The Light of Christmas

“[T]he light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” John 1:5.

“When we do this, I know Christmas has begun,” my granddaughter says after packing boxes for soldiers.

She and her cousin are my helpers in this yearly task. Gifts and donations loaded into cardboard. Home-made sweets for troops, many serving we know not where.  A box to light, and lighten, Christmas in dark places.

One year, the night before box packing, the cousin and I set up my nativity–porcelain figurines with a light glowing behind a suspended angel.

This past Sunday at church, someone lit the first two purple candles and the pink candle of Advent. I light them at home.

The candleflicker of Christmas. Little lights for darkening days.

Through Advent, every day gets darker until we arrive at the cusp of Christmas. Winter Solstice is December 21st–the longest night of the year. By Christmas Day, light is increasing each day.

But Christ’s birth is most likely to have happened in autumn. Shepherds are not in the fields in December. Even tyrants don’t mandate a census in December. So Christmas is a tradition–not an actual birthday.

Christmas comes during the time of year pagans marked the winter solstice, the darkest day–but the end of encroaching darkness. A feast to celebrate light that overcomes darkness.

Christmas comes near Hanukkah–the Jewish festival of lights. To commemorate victory over an effort to eradicate Jewish civilization. To memorialize one day’s worth of sanctified oil fueling a light that hung on for eight days. Eight days to celebrate light that overcomes darkness.

Christmas proclaims the coming of a King who is the light who overcomes darkness.

“Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life,’” John 8:12.

There is a Christmas light to light the world–Christ Himself.

“And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth,” John 1:14. 

Christmas is coming. Let His light shine.


Photo Credit: Pixabay

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Merry Christmas from Jude

What follows is an excerpt from a book–as yet unpublished–I’ve written with the assistance of some of my grandchildren. The main character and narrator is nine-year-old Jude who hates to sit still. But he loves his grandpa. The two built a treehouse the summer before–and they look forward to climbing the nearby mountain together next summer. But in between, comes Christmas.

That month between Thanksgiving and Christmas is longer than any other month in the year. All us kids kept our teacher Mr. Norman busy trying to distract us from looking out the window and dreaming of Christmas presents.

At last, Dad, Mom, and I made our way to Grandpa’s house on Christmas Eve. While the older folks talked over some hot cider, I sneaked off to search for presents. I peeked under the beds, in the closets, up in the attic, down in the basement, and behind the sofa. No luck.

We brought the tree in—a real one from Grandpa’s hillside. Grandpa guided the tree into the stand as Dad and I held the trunk.

“More to the left,” Grandpa said. “Now, just a bit to the right.” We made the adjustments until the tree stood straight. Then all of us started decorating.

The year before, Grandpa had packed the lights with care to keep them from tangling. So that part was easy.

I picked a wad of tissue paper out of a cardboard box and unwrapped an ornament. It was one I made in Sunday school when I was little. I painted a mom, dad, grandpa, and myself on a cardboard circle. I was about to put it back in the box, embarrassed at my artwork, when Mom said, “I love that one, Jude. Put it right here.” And she pointed to the center of the tree.

When we were done, we helped Mom make stuffing. Dad and Grandpa cut the celery and onions, and I watched the butter in the frying pan to make sure it didn’t burn.

Mom had brought tons of cookies she’d baked. My frustration at not finding any presents melted away as the smells of fir and stuffing filled the house. For supper, we ate toasted cheese sandwiches. The feast would come tomorrow. After a cinnamon cookie for dessert, I climbed the stepladder next to the tree so I could put the star on top.

Mom said, “It’s the best tree ever.” She says that every year, and every year she means it.

Then we headed down the road in Grandpa’s old Buick toward the big stone church. We got there just as the congregation started singing “O Holy Night.”

Being still in church on Christmas Eve is tough. Candles and music help. After the service, a man Grandpa called Mr. Bob stood at the back of the church handing out candy canes to the kids.

Each cane came with a note explaining its meaning and the beginning of the cane tradition. Hold it one way, it makes a J for Jesus. Hold it the other way, it’s like a staff to remind us of the shepherds.

The best part is how the canes came to be. A long time ago, a children’s choir leader had them made to keep his young singers from moving around and making noise during a long church service. I wished Mr. Bob had passed them out at the beginning of the service instead of the end. 

Back home, we celebrated with hot cider and cinnamon chip cookies.

Then Dad said, “Time for bed, Buddy.”

I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t . . .

I woke to light glaring through the window.

“Merry Christmas!” I yelled. Everybody! Let’s go!”

