Friday, August 23, 2019

{The Hilltop Hut}

This morning I found myself hankering after breakfast a la Iveta. A platter of farm fresh eggs, layers of sliced meats and cheeses, juicy, sun-ripened tomatoes, homemade berry jam, and hand-kneaded bread would be just the thing. Oh -- and my tea must be a whimsically handcrafted medley of garden-fresh herbs. Thank you.

Alas, I am no longer staying at a hilltop hut in Slovenia, where the table was daily spread with such delights (don't get me started on the crépes and ćevapčići). We are now three weeks removed from that first morning, where our GoTeam gathered in anticipation of a weekend of team training and camp preparation.

Our training for flexibility started right off the bat. We shared the hut with another team, a California-based group who would also participate in the orientation. (Their middle school camp would take place in Maribor, while ours would take us to Celje.) The guys' and girls' bunk rooms accidentally got switched around, so that we found ourselves faced with a bed shortage. Unfortunately, this shortage wasn't realized until after several of our team members had already fallen asleep for the night.

Our host, Iveta, came up with the perfect solution: some of us could bunk with her mother! Allie and I exchanged glances. Sure. Why not. We could bunk with grandma! Iveta mentioned, as a side note, that her mother would probably slip into the room after midnight, due to the many responsibilities involved in running the lodge. Oh, and another thing -- she liked to listen to the radio as she slept. Allie and I transferred our belongings, thankful for a bed and not at all concerned about a little white noise.

Now, perhaps grandma is hard of hearing. Perhaps she fears the dark. Or perhaps she's nocturnal and doesn't actually prefer . . . slumber. Whatever the reason, grandma's radio preferences far exceeded the bounds of "white noise" and landed somewhere on the scale between "startling" and "aggressive." Thankfully, the words to the music and talk radio were Slovene, so while Allie and I may have been disturbed by the noise, we at least weren't distracted by information that our minds were trying to process throughout the night.

Of course these are the situations that later make for laughter and stories, so after downing cups and cups of tea the next morning, we were eager -- albeit bleary-eyed -- to get on with our training. As we experienced last year, it was a joy and delight to learn and grow as the JV (Josiah Venture) team taught, and to share in this time of growth with our new friends from California, too.

The setting is absolutely beautiful, and we quickly felt at home in our hilltop hut. The weekend at the lodge also strategically provided space for us to recover from jet lag before jumping into the rigors of middle school English camp. We were only a few days into our journey, and already we had a treasure trove of memorable experiences behind us:

A transatlantic flight with our GoTeam, an afternoon picnic in Graz, Austria (the last leg of our journey), reunion with family and friends, and the myriad adventures that inevitably take place on a little chestnut hill near Sentjur, Slovenia. Some of which involved scurrying mice, lightning bolts, bunny dances, wide-windowed showers and -- for a select few -- the rare distinction of bunking with grandma. 

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Saturday, July 20, 2019

{The Third Guy}

We were sitting next to each other, riveted to the screen. The images before us bore the aged look of 60s film, telling a story so incredible that hardly any narration was necessary: Man was about to set foot on the moon.

Aidan leaned over and whispered, "How'd you like to be the third guy?"

I smiled. The "third guy" stayed put while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left their indelible mark on the lunar landscape. I whispered back, "Yeah . . . but they couldn't have done it without him." Michael Collins was crucial to the success of the mission; he was their ride home.

Really, the story of the lunar landing couldn't have happened without the third guy . . . or the fourth . . . fifth . . . and sixth. As we watched Apollo 11 at OMSI, that was one of the most striking take-aways for me. There were so many people who had precise operations to execute, whether it was before, during, or after man landed on the moon. That "one small step" was preceded by countless other steps taken by thousands of men and women.

The next day, I found myself in 1 Samuel 30. David had just defeated the Amalekites, and his men were ready to divide the spoil. Some of the men had been too weary to fight; the "wicked and worthless men among those who went with David" into battle didn't feel they deserved a share of the loot. Yet David declared, "For as his share is who goes down to the battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage; they shall share alike."

He who stays by the baggage -- he who stays aboard Columbia -- shares in the victory.

