Tag Archives: Tennessee

Life Lessons from the School Bus (#1)

The following is the first “Life Lesson” post I wrote about driving a school bus (published in Feb. 2011). It bears little resemblance to how later posts turned out, especially those included in my book. However, I learned as I went, as you will see.

Keep checking back every half hour as I will be posting 9 more “Life Lessons” today in celebration of this being my LAST DAY as a school bus driver.

Stormy Weather”

What one person calls terrible weather capable of ending life as we know it, may be just another work day to another.  This truth is never more obvious than to bus drivers.

Recently, we have had more snow in Tennessee than at any time I can personally remember. We have even used up all of our available “snow days.”  Yet, while we were closing schools for snow down here, schools up north were quite literally trucking along.

Looking out the windshield of my bus onto the lawn, you can see an inch or so of white stuff. Due to the lack of equipment and funds to regularly take care of the frozen precipitation (it’s not the norm down here, you know), just an inch, if it sticks to the roads, will shut down schools in a heartbeat. The mountainous and rural back roads off the main highways, where most kids live, usually are not salted or plowed. Typically, people around here just wait a day or so for the arctic terror to melt. Until then, driving is dangerous, so buses stay parked and empty.

On the other hand, my wife was in Chicago during the last blizzard. She sent me this picture of a school bus transporting children in weather that would have given a Tennessee school administrator heart failure.  What was the difference? They are used to it up there, and far more prepared. To people in Chicago, our worst weather is just another work day. But I wonder how they would deal with our heat, humidity, and lung-clogging pollen come August?

The Life Lesson

Problems will come in life that may seem small to some, but huge to others. The key is to never view another person’s problem as insignificant. What you may think is no big deal to you, just might be earth-shattering to somebody else.

Learn to show grace and mercy to those who aren’t handling things as well as you. You may be the strength and encouragement they need to get through a tough time.  Who knows, a time may come when an unexpected storm will snow you in.

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Filed under General Observations, Life Lessons

Viewing Home

There’s a place I used to go when I was younger, when I was in much better shape, and when my family still lived down by the river (but not in a van). It was a bluff overlooking the Tennessee River Gorge, right above where we lived.

Just the other day, as I walked out of the cardiologist’s office, I saw in the waiting room a photo on canvas, a photo of the very place I used to hike to as a kid. Emotions took my breath away.

I moved a chair out of my way and used my phone to take a picture – this picture – of the picture.

There it was, the view like no other in Tennessee, like few in the world. It was the view of my home from on top of that rocky outcrop that I’d gladly hike for a few hours to reach.

Oh, how I’d love to go there again, except this time with my wife and girls! I would love for them to share in the awe and grandeur of God’s perfect river view.

If you were to sit on the edge of the rock, to your left you would see the Tennessee River flow down from the direction of Chattanooga. Below your feet would be a hundred-foot drop to the tops of maple and oak trees. To your right would be (as you see here) the river on which we’d fish, ride in a boat, and watch the rains from every storm approach us like a white wall.

This was Cherokee country. This was moonshine country. This was the place where my great grandfather immigrated to after hobo-ing a train out of Rainbow City, Alabama. This is where my grandfather married a half-Cherokee woman and built a house out of rough-cut pine that he and his father cut at the saw mill. This is where my dad and my uncle would sneak across the river at night to take food to my grandpa Baker who was hiding out from the revenuers.

This was where my dad got his first and last whiskey still at the age of 14, but gave it up after the plum whiskey nearly killed him.

This is where we would later live after my dad met my mom, gave his heart to Jesus, and displayed what it really looked like to be changed by the Gospel.

This is where I learned to shoot, hunt, fish, and be proud of my “hillbilly” roots. It’s also where my cousin and I snuck what we thought were .22 cal. blanks out of my uncle’s gun cabinet and then proceed to shoot at each other across a field at night. Actually, I had the blanks, but Danny had the bullets.

I can say with all certainty, he missed.

This is where I would accept the call to preach at age 16.

This is the place I used to call home, but no longer. Even if I wanted to move back there, the millionaires have bought up much of what used to be my stomping grounds, at least what’s not now part of the Tennessee River Trust. I’d never be able to afford a place to build a campfire, much less a house, even if the old family property was available.

