Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 In Review: The Top 5 Posts

Happy New Year from the Sabo family!
We learned quite a few things in 2015 in the Sabo house. For starters, we learned it is possible to go three years without welcoming a new Sabo ... baby. We did the whole `plus one' thing this year when Taylor married the former Bethany Hayes on Dec. 19 in Berea, Ky. I have to be honest with you, adding a new daughter without it involving sleepless nights, a trip to the hospital and diapers galore is a pretty sweet way to get to 15 kids. I should have thought of this a lot earlier ...

We also learned a little bit about what our 14 Kids and Blessed readers like. I discovered it's hard to compete with a woman who had babies -- and boy howdy did she have babies! -- for 40 years. That is not a typo. More on this amazing woman later.

Without further ado, here's a recap of the five most popular 14 Kids and Blessed blog posts.

5) Need some wisdom about how to handle bickering kids. Look no further. We sat down with a foremost world expert on how to deal with the young 'uns who don't make nice with each other. That's right, we got a few minutes with Julie Sabo to answer our probing questions. Read and learn: Solving bickering kids

4) With 16 people -- now 17 with the addition of Bethany -- there's lots of birthdays, lots of graduations, just plain lots of lots of. So that means one thing in the Sabo house -- c-e-l-e-b-r-a-t-e! Here's the link: What Sabos do best

3) Our family has entered a new season. We're not having babies but kids are getting married. We had our first wedding this year and, well, it looks like we're just getting warmed up. There's 13 Sabos on deck! (Disclaimer: Not all Sabos are of marrying age ...). I break down in this post the beautiful thing that happens with a wedding: A Wedding Gift

2) The second-most popular blog post reveals that a picture says a thousand words. Or a picture can contain 17 Sabos. Whatever the case, we are deeply indebted to Sara Harris Photography for squeezing in -- so to speak -- a Sabo family photo shoot in a very small window of time in which we were all together. Here's the post: Family photo time

1) Read this slowly and let it sink in, marinate, or whatever it takes for you comprehend these colossal facts. Lyudmila Vassilyev, an 18th century Russian peasant woman of incredible fertility, gave birth to 69 children. You read that right. When you get up off the floor and want the details, go here: Non-stop babies

We hope you all have enjoyed this blog and thanks again for stopping by. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

When All The Kids Are Home It's Family Photo Time

Everyone is in the photo!

We had a rare confluence of events for a few days this week ... all the kids were home! Including  the ones in college and newlyweds Taylor and Bethany, who stopped by on the way home from their honeymoon. That means several things:

--An emergency $200+ trip to the grocery store;
--There are 17 people in the house;
--The dishwasher is working overtime;
--All couches, mattresses and floor space are occupied by sleeping people;
--The board game playing begins early in the day and continues to the wee hours o' the morning;
--It's family photo time.

I'm not sure if the neighbors were alarmed when we marched down the street yesterday to a nearby vacant lot for photos. Whatever the case, it had to be impressive seeing an army of Sabos taking up Marshall Lane.

I am very fortunate to work with Sara Harris -- she of the "best photographer in the land" status -- who graciously offered on very short notice to break out the camera for a photo shoot. The back story to our photo shoot is that after considering everyone's schedules, the older girls had set the time at 1 o'clock. Which was great except for one minor detail: We needed a photographer.

The morning of the photo shoot I traveled to a meeting with one of the clients of the firm I work for. And who should be accompanying myself, my boss Stephanie Heinatz and my son Ethan (along to see how things go down in the PR/Marketing world) to the meeting? None other than Sara Harris. One thing led to another on the trip home and soon enough she was offering her photography services. What a blessing!

The older Sabo lads looking manly!

The skies were cloudy and it was mild weather so basically it was a perfect day for a shoot -- especially considering there was no chance of a glare off my bald dome. To whomever owns the vacant lot down the street, thank you for letting us spend a few minutes there.

One thing I noticed when Sara was shooting photos was that she was waaaaaaayyyyy back there. Or so it seemed. I guess that's because she had to fit everyone in the frame ...

Here's a few samples of Sara's handiwork. As you can see, I'm a very blessed man. Julie looks fabulous and the kids look great. Happy New Year and thanks again for stopping by my blog.

The Sabo ladies looking fine!

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Day Seth Turns 3 Years Old

Seth rocks the shades he made at church.
Another day, another Sabo birthday. I have this standard joke that the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is ask myself if one of my kids has a birthday today. Yesterday it was Gabe's. Today it is Seth's birthday. I just heard Julie say that she can't believe she had him three years ago. Neither

He is a one of a kind Sabo kid. He's built completely differently than all of our other Sabo wee lads and lasses. He's just solid. That's the best way to put it. While our kids traditionally have been on the petite side at a young age, Judah broke the mold. He weighs more than Judah -- who is 1 1/2 years older -- and might weigh more than Olivia, who is almost 5 years older. That just means there's more to snuggle with.

He's affectionately called "Seffers" by most everyone in the house. It's a nickname we believe was coined by Evie and it's stuck. In fact, when he tell him he is "Seth" he disagrees. "I'm Seffers," he says.

He's a gentle guy with a kind heart and he's best friends with Judah. The other day they were having lunch together at the table and had the following conversation:

Judah: "Hey Seth, you want to play a pretend game where you're my brother and we're eating lunch together?"
Seth: "Okay Judah."

It's pretty cool when pretend and reality collide. Nothing but good times.

He likes Star Wars and Frozen and going to the beach, seeing his friends at church and snuggling with Mama, not in that order. He's very partial to Mama. And let's just say Mama loves snuggling with Seth. We all do. For however much longer it lasts.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Happy 13th Birthday To Gabe

Gabe teaching Seth the finer points of rivah wading.
Gabe is celebrating his 13th birthday today, which means that among other things we're back up to having five teenagers in the house.  Gave is a brother with a big heart and an easy, contagious laugh. Just ask Claire. When Gabe really gets to cackling Claire just loses it and starts giggling as well.

He loves animals and every morning faithfully transports our bunny, Flopsy, from her spacious hutch to her bunny cage in the yard. Flopsy has become something of a neighborhood mascot. I've had people ask where I live and when I describe it several people have said, "Oh, the house with the bunny in the yard." Yep.

If you see Gabe in the front yard, he will wave to you. And keep waving until you wave back. So please wave back. Gabe loves the beach and catching minnows and little blue crabs in his net. He loves the snow and likes to ride his bike around the yard and will spend hours on end building Legos.

He likes to play soccer but is one of those kids who likes more to be a part of the team and making friends than the competition aspect of it. He's worked hard over the years and has become a very good soccer player, but he's one of those kids that is simply a great teammate who encourages the other players, is unselfish and works hard.

