What Matters Most

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

I recently caught myself giving Jesus advice. I kid you not. While praying for a friend I began telling Him what she needed and what verses He should use to encourage her. In my heart, I could almost hear Him chuckle, and I realized how absurd I was. I was presuming to tell the Creator of the Universe how to help somebody. And I was begging Him to help her as if I cared more about her than He did. Her crisis had reduced me to a state of panic, and I was telling Jesus what He needed to do to fix her.

This is not the first time I have given the Almighty advice on how to run the Universe or change peoples hearts, but it is the first time I realized I was doing it. It’s made me think.

When it comes to my clients, I am comfortable with their journey. I will remind them it’s a process, and I enjoy watching the small victories. I don’t get intimidated by setbacks. I know Jesus is in it, and I settle back and watch them grow.

However, when it’s someone close to me, I get squirmy. I don’t like the process for them because it scares me. I want God to fix them and fix them fast. Stick a patch on them and pump them up with a can of Fix a Flat. Whatever He has to do to keep them truckin’ along. That’s been my focus.

My favorite evangelist, Dan Mohler, spoke at my church this weekend. He said something that will stick with me for a lifetime. He said, “you can’t let something matter more than what matters most.” That hit me like thunder. I realized I was letting my friend’s crisis take my eyes off what matters most.

What matters most is Jesus and His love for a dying world full of people in crisis. What matters most is God, who so loved the world He sent the best He had, His Son, to rescue us from sin and death. He sees every one of us as so precious we were worth dying for, and He puts His Spirit inside us to light up the darkness. He came to seek and save that which is lost. I want to be a part of that mission. My life is no longer my own, and I couldn’t be happier about it!

There is a place in scripture where Jesus tells us if we want to be His disciples, our love for Him needs to totally eclipse our love for our family and friends (Matthew 10:37). That’s challenging because most of the time I just want Him to keep my loved ones safe and healthy. In other words, my love for Jesus is too often based on Him protecting my favorite people. My list of VIPs. That means I have let them matter more than what matters most. I’m not okay with that anymore. Jesus is Lord, and I want His glory to be my passion.

Does that mean I stop praying for those I love? Nope. I will still be praying, but there will be a lot more faith and a lot less fear involved. I know as much as I love them, they are not what my life is about. My life is found in Him, and He lives in me. If you are a believer, He lives in you. If you aren’t a believer, you still haven’t found what matters most. But here is the ultimate irony. You are at the top of His VIP list, and you are His “what matters most.” If you ever want to talk about this, give me a call at Caring Counseling at 997-2129. I would love to talk to you about how much He loves you!

Tidying Up Your Mental Health, Part Two

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

Attention all of you who have Haunted Hoarder House Brain: This week we are using the star of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo’s, ideas of clutter control and applying it to our mental health. Ms. Kondo’s theory is if an item does not “spark joy,” get rid of it. With that in mind, we are going after all the fears, grudges, offenses and resentments we have built up in our brains because we know they aren’t sparking joy.

First, we must commend our brains for all they do. In the Bible, God tells us we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” He wasn’t kidding. Our brains are able to simultaneously store birthdays, anniversary’s, business meetings, and grocery lists, plus, a plethora of memories, all while learning new information each day. So give yourself a high-five, because you are amazing! Now, in an atmosphere of loving self-acceptance, you are going to get quiet with God and ask Him to show you your junk pile. The 12-steppers call this process “taking a fearless moral inventory.” It’s healthy, but it’s hard.

Just like Adam hid his nakedness behind a fig-leaf, we hide our shame and hurt behind forced smiles, defensiveness, and grudges. We need to be willing to let that stuff go to have real joy in our lives. But God is the only one who knows why you are hoarding the unhappiness. If we don’t understand why it is nearly impossible to give it up.

When I’ve been hurt and am unwilling to let it go God has graciously shown me my refusal to release the pain is rooted in fear, disappointment, and a lack of trust. He showed me my disappointment was in Him for not protecting me the way I thought He should have. So I’ve been afraid to let things go because I feel I have to protect myself. Therefore, my pain is actually more rooted in my unwillingness to trust God than in the hurt dished out to me by a human. He has also shown me I don’t know how much He loves me because if I did, my identity would be more rooted in Him than it is in man’s opinions and rejections of me.