I say that every year, and every year I wait while Mom, Dad, and Grandpa go downstairs, put the turkey in the oven, light the tree, and turn on the radio for Christmas songs. Mom says mood sets memories in stone. She says that every year too.

When they finally came back upstairs, Grandpa read about the shepherds and angels. I read the part about the kings who came to see Baby Jesus.

When I was younger, this waiting tortured me. Now, Christmas wouldn’t feel right without the stories, lights, and music.

After I finished reading, Grandpa talked a bit as he did every year, but not for too long.

“Jesus was a surprise to the world. He astonished the shepherds. The world didn’t know what to do with Him. He bewilders folks today. He’s a present we didn’t expect. A present that can surprise us any time in life.”

 He quoted Isaiah: “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us.”

Beside the tree was a blue Huffy bike for me. We covered the floor with wrapping paper.

Grandpa gave everyone the usual—books. I got The Genesis Trilogy and Whalesong.

 “These books look great, Grandpa. Thanks!”

Mom, Dad, and I hung around a few days that year. That was different. We usually headed home a couple days after Christmas. Not that year.

Two days after Christmas, we were still there. The weather warmed turning our spaceman snow alien into a pitchers’ mound.

That evening, Grandpa and I headed for the treehouse with s’mores cookies.

“Y’know, Jude, every year, you look for your presents, but you never find them.”

“I can’t figure that out, Grandpa. They hafta be somewhere.”

“There’s a reason gifts are supposed to be a surprise. They’re like life. Ya have t’let life unfold. Ya can’t push ahead of it. Ya can’t rush it. Spoiled surprises ruin things we need to wait for.”

“I know, Grandpa. Every year, I just wanna know. I can’t figure out where you guys put everything.”

“When you get old enough—and when you stop lookin’—maybe we’ll let you in on th’ secret.”

Christmas is always slow to arrive, but over too soon. When we were getting ready to leave, Grandpa seemed sadder than usual to see us go. But then an idea lit up his eyes.

“Next summer, Jude, we climb the mountain!”

Photo Credit: Pixabay

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The Parasite of Peace

“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased,” Luke 2:14.

There’s a battle between peace and war. It seems unnecessary to say so. But this season is when peace is to prevail and war is to fade away–at least for a time.

That worked once, at least, but only briefly. In 1914, French, English, and German soldiers called a Christmas truce and even sang in unison. It was a “Silent Night” with harmony in multiple languages.

I remember my mother telling me the story.  For a night, Christmas night, there was peace. “And then the next day, they were out there killing each other again,” she said.

She was born after that war had ended. It was a war intending to end them all. But it only set up the next one. The next one killed even more. Many more.

We look at war and shake our heads. But so the world has been since Cain killed Abel. There will always be those who seek to upend peace to secure their own power, to have their own way.

Into such a world came a baby Christians call the Prince of Peace.

It’s hard for us to reconcile this Prince of Peace with something He would later say: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword,” Matthew 10:34.

Those at war with Him will be at war with us. But He is at once the Lion of Judah and the Lamb of God–a sword-wielding Lion and a sacrificial Lamb who gives peace and life.

We mark His birth when angels sang, when shepherds and visiting kings worshiped. But a fearful king, trying to stomp out prospective competition, killed young innocents.

Fear waged war with a baby king. So it was in the season we celebrate now.

Mistletoe is a symbol of this season. Its association with peace comes from its pre-Christian roots. Scandinavian soldiers who found themselves battling under its branches dropped their arms and made peace–at least temporarily.

Mistletoe was a haven of safety. A sacred place of peace.

But it is a parasitic plant. Mistletoe bores through the bark of a host tree and grows up and down through branches. Once it has established its root system in a host, it’s almost impossible to kill. Any tree mistletoe claims will die prematurely, but slowly. Yet the dead tree will spring forth with life.

A mistletoe-infested forest may produce three times more cavity-nesting birds than a forest lacking mistletoe.”

Like a king who brings both a sword and peace, mistletoe is its own paradox. It’s poisonous but also medicinal. It can bring sickness or wellness–death or life–depending on what we do with it.

War is the norm for humanity. It’s the tree that grows in every forest throughout the world. Peace is the enduring element that seeks to infest it, to overcome it. Our yearning for peace never ends.

The Lion of Judah is the Lamb who comes with peace. This Lion-Lamb will overcome death and war. And there will be peace within and among those who please Him.

We will have death or life–depending on what we do with Him.


Photo Credit: Pixabay

Revised from 12/19/16

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

A Review of Restoring the Shattered

I’m thankful to fellow blogger Boma Somiari for this review of Restoring the Shattered.

by Boma

(Restoring the shattered: illustrating Christ’s love through the church in one accord by Nancy E. Head)

Brokenness can happen before you even realize it. Nancy learned this many years ago as a young woman doing her best to see her family thrive.