He's a joy to have as a son. Gabe is kind, patient, thoughtful and a good big brother, quick to help his little brothers.

Happy birthday Gabe. We love you.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

A Tasty Sabo Christmas Tradition: Amazing Seafood Chowder

The finished product: So bon appetit!
It happens every year. Christmas rolls around and we open presents and the kids start playing with the toys, or reading books they got, or doing a puzzle, or eating voluminous amounts of candy -- this year we took all the candy we got and loaded into a large mixing bowl for a "candy stew" to pick from -- and then the real tradition gets underway.

I start preparing our beloved "Portland Seafood Chowder" that I fished out of a story from The Oregonian recipe in the early 2000s. It takes a couple of hours but it is oh so worth it. If you like seafood, if you like chowder, if you like food, if you like to eat and if you have any taste buds at all you will devour this chowder.

Do you like bacon? It's in there. Here's photographic proof:
Bacon is in the chowder. That means it's good.

Do you like smoked salmon? How about Chesapeake Bay jumbo lump blue crab? Do you like seafood in general? You'll like this chowder. Here's proof:
Key ingredients: Things of the salty saltwater.
The recipe doesn't call for everything I throw into my version of Portland Seafood Chowder. I admit, I get really aggressive with my ingredients. My philosophy with this chowder is that more is better. That plays out in two ways. First off, I figure that if it had saltwater coursing through its veins at one point -- er, whatever saltwater courses through when it comes to shrimp, oysters, crab and the like -- then it's good enough for my chowder. More is also better when it comes to servings. I figure New Year's Day is right around the corner and I can start cutting back and "exercising" and "dieting" at that point. Until then it is "bottoms up baby" when it comes to my chowder.

There's also one really key point I want to make when you are fixing this chowder. It's something I've had to learn over the years. When you break out the smoked salmon to add to the chowder, try really hard not to scarf it all down before it gets into the heavy bottom stock pot. It takes an extraordinary amount of discipline, but you can resist eating every last flaky bit of smoked salmon before it goes into the pot. I believe in you!

My kids absolutely love this chowder and it's a tradition my family looks forward to every year. It's an investment for sure -- the ingredients aren't exactly as cheap as canned tuna, if you know what I mean -- but well worth it. Give it a whirl and let me know what you think.

Portland Seafood Chowder
12 oz. diced raw bacon
1 1/3 C finely diced onion
1 1/3 C finely diced carrot
1 1/3 C finely diced celery
1/2 C diced roasted red bell peppers
1 1/2 t dried dill weed
1 1/2 t dried basil
1 1/2 t dried marjoram
1 1/2 t cajun spice mix
3 T all-purpose flour
1/2 C lightly hopped ale
1 10-oz. can baby clams
2 8-oz. bottles clam juice
4 C diced raw potatoes
6 to 8 fresh mussels, scrubbed & debearded
1/4 lb. cubed firm white fish such as snapper or cod
1/4 lb. smoked salmon, flaked
1 C whipping cream
salt & pepper to taste

* Among the seafood items I add with liberality (one of the few times in my life I'm a liberal):
crab meat
baby shrimp

In a heavy-bottomed stock pot, cook the bacon over medium-low until it is brown. Add the onion, carrot and celery and cook over medium-low heat until the carrots are almost tender. Add red peppers.

Stir in the dill weed, basil, marjoram and cajun spice mix. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly for about 5 minutes. Add the ale, the juice from the clams (reserve the drained clams for later), and the bottled clam juice. Stir until smooth and then add the potatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the mussels, white fish, smoked salmon, reserved clams and any other additional seafood, cover and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes or until the mussels are opened and the white fish is done. Discard any mussels that do not open. Stir in the whipping cream and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot.

Friday, December 25, 2015

A Year In Instagram Photos In Gloucester, Virginia: Rivahstyle

We live in a little 3-bedroom house with 2 bathrooms that's 1,600 square feet. Well, almost 1,600 square feet. Basically there's kids everywhere. We rack 'em and stack 'em.

But one of the things I love about our little house is that we're three blocks from a white sandy beach on the York River. The sunsets are amazing. The kids have a blast down there. I love to walk down there and enjoy the peace of the tidal saltwater. I thought I'd share some of my Instagram highlights from the past year of living on a peninsula, a few blocks from the beach. If you'd like to find me on Instagram, I'm @jmatthewsabo and I'll follow back!

Do you have a favorite?

A Time To Reflect, A Time For Thanks

It is officially Christmas Day, 2015. It's somewhere the other side of midnight and things are out of whack -- outside at least. It's a warm, steamy night in Virginia. Thick clouds obscure the full moon and stars that are up there somewhere and the windows are open and the ceiling fans are humming. And still it's hot in here. I refuse to turn on the AC. It's late December. That's ridiculous. Even if it means I can't sleep because I'm too hot.

But the other side of being sleepless in Gloucester is that the kids are all in bed, the house is quiet, the Christmas tree is lit up and the presents are spilling out from beneath it. It's like this every year for me, these nights that by the light of the Christmas tree I take a few moments to reflect on my life over the past year.

I'm not going to lie. It's been a hard stretch in many ways going back the past 14 months or so. The thing that comes to mind first is two miscarriages. Two blessings we've missed out on. Our babies give us so much joy as a family, there's an excitement and an anticipation that builds through the pregnancy. There's a sense of wonder with the little kids when we bring home a new baby. For so many years we've celebrated another birth, welcoming a new baby brother or sister so routinely it's become a part of the fabric of our lives. There's always been another baby and those days are drawing to a close. Or maybe they have drawn to a close. Either way, I miss them.

I've had some ongoing health issues over the past year that doctors can't quite figure out and on some really rough, painful nights I've trundled 2-year-old Seth into our bed. I like to listen to him breathe and I put my head right up against his soft cheek. He's a snuggler and he'll burrow into me and for a little while I forget what's ailing me. He comforts me the way our babies always have. There's been many nights when it's me and a baby in my arms in a darkened house and listening to those fast, little breaths, feeling that skin like cotton and smelling that new baby smell and everything is alright in the world.

My work as a missionary ended earlier this year and it's just ... I don't know how else to describe it other than painful. I was unable to raise enough support to continue as a missionary working with an organization that launches Bible-teaching schools in Africa and Haiti. The cold, hard truth is that I wasn't any good at asking people for money. It's a flaw of mine where I pretty much stink at asking for help. I don't like goodbyes either but that's another flaw, another story. The missions organization I was with is doing work that changes lives and offers hope both spiritually and economically to downtrodden young people and I loved being a part of it. The people in the organization are wonderful and they're doing great work. I've seen and met many people whose lives have been changed through it. It feels like failure to leave it behind. It's hard. I don't really know how else to put it.

