I’m Feeling The Christmas Pressure

It must be time to put up the Christmas lights; I’m feeling the pressure.

Today I’m watching Lily decorate our upstairs Christmas tree. That’s right, we have an upstairs and a downstairs Christmas tree.

The upstairs one is hers. She decides what goes on it, and she does all the work. The downstairs tree is sort of the family’s tree; it has home-made decorations that we have given each other over the years.

Lily pretty much … well, actually completely puts that one up, too.

My line is that she takes care of the inside and I do the outside.

Just watching her do her thing puts the pressure on me to get moving with the outside lights.

But that’s not the only place from which I’m being pressured to get my task done.

There are several neighbours who already have their lights up. And when I drive down the next street, the homes there seem very much into the Christmas spirit.

About seven years ago I started thinking that people were putting more effort into Halloween decorations than they were Christmas. Now I think people are putting the same effort into decorating for Christmas as they do for Halloween.

For generations Christmas lights have basically been the same. You figured out a pattern of lights that worked on your house and you put them up every year. The only thing that you changed was the bulbs when they burned out.

Now there’s way more stuff!

They have big blow-up Christmas characters – I’m not talking about the baby Jesus and wise men; I’m talking about Frosty and Santa. Some of these blow-ups are as tall as a house!

There are also elaborate laser light shows that change rapidly and cover the whole front of a house.

It’s a big deal! And it seems that every year it’s getting to be an even bigger deal.

Not for me though. I’m old school; I have my pattern of how the lights go up and I just repeat that every year. I’m not trying to add anything new. I just hope that I can find the same eavestrough hooks I used last year.

What’s got me feeling the pressure to get my lights up today is that so many of my neighbours have their lights up, but I’m the Christian guy.

I’m the one who is really supposed to be into Christmas and I feel like not having my lights up yet is saying to them all that I don’t care as much as I should.

There is one other pressure and that’s the weather. It’s a nice day out there today – a balmy 8° Celsius (46 Fahrenheit). The chances that it will stay this warm for much longer are slim.

So between my wife, the neighbourhood, my perceived neighbours’ expectations of me and the weather, today’s the day when the lights go up.

I’m feeling the pressure.

Here’s the thing:  We feel pressure to do outward things, but do we feel pressure to do inward things? It’s hard not to give in to what we see in the world around us or what others are doing. But are you compelled in the same way to respond to what God wants you to do? The pressure to do outward things like put up the lights comes from within; we pressure ourselves. We should put that kind of pressure on ourselves to respond in obedience to what God wants us to do. Faith without obedience is not much good at all.

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: What should you put pressure on yourself to be doing? Leave your comments below.

I Experimented This Christmas

My Christmas experiment is over – well, sort of.

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Every year I put something fun in our Christmas stockings. Often times it is some kind of gun that fires foam bullets or flying discs … and for a few minutes early on Christmas morning a war breaks out.

But some years I have put other things in the stockings. There was the year that we all got tattoo sleeves. I wore mine all Christmas Day and felt like I was a biker or something.

But probably the best was the year I got us all hand grenades. I thought they were a great idea, but my wife, Lily, didn’t like them at all.

She didn’t like them even before we tossed one. But after we did, she tried desperately to negotiate a cease fire, even going as far as threatening sanctions (to stop cooking).

But there was no stopping us. By mid-morning there was shrapnel (exploded baking powder and water residue) on the hardwood in the living room, on the walls, and into the kitchen.

That may have been my best year.

This year was tougher, perhaps because I started looking late and all the good stuff was gone … or maybe it was the Liberal government’s fault.

With making our armed forces more of a peace-keeping military than a fighting one, maybe the whole nation is going passive.

Anyway, what I came up with this year was eggs. That’s right, everybody got eggs this year – not Easter eggs but dinosaur eggs.

These were eggs you had to put in water in order for them to hatch. They contained dehydrated animals that expand in the water until they break through their shell and “hatch”.

The only problem was that this was a very slow process. No wonder some scientists think that the dinosaurs lived millions and millions of years ago. It took that long for one of these things to hatch!

In other years we opened the gift and started firing. Not this year! We sunk those things in water and watched and watched, and pretty soon ignored them.