But that’s OK.

Sure, there’s a sentimental ache in my heart to stand on that bluff again, to look down on my old home. But the older I get, the more I have a longing to see someplace else, someplace where I’ll be welcome forever… A place I’ve been reading about in an old Book.

From what I’ve been told, well… the view there is spectacular! Even infinite!

And there’ll be no cardiologist waiting rooms, either.

 

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Filed under Family, General Observations, Life/Death, places, wisdom

Chilly Weather Down South

I went out for a drive this morning.

The global warming is killing me.

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Filed under Weather

The Magnificent Fifty: Foundation of Faith (Tennessee)

Nashville, Tennessee (Artist: Susan Cassidy Wilhoit)

Tennessee Constitution, Article 1, Section 3 (1870)

That all men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience.

 


Tennessee is my home State. I am thankful that the Constitution of my State affirms my right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of my conscience. However, federal law trumps State law, and one day this freedom may be taken away in its entirety. Nevertheless, the right to worship God is not a right given by Tennessee or Washington, D.C.; it is a commandment given by the Almighty, Himself. 

Should the right to worship according to the dictates of my own conscience be denied, including the right to publicly speak the name of Jesus, I will have to echo the words of Peter in Acts 4:20, “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”

The dictates of any constitution will have no bearing on the command to “go into all the world and preach the gospel,” including Tennessee.

Go Vols! 🙂

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Filed under America

Appetite for Comfort

It’s been nearly 5 years since I was “Freshly Pressed” on WordPress. This was the post that earned the honor. I hope it doesn’t make you too hungry for more 😉 

Comfort Food, That Is

There are some things in life that we always go back to when nothing else seems to do. It’s called comfort food.

Comfort food is the stuff that you want to eat when you’re depressed, when you’ve lost a limb, or when you’re girlfriend informs you that all along she has been an alien from Jupiter, and now she wants your brain to take back to her daddy.

Comfort food brings back fond memories of childhood and the “good-old-days” (unless you were a starving refugee), when Mom could make you feel better with nothing more than a spoonful of lard and some corn meal.

Comfort Central

Here in the southern United States we have a custom: when somebody dies, we eat.

Whenever a loved one passes away, bites the dust, or essentially assumes room temperature for an indefinite period of time, we trot them off to a funeral home, and then bring in every kind of unhealthy food imaginable. We all know that when one is suffering a terrible loss, comfort food will help dull the pain. And if nothing else, it will help you get to where your loved one is a little quicker than a salad will.

A typical southern funeral home has a dining area. This is where the family and friends can go when they are tired of standing around in the viewing room. They instinctively know that in that room is food which will make them feel better.

Serious Comfort

Well, not long ago my only blood-related uncle went home to be with the Lord. His body was taken to a funeral home in a place called Whitwell (pronounced “Wutwool“), Tennessee. And it was there that the funeral home staff did something that it does for all their families – serve homemade pinto beans.

Now, don’t be fooled, folks. These are not your ordinary beans. These are about the best pinto beans you will ever put in your ever-loving mouth! Served with some homemade cornbread, these beans made me tear up (no joke) as I remembered my granny, my dad, and a much, MUCH simpler life down on the river.

What makes these pintos so special is that they were soaked for 24 hours in water, then slow-cooked the next day in a crock pot with several slices of thick bacon. Of course, there’s more to it than that, but there are secrets to keep.

A Holy Command

Why do we prepare such food for funerals? Seriously? For one thing, sometimes it is hard to find the right words to say when someone is hurting. That’s when people do what they can, and many times the only thing they can do is prepare good food. Hurting people need to be cared for, and this is one way to show it.

Comforting one another is also something we are commanded to do. 1Thessalonians 5:11 tells us to “comfort yourselves together, and edify one another.” And speaking of the hope of resurrection we have in Christ, the Apostle Paul said in the same letter, “comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:8).

But what happens when words are hard to find? Make a pot of seriously savory pinto beans and cornbread. Tears of heartache may turn into tears of culinary joy.

