Celebrating Taquitos and Other Amazing Things

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This evening I googled “Worst News Story” and it led me down a strange and pervasive path I don’t think I want to venture down again.

One of the top news stories that caught my eye was the one about a gas station getting a two million remodel, and multiple reporters on the scene (that’s right, there was actually more than one) took us from the rotating racks of fried looking things, to the over-compensating attendant pumping gas for an eighty year old lady.

By the way, from all appearances this was her first time at any gas station, as the cameras caught her in an overly surprised tone asking the man clutching the gas pump in his glorious bright red vest, “Are you out here helping people?”

His best response would have been, “No. I’m standing here holding a gas pump waiting for my cousin Willie to show up with his flame thrower and we’re going to have some legit fun ‘round here! Hope ya brought some stuff to make s’mores!”

Sadly, those words never made it on camera, but the nice red-vest-wearing-dude pumped gas for a lady who shockingly isn’t up for an academy award this year.

The cameras moved inside to the spinning racks of fried TAQUITOS (in caps so you can feel my emotion here), which looked about as appetizing as the Amazon Prime cardboard box I just chucked into the garage. I also learned they are currently saving the world with a redesign of the pumps outside for a quicker and easier entry into the station. They interviewed a man who was very enthusiastic about all of the new construction. Why? Well, because he said he goes to this particular gas station every day and the remodel will save him some time getting in and out of the service station. Because those seconds will mean everything.

So for two million dollars this is what ya get, and I’m sure they will eventually make enough money to not only pay for their remodel, but maybe even create a medical expenses fund for their customers eating what may possibly go down in history as the most epic bad food idea of all time – Gas Station Taquitos. If you have never consumed a Gas Station Taquito you should probably just move along now and read something that’s going to provide you with a little more depth and beauty, like a comic book. Or the back of your Wheat Thins box.

Back to Taquitos, though, did you know that October 4th is actually National Taquito Day? I’m not sure if this was widely known, and in case anyone was to ask you what day is National Taquito Day, you now can give them an educated answer. You’re welcome.

Call me crazy, but I kind of think we are a bored country, and we are stretching to find any story, except for the best stories it seems. It’s funny, but I hear better stories, truly great stories all the time. How? Because you’re the one telling them.

One of the reasons I spent nineteen months writing a book is because I, too, discovered that when my friends share a personal story with me, I know something pretty amazing  is about to happen. Too often we overlook our own stories, maybe because we’re afraid to open up and share our hearts or pasts, or maybe because we just think it doesn’t matter. It DOES matter. Your story always matters.

They want to celebrate gas station remodels. And Taquitos. I want to celebrate you. And our stories.

I’ll make any of you bet. I could sit with you for fifteen minutes and I bet I could discover a wonderfully compelling story, one that could benefit the whole world. We could even eat a whole bunch of Taquitos while we talk! But seriously, we’ve let a strange, often worthless, and quite negative narrative get a stranglehold on our culture and I for one say we take it back, and talk about the stories that really matter, the good ones that keep getting overlooked. Like yours.

Or we could just stick with Taquitos. The choice really is ours. Isn’t it?

A New Challenge

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Hello, summer of 2017. Ummmm…what happened? I think if I’m honest I’m a little disappointed about my weight and my health right now. Usually the summer months I am killing the mileage and my weight is lower, but that’s not the story this year. Here’s a few points of comparison for 2017 versus 2016 –

From July 1st through July 20th of 2016 I ran 46 miles. Through the month of July this year I haven’t gotten in one single run. In June of 2016 I ran 67 miles, but only had 23 miles last month, mostly on vacation in Ocean City, NJ. Yes, my knee is much better, but I’ve honestly been intimidated at times to run on it, even though I have almost zero chance of reinjuring out there. I’ve avoided inclines that could cause me pain and have consistently been wearing my knee brace. Everything should be moving forward, but with no races on the horizon, there hasn’t been a sense of urgency to get out there. That’s all about to change, however, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

My weight has been more of a bizarre story. Last year I actually wasn’t much lower in the month of June, hovering around 255 to 260 pounds. I’ve I spent this past June around 270 pounds. Let’s keep it real, and even though I’m about six foot three and big boned (mom used to tell me I was big boned, so I’m sticking to it!), I should definitely be quite a bit lighter to run the distances I’m used to running. Is it really a huge shock I blew out my knee running forty miles on the ultra team at Reach the Beach last September? I love the endurance races, but how long did I really think I could survive out there being overweight?

