Celebrating Christmas in a Season of Loss

In a year that has seen at least 23 school shootings, parental grief lies very near the surface of our society. At the same distressing time, a stunning 1 in 4 women has had an abortion by age 45, creating a quieter, but even greater undercurrent of grief — one mostly unshared and unacknowledged. Then there are the countless precious children who have died too soon a thousand other ways.

How many parents that you know are facing another Christmas without their son or daughter?

Entering into the mourning of friends (or even total strangers), we rarely know how to comfort them — how to do or say something that puts God’s mercy on display, while trumpeting the joy of our blessed hope, all with appropriate sensitivity. We desperately want to avoid a candy-coated misuse of Romans 8:28 that forces tragedy into some sort of untainted blessing without acknowledging the lacerating loss. The tension renders us wordless.

But where we are wordless, the word of God is not. Woven into the account of the Messiah’s birth is a story of childhood death, a blunt and brutal story that brings parental grief right into the “most wonderful time of year.”

Capture

I’m teaming up with Desiring God today in sharing this call to a compassionate observance of Holy Innocents Day during this challenging season for parents (and others) who grieve. Click here to join me over there for the rest of the article.

May Joy and Peace Be Yours,

Michele Morin

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Following the Instructions for a Grateful Heart

One morning, deep into the throes of our kitchen renovation, it dawned on me that I had no idea where our toaster was. Having reduced breakfast to the lowest common denominator of toasted bagels with cream cheese, my quest for the toaster was more than idle curiosity, and when it showed up in the furnace room, I was too relieved to bother with self-recrimination or even the why behind its whereabouts.

I’m no Martha Stewart even under the best of circumstances, but renovating our kitchen has stripped away any semblance of gracious living. For now, with the dining room piled from floor to ceiling with boxes of kitchen cabinets waiting to be installed and with electrical wires hanging like spit curls out of every wall, I’m just thankful to put any kind of meal on the dining room table—which, last time I checked, was in the living room.

At this point, I should apologize for making much of what is clearly a first-world problem. My access to reliable electricity and clean, safe running water puts me in company with the privileged 40% of the world who can join me in turning on a faucet to wash a plate or fill a glass. This, along with the fact that I’ve functioned just fine at this address for twenty-five years with our old, unsightly, and insufficient kitchen set-up makes me wonder why we are putting ourselves through this painful process. The word on the street (which, of course, comes to me through Facebook) is that, while the process is wretched, I will be very thankful with the end result when it is done.

The question that nags and will not be ignored is this:

Can I be thankful NOW?

Knowing what I know about the sovereignty of God and the blessing that comes after the patient submission to process, can I practice gratitude in the midst of the mess?

I’m not interested in a bait and switch in which I light a candle, practice a brand of skillful denial of the obvious circumstances, and then declare myself patient or grateful–at least for the moment. According to the Apostle Paul, gratitude is more than a spontaneous response or a pumpkin-spice-feeling. It is a matter of obedience to the will of God.

Author and poet Wendell Berry put words into the mouth of a fictional, elderly widow named Hannah Coulter who, in addition to being a crackerjack farmhand when needed and probably making a great pie crust, also had a clear handle on her biblical theology:

“You mustn’t wish for another life. You mustn’t want to be somebody else. What you must do is this:
‘Rejoice evermore.
Pray without ceasing.
In everything give thanks.’
I am not all the way capable of so much, but those are the right instructions.” (Hannah Coulter, page 113)

Following the Instructions

In this season of gratitude and pumpkin lattes, I will be focusing on those “right instructions,” knowing full well that I, too, am “not all the way capable of so much.” And yet this business of obedience to the Spirit of God is not to be confused with Operation Bootstrap. It is, rather, an operation by which, “the very God of peace will sanctify me wholly” through purposeful rejoicing in what is given and a prayer life that images the inhale and exhale of breathing.

Rolling into the month of November, whether your greatest challenge is deciding between pumpkin and apple pie** on the day of the feast–or whether God is choosing this season to grow you through adversity that makes my kitchen renovation look like a walk in the park–let’s return to the words of Paul in the way we turn to our recipe for fool-proof gravy, knowing that even though we are not “all the way capable,” the instructions are good, for they are absolutely true, and they are given to us with love:

 Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (I Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Giving thanks,

Michele Morin

**P.S.  My advice:  Go for a small slice of each.

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How to Be a “True Christian” Mother-in-Law

Over time, a family with four sons develops a unique tone, a guy-culture with a certain decibel level and a distinct way of doing life. As a mother of some now-married sons, it has been a joy to welcome other women into this circle, women who love my sons well and have also opened their hearts to me.

