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Steven S. Billings

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

TIMES OF OUR LIVES

The Marshall Family

As we all know, there are rites of passage that dog-ear certain pages in our lives.  How marvelous it is to take note of such times and to be a part of them!  I had the grand opportunity in May to be on-hand to celebrate with my dear friends the Marshalls on the occasion of their son Nathaniel's Confirmation in the Christian Faith.  Here, from left-to-right and top-to-bottom, are: Nathaniel (said Confirmand), Cheryl, Bob (Dad and Catechist), Christopher, Talitha and Rhoda (my dear God-daughters).  Thanks, beloved friends, for permitting me the joy of celebrating such events as a member of your extended family.

10:53 am edt

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

WHAT DOES THE "L" STAND FOR AGAIN?

Let's see ...

"I think it was something about that Luther guy.  And he had some kind of belief about the Bible or something, but I don't remember exactly what it was."

That may as well be a quote from the Convention floor today of the Michigan District of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

Our mission starts look just like those of American Evangelicals.  Our "bean counting" rivals that of the Pharisees.  Our legalism is not to be outdone by Rome or Geneva.  And the balance of the resolutions reflects Pietism at its finest ... er ... WORST!

Oh, we talk a lot about the "gospel."  We, apparently, just have no idea what it is anymore.  How ironic that we commemorate on Sunday the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession, but by Tuesday we've run it through the shredder.

We may no longer have the slightest clue what "church" is supposed to be.  But we sure know how to wield it like a club.

Er ... make that a steamroller.

11:39 pm edt

Monday, June 26, 2006

WEIRD FEW DAYS

Saturday I spent all morning fighting with my wireless router to get it to channel Internet service through my wireless adapter.  No such luck after 2-3 hours of talking to tech support, etc.  Bummer.

Then I noticed something even more frightening: My laptop wasn't taking a charge and my battery was dying!  I quickly transferred some badly needed files to a jump drive and called my buddy Greg and we headed to the computer store to see what could be done.  We both thought it might be the power converter.

Wrong.  At least that wasn't the whole story.  Come to find out the faulty power converter stressed-out the motherboard.  Bad.  Very bad.  Except ...

The tech at CompUSA asks: "When did you buy this?"  "Couple years ago," said I.  "Did you get an extended warranty?"  "Gee ... I think maybe I did."  I DID!  And it was to expire in 6 days!

So ... laptop is getting repaired, thanks to ye ol' extended warranty.  Very wise purchase, that!  However ...

I've got stuff to do!  And I'm going on vacation soon.  I *need* my laptop!  So I bought a new one.  (Being single has its rewards!)  The old one I'll donate to the church.  New one is SWEET, and it was a demo, so I got it for $300 off!  Yay!

As the new laptop is being loaded with Norton, etc., Greg calls Robin and we go to dinner.  Back we go to CompUSA, and the new laptop is not ready.  And ...

Guess who has a flat tire?  Yikes!  "Hello, Triple A?"  So that was Saturday.

Sunday morning I woke up with the beginnings of a new flair-up of gout.  This is getting old.  But, thankfully, I have my meds.  Thing is, about the meds ... they totally *wipe* me.  So I pull it together for church, fulfilling my office to the best of my ability.  But, man, am I TIRED!

Shut-in call in the PM, then go to pick-up the new laptop.  Man, is it NICE!  Now comes the pain-in-the-rumpus to re-install my software.  Remember ... vacation coming ... and I've got a newsletter to finish.  Some of my info is still in my office at the church.  Oy!  And ...

District convention starts Monday!  Now, I've got to get to the office before 8:00, so Warren can pick me up, so we can get my car to Firestone by 8:00, so they can fix my tire while we go to the convention in Ann Arbor.  I've agreed, by the way, to cover the Divine Service in Taylor for Pr. Zeile Monday evening, so Warren and I leave Ann Arbor at 4:30 to get to Firestone by 5:30 so I can get my car, get to my office, print some last-minute newsletter pages, get my robes, sermon, etc., and make it to St. John by 6:30.  Aaaahhhhh!

So ... now it's almost midnight on Monday.  Laptop's all set.  Tire's fixed.  Divine Service at St. John went well.  And I'm *wiped* again!  Ugh.