I'm extremely thankful and grateful for the work I'm doing now and the opportunity some friends of mine here in Gloucester gave me to work with their PR & marketing firm after leaving the missions work. It's a huge blessing and I really believe we're doing great work. But it's just one of those things I wrestle with, where my heart is to spread the gospel and to elevate lives and I was a part of that ... until I wasn't. It's an ongoing conversation I have with God, wondering what it's all about and why. But learning to trust in His plan when life doesn't make sense is essential Christian living. A Christian is believing -- knowing -- God has something else afoot and is waiting. Always waiting as it says in the book of Hosea, to wait on our God continually. Always expecting. Always ready. The life of a follower of Christ is gripping the faith to take the next step when you don't know where that foot will land but taking it anyway. I'm learning it. I'm working at it.

But in so many ways these are all such little, trivial things. This past weekend at Taylor's wedding affirmed what a gift I have with my family. My kids all love Jesus. That's a blessing. We're happiest when we're all together and my kids are patient, kind and loving to each other and they love to be with Julie and me, even the older ones. Sadly, that seems all too rare in this culture.

In a few hours the kids will all be up. The little kids will frantically be trying to get the older ones out of bed and we'll gather in the living room in our pajamas. The kids will pass around the presents under the Christmas tree, many of which they got for each other and we'll take turns opening them. I'll fix my traditional seafood chowder and I'm thinking it will be so nice outside that maybe we'll walk down to the beach. We'll have the whole day together. That's the best part. Really it's the only part that matters.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Wedding Toast From One Brother To Another

The three amigos saving one of them from a gator's toothy grip

One of the things I'm so blessed by with my family is how much love my kids have for each other. I have a brother-in-law whose words echo through my mind frequently when I think about my kids. He was telling me once how much he enjoys being around my kids and he said quite simply, in part awe and part genuine fascination it seemed, "They're so kind to each other."

The way my family breaks down is there's little groups of my kids that are naturally closer to each other because of being born so close together, as well as other factors. Our three older boys, Brenton, Taylor and Ethan, comprise one of those groups. When we get together and they start telling stories about the things they did back in the day it's hilarious. Apparently the "10-year rule" -- where they can finally talk about the crazy things they did 10 years ago and not worry about getting in trouble -- comes into play. Their bond is strong and lifelong.

I've often thought about the nature of their love for each other and I always come back to it's a reflection of their faith in Jesus. They model the kind, compassionate, loving, serving heart of Jesus. For me, it's a joy to watch and be a part of.

I saw examples of this love for each other over the weekend at the wedding of Taylor & Bethany. The kids stepped up serving in so many different ways. Evie painted an amazing portrait of Taylor & Bethany she gave to them as a wedding gift. Brenton and Ethan served as groomsmen, taking care of a ton of little details  and big ones as well to honor their brother. Claire, MerriGrace and Madeline  were absolutely lovely as they played and sang songs as a trio at the start of the wedding as people entered and got seated. And all of the kids pulled off their parts in the wedding without a hitch.

And as best man for Taylor, Ethan gave a speech at the reception. I'll link to the full speech below that is up on Youtube, but I loved it. He talked about how Taylor has become a remarkable man over the years and he said that love is the strongest force in the world. As he closed the toast and raised his glass, he spoke the words that he told us had came to him in a dream:

"My final hope and my prayer and my blessing to you all Bethany and Taylor, is that your love would be faithful like the rising sun, that it will be as lasting as the mighty mountains, it will be strong like rushing water, as precious as silver, passionate like a raging fire, sweet as a robin's song and richer than a thousand kings. I love you both. Here's to Taylor and Bethany."

Youtube link: Ethan's wedding toast

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

What A Family Gets With A Wedding

Taylor & Bethany
Somehow we pulled it off. A rehearsal dinner for about 60 people the night before the wedding of our son Taylor and his lovely bride Bethany was going smoothly. It was no small feat, believe me. Julie and several of our daughters and even sons had labored in preparation, preparing baked ziti, a chicken lasagna, chicken marsala with rice, a huge salad, rolls and even five cheesecakes -- all hauled 570 miles from our house to Berea, Ky. But the food was savory and several people asked who did the catering.

Why, we did!

But as the Hayes and Sabo extended families and wedding party ate and mingled and laughed and shared stories, I was walking down the basement hall of the River of Life church where we were holding the wedding on my way to retrieve more forks -- always a good sign when you're hosting  a party for 60 that you've prepared the food for -- when the pastor posed a question to me. It was simple, really: Could I speak with him a moment?

He motioned me into a room across the hall and we sat down. I admit the words, "Uh-oh" went through my mind. But I quickly learned that Pastor Tim just wanted to tell me about Taylor. I won't go into the details but he simply had a lot of very nice things to say about him and we had a great conversation. And I gained a new friend -- two actually because his wife, Anne, joined us. One of the words he used to describe Taylor was "solid." Which is funny because that's one of the exact words my family uses to describe him.

He is solid in the sense that he is faithful and selfless, kind and loving, reliable and generous. And so many other things. It plays out in a thousand little ways and a bunch of big ways. He will jump in and do the dishes and no one even asks him (that's a big deal in my book!). Or he will round up the kids for a lively game of soccer in the front yard. Or he will tell bedtime stories to the little kids that have them laughing so hard they can hardly breathe. He is always willing to help, always willing to give and always quick to love. He's that embodiment of a person who reflects and radiates the love of Jesus. I can't describe in words how much it means to me to call him my son.

Over the course of the wedding I had several people -- fellow students, Pastor Tim, some of Bethany's family members -- pull me aside to tell me about Taylor and how much he's meant to them. It was a totally unexpected blessing.

I say all this because I've been thinking about the dynamics of our family and how they have changed now. This is our first wedding. We've entered a new season where our kids are truly forging their own paths. They are falling in love and getting married and starting lives together and, soon I imagine, perhaps very soon, starting their own families.

But there's something else as well. Something that goes right along with a wedding. It's a wedding gift, I guess you'd say.

We have a new member of the family, someone who we've all quickly come to love quite dearly. Someone who is kind and quick to help and quick to love. Someone who is thoughtful and graceful and who loves to spend time with our little kids and will chat with Olivia for seemingly hours on end. She's someone who is a perfect complement for Taylor.

My son Taylor has a companion for life. My other children have a new sister. Julie and I have a new daughter. We couldn't be happier. Welcome to the Sabo family Bethany.