All was fine and going well (on the surface, at least) until suddenly, it wasn’t.

Without much notice, she was thrown into separation, divorce, single motherhood and poverty.

Her family would never remain the same. They were broken, but what kind of broken?

As Nancy tells it –

There are two ways to break glass. One is to simply shatter it. The other is to score it, guide the break, and shape the glass for beauty and function – Restoring the shattered. Pg. 21 

When her family experienced brokenness, the Church was there to help them through that time. Now Nancy tells the story of today’s Church through the lens of this personal experience.

Written in a way that’s easy to follow, the book explores subjects like brokenness, suffering, joy, grace and the Church’s response to the present state of this world.

The Church truly does have a place in all of this because –

God’s hands reshape shattered hearts and rebuild broken lives for placement in His story. Being broken can hurt. But God can use our brokenness to glorify Himself – Restoring the shattered. Pg. 21 

And –

Joy is to have His grace wash over me and splash onto you. To have His grace soak us both through. And stain us forever with His love  – Restoring the shattered. Pg. 41 

If you want to lend a hand and do your part in making someone else’s experience of life somewhat easier, this book is full of simple, yet practical ideas to help you do that.

If you want to learn a bit more about the history of the Church; the similarities and differences that exist within, Nancy sheds light in a way that’s easy to follow.

Plus, did you know toothpaste is the way to go if you need to get crayon markings off your mother-in-law’s wallpaper quickly? True story!


Nancy E. Head attends the non-denominational First Church of Christ. Nancy is a lifelong resident of Blair County in central Pennsylvania, dwelling for most of her years in Altoona―with a brief interval in Logan Township. She is a graduate of Penn State and Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She teaches Advanced Placement English at Great Commission Schools and composition classes at Penn State Altoona. Nancy is a United States Armed Forces Mother and a member of the Blair County Republican Committee and Toastmasters. Nancy worked in both radio and print journalism before becoming a high school and college-level teacher. She blogs about Church and social issues twice weekly, and CBN.com has published several of her devotionals. Her experiences as a single mother raising five young children showed her how poverty alleviation is an issue for the church and an issue requiring a Church in accord.

Restoring the shattered is available for purchase on Amazon. 

*****

Disclosure

I [Boma] received this book free from the author for this review.

Emerging from the Cave

Humans, history says, emerged from a cave. We drew pictures of animals on the walls around us.

A great thinker, Plato, told a story about a man in a cave. This man is bound. Unable to see anything except the shadows cast upon the wall in front of him. He perceives these shadows to be the sum total of reality.

As Plato’s story goes, the man one day escapes his bonds, leaves his cave, and goes out in broad daylight for the first time in his memory. The bright sunlight blinds him. He needs a guide to discern this place, this reality.

The man’s eyes adjust to the sunlight. He finds his way. And he decides to reenter the cave and tell the others still in bondage there what he has discovered. They are only looking at shadows.

They are missing all that is real.

But they are content. They call him a lunatic. They know what is real. It is right in front of them. Plain as day. They stew in the darkness of the cave.

Emerging from the cave makes a difference. We move from darkness into light. Into a blinding light to which the eyes of our souls must adjust.

British writer G.K. Chesterton pointed out that one man who was born in a cave grew up to an unjust death. Then He emerged from his cave tomb. At no point did his eyes need to acclimate to the light. He had created it. He spoke it real and it became reality. The man’s birth in a cave, and His emergence from another, marks a division in the history of humanity. In this “second half of history”:

“There is even a shadow of such a fancy in the fact that animals were again present; for it was a cave used as a stable. . . . It was here that a homeless couple had crept underground with the cattle when the doors . . . had been shut in their faces; and it was here beneath the very feet of the passers-by, in a cellar under the very floor of the world, that Jesus Christ was born. . . . God also was a Cave-Man, and had also traced strange shapes of creatures, curiously coloured, upon the wall of the world; but the pictures that he made had come to life.”

We are all creatures of a cave–a cave in which we hide from truth or an empty cave from which we have emerged. Every person we encounter is someone who has discovered reality, or is still in a cave, or has come out but cannot yet fully discern through blinding light.

Chesterton again: “Man is the microcosm; man is the measure of all things; man is the image of God. These are the only real lessons to be learnt in the cave, and it is time to leave it for the open road.”


Photo Credit: Pixabay

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Reposted from December 15, 2016

Cookies as Threads of Memory

I’ve been making them for five decades. I began when I was ten. And I’ve probably eaten more than my own weight in raw dough. Ever since my mother first let me loose in the kitchen.

