one of the finest young men on the planet. Let me sum it up in this way: In my Christmas book I tell a story of Andrew as a toddler. He had a glow-in-the-dark toy that he kept waving in the direction of a light-source but the luminosity faded too quickly once he got it back in the dark...

...Today Andrew carries his own light-source. It's the same one John referenced in Jesus, and Andrew carries it wherever he goes. Not only is Jesus the light of the world, but it is God's intention that we all bring that light to the world today. Andrew understands his mission, and he is most certainly hooked up to the source of the light.

For all of this, and for the promise of light that can be ours no matter where we are or what our circumstance, I am deeply thankful - DEREK

Sunday, November 27, 2011

What is a family? (the Grandaddy letters cont...)

 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. 1 John 3:1
THE GRANDADDY EXPERIENCE  has now passed to phase three:
  • Phase 1 - The expectancy
  • Phase 2 - I have a grandson!
  • Phase 3 - We finally meet!

David Henry is now six-weeks old. So, for a special treat, his parents flew him down to Tampa to see his grandaddy Derek (and the balance of the family too).
So much has been crowded into these two days since I last posted that I honestly don't know where to begin. So I'll jump to yesterday afternoon when we did "Family Christmas" and kicked off the weekend of festive decorating. This is the first year in maybe five that we've had the children in the house at the same time. So - as they're scattering to the winds again tomorrow - we exchanged gifts and love with Andrew, Naomi, Craig and David.

David is thrilled about his first present!
As you can see from the picture, David is all kinds of thrilled to open his first Christmas present. We paired the colored stacking cones (all wood) with a set of wooden alphabet blocks. Now David can stack, build and knock down; he's good to go.

ONE-ON-ONE: Saturday evening David finally got the one-on-one time with his grandaddy he's been asking about. After fussing a while he snuggled into me in a little ball and hung on tight, like he didn't want to let go. Eventually, after my shoulder became completely frozen from twelve-pounds of grandson, I slumped into the rocking chair, where he looked at me with big eyes that eventually faded their way into peaceful slumber.

To be honest, I'm struggling to put the words together today. But it was such a peaceful, responsible feeling to have my grandson resting in my arms, just holding on, resting in the unspoken knowledge that he was completely safe, and loved....

DREAM MORNING: Then, this morning, I was able to enjoy what I've been missing like crazy for such a long time. My children sat with me in church.

Snuggling in with grandma
What makes it even better is that they didn't just come to please the parents. They came to church because they love Jesus and worship is a natural part of their lives. Two weeks ago Andrew and I worshipped together at an Anglican Church in Assisi; then a couple of weeks before that Rebekah attended the little Congregational Church Naomi and Craig joined in Connecticut.

FAMILY BY CHOICE: I am thrilled to have a close family, and even though our children live so many miles and an ocean away, we are blessed with an experience of love and community that transcends distance.

Bonding with grandma in the garden
Our practical, day-to-day family, however, is the faith community and the friends Rebekah and I have chosen to embrace. Our community is real and it is over-the-top wonderful. It's varied, redemptive, messy, full, demanding, busy, generous, overwhelming, challenging, fulfilling, genuine... and a whole lot more.

That's the church for you. If you want a family, and a community that means something, then there's not better place to be (unless you're with your children and your fabulous, brand-spanking-new, grandson David....!)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Flying the banner of love

A home that says "welcome"
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. - Revelation 21:3

At our house, today is the big day. Everyone descends on Maul-Hall for Friday afternoon dinner and it's a wall-to-wall people, controlled chaos, food-a-palooza, gratitude-on-steroids, love-fest kind of a day.

The whole Friday thing first happened years ago, when Rebekah's brother Jesse served a church that did this huge Thanksgiving event. So we shifted the family dinner back a day. Later, Thursday opened up again, but Friday has become our tradition. We like it this way so here we are.

clockwise - Andrew, Sarah, Lindsay, Jordan
Three of the nieces came in Tuesday so they could help. They polish silver, iron napkins, make biscuits, set the long banquet table, help Rebekah with the shopping - that sort of thing. Plus this time they got taken to lunch, treated to a movie and indulged with Starbucks by their cousin Andrew. Tough gig.