We love you.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Dad Handbook: Are We Sabotaging Our Families?

Kids these days have no idea how real the struggle used to be.

Recently while surfing the internet, er rather while (cough, cough) "working" quite vigorously doing "research" for my job, I came across a fascinating manual. It was a World War II manual developed in 1944 by the U.S. Office of Strategic Services -- the precursor to the CIA. The manual is a guide for Allied spies and members of resistance groups on how to sabotage the Axis war effort from within.

It's an intriguing read and I found page 28 particularly interesting. It's a section titled "General Interference with Organizations and Production" and outlines basically how workers friendly to the Allied war effort can ensure that nothing gets done at Axis plants and manufacturing facilities producing materials for the war effort.

There's a number of articles out in the cybersphere on how page 28 of the "General Interference with Organizations and Production" speaks quite accurately to problems encountered in the workplace with employees who are expert at making sure nothing gets done. After studying page 28 closely, I came to a rather sobering revelation.

I'm nothing more than a member of the resistance -- a spy as it were! -- who is effectively limiting the effectiveness of the well-oiled Sabo Family machine. I assure you it is unintentional. I also assure you that I am not alone in the world of Dadness in adhering unwittingly to insurrectionist behavior. Let's inspect page 28 of the manual on a point-by-point basis as proof.

1) "Insist on doing everything through `channels.' Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions."

--I pronounce myself guilty. Let me give you an example. Take lawn mowing. Every self-respecting Dad lawn mowing expert knows that it's not just a job. It's an art form of the highest calling. There are procedures, there are lists, there are unwritten rules of lawn mowing. There are NO shortcuts in lawn mowing. The air pressure of each tire must be expertly calibrated, oil level gauged, gas checked, blade inspected for sharpness and the lawn physically walked and inspected almost on a blade by blade level to ensure there are no foreign objects, toys, rodent-like creatures such as squirrels and even small children in the way that could obstruct the precision lawn mowing effort. And under no circumstances can the lawn mowing lines be anything but perfectly straight.

So what happens when I turn over the lawn mowing to a teenage son, a literal "passing of the key" ceremony that is akin to lighting the torch at the Olympics? Why, he hops on the riding mower and mows the lawn 37 minutes and 48.3 seconds faster than my personal record. Did he check the gas, tire pressure, oil level, blade thickness and sharpness and walk the lawn looking for impediments like squirrels, small children and the like? No! He just got on the lawn mower and started mowing! It's utter insanity! What is the world coming to?

2) "Make `speeches,'  talk as frequently as possible and at great length, illustrate your `points' by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences. Never hesitate to make a few appropriate 'patriotic' comments.

--The older I get, the more my kids hear the ol' "You have it so easy these days, I mean back when I was a kid" speech. It's true though! When I was a kid I really did have to walk 5 miles uphill through a cemetery in driving snowstorms just to get to school. Not only that, if I wanted to communicate with my friends, I couldn't just text, or Snapchat, or Facebook message, or Tweet, or whatever. I either had to actually remember his phone number or look it up in a "phone book" and physically dial his number on a rotary dial phone, or send a smoke signal, or physically get on my bike and physically ride it uphill for 5 miles through a blizzard to his house and wait out the snowstorm playing Space Invaders or watching Star Wars on a VCR. That's the American way I tell you! Things were so much better back then! This country -- can we pause for a moment and all sing "God Bless America" right now? -- was built on the backs of kids who knew their friends' phone numbers and have calluses on their fingers from dialing rotary dial phones and rode their bikes through blizzards to see them. And know the words to "God Bless America."

3) "When possible, refer all matters to committees, for `further study and consideration.' Attempt to make the committees as large as possible -- never less than five."

--Let me break this down quite simply for you. Say one my 20 14 kids asks me if they can do something like go hang out with a friend or see a movie. My default answer is, "Let me think about it." Which basically means that they can kiss that idea goodbye because when a thought enters my brain, there's a very high probability it will "get lost in the shuffle" and will be stranded somewhere in my gray matter for the rest of my life. And there's no getting that thought back. That baby is gone, gone, gone. The other default answer is, "Let me talk to Mama about it." That's also the kiss of death because it would require me not only to remember the request, but to actually have an actual conversation with my wife about it, which would require me to speak in complete sentences and be able to voice intelligent, coherent arguments of why I think this particular request may be a bad idea even though there's very likely absolutely nothing wrong with it and it's something as simple as, "Dad, can I play video games?" At a last resort, I can go with #2 and start in on the "You have it so easy these days, I mean back when I was a kid" speech.

4) "Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible."

--I have mastered this. It's an art form. I can totally be "Mr. Irrelevant." Wait a minute, that didn't come out right. I meant to write, I can totally be "Mr. Irrelevant Information." That sounds better. I think. Anyway, what I mean to say -- hold on, out of the corner of my eye I spotted a cell phone charger that's still plugged in and is drawing juice even though there is no cell phone attached to it and I need to get to the bottom of this crime against humanity before our electrical bill spikes and I have to take a second job and an entire iceberg in Antarctica melts because we're using so much power that's generated by a coal-fired plant -- is that all dads know that being a "Dad" carries with it a great burden and requires a sharpness of mind and acuity of dexterous task completion that's bordering on complete and utter impossibility. Basically it's a miracle us Dads get anything done. Wait a minute, that didn't come out right. I meant to say -- sorry, just a minute, but someone left the jar of crunchy peanut butter on the counter and I need to interrogate every kid in this house and possibly waterboard some of them in the bathtub to find out who committed this atrocity -- that it's a miracle Dads are able to accomplish so much. (That sounds so much better!) They get it done despite all the chaos around them -- like jars of crunchy peanut butter that were left unattended on the counter and a cell phone charging cord left plugged in with no cell phone attached to it. Don't kids know these days that seal levels are rising because they are leaving cell phone cords plugged in for no apparent reason? It's outrageous!

Coming tomorrow: Breaking down the final 4 points of page 28 of the  "General Interference with Organizations and Production" manual.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

On A Night In Haiti When God Prevailed

Waterfront living in Haiti

It was one of those nights in Haiti where the heat was relentless. It's a long, suffocating heat that would leave me drenched in sweat and exhausted. I waited in vain for a breeze; even the slightest, gentlest stirring of the air to offer even a token amount of relief.

Instead all I got was fear.

Even today, more than three years later, I don't know how to explain it. It's a fear I could feel, the distinct and inescapable understanding that evil was in my presence and, in the simplest of terms, that something very bad was taking place. Except for the fact that I was alone in the small bedroom, save for a fellow missionary sleeping soundly nearby, oblivious apparently to the unceasing heat and the evil hovering among us.