It’s what she did when I was young. It’s what I did as a tween, then teen. What I did when my children were young. What I still do now.

My repertoire has expanded and contracted over the years to include peanut butter blossoms (chocolate kiss cookies), anise pizzelles, nut puffs (a harkening back to my children’s Italian heritage), buckeyes, haystacks, cocoa cookies with peanut butter chips, and just added a few years ago, a gingerbread cookie with peanut butter and butterscotch chips (a personal invention).

Primarily, though, there is the chocolate chip cookie. It is the one where I began. It is my mainstay recipe.

In the hard days of single-motherhood, I clung to tradition. I refused to settle for less than real vanilla extract.

I tweaked the recipe over the years. Switching from half margarine and half butter to all butter. From half granulated, half brown sugar to all dark brown sugar. The recipe is now my own.

As baseball was for Terence Mann in Field of Dreams, so the cookie has been a constant throughout my life. Cookie baking is thread in the quilt of my years. It connects seasons of anticipation, yearning, trial, fulfillment, and joy.

When I was a novice baker, my older brother was in the navy, out to sea in the Mediterranean. I sent him some cinnamon coated cut-out cookies. He told me that, if I ever shipped that recipe again, be sure to include a spoon.

Another year, I baked and baked and baked. And my other brother and his crowd of friends ate and ate and ate. My mother frowned at noon on Christmas Day as someone ate the last cookie.

Then I was a young wife experimenting with cookie recipes. Some fell off the list; others remained.

The year I had a new baby, my third. I learned that baking early and storing everything in the same container just makes all the cookies taste the same–none of which was good.

As a single mother, there was a year I hardly baked at all because money was so tight and time too pinched. A family unfriendly job provided little money and ate my time.

Then there have been years when Christmas cookies were on our table and in the mail to a son overseas. None were of the cinnamon crumbly type.

My mind can still return to the kitchen of my youth. Mother’s old cabinets that went from floor to ceiling. An old porcelain sink with its own drain board in the pantry. My Easy Bake Oven–miniature pies and cakes. The cinnamon cookies in a box of hope to please the recipient.

Mental snapshots of subsequent toddlers milling around my own tiny kitchen waiting to taste. Years flashing by in technicolor. Handfuls of hope and pleased chocolate-smeared faces.

What were once Tupperware containers in the freezer are now individual cookie trays for each household. A taste of memory from Mom to grace their tables, evoke their memories, and form new ones.

Trays of hope to please the recipients.

Sweet memories and happy baking as you anticipate the celebration of Christ’s birth!

Edited from December 22, 2016

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Returning the Favor

When I moved into my home in 1977, I salvaged an old table my father was discarding. Our family grew from four to seven around that table.

Then we shrank. When their father departed, we were six.

The years began to show on the table. One of its legs began to wobble. Without warning, it would collapse to the floor leaving all the work for the other three legs. We would laugh. But after a while, one of us found the falling leg not so funny.

When my youngest son was eight years old, he found a hammer and some very long nails and played carpenter. He reattached the errant piece, permanently joining it to the table. The repair was effective, but not pretty.

A few years later, I got a “new” dining room table—also recycled. This table was better. It expanded. And our family was expanding. I had remarried. Some of the children had grown and married and had children of their own.

So the table could be small for everyday dinners, and it could be large for family celebrations. Plus, it was reliable–for a time. Then one of its legs turned mutinous too.

This time, my husband Paul played carpenter, and unless you peeked underneath, you didn’t know the difference.

But our family continued to expand. Eventually, even our stretched out table was too small. Our range of motion became cramped. From fork to plate, to mouth and back. We yearned for extra room for side dishes and elbows.

So we bought a new table. An Amish carpenter constructed it.

This table is even more expandable than the last one. And it’s rectangular rather than oval. Now we have room for baked corn, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie, and a host of elbows.

The table was ready just in time for Thanksgiving.

But in order to use your furniture, you first must get it into the house.

Paul heaved and I pushed. But even in its smallest state, the table was too wide for our front door. It would have to come in through the back door. To accomplish that, we would have to hoist the table over the back rail deck. And that seemed impossible unless we could get someone else to help.
The best candidate seemed to be the young man who had just moved in next door. He was strong and he was home.

As only Providence would have it, he is a mover by trade. God had placed the perfect workman right next to us.

Moreover, there are many workmen with you, stonecutters and masons of stone and carpenters, and all men who are skillful in every kind of work. 1 Chronicles 22:15

All we had to do was ask.

