The Good Inside

Over the past few weeks I asked about twenty fellow inmates the following question: 

What’s the best thing about being inside and/or this location specifically? 

I asked because I wanted to write a posting saying something like, “It’s Not All Bad Inside.”  I thought that by asking others I’d hear perspective and views differing from my own.  What surprised me was that all the responses fell into one of three categories, each garnering about one third of the total.

The first category is:

“There’s nothing good about being inside or at this location.” 

Even when I pressed them to be more thoughtful they couldn’t come up with any positives about being here, inside.  Perhaps this response isn’t surprising on its own however it came from some of the people I’d thought were most pragmatic about their incarceration.  Don’t misunderstand, I’d rather not be here either, yet I am and I try to make the most of it.  When I fall into this line of thinking it slows time down and makes this experience more burdensome.

The next category is:

“It’s relatively violence free here.” 

I’m at a low security institution and I’d have to agree with this assessment.  It’s not that I haven’t witnessed, or heard of, fights but you generally don’t have to be constantly looking over your shoulder to know who’s behind you.  You do have to be aware of your surroundings but as long as you keep your nose clean you’re relatively safe – it is still a prison and you’re still dealing with people who may have been violent in their past.  One person even described this location as, “A highly dysfunctional community college campus.”  I don’t think I can agree in total but it is highly dysfunctional here. 

These first two categories made me think of all the people in the world, maybe billions, who would gladly trade places with we inmates – the homeless, the hungry, those in war torn countries, and those without sanitation or safe drinking water.  Would they say there’s nothing good here inside?  And wouldn’t they appreciate the lack of violence?

The final category is:

“Time is the best thing wherever you’re imprisoned.” 

Time to reflect and be introspective.  Time to look at your own history and envision a new future.  Time in these ways is the school of thought I think is indeed the best thing about living in exile.

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Photo by Murray Campbell on Unsplash

When I was on the outside I took time to think but I concentrated on worldly things like material belongings, money, success, and feeding my addiction.  It’s not that I didn’t ever think about the truly important things in life like family, faith, and health but it was out of balance.  I thought too much about the former and too little about the latter.

It took being stripped of all the good things in my life to show me where I should have been focusing my thoughts and introspective time.  Now I can say without hesitation that there’s nothing more important than my faith, family, and health.  Think on it a while and I’m sure you’ll find this to be true for you as well.  I know it seems obvious that these are the important things in life but if we’re honest with ourselves we’d admit that we let other less important items cloud our thinking and take our eyes off the truly critical facets of life.

Keep your eyes on the true prizes of life.  ~jdoe

Roots of Faith?

I know in my mind and have faith in my heart that Jesus was born, died, and rose in triumph over sin that I may have eternal salvation.  I also know in my mind and have faith in my heart that God is active in my life every moment of every day.

Yet, my active involvement in my faith has changed.  I can attach this change to my starting medication to address the hallucinations I have and the depression I battle.

This brings into mind a question: 

What, if any, link exists between psychometric drugs and faith?

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Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

My first reaction was there is no connection between psychometric drugs and faith, after all my belief in Christ as Lord and Savior remains solidly planted in my heart and mind.  But that’s not what changed.  So I needed to look more closely at what I felt had changed, that is, my active involvement in my faith; those things that bring faith into practice as praise and worship.

I feel I still live as a Christian – loving God with all my heart, soul and mind and loving my neighbor as myself.  (Mark 12:30-31)

I’m still attending church and singing in the choir.  But… other things I used to do like praying the rosary, reading the bible, and privately praying three times daily have turned into occasional activities.  Also, participation in the choir has turned into work and no longer fulfills me. (I must add here that there are also other issues with choir that feed my ambivalence.)

To answer the question of linkage between my medication and active participation in my faith I had to look at the roots of that which drives participation beyond attending church.

I feel I can eliminate the antidepressant as the cause of change.  I was once on antidepressants while on the street (outside this prison) and experienced a positive impact on practicing my faith by becoming more involved, not less.

Yet, what of the anti-hallucinogen?

