It’s Not About You — And It Never Was!

There’s always a certain amount of eye-rolling that goes on in a household overrun by teens and young adults. My husband and I are amazingly un-cool. His humor is entirely “Dad-jokes.” My questions and observations are overwhelming evidence that I’m over-thinking everything.  But here’s one tiny bit of wisdom that has been passed down without protest, maybe because it is so abundantly clear: “People who are all wrapped up in themselves make pretty small packages.”

Sharon Hodde Miller found the pull of this variety of self-focus to be stronger than gravity, robbing her of her joy and killing her confidence, for no accomplishment was ever stellar enough to overcome the downward pull of comparison; no applause was loud enough to drown out the self-condemnation; no audience was large enough to banish the feeling of invisibility.  What we’re all fighting is a “mirror reflex” (25) in which everything is a reflection of ourselves, leading to the tendency to shape our self-image around people, possessions, and profession and to live in a state of self-focus that will “make everything about you, even when it’s not about you.”

The writer of Hebrews has thrown the window open wide for all of us who live in the stuffy room of self absorption, inviting us to stop running the race distracted, focused on our cute sneakers and flawless form, and to “fix our eyes on the only One who can heal our wounds and set us free.” (35)

Living life as if it is all about me sends me off course in seven very specific ways. Sharon refers to them as “mirrors,” and in our own brokenness, they reflect back an image that has nothing to do with the real world as seen through God’s eyes.

  1. When you make God about you, it’s as if He exists to make you feel better about yourself, to serve you, to make your life easier, and to bring about your kingdom and your will on this earth.  Freedom comes when our life focus becomes the glory of God.
  2. When you make family about you, everything comes back to image management. Your kids, your husband, their accomplishments (or lack of same) either puff you up or deflate your bubble. Here’s the truth: “The purpose of your family is not to make you look good. The purpose of your family is not to make you comfortable. . . The purpose of your family is to love your family and other families. The purpose of your marriage is to love God and the world better than you could have done it alone.” (67, 68)
  3. When you make your appearance about you, it becomes an idol, a demanding tyrant. Preoccupation with appearance drives a wedge between women. The alternative (and healthy) view is “compassion over comparison.” “[O]ur goal is not to be the cutest girl in the room . . .” And on the flip side of this, physical imperfections become opportunities to “relinquish our splendor” in humility and grace. (77, 78)
  4. When you make your possessions about you, your hope is in something that is very temporary and unreliable. Sharon unpacks Paul’s instructions to women about modesty in I Timothy with an emphasis on the cultural context of extravagance — apparently a problem in New Testament days as well! The modesty Paul argued for was a path to decrease their own glory and to exalt God by hoping in Him rather than in wealth.
  5. When you make your friendships about you, you will operate out of a position of perceived rejection and continual loneliness. “Our friendships are for us, but they are not about us. They exist primarily for the glory of God. They point us toward the perfect friendship we have with him, and as long as our friendships remain grounded in that truth, even the broken ones will be swept up into the arc of redemption.” (102) 
  6. When you make your calling about you, you will live in dissatisfaction with the present and may find yourself acting in disobedience to his calling in self-protection or self-promotion. Paul was a man who carried a heavy calling as if it were feathers on the scale because “he wasn’t living for his own glory, so nothing was on the line.” (112)
  7. When you make your church about you, suddenly your preferences have become essentials and your search for the “perfect” church will become a matter of consumerism. Sharon compares church attendance to marriage in that both are intended to grow us and to teach us perseverance — for better or for worse.

With the tendency for self-focus hard-wired into our fallen DNA, it would seem to be an impossible struggle to ever become Free of Me, and yet, there are four broad categories of healthful habits that can put us on the right path:

  • Loving God

  • Loving Others

  • Pouring Out from the Well of Your Gifts and Interests

  • Letting God Plant You and Trusting His Heart

Throughout Scripture’s narrative arc, God points to a redemptive plan in which all things will be redeemed — nothing will be wasted. Freedom comes when we see ourselves as part of God’s bigger story, crucially involved in the advancement of His vision for the world while swallowed up in the freedom and contentment of self-forgetfulness. Free of Me is an invitation to throw off the burden of self-focus and to find worth and belonging within the larger context of an obedient following that is all about Christ, His purposes, and His glory.

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This book was provided by BakerBooks, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my review.  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.”

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Additional resources

Read more of Sharon’s journey at her website, where you will also find her blog and resources related to ministry and leadership.