I would later learn from our generous hosts that the rural, hillside cinder block home we were staying in had been built in a neighborhood of occupied by at least nine witch doctors who plied voodoo and, I would surmise, did not much care for the American missionaries carrying the hope of the gospel to a people in desperate need and the hearts to elevate lives.

As I lay sweating and succumbing to whatever force enveloped me, the fear welled up to the point that I remember my breathing became labored. I remember distinctly feeling like my lungs and heart were being squeezed. I was convinced I was not going to leave Haiti alive and the only way I would depart would be in a coffin. Whether it was delirium, or some sort of vision, or some other supernatural occurrence such as spiritual warfare, I can't be sure. I do know that I've never been more scared in my life.

I think about that night frequently. It is seared into my memory. Certain events in life we carry with us and they arise frequently out of the millions of memories of our past. Many bring us a smile, some may bring sadness, others a laugh.

This memory of that night in Haiti brings an understanding to me. It's a knowledge beyond something I know in my mind, like a fact I can recite. It's an intimate understanding of the power of God, of His love for me. Because in the depths of my fear, in a dark place of seemingly inescapable evil, I came to an understanding of who God is and how He cares for me.

I prayed for relief from the enveloping fear. As I prayed I felt compelled to reach underneath my bed and fetch my Bible. By the light of my cell phone I opened to Psalm 62 and read these words:
"Truly my soul silently waits for God;
From Him comes my salvation.
He only is my rock and my salvation;
He is my defense;
I shall not be greatly moved."

As I read the whole Psalm a peace washed over me. It wasn't instantaneous, but more like having something very heavy slowly lifted off my chest. It was, I believed, good overcoming evil. It was love prevailing. It was true power exercising its might and conquering evil on behalf of a wounded man. My circumstances didn't change. The heat didn't relent, the dark night remained, the voodoo practitioners were still nearby.

What changed was my focus was taken off my circumstances and my fear and on to the God who sent His beloved Son to die for me. Fear takes prisoners. God frees lives. God is my shelter and defense fighting on my behalf; I'm never going it alone.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is John 14:27. In the verse Jesus gives a promise and says simply, "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."

I know that peace intimately. I encountered it on a suffocating night on a hill in a Haiti village, where a darkness of profound fear was overcome by the illuminating light of God's overpowering love, spoken to me through words that are as alive to me today as they were to the Psalmist thousands of years ago.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

What We Do Best As A Family Is ...

Family should be one big celebration
Maybe it's because there's a lot of us. Maybe it's because we love to laugh and make each other laugh. Or maybe it's because we've always had little kids around who reach big milestones on a regular basis. Whatever the case, over the last several days I was struck by something that happens a lot here at Team Sabo.

We celebrate.

We celebrate little things. Like a lost tooth. The displaced little tooth is taken around the house and shown with great pride to each brother and sister. The new gap in the mouth is admired and analyzed and there's long discussions of whether the Tooth Fairy is broke thanks to the Sabo kids.

We celebrate funny things, like 4-year-old Judah telling MerriGrace about his latest dream. It was a dream where he forgot to put on his pants and underwear but went out in public anyway. Now I when I have had those dreams of being buck naked in public, it was more like a nightmare. Judah had a different response: "Whoops!" he told MerriGrace. That's a story worth celebrating.

We celebrate attempts to conquer the English language, which is no small feat for a 2-year-old like Seth. He likes his apples cut in half, with the skin off and smothered in "pinka butter." Although he means to say "peanut butter," we all think "pinka butter" is just so much better. Because it makes us laugh.

We celebrate one of the biggest moments in a Sabo kid's life -- the day of turning 10 years old. -- with regularity. You see, at the age of 10 a Sabo lad or lass becomes a "big kid." There's all sorts of benefits to being a big kid. Not only have they hit double digits, but they can stay up later at night. They are entrusted with more freedoms, like playing video games. There's also a certain amount of responsibility -- they may be counted on to help out more with the little kids. Now that we can definitely celebrate.

We celebrate when the kids in college come home for the holidays or on a weekend. Sometimes the younger kids make welcome home signs. Or they color pictures. Sometimes they bake cookies. Sometimes, like tonight, we honor a special request and make chicken and mashed potatoes with gravy. All the time there's a ton of hugs.

In another week we'll celebrate in a big way a first for our family. Taylor is marrying Bethany. The excitement in the house is palpable. We've been doing a countdown for months. Today Olivia was modeling the dress she is going to wear. We giggled over the snazzy shirts and ties Judah and Seth will be wearing. We've dug out photos of when Taylor was but a wee Sabo to share at the wedding reception. And the great thing is that we'll have many, many more of these types of celebrations.

We celebrate potty training and riding a bike with no training wheels and going to Busch Gardens and family vacations and picking blueberries and getting baptized and a little kid reading their first book and getting a driver's license and birthdays and a million other things.

We celebrate life because life should be a celebration. I view this life I have, my wife and all these kids, as a gift from God. And gifts are worth celebrating.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The One Thing Everyone Should Do Today

Sunset-watching requires waiting. Trust me.

I was rummaging through the archives of Sabo musings and came across this one from my old "12 Kids and Counting" blog that I banged out six years ago. I'll link to it here and I think you'll like it and relate to it -- it's about trying to hustle through the express line only to have the customer in front of me whip out a checkbook and sssslllllooooowwwwllllllyyyyy write a check. The blog post is all about waiting and how we're unaccustomed to waiting. And how there's a Biblical principle of waiting that we seem to have forgotten in this culture.

Here's the link: `And Wait On Your God Continually'

But it also got me to thinking about what I've learned shooting photographs of sunsets. I've been on Instagram for a few years and my calling card is sunset photos. We live on a peninsula here in Gloucester and our house is three blocks from a private beach on the York River and a we're a couple of  miles from the beach at Gloucester Point where the iconic Coleman Bridge spans the water.

Over Thanksgiving Ethan was home and I grabbed him just before sundown late one afternoon and trekked down to the beach to impart some fatherly wisdom on photographing sunsets. By no means am I professional photographer. I have friends who are professional photographers and I would not insult them by saying I'm even close to their abilities.

That said, I've learned a few things about sunsets over the years. Here's my three takeaways.

1) Get outside. In order to shoot a photograph of a sunset you have to actually see it. If that sounds a little too obvious, it is. It's my personal opinion that the world would be a better place if more people spent more time personally enjoying sunsets. It takes time and effort to get out and see a sunset but the rewards are incalculable. Take time out of your busy schedule of surfing the net, posting on Facebook, Tweeting, commuting, "working" or otherwise wasting time to watch the sun go down. Enjoy the peace, the view, the beauty and the serenity. You'll feel better, I promise. And take a picture of it.