In just a couple of weeks, Jamie and I will be taking a team of students to Celje, Slovenia, where we once again have the opportunity to help Johnny and Brooke and their Josiah Venture (JV) team lead an English camp for middle school students. There is much to prepare. Curriculum to review, games to plan, supplies to gather, meetings to schedule . . . and bread to bake.

Last year's Middle School English Camp in Celje, Slovenia

A little while ago, I had the idea to start a "Dough for Slo" project to help raise funds toward our trip. The response was so overwhelming and generous that we have truly been in awe of the many hands who are sending us across the ocean. We may be the ones setting foot in Celje, but we couldn't do it without you: our Columbia, our Third Guy. 

I'm up to my elbows in flour. We've ceased eating dinner at the table because it's perpetually covered with bowls, cutting boards, cooling racks, and parchment paper. We time our oven use around the bread schedule. "You'll probably be baking," Jamie assumes. He graciously decides to grill for us. Again. "What's your bread schedule?" Aidan wonders if he will be picked up from work anytime soon, "It's okay." Our house smells like Italy, and I'm okay with that.

In the coming weeks, we are going to need (or is that knead?) all the Third Guys we can get. We covet your prayer as we continue to prepare, as we grow in team unity (there are seven of us going), as we anticipate connecting with Johnny and Brooke and their team, and as we think of the students with whom we will be working -- students who have likely never heard of Jesus' deep love for them.

Will you be our Third Guy? I plan to post updates in the coming days via Facebook and Instagram. You can follow along and keep up to date on how to be praying for us. If you are local and would like to support us financially through "Dough for Slo," I'd love to make you a yummy, crusty loaf! (Orders placed at this point will make their way to you after our trip. Just in time for fall soup!) I also welcome any and all bread-related puns. It's the yeast I can do.

The theme for the JV camps this year is Home. We are excited to meet these middle school students, to share our language and our hearts with them, to find out what it means to know and be a part of the family of Christ.

Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for being our Third Guy. We can't reach Home without you. 
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Wednesday, June 5, 2019

{Grief Unexpected}

Never had I been so thankful for a Monday morning pile of laundry. Drew and Maggie had just pulled away, waving their farewells after a weekend packed with wedding celebrations and family get-togethers. My eyes blurred as they drove off . . . then as they returned to grab the Cheez-Its . . . then as they drove off again, eager to tackle the last few weeks of classes at Eastern. 

The day stretched before me, grey and ordinary, especially compared with the excitement of the last few days. To tell you the truth, I really just wanted to curl up on The Big Chair, drink my tea, and retreat. For about a week. Knowing this was hardly realistic, I instead stepped toward the thing I knew would at least get me jump-started on the day. I sorted laundry.

Somehow, this prosaic act is often the gentle nudge I need to "do the next right thing." There's always laundry to be done, and the act of quiet, rhythmic sorting or folding can be the warm up I need to then move on to the next task in my day . . . and the next.

Heavy on my mind as I sorted and piled, however, was the news that my grandfather was in the hospital, very likely living his last days on earth. Indeed, the next day, a sense of urgency prompted my family to gather at his bedside. My parents, sister, aunt, cousin, and I knew that our "next thing" was now to sit, visit, remember . . . to watch and wait.

We watched and waited all day, and late that night, after my sister and I had gone home, Grandpa drew his last breath. A text flashed on my phone, and I knew. Even as my eyes blurred over the message, my heart rejoiced. He was released from pain, from confusion, from the mind disease that had infiltrated and robbed him of health and vitality. He was home with his Savior.

I grieved as memories flickered across my mind, memories of the way he called me "Hunny Bunch" and "Juni," memories of him expertly navigating the tractor over the sands of El Morro . . . memories of him conversing in his Donald Duck voice . . . memories of watching him slow dance with Nanee . . . memories of his strong, work-worn hands resting on his Bible.

This was the grief I expected. Yet as I looked through old photos and recalled sweet memories, I was blindsided by an unexpected grief. It was as though I'd inadvertently re-opened an old wound, and I grieved anew over the death of Nanee. I wanted to update her on the kids; I longed to tell her all the fun little details she loved to hear; and I really wanted to take her out to Beaches for a nice, juicy burger.