Of course, the messy flip side of this blessing is the requirement that I acknowledge and appreciate another woman’s way of doing things—important things like parenting my grandchildren, feeding a family, and managing a home. Just as I have prayed for twenty-five years for grace to be a good mother, I am now trusting for grace to be a good mother-in-law. Wisdom for this challenge flows in abundance from one of Paul’s lists in the book of Romans.  Some translators have labeled Romans 12:9-21 “Marks of the True Christian.” I can’t think of any better advice for women striving to be good Christian mothers-in-law.

“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” (Romans 12:9)

In the same spirit as Paul’s command to “let love be genuine,” Amy Carmichael prayed:

“Love through me, Love of God.
Make me like Thy clear air
Through which, unhindered, colors pass
As though it were not there.


I’m teaming up with Desiring God today to share more of Paul’s admonitions from Romans 12 and how they have applied to my life as a mother-in-law-in-training. I hope you’ll join me there to continue reading!

Rejoicing in hope,

Michele Morin

Photo by Khongor Ganbold on Unsplash

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Celebrating the Labor and the Love

Most days on this country hill are a blur.  With every line in my planner filled, there’s also the background music of laundry and continual cleaning.  In the winter, there’s a voracious wood stove; in the summer there’s a garden that needs constant attention. Stuffing a ratty t-shirt into the washer’s maw, I try not to think about the fact that it was only yesterday that I hung this very same t-shirt on the clothesline.

The steady thrum of activity is the glue that holds a home together, and one of the most startling discoveries of my life has been that it is possible to find a fulfilled and meaningful existence in the midst of mind-numbing routine.  It turns out that it’s not what you’re doing that makes a life.  It’s why you’re doing it.

Why do I do what I do every day in my home?
Why do you do what you do?

Hopefully, we are both coming to the conclusion that our labor of love is a fulfillment of God’s great commandments: to love God and to love our neighbors.
And sometimes, for me, the hardest “neighbors” to love are the ones who share my last name and my DNA. Loving others in our homes is more than a feeling, and it is likely to include the inconvenience of vacuuming the mud from their shoes, replacing the groceries they consume, and washing loads and loads of dishes and bedding.

To Love Is to Labor

To love is to labor, and for the believer, there is an inseparable connection between the routines of domesticity and the quotidian mysteries of spiritual practice.  Just as the swiping of crumbs off the dining room table will never be a once and done affair (at least at my house!), neither are the practices of spiritual formation.  In tending to the health and wholeness of our souls, every day there will be “crumbs” that need brushing away, and this is a good thing, for it keeps us mindful of our creaturely dependence on God. 

In Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home, Jen Pollock Michel, asserts that “housekeeping” corresponds to a term found in the Hebrew Scriptures: avodah.  It shows up in the contexts of “work, service, labor, duties, ceremony, [and] ministry . . . It is also the word that signifies the priestly work of the tabernacle and temple.  ‘Avodah reminds us that worship — and its attendant calls to vocation — can share the banality and ordinariness of everyday work.” (116)

The Spiritual Discipline of Housekeeping

It is, therefore, possible to draw parallels between the nature of worship and the importance that hands-on housekeeping plays in the ebb and flow of a well-balanced Christian life:

1.  Housekeeping is an act of generosity.

God’s work in creation and in redemption is clearly housekeeping.  In Scripture, He finds lost things; He prepares tables of abundance and blessing in hard places; He kills the fatted calf and invites the neighborhood to a party.  Therefore, engineering the comforts of home, taking on the mess in the bottom of the refrigerator, and performing the domestic routines that preserve order and hold chaos at bay create a feeling of home wherever they are performed with love, and they pre-figure God in His role as Homemaker.

Mired in the here and now, we forget that the work of home is the work of spreading God’s glory throughout the world.  By entering into the reality of that today, we leave a mark on those we serve and prepare our hearts for a future of greater work and greater joy when we will see that there has never been a mundane task without purpose in God’s incredible universe in which nothing goes to waste.  Every little task, every intentional act of service points back to the God who made us and forward to an eternity in which the connection between worship and work will be forever eliminated.

