Christmas Letter 2023

I used to always send out Christmas letters, but I stopped doing this around 15 years ago. It got old and most people kept up with me on Facebook. Besides, I live with some private people and there’s only so much I can say about the dogs in the house. So, after a long dry spell, here’s my attempt at this genre again as I focus on myself… 

Christmas is just a few days away. While we have had snow already, it doesn’t appear we’ll have a white Christmas here along the Blue Ridge. But only time will tell. After all, this is the season of miracles. And our world could use a few miracles these days, and there are greater needs than a few snowflakes. For the holiday in which we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, this year has been one of war. From Ukraine to the Middle East, along with various spots in Africa, Asia, and South America, we hear of wars and rumors of wars. Pray for peace. We could all use a little. 

It’s cliché to speak about how fast a year has flown by, but it seems that 2023 has been faster than normal. Wasn’t it just a few months ago when I entered the year with COVID. 2022 was a Christmas to forget. I came down with COVID two days before Christmas. Thankfully, I recorded the sermon for Christmas Eve, allowing me to still appear on a big screen TV placed in the sanctuary on a super cold night. COVID kept its grip on me well into January. On the positive side, I got a lot of reading done.  After everyone else in the household came down with it, I moved out of quarantine in my basement office. While thankful for technology, I hope never again to open Christmas presents by FaceTime. 

Early November, looking toward the Buffalo. We will have an incredible view from the back dome

2023 was finally the year we contracted with a builder for planned addition to our house. It was scheduled to begin in May and to be done by August. Because of rain, it didn’t begin until well into June. They pushed finish date back to November. I thought we’d be done in time for a Christmas open house. No such luck. As of today, we’re still missing one of the large, specially made, windows, which didn’t make it with the others. Nor have they started the work on the deck on the back. Hopefully it’ll be done by the spring, and we can have everyone over to enjoy our view of the Buffalo. I’m not holding my breath. 

Of course, the delays cut into travel plans. I still have two weeks of vacation remaining; the other two I spent working on the house. But I like to be here when work happens. Now if we can just get folks to work more than a day every other week. Of course, these are minor first world problems when compared to the rest of the world. On the positive side, I have logged many miles walking the backroads around Carroll County. 

I got away for a Theology Matter’s Conference in Hilton Head in March of this year. As always, the speakers were excellent. Afterwards, I spent some time sailing at Skidaway before heading up to Wilmington to see my father and caught up with a couple of friends from high school

Highland Ave, Pittsburgh PA
In front of the seminary, looking toward East Liberty Presbyterian Church

In July, my Foundation for Reformed Theology seminar group meet in Pittsburgh. I stayed at the seminary. This was my first time being there in over 30 years and I made the most by going up a few days early. I got to see several classmates from seminary.

Lea Austin and Lee Dwyer and I went to a ballgame. The Pirates lost. Afterwards, we meet Walt Pietschmann for dinner. I had a wonderful lunch at a continuing care facility north of the city, thanks to Jean Henderson. She was the director of Field Education and Placement when I was in seminary. She arranged a lunch for me with her and two other residents of the facility, (Charles Partee and Don Gowan). Charles was a history professor. He confessed at lunch his fear he’d be discovered as a fraud, for he considered himself a philosopher. It was good to see Charles again, as he’s the one professor I’ve kept up with over the years.  Gowan was an Old Testament professor. I also had lunch with Steve Crocro, and Mary Witul. It was good to see old friends. 

PNC Park, Pittsburgh, PA
PNC Park in Pittsburgh

I caught a second ball game with my theology group along with another friend, Cody Watson, who happened to be in the area for the New Wilmington Missionary Conference. The Pirates lost. They started the season so hot, but after they slipped under .500, they were never able to pull themselves back into a winning season. This letter sounds depressing, doesn’t it. 

I think the left is a Dester II and the right a Japanese Climbing cucumber.