My mind delved into the deeper strata of loss, and I grieved unexpectedly over my maternal grandparents. Why had my grandmother died at such a young age? I was only eight when she passed at 55, and it didn't seem fair that I never had the chance to share my adult life with her . . . . It didn't seem fair that my own mom never got to share the delight of grandkids with her mom. 

Grandpa's passing marked the end of an era. He was the last of my grandparents, the last of my kids' great grandparents. His passing, therefore, had somehow awakened a sense of loss connected with each of my grandparents. Yet it also threw into greater relief the season in which Jamie and I now live. It's a season of great change, transition, and excitement. Our kids are growing, and while our nest is not empty, our birds do have nice, strong wings. And boy are they eager to use them. 

Yet even here I have discovered an unexpected flicker of grief. It's the grief that comes with change, the grief that comes over remembering what once was and what can no longer be. For over 21 years my life has been devoted primarily to motherhood. And, while I will never stop being a mother, I grieve over the ways in which my role has changed. My kids don't come running up to me with fist-fulls of dandelions anymore. They don't beg for another reading of Goodnight Moon (which I still have memorized). They don't shout from outside, "Mama! Come watch me!" (Yet, thankfully, nor do they holler at me from the bathroom.) 

Yesterday, as I was walking the pond, I listened to Emily P. Freeman's podcast of the week. The topic was remarkably poignant and timely: Hold Space When Someone Dies. As I circled past the towering foxglove and cheerfully nodding daisies, I wondered if I had "held space" for my grandpa, if I had taken the time to pause and grieve in a way that brought a sense of peace to my heart.

I then recalled the Psalm I had read the day after Grandpa's death. It was Psalm 100, a passage I had known since childhood. Yet never had I connected it with death. Suddenly, it was a beacon of light: Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him and bless His Name. For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting; His faithfulness to all generations.

I could envision Grandpa entering heaven's gates with thanksgiving. And I could proclaim in my heart that "all shall be most well" because of the Lord's faithfulness and lovingkindness to all generations: to the generations that now remain, to the generations to come. This, then, is the way of grief. It is a way that hurts, yes. Yet it is also a way that gives thanks, a way that penetrates through the tears and the ache. Whether our ache lingers over a death, a change, a loss, a season of unknown, or even if we find ourselves in a season of what seems prosaic and mundane (see: children who still holler from the bathroom), no matter the ache, we have reason to give thanks.

Finishing my jaunt around the wetlands, I took a deep breath, wiped my eyes, and gave thanks for a quiet moment to "hold space" for my Grandpa, to allow myself time to consider and give name to the grief I'd held over both the expected and unexpected events, changes, losses, and transitions of the past weeks, months, and even years. 

My phone buzzed and I looked at the screen. (This is the young adult phase of "kid holler.") Bethie had just picked up her cap, gown, and cords. She will graduate with honors. Later, Drew would text me, saying he got the editor position he'd hoped for . . . Aidan would pull together his paperwork, eager to dive into Running Start as a junior this fall . . . and Avery would whip up a fresh batch of cream puffs. Life continues, life is beautiful. And it's okay for a mama to "weep a little weep" of joy, even over cords and cream puffs. 

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Monday, March 11, 2019

{My Teacup Runneth Over}

On Friday if you had asked me to share a special memory associated with Psalm 23, I would have shared about little Drew, who had the chapter memorized at age 2. Of course I was eager to share his brilliance with extended family, and on one occasion asked him to recite the passage at the dinner table. His sweet voice confidently proclaimed, "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want . . . ."

At one point Drew paused in his recitation, so his uncle, whom the children called "Bobo," gently prompted him: "What about 'Thy Rod and Thy staff?'" Drew didn't skip a beat, but turned matter-of-factly to his uncle and calmly explained, "They comfort me, Bobo."

Yes, that would have been my Friday story. But by Sunday afternoon? My Psalm 23 story would have gone a little something like this.

The forest trifecta: moss, creek, and a split rail fence.

Don't let the halo fool you.

This weekend my cup overflowed with God's goodness and abundance. I took part in our church's Women's retreat and delighted in the many ways God revealed to me the blessing of community. From a skit performed with co-workers and late-night conversations with kindred spirits, to English Country dances with new friends and hikes in the woods with fellow moss lovers, I could feel my somewhat depleted cup beginning to fill.