Now I realize I don’t have an unforgiveness problem as much as I have a fear problem. Since “perfect love casts out all fear,” my answer is found in receiving God’s love and learning to trust Him. That empowers me to try to let go of my pain and take tiny, fledgling steps of trust in God’s goodness. Because at my core I believe He is good, even when my circumstances, or the way people treat me, is not good.

Just like Ms. Kondo has her families thank their non-joy-sparking items before putting them on the discard pile, we must treat ourselves with respect when we discover the secrets behind our painful hoard. In our attempts to keep ourselves, and our world safe, those items have served a purpose. But now, in the interest of joy and future growth, it is time to start letting them go. We are only able to do that when we trust a loving God will be there to protect us once we let down our defenses.

Tidying Up Our Mental Health

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

I watched my first episode of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo last night. For those of you who don’t know, Ms. Kondo is a pint-sized Asian bundle of serenity that specializes in helping people de-clutter their homes. For a tiny thing, she’s making a big impact on pop culture. After watching her program, I can see why. She is irresistible with her sweet spirit and simple approach. According to Ms. Kondo, something in your home does not “spark joy,” get rid of it.

This is how it works. The first thing Ms. Kondo does before starting her de-cluttering process is to have the family honor and thank their home for being a place of safety and security. In that simple gesture, she reminds people of the good things they have been given. Next, she has them empty the contents of their closets and drawers, place it all in a huge pile, then go through the collection, one item at a time. If the article “sparks joy,” it is allowed to stay. If it does not, she has the person thank the item, then put it in the discard pile.

We could think of our mind as the home of our personality and emotional well being. But, just like our physical homes become messy and cluttered, sometimes things begin to accumulate in our mind, as well. Memories of great days, like weddings and births, are soon crowded out by the hurt and pain of everyday living. We collect worries, offenses, grudges, resentments, and negativity like they are things to be treasured. As these things build up, our mind becomes full of junk. If you need a visual just imagine an episode of Hoarders. Yep, most of us have Hoarded House Brain. Add in some trauma and heartbreak, and your messy, hoarded house becomes haunted.

Like the junk we accumulate at home because we think we may have a use for it someday, our mind believes all the yucky clutter it accumulates has a purpose. We hold on to grudges because the person who hurt us “doesn’t deserve to be forgiven.” We worry because we think we are helping to control outcomes. We get offended because we believe it keeps us safe. If we hold those defenses high, we won’t get hurt. Put in black and white, you can see how ludicrous it all is. If you had all of this junk in a pile in the middle of a room, not a single item in that pile would “spark joy.” So, in the tradition of Ms. Kondo, what do we do with items that don’t spark joy? We kick that crud to the curb!!

I know, I know, easier said than done. No one wants Haunted Hoarder House Brain, it just happens. And once the stuff gets in our head, it is not easy to get out. Next week I am going to do my best Ms. Kondo imitation so you will have your own tools to conquer the toxic clutter in your head.

Until then, I will leave you with your first tool. It comes straight out of the Bible because as revolutionary as Ms. Kondo’s ideas are, God thought of them first. He says, if you want to feel peaceful, “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8).” I promise you, as your mind touches on the items in your life that fit into those categories, you will definitely be sparking some joy!

The Lie Eve Believed

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

Last week I discussed disappointment. This week I want to look at its antonym, contentment. While contentment may be the antonym of disappointment, I think it’s synonymous with joy and peace. It’s the feeling inside that says “I am satisfied and happy.” We all crave it, and when we have it, it rarely lasts.

One reason for that is our brains are like computers infected with popups. Inside those popups are luring enticements about the next “big thing” we think we need or the speck of pepper in an otherwise lovely bowl of milk. If that weren’t enough, our brains are also horrible about living in the present.

Our brains like to time travel. They shoot up to the future, which is full of anxiety and “what if’s.” Then they zip to the past, bringing depression from memories of mistakes or things we’ve lost. All the while, the brain is encased in a body that is in the present, not enjoying the beautiful things going on around it.

Do you ever slow down enough in the morning to feel the warmth of a cup of coffee in your hands? Do you take a moment to savor the aroma, feel the scent travel through your nose as you inhale the rich smell? Have you ever paused to listen to the birds singing or your children’s laughter, and just relish the moment? Life is a marvel. Laughter, sunshine, clean air to breathe, warm food on the table, a soft bed to lie down in, these are the things surrounding your everyday life, and they are good, very good.