It’s about two months until Ragnar Relay comes back to New Hampshire and I don’t have a team and haven’t trained. If I am honest, it will be a very tough weekend for me if I’m not out there racing with a team all across the White Mountains to Hampton Beach. I remember every leg from last fall. It’s etched into my soul. It’s probably my favorite event every year, but I haven’t trained, I’m nowhere near ready, and I’m  not sure if I could be. I’ve always run with Melanie, and I’ve always known my teammates, but something is stirring inside of me. I think if I do this, it’s the whole thing. If I do this, I’m all in.

Sure, my experience helps, but do I really want to punish my body for what feels like endless miles up and down the mountains of New Hampshire? It just can’t continue to be the same thing. It will have to be different this time, because time is exactly what I’m out of if I’m going to jump into this race with less than sixty days left. It will have to be a new adventure, a brand new training plan, and my eating will need to be spot on.

I have an idea though, and it’s pretty epic. Everything about my running, fitness and health is going to change, and I’m quite thrilled to share this story with you. I believe with all of my heart what’s about to happen next will be an amazing victory, and probably the greatest achievement of my life.

It’s a good plan. It’s the best plan. I believe in it. And maybe you will, too.

We are coming together. A lot of us. We are coming together in the month of August as a group, to encourage each other to hit some pretty amazing goals. Not my goals. But your goals. The ones you set. The ones you want. We are going to create a community, share our stories, and encourage each other to not break, bend, or wilt in the face of adversity.  So, for one month we come together, create our plans, and fight together to reach the summit. It has to begin sometime, doesn’t it?

For me, it begins in August. For now, we plan and prepare. I hope you’ll join us.

Christians, Gay Marriage, and Jesus: How To Reflect God’s Heart With Our Words and Actions

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I grew up on Forest Park Court, in West Carrollton, Ohio. That was me, tearing around our little cul-de-sac on my small blue, bike. It had the hardest, metal seat, but I didn’t care. It was my bike and my bike was awesome and I was scary fast.

I had a set of neighbors on both sides of me. On our left was the Tholens, and their son Eric was Robin when I was Batman, because none of the older kids would ever let me be Batman.  Those older kids had no clue how good of a Batman I truly could be.

In a ranch home to the right lived our neighbors Bob and Jerry. Bob and Jerry were a gay couple, and had a dog that barked at me a lot, but would lick my face silly when I jumped the fence to play with him. They had a genuinely kind demeanor, and spent a lot of their Saturdays talking with my ultra-conservative, but over-the-top-friendly mom. You could catch them and mom chatting it up on any ol’ summer day, while the guys were working their backyard and mom was hanging our laundry out on the line to dry. We lived next to them for several years, and they were always smiling, and we all always had something nice to say to each other.

Mom pulled no punches when she shared her faith with people, and though I don’t remember, I’m pretty confident mom had talked about such things with all of our neighbors. Yet no matter what Bob and Jerry and mom might have disagreed on, there was always a warm smile between them, and always something pleasant to say.

Let’s be honest, okay? Gay marriage was nowhere on the radar in the early 1970’s, and social media wasn’t even a concept. Folks! We didn’t even have the game pong back then! True story. Anyway, this narrative is quite different in 2017, as gay marriage is a legal right, and social media often dominates our communicative landscape. Times have definitely changed, in some ways for the better, and in other ways maybe not.

I wonder what the relationship with Bob, Jerry, and my mom would look like in 2017? First, let me say mom isn’t on social media (I’m just so not even going there, lol), so she has different inputs than many of us experience. Second, my gut tells me there’s probably no chance she’d be hanging laundry out on a line, but other than that change, I don’t think a thing would be different in their relationship. But maybe, if Bob or Jerry asked mom her views on gay marriage, maybe things would change. I’m not so sure, though.