Jamie Ivey interviewed Sharon on The Happy Hour podcast in which they chatted about the way Sharon met her husband, getting her PhD, supporting women in ministry and cheering others on in their unique giftings.

Sharon also shared her story and her book on Melanie Dale’s podcast, Lighten Up! Besides a sneak peek into the concepts behind Free of Me, Sharon talks about what it’s like to be pregnant and professional, falling asleep in class, and resisting the temptation to become cynical in  ministry roles.

This review is coming just in time to be part of #NotAboutMeNovember, an entire month in which we seek God and seek ways we need to make life more about Jesus and less about us. I’m sharing it here along with a crew of other bloggers who are inspired by the goal of making much of Jesus — and less of ourselves!

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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.

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Nurturing Faith and Strengthening Family Ties Around the Table

If my dining room table could talk, it might begin with a story about cinnamon rolls whose aroma can pull family out of bed like a giant magnet. Smiling and sleepy, they sniff their way toward the dining room and the warm welcome of a breakfast gathering. My scratched up table might share memories of voices singing – or arguing; of conversations with missionaries, old friends, and people who became new friends; of the sound of laughter that accompanies holiday homecomings and boisterous birthdays.

Our gatherings around the table for feasting and fun are symbolic, a pale adumbration of a larger feast, and Sally Clarkson points her readers toward this truth in The Lifegiving Table. Remembering her own family’s heritage of traditions, she shares her motivation behind it all: “The soul satisfaction of belonging to one another, the anchor of commonly held traditions, and the understanding that our home was a sanctuary from all the pressures and storms of life.” (5)

Her exhortation is well-timed, for North American culture is characterized by a speed and complexity that leans more toward fast-food in the mini-van than family meals around a table. Statistics gathered by The Six O’Clock Scramble website indicate that the frequency of family dinners has declined 33 percent over the past two decades with the average time spent at a dinner table shrinking to a mere twelve minutes. Studies also show that children and teens who enjoy more than three family dinners per week eat more healthfully, are less likely to be overweight, perform better academically, and are less likely to engage in risky behaviors. (13)

It’s clear that time spent around a life-giving table nourishes more than just our bodies.

“The food is only an exclamation point!”

The rhythm that pulses under The Lifegiving Table is a mother’s deep desire to build memories and traditions that nurture close relationships among her children and to point always and ever to the faith that is foundational to everything she does. Intentional time around a table may be elaborate or simple; a gathering of the troops or a face to face, one-on-one heart-to-heart talk.

I read Sally’s book straight through, underlining and nodding and gathering inspiration, but the book could also be treated as a reference, for each chapter stands alone with very practical principles for some aspect of table-love alongside scripture verses to ponder, a gentle push in the form of suggested activities, and then, recipes that come from Sally’s tried and true collection.

Practicing rhythms of life around a table is enriching for many reasons. These are some of our family’s favorites, and The Lifegiving Table offers a wealth of resources for each one:

1.  Shaping a family culture

I was sharing a youngest-son glory moment with his oldest brother, and was surprised at his response: “Well, of course. He’s a Morin.” It turns out that our boys have a very strong sense of “this is who we are” as a family. Our prayer is that as they mix and mingle with people of many faiths and persuasions, they will continue to hold fast to the bedrock of “this is why we believe” and “this is what we stand for.” Values and traditions that shape and define a family are picked up and carried forward through shared goals and strong relationships that form a legacy over a lifetime together.

2.  Practicing conversation

It was a relief to me to read that sometimes things got loud around the Clarksons’ table. Dinner time conversation is a great place for trying out convictions, arguing an opinion, or validating thought processes. It has been my goal to draw each child into the conversation so each would have the floor at some point (for at least a few seconds!), but I had no idea how obvious I was being in this quest until my youngest as a toddler turned toward his dad during a lull in the conversation and asked, “And how was your day?’ with the exact tone of voice I would have used.

3.  Celebrating everything!

In sharing this favorite G.K. Chesterton quote, Sally urges parents to tap into the natural exuberance of our children to put on display the celebratory nature of God:

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” (91)

4.  Pursuing discipleship in the midst of life

“A discipleship that cannot make room for the ordinary is unrealistic.”

Growth toward God can happen in an atmosphere of fun, and whatever we plan for our day-to-day, line upon line, precept upon precept building into our children must fit our family culture well enough to be sustainable over the long haul.  Realism dictates that we shelve perfectionism. If our family had waited for perfect conditions in which to practice hospitality or implement family devotions . . . we’d still be waiting.