When God created the world, He created a man and woman to live in a perfect garden full of delights. There was only one prohibition (don’t eat from that tree!) in a life full of freedom and beauty. Eve was the only woman in history who lived in a perfect home with a perfect spouse. But she wanted more. Otherwise, she would not have been susceptible to the serpent’s lie.

What was the serpent’s lie? He told Eve she was lacking something. That is the lie that gets us every time. If we have a spouse who doesn’t appear to care about our needs, we become discontent. Forgetting we have a Savior who hangs on our every word and is so concerned about our needs He numbers the hairs on our heads. If we have kids who drain us, we lose patience and dream of a different life, forgetting Christ gave us the peace and patience to deal with all situations. There is no problem you can think of He is not the solution to. We lack no good thing.

I picture David, sitting with His sheep, feeling lonely. Instead of jumping down the rabbit hole of discontent, he shook off the lie, took stock in all he had, and penned Psalm 23. “The Lord is my shepherd, I have all I need.” That is the voice of deep-soul contentment.

Contentment is not the absence of trouble. If we wait on our circumstances to line up before we feel content, we will never get there. Contentment is the ability to live in the present, taking in all the sounds, smells, tastes…the beauty of this life we’ve been given, and realizing what a gift it is. The Lord indeed is your shepherd, your best friend, and your ever-present help in time of need. Slow down, enjoy the moment, and breathe Him in.

Collateral Beauty in the Midst of Disappointment

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

I have been embracing a healthier lifestyle. I’m counting my macros, embracing healthy foods, all of it. Then I went to the Dr. and my cholesterol had went up, and the scale barely went down. I was crushed.

You can’t live on this planet and not be familiar with the feeling of disappointment. It’s the stab of emotion that attaches to an unexpected outcome. Frankly, my body is not the only area where I feel disappointed. Some of my relationships are a trial, my bank account is a joke, and my home needs repairs. I could go on, but you get the idea. As I’m sure you know, once you start riding the rocket of disappointment, it’s hard to come down.

Then, in the apex of my self-pity, I had a speaking engagement to share my testimony. As I told my story the memories came flooding back. Memories of being a drug addict, and what a dismal, hopeless life that was. Memories of my arrest and being told I was facing 10 years in prison. That was so scary. I have precious memories of my salvation, and how it was accompanied by the miracle of being instantaneously healed from drug addiction.

I can also remember the crushing disappointment of being sentenced to prison. I couldn’t understand why a God who would heal me from my addiction would allow me to go to prison. It didn’t make sense. At the time, I was enormously disappointed in God.

I can close my eyes and recall the animosity I felt when people would quote Romans 8:28 to me. It says, “God causes all things to work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” I remember thinking I didn’t qualify because I didn’t love God. I was mad at Him for disappointing me with the prison sentence.

I chuckle now as I think of this because little did I know, I was smack dab in the midst of God working all things together for my good. I’m astonished at the beauty He brought out of my mess. I have a career in ministry where people share their darkest secrets with me because they know with a past like mine, I won’t judge them. I get invited to share my story, and it gives people hope. And my miraculous life came from His working the most disappointing event in my life for my good.

Recently I saw this in my Jesus Calling (Sarah Young): “Give up the illusion you deserve a problem-free life. Part of you is hungering for the resolution of all difficulties. This is a false hope! As I told my disciples, ‘in the world, you will have trouble’…Instead of seeking perfection in this fallen world, pour your energy into seeking Me; the Perfect One.” False hope is another term for expected outcome. When we get disappointed by an unexpected outcome, we miss all the collateral beauty God is bringing into our story.

Now I am able to look past the scale and see the collateral beauty God’s bringing for my body. The lack of weight loss forced me to finally find time to exercise, and I am loving it! My energy level is much higher, and for the first time in years, I have control over nighttime overeating. I am sleeping through the night, and have increased mental clarity. Those are some unexpected outcomes worth getting excited about!

Here is your challenge. Look around at your areas of disappointment, and try to see where God is working some collateral beauty. Look for the Perfect One in your life instead of perfection. He is never disappointing.

Eww, What’s That Smell?!

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

Over the past weeks, I have been challenging you to adopt a more grateful, positive mindset for 2019. If you have been taking me up on this, I bet you have discovered a positive outlook takes work. That’s because by the time we hit adulthood our perspective is infected by what psychology calls “stinking thinking.” These are subconscious, negative biases and assumptions the brain uses to filter information.