2.  Housekeeping is a work of welcoming and provision.

Just as the incarnation brought dignity to the mortal body and to the notion of occupying a particular time and space, God’s compassionate homemaking sets the standard for the work of His women and men who long to create safe and welcoming spaces for His glory.

There is meaning to all the mundane tasks that are stuck on replay in this mothering life.  In our ordinary chores and in the act of corralling chaos into order, we image God. Organizing a cluttered closet, sanitizing a nasty high chair tray, distributing clean and folded laundry to the four corners of the house — these are all as quietly mundane as the work God does in our time to water His trees with rain or, in history, to arrange for the Exodus 16 manna that faithfully fed a generation of Israelites.

God has instituted practices of housekeeping that draw His children into the hands-on love.  Mercy, justice, and sandwich-making hold equal real estate in the values system of heaven, for the God who works and has worked on our behalf invites us to join Him in the Great Work:

“Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us,
yes, establish the work of our hands.”  (Psalm 90:16,17)

Let the work of housekeeping continue, and may we find fulfillment in the smallest task performed for the greatest worship of God!

Joining you in the holy work of sandwich-making and laundry-folding,

Photo by Denny Müller on Unsplash

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home simply click on the title within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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Big Pizza Love and the Recipe that Makes it Happen

“It’s pizza night!”

Any Friday.

Even every Friday.

My boys never tire of those words.

A bowl of popcorn, a favorite movie, and a few square feet of mozzarella magic, and it’s going to be a great evening.

No question about it.

In a family of four boys, food is currency, and pizza is the gold standard. As the long bones lengthen and the voices grow deeper, the double batch makes way for the quadruple batch, and leftovers in the fridge are like money in the bank.

Of course, eventually, someone gets his license, or a girlfriend (or both), and suddenly an evening at home no longer registers on the social Dow Jones. But pizza night goes on for whoever happens to be home or whoever is visiting, and the leftovers pay dividends forward — with cold pizza after a basketball practice and a heart-to-heart talk about unfair coaches; cold pizza after a shift at McDonalds and a late-night discussion about where to buy the diamond; re-heated pizza for a carload of friends who “aren’t hungry” until they realize how very welcome they are.

Inexhaustible Love

Food can become a metaphor for abundance. Yes, your friend can stay for dinner, because we have enough — enough food, enough space in our lives, enough love to go around.

God is also in the business of letting His children know that He is enough, and His love is inexhaustible.

That’s why the apostle Paul strains His heavenly thesaurus in Ephesians 3:18,19 (NKJV) to communicate the expanse of Christ’s love for us:

How wide!
How long!
How deep!
How high!

God’s love for us passes knowledge; it is vast and complete, and yet He urges us to lean into its impossible dimensions and to rest there.

When I wonder if I can absorb another change or welcome another whirling planet into the solar system of my life, these words remind me that my ability to keep on stretching the circumference of my heart depends on my continual acceptance of the love of Christ for me. If I set my boundaries small and safe, I’m leaving room only for my own love — narrow and choosy, shallow and tentative.

Slowly, slowly I am learning that the only way to really “know the love of Christ” is to leave my heart ajar to the expanse of a bigger love.

It was standing room only the last time we all got together for a pizza night — daughter-in-love, grandboy, girlfriend, and all, but somehow in the midst of all the laughter and chaos, the pizza disappeared as usual. Slicing through the last pepperoni-and-black-olive, I smiled, because pizza night is teaching me that love comes — and it fills all the space we make for it.


The Recipe for Big Pizza Love

As regular readers know, most of my pizza-eaters have flown the nest, but I’m still making pizza, and I continue to receive requests for my pizza recipe, so I’m sharing it here. Giving credit where credit is due, if you happen to own a Moosewood Cookbook (mine is the 1992 edition), you’ll find that I’ve borrowed the recipe for calzone crust (160-161) and adapted it for pizza.

Enjoy!

The Crust:

1 cup wrist-temperature water
1½ tsp. active dry yeast
1 Tbs. honey or sugar
1½ tsp. salt
2½ to 3 cups flour
oil for bowl and pans

  1. Place the water in a bowl. Sprinkle yeast, and stir in honey/sugar and salt until everything dissolves.
  2. Stir in flour, kneading when it gets too thick for a spoon.
  3. Oil the bowl and cover dough with a cloth. Let rise until doubled in bulk. This is a good time to begin making the sauce and preparing toppings.

Sauce:

1 quart of canned tomatoes
1 small can of tomato paste
Garlic and basil to taste (sorry, I’ve never measured it!)