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Filed under Food, Relationships and Family

Building 429 Meets My Judgmentalism, Then Gets an Apology

The following post was first published in 2011, yet it is definitely worth revisiting. If you have not read this post, what it depicts is a perfect example of why I call myself a “recovering legalist.” Even now I cringe when I recall my judgmental, legalistic actions 6 years ago. But God’s grace doesn’t force immediate change; we grow in grace.

Some take longer than others.


The Story

For the last several weeks we have been going out to get some food after evening services. If you don’t know what I am talking about, let me explain:

Getting Food = going to a restaurant that sells stuff you could make at home for a lot less money, but tastes better and is more fun when you pay for it in the company of others.

Evening Services = gathering of believers at a local church that still takes place on Sunday nights, while most people stay home, in order to give the pastor something to do.

FoodFriday #17: Cracker Barrel - Old Country Store

Last night, after a great time of worship and hearing from God’s Word, my wife, our girls, our youth director, and I went to Cracker Barrel. When we pulled in, I noticed a really sweet Prevost tour bus sitting in the lot. I said to my wife, Valerie, “Now that has got to be a group, or a band, or something, because it takes somebody serious to keep one of those things on the road.

We gently maneuver our tired, aged frames (we’re getting old in our 40’s) out of the car and walk toward the entrance. As we walk across the front of Cracker Barrel, where all the rocking chairs are, my wife and I notice some interesting young men dressed in black. One of them had a black hat and a hairstyle that would make more than a few grannies say, “What died on your head, sonny?”

Myself? Well I am in a suit and tie. My wife? She is wearing a dress. WE are the “Reverend and Mrs. Baker,” you know. WE know how to dress on Sunday, unlike these guys. So, my wife walks past them first and gives them a forced, but gentle smile. Next, I walk by, thinking to myself, “These are definitely musicians…yep…the hair gives it away…they’re the Prevost riders.” I nod and smile.

Once inside the Cracker Barrel, my conscience started to bother me. Something wasn’t right. I have been around long enough to recognize when the Holy Spirit says, “Hey, I bear witness that those weird-looking guys out there are part of the Family.” That is when I come up with a brilliant, self-covering plan – send Katie, our 15 year old, out to see who they are.

I only had an old iPhone. And it was dark.

Katie,” I say, “go out there and ask those guys on the porch who they are or what band they’re with.”  Fortunately, and I knew this, there were others outside beside the “men in black,” so don’t think I sent my little girl out to talk to strangers, alone. She talked to strangers with other strangers there to help.

A few minutes later, Katie comes back in with the biggest smile on her face, beaming with a glow that could blind a man in sunglasses, saying, “They are Building 429!!

Now, here’s the point of all this. Here I am, someone who preaches against unrighteously judging others, especially Christians who look different (what’s normal?). What do I do? I walk right by a group of guys and assume, wrongfully, that evidently, just because they were not in suits on a Sunday night, they were a group of heathen beatniks heading to/from Nashville.  I messed up.

An Official Apology

Sorry, guys, for doing the very thing I hate seeing other people do. This is why I call myself a “recovering legalist.” Sometimes I fail. Last night I failed in a bad way. Up until last night, I had never even seen you before to recognize you in person. All I know is that the song you recorded, “Always,” is one of my favorites…I’ve shed more than a few tears while listening to it.

Please forgive my wife and I for acting like a couple of snobby, self-righteous, judgmental legalists. If I’m fortunate, maybe God will someday give this preacher some hair like yours.

May God bless you and your ministry. He WILL be with you always.

 


UPDATE: Shortly after this post was first published, Building 429 posted a link to it on their Facebook page. A little later we exchanged a few emails in which they graciously accepted my apology. I offered to buy them dinner the next time they came through town, but Jason Roy (lead singer) said that wouldn’t be necessary – then he offered me free tickets the next time they came to town! Cool, huh? But I never took him up on it – we just bought them, anyway.

Here is a more recent video from Building 429, “Unashamed.”

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Filed under Do not judge, General Observations, legalism

Recovering Legalist Meets Building 429

The following took place 5 years ago in February, 2011. A lot has happened since then, but I’m still a “recovering” legalist – I still mess up from time to time.