I’ve learned, through work with psychologists, that hallucinations can spring from the part of the brain associated with creativity.  Once I learned that, it became easier to deal with those hallucinations the medication had not driven away.  But the implication is clear:  If the anti-hallucinogen quiets the creative center of the brain then how I see and feel and participate in my faith is indeed connected to the creative center in my brain.

This brings a new question:

Do I see negative impacts on other creative activates undertaken?

Absolutely YES!

My writing for this blog has become challenging and for my short stories has ceased altogether.  Also, the journaling I did on a regular basis has stopped.  Next, my passion around music has waned to the point that I don’t care to sing anymore.  Finally, and most importantly, I’ve found that I can no longer envision a future for myself once released from prison; from exile.

In summary then, all the creative activities that were alive in me have withered or died just as my active participation in my faith has also all but ended.

So a third question now arises: 

What role does the creative center of the brain play in one’s faith?

I once took the MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory) survey and scored 100% for both schizophrenia and delusional disorder.  I recall a fair number of questions around belief in an omnipotent entity (God).

Apparently, I’m not the first person to see a direct link between one’s faith and the workings of the mind – the creative mind.  The implication of that survey is that your faith is something manufactured by your mind as opposed to a belief, a knowing really, in an all-encompassing deity.  And aren’t hallucinations and delusional beliefs manufactured by the mind?

This suggests then that the part of the brain that creates hallucinations and delusional beliefs also creates faith, or at least some portion thereof.

It’s a scary thought really – that my faith is no more real than a short story written for pleasure.

Where does this leave me? 

With more questions than answers.

What to do?  I’ve decided to adopt an attitude of “just do it’ and renew, even if by habit, my participation in praying the rosary, thrice daily prayer times, and reading the bible daily.  My hope is that by doing these things as tasks I will rekindle the part of me that carried these actions as an integral part of my faith practice.

I’m curious.  I’d like to know if any of you that are on psychometric medication have seen a change in how your creative self manifests.  Am I alone in seeing a direct link between the creative center of the mind and faith?

I look forward to hearing from you.  ~jdoe

Sketches, Reflections of Father’s Day

“Who needs fathers?  We all do.  We especially need our Father in heaven, who forgives our parenting inadequacies for Jesus’ sake and who enables us each day with a fresh start.  Just as the loving father in Luke’s gospel welcomed home his lost son, our Father will one day welcome us into heaven together with all others who love and trust in Jesus.” 

~ Dr. Rodney Rathmann

My040 Sketches Reflections of Father's Day

This is jdoe’s lil-sis.

I have been reflecting and sketching out memories, thoughts.   Sparked by father’s day and receiving the most recent blog written by my brother (to be posted next time).  The blog post talks about the impact jdoe’s illness and medication has had on him recently – and in it he talks about having lost his ability to see his future.

The quote that ended jdoe’s last post, and opens mine asks “Who needs fathers?” … We all need fathers.  Our earthly father that God blessed us with, and our Heavenly Father God.

We lost our father earlier this year, so the months that have followed have found us with twisted heart when we read a card or letter from our Mom, now only signed ‘love Mom.’  Or the fact that we didn’t have to shop and send a father’s day card.  Our father for many years prior to his passing was locked in a prison of his own;  one that left him unable to walk, remember, and eventually talk.  For several years Dad was ever there, but darkening – his sun was setting.  This relationship we had with our father is not unlike the relationship my brother now has with his children.  My brother is locked in exile, physically removed from day to day family life and restricted in communication.  Yet, there is a fundamental difference – he is still fully available, and has life to look forward to – a new dawn over the horizon.

I thought I’d write this week’s post, remind my brother jdoe of the vibrant future that lies in-front of him with a strong family that he helped to build.  Remind him of the person he is.

Do you remember these words, bro?  Below is from an excerpt from an email I sent my brother a couple years back – I’d like to focus on the “Father” in him…

I thought about you a lot today.  And I was thinking, I cannot even start to imagine what it feels like to walk in your shoes.  All the feelings and experiences that lay behind you.  Looking out over what looks like very rocky ground infront of you. 

Then I started thinking about the man standing in those shoes, You, jdoe. 