5.  Making love your goal

We are made to love and to be loved. How sad when children go looking to have this need met outside their family, when the life-giving table is the perfect medium for seeds of friendship to flourish right in the home.

“What makes a table lifegiving is what happens at the table.”

If relationship is the goal, a life-giving table can be found anywhere people come together to find refreshment for body, soul, and spirit, and where the value of relationship is based on the value of individuals as God’s image bearers and much-loved children.

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This book was provided by Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for my review.  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.”

Additional Resources

Table Mentoring

Sue Moore Donaldson shares inspiration and practical advice for ministry around your table at her website, and in her books. Hospitality 101 is a Bible study featuring lessons from The Ultimate Host, and Table Mentoring will help you get started on the joyous path of coming alongside another person around your welcoming table.

Also:

Be sure to give a listen to At Home with Sally Clarkson and Friends,  a podcast in which Sally shares more thoughts on the Lifegiving Table along with interviews with fascinating guests.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

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.

Faith, Family, and the Adoption Journey

Last summer, we canoed down the Saco River.  With kayaks, canoes, and colorful life jackets, we were a festive family flotilla bobbing along in the gentle current. On the way to our destination, we swam, sunned ourselves on sandbars, and the kids played a rousing game of gunwale wars. It was the kind of day that becomes a better memory every year, except . . .

We received some misinformation along the way and our end point was actually further down the river than we had thought — by several hours. Wild with a quiet panic, I paddled and fretted. As the sun began to set and I pictured us navigating around fallen trees and exposed granite in the dark, I announced to my husband, “I’m not a process person!  I’m a destination person, and I want this journey to be over!”

Kristin Hill Taylor found herself navigating a similar course in her journey of infertility and the decision to adopt.  Steering around the discomfort and inconvenience of fertility treatments, enduring the open-ended waiting process, and keeping one eye on the sunset that comes with aging ovaries, she found herself returning to Daniel’s Old Testament anthem to God’s sovereignty:

“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
For wisdom and might are His.
And He changes the times and the seasons;
He removes kings and raises up kings;
He gives wisdom to the wise
And knowledge to those who have understanding.
 He reveals deep and secret things;
He knows what is in the darkness,
And light dwells with Him.  (Daniel 2:20-23)

God graciously allowed Kristin to stay close to the truth that waiting is an opportunity for growth — but that does not mean it was easy! Once Kristin and her husband Greg entered the adoption process, they faced an entirely new set of circumstances that were beyond their control. Even so, they could see the hand of God at work when a young mum made the brave choice to continue her pregnancy and selected the Taylors as an adoptive family for her baby.

Kristin shares her astonishment at the great gift of insight adoption brought to her understanding of the Christian life. Understanding the depth of God’s choosing love and leaning into this faith gave Kristin peace in the process of becoming a mum and leaving a much-loved career to stay home with her first child. The Taylors went on to adopt two more babies, each story unique and each child a gift from God.

By sharing the details of each adoption and including the diverse stories of a number of friends who also adopted, Kristin prepares readers who are considering adoption for the twists and turns of the process.  Throughout the years of her story arc, it seemed that Kristin was perpetually updating a home study or weathering another round of disappointed hopes.  She learned that “few things define us more than how we struggle.” (49) And she realized that she was NOT a good struggler.  However, she was also in a process of transformation — as is every believer.

The sandpaper that God chose to use in Kristin’s situation was the adoption process and the emotionally draining job of mothering multiple children. As Kristin openly shares her moments of weakness and the ways in which God used His Word to instruct her, I was also challenged to dig into the truth of the book of James that “God wants me to live out my faith with my hands and my feet and my words and my actions and my attitudes and my relationships and my decision and my whole entire life.”

A closer examination of the adoption process pushed my understanding of being pro-life beyond a political position and into a realization that children are worth the level of effort, investment, and inconvenience that adoption can sometimes create. The formation of a family is worth the risk and the vulnerability.

The Taylor family has come together through adoption, and although the journey was not predictable or planned, the result is all that Kristin could have hoped for. The uniqueness of their family’s growth served as the occasion for witnessing God’s glory on display as He brought order to brokenness and wove together a network of love and connections in the making of a family.

Raymond Kayak
And, yes, the journey down the river was worth it, too!

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This book was provided by the author in exchange for my review.  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.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

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.

The Perfect Vacation for an Imperfect Family

We arrived at our campsite well after dark.  The rodeo had been a much-anticipated highlight of our cross-country trip, and no one was in a hurry to stop talking about it — or to crawl into our sleeping bags.