This all leaves me considering just one not-so-simple question – “How do Christians communicate what the Bible says about gay marriage and similar topics, and do it in a way that best reflects the heart of God and the teachings of the scriptures?”? In the next few paragraphs, I’ll do my best to give a few very brief thoughts on this.

First, we ALWAYS lead with love and listen to the stories people have to share. There is a link at the bottom YOU MUST click on, where we see this type of love demonstrated in a powerful moment by my friends David and Lori Benham. I think their words and actions have some serious teeth, and encourage us in our obedience and love of others.

After we lead with love, I passionately urge each follower of Jesus to be honest with what the scriptures have to say within this topic (or any topic for that matter). So, love is first, followed by truth. Many progressive Christians will offer a buffet of enlightenment and philosophical arguments that Jesus would support gay marriage, but in the end, they take scripture completely out of context and ignore the passages from God’s word that lead people into a true and deeper relationship with Jesus. Honesty in these discussions is just so very crucial. They overlook their audiences thirst for truth, their hunger for God’s word, and even minimize their impact on the souls they connect with. Instead of being a beacon of truth, and helping folks struggling with sin (and I’m talking anything anyone might struggle with here), they shoot for some flimsy cultural acceptance and to gain some street cred. Let me just step back though, and be as clear as possible – Jesus never once supported gay marriage, and only ever supported marriage between a man and a woman.

“He (Jesus) answered, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh” (Matthew 19:4-6).

Jesus words here, in Mark 10:6-9, and throughout the scriptures clearly show us that God not only had plans around what marriage would look like, but it was He who was the creator of marriage. How could we as self-proclaimed followers of Jesus publicly denounce his words and God’s specific terms within marriage and think this is actually helping anyone? When has being deceptive and misleading people regarding the scriptures ever been helpful? How can any Christian leader ever share the Gospel and preach a false message regarding gay marriage and think anyone, especially the gay community is okay with this?

We do not love the folks in the gay community if our relationships are built upon my deliberate lies. We do nothing but mistreat our friends if we know the path to freedom, love and grace, yet deny them the same path with our words. How can we claim to be followers of Jesus, and then manipulate and twist the scriptures to make us feel better? I’m sorry, but I cannot bear such a burden.

I want the world to know the true Jesus, the one from the scriptures, the one who sacrificed everything for all of us. He died on the cross for sinners like me, and for good people like you. He bore the colossal burden of our sins on his back, and was tortured and bloodied and murdered so each of us could have a direct path to the Father and be with Him in paradise for all of eternity. This is who Jesus is, and twisting truths doesn’t make Christians anything but liars. Our dear friends in the gay community should be overwhelmed by our burning desire for them to know the real Jesus and spend eternity with us in the presence of the one, true God. Love is our message. And love without truth isn’t love.

One brief note: I mentioned earlier these discussions are tough, so understand this post is not a condemnation of the 84 year-old Eugene Peterson. These questions and issues can be difficult, and I understand each of us wants to lead with love. We all should be very grateful for Eugene Peterson, and his ministry, and that gratefulness includes not judging him, or his motives. He’s a really good dude!

In closing, my friends the Benhams recently faced a similar situation at their church, and God’s love and grace completely stole the show. I greatly encourage each of you to click on the link below and read a piece David recently wrote. Not only is this an example of God’s goodness in action, but a true testimony of how we can powerfully follow Jesus in the world we live in today, and provide hope, love, and courage to those who need it most.

http://mobile.wnd.com/2017/07/ex-lesbians-new-identity-in-christ/

Hey CNN. I’d like to help.