This is the man I see standing in your shoes…

A devoted son, brother, friend, and father.  You have a deep well of love for family, friends, even strangers. 

A man that has raised four great children that have turned into wonderful, loving, hard working, respectful, fun, adults. You instilled family, just look how your kids like to be around each other. 

Your love for jane is deep and strong, obvious to anyone who sees the two of you together.  What an amazing example the two of you have set for your children and others.

Someone whom I, and others, look to for sound advice. 

Someone whom I, and others, can trust. 

You know what to say, and how to say it. 

Intelligent, hardworking, and dedicated to anything you put your head and heart into.  Through your daily demonstration, your children now also live these characteristics out.

Someone who has learned from his mistakes, and grown better from them.  Who now shares his experiences in hopes to help others.

You have a contagious smile and laugh, spreading joy and light.  Fun and playful, wise and thoughtful.

You are a talented artist, with cars, music, stories, painting rooms (lol), re-upholstering, well just about everything you touch.  You are willing to share your knowledge with those willing to learn.

You are thoughtful, tender and compassionate, strong and firm. 

A gentleman, kind and respectful.

Spiritual, believer.

Love Thou jdoe ~lilsis

Living Consumed

My wife recently sent an email with a quote she found on the internet (she always sends me great quotes and scripture!).  The quote reads:

“What consumes your mind controls your life” – unknown

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I’ve been on a trip of life changes and so I took time to ponder how I measure myself against this quote.

On the surface it is easy to say that the wisdom within this quote is obvious, and perhaps it is.  It was when I was honest with myself that I found I wasn’t consuming my mind with the best things.

I’d allowed myself to let anxieties and fears over the future to replace much of my time in God’s Word.  I haven’t been keeping my promise to God to read his word every day.

I chose other compensatory behaviors:  Reading western novels (Hey don’t judge me Ha! Ha! Ha!) and ‘napping’ for hours.  Both allowed me escape the relatives of my exile.  Instead, I should have been losing myself in scripture to reinforce God’s love and protection.  If you’re going to distract yourself with something, be sure it’s a healthy something, right?

I’m not saying that I shouldn’t lead a balanced a life as possible.  I still read novels (I’ve now branched out into thrillers and mysteries!) and nap (for 20 to 30 minutes) but I find that bringing God’s Word back into my daily life brings a comfort I’d forgotten.

I’ve also begun to consider daily how I measure up against that quote and I’ve been surprised at how easy it is to become consumed with life’s little things.  For me, some of life’s little things here in prison can be daunting.  Things like guys spitting on the sidewalk instead of the grass and not holding doors open for the physically challenged and talking loudly in the library and and and… Things that in reality are annoyances that I can deal with by ignoring.   Those behaviors, after-all, they don’t directly impact me.

The most surprising thing to come of living by that quote is how much more pleasant and easy life is.  Eliminating the negative and replacing it with the positive is empowering.

Be empowered!  Join me in living consumed by the Spirit.

~jdoe

Reach

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I’m blessed with people who reach out to me.

My wife helps in many ways like researching the medications I’m on.  She also drives 400 miles one way every month to spend two days visitation with me.  Three of my adult children have been in to visit  me.  Two of them are in the medical profession and help me with medication questions as well.  My sister has come a bit farther to visit twice and does the work for this blog.  My mother has also been in to visit and writes me weekly.  I also have family that send letters, email, and books and put money on my commissary account.

Beyond family, I have friends who send in letters and email.  One couple sends in unique yard sale book finds.  These same friends even banded together to get me two magazine subscriptions.  I also have a psychologist outside who is working with me by letter and charges me nothing.

As I said, I am blessed.  They all reach out to me while I reside in this physical prison.  They do so regardless of the situation they themselves live within.  And they also have one thing in common: They live Proverbs 3:27-28

“Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act.  Do not say to your neighbor, “come back later; I’ll give it tomorrow” – when you now have it with you.”  (NIV)

I do my best to have a continuing presence in their lives as well by reciprocating with letters, email, and the occasional phone call.  I send what advice and wisdom I can to my children.  I share in what decision I can where my wife’s responsibilities allow.