It’s a good thing, too, because standing where our tent should have been was a small gathering of fellow campers.  One was setting up our lawn chairs and three others were headed in our direction, dragging a pile of fabric that looked like . . . our tent.

The six of us piled out of the mini-van into the glow of our headlights.  My eight-year-old took my hand.

Kind neighbors informed us that while we were gone a tornado had swept through the campground throwing tents and camping equipment in every direction.  Our tent had been completely uprooted, leaving behind all its stabilizing ropes and anchoring pegs, and landing in a heap several sites away.

Beside me, a small voice quavered, “Does this mean we have to go home?”

Cobbling together a plan on the fly, my husband and I tag-teamed a way forward:

“We’re going to gather our sleeping bags . . .”

“We’ll pack up all our gear . . .”

“And we’ll find a hotel in town, back where we watched the rodeo!”

“Tomorrow we’ll buy a new tent, first thing.”

By the time we had loaded the last cooler, everyone was visualizing the luxury of a hotel shower.  (Especially me!)

Apparently when you show up in a hotel lobby at 1 a.m. with four dusty kids, they’re willing to bend the rules about maximum occupancy.  We arranged ourselves somewhere on or around two king-sized beds and, amazingly, we slept.

Fortified by a quick breakfast of yogurt and bagels, we bought a tent at a big box store and hit the road, because now we were not merely travelers.  We were tent-tornado survivors, and we would persevere.

Earlier in the trip, teenage squabbles might have derailed us.  Slow-drying beach towels twirling in tired campsite laundromats might have dampened our spirits.  The perennially squashed hot dog buns in our crowded mini-van might have seemed like an impossible hardship before, but post-tornado, we began to see ourselves as adventurers on the open road.  For this privilege, we could eat the odd squashed bun.

We had started our vacation behaving as if there was a “right way” to do this cross-country journey, a perfect itinerary to follow, and a “correct approach” to the family road trip.  We read every word of the historical markers, looked in every corner of every museum, and collected brochures for future school projects.  Please understand that this was not a matter of capturing teachable moments – this was a case of ambushing them and wrestling them to the ground.

Sometimes it takes a tornado to make you realize that you are driving your kids (and yourselves) crazy.  Intentionally, we backed away from perfect.  We began to get off the highway more often.  As our mini-van devoured the miles, we spotted our first cactus on the way up Scott’s Bluff.  We stalked cicadas that sounded like artillery fire in the muggy southeastern darkness, and we marveled at mockingbirds that apparently spend every waking moment fine-tuning their repertoire.

We made crazy Hail Mary phone calls to camp sites, hoping at the last minute to be able to pitch our tent near a place we had fallen in love with.  After all, if Mt. Rushmore is stunning at sunset, what will it look like in early morning light?

The unclenching of my fists around the idea of the perfect vacation signaled the opening of my hands to The Given.  Designed by a wild, incomprehensible, and totally-other God, we are, nonetheless, a family of imperfection – and delight!

We are museums, and we are rodeos.
We are McDonald’s hamburgers, and we are fresh Washington state cherries eaten alongside the road.
We are wild, whirling winds; and we are dark, peaceful night skies announcing that God really did “hang the earth on nothing.”

Our vacation was not perfect, but neither are we.

We had brought ourselves along for the journey.
And we were glad to have us.

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Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash

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If you are planning to read Wendell Berry’s  Jayber Crow  and to join us in the discussion, we’ll begin tackling chapters 1-3 on September 7th.  I’ll be sharing the full schedule on August 31 in my end-of-month musings post.

One of the prevailing themes of the book seems to be the nature of calling.  Jayber’s life takes some unexpected twists and turns, but even so, he had this to say:

“I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led — make of that what you will.”

 

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

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.

Can Busy Mums Really Find Time to Spend with God? (Part 2)

“Wait a minute, ” I interrupted.  “Read that again.  Is that really in Isaiah?”

My husband and I are reading through the Bible again this year — together and out loud.  Aside from the challenge of actually being in the same room (or the same vehicle) at the same time for this daily discipline and delight, we are both finding that reading the text out loud is affecting the details that we notice and deepening our understanding of the passage.  We hear the repetition and the rhythm of recurring phrases as our mouths form the syllables and the sounds of Hebrew names and the nomenclature of ancient Middle Eastern geography.