It was supposed to take 24 – 48 hours for them to work, but our guys were pretty shy and it took a week for them to fully come out of their shells.

It wasn’t the gift that keeps on giving; it was more like the gift that keeps you looking.

Well, they’re out of their shells and have reached their full size … I’m not sure what the scientists would say about that.

Our kids have both gone back to their homes so we took pictures for them to see what happened.

But now Lily is ready to throw them out. These guys have just spent one day out in the wild and Lil’s ready to chuck them.

I prefer to let them shrink back to their original size, and then maybe watch them grow again.

… Lil’s giving me opposition, but hopefully I can save them from extinction for a week or two.

Here’s the thing: We like things that are ready to go; we want things to be instant. When it comes to our relationship with Christ, it’s the same. But growth takes time and we have to keep at it and be patient. Take time to grow closer to Christ this year. One suggestion is to read through the Bible this year. Yes, it will take a year and about twenty minutes every day, but you will grow and that takes time. In the end, it’s worth it.

That’s Life,

Paul

Question: How are you going to grow this year? Leave your comments below.

Another Christmas Eve Nightmare

I had said that I would not shop on Christmas Eve again, but there I was going from store to store.

This year Christmas has been particularly busy for me. There were many things I didn’t get to that I should have or really wanted to.

I just couldn’t fit it all in. Each day I had plans to do more than could possibly be done in a day so there was always some carry over.

And in that list of things, shopping for Christmas presents seemed to get bumped the most.

It’s okay to put it off from one day to the next to the next, but you eventually run out of days. And there I was staring at Christmas Eve and still needing some presents for the family.

I know people who complete their Christmas shopping in August. I don’t know how they do it. I can’t think Christmas when I’m sitting on a beach with the water lapping at my feet.

I’ve also had a bad experience with early Christmas shopping … but it wasn’t me doing the shopping; it was my mother.

She got way ahead of herself one year, and bought presents for my brother and me. But by the time Christmas came, she had forgotten all about them.

Those presents showed up mid-Christmas morning unwrapped, while my brother and I were wandering around the house thinking, “Is that it? Is that all we get?”

I don’t want to be doing that. I also don’t like wandering around stores in a daze or trance-like state, looking for the perfect present which I will only know what it is when I see it.

That’s not a good feeling.

There was one Christmas – it seems like a hundred years ago now – that I had thought of getting Lily a sweater for Christmas.

This was in the days before we had children. We were living in Edmonton, a city with more than a few big shopping malls.

I had scouted out all the women’s clothing stores in all the malls and had seen a sweater that I liked in one of them.

The only problem was I couldn’t remember which store or which mall I saw it in.

Christmas Eve became a little frantic for me. It was Lily’s main gift and I couldn’t locate it.

To make matters worse, the sweaters were starting to all look the same and I couldn’t remember exactly which sweater was the one.

I literally flew from one store to the next, from mall to mall in search of a sweater I hoped I would recognize when I saw it in a store I had been in over the last few weeks.

I was in a panic at 4 pm, dragging myself through West Edmonton Mall like I was in the middle of the desert without water.

I went in to one store and literally had to convince myself that this was the sweater and that it would fit her.

It all worked out back then. But it was deja-vu all over again this year … I’m never doing this again – for real!

Here’s the thing: We sometimes get so caught up in details that we miss the big picture. Christmas is about celebrating Christ but we get all stressed about having the right present. Often in life we are so detail focussed that we bump our relationship with Christ to the next day and the next, thinking we have time. The details will always pressure us, but you can run out of time with Christ. Don’t let that happen; make Christ a priority today.

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: What kept you too busy this Christmas? Leave your comments below.

Christmas Tradition

The Silcock Christmas wouldn’t be the same without our annual tradition.

It’s not a generations old tradition, passed on down from great grandparents. It’s a tradition started with my generation. We keep it every year when we get together for our Christmas gathering.

We play hockey.

My father passed away 11 years ago and, since that time, we decided to do something special when we got together for Christmas.

Hockey is a unifying thing in our family … though over the years there are less and less of the women involved.

When we started, the kids were still pretty young. We would pleasure skate for a bit and then start a game, during which the pleasure skaters were just more obstacles for us to deke around.