Yet I wanted to do more.  I wanted to be a true liver of Proverbs 3:27-28.  But how to reach out in prison – in exile?  And to whom?

I have to admit I had fears around reaching out: would I be rejected or taken advantage of?  Yet I kept thinking of those who were actively reaching out to me.  If they were brave enough to do it why shouldn’t I be?

I began to look around for ways to become more than a friend to a few fellow inmates.

I found out that there are classes that are inmate lead on a wide variety of topics; everything from the stock market to paranormal activities.  I thought, “I can teach a class,” and then asked myself, “What will I teach?”  My education and background are in engineering so I’m good in math and science but putting together a course in my field didn’t feel ‘right’.  So I turned to the friends I’ve made here for ideas and two suggested I teach public speaking.  My initial reaction was to brush off the idea but the longer I thought about it the more I liked the idea.  So with help from my sister in the form of a college level public speaking textbook I put together a class and am now teaching it.  And it’s going well.

Several other inmates suggested I tutor those pursuing their GED in math.  I liked the idea so I passed my name around to people enrolled in the GED program.  Within days I had two people to tutor.  And it’s going well.

Then I thought about the poor that Jesus asked us to help.  I looked around and saw how many indigent inmates there are and I knew I couldn’t help them all but I also knew I could help a few.  So each month I take the $17 I make at my ‘job’ here and buy hygiene products from commissary for two or three indigent inmates.  Seeing their appreciation in receiving soap, shampoo, and deodorant is so satisfying that it makes me wish I could do more.

Not surprisingly, I find that living Proverbs 3:27-28 is rewarding and reaffirming that I have something to give back.  It also helps me to see that I can atone for the sins that sent me here into exile.  It’s given me a new Joy In The Tribulation.

You too can find a Joy In The Tribulation regardless of your situation

All you have to do is reach out.

~jdoe

Living In Exile – part 4

Gosh, that’s a lot so to summarize:

Settle down and be happy because it’s okay to do so; build houses of faith; plant seeds of faith and live life “faithful in all (God’s) my house.”  In these, and from these, the exiles – and we inmates – will find freedom within and after captivity and peace and happiness within captivity.

Some may ask, “Does this mean I have to become a zealot proclaiming God’s word on the compound?”

Absolutely not.

Faith comes in many forms: a smile, a bit of food for the indigent inmate, a sincere ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ an ear for the broken, returning love for hate, holding a door open – infinite ways but unless we sow these seeds we cannot eat the crop.  Imagine when that ‘hater’ says, “Excuse me,” when he bumps into you all because you’ve said it to him even when you weren’t at fault for the contact.  And the reward?  Eternal freedom in God’s house and if we continue to live in our house of faith after incarceration, physical freedom too and all the while planting seeds to keep God’s word eternal.

Suddenly being an exile – inmate – in captivity becomes bearable and in an odd way, a worthy effort for God and ourselves universally.

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~jdoe

Living In Exile – part 3

Time to look at the meaning behind Jeremiah 29:5, “Build Houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit;” for prisoners.

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There are many references to houses in the Bible.  It’s evident that both the structure and concept are of vital importance to God.  Let’s look at a few verses that best illustrate the idea of a house with Jeremiah 29:5.

In Numbers 12:7-8 we’re told God speaks face-to-face with Moses because Moses is “Faithful in all My house.”  That must mean beyond the Tent of meeting, right?  So what then is “all My house”?  It means in all ways and all things. [But recall, Moses didn’t start out that way – he made a choice – he opened his eyes and came out of darkness.]  Here we understand that when “Faithful in all” God’s “house,” He will meet us face-to-face.  God’s “house” therefore is more than a structure.

In Joshua 24:15, Joshua says we must make a choice and in Joshua’s household they will serve the Lord.  Again – a choice and a concept of a house that reaches beyond the physical structure.  Joshua is saying that wherever he or his family may be, they will serve the Lord.  Joshua’s house reaches as far as his family, not the walls inside of which he resides.