Oh ... and I discovered that the router's fine too.  It was an Earthlink setting that was wrong.  Sheesh!

11:54 pm edt

Friday, June 23, 2006

CLICK -- A REAL SURPRISE

I have to admit, I've never been a big Adam Sandler fan.  But the trailers for "Click" looked entertaining enough.  And yes, it does have some typical Sandler humor in it, but, what a surprise to see a movie with a very strong and wholesome "family" message!

To say: "I laughed, I cried," is just scratching the surface of this film, which, surprisingly -- to me anyway -- really makes you stop and think about your priorities.  It's a bit predictable, but the story carries you along so well you don't really mind that you pretty much know how it's going to end.  And Sandler's character is one that you can feel a real sympathy for, as he gets sucked further and further into his job and the pursuit of success, even if for all the "right" reasons.

Kate Beckinsale is ... absolutly gorgeous, as usual.  Other supporting actors include Christopher Walken, Sean Astin, Henry Winkler, David Hasselhoff (who is hysterical!) and Julie Kavner.  Well-worth the price of the ticket.

6:22 pm edt

Thursday, June 22, 2006

ASK THE PASTOR

Please. No, I'm not talking about the insightful series of articles written by my good friend Walter Snyder. I'm talking about occasional services. (No, those aren't the Sunday services that most Lutherans seem to attend -- when the mood strikes!) I'm talking about weddings and funerals -- those services that occur only ... occasionally.

However, just because these services happen only occasionally doesn't mean they are subject to their own set of rules -- or no rules at all. They are church services and ought to be subject to the same liturgical guidelines as any other service in the church.

But, of course, they aren't. Not in this day and age. Now everybody seems to want to come up with their own innovation. From videos of Granny during the funeral to dog and pony acts at weddings. Mourners compose eulogistic homages to tell everyone why their departed loved ones "deserve" to be in heaven and the betrothed somehow think they can encapsulate the oath of matrimony better than the language used by the church for centuries.

All this imagination floating around seems seductive to nearly everyone anticipating these occasional services. But the one thing that seems to elude each and every one is: Maybe we should ... ASK THE PASTOR. No one seems to consider that perhaps the one who has been trained and called by the Church to preside over all services of the congregation -- regular and occasional -- ought to be consulted when plans are being made.

But you know what? A funeral is NOT the time to talk about what a great guy Uncle Joe was, because Uncle Joe's "greatness" does him no good and offers you no hope. The only comfort when standing before Uncle Joe's casket is that Uncle Joe was a believing Christian who trusted in the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ. You wanna sit around and talk about great ol' Uncle Joe? Do it at the wake or the funeral dinner. Don't mar the Divine Service with a parade of Joe's good deeds. The focus of a funeral is Christ and Joe's relationship to Him. Period.

Neither is a wedding service the proper setting to exhibit the latest novelty and matrimonial extravaganza. Nor do marriages survive the test of time and trial because you so eloquently proclaimed your love for your spouse-to-be "in your own words" or "from your heart." Sheesh. Gimme a break. The focal point of a Christian marriage is -- big shocker on the way -- CHRIST. He is the Author of love and the Creator of the bond of holy wedlock. If a marriage is to be successful, it has to be centered in Christ, not some Hollywood-esque tripe.

Here's a general tip: Innovation is the mother of bad theology and has no place in church services. The Divine Service is just that ... divine, that is, it comes from God and returns to Him. Whether we're talking Sunday morning or any other service of the church, liturgy must rule the day, for therein we are directed to where our attention must always be: Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Savior, in whom alone we find comfort and peace.

The next time you're faced with planning a funeral or a wedding, your pastor will be more than happy to help keep your focus in the right place.

That is, if you'd only bother to ask.

5:15 pm edt

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

RAINING

It's been raining off-and-on over the past several days. This makes the grass grow really fast! So the grounds guys (one wonders how many of them are "undocumented") have been out in full force.

Monday night we actually had hail. Thanks God for the carport! And the wind was so strong it blew leaves off the trees and bits of them were stuck to the sides of buildings. Oh, the awesome power of God!