It got to the point where the pleasure skaters didn’t really like the pucks whizzing by their heads. They have slowly dropped off over the years.

This year my wife, Lily, was the only pleasure skater and my daughter, Karlie, played hockey with us guys.

In the early days, when the kids were younger, my brother and I kind of dominated the game. It was great having all the ages on the ice working together.

Between my brother, sister and I, we have 8 children. Their ages span 12 years.

Each year we invite a few friends along to round out the teams, and the calibre of hockey is pretty good.

The last two years, the games were really fast-paced.

However, not everything is getting faster. The kids are faster, and their friends they invite out are faster … but my brother and I are slower. We don’t dominate the ice any more.

In fact, my brother John hurt his knee the night before and he didn’t play in our Christmas tradition this year.

I was the old guy.

Now even the youngest of the kids can hold their own, make plays and pass well.

I was the one who was gasping for air and needing to come off for more than regular breaks.

It’s not like I didn’t contribute at all but by far the tables have turned and the young guys are taking over.

It reminded me of a time when my son’s hockey team had a father and son game. The sons were talking like they were going to take it to us and that we didn’t have a chance.

I thought they would be surprised that the old men still had it in them. I guess I was wrong. The other dads either hadn’t played in a very long time, had never really played before, or were really out of shape.

The long and the short of it was, us dads didn’t look good and we got creamed by our boys.

From now on every year I will measure my decline by our Christmas family tradition.

Here’s the thing: As time goes on, we take more of a backseat to those coming up. As the younger generation starts to shine, and we take more of a supportive role in life, don’t merely bow out of the scene. Our role is to instill values and character in the young ones so that as they shine, they shine with the light of Christ in them.

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: What Christmas tradition do you make sure you keep? Leave your comments below.

Our Annual Christmas Trip To Toronto

Christmas is fast approaching and it’s time for our annual trek down to Toronto to celebrate Christmas with my family.

It’s always a guess as to what the weather will be like for the trip.

The gathering is a one-day event. We leave early in the morning and come back after dinner in the evening.

Sometimes the weather is just fine both way. Sometimes we get good weather one way but miserable the other.

The worst trips are when the weather is bad both ways. That’s when the neck gets stiff and the hands get sore from tightly gripping the steering wheel.

The all-time worst trip was about ten years ago. We were driving a GMC Safari van at the time and my daughter had just got her license.

As we piled into the van, Karlie said, “Hey, can I drive?” Without a thought I said, “Sure”.

By my wife Lily’s face, I could tell she didn’t think this was a good idea. But I got in the passenger seat and Karlie got behind the wheel anyway.

Backing out of the driveway, I could tell the road conditions would not be ideal. At the end of our street, the van slid a little when Karlie put the brakes on, eliciting a few comments from the backseat … nothing that you could remotely consider as encouragement. I could tell that those in the backseat felt their lives were at risk.

I couldn’t say I felt comfortable either, but we kept going. The snow was deep and there was a layer of ice underneath.

It was ten kilometres to the highway and I really hoped that the 401 had been cleared and we would be fine.

That wasn’t the case. As we rounded the cloverleaf to merge onto the highway, Karlie spun the car.

Lily could not contain herself any longer. “That’s it! She’s not driving!” Lil exclaimed in no uncertain terms.

I could tell this woman was scared to death. At that point I got behind the wheel.

It was a good thing. We had a 1 pm family hockey game to get to and I wasn’t sure we would make it; we really needed to make some time.

As we started down the 401, my hopes of playing hockey were disappearing. Cars were traveling at 40 km/hr in single file in the right lane. The huge ruts between the lanes made it very risky to venture into the left.

I was fairly sure we were not going to make it when a bus went by us, traveling in the left lane, going about 100 km/hr.

I thought to myself, “The only chance we have of making the game is getting behind that bus.”

So I pointed the van into the knee-high snow ruts and we bounced through them.

I swerved and steered into the tracks the bus made and pushed the pedal down.

We motored by all the cars in the right lane, making great time. After about an hour of horrible conditions, we ran out of the snow.

As I caught up to the bus, I could see the driver looking at me in his side mirror. I waved thanks to him, and drove on by.

Without him blazing the trail, we never would have had a chance.