In addition to giving us something important to share in common in these days of the empty-ing nest, this practice keeps me grounded in the overall scope of Scripture’s narrative arc, reminding me that God is at work in a larger story that is massively redemptive and globally significant.

As a busy mum, I set modest goals for my reading and study, usually sticking with a chapter for at least a week in order to get the most out of it.  This is like the slow pace of a stroll in which details that are missed at 55 miles per hour in the car suddenly show up and ask to be noticed.  A slow read gives me time to read, re-read, and process.

This is Week 2 in the series for mums who want to step up their time with God, and this week, Shannon from Of the Hearth has posed two questions:

In what ways has being a mum changed how you go about having a devotional time?

What tools have helped you to be consistent?

In my answers, I advocate for the prudent use of little minutes, remind readers that God is committed to meeting with us no matter where we are, and I encourage mums to embrace the changes that are part of life.  I also share how important accountability has been in maintaining good study habits.

Elizabeth from Guilty Chocoholic Mama is sharing her thoughts along with Shannon, and the three of us would love to hear your input.  Click here to join the discussion, and be sure to share the post with other mums you know who are living this following life and seeking Truth in the small spaces between their loving duties.

For those who missed the discussion from last week, you can catch up here.

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If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

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.

 

Living in the Wide Open Spaces

Life has a way of expanding to fill the available space.

Little League games used to occupy Saturday mornings with hours of sunshine (and mosquitoes) and with chatting on the bleachers with other mums. However, a quick glance around my house reveals  our family has aged out of that particular American institution.  We’ve moved on, but even so, Saturday mornings are still booked. These days, though, I’m not a spectator.  I’m experiencing the great outdoors from the seat of a lawn mower.

If your goal in life is to live small and safe, beware the family business!  With its shifting parameters and employees who double as offspring and then have the audacity to grow up and move on to their own lucrative pursuits, our mowing business is challenging all my known boundaries.  Going from “I don’t do complicated machinery” to driving a zero-turn has been a harrowing experience, and one best accomplished in a wide-open field – for the safety of everyone!

There, with the startled butterflies rising along with the scent of fresh-cut grass, I’m gathered into the wildness of open sky alongside the coziness of trampled grasses where a deer bedded down the night before.

There, everything becomes an invitation:

See the wispy clouds, faithfully tending to their job of breaking up the stunning blue.
See the flock of hungry birds ransacking the honeysuckle bush.
See the honey bees, clearly all Threes on the Enneagram, hauling the makings for a flourishing life back to their far-away hive.

From my seat on the mower, inspiration is everywhere.  I have a job to do:  halt the advance of the Maine wilderness in this one location for this one season.

This I can do.
What a relief.

Capture

I’d love it if you would continue to read this story of how driving a lawn mower is impacting my sense of vocation and my conviction that God is active and present in my crazy, in-between life.  Click on over to SheLoves Magazine for more on the truth that even when our circumstances are shifting and the future seems unclear, we can step through God’s open door and find the wide-open field of His calling.

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If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

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.

Can Busy Mums Really Find Time to Spend with God? (Part 1)

Sunlight slanted through the passenger-side window, and a light breeze lifted the pages of the Bible that was propped against the steering wheel to make room for the notebook in my lap.  Middle school band practice always lasted 45 minutes — not long enough to bother going home.  And since the older children were all occupied elsewhere, there was no need.  So, for a few moments, the blue mini-van in the parking lot became a tabernacle — a mobile meeting place for quiet reading and reflection.

That was the scene that first came to mind when Shannon Coleman from Of the Hearth asked for my thoughts on making time in a busy schedule for daily quiet time with God.  As the mum of four active boys, I’ve long been an advocate for the prudent use of little minutes, so I’ve shared a few thoughts over at her place today.  

Best of all, Shannon has given suggestions that have worked for her as the mum of two toddlers, and has also invited our friend Elizabeth from Guilty Chocoholic Mama to provide input as the mum of two teenage girls.

This week we’re just getting started with the basics in which Shannon poses the question:

How do you find time to spend with the Lord?

If this is an area of struggle for you, we invite you to come on over for encouragement — and if you know someone else who needs ideas or inspiration, I hope you’ll invite them too!  Please follow this link over to Shannon’s place, and be sure to share you own pointers and principles as you join in the conversation!

Next Wednesday, July 26th, we’ll be back with our thoughts on these questions:

In what ways has being a mum changed how you go about having a devotional time?

What tools have helped you to be consistent?

Elizabeth, Shannon, and I look forward to seeing you next week!

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If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

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.