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Dear CNN,

Good morning! I’d like to help. I think we could both say lately you’ve had a tough go of things. The term “Fake News” has changed the public’s perception of who you are, and there have been some pretty hard accusations. What has probably been the most damaging (and flat out bizarre) has been the multiple videos on YouTube of reporters staging scenes attempting to sway our opinions. I’ve seen a few, and it’s not good. Frankly, those videos more resemble a couple of college guys trying to pull off a prank than a world class news organization reporting breaking news (here’s one example https://youtu.be/2ObbTX_nMGk). And those retractions continue to happen, to the point where each story is in question before we even begin reading it. It’s kind of the worst possible scenario for you all.

It wasn’t so long ago I used to jump on your site as medium point between Fox and MSNBC. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve all known for a few decades that you slant to the liberal side, but it worked well with Fox’s conservative bent and MSNBC’s panic stricken liberal agenda. Don’t get me wrong, I’m mostly a Republican, but it doesn’t mean I’m not looking for some balance in how I get my news. Before President Trump ran for office, you all were a pretty good balance with Fox News. Now, you’ve lost about all of your credibility with the American people, at least with anyone who is paying attention.

At your recent Time Warner shareholders meeting, I cringed at a few painful moments when some of your stockholders begged you to stop being part of the “resistance” movement against the President. Shareholder David Almasi cited at the meeting “data from the Media Research Center indicating that among the CNN panelists dissecting the May 9th firing of FBI director James Comey, 96 were anti-Trump and seven were pro-Trump.”

Honestly, that 96 anti-Trump versus 7 pro doesn’t mean you still can’t report the news with integrity, right? But instead of pursuing excellence and truth in journalism, your reporting now is about as trustworthy as those ab belts, you know the ones that you put batteries in and that creepy gel on your stomach and they shook your belly, as you dreamed of the weight falling off. Did you ever try those? I didn’t, but I sold a few at a company I once worked for. Can I just tell you how angry folks were when they recalled those ab belts? I wonder if you feel like that old ab belt maker right now? I wonder if you’re sick of your integrity being constantly in question.

Hey! My letter to you isn’t all doom and gloom, so give me just a few more words and we can find our way through this. I have a couple of ideas, and I know you don’t know me, but we could give this a shot and maybe I can help you save your network from this nightmare you’re stuck in. Here’s my thoughts –

First, you need a better balance on your reporting and editorial teams. When only seven percent of your staff supports the sitting President, you and I both know there’s going to be some serious issues. Oh, and I’m not saying you should be at 50%, because honestly that isn’t necessary to have the integrity required for a news organization like yourself. As harsh as it sounds, you need to let go of anyone with a history of reporting “fake news” (or even slightly slanted news), and it needs to happen from the top down. And within this thought, you need to bring your total of conservatives on staff to at least 40% at minimum. I don’t care what party they associate with, but you need some true conservatives on your news team. But the first priority is firing anyone involved in any way, shape or form in reporting fake news.

Second, you us an apology. We (the American people) trusted you to report the actual news, and yes we all knew you were always liberal, but we didn’t believe you were creating fake news. Now that this is documented and factual, you should recognize this publicly, confess what you’ve done, and then help us to move on. With a new team and with more openness about your reporting, we can get through this together. But this won’t happen if 92.8% of your staff directly opposes a sitting President. In fact, I think if you don’t balance out your staff in the next three months, this could be the end of your network as you know it. I don’t think you will ever recover, and most of us will question every story you ever report. Also, included in this apology you need to confess and repent of your brutal online bullying and threats to the Reddit user who created that video of the President kicking your butt. IT WAS A JOKE, and you all take yourself soooooo seriously. Way, way too seriously. I was personally disgusted in how you handled that situation, and you need to include those actions in your apology. And never, ever go there or anywhere near there again.

Third, and finally, you need to make your headlines for the next two weeks (MINIMUM) to focus on the good happening in our world today. You must walk away permanently from this toxic narrative, the narrative that you helped create. Oh, you don’t think you’re responsible? Oh, you’re blaming the President or someone else? Not.A.Shocker. Listen, it’s time for a little accountability and honesty. More than almost anyone else, your network is precisely what is wrong with America right now, and you might as well change your name to TNN (Toxic News Network). With a new team on board this can and should happen. Like ASAP.