Counseling yesterday was epiphanic. Glad I have a couple of weeks off to assimilate the revelation. Lots to think about in terms of the whole father/son relationship thing. Perhaps I'll go into it more here when I've figured it out. Suffice it to say for now that I think it explains a lot about why I think and feel the way I do in relationships in general. I won't call it a "breakthrough," but I do think it will be a big help if I can get a firm grasp of it.

Office work today. Have to meet with Ethan and go over hymns, and then finish the newsletter. Walking with Greg and Robin later at the park. I hope the weather cooperates.

10:11 am edt

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

SOMETIMES I HATE IT WHEN I'M RIGHT

Not much of a "guy" thing to say, I know, but being right isn't always a good thing.

Mostly today I'm thinking of Anna. She was the one I mentioned visiting in the hospital Sunday afternoon. She passed away yesterday morning.

I am thankful that I was able to be with her on Sunday, and to pray with and for her. And, of course, what a joy it is to know that another child of God has gone to be with Him. But it is seeming increasingly true in my life that losses are overtaking the gains.

I am fatigued of saying goodbye. I need to start saying more hellos.

8:50 am edt

Monday, June 19, 2006

SUNDAY STUFF

It sure was nice having our new air conditioning working yesterday morning! It was HOT and MUGGY! But inside the church it was oh, so comfy! Didn't have a stellar turn-out for church, though, it being Father's Day and all. Seems wierd to me, however, I have to say, to skip church for such an occasion. When I was a kid going to church was one of the coolest parts of Father's Day. We felt so proud to be sitting in church with our old man on his special day. But, alas, this is a different day and time.

In Bible class we started discussing a video interview with Dr. Paul Maier called "The DaVinci Distortion." It really exposes the lies promulgated by Dan Brown in his insidious book. I look forward to completing our discussion next week.

After church I visited a member in the hospital. She's not doing well. Apparently she had developed a blood infection as a result of colon surgery. She has been getting progressively weaker since I've been visiting her, and right now it doesn't look promising for her to recover. We are praying, but, as we know, the portal of death awaits us all.

Following my hospital call I went to the Lutheran Home and led Vespers there. Again, it was a smaller-than-usual attendance, but, as I was told, this was due to a high-degree of illness in the facility. It seems quite a few of our "regulars" were ailing and unable to leave their rooms and come to the chapel.

Having completed my duties for the day, I returned home and enjoyed the new look of my living room. One of the unexpected bonuses of the re-arrangement is that I can now look out my patio door as I sit in my recliner. Yay!

Tonight I am covering for Pr. Zeile at St. John in Taylor. This will be the first time in many years that I have preached the same sermon three times in one weekend. I think I should just about have it down! ;)

10:39 am edt

Sunday, June 18, 2006

SPRING CLEANING

Yes, gentles one and all, I do indeed clean. Well, sometimes, anyway. The normal week-to-week stuff I leave to the cleaning ladies who come in every Wednesday. Because of them I haven't scrubbed a toilet or bathtub in over a year!

But, it was high-time to move the furniture around and get into all the nooks and crannies. That's what I spent yesterday doing. Thank God, my buddy Greg was able to lend me a hand with the big stuff.

While I was at it, I decided to re-arrange the furniture. I know, I know, it's a big shock for some of you to learn that I actually did this -- creature of habit that I am -- but it's true, and it's done. I basically flipped my living room end-to-end. And, contrary to what you might think, I like it a lot. In fact, I think it works much better this way.

Of course, that kind of move requires a lot of re-routing of speaker wires, etc., and I am a bit sore from all the kneeling, crouching, rolling around on the floor that such a move requires -- after all, it's been a lot of years since I was a charismatic -- but all in all, I believe it to be a worthwhile endeavor.

Just don't ask me to do it again for at least 3 years! ;)

3:59 pm edt

Saturday, June 17, 2006

PUZZLING

What a fun day yesterday! It took us all of about 2 hours to get the vocals finished for "The Puzzle Master," as they are considerably simpler than "The Evil We Love." And then it was pure playtime. We added a few little vocal "colorings" in several places. I had already intended to add a third harmony at the end of the choruses, but Chris, my engineer/guitarist/co-producer, came up with some other really cool suggestions. I sat at the piano and we plunked through some ideas that, when added to the vocal mix, provided some way cool results.