Toppings:

You don’t really need my help here, but I will share that pepperoni and black olives top the list of favorites here. The patient husband and I like to put leftover ratatouille on pizza. When we have a crowd in, I usually make at least one with just veggies, and I always make one with just cheese.

Baking:

Punch down the risen dough and spread with greased fingers in a well-oiled pan. Be sure to go all the way to the edges and then create a tiny edge around the circumference. Top with sauce, toppings, and an abundance of mozzarella. Bake at 450° until crust is browned and cheese is bubbly–about 15-20 minutes.

Depending on the size of your pans, this recipe will accommodate one large, deep dish pizza or two smaller pizzas of the thin crust persuasion. Experiment and let me know how it goes!


May you know and share the width and length and depth and height of God’s great love,

michele signature rose[1]

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This post appeared first at (in)courage, the blogging ministry of Dayspring, the Christian subsidiary of Hallmark Cards, Inc.

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The Beauty of Sacrifice and the Joy of Giving

It’s the terminal milestone on the parenting journey:

“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” III John 4

Even so, there are a good many ways of measuring its achievement. It’s what we aim for and pray for, but how do we know that are children have made the leap from following their parents’ faith to actually “walking in truth” on their own?

Kristen Welch would argue for two measuring sticks:  Gratitude and Generosity. In her first parenting book, Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World: How One Family Learned That Saying No Can Lead to Life’s Biggest Yes she reminds readers that if we want our children to appreciate their blessings and to operate out of gratitude rather than entitlement, we had better be modeling the right heart attitude ourselves. One of the ways we (and our children) demonstrate our gratitude and our biblical understanding of the role our possessions and our bank accounts play in our lives is by holding them with an open hand.

In Raising World Changers in a Changing World: How One Family Discovered the Beauty of Sacrifice and the Joy of Giving, she follows up that initial message with stories from her experience in establishing and operating Mercy House, “a ministry that exists to engage, empower, and disciple women around the globe in Jesus’ name.” As her family has traveled to strategic locations, they have seen poverty and suffering first hand, and they have been changed by it. Even as their efforts make small but measurable changes in the world, they are learning the impact that being a World Changer can make upon an entire family as they share their parents with others, welcome visitors into their homes, and give up their rooms for long-term guests who need a place to stay.

The backstory Welch shares is that “the beauty of sacrifice and the joy of giving” can also wear a family thin like an over-used dish rag. Therefore, it’s important to develop family-care strategies, open communication, and healthy boundaries to provide respite and privacy for a family of World Changers.

We Are Where We Are for a Reason

The Welch’s story began with a question, posed by a young Kenyan teen to Kristen’s daughter Madison:

“Why do you think that I was born here in Kenya and you were born in America?”

She might as well have asked, “Why was I chosen for a life of suffering and you for a life of privilege?” Madison’s answer was perfect:  “Maybe I was born in American and you were born here because I’m supposed to help you.”

The point of Mercy House ministries and Kristen Welch’s writing is to float before North American Christians the consequential truth that we are where we are for a reason. (21) God, the Greatest Giver, has strategically placed His people with our spiritual and material abundance to respond to the needs and the suffering of others.

“In economic terms the global North (United States, Canada, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand)–with one quarter of the world’s population–controls four-fifths of the income earned anywhere in the world. Inversely, the global South (every other country)–with three quarters of the world’s population–has access to one-fifth of the world’s income.” (51)

Four Ways to Live Generously

The Welch family has learned how to become a bridge. They straddle continents to connect the resources of the haves to the great and glaring needs of the have-nots. The truth is, however, that every believer can be a bridge right in our own homes, communities, and churches:

  1. See the people around you. This requires more than just observing people; it means stopping to notice them.
  2. Spot the needs in others’ lives.
  3. Scatter kindness by donating a meal, offering childcare, or providing needed transportation.
  4. Start over with number one. When we make this a way of life, it changes everything.  (55)

This practical giving is how we love others well, and Welch ends each chapter with a set of tips for practicing generosity. Some are exceedingly mundane such as hosting house guests and asking kids to give up their rooms or paying it forward at the drive up. Others are more philosophical and poke us in the reasons we do what we do such as letting our kids fail as a natural consequence or giving our time away without complaining.

Another practical feature at the end of each chapter is a set of questions to stimulate World Changing conversations around a dining room table or in the mini-van on the way to band practice. The questions come pre-test-driven as Kristen provided her own children’s answers to queries including:

What do you value most?
How can parents encourage kids to grow?
Why do you think some people have enough food and some people don’t?