Glenwood Staff Ladies. Business as usual.

Dancing with 30 exhausted, hyper ladies is hilarious. 

I love learning from Judy!

Isn't my Marmee cute?

If I could liken this overflowing "cup" to a cup of tea, I would say the cream and sugar were about to be added . . . in the most unexpected way.

My dear friend Dayna was our retreat speaker, and she taught from Psalm 23 with wisdom, insight, and encouragement. Her faithful "yes" to her Savior is a constant inspiration to me and many others, and time spent with Dayna -- limited now that she lives in North Dakota -- is always a balm to my soul.

I regretted not having had more time with Dayna over the weekend (alas, Annie and I had to share her with dozens of other ladies), so I was excited when, at the end of the retreat, she suggested taking a quick hike up to the falls before heading out. Annie and I -- her fellow carpoolers -- were game: the sun was bright and warm, the sky a brilliant blue, and those mossy trees and gurgling streams beckoned irresistibly.

Did I mention the moss?

So we informed Michelle, our fearless leader, that we'd be taking a quick jaunt. She, in turn, informed the camp personnel that a few hikers were still on site. We took to the woods.

An hour later, we returned to the car, refreshed, yet eager to head home. We pulled out, approached the gate . . . and found it to be locked. Very securely . . . locked. Not yet alarmed, we figured someone must still be on site. We drove around and hollered . . . and honked . . . and hollered and honked some more. Yet the only sign of life was the grazing deer who quizzically perked her ears and then calmly sauntered toward a patch of sunlight.

At this point we decided to rope Michelle into our awkward predicament. Dear, faithful Michelle, already on her way home, ready to rest after a full weekend; Michelle, who pulled over to the nearest gas station and remained a steadfast point of contact for us as we, one by one, exhausted our resources.

Resources which included scaling the fence to ask neighbors for help . . . .

Brave, strong Dayna.

. . . trying to contact the retreat center itself . . . calling friends and family for advice . . . and finally scouring the grounds for implements with which to perform our great escape. 

We looked at each other with calm determination. Dayna reasoned, "We can do this, girls. We've read all about things like this, right?" Surely three literary homeschool moms could break out of a chainlink fence. Dayna valiantly, romantically attempted to pick the lock with a hairpin. It works in movies. It works in mystery novels. It did not work for us.

Brave, creative Annie.

Annie, who was starting to feel a bit claustrophobic, was ready to resort to more desperate measures. She procured a pick axe and cable from some shed and determined to miraculously combine these tools with her van's tow hitch. I tend to be more cautious, and nervously pointed out that it might be unwise to yank the entire gate out of the ground. This might be considered vandalism?     

I wondered at which point we should call 911. Annie wasn't so sure. "No! We'll end up on the news! We'll be the three lunatic moms who got trapped inside a Bible camp!"

Where had we gone wrong? At about this time I recalled having passed fellow hiker-friends on our way into the trail. We had waved goodbye to these friends who were just finishing up their hike. It dawned on me. What if the retreat personnel had seen those women return to camp and assumed they were the ones to whom Michelle had been referring? No one would guess that three more women were trapped in the idyllic woods.

A path on one of our earlier hikes. I was so blessed to visit with a number of younger women this weekend.

My phone battery was uncomfortably low by this time, and service was limited. I continued to run back and forth from the van to the one patch of land where my coverage was strongest, keeping Michelle up to date on our escape attempts. Michelle continued to try calling those whom she thought might be able to help us out, and was ready to come fetch us herself. (I could envision the three of us scaling the fence upon Michelle's arrival and began to consider which of my possessions I should toss over. The church curtains would be a definite must . . . . )

Fairly certain we were out of options by this time, Annie's husband was ready to head north with some bolt cutters. If we were resorting to bolt-cutting, I was thankful to contribute the suggestion that my in-laws lived less than an hour away. I hated to inconvenience them, but I knew they'd not only have the necessary tools, but they'd also be all too willing to help. I gingerly made the call, embarrassed we had gotten ourselves into such a scrape. "Hey . . . so . . . do you guys happen to have any . . . bolt cutters?" My mother-in-law laughed, checked their escape-tool-arsenal, and assured me they would head over as soon as possible.