… Well, this year they’re calling for that same kind of weather. I sure hope the weatherman is wrong … or that there is a bus driver who needs to get to Toronto on time.

Here’s the thing: In life there will be trouble. The key is to recognize when something comes along to alleviate the trouble. Two thousand years ago a Saviour came on the scene to provide a way past sin and hell. Recognizing this Saviour, Jesus, will alleviate your guilt and suffering.

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: What helps you out of trouble? Leave your comment below.

Thank Goodness The Christmas Season Has Begun

In the United States, Thanksgiving is the indicator that the Christmas season has begun. In my house it’s when the Christmas tree gets put up.

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For some people, they start to get into the Christmas spirit when Advent starts – the four weeks when we anticipate the coming of Christ into the world. In churches a candle is lit, scripture is read and someone says something about the signs that Christ was coming.

Some people get into the Christmas spirit when they see snow on the ground. In some places that happens pretty early in the fall.

Others have that Christmas spirit for most of at least half the year. They start their Christmas shopping then too.

But honestly, I don’t think that any of that is really the Christmas spirit. They’re all just things we attach to a time of year. We like tradition.

Memories are powerful so when we see, hear, smell or touch something that brings back a memory, we relive that event. We can see it again in our mind and it brings some great emotions with it.

So the Christmas spirit has more to do with our memories and our emotions than it has to do with the coming of Christ.

All the generosity and kindness and brotherly love, it probably has its root in our feelings and not in the fact that Christ has come to save mankind.

Maybe the Christmas spirit has nothing to do with Christmas. Maybe we don’t need Christmas at all to experience all the good cheer we have at this time of year.

… Well, before we go too far down that road, we should investigate the real reason we have the kinds of memories we have at this time of year.

It’s this time of year that we identify as the time that God sent his Son to earth. That’s a pretty big deal in itself but not an incredibly emotional, memory-producing event.

What does create the emotional memory is why God sent Christ to us. God sent Christ to us as a gift to save us.

Down through the years people have received this gift of Christ and have been saved from their sins.

So when the time of year comes around when we remember Christ’s coming to us, the memories of the gift of Christ have brought all kinds of warm emotions that have resulted in expressions to others of generosity, kindness and brotherly love.

In our time, we have focussed more on the memory of the caring acts and so we respond in kind.

We attach the memories more to presents, festive happy gatherings, and acts of kindness to one another … but that is pretty superficial and temporal.

The real Christmas spirit should come when we realize that Christ is God’s gift to me, and that by receiving this gift I am forgiven of my sin.

That’s the real Christmas spirit. And that can influence your life and actions all year long. So actually, the Christmas spirit is not part of a season but part of who you are.

Here’s the thing: God sent His gift. If you’ve received this gift, then act like every day is Christmas. If you haven’t received the gift of Christ, do it now . . . Christmas is coming!

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: What gets you thinking about Christmas? Leave your comments below.

Up Early Christmas Morning … Again!

Well, this year I’ve come full circle. I thought it would take longer for it to happen, like maybe not until I was 80 or 85.

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But no, it’s happened already.

In life we start out needing help for pretty much everything and, at the end, we also need more and more help.

They say seniors and teens have lots in common. They both can’t hear – one group because of head phones, the other because, well … they just can’t hear.

They both have no filters on what they say; they say exactly what they’re thinking.

You don’t like their music and they sure won’t tolerate yours.

Each thinks the other doesn’t know anything.They both don’t remember what you said to them five minutes ago.

And they’re both really dangerous behind the wheel of a car!

I’m not saying these things are observable right now in my life, but there is one thing.

When I was a kid I used to get up real early on Christmas morning. It was understandable; I was excited about the presents and all.

Then I went through the stage where I slept in on Christmas morning because I was tired and not that excited about what was under the tree.

But this year, in this way, I’ve reverted back to my childhood. I was up at the crack of dawn Christmas morning.

That’s right, 5:55 in the morning and I was climbing out of bed!

The difference this year was I passed by the treasures in the living room and headed straight downstairs.

I spent time alone doing my devotions and then I worked on my sermon.

We had determined the night before that we would get things rolling at our house at about 10 am so I figured I would have a few hours of productivity first.

By the time people were stirring and visions of sugar plums were starting to fade, I had a couple of hours of work completed on my sermon.