BANQUET: For me it's all about the banquet table. Don't ask me why but it just gets to me every time. We set up two long cafeteria tables end to end in the back porch, so we can seat 20+ all together. That's the official number, but usually by the time we're all seated and I count a few extra have sneaked in.

That's when I just stand there and look and smile. Sometimes I'm so nourished by the scene that I forget to fill my own plate. I just hope I remember to grab my camera. It's THE GREAT BANQUET. I remember a chorus we used to sing when I was a teenager at Folkestone Baptist Church in England. "He welcomes me to His banqueting table and his banner over me is love..."
Great, now I've done it. I'm going to think about that idea this afternoon when I look out over the table and offer the blessing and I'm probably going to cry.

Loading up in the kitchen in 2010
A BANNER is flown over a nation, a people, an organization or an army, to state clearly and definitively who they are. The banner God unfurls over this family and friends, around the MaulHall banqueting table, is the banner of love.

Derek, Rebekah, Andrew, Naomi, Craig, David Henry, David (my dad), Grace, Geoff, Jesse, Heather, Jordan, Seth, Jared, Sarah, Joe, Cheryl, Lindsay, Myrt, Lynn, Randy. Then we're slated to have some extras for dessert - Lacey, Matt, Laura....
Unfurl the banner of love. Fly it high, so there's not the slightest doubt that love is the definitive characteristic of this family gathering and that God is the source of the love and the power that sustains it.

MESSAGE: There's something else a banner accomplishes; it tells the rest of the world who we are and what they can expect from us. I am confident that anyone who breaks bread with this family will leave with a clear understanding that we are all about the Jesus kind of love.

Unfurling my banner
On purpose or not, we all unfurl our banners. We do it whenever we have a family gathering. We bring out our banner when we get together as a church and we do it when we gather around the Thanksgiving table. And the banner - usually - is all too easy to read.

I can't help but wonder if you've given much thought to what yours might say...?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The top-10 for THANKS

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. - Colossians 3... Read the entire chapter!

Family Newsletter
Yesterday, Rebekah and I talked about the annual Christmas letter. You know, the one we haven't written in a few years. We've got the cards - beautiful ones all about PEACE - and if we ever get around to mailing them it would be nice to stick in a newsletter.

"But you post family news pretty much every day," Rebekah pointed out. She's smart like that. "So let's just write 'Go to' on the inside!"

She makes a good point.

Then I got to thinking about what I would include if I were putting out a Thanksgiving Newsletter. It would have to be brief, pithy and to the point. Nothing rambling like my blog posts tend to be sometimes. Maybe a top-ten list.

"THANKS" - MY TOP-10: Author's note - the fact that God isn't specifically on this list doesn't mean God is not in the top ten. What it really means is that God is interwoven into every one of the top ten. I can't separate God out, I can't designate God to some specific place on my list; I can't make God fit one place and not another.
  1. Rebekah - No matter what else happens or how wonderful anything is, I'm always thankful for Rebekah. I don't think it's possible to put the other nine in any kind of a hierarchy or order, but for me the story is always going to start here.
  2. Family - The whole family is coming together for the first time since Naomi & Craig's wedding... And the family is bigger than it was then.
  3. David Henry Campbell. The first grandchild. He made the family 9-pounds 12-ounces bigger. Nice job, Naomi and Craig. The birth; the baptism; the family commitment; I'm thankful for the whole Connecticut package.
  4. Andrew - I am so thankful for Andrew, for his balanced and purposeful life, and for the joy of watching him shine.
  5. Life - I'm thankful for life. This year has bought the tentative and fragile nature of life into sharp focus in many ways. This year I've had a real sense of the fine line between mortality and eternity. I'm thankful for every breath.
  6. Church - Our faith community, First Presbyterian Church of Brandon, is simply bursting with life, energy, enthusiasm and promise for the future. Phenomenal people, ongoing mission, celebrating the 50-year anniversary, the amazing new building....
  7. Friends - One key question that crops up on insightful health evaluations is, "How many close friends do you have?" Friendships defined by trust, sharing, encouragement and soul-level communication are correlated with long-term physical and mental health. Men - typically - don't do so well as women in this area. I am thankful for  the friends I have who know me and love me anyway.
  8. My work - Every day I get to sit down and write about this life-charged life! What a rush! What a privilege!
  9. Freedom - This could be an entire post. The kind of freedom I'm thinking about has to be claimed; it has to be lived into. The simple fact of "living in a free country" is not quite the same thing.
  10. This moment - OK, I'll admit that sounds obtuse. But it's the simplest item of all on this list. This moment is where I am, and it's where you are when you read this. Not yesterday, not tomorrow, not even fifteen minutes from now... I want to cultivate a thankful spirit in the NOW - because that's the most important moment that I have.
In gratitude, and in love - DEREK
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.  And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. - Colossians 3:15-17