The role of a parent who wants to raise World Changers can feel very risky. We want our kids to be happy, comfortable, and safe. However, if we shield them from reality and protect them from life, we train them to live small and to take shortcuts. The providence of God is equal to anything our children encounter as they serve God, and John Piper uses Scriptural stories to back up this line of reasoning:

“Life is not a straight line leading from one blessing to the next and then finally to heaven. Life is a winding and troubled road. Switchback after switchback. And the point of biblical stories like Joseph and Job and Esther and Ruth is to help us feel in our bones (not just know in our heads) that God is for us in all these strange turns. God is not just showing up after the trouble and cleaning it up. He is plotting the course and managing the troubles with far-reaching purposes for our good and for the glory of Jesus Christ.” (140)

Raising World Changers in a Changing World is not merely a book for privileged Americans about giving back. It’s a book for the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots about “giving it all.” (163) If we agree with the premise that God has placed us where we are for a reason, the blessings God heaps upon us are not merely to change our own lifestyle. God may be calling you and your family to change a life. He may be calling you to change the world.


Many thanks to Baker Books for providing this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with complete honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Raising World Changers in a Changing World: How One Family Discovered the Beauty of Sacrifice and the Joy of Giving or Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World: How One Family Learned That Saying No Can Lead to Life’s Biggest Yes, simply click on the title (or the image) here or within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Blessings to you and your World-Changing Family!

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Following the Trail Back to Hope

Sometimes it’s the very thing that makes you wild, the thing that feels as if it may be your undoing, which ultimately saves your life. For me right now, the pebble in my shoe is a 15-foot speed boat parked parallel to the north side of our house. The college-aged son is a project magnet who resurrects dead motors for fun and profit, so this is just the latest in a parade of snow mobiles, outboard motors, go- carts, and things that go vroom which have come to heighten the hillbilly panache of this country hill in Maine.

On the other hand, when I recall that his tinkering has made him eminently employable, and when I consider all the lesser things an almost-19-year-old could be doing with his free time . . .

And so, annoyance finds its grumpy way back to gratitude, and I follow its trail to the other transitions–much grittier and more sensitive–that need to happen around the fault lines in my following life:

  • The dizzying yo-yo of the number on the scale holds me in awareness of this truth: It is only by grace that we ride the bucking bronco of temptation to its mastery;
  • An overwhelmed middle-age brain keeps me depending upon God for strength in my weakness and for the next sentence whenever I teach or write;
  • My slow-to-hear-quick-to-speak way of finishing peoples’ sentences and igniting small, unnecessary brush fires reminds me every day to put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience just as I put on my shoes or my makeup.

Meaningful change often follows on the squeaking hinges of regret and repentance.

The Transition to Hope

In the waning weeks of Israel’s existence as a nation, Jeremiah tutors my soul in this spiritual discipline of transitioning from annoyance to hope. The record shows that he had invested 23 years of his life faithfully delivering an unpopular message of God’s impending judgment to a people who much preferred happy talk from lesser prophets with dubious motives. His reward for services rendered was a sentence of house arrest in the palace of disgruntled King Zedekiah.

Transition into Hope, G.K. ChestertonAs Babylonian armies camped around Jerusalem and hammered together their siege ramps outside the city walls, Jeremiah purchased a field in an act of unreasonable hope. Of course, according to G.K. Chesterton, “It is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength at all.”  Pushing against hopelessness, Jeremiah handed over his seventeen shekels because, in his mind, God’s promise of restoration and return to the land was as real as the shining silver in his hand.

When the siege ramps of despair are already leaning against the walls of my heart, that trail back to hope seems like more of a journey than I can manage. And of course, it is–apart from God. Likewise, reading on, I see Jeremiah, by a power that was not his own, transitioning into a glorious paean of praise:

“Ah, Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You.” (Jeremiah 32:17 NKJV)

Seeing this, the “Ah” of Jeremiah becomes an “Aha!” on my lips as I discover, as if for the first time, that there is nothing—no transition, no messy in-between—too complicated for God. He stands ready to help when I lean into the impossible or find grace to forgive the unforgivable. His Great Power is put on display in surprising ways as His outstretched arm effects the miracle of another day’s transition into hope.


 

Thank you for joining me today on the path toward hope,

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I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.