Solomon says in Psalm 127:1 that, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.”  This seems to contradict Jeremiah 29:5, however it does not.  It says that we have a choice: To build with God or without.  Jeremiah 29:5 clearly says to build with God!  And as we learned previously, God, through Solomon, is again telling us His house surpasses any physical structure.

There are more by my point is made – for we inmates, God is asking us to build houses beyond physical structures.  Our houses may be things like continuing to be a husband, father, son, brother, or friend.  Joining in a church sincerely or perhaps loving the unlovable.  Suddenly, we’re building houses of faith within God’s house and for God’s command to be, “Faithful in all My house.”  Imagine the power of every inmate – as well as every person walking the street – building a house of faith instead of brick.  No wonder Jesus’ church was built upon a single rock – no physical building could ever encompass God’s earthly house.

Now we’re left with understanding that it means to plant crops and eat the reap.  Crops begin with seeds, right?  Let’s look at scripture around “seeds.”

In Matthew 13:2-8 Jesus tells the parable of seeds scattered by a farmer.  We know he was not being literal; it’s a parable after all.  So what then?  Obviously it’s seeds of faith.  So in telling the exiles, and by extension we inmates to plant seeds, He’s telling everyone we can.  Also, as in Matthew 13:8 we will be, and by extension He will be, blessed with a crop, “A hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”  How wonderful to be a farmer of faith.  This is then confirmed in Matthew 13:23, “He who hears the word and understands it (sic) is the one who produces a crop…”  Looking further, Matthew 13:43 explains who we become if we successfully plant the seeds: the righteous!  We can also look at Matthew 13:31-32 and see God ask that we plant a seed as tiny as a mustard seed and gain a tree for birds – other inmates – to perch in.  So it’s vitally important for inmates, as it was with the exiles, to understand what God meant in Jeremiah 29:5.

Finally, the strongest scripture, 1 Peter 1:23-25; Here we are told that we are born of “imperishable seed… through the living and enduring word of God.  For all the people are like grass and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.”  Sounds dismal in a way.  The exiles, and by extension we inmates, wither and die but through them- and we inmates – God’s word lives – by the seeds we sow and the ongoing crop produced.

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jdoe

Living In Exile – part 2

Continuing on with a look at Jeremiah 29:5 from last week, Living In Exile – part 1

“Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit.”  What?  I can’t do that literally.  So what do these commands mean?  To understand these I had to think back on scripture I had read in relation to prisoners – inmates – exiles.  Because the answer to this question is paramount to understanding Jeremiah 29:5 and 29:7’s link to inmates.

Why are prisoners special to God?

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In Psalm 107 we see God’s blessing of rescue for those who were rebellious but turned back to Him; focus here on verses 10 through 16 and again a choice is given: turn to Him and be rescued or live in darkness.  In Psalm 68:6b,c we see that God gives prisoners a choice: be lead out with singing or live in a sun-scorched land.  In Psalm 146:7 we see God upholds the cause of the oppressed and sets prisoners free but only if they chose (choice again) to be bowed down.  In Psalm 79:11 God is asked to heal the moans of prisoners.  Finally, in Isaiah 42:5a and Isaiah 42:7 we have, “This is what God the Lord says…open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness,” – again a choice: open your eyes and be freed or remain blind in captivity.

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So why are prisoners special to God?

Two reasons: 1) They suffer and 2) They, like no other, have a choice.  Only those whose physical, mental, and emotional freedom is controlled by others can find the meaning of true and total freedom in God and His word!  Who among those walking freely in the world can feel or know what freedom is until first suffering in exile?  Who besides the prisoner can truly know the power of faith and God?  These are the reasons God’s greatest were pulled from among the worst of people – because in some form they were prisoners and suffering even if not evident to themselves.  They all were given a choice:  Remain blind or open their eyes and walk out of darkness to be set free both spiritually and physically – what better army can there be to spread God’s word?  Wasn’t the greatest contributor to the New Testament, Paul, a prisoner?  Yes!

And isn’t it now obvious why God also calls out widows and orphans and the poor and the disabled?  All are suffering in their own prisons and we have the ability and responsibility to open their eyes, bring them into the light and free them!