After lunch we began to layer more guitar stuff. Sandy Williams, the session guitarist, had recorded a very solid accoustic "strum" part, which provided an excellent bed on which to lay more texture. Chris added four electric guitar parts, taking this song -- as has been the case with each of them so far -- to new heights. What I originally conceived as a kind-of "Simon and Garfunkel" light-and-easy number has turned into something a bit more "juiced-up" in terms of the level of energy. Chris' guitars make it sound almost "Eagles-ish," though there are other layers of influence as well. It's so cool to let my trusted friends add their color to my songs. It is amazing to see the depth that it brings.

We actually finished all the recording for the song in one day, and will probably mix it next time I go down (in 2 weeks). Thank You, Lord, for a really fun day!

9:03 am edt

Thursday, June 15, 2006

WORKADAY WEDNESDAY

Looonnnngggg day yesterday, as most Wednesdays for me are wont to be. However, this particular marathon was exacerbated by the fact that I awoke -- much to my chagrin -- at 4:00 in the morning! Oh, I tried to stay in bed, but it was no use. I relented, got up, ate a bit of breakfast, and did some organizing around the house.

I was to the office by 10:00, worked on printing out the various documents I had created on Monday, then turned my attention to VBS stuff, designing a name tag, preparing the mailings, etc. By lunchtime the Mann clan had arrived, and we took our lunch at Boston Market near Twelve Oaks, as we had to go out there to retrieve a deed for some plots at a nearby cemetary, which had been donated to the church. We also utilized the proximity to the Great Indoors to take a look around. (It's an amazing place!)

Worked on shut-in CDs upon return to the office. Also edited the organ recital and made a test CD of that, which I will be auditioning in my car later today. It really sounds good! Circumvented the "hum" of last year by eliminating the feed from the sound board. No ambient mic this year, but the direct sound seems more than sufficient. A little creative editing made our audience more astute and appreciative, eliminating applaus between movements and the tentativeness of the applaus in proper places.

Well nigh enervated by the end of the day, still I worked past 8:00 pm. A 10-hour day after 5 hours of sleep is not a recommended policy, but this morning, after a good night's sleep, I am, apparently, none the worse for wear.

More clerical work this morning, then shots this afternoon, followed by HoH with C. Then LLL dinner and home.

Beautiful day again in Metro Detroit. We have been unduly blessed.

8:58 am edt

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

THE OTHER BATMOBILE
The Other Batmobile

This is at the Kruse Museum in Auburn, Indiana. I spent a couple of hours there recently with my buddy Greg Wilkins, who had accompanied me on a trip to the studio that day. We finished at the studio a little early, so this provided us the time to explore one of our shared interests -- cool cars. Interestingly, when I was at this museum a few years ago, you could get "up close and personal" with these cars. Now they have them roped-off. I didn't actually sit in this one then, but you could lean in and get a real close-up look at all the knobs and switches. Very cool experience, but not available anymore, sad to say.

6:02 am edt

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

MISTY MONDAY

Another low-key day for me yesterday. I did get my sermon completed, and a few other DS related things, not to mention a bunch of filing, but I just feel so tired.

I think I know what it is. The anniversary of my mom's death is just around the corner. In fact, it will be a week from yesterday that I first learned that Mom had gone into hospice. The emotional weight of that event is bearing heavily on me, I think.

Thanks be to God, I'm still functioning, so this isn't sidelining me. But I'm feeling very fatigued these days. My vacation a few weeks ago was great, but it wasn't enough. I'm not sure what would be, except that I just have to ride this out and pray that on the other side of it I'll be in better spirits. I also hope to be able to make a swing out to see Jim & family for the 4th (that's the actual date of her death). It would be good to observe the occasion together.

Today I meet with Luke at 2:00, as usual, then an adjustment, then running some errands. I'm hoping the activity will help.

12:58 pm edt

Monday, June 12, 2006

WEEKEND WATCHING

Saw a number of movies this weekend; some at home, some at the theater.