I had tried to work ahead, but I just hadn’t been able to finish my sermon before Christmas Eve for the Sunday after Christmas.

With only a couple of days in between, it meant writing on Christmas Day or Boxing Day. I didn’t want to miss out on time with my family so I thought, “I have an opportunity here to use unused, discarded time to get things done.”

I had just put the final strokes on my message when I heard some footsteps from above. For a second I thought it  was old Saint Nick making his yearly visit but then I realized it was only my wife heading into the kitchen.

As the house came alive and everyone gathered for some breakfast, I emerged from the basement, sermon complete, ready to enjoy Christmas morning with my family with no pressure hanging over my head.

But just like the young, about mid afternoon I was ready for a nap.

Here’s the thing: Often we think those early hours are time to sleep, and not good for anything. But those early quiet hours can be the most special time we can have with God.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Paul

Question: What have you seen come full circle in your life? Leave your comment below.

We Started A New Tradition … Maybe

We all have Christmas traditions. We look forward to them; they bring out the warmth of the season.

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When we lived in Edmonton we had a tradition on Christmas Eve of going out for dinner after our Christmas Eve service. We would go to the Chateau Lacombe Hotel.

It had a revolving restaurant which overlooked the river valley in Edmonton. It was high enough to give a great view of the whole city, especially at night during the Christmas season – the sight was spectacular with all the lights!

Lily and I would always get Chateaubriand for two. It was perfect with live music and a constantly changing panoramic view out the window.

That was our Christmas tradition … well, it was until we moved to Kingston.

Kingston doesn’t have a hotel with a revolving restaurant. In fact, it doesn’t have a restaurant that is open on Christmas Eve, period.

We needed a new tradition for Christmas Eve and that is when we started having a fondue after our Christmas Eve service.

We had some memorable family times together around the table, cooking up big screwers of meat in oil that was at the point of spontaneous combustion.

There was the time that Lily set the table on fire – that was awesome and memorable! … You then keep the tradition just to see if that will happen again!

Fond memories. But like many traditions, that tradition came to an end. Karlie was not able to be with us for the first time this Christmas Eve. She was not able to arrive until about midnight, just shortly before Santa Claus was about to do the present thing and get to bed him and herself.

We needed a new tradition. It would be just Lil, our son Mike and me. We were going to be up waiting for Karlie; we needed something to do.

So I got the bright idea that we should all make our favourite cookies together and have some hot wings to nibble on while we did it.

Everyone was willing to give it a shot (and Karlie wished she had been here to see the whole event).

Lily had laid out bowls and ingredients for each type of cookie Mike and I were going to make. Then she did what she does best.

She hovered, and would say things like, “No, don’t do that. No, that’s not how you do it” …  we had to send her out of the room.

That didn’t stop her from calling instructions from another room like “No, don’t mix that in yet”.

But somehow, through all the distraction, all the mess and debris that kept being flung out of the mixing bowls, we created two kinds of masterly-crafted cookies that melted succulently in our mouths.

The wings weren’t bad either. Lil really chipped in with the clean up, partly because she couldn’t handle the mess we had generated.

Who knows? Maybe it will become a tradition … or maybe not if Lily has her way.

Here’s the thing: Routines can be like traditions and when it comes to making time for God each day, having great traditions or routines make that time more memorable. They make that time something you look forward to. So as you plan how you will spend your time with God in the new year, think of some traditions or routines you can set in place. You will be amazed at the memories you will make with God.

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: What is your favourite Christmas tradition?

Bring On Christmas!

Well, our house is finally decorated for Christmas. It has been about a two week process. We’ve lived in a Christmas construction zone in that time, with boxes and decorations lying in wait to be placed where they need to be.

Christmas Decorations

It’s not just the living room that needs to be decorated, our family room gets almost as much glitter and lights as the upstairs.

For me, I’m glad that it’s all finished now because the in-between stage looks so unfinished and I really don’t like the clutter.

For two weeks I haven’t been able to walk around our pool table and if I need to get in a few more steps for the day, I need that space to pace around in.

But now everything is in place where it should be and the Christmas work site has now turned into a beautiful scene of lights, ornaments and ribbon. Lily’s happy with it and that makes me happy.