NOTE: I updated the link to the music video. If you couldn’t watch it before, try again. Oh, and seriously, you should be shouting at the end of it 🙂

The Story

For the last several weeks we have been going out to get some food after evening services. If you don’t know what I am talking about, let me explain:

Getting Food = going to a restaurant that sells stuff you could make at home for a lot less money, but tastes better and is more fun when you pay for it in the company of others.

Evening Services = gathering of believers at a local church that still takes place on Sunday nights, while most people stay home, in order to give the pastor something to do.

FoodFriday #17: Cracker Barrel - Old Country Store

Image by inju via Flickr

Last night, after a great time of worship and hearing from God’s Word, my wife, our girls, our youth director, and I went to Cracker Barrel. When we pulled in, I noticed a really sweet Prevost tour bus sitting in the lot. I said to my wife, Valerie, “Now that has got to be a group, or a band, or something, because it takes somebody serious to keep one of those things on the road.

We gently maneuver our tired, aged frames (we’re getting old in our 40’s) out of the car and walk toward the entrance. As we walk across the front of Cracker Barrel, where all the rocking chairs are, my wife and I notice some interesting young men dressed in black. One of them had a black hat and a hairstyle that would make more than a few grannies say, “What died on your head, sonny?”

Myself? Well I am in a suit and tie. My wife? She is wearing a dress. WE are the “Reverend and Mrs. Baker,” you know. WE know how to dress on Sunday, unlike these guys. So, my wife walks past them first and gives them a forced, but gentle smile. Next, I walk by, thinking to myself, “These are definitely musicians…yep…the hair gives it away…they’re the Prevost riders.” I nod and smile.

Once inside the Cracker Barrel, my conscience started to bother me. Something wasn’t right. I have been around long enough to recognize when the Holy Spirit says, “Hey, I bear witness that those weird-looking guys out there are part of the Family.” That is when I come up with a brilliant, self-covering plan – send Katie, our 15 year old, out to see who they are.

I only had an old iPhone. And it was dark.

Katie,” I say, “go out there and ask those guys on the porch who they are or what band they’re with.”  Fortunately, and I knew this, there were others outside beside the “men in black,” so don’t think I sent my little girl out to talk to strangers, alone. She talked to strangers with other strangers there to help.

A few minutes later, Katie comes back in with the biggest smile on her face, beaming with a glow that could blind a man in sunglasses, saying, “They are Building 429!!

Now here’s the point of all this. Here I am, someone who preaches against unrighteously judging others, especially Christians who look different (what’s normal?). What do I do? I walk right by a group of guys and assume, wrongfully, that evidently, just because they were not in suits on a Sunday night, they were a group of heathen beatniks heading to/from Nashville.  I messed up.

An Official Apology

Sorry, guys, for doing the very thing I hate seeing other people do. This is why I call myself a “recovering legalist.” Sometimes I fail. Last night I failed in a bad way. Up until last night, I had never even seen you before to recognize you in person. All I know is that the song you recorded, “Always,” is one of my favorite…I’ve shed more than a few tears while listening to it. Please forgive my wife and I for acting like a couple of snobby, self-righteous, judgmental legalists. If I’m fortunate, maybe God will give this preacher some hair like yours, someday.

May God bless you and your ministry. He WILL be with you always.

 

 

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Filed under Do not judge, General Observations, legalism

“Real” Men of God

Genuine Articles

This past weekend I went with my wife to a retreat/conference for bivocational pastors and their wives. It was sponsored by the Tennessee Baptist Convention and was held in Pigeon Forge, TN.

Believe it or not, not all pastors fly jets, have mansions, drive new cars, or wear $1,000 suits. Most pastors drive used cars, live modestly, fly only when they have to, and get their suits only when they’re on sale.

Even though the pastors most people see on television have thousands of members in their churches, the average size of the typical congregation is only in the 80’s or less. The average pastor has to work a second job, does not have a secretary, and can’t afford a personal hair stylist.

The men I spent time with last weekend were the real deal: humble, hardworking, men of God. They were the real deal, the genuine article.