On a more positive note, my garden produced well this summer. I had a bumper crop of cucumbers (28 quarts of lime pickles, 5 quarts of dill pickles). My tomatoes produced well. In addition to eating daily tomato sandwiches from late July to late September, I canned 18 quarts of tomato soup and froze another 20-some pints of tomato sauce. I’ll also be enjoying winter squash until spring and have a couple of nice Amish pie pumpkins to hold me over.  I even had a few messes of okra, which doesn’t like the coolness of the mountain climate.

I have also enjoyed many good books this year. In fiction, the best book was Barbara Kingsolver’s novel, Demon Copperhead. This should be required reading for anyone living in these parts. The setting for the story is in far western part of Virginia, but she addresses problems that plague rural America. In the non-fiction category, I’d have to nominate Wendell Berry’s, The Need to be WholeThe book sums up much of his mission in life as he addresses issues with the land and race in American. Berry draws heavily on Scripture and does a wonder exposition on the Ten Commandments. Another good book, for the fun of it, is Bill Bryson’s One Summer, America 1927. Bryson captures a more innocent world that existed a century ago, and as is his trademark, he finds humor everywhere.

We got away for a short trip to Bluefield, West Virginia for the HopeWords Writer’s Conference. This is an incredible conference and it’s the second time Donna and I have attended. Sadly, I’ll probably miss it in 2024 as it conflicts with the “Faith and Writing Conference” at Calvin College.  

I am blessed to serve two Rock Churches along the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was a dream of mine to go back to a small church toward the end of my ministry and these churches have been a blessing. I enjoy preaching and visiting with people without the administrative headaches, and look forward to a few more good years before retirement (and writing my memoirs).

Sadly, however, 2023 became a year of deaths. At 66, I’m at the age where those who are a decade or two ahead of me are coming to the end of their lives. But there were also several deaths of friends who were my age and even younger. We need to enjoy and make the most of the time we’re given. 

May 2024 be a year of blessings. Our world could use some good news. We celebrate the birth of our Savior at the darkest time of the year (for those of us in the northern hemisphere). As the gospel of John reminds us, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”  Let’s believe in miracles!

Merry Christmas,

15 Replies to “Christmas Letter 2023”

  1. Your garden really did well.
    I’m 53 and this year I saw several of my friends my age pass away as well as one of my brothers who was only 2 years older than me.

    Merry Christmas.

  2. That was a delightful letter, Jeff. Seeing how you spend your days is fascinating. I think there’s a lot you left out due to privacy issues, which I respect. You are on my bucket list, to say hi, pray with you when I’m in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

  3. Merry Christmas Donna and Jeff! I’m at Brian’s for Christmas and attend ed his ceremony of his becoming a Captain in the Fire Cunpany! Im so proud of him! Also a Very Happy New Year !!
    Love Bill

  4. Merry Christmas, Jeff. Sorry the Pirates lost both games you attended while in Pittsburgh, but a day at PNC Park is never a bad day! I’m ordering the Wendell Berry book!

      1. As a long suffering Pirates’ fan myself, I must say that you and I have character coming out both ears. Can we turn some into a playoff run this time around?

        1. I hope so. Back in the early 90s, I made a game every playoff the Pirates were in and had tickets to the World Series. But they lost in the playoffs and the tickets were refunded.

  5. I’ve seen a lot of tie, sunrise and walking photos on FB but no recent updates so I’ve been wondering if progress slowed to a halt. I’m still fresh off a three month addition that took nearly 10 months to finish a few years back so color me not surprised. Hopefully it picks up and is done by spring.

    Merry Christmas to you and your family Jeff!

    1. I hope it will be done by spring. How does the building company lose a 9 foot by 5 foot window? I can’t run the water supply until we have it closed in and the contractor did suggest going ahead and insulating and I’m like, no way unless you’re going to replace all that gets wet on your dime. Yep, I’m flustered.

  6. I have your top two books tagged at the library. We’ll see if I get to either of them in 2024.

    Merry Christmas to you and your family, Jeff!

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