Knowing that help was on the way, we began to relax. Yes, we were still locked in. Physically, things hadn't changed; but our outlook had changed: we had a new, calming assurance. So, with Psalm 23 fresh on our hearts, we spread out our coats in a patch of green pasture . . . right beside the still waters. A table was prepared before us in the form of the various leftover snacks we had on hand: Red Vines, carrots, hummus, one apple and several granola bars. Dayna positioned an unlit candle in the middle for ambience. We could survive for quite some time.

(Kayla, your leftover Dayna-snacks were a banquet that saved our lives. Ann, thanks for letting Annie snag the Red Vines.)

It was a powerful picture to me that these camp boundaries became beautiful in my sight. Here I was, trapped with two of my dearest friends. We were forced to sit, to rest, to talk about the real, heart-felt things. And, really, in that moment, we had everything we needed. We were blessed to think of the many friends and family who were ready to jump in and help. We were blessed by the snacks which had been shared with us by others. We were blessed by a weekend full of laughter-inducing activity, delicious food, gracious camp hosts, thoughtful conversation, and deep wisdom. We were blessed by the warm sunshine that continued to pour down on us. We even found comfort in the rod and staff which reminded us of our glaring need for a wise, forgiving Shepherd.

He restores my soul.

The cream and sugar were added to my figurative cup of tea. Annie refers to the three of us as the Bermuda Triangle. She's right. But we are also tea with cream and sugar. Annie is the tea: her energy is a hearty dose of caffeine that has always bravely inspired us to push limits and take risks because we serve a mighty God. Dayna is the cream: her words are soothing, her presence calming, her spirit rich, and she pairs beautifully with a piping hot cup of tea. That leaves me as the sugar: I quietly insert myself here and there, sweetly attempting to keep my friends grounded and rational with gentle, unobtrusive questions. Questions like, "Is this considered vandalism?"

The Great Escape.

Finally, my in-laws pulled up, and they worked their magic. Never have I hugged them so tightly. We laughed over the story, secured the gate behinds us, climbed into Annie's van and breathed a sigh of relief. My ever-mindful father-in-law pointed us toward the road we should take to head home. We grinned our cutest grins and bashfully demurred, "Ummm . . . can we just follow you out? We have no idea where we're going." 

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Monday, December 31, 2018

{The Twelve Months of 2018: A Musical Letter}

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Dear Friends and Family!
In lieu of a traditional letter (alas for my sentimental heart!),
I bring you this digital format, which allows me to share pictures so much more easily.
So pour a cup of tea, let the familiar tune float through your head
(ignoring the poor rhythms along the way), and join me for . . .

"The Twelve Months of '18!"


“On the first month of ‘18 our Bethie, she did say,
'I’m off to SkyZone today'”

Bethie turns 18 in just a couple of weeks. She continues to enjoy working at SkyZone, our local trampoline park (she especially loves to see familiar faces, so bring the kids on in!), and keeps up her senior year studies as a Running Start student at Clark College. Her readiness to hop in the car and chauffeur or run errands is a huge help as we manage many ever-shifting schedules!


“On the second month of ‘18, son Aidan did preside
O’er the Glenwood musical slides”

Aidan -- our 15-year-old sophomore -- keeps busy with a variety of activities, including monthly slide projection at Glenwood, outreach events with the youth group, and daily texts, memes, and Snapchats (did I get that right?) with his brother, cousins, and friends. He also recently (and bravely) taught me the Hype dance and concluded, "Well, you're doing it right . . . it just doesn't look right." Such is midlife.


“On the third month of ‘18 the Lawsons, they were bound,
For a brief stay away in the Sound”

As our family grows, we become increasingly aware of how quickly time and circumstances change. It won’t always be the six of us, gathered in the home nest! We took advantage of this season of togetherness and spent Spring Break on Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound. How grateful we are for Jamie's video production business -- he's enjoying his 10th year as the owner of Team 302 -- which allows him to work from home and take time off for such special occasions.