I know you’re trying new stunts and leveraging your relationships with celebrities and even popular YouTubers, but the people you’ve enlisted are liberals. Um, how is that supposed to help actually? Until you agree there is a problem and take decisive action, things will remain as they are and no one will believe that you actually report the news anymore. You’ve become a laughingstock with most of us, and your early moves to fix things are actually making everything worse. I’m not sure who is making all these decisions, but you all appear pretty clueless right now. So clueless, it almost appears you’re trying to destroy yourself from the inside and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. It’s just really weird.

I hope this helps, CNN, but I’m not hopeful you’ll pay any attention to a guy like me. These are a few obvious ways to fix the disaster you’re in, but if you can’t admit you’re in trouble, I guess there’s nothing left for me to say.

Except that I won’t be turning to you anymore for any hope of factual reporting. I’m sorry, but I can’t separate CNN from the words “fake news” anymore. And I probably never will be able to again.

Sincerely,

Someone Who Cares

A City on a Hill

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In November of 2016 I cast my vote for President Donald Trump. To say I had researched this decision might be an understatement, and unlike most of Americans (at least from what the polls tell us), I was optimistic and remain optimistic in terms of our President and the direction our country is headed for the next four years.

Toxic. If there was ever a word to describe the media’s (and many bloggers’) narrative surrounding the election of 2016, it would be toxic. As we delved deeper and deeper into the inappropriate and more bizarre tales throughout the election cycle, the media actually became more disliked than the candidates themselves. “Fake News” became the biggest story, and continues today to overshadow all of the reporting coming out of D.C. Our distrust and distaste for the media has grown exponentially, and finding an accurate depiction of what’s really going on in our nation’s capitol takes some serious work.

“Wait. I thought you said you were optimistic.”

Totally. I still am, but just because I’m an optimist doesn’t mean I’m oblivious to the issues we face. Let’s keep it real. Seriously, how do we tackle an issue if we act like it doesn’t exist? Let’s acknowledge the issues, get granular about it, and come up with some brilliant solutions. My mission with this blog over the next few weeks (and could be months) is to draw out these issues, address them, and hopefully encourage all of us to work together to make America great again. Wait. Is that slogan taken?

But let’s just be honest. Writing from a personal ideological perspective in politics is easier than spreading chunky peanut butter on my toast (folks, I eat this almost every day and it is perfect). We writers can take our shots from the cheap seats, with no true damage done to our reputation or psyche. In fact, if we really juice it up and throw a few sucker punches, we can get more clicks than ever. For some horrible reason our culture gravitates towards the negative, but it doesn’t have to. We can help be part of the solution and change the tone once and for all.

Do you want to know what’s not part of the solution? Calling our President names. When has being harsh, negative, and disrespectful ever been helpful? This includes descriptions which mock character. It’s quite ironic that the most offended by the President’s bluntness are often leading the charge of negativity through postings, blogs, or in other forums online.

Even though many would classify me as a “conservative”, there was never a single a moment during the eight years of Barack Obama’s Presidency that I was ever disrespectful or used negative stereotypes to describe our President. Sure, I absolutely unleashed my frustrations when he and his administration pulled their secret payoff of hostages with Iran and then lied about it (which is all a matter of public record and noted). My furor over this was due to the countless American lives they put at risk in the future. This ransom paid let all terrorist states and organizations know that the U.S. is paying big bucks to get our people back, with absolutely zero retribution for the hostage takers. It didn’t matter if they were tortured or frightened beyond belief, we paid up and everything was just fine, right?

“Here’s four hundred million dollars. Have a nice day.”

Despite my absolute disgust for the former President’s deceit to his constituents and for putting so many overseas Americans lives at future risk, I still stuck to the facts and didn’t label anyone. And most assuredly, former Secretary of State John Kerry was also to blame, along with the Vice-President Biden and several others in the former administration. And if I had spoken of him disrespectfully, shame on me.