Do you know someone who focuses on the negative and ignores the good things in life? That’s a “mental filter.” “Emotional reasoning” is a thought error that interprets the world through how we are feeling instead of facts. This makes our emotions the barometer of how we view life. A person who always feels guilty and thinks everything wrong is their fault has the problem of “personalization.” When someone consistently makes mountains out of molehills they have the cognitive distortion of “catastrophizing.”

These are just a few examples of the many thinking errors we adopt. While they may seem harmless, they are toxic and rob people of their happiness. Psychology has discovered if we change the way we think we will change the way we live. As a Christian therapist, I know God had the jump on this way before psychology ever caught wind of it.

Here’s what God had to say about stinking thinking. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is destruction” (Proverbs). Also in Proverbs, we are told: “as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” In other words, what we think will affect how we live. You won’t find someone with a negative mind living a positive life. Eventually, the toxic thought patterns will become a self-fulfilling prophecy and infect every relationship they have. That’s because “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Proverbs). A stinky thought life becomes air pollution to others.

We think people are negative because of their circumstances. But according to the bible (and psychology), it is more often the other way around. A negative mind produces a negative life full of tarnished relationships.

So what’s the cure? Luckily, God has the antidote to our stinking thinking. He says we “take our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians). In other words, think about Jesus, His sinless life and obedience unto death, instead of your life and circumstances. How about this one, “we transform our lives by the renewing of our mind” (Romans). What do we renew our mind to? What God says about us, our life and circumstances.

Bill Johnson, the pastor of Bethel Church, says “you can’t afford to have a thought in your head about yourself that God doesn’t have in His head about you.” Here is the excellent news. If you are in Christ, His thoughts toward you are good. Really, really good.

He calls you things like “overwhelming conqueror,” “forgiven,” “righteous,” and “beloved Son.” He says He will “cause all things to work together for your good,” and that His “plans for you are good.” As you can see, God’s thoughts are in direct opposition to the negative biases most of us are operating on. So ask yourself, who’s right about you, you or God? If you answered you, please call Caring Counseling Ministries at 618-997-2129. You have some “Illusions of Grandeur” that need to be discussed immediately!

My Fake Facebook Face

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

I recently ran into an old friend I had not seen in a couple of years. As I gave her a quick hug and asked her how she’d been, she blew past my question and said to me, “I see you on Facebook, I know you are ALWAYS doing good.” As she emphasized the word “always” I sensed a touch of jealousy. After our pleasantries, I walked away baffled by the exchange. Why would she think I was “always” succeeding in life?

Truth be told, last year was very challenging. I have had an ongoing medical issue, professional and relational struggles, and have been grieving the loss of someone very dear to me. But that’s the private me. That is definitely not the Facebook me. Facebook is where I go to encourage others and talk about how awesome Jesus and dogs are. And food. I like to share recipes. What I don’t want to share is my down days. Those days are between me, Jesus, and my therapist.

So, unknowingly, I have created a fake Facebook face. I have unwittingly become one of those people that others watch and think, “I wish I had her life.” I remembered my “End of Year” video put together by Facebook and I have to admit, even I wanted to be me. That video showed a year of fun, vacations, and triumphs.

What it didn’t show was the in-between times when I had to go to therapy for anxiety, battles with people pleasing and chronic overthinking. Or my marital struggles. It also didn’t show that sometimes, when I have helped someone process some horrible trauma, I have moments when I doubt the existence of God.

In other words, I’m normal. No better, no worse, just average. We all have highs and lows, triumphs and defeats. Good days and bad days. When people share their bad days on social media, they are considered drama queens or attention seekers. When they are like me and keep that stuff to themselves, they are those “fake Facebook people.”

So, what’s the moral of the story? Quit believing everything you see on social media! And quit taking things so darn personal. Chances are, those drama queens and fake Facebook people are just ordinary folks who have no idea they are affecting others. I certainly had no idea I was.

Does this mean I’m going to change the way I use social media? Nope. I’m still going to use my space for encouraging others, swapping recipes, and talking about how much I love my family, my dogs, and Jesus. You know why? Those are the things that make me happy. Besides, what other people think of me is none of my business.