“On the fourth month of ‘18 we sensed eternity
And God’s love for the Stevens family”

April ushered in a powerful time of transition for our family as my Dad’s mom -- our Nanee -- went home to be with Jesus. How blessed we were to share the last months with her, to hear her spin the final, familiar old stories, to witness her testament to God’s faithfulness through it all: “It’s been a wonderful life!”     


P.C. Carolyn Nichols

“On the fifth month of ‘18 my mom and I did pray
O'er the birth of our musical play”

Many years ago, my mom had a little seed of a dream planted in her heart. That dream was to write a children’s musical. Over the last couple of years, that dream blossomed and bloomed. She invited me to co-write the script, and it was an incredible joy to see the May performance of my mom’s heart work, “Wisdom in the Wild.” And the icing on the cake? Avery Kate -- daughter and granddaughter -- took part in the production.


“On the sixth month of ‘18 Julianna did see,
A quick plane trip -- and lots of VBC!”

It’s been a joy and privilege for me to serve on the Glenwood staff in Children’s Ministries for three years now. June is always a busy time in the CM world, and I was delighted to work with the preschool Vacation Bible Camp class this year . . . especially since it gave me opportunity to share Bible stories through a favorite medium: shadow puppets! My parents and I also hopped down to California to celebrate Nanee's life and legacy with family down there. We were so close to Disneyland, that Mary Poppins' mantra proved irresistible: "If we must, we must!"  


“On the seventh month of ‘18 our household was awhirl
As we prepped to journey ‘cross the world”

July was filled with meetings and studying and packing and purchasing and double-checking. We were prepping our little hearts out for the August trip to Slovenia: connecting with the students who would be joining us, keeping in touch with Johnny and Brooke for last minute updates, purchasing supplies for the middle school students we’d be meeting!


“On the eighth month of ‘18 we got the passport stamp,
And headed toward a week of English camp”

Jamie and I had the incredible honor of taking a team of students to Celje, Slovenia, where my brother and his family live. There, we helped lead an English camp for middle school students. We are extremely grateful to those of you back home who supported us through prayer, financial support, and the cheery comments you delivered via Facebook and Instagram as you kept up with our activities. Because all financial giving was anonymous, we have not been able to individually thank those of you who joined in this adventure. Please accept our warmest gratitude! It was a life-changing opportunity for each one of us.


On the ninth month of ‘18 we bade farewell to Drew,
Who travelled back to Eastern U”

Drew, just a few months shy of 21, is a junior at Eastern Washington University, working toward a double major in Public Relations Journalism and Print Journalism. This fall he was thrilled to land a position on the school newspaper, “The Easterner.” He covers a variety of sports, which is right up his alley, and we’re always thrilled when we pull up the online paper ( and see that familiar byline!


“On the tenth month of ‘18 our table stretched and burst
With a special meal -- the honorary first”

Jamie and I continue to work with the young adult ministry at Glenwood, "The Calling." In October we instituted "Lawson Family Dinner," and, much to our delight, hosted a table full of students for lively conversation, belly laughter, yummy food . . . and even some Neil Diamond records. (Pictured is our November meal.) It is an honor to get to know these men and women, and we are grateful for the privilege of spending time with them.


“On the eleventh month of ‘18 the days did simply flee
As we shared some time with friends from JV”

This year has been marked by many rich, jaw-dropping moments. One such occasion was our opportunity to spend time with Urh and Doroteja Kolar, Slovenes -- and friends of Johnny and Brooke -- who work with Josiah Venture. We gobbled up their time here in Vancouver and delighted (often with misty eyes) over the way God brings His people together.


"On the twelfth month of '18 the mixer whipped and whirled
With creations by our Avery-girl"

Avery, 13, is in 8th grade this year. She spends a vast majority of her time thinking about culinary creations, whether she's whipping up cupcakes, watching the Great British Baking Show, dreaming of fondant, sketching a cake design, or trying out a new puff pastry technique. (As I write, she's pulling vanilla cupcakes out of the oven!) We are all highly in favor of this hobby.

* * * * * * * *

On this 12th month of 2018, we look back with hearts full of gratitude,
and we look ahead, filled with the hope of Jesus that never fails,
the love of you -- our precious friends and family -- who put action to that love,
and to the promise of the peace and presence of our Emmanuel, God with us.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Dear Ones!
With love from The Lawson Family

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