And for the followers of Jesus who are part of creating a toxic narrative from the cheap seats around our current President, shame on you. This is not in line in any way, shape or form with the teachings of Jesus, and grabbing a piece of scripture out of context or claiming that some confusing “new enlightenment” gives you grounds, is at best a grievous misunderstanding, and at its worst, heresy. Jesus himself said “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them” (Luke 6:31). Obviously, this includes everyone, not just your favorites.

As followers of Jesus we need to return to the issues, and stop calling names. We need to lead a new dialogue, where we seek to grow and learn from each other, not pick each other apart. We need to lose these crazy labels (liberal and conservative and progressive and whatever), and stop being afraid to discuss and debate in a polite manner. The days of memes are ending. The days of intelligent debate are on the horizon, and I for one am grateful.

Can you join me? Can you never click like or on a blog that is rude, disrespectful, or belligerent? Could we come together and unite politically in peace, working together for a better nation, and for our communities? Can we show love, the kind of love that Jesus showed, even when he stood in the middle of those holding swords and clubs and torches?

You might say “Doesn’t this start with the President?” Sure. But it starts with you, too, and it starts with me. If you can’t leave the toxic narrative behind, and if for some bizarre reason this is fueling your emotions and you’re now addicted to the destruction of our culture, then it’s most certainly time for a change. Only you truly know if this is you, and only you can make the choice to walk away from this bondage and into a place of freedom.

I’m not sorry if you disagree with me politically, but I have no reason to hide my beliefs or be concerned about what others may say about me. Donald Trump is our President, and he is also a human and deserves your respect. He also deserves a chance, and you should give it to him. A lot can happen in three and half years, and there are a million reasons for you to be optimistic, just like me.

There will be more posts over the next few weeks and months along these lines, but I leave you these words from Jesus, who has more to say about our culture today than anyone else –

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to  your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

The Riley Family Christmas Letter 2016

The Annual Riley Family Christmas Letter 2016

Dear Friends,

It’s been six years since I’ve begun the tradition of writing a Christmas letter. To be honest, I’m not really sure why or how this even all started, but this year, of all years, I’ve had some writer’s block around this, until the end.  It’s funny, but maybe this year it’s just meant to be after all. I’ve been starting and stopping this thing for a few weeks now, and it wasn’t until two nights ago this all kind of came together. This won’t show up in the Christmas Card. I’ll just put it here, and maybe, somehow, those Christmas Cards will magically mail themselves this year.

In 2013 I spent my first Christmas as a single dad. Since 1996 I hadn’t been alone, and suddenly, my world was turned upside down and everything seemed pretty crazy. I tried to do my best for the kids. We went to the same Christmas Pageant we attended every year, and the same Chinese Restaurant after the same Christmas Eve Service. I signed presents from Santa and Dad and did the best I could cooking that crazy, over-glazed ham. I got creative with the money I didn’t have and the bills I couldn’t pay, and did what seemed to be just enough to make it feel like Christmas in our house. We made Christmas more about the birth of Jesus than we ever had before, but it all felt different, just so very different.

I remember feeling very small that year. Overworked by my job in retail management, and stretched far too thin at home. “Like butter scraped over too much bread”. I also remember wondering if Joseph felt the same way, if maybe he was dealing with problems with his reputation and folks who didn’t understand why he was making some of the choices he felt like he had to make. No matter what happened it didn’t stop Joseph from giving every fiber of his being to be there for Mary. I didn’t like how I felt that year. It was kind of like always wearing a shirt that fit too tight. I wasn’t quite suffocating, but I wasn’t able to breathe so easily. I don’t think I felt like I belonged anywhere anymore. I felt incomplete.

Two thousand years ago Mary and Joseph trekked through the hills outside of Bethlehem in the rainy season, finally arriving in town. For all of her dreams of those first moments with her baby boy, she probably never imagined they would be like this. Joseph probably felt a little humbled and maybe even a little like a failure as a dad. Wasn’t he supposed to be able to provide everything for his family? I wonder what he dreamed the birth of his son would be like.