You know what? What other people think of you is none of your business, either. That concept right there has the power to set you free, and I encourage you to tell yourself that as often as possible. It will save you so much grief.

I’ve been dedicating January of 2019 for tips that will improve your mental health and keep you off the crazy train. Here are your takeaways from today. Don’t believe everything you see. All of us are going through struggles we are not sharing. Quit comparing your life to those you think have it better, and don’t worry about what other people think of you. If you take those tips, you won’t have to fake a smile for your next selfie!

What’s in Your Tank?

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

What a privilege it is to get to write this article. Especially today, because the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and all seems right with the world. Later this morning I get to take a hot shower and go to church. Afterward, this beautiful day will certainly be warm enough for dog walking. And sometime in my day, food will be involved. Cooking and eating. I enjoy at least one of those activities. An ideal day is on the horizon!

That, my friends, is an example of my positive reframing of activities I “have” to do today. If you listen to people talk you will discover we often view things from a negative perspective. “I have to work,” “I have to take a shower.” “I have to walk the dogs.” In those 3 seemingly benign statements I turned activities that are God-given privileges into drudgery.

When our cars need gas, most us choose the cheapest at the station. We give little thought to what long-term effect cheap fuel has on the car, we just fill up and go. Our thoughts are the fuel we run on, and we have been raised in a very negative culture, so most of us are running on cheap gas. If you want peak performance in your mental and physical health, you need to change your fuel source.

Last week we talked about choosing peace as a priority in 2019. This week I am going to teach you 2 tips to upgrade your thought life to premium gas, and 1 that could modify you to solar panels. The choice will be yours. But lets at least determine the cheap gas has got to go!

Hopefully, per last weeks discussion, you are already starting your day feeding on the positive. Now, I want you to try an experiment. Before you leave your house each morning, flip a coin. If it comes up tails, proceed as usual. If it comes up heads, force yourself to reframe the day’s events positively. All of your “have” to’s become “get” to’s. Lift your head and smile at people, and if they do something that seems hurtful, give them the benefit of the doubt. Then, at the end of your day, ask yourself 3 questions. What was 1 thing that surprised you in the day? What was 1 thing that moved you? What was 1 thing that inspired you? Then reflect on how you felt during the day.

After that, jot down a couple of things you are grateful for, say a quick prayer, and you are done. No need to think about praying to forgive anyone from the day, you already gave them the benefit of the doubt, so you are not offended. You are ready for bed. You have just had a day with premium fuel and an oil change! Track yourself, and notice how much better you feel on those premium fuel days.

If you want to really supercharge your life, upgrade to solar panels. If you are solar powered, you will gain your strength from the sun, or the Son, in this instance. You will invite Jesus into your entire day. Talk to Him throughout. Praise Him in the good moments, trust His grace in the challenges. In all things give thanks.

King David gave us examples of this in Psalm 118:24. He boldly declared, “This is the day the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.” And Psalm 23:1, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want.” I picture him making both of these declarations through clenched teeth. David had grit and determination and sought God in everything he did. That is a portrait of a life running on solar power. That’s what made him a giant slayer. If you want to slay some giants, or at least not feel like crap at the end of the day, you are going to have to change your fuel source. Regular, Premium or Solar powered; God leaves the choice to you.

Staying off the Crazy Train in 2019

by: Cris Corzine-McCloskey

So long, 2018, hello 2019! There is something about a new year that gives a renewed sense of hope. It’s like our internal optimist rallies and says, “This year is going to be my year.” It can happen if you determine to make peace your top priority.

As a therapist I know if you don’t have peace, you are not going to be happy. Last I checked, this broken world does not prioritize peace. It thrives on drama and chaos. To remain peaceful, you need to develop a plan to stay off the crazy train. If you follow these tips, you will not only stay off the train, you may avoid getting on the platform.

1. Pay close attention to what you are putting in your head. The need to be informed cannot override your need for peace. Too much time watching Fox News or CNN is correlated with insomnia, anxiety, depression, and chronic over-thinking. Predetermine how much time you want to spend listening to the news. Once you have hit your limit, turn it off. Don’t even let it play in the background, as your subconscious will pick it up. Limit your time on social media, as well. Remember, garbage in equals garbage out.