Genuine People

One thing that people tend to forget is that pastors are people, too. They have families, bills, and a list of their own issues. They have problems like the rest of everybody, it’s just that it’s hard to share them with the congregations they serve.

A lot of people accuse Christians of thinking we have it all together, but we don’t. As a matter of fact, what makes us better pastors is when God allows us to go through struggles and trials and all the associated pain in order for us to have first-hand knowledge of His grace.

On the first night of the conference I attended, in a breakout session for the men, one particular pastor poured his heart out about his wayward 19-year-old son. He wept as he said, “What I need is some hope.” It didn’t take long before this brother, this wounded spiritual warrior, was brought up to the front of the room. There, as he knelt beside a table, the rest of us wept with him, prayed with him, and encouraged him.

How did we encourage him? It’s because we were real people fighting some of the same battles, feeling some of the same hurts, and he knew he was not alone.

praying pastors

THESE are the REAL pastors. These are the real deal. These are NOT the men wanting your money; they’re the ones who’d give you their last dollar. These are the men who care for your souls. These are the real men of God you should get behind and support.

I am so thankful to the TBC and all those who made this minister’s and wives retreat possible. I’m also thankful for the grace of God. We are not alone, even when no one else will stand with us.

But when we do stand, and kneel, and weep, and rejoice with each other…oh, what a formidable force we are!


 

“Shepherd God’s flock among you, not overseeing out of compulsion but freely, according to God’s will; not for the money but eagerly; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. “ – 1 Peter 5:2-4 HCSB

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Filed under ministry, Parenting, Preaching, Southern Baptist, Struggles and Trials

Tennessee Taliban?

Yesterday, on Facebook, I read a post comparing conservatives in Tennessee to the Taliban. Yes, the Taliban.

Was it meant in jest? Was it simply sarcasm? Was it some form of sophisticated humor far above my intellectual capabilities? In any case, I did not find it humorous, but offensive. Let me quote to you what the author wrote, but just in case I’m missing something, I won’t name names – since the Taliban might get offended, and you know how that could go.

“Family Values is the Sharia Law of East Tennessee… [Rich and White] are the only two qualities required to hold office here in the Taliban region of East Tennessee.”

church ladyIt’s easy to come down hard on unloving, graceless, legalistic Christians (or at least those who claim to be) when they try to push their beliefs. I mean, if all you ever experience is the literal version of Dana Carvey‘s SNL character Church Lady, then that kind of self-righteous, churchy, hate mongering is easy to condemn.

But in reality, the ones my friend (yes, it’s a friend) were comparing to the Taliban are those who strongly believe abortion is wrong, that wine sales should be confined to the liquor store, and that one shouldn’t have to check his religion at the door when either voting or running for office. The Tennessee “church ladies” were even likened to Taliban because of their supposed hypocritical support for a less-than-godly candidate. But is the Taliban characterization fair? I don’t think so.

With the exception of the insane radical who has no clue what it means to follow Christ (yet claims to be a Christian), even the most conservative of conservatives, even the most severely Independent Fundamental Bapticostalite-type is nothing, NOTHING like the Taliban!

Give me a break!

For example, let’s compare reactions. Last week a Baptist church in my town was savagely vandalized. What did we do? We prayed that justice would be done, that the vandal would be caught, AND that our community could find a way to show him the love of Christ. What would the Taliban have done in the same situation? Well, as a clue, just last week a missionary friend informed us of a couple in his town that was burned alive after being accused of burning some pages from the Koran. The 26 year-old couple, parents of 4, were repeatedly thrown onto a fire as they pleaded their innocence. But hey, those Christians were taught a lesson, weren’t they?

Had the Christians in Lookout Valley, Tennessee, been the Taliban, we would have united after our morning prayers, then killed the teenager who destroyed the church. After that, like so often is the case with Muslim mobs, we would have looted, raped, and crucified anyone who looked like an atheist or liberal, then burned our own businesses – just to make a point.

But we didn’t, did we?

photo (32)

The Tennessee Taliban (illustrated by: A. Baker)

And what about that election? What about those dreadfully religious, abortion-regulating votes?