But Joseph and Mary did see something that first night with Jesus, didn’t they? And the shepherds, these rugged outcasts who lived in the wild, these men chosen by God Almighty to experience His very own Heavenly Host, as angels descended from the sky singing joyful proclamations of the Messiah’s birth. God Himself chose these men, and Joseph and Mary, to be the ones, the very first, to celebrate the birth of his very own son, the Son of God. Each one of them mattered to God. Each one of them was made complete…by seeing Jesus as who he really was.

This is your story, too, my friends. Each one of you, no matter what darkness you may have seen or have done, you are each made complete in Jesus. To any and all of my friends who are divorced or just feel alone this Christmas, I truly want…no…not want…I am praying you will see you are just like the rest of us, incomplete without Jesus. I am truly sorry for you have endured, and Christmas maybe doesn’t help so much, but it should. It should make you feel new, and the scriptures tell us his light shines in you!

“Because the God who said Out of darkness light shall shine, is the One who shined in our hearts to illuminate the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellence of the power of God and not of us.” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7)

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Thank you for reading this part of my Christmas letter this year. I have always told the story of our family’s year with this work, and I won’t be forgotten this Christmas. I just felt it was important to share my heart with you all, and know I am praying for many of you, my friends, tonight.

2016 was pretty adventurous, to say the least, and in fact, that may be the word of the year. At the end of February, Melanie and I landed on the Island of Culebra, about seven miles off the coast of Puerto  Rico. We had an amazing week, starting with Melanie riding as the copilot on the flight over the ocean! We swam with sea turtles, and we saw this massive ray swim under us. We ate at Zaco’s Taco’s and hung out on the greatest beach I’ve ever seen, Flamenco Beach. This week was a huge week for me in finishing reading two very inspiring books then I turning a big corner in the writing of my next book “Colossal”. We hiked, experienced the island, and spent time just hanging out together. It was a very good vacation, and much needed.

The rest of the year was like the circus dude getting shot out of a cannon. Max graduated from High School and before we knew it, he was leaving for Liberty University. His results in the classroom get better each year, and he continues to pursue his major in Cyber Security. We are very proud of the young man Max is and the example he is to the other children. Kaitlin spent the summer in the Bahamas serving kids, and will be forever impacted by her experience there. She is in the final months of her Senior year and continues to get very good grades at Exeter High School. Daniel, Josh and Summer were all baptized together this past summer, and we rejoiced in what Jesus continues to do in their lives! It was such an amazing moment and we were grateful for everyone who came to support them. Summer and Josh are in sixth grade at CMS, and Josh has really become quite the soccer player. He spent this year playing with the Exeter Hawks and his skills finally have started catching up to his natural talent. It’s been a blast to see him play. Summer has decided she loves to walk, and boy does she ever pound out the mileage. She walks anywhere from 2 to 5 miles in a day, and all of it right here looping around our little neighborhood. She is still loves a great story, but her new found love of art is taking over her world quickly. Her teachers and all of us are thrilled with her new found abilities and excited she has found something she loves. “Determined” Daniel wasn’t satisfied to stay on the same route as his big brother, and broke off to play youth tackle football this year for the Seahawks. And what a great year he had! His face lit up every time he talked about his teammates, the games and their practices. Daniel loves football and will continue to pursue this sport. Sammy is now six, and started first grade full time this year. We thought this transition might be tough on Sammy, but he jumped right in and has had an excellent experience right from the start of the school year and is enjoying the new found freedom of beginning to read!

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One of my favorite moments of the year was our first vacation together as a family. As soon as school was out we were off on a new adventure to Ocean City, New Jersey. Our beach house was a few minutes walk from the boardwalk and a marvelous beach. We ate a Brown’s donuts, went for morning runs on the boardwalk, and laid around the house with no agenda! The kids cannot wait for a return trip, which we are already thinking about for this coming summer.

In our world of races, nothing was more exciting than watching Josh and Daniel finish their first 5k. Josh blew out expectations finishing just behind some of the top runners, and nine year old Daniel fought through a tough first part and finished with a big sprint at the end. Melanie and I ran two Ragnar Relays, first the Cape Cod Relay in May and then were part of an ultra racing team in September when we ran Reach the Beach here in New Hampshire. Both journeys had challenges of their own, and we are so grateful for our wonderful friends who went on this journey with us.