At home, I watched "Back to School" with Rodney Dangerfield. What a funny film! I believe it's the best of any he made. If you see it, look for a *very* young Robert Downey Jr. Also, Robert Picardo (The Doctor on Star Trek: Voyager) has a cameo, as does famous auther Kurt Vonnegut.  And Sam Kinison is hysterical!  Amazing film composer Danny Elfman fronts his then popular band "Oingo Boingo" in a party scene.  (What?!  And the film was *not* directed by Tim Burton??)

I also watched "Capote." Very interesting portrayal of the eccentric author and the effect the research for his landmark book "In Cold Blood" had on him. Great acting by Philip Seymour Hoffman. I saw him recently as the "bad guy" in Mission Impossible 3, and it's amazing to see the depth of his work. His character in "Along Came Polly" was equally diverse, though his part in "Magnolia" was somewhat similar to the Capote role. I admire his acting "chops."

Last night I went to see "Cars" with a family from my church. Delightful film, and a good time of fellowship. Their 3-yr-old is quite a little live-wire! Very cute, as is their 8-yr-old daughter. Wonderful kids; wonderful family. I love them dearly.

Working at home today. Sermon prep, etc. Hope to make a shut-in call this afternoon, but will most likely be denied. Again. Ugh.

11:10 am edt

Sunday, June 11, 2006

MAS TARDE, MATINS

It's official: no more Matins at Redford Evangelical Lutheran Church. Not that I have anything against Matins, mind you; I actually like the service, but is that any reason to forego the Sacrament 25% of the year? Anyhoo, it was announced by our head elder at today's quarterly voters meeting -- and without any hubbub -- that we will now be offering the Lord's Supper each and every Sunday. Alleluia!

What's the big deal? I realize that non-Lutherans reading this just won't get it -- mainly because they are downright clueless about what the Sacrament truly is. But those who take Jesus' own words at face value won't have a problem grasping that when He says: "This is my body; this is my blood," that this is exactly what He means, for He would never deceive us nor desire to confuse us. "Is" means "is." If you want to deny that the bread and wine in Holy Communion are the Body and Blood of Jesus, your argument is not with me; it's with Jesus Himself. Good luck with that one!

So, understanding what Communion is -- because that's what Jesus SAYS it is -- I have been patiently chipping away at our second-Sunday-of-each-month Matins service for nearly six years -- teaching the practice of the disciples, i.e., communion every DAY, making my desire for every Sunday communion known periodically, lightheartedly bemoaning the fact that we miss-out on the Eucharist one week out of every month, etc. But never once did I suggest that we change it. I kept teaching, planting, as it were, and I let the quiet operation of the Holy Spirit take over and bear fruit.

Holy Communion is such a marvelous gift of God. Why in the world would anyone want to deprive themselves of it? As my head elder said today in our elders meeting: "I never get tired of having my sins forgiven!" 'Nuff said, I think.

So, chalk another one up for the Holy Spirit. Soli Deo Gloria!

9:41 pm edt

Saturday, June 10, 2006

[I] don't [K]NOW what [E]VERYONE is talking [A]BOUT

Yup. Finally made it over to the IKEA store yesterday. Not sure what all the hoopla is about. It's BIG. It's got lotsa stuff. But ... I dunno ... I just wasn't terribly impressed.

Mostly the rest of the day I just kinda lazed about. Did some grocery shopping. Made myself some fresh tacos for supper. Watched "Backdraft" and listened to Petra's "Farewell," Chicago's re-issued "Live at Carnegie Hall" (disc 2), and The Brecker Brothers' "Back to Back" (a great album!).

A little S2, a lot of wading through my backlog of Sports Illustrated, a visit to LO, and then bed. May try to whittle away at some filing today. Man, I hate that! ;)

9:13 am edt

Friday, June 9, 2006

ENUF ZNUF? (Say it fast!)

Low-key day yesterday. Got a bunch of stuff done paper-work-wise. Then haircut and shots. Picked up M*A*S*H 10. Lunch at Subway. Yum! H on H with K was awesome. Enjoyed listening to the new song. X Men III in the evening. Enjoyable!

Beautiful night coming home. Gently moving clouds passing a bright moon. I was overwhelmed by a sense of blessing, acknowledging that I have received so many great and wonderful gifts from God, and how I often take them for granted. It seems there's always something more that I want, something else I lack. When's enough? When will I finally say: "There ... now I have everything I want in life"? No matter what I've been given, there's always something missing. Thank God He's so patient with me and never gets tired of my "what have You done for me lately" attitude. I pray for patience, for healing of heart and mind, and for true contentment with the many good things God has lavished upon me.