The old table went out the back door and the new table came in.
We had planned to put the old table on the sidewalk with a “Free” sign on it. But Paul found out that this very neighbor and his wife had no table. Now they do. We would never have known their need if we had not asked for his help.

So I’m thankful for my new table. I’m thankful for the craftsman who made a table with legs unlikely to wobble in my lifetime. I’m thankful for the help of a neighbor and that we could help him in return.

I’m thankful for all the elbows to occupy our table this holiday. This year, two high chairs sit beside the table. In coming years, perhaps more will join us.

Most of all, I’m thankful for the Master Carpenter who places us in each other’s lives and gives us opportunities to help each other.

Give thanks to the God of heaven,
 For His lovingkindness is everlasting. Psalm 136: 26


Revised repost from 2016, published 11/20/17 on CBN.com

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

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Holiday Anticipation

“The way my family anticipates Christmas feels different from the way we look forward to almost anything else. For other things, we’re excited about learning, seeing, or exploring something new. But Christmas is different. We look forward to it all year. We count down the days, just to experience it nearly exactly as we always have.” Joanna Gaines, Magnolia Journal, Issue 9~

Every year, the stores seem to decorate earlier. Santa arrives earlier. Online shopping decreased the hustle and bustle–at least in public. The early decorating seems to be a quest to set the mood–to draw buyers into stores.

Last year, the stores in my locale weren’t crowded. I shopped in the traditional way–but without the crowds. 

It was great. But I wonder if online shoppers felt like they were missing something–if something about their Christmas experience seemed incomplete. 

Last week–one week before Thanksgiving–we received 10.6 inches of snow. 

Thursday and Friday were snow days–closed schools with some businesses following suit. People stayed home and stayed inside except to clear their sidewalks and driveways. Those who had to went to work on Friday. But anyone who could did not venture far. 

Saturday was different. On Saturday, the snow had done its magic and there I was digging out Christmas music and lighting a balsalm fir candle. 

Then I went shopping (after extinguishing the candle) to discover the crowds had returned. Lines weren’t too bad. But traffic was heav.

The snow (and perhaps some early retail discounts) called us back to a time when shopping was an adventure requiring movement, planning, navigation, and socialization.  

The forecaster I married assures me the snow will be gone before Thursday and may not return for Christmas.

No matter. The weather has evoked memories of white days and glowing trees in years past. We are drawn to the season of peace–a respite from the world of bitter politics and bad news.

We anticipate, count the days, and wait. We work, buying, wrapping, cleaning, decorating, cooking, and baking to relive and recreate a day to carry with us through the year.

Our lives are threads tying generations together. Holidays are exclamations.

Proclaim God’s goodness. Happy Thanksgiving. 

Photo Credit: Pixabay

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Welcome Winter

It’s our first real snow. An unusual storm for November. My husband calculates it’s been 23 years since we had a snow day in November in this part of Pennsylvania.

The day represents an interruption of routine. Plans dashed. Progress shifted from outside errands to inside chores too long overlooked.

Yet the day also provides time to reflect. To enjoy quiet on the cusp of a season full of noise. 

I linger over a book and enjoy a second cup of tea. It will be a while before shovels call us outside.

There is time before the world calls us back into the noise.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

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More than One Way to Give Your Life For Your Country

He was helping me carry my packages to my car. I was buying some items for a church group donation. We were collecting for a men’s group home in a nearby town. Most of the men there are homeless veterans making their way back into their communities.

This man was a veteran from Iran. That caught my ear. I’d never met a veteran of Iran before.

We talked about the 1979 hostage crisis when radical Iranian students invaded the US embassy and captured 52 US citizens. They remained in captivity for 444 days.

In 1979, I was a young mother with two young children and a newborn. My younger daughter was one week old when the embassy fell. She was nearly 15 months old when they were freed.

This man helping me with packages had been part of the failed rescue mission. He said it was his “Benghazi”.

I could tell he had an edge to him. Couldn’t be bothered with small talk. Had seen too many big things in life to talk small.

He mentioned PTSD and some other disorders in quick succession. He had seen things. He had done things.

He said that until he got this job, where he’s worked for five years, he’d had trouble staying employed. This company understood him. Perhaps what they understood was what he’s given for us. Perhaps they understood better than we know.

There is more than one way to give your life for your country.

We say it. We tell them thank you for serving. What we need to realize is that sometimes we are talking to the walking wounded who have truly given their lives for us. They are not the same people we sent off to fix a crisis.

He left part of himself over there.

We can’t thank him enough.

We can’t thank them enough.

Continue reading “More than One Way to Give Your Life For Your Country”