2. Begin each day with some quiet time of prayer, praise, or Bible reading. Even if it’s only a five minute Psalm or a short devotional. Open your day with your focus on God, and how He loves you. On your way to work, turn on worship music. It’s amazing how something as simple as changing the dial on the radio can be life-changing, but it can. Our local station, WBVN (104.5) is a perfect drive-to-work companion.

3. Increase your gratitude and decrease your anger. Keep a notebook by your bed. Each night jot down a couple of things from the day you enjoyed. Hot coffee and a warm bed are two of my favorites. Simple things to be grateful for. Then reflect on your day and see if there is anyone who angered you. If there is, ask God to help you forgive them and let it go. Give God a quick prayer of gratitude, then you are ready for sleep.

That’s it. Three easy steps. But what have you done with these simple changes? You have now opened and closed your day focusing on positive things. We all know when it comes to our diet, junk food and no exercise equals disastrous results to our health and waistline. Why would we think what we put in our brain would be any different?

I just read this in my Jesus Calling devotional, “My Peace is still your deepest need, and I, your Prince of Peace, long to pour Myself into your neediness. My abundance and your emptiness are a perfect match. I designed you to have no sufficiency of your own. I created you as a jar of clay, set apart for sacred use. I want you to be filled with My very Being, permeated through and through with Peace. Thank Me for My peaceful Presence, regardless of your feelings. Whisper My Name in loving tenderness. My Peace, which lives continually in your spirit, will gradually work its way through your entire being.”

That’s a refreshing drink of water to a thirsty soul, isn’t it? In 2019, do yourself a solid and bookend your days with Jesus. Let the world do whatever it wants, be as crazy as it wants, and realize that other than prayer, there is nothing you can do to stop the crazy train from rolling. However, if you stick close to the Prince of Peace, you do not have to be on board.

Christmas in Mayberry

People can grumble all they want about Southern Illinois, but I love it, and I love living in Marion! Especially at Christmas. My husband, Nathan, and I took some friends to the WBVN Very Merry Christmas concert last night. It reminded me of all the things I adore about this community. A packed auditorium filled with some of the nicest people you ever want to meet. Many of them rocking their crazy Christmas sweaters and Santa hats, joining together to sing praises to Jesus.

There is something about the community, with all its diversity, singing Christmas carols that makes my heart melt. I am so grateful to our local radio station, WBVN, for giving us that gift. And our beautiful Civic Center, for making these events possible and affordable. In a time when a family can’t afford to go to the movies and buy popcorn, people can take their children out for a wonderful night of top-notch entertainment and snacks in downtown Marion.

Our town square looks lovely! We have a beautiful nativity scene, a spot for Santa, and the Hanukkah Candle. And guess what? No one is bent out of shape about any of it. And right off the square, at Southern Illinois Mercantile, you can find the coolest gifts ever, all made by area residents. It’s like walking into a Pinterest display with an ice cream counter and fresh coffee! Heaven.

What a blessing it is to have towns that go out of their way to provide holiday meals and entertainment for their residents. I’m happy I can go in stores and hear Christmas songs about Jesus and have checkout people say Merry Christmas. I love piling in the car and going to Candy Cane Lane with my family and dogs. But you know what I like best? There is always someone standing out there to greet us when we go through, AND they hand out dog biscuits to our pooches. They don’t have to do that, but they are giving a gift of love to our community. Look around. Our towns are full of people looking for creative ways to spread some joy. That’s beautiful, and in case you’ve lived here all your life, let me assure you, it’s quite unique.

When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to bust out of this town and see the world, so I joined the military and did some traveling. I lived in Europe for 2 years, came back stateside, bounced around, and wound up in Florida. I had nearly 25 Christmases away from Marion in places from London to Key West, and while those were great, what we have is better.

I used to sarcastically call this town “Mayberry, USA.” After my scorch-and-burn lifestyle chewed me up and spit me out, I realized what an idiot I was. I found out Mayberry/Marion is a pretty great place to live. All the things I used to despise are now the things I love. Maybe that’s middle age, or perhaps it’s because I have finally found the things in life that matter. Faith in God and caring for others. This area exemplifies those values.

Jesus said, “what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?” I had a lot of Christmas parties where I laughed all night but woke the next day with a hunger in my heart and an emptiness in my soul. I thank God those days are over. And while Christmas in Key West is a sight to behold, take it from someone who’s been there, what we have is worth coming home for. So, from me, Nathan, and the McCloskey Dog Pack, All our Love and Merry Christmas!