Not that I really contributed to the putting up of all the decorations – she has an idea of what she wants to do and I’d probably mess things up if I got involved … at least that’s what I’ve convinced myself of.

Sunday afternoon I sat down on the couch and ended up taking a well-deserved nap. When I awoke, Lily had just finished that last touches on the decorations. I figured I woke up just in time.

She asked what I thought and I said it all looked great. I think she was looking for something more, maybe something more flowery or possibly a “I’ll help take it all down”, but the best I could offer at the time was “great job, dear”.

Hey, I was still waking up.

It’s not like I don’t do anything to contribute to the Christmassy look around our house. I put up the lights outside … and Lil doesn’t help me with them.

I have to risk life and limb going up on a ladder to string the lights along the garage eavestrough and then use an extension ladder to secure the lights along the peak of our roofline.

I don’t see her needing a ladder to put her newly spray-painted star on top of the tree … well maybe a step stool.

I was able to get all my decorating done in one afternoon and not the two weeks that we have had to wade through the junk.

But it’s all good now. We are ready for this season we call Christmas.

The decorations are just a mood-setter for what the season is all about. I think the trimmings trigger memories and alter our mood to usher in a most special time of year where we celebrate the birth of Jesus, God’s Son, who came to restore us to God.

Here’s the thing:  Like decorating for Christmas moves us into experiencing the season with a greater depth of feeling, taking time in the next couple of weeks to focus your attention on Jesus and His birth will move you to cherish Him more. The thing is, like putting up the decorations takes effort, take effort to spend some time in God’s Word around the miracle of the Messiah’s birth.

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: How much effort goes into preparing for your Christmas? Leave your comment below.

How Snow Can Keep You From Facing The Inevitable

When I woke up this morning there was a cottony layer of snow on the ground and my heart sank a little.

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It sank partly because we just got rid of a barrel full of the white stuff from about two weeks ago. Even though I only saw the snow through the blinds – it looked like the fuzz that grows on a man’s face after about three days of no shaving (like I would know) – something told me this stuff is here to stay for the season.

I should have been prepared. Yesterday, I watched two NFL games that were played in blizzard-like conditions … it was inevitable that the storm would move up to Canada and get us.

I like the usual debate we have around here at Christmas time. As it approaches, we start asking, “Do you think we will have snow for Christmas?”, or, “I wonder if we’ll have a green Christmas this year”.

Everyone wants those thin flakes that look like coriander seed and taste like wafers made from honey … oh, no wait, that’s manna that God sent the Israelites in the desert.  Our while flakey stuff is tasteless and has to be shovelled!

We all want it, but we’re fine if it only falls on Christmas Eve, or even really early Christmas day. That way it looks like Christmas but we haven’t had to dig ourselves out of it yet.

This snowfall, however, is coming a little earlier than I had hoped. There’s a chance it might not stay with us. We miraculously got rid of the last batch with some mild weather, some rain and a day of +10 celsius (that’s 50 degrees fahrenheit).

But they’re calling for snow for the next five days. I think I have to face it that winter is here to stay. There will be no guessing about a white Christmas this year; it’s a lock that we’ll have snow.

Then again, you never know. The weather could turn. And look! … Well you can’ t look, but I can – it’s now raining here on the other side of my window and the snow is rapidly disappearing. That might make for some slippery roads tonight if the temperature drops.

That also means we can still play the game of “Will we have snow for Christmas?” The odds are not in my favour though. They (who are they, anyway?) are calling for about 10 centimetres of snow this week.

There’s just no way to escape it, that is, if I’m going to stay here in Kingston. Snow is what we face every year, and even with the crazy weather patterns and global warming (it’s not happening fast enough), a snowy forecast is in my future.

Here’s the thing: There are so many things, like the weather, that are completely out of our control, yet we spend time thinking about them and hoping for something else. We don’t really want to face what is inevitable. It’s best, however, if we just prepare for it.

We can do that with God, too. We can hope that the Bible is wrong, or that He will be accepting of everyone in the end, but that’s not facing the inevitable. It’s just best to prepare for meeting God, by beginning a relationship with the one that Christmas is all about – Jesus Christ.

That’s Life!

Paul

Question: What do you dislike most about winter? Leave your comment below.