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From Summer getting over going on giant Ferris Wheels. From Max pulling away in his black Honda heading off to college. From Sammy getting on a bus and going to his first full day of school. From Daniel running full speed onto the football field. From Kaitlin getting on a plane to the Bahamas and leaving America for the first time. From Josh paying great attention to his coaches and developing new skills on the soccer field. From Melanie sitting copilot on a flight where the pilot “kills the engine” to slow the plane to nail the landing. And from me leaving my final transition area running the final leg of 40.5 miles in the Reach the Beach Relay when I could barely walk to handoff point.

This year has created so many moments when we all had to find a little courage or to get over some fear so we could experience something new, something different. I don’t think we could do it if we weren’t on the same team and pulling for each other. And I know we couldn’t do it without the promises of God’s word.

”But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31).

 As the dad and mom, our children don’t always agree with or appreciate the decisions we make, but they know we love them and are doing our best to honor God with all of our lives. Jesus, more than any year, has blessed our family with his presence. He is definitely the focus of our Christmas and our celebration together this year as family. It is He who is at the core of our family and unifies us all together under his purposes, and through the teachings we read in the Bible.

It was small, the very first moments in Jesus’ life. God didn’t need to make it spectacular, because he already did. Jesus just being there was enough for the shepherds to leave their flocks, and wise men to travel from distant lands. Jesus is here with us, too, and it’s all the reason to celebrate this Christmas unlike any other. The peace, hope, and joy his birth has brought our world is the greatest story and the world still needs to hear it. All men and all women need to hear it, and to experience God’s love this Christmas. I hope you do, my friends. I hope you have discovered the real meaning of Christmas.

We love you,

 

The Riley Family

Surviving Thanksgiving

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10 Ways to Survive Thanksgiving

#1 Do not spike the turkey or your Aunt Margie when your favorite football team scores a touchdown.

#2 If you are hosting, make sure you have a minimum of two bathrooms available, both with the new, oversized plungers, not the old, little ones with the wooden handles. If you have no second bathroom, call 1-800-PORTA-POTTY and for $59.99 per day, your problem is solved.

#3 Do not criticize someone else’s dish and expect yours not to be criticized. And if the turkey is dry or tastes like the cardboard box surrounding McDonald’s McChicken, just grin and bear it. Or at least be ready to duck if you can’t keep your mouth shut.

#4 If someone passes out on the sofa from a turkey coma, they are fair game. Do to them as you will. If you are the one to pass out on your family member’s sofa because of your turkey coma, don’t whip your hand to your face to wipe the tickling you feel at the end your nose. Your nieces already covered your hand in the whipped cream set out for the pumpkin pies (and for you and your annual turkey coma).

#5 Understand you began to gain weight when you woke up, not when you started eating. It’s not even a question if you’ll gain weight, it’s a question of how much.

#6 Ask everyone to go around the table and share one thing they are thankful for. Don’t stop the round robin until everyone has gone and the whole table is out of things to say.

#7 Take a moment with your family and friends to read Psalm 100 together. It’s one of my favorite traditions, and one which means a lot of all of us. It was Thanksgiving 1978 and I was seven years old when I heard my family first read this passage together. I loved it so much I spent the rest of the morning memorizing all five verses, and still have them memorized to this very day.

#8 Refuse to be negative or gossip about family members who aren’t part of your Thanksgiving this year. If someone needs forgiveness, offer it freely and as soon as possible. If you need forgiveness, ask for it. Life is too short not to get this right.

#9 Watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It’s something different than the normal fair and creates a fun tradition for people of all ages. The kids especially get a kick out of some of the floats!

#10 Grab a copy of my book “25 Days with Jesus” for $5.99 right here! We launch the Daily Devotional in just eight days!
https://www.amazon.com/dp/1519793537/ref=olp_product_details?_encoding=UTF8&me=