2) Be patient. The York River is one to two miles wide where I typically watch the sun go down. What I've noticed is that the most astounding part of the sunset occurs about 10 minutes after the actual sunset. I learned this the hard way. When I first started photographing sunsets, I'd watch the sun go down and then call it a day. But a couple times I was walking home from the beach and turned around several minutes after sunset to see the sky aflame. Then I would run down to the beach for the best shots. There's a lesson here: Beautiful things take time. You can't rush them. You can't hurry them up, or microwave them or get them in the express line. Slow down, enjoy the view and let the sunset marinate to perfection.

3) Share it with somebody you love. I saw the clouds in the sky the other day and knew it was going to be a hot sunset. So I grabbed Julie and told her we were going on a date. We went down to the pier at Gloucester Point Beach and watched the sky catch fire behind the Coleman Bridge. It was beautiful. And I'll say from personal experience that sunsets are best enjoyed when you're kissing the love of your life.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

KLOVE CEO Mike Novak makes $557,362

For several years I've blogged about KLOVE's finances. KLOVE is classified as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and is the dominant Christian radio station in America operating "non-commercial" and listener-supported radio stations across the country.

I make no editorial comment about KLOVE's finances and how the organization spends its money. This information is only in the interest of transparency. We're all familiar with the fall and spring KLOVE pledge drives and here's a brief look at where the money goes. KLOVE is run by the non-profit Educational Media Foundation (EMF) that is based in Rocklin, Calif., according to annual Form 990 records filed with the IRS. Educational Media Foundation operates the KLOVE and Air 1 radio stations broadcast across the country and over the internet.

According to records filed with the IRS here's a comparison of the company's finances
Total revenue
2013--$141 million
2014--$155.3 million

2013--$81.6 million
2014--$91.1 million

Net Revenue
2013--$59.5 million
2014--$64.2 million

Net Assets
2013--$290 million
2014--$353.5 million

Grants to tax-exempt organizations for Christian evangelism, edification and values
2014-- $208,303

Here's the compensation of the top employees, according to the IRS records:
1) Mike Novak, CEO/President/Director: $557,362 (including bonus of $157,500)
2) David Pierce, chief creative officer: $309,726
3) Alan Mason, COO: $299,378
4) Dan Antonelli, VP International: $295,135
5) Kevin Blair, General Counsel/Secretary: $285,317
6) Joe Miller, VP Signal Development/Asst. Treasurer: $272,941
7) Eric Moser, CFO: $259,749
8) Brian Burger, VP of Human Resources: $245,566
9) Randy Rich, VP of Philanthropy: $240,279
10) Brian Gantman, Govt Affairs Director/In-house counsel: $220,046
11) Sam Wallington, VP of Engineering: $213,362
12) David Atkinson, VP of Finance/Treasurer: $211,890
13) Randall Badaeux, Director of Programming: $207,830
14) William Lyons, Principal Data Scientist: $188,4592
15) Chuck Pryor, KLOVE Programming Director: $187,708
16) Scott Smith, Air Talent: $178,104
17) Ed Lenane, Director of Events: $176,687
18) Frank Maranzino, Director of Studio Technology: $176,375
19) Virginia Walker, VP of Listener Services/Asst. Secretary: $163,501
20) Richard Allison, Business Manager: $155,302
21) Stacie Ford, Assoc. General Counsel/Asst. Secretary: $118,506

Total fundraising expenses for KLOVE were $5.9 million.

ShareMedia Services, of Eden Prairie, Minn., was paid $306,773 by EMF for consulting work, which includes "pledge drive coaching," IRS records show. ShareMedia describes itself as the "experts in broadcast fundraising." Gross receipts from pledge drives involving ShareMedia were tabbed at $32 million, records show.

Three Things to DO This Christmas Season

I tend to chart out my life by a series of events. I have this sort of oral history in my mind and recall certain things by events in my life. For example, it's easy to remember when we moved from Prineville, Ore., to Corvallis, Ore., because it was right after Abram was born in 1999. Or I remember  the year when Eli was born because it was 2004 -- when we moved to Gloucester, Va. Another example would be remembering precisely when gasoline prices spiked in 2008 -- it was in September at the exact moment we were driving to Oregon so I could attend the School of Ministry at Calvary Chapel Corvallis. I will never forget the shock -- maybe horror is a better word -- of seeing the price of gas on the freeway in Tennessee at $4.99 per gallon. Or the acute physical pain associated with watching the needle of our fuel gauge rapidly drop toward `E' when we were driving into ferocious oncoming winds on I-80 in Wyoming. It's still painful to remember it seven years later ...

A year ago I spent two weeks in Nigeria while working as Communications Manager for the Transformational Education Network. It was an extraordinary time as we worked with church officials in Nigeria to open Bible-teaching computer training schools. As part of our work we traveled to a few schools, including the ones pictured above. Take a good look at those photos. Would you, as an American, say they are less than ideal conditions for school?

But here's the thing I remember when I visited those schools: The smiles I got from those students. I think about that frequently. Those kids have it rough and I'm know there are countless discouraging things they face every day. But they are so excited about going to school because it is a privilege and a blessing in that country. I'm not sure what percentage of Nigerian children actually get to wear uniforms and receive an education in a safe environment, but it may well be surprisingly low. These kids are grateful, to say the least.

I say all this because we all know how easy it is to get caught up in the consumer mentality of the American Christmas. I am guilty of it as well. We focus on things that don't matter, instead of things that do matter. With that in mind, I'd like to encourage all of us in three things -- particularly me -- this Christmas season.

1) Be thankful. I've traveled around the world. I've been to Africa, Haiti, China, South Korea, Hong Kong and other countries. We have so much to be thankful for as Americans. Be thankful for simple things such as running water, electricity, easy transportation, an overabundance of food and access to education. We take them for granted. Be thankful for our freedoms and safety in this country. The vast majority of us are untouched by violence, despite mass shootings and murder rates in inner cities. We don't have armed guards standing at gates at churches to ensure the safety of congregants like I saw in Jos, Nigeria. We don't have AK-47-toting soldiers manning checkpoints on highways every 10 or 15 miles to make sure terrorists aren't toting bombs and weapons across the country, as I saw in Nigeria. Not yet at least ...