A little S2 before bedtime. Restful sleep. A little Shatner this morning before rolling out of bed.

Not sure what today will bring. May try to check out Ikea. HUGE semi truck accident in the vicinity yesterday made me avoid the attempt. Will also try to get a few needed things done around the house.

Nice to have a Friday at home, though the "project" ever beckons. (Best guestimate for completion currently is May 2007 -- ugh!)

9:40 am edt

Thursday, June 8, 2006

POTTAGE, PAINT & PIZZA

First Wednesday means Lutheran Luncheon Club, which I affectionately refer to as "The Lutheran 'Good-Old-Boys' Club." Meets at Historic (Hysterical) Trinity in downtown Detroit. Meal, speaker of some kind, glad-handing, etc. I go for the sake of some beloved members who invite me. No speaker today due to a fender-bender. Brats, German potato salad & sauerkraut. No sauerkraut for me! Ick!

Afterwards, back to the office, where RF and I painted lines on the lawn where we're going to add some parking spaces. The school (MS) would like some more, as the new construction has eliminated a few, and it will benefit us by putting a few spaces closer to the front door of our church. This will be good for those who don't perambulate as well.

JM & family arrived at about 4:00. A bit of office work, then a drive by the new Ikea. No way to get in! Swamped! May try again today. Maybe tomorrow. Decided to come back to my place for movies and pizza. Also picked up the weight set. Can't use it anymore. Keep injuring myself. So out it went. The kids will enjoy it, no doubt. A little Bugs Bunny, Abbott & Costello, then good night. Fell asleep on the couch after they left. Long day, fun evening.

Today I get my ears lowered and my arms shot. Then H on H. I'll play the new song for K.

Cheers!

10:09 am edt

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

MY HOME IS YOU

A little late posting this month, but here is the final song for my album. It sorta brings everything "home," as it were. It really summarizes the project well. Throughout the album I speak of good things and bad things, the ups and downs, twists and turns of life. But, when all is said and done, life here is a temporary "blip" in time. What really matters is our life in Christ. He is truly our Home.

As usual, the demo is available for listening on the "Music & Me" page. Here are the lyrics:

MY HOME IS YOU
by Steven S. Billings
September 6, 2005

Verse 1

Starin' at the walls of our living room
Feelin' so very alone
There is something I'm very sure is true
It's where I live, but it ain't home.

My mind drifts back to happier days gone by
When Mom and Dad would rescue me
I feel the empty rooms and I start to cry
Who holds me now when I skin my knee?

There was a time when I could climb the stairs
And see her lying in our bed
Her sleeping face would melt away all my cares
In the morning, here's what I said:

Chorus 1

My home is you wherever it might be
It really doesn't matter to me
Where we are or what we do
My home is you.

Verse 2

Now she's gone and I'm left here on my own
Feels like forever to me
Since there was a time when I felt at home
Since I had a place to be free.

My heart goes back to happier days with you
When Jesus crossed your path with mine
It was something I felt I must pursue
Even if just for a time.

You came into my life and the morning broke
Bringing me a brand-new day
A smile came to my face every time you spoke
Now there's something I've got to say:

Chorus 2

My home is you; can't get you out of my mind
No matter how I try, I find
That for me it still is true
My home is you.

Bridge

Relationships can come and go
But there is one thing that I know
Though I wish I had a home
I never truly am alone.

Verse 3

I remember, Jesus, one day You said
On the shores of Galilee
"The Son of Man has no place to lay His head"
I feel like You were speaking to me.

Foxes have holes and birds have nests
Other men have families
A place they can call home and find their rest
But what is there for me?

"Why be afraid, O ye of little faith?"
You ask me as You calm my storm
I see You dissipate my wind and waves
In You I know I'm safe and warm!

Chorus 3

My home is You wherever it might be
And You've prepared a place for me
But until then it still is true
My home is You!
10:59 am edt

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For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
(Philippians 1:21)

Be sure to get in touch so I know you're out there!