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Stop judging everyone else... or stop calling yourselves "Christian"

Live Forward
Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear - but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart... - 1 Corinth 4:1-5
"Servants of Christ and stewards of God's mysteries." What a great definition of the life-charged life! In other words, our day-to-day job as Jesus-followers is, according to Paul, the responsibility to "Live Forward" in a positive way, following the teachings of Jesus and living in such a way that our lives tell the truth about God.
Judgment, most especially judging other people, is not a part of the Christian MO (modus operandi). That principle - both here and in many other places in New Testament teaching - is very clear.

"Religion"... "Politics"... same idea
YET, judging other people has become one of the most popular pastimes in North American culture. The people who seem most committed to judgment seem to be the Christians and the politicians. Put the two together (Christians with a political agenda), then you have judgement ramped up to a frenzy of self-righteousness. Add to that the popular idea that the phrase, "The Bible says" really means, "My interpretation of what the Bible says" - and judgment of others now supersedes the call to  be "Servants of Christ and Stewards of God's mysteries."
When someone - a politician or an "I'm right-you're wrong" Christian - consistently throws rocks at other people, it is a move designed as a distraction from the likelihood that the rock-thrower has little of value to offer. If judging others is the only way you can make your own ideas look good, then your ideas aren't worth my time.

Servants of Christ, however, tell the truth about the mysteries of God by living love out loud, in a positive and compelling demonstration of love. Here's an idea:
  • What if we all refused to vote for any politician with a message built around judging others?
  • What if we all refused to be part of religious bodies (I hesitate to call them "Christian") that define themselves by what they are against rather than telling the truth about the mysteries of God by living love out loud?
Listen to what Paul said about this in his letter to his friends at the church in Philippi:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. - Philippians 4:4-9
If there is anything that is excellent, and if there's anything worth getting excited about.... THINK ABOUT THESE THINGS!!!
In love, and because of love - DEREK

Monday, November 21, 2011

thoughts on my grandson's baptism

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. - Deuteronomy 6

Naomi, Craig and David in Westchester Congregational Church yesterday (photo: Teresa Campbell)
BAPTISM - THE GRANDADDY LETTERS (at five weeks): Yesterday, at a beautiful church in rural Connecticut, Naomi and Craig Campbell presented their infant son, David, for Baptism.
  • Was it touching? Yes...
  • Picture perfect in every way? Absolutely...
  • An important rite of passage? Most certainly...
  • A charming photo-op with little real meaning other than a chance to play dress-up and schedule a family brunch? NOT ON YOUR LIFE!
You see, prior to baptizing David Henry, Naomi and Craig spoke their own membership vows at the church. The church, in a very meaningful tradition, brings the official church role-book into the sanctuary. Naomi and Craig signed the ledger in a public declaration of their commitment to the life and ministry of Westchester Congregational Church.

"Okay... go ahead.. baptize me... it's cool... whatever...."
Our grandson, David Henry, was baptized in the context of a public family commitment to serve and honor God. The other part of that commitment is the one the church makes. Westchester may be a small congregation, 1,400 miles away from the church where they were married, but all of us now have a stake in David Henry; we've all made a solemn commitment to love and pray for his parents and to encourage them in life they are forging as a deliberately Christian family.

Together, and in an active community of faith, Naomi and Craig will be raising David Henry as a disciple of Jesus. They are going to teach him, day by day, all about the ways that God loves him. But it's not a job they have to do on their own. The Westchester Congregational Church have promised to teach him about Jesus, too, and to encourage him, and to encourage his parents along the way.

Mutual Commitment: And then - because they love God and because they have chosen to make this commitment - Naomi and Craig are going to share themselves, their gifts, their time, their resources, their hopes, their dreams, their struggles, their celebrations, their creativity and their faithfulness with the Westchester Congregational Church.