More importantly, though, be thankful for a Savior. Two thousand years ago in an inconsequential town in the Middle East a child was born who would grow to become a remarkably compassionate, loving man. He is the Son of God and would live a sinless life, performing miracles of healing and later enduring searing punishment and torture and be nailed to a cross to be crucified. He would sacrifice His own life and take on our sins so that we could be free from the shackles of our trespasses and live life abundantly. Be thankful for the grace, mercy and selfless, unconditional love of Jesus Christ.

2) Be giving. We have this consumer mentality in America and an obsession with material things. Even in the church we find it hard to live out what Jesus said: That it's better to give than to receive. One of the saddest things I've heard recently is listening to the stories of two of my kids who work in the food service industry describe how the worst day for tips is Sunday afternoon when the Christians in their nice clothes go out to eat after church. Or how those same people can be among the rudest and most demanding customers. One of my kids describes how sad it is to know that some of the store's worst customers are a group of people wearing their church t-shirts who are rude to staff and then sit around and gossip. Come on Christians. We can do better.

Give more this year. In tips, in love, in deeds, in words and joy. Be a light to this dark world. Reflect the compassion of Jesus and live it out. Radiate the love of Jesus to a world that trades in harsh words, cynicism and selfishness.

3) Be servants. Jesus said that he came to this world to serve and not to be served. If we call ourselves Christians, that means we are followers of Jesus Christ and that these words should resonate with us. Does being a servant describe your life? Husbands, what does serving your wife look like in your house at the moment? How about with your kids? How does being a servant play out at work? How does it play out at church? Being a servant is a mindset that entails setting aside your needs to serve others and it can be a complete foreign concept to us. It starts at home. Believe me, I can do better and I know it. Perhaps many of us can do better. This world will be a better place when we have more people, Christians particularly, who view the journey through this life through the lens of being a servant. It's serving without complaint, accepting responsibility, being quick to apologize and quick to forgive and being patient and loving.

I leave with a verse that's one of my favorites, a prophecy from Isaiah 9 that describes the coming of Jesus. Just as Jesus is a light to a dark world, we can be lights this Christmas season: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined."

Sunday, December 6, 2015

With 14 Kids, Our Budget For Christmas Shopping Is ...

The gift of giving

I get asked fairly frequently this time of year what Christmas shopping is like in our house. It's hard for people to wrap their head around shopping for a family our size, apparently. By way of an answer, here's the insider's perspective.

Last week, MerriGrace went around with a clipboard, paper and pencil and asked her brothers and sisters what they want for Christmas. It took her two days, four sheets of paper, two pencils, one eraser and a partridge in a pear tree to compile the list. Just kidding! She got it done in fairly short order and I have looked over the list. It includes items that range from chocolate, to a book of systematic theology -- Judah can't wait to start reading!* -- to various colors of light sabers, to Legos (We need more Legos? How about if I just give back the ones permanently embedded in my feet from stepping on them?) to all sorts of Star Wars paraphernalia.

All in all, it's a solid list of modest requests. MerriGrace has actually checked out online the requests and tallied the bottom line at $660 for all the presents. Now as a disclaimer, the list is blank for four of the older kids so it's far from comprehensive. So the average is $66 per kid. If you throw in the four kids who at this point are getting "unknown" for Christmas and calculate their costs at $66 each, the total bill for Christmas for the 14 Sabo kids would be $924, not including tax (unless we can get family and friends to buy the presents in tax-free Oregon and ship them to us.)

But we're not spending $924 on Christmas. I can assure you of that. If you really want the inside scoop on what Christmas shopping is like in the Sabo house, ask MerriGrace. Ok well, not really. For the inside scoop on Christmas shopping in the Sabo house, we sat down for an interview with Julie Sabo.

Q: Hey babe, you got a minute?
A: Um, is it important?
Q: Probably the most important thing you will do all day. Wait, that's not a question ...
A: (Eye roll).
Q: It's going to take like, literally, three minutes.
A: I was really hoping to get some school done with your children, but since it's soooooo important ...
Q: You're the best babe. You've got `Mom of the Year' locked up.
A: The question?
Q: Right. So people are always asking me about Christmas shopping for 20 kids or whatever we have these days.
A: It's 14. Do you tell them we get them toys, movies, video games, clothes and things like that? Things off the list MerriGrace makes?
Q: Well, yeah. I mean, I will. But this "list" you mentioned, what's that like?
A: It's right over there on the clipboard.
Q: I was hoping you could tell me about it ... (flashes cheesy smile).
A: (Sigh). Is this for your blog?
Q: (Silence followed by more cheesy smiling.)
A: We have everybody write a wish list but they all know that we'll pick one or two of the things on the wish list and that's all. And we usually wrap everybody's gifts in one package so that even if one of the kids has three gifts worth $30 or one gift for $30 it's all one Christmas present from "Mom and Dad." And Christmas isn't all about the gifts for us.
Q: It's not about the gifts. You are so right. It's all about ... I mean, Christmas is totally all about ...
A: It's about being together and being with the family. There's so much joy!
Q: Exactly what I was going to say!
A: I could tell.
Q: So what happens if a kid is hoping for a more expensive item? What if they ask for say, a new iPad?
A: The only one who asked for a new iPad was you.
Q: I mean, hypothetically speaking. Let's say someone like Seth asked for an iPad.
A: Well our kids know that that's not a possibility in our family.
Q: Yes, of course. I mean, Seth's like 2 years old. I'm sure an iPad isn't on his list. It was just, you know, a hypothetical. So I understand our kids have a cool little Christmas tradition where they have a gift exchange. Is that what they do?
A: Yes.
Q: They do something like draw each other's names out of a hat and get each other a gift. Right?
A: (Nodding.)
Q: Would there by any price restrictions on these gifts the kids exchange?
A: Not really. The older kids spend more. It's money they have earned, but we do help out the little kids with paying for their gifts.
Q: That's a great idea. A gift exchange for the kids. Did your husband come up with that idea?
A: Nice try. The kids came up with the idea. Remember? Everyone wanted to give each other gifts and that was the best way to go about it. Who could afford to give a gift to each of their 13 brothers or sisters?
Q: Exactly. So what sorts of things do the kids usually buy each other?
A: Candy, movies out of the $5 bin, used video games, inexpensive jewelry, toys from a dollar store. The kids have a blast with it, as I'm sure you know.
Q: (Nodding vigorously.) Do all the kids like this gift exchange?
A: Yes. They totally get into it. The little kids get so excited to see the older kids open their gifts. It's so much fun.
Q: One of the highlights of my year. No doubt about it. That about wraps it up for me babe. Thank you so much. You're such a great interview.
A: You're welcome.