So when we combine our understanding of God’s love of prisoners with His command to live life while in exile, and it’s okay to find happiness there, we can see He is waiting for us to prosper (find peace) in captivity.

But how?  Next week I delve more specifically into Jeremiah 29:5, “Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit.”

Blessings, jdoe

Living In Exile – part 1

When I started writing for this blog I said I would not attempt to convert anyone to any particular belief.  I also said I would not avoid talking about my place as a Christian.  And so it is that the coming posts contain numerous Bible scripture references.  To get the  most out of the coming posts it would be helpful for you to have a Bible available.  I used the NIV translation for my writings.

Over the next few weeks my sister will be posting my thoughts concerning the commandments God gave the Israelites for Living In Exile [Jeremiah 29:4-14].  The commandments were very specific about how they were to live while captives.  It is my belief that these same commandments apply to prisoners like me, or anyone in their own prison.

Let me explain…

I’ve been contemplating Jeremiah 29:4-14 and how I’m doing here in exile.  I keep asking myself how it is I’m to “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.” [Jeremiah 29:5]  I’ve filled my locker with personal items I’ll need for my time here.  I’ve got my cell mate situation stable and I make my bed every morning.  Yet I do not feel “settled down.”

As I walked the track recently (summer took one last gasp of near 80 degree weather) things began to dawn on me; revelation is a strong word but I feel again that they Holy Spirit was talking with me.

The first thing to hit me was sparked by seeing two guys in their late teens to early twenties playing Frisbee.  They were shirtless and playing in a grassy part of the yard.  As they ran, laughing, the setting sun made their skin glow with youth and energy.  And for a moment I was transported to the edge of a beach watching people having fun.  It lasted only a moment yet in that moment I saw two people who had “settled down.”

“How,” I thought, “can they laugh and run so carefree?”  I actually had to stop walking because I heard a voice ask, “Where in Jeremiah 29 does God say to the exiles, through Jeremiah, that they should not or cannot be happy in captivity?”

I had no answer.

So I had to go back to the beginning and ask myself, “Why would God tell the exiled Israelites to settle down, build houses, plant gardens, eat and procreate?  Was it only to assure the survival of His people or was it more?”  Then the answer came to me in the form of Jeremiah 29:7.  God tells the exiles to pray for the prosperity of the city they’ve been sent to.  This amounts to praying for the prosperity of their captors!

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Why?

Of course for their survival, but recall God cared for them in the wilderness by turning the exiles over to the care of others – so by telling them to pray for their captors’ prosperity (peace) He was assuring the best possible environment.  He was giving the exiles an implicit command that becomes apparent when combining Jeremiah 29:7 with Jeremiah 29:5: Be content, find happiness, survive emotionally – live life.  So I pray for the prosperity (peace) of my correctional institution.

“Okay,” I said to myself, “But what other truths exist in the parallelism between the exiled Israelites and we inmates?”

As I began to walk again I also began to see things like:  The exiles lived under foreign law and inmates live under foreign law; the exiles obeyed foreign masters and inmates obey foreign masters; the exiles lived in foreign (unfamiliar, strange, confined) lands and inmates live in foreign (unfamiliar, strange, confined) lands; the exiles created a culture and life within foreign powers, lands, and laws and God has commanded inmates to do the same.

Keep that thought and next week I’ll continue with my breakdown of Jeremiah 29:4-14

Happy New Year, ~ jdoe

I’ll Be Home For Christmas…

If only in my dreams…

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There are many like me – unable to be home for Christmas. All of us think about those special moments those we love will enjoy. We know they miss us and wish we could share in the festivities, just as we miss everyone and wish we could be there to enjoy the love shared.

The song, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” expresses how we will attend – in dreams. This song was penned during WWII to reflect the emotions and wishes of our troops who would not be home on Christmas. I find the lyrics to fit well with those like me who wait in exile for the day we can again experience Christmas with family and friends.

I hope those reading this will reach out to those who, for whatever reason, can’t be home for the holidays.

I also hope you enjoy this song and its lyrics and allow them to touch your heart.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from me to you and yours.

~ jdoe