Praying together, dedicating the future of our church here in Brandon, at the same moment David was being baptized
Connections: I don't know if it's because I'm a writer, or an amateur theologian, or simply an observer, but I always seem to notice connections between events.
  • Sunday was the official ending of our 50th birthday celebration at First Presbyterian Church of Brandon.
  • Sunday was also the day Naomi and Craig - and David - officially began their journey as a committed family at the Westchester Congregational Church.
  • At First Brandon, we dedicated a "time-capsule" of the 50th-year at the exact same moment David was baptized.
There is a symmetry to the events. It's as if the Campbell family have made the decision to help define the next part of this ongoing story.

However it plays out, I know that David Henry is part of a family - and a church family - that isn't afraid to go public with its commitment to love and serve God as part of an active community of faith.That gives me so much hope - and promise - for the future - DEREK
They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. (Acts 16 - the end of the story about the jailer in Philippi)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Inside "Casa di Drew' (at home in Tuscany with Andrew Maul)

"Downtown" Temoleto
"For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways." - Psalm 91:11
"The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore." - Psalm 121:8

For too many Americans abroad, the experience of living in a foreign county is seriously diluted by their attempts to replicate the life they left behind. 

Consequently, rather than embrace the nation they're visiting they stick to the military base, band together in ex-patriot huddles, watch American television, grill hamburgers rather than expose themselves to local cuisine, refuse to learn the language, and complain about the amenities they no longer enjoy.

However, and I am so proud of him in this regard, our son Andrew made the determination to enjoy the complete international experience from his very first day in Italy.

Cool archways in Andrew's Tuscan home
Consequently, he found a house in the small village of Tremoleto, he uses his Italian whenever he can, and he lives on the local economy to the extent that it is possible. It's obvious that the people he encounters very much appreciate his efforts.

It's also no surprise that the friends Andrew introduced me to (and who speak so enthusiastically about him) have names like Fabio, Roberto, Antonio, Gino, and Fabiano. It's amazing what happens when you offer respect to the people who's country you're working in: they respect you back. It is unfortunate that many Americans see every engagement with the world at large as the projection of U.S. power, modern day imperialism, or "Just say 'thank you' and get out of our way,"... when what we really need to be doing is presenting ourselves as a humble partner in the emerging world economy and members of a multi-faceted community of nations.

"Casa di Drew", the back terrace
Casa di Drew: So anyway, the opening picture is Andrew's village. It feels like a place from another time. And, really, it is. The house is a small villa with tile floors, brick archways, shutters, a fireplace that runs through from the kitchen to the living room and etched glass in the interior doors. It drips with the right kind of ambiance.

In the mornings, Andrew makes cappuccino before driving to work through the classic Tuscan countryside. Everything about this place is exactly how you'd imagine - even if your only research has been watching movies like "Under the Tuscan Sun," enjoying cooking shows by Anthony Bourdain, and reading books such as "Tea with Mussolini."

Living Room at Casa di Drew
TUSCAN CHARM: Andrew told me to be sure and also take photographs of the busy autostrada, the industrial areas, and the dense urban landscapes.

His point, of course, as that real people live here and that they live the same kind of busy, messy lives that people do anywhere. But that is precisely what makes this part of Italy what it is. Tuscany as we experience it is the interaction of thousands of years of civilization with this remarkable landscape. Italy is the cultural overlay as much as it is the scenery. And, somehow, it has emerged as this vibrant, beautiful, slightly offbeat and confusing place of simple charm and sophisticated, fashionable, Mediterranean elan.

Back from (or on the way out to) yet another adventure
Andrew's home may be gated, but he is not. Our son is a charming host, generous and gracious in sharing this amazing opportunity he has to live in such an environment. He has been a citizen of the world since he first started watching airplanes fly overhead from his car-seat as an infant. He'd point at them and trace their progress across the sky.

Tomorrow morning we have to leave this lovely place at 4:00 to make our flight out of Pisa. He's coming home for Thanksgiving. But then, early December, it's off to Kiev, Odessa and who knows where else....

All I can do is echo the words of the Psalmist: "Andrew, may the Lord keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore. Amen."

One of my final views... this trip