And there you have it. Christmas in the Sabo house. On a budget of somewhere around $30 per kid, give or take a few bucks. We also have a tradition where we go around and open gifts one at a time, youngest to oldest, celebrating everyone's gift and making a million memories.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Top Five Reasons Every Family Should Play Dress-up

Playing dressup builds character. Or something...
For some reason, every Thanksgiving when the college kids come home for Thanksgiving things get a little crazy at the Sabo house. As the neighbors can attest, the traditional Thanksgiving soccer match has morphed into a spectacularly audacious dress-up affair.

Passersby probably think it's a flashmob of eccentric thespians congregating on the Sabo lawn. Surely somebody has called the county's 911 emergency dispatch center on us only to be told, "That address comes up as the Sabo house. The kids are probably playing dress-up again. Happens every Thanksgiving. Just call us if you see a 40something-year-old bald guy out there playing dress-up. We'll come get him."

The roots of this annual dressabration go back several years to our annual Thanksgiving soccer match that drew a host of Saboites attired in their parks & rec soccer uniforms. Then they started wearing shirts representing club teams and it grew from there. Until, well, as you see above THIS happened.

But beyond alarming neighbors and passersby, a family dressabration has actual, tangible value. It can be measured, in other words. Don't believe me? Oh, ye of little faith read on and be amazed! We present to you, the top 5 reasons every family should play dress-up on Thanksgiving and take the sartorial flashmob out to the front yard to flaunt your threadsilicious splendor.

5) It builds family unity -- What says family more than everyone dipping into the bag of swag some call the dress-up clothes bin to reach new heights of sartorial sumptuousness? Face it, some people never outgrow the need, the desire, the desperate addiction to playing dress-up. (It's ok. You can come clean. Go ahead and let us know in the comments section that you daydream about playing dress-up. Honesty is the first step to treatment for those of you addicted to donning princess dresses or Spiderman suits.) As each Sabo lad and lass appeared with their clothing creation, there was a loud cheering of siblings and a steady dose of encouragement and congratulations. It was impressive and truly a team effort.

4) It builds leadership -- Truth be told, there could be some reluctance among some of the more reserved -- sane? -- Sabo offspring to looking like a caveman, for example. That's where the true Sabo leaders step up and show their brothers and sisters what it means to be a Sabo. Which sometimes entails donning outrageous ensembles that are so sketch it would lead people to call the cops.

3) It builds creativity and imagination -- It would be a darn shame to go through life without letting loose your inner dress-up child. What's better than rummaging through the dress-up bin and finding outrageous combinations of duds to create a whole new persona? What's better than coming up with combinations that leave your brothers and sisters rolling on the ground in laughter? An imagination is a terrible thing to waist. Er, waste.

2) It promotes role playing to nurture depth of personality -- Childhood is too short to waist, er waste, on not cutting loose and getting crazy with the dress-up clothes every once in a while. Our kids have always loved role playing and creating an entire "town" of characters. (ICYMI: The game of "Town" -- Sabo style) They learn new ways to interact, developing accents and traits and becoming professionals and playing roles. I'm not gonna lie, it's fun to watch.

1) It encourages confidence -- Some of our kids can be pretty reserved and quiet. They're more behind the scenes types. But with the encouragement of the older kids and their other siblings, they truly go for it at the annual Thanksgiving bash and come up with some outrageous combinations of outfits. Cheered on by their siblings, they learn that they can't come up with a "wrong" combination of clothes and that they are only limited by their imagination. It's a blast to watch them go for it.

As I was writing this I came up with a sixth reason every family should play dress-up. This is far and away the most important: It makes some of the best memories. Oh, and you can dominate the Facebook feed with a family dress-up glamour shot.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Shepherds Who Were Looking Up

From a blog post I wrote in December 2009:

I've been thinking about shepherds lately. We're having a Christmas Eve service -- 5 o'clock on Dec. 24th at the Boys & Girls Club, you're all invited -- to sing some hymns and carols, read out of Luke 2 and I'll share a short message.

As I read Luke's account of the birth of Christ, I can't help but wonder about the shepherds who saw the angel of the Lord. I've read accounts that 2,000 years ago shepherds were the pickpockets and thieves of the day. The sorry, no-account drifters who were troublemakers and virtually indentured servants. Things haven't changed much, perhaps. I've enclosed a link at the bottom of this post to help you see where I'm going with this thing.

But let me describe the life of a modern-day sheepherder in the barren Wyoming outback, where you might be in charge of a flock of 1,500 or 2,000 sheep: On call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Your home is a 5 x 10 "campito" without running water. Have to go to the bathroom? Here's a shovel. You have no electricity. The searing summer days can hit 100 degrees. On Christmas Day at a sheep camp near Encampment, Wyo., look for a high of 14 degrees, with a low of zero. And snow.

Your heat source is a wood stove. It might even work, particularly if you have wood. In addition to no days off, a sheepherder must be able to ride a horse and repair fences. Not to mention guard the flock against predators and poisonous weeds. Not only that, a decent worker should be able to assist in lambing, docking, castrating (Rocky Mountain oysters baby!), dehorning, shearing, vaccinating, drenching and medicating the sheep.

Sometimes the work gets a little hairy -- or worse. Wolves are a constant problem in parts of Wyoming. Other places have bigger problems. On Sept. 14 in Sublette County, a sheepherder was attacked by a grizzly bear. Miraculously he lived. The bear left a 7-inch gash in the man's head, two punctures on the left side of his chest, three claw wounds on his gut and a punctured wrist. Oh, here's the kicker. The pay is $650 a month. And all the sagebrush you can see.

Yet these are the guys the angel of the Lord came to tell about the birth of the Messiah, our Savior. Why? Why not the Bethlehem Town Council? Or the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce, or Rotary Club? Surely a group of men existed in metropolitan Bethlehem that were far more qualified to have an audience with an angel of the Lord than a bunch of sketchy shepherds.

This is what I love about God. He takes the sorriest, no accountenest knuckleheads and uses them for His glory. Read about their response to the news of the birth of Christ. I'd say they were transformed. Any thoughts on what kind of weight it carried when these guys started spreading the word about what they had heard and seen? No wonder Luke describes it thusly in 2:18: "And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds." (NKJV)

There's a part of me that would like to taste the life of a Wyoming sheepherder. What's it really like out there? How bad is it? Could I endure it for more than a few days?

I can think of one redeeming aspect of a sheepherder in Wyoming. When night falls in that big sky that stretches from the end of the earth to the end of the earth, unobstructed by trees, or houses, or apartments, or skyscrapers, without artificial light flickering for maybe a hundred miles, you can look up at a billion stars and be amazed by the hand of God.

I reckon that's what those shepherds were doing 2,000 years ago, before the angel even appeared. They were looking up.