  • You mean those votes cast in a fair election after which no one was shot, beheaded, or blown up by a car bomb?
  • You mean the election to which women were allowed to drive themselves?
  • You mean that election we actually HAD?!

I guess the Tennessee Taliban never got the memo from headquarters. You know, the one that says, “Tyranny good…democracy bad.”

So, what’s my point? It does not further the quest for Christian unity and understanding when we intentionally use blatantly derogatory labels to demonize those with whom we disagree, especially when we agree on far more things than we don’t.

If my interpretation of the reason for using the “Taliban” term was flawed, then I sincerely apologize. I understand, as pointed out by my wife and children, I can blow things way out of context. But, if I was, as I suspect, lumped in with those who kill those with whom they find the least bit of variance, I’m hurt.

Labeling those who were only doing their civic duty, and had they lost would have only complained and whined, as the “Taliban” was an unfortunate use of words. But unlike the Taliban, we will forgive.

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Filed under Abortion, Alcohol, America, Christian Unity, Culture Wars, legalism

Thursday Thoughts

Today is January 2 (or 2 January, if you prefer), 2014. It is a cold, rainy day in Chattanooga, Tennessee, yet I have already been out and walked a mile and a half before my first cup of coffee. No resolutions – just doing what needs to be done.

Thursdays

Today is also Thursday…the day after Wednesday…the day before Friday…but I am not going to break out into a Rebecca Black song (although I know you want me to). No, I am going to keep my singing to myself; only my written voice will be heard.

Thursday is a day that is not quite the end of the week, but on the downhill slide from Wednesday, the middle of the week. Nothing much happens on Thursday, does it? Thursday feels like a “filler” used to make the week complete.

New Stuff

So, since it’s been a long while since I started any new series of posts, I figure why not make Thursday my random thought day? Why not make Thursday – that innocuous, boring, non-essential filler – the day when I speak my mind about whatever has been in the news that week and tick off a whole bunch of liberals? Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

Why don’t we start with some random thoughts about family?

  • Carlos and Rebecca (my sister) Gomes

    Carlos and Rebecca (my sister) Gomes

    My sister (yes, I have a sister) lives in Germany and is married to a German. Therefore, I have a German brother-in-law, which is strange to think about in the light of the memory that I used to pretend to fight Germans while playing “army” as a child. I wonder what he thinks of George S. Patton?

  • One of my daughters is going to college (away from home) next year, and that leaves me in a perpetual bad mood.
  • All of my daughters like boys – which is good – but it makes my perpetually bad mood more dangerous, especially when they start talking about invitations and cake.

Here are some thoughts of mine regarding new laws that go into effect this week:

  • real light bulbDoing away with incandescent light bulbs is completely asinine.
  • Allowing boys and girls in California to choose which restrooms and locker rooms they wish to use is a recipe for sexual disaster and evidence that a perverted, sick, debauched spirit is behind an agenda to destroy the fabric of moral society. And if it is now law in California, don’t think it won’t be proposed in your own state.
  • A couple of states have now legalized the recreational use of marijuana. Now all the potheads can pack up and move from Tennessee! If we could only get Washington and Oregon to legalize crack cocaine and Meth, our whole drug-using community would head west!
  • I have not purchased Obamacare.

Books

I am going to try to read more this year, and one book that I have already started and will finish before the end of next week is The Measure of Our Success: An Impassioned Plea to Pastors (by Shawn Lovejoy). My wife saw this book on the shelf in a discount store. It only cost $5, so if it is not all that great I won’t be out much. However, from what I have already read, the author makes some painful and convicting observations.

the measure of our successThe idea of the book is that we pastors need to quit gauging our success by anything or anyone other than what God has planned for our particular ministries. Here’s an intriguing quote from page 23: “I am more convinced than ever before that most churches are not supposed to be large.” What do you think about that?

Enough for Today

Well, I could keep going and going and going, but I am already up to 602 words, and hardly anyone will read a blog post this long unless they are stalkers, true fans, or looking for something incriminating.

Check back next Thursday, if not before, to see what’s on my mind (or driving me crazy). 

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Filed under blogging, current events, Defending Traditional Marriage, General Observations, Relationships and Family