The Year 2017

Merry Christmas 2017
December 18, 2017
Charles Wagner to Guest Blog on The Hope Line
January 24, 2018

The Backstory

I grew up in Newtown Square, PA, a small town about 13 miles west of Philadelphia, PA.  I graduated from Delaware County Christian School in 1979.  I lived on Cape Ann, MA from August 1979 into November 1983 as I attended and then graduated from Gordon College.  In my final months of my first stay in New England, I met the woman, Karen Jacklin, who would become my second wife 32 years later.  I married my first wife in September 1985.  We lived in Upper Darby PA, Springfield PA, and West Chester PA.  Our son Chad was born in 1990 and our daughter Stephanie was born in 1992.  I earned an MBA from Widener University in December 1995.  Unfortunately, my first marriage ended in divorce in 2006.  My two children and I moved into a condominium in West Chester PA where I resided between September 2006 and August 2016.  While living in that home, I went through a long and difficult season of life where God did a great deal of work transforming my heart and mind.  The vision for Gramazin also came to mind in this time and God took it through it’s own refining process over the years. Karen and I reconnected in October 2015.  By March of 2016, it became apparent that God had been at work and it was clearly in His will that we marry.  I married Karen in August 2016 and moved back to Cape Ann.  Within weeks of settling into my new home in Gloucester, MA, 600 yards from the Atlantic Ocean, I was inspired to begin work on Take Every Thought to Prayer.  I finished the first draft of the book in December 2016.

Chad and Stephanie

It was not easy to move away from my two wonderful adult children.  Quite frankly, I have missed them dearly.  Except for a few months in 2010, one or both of them lived in my house from 1990 through August of 2016.  It was an emotional goodbye when I departed for MA the day after my wedding.  I’m certain I would not have had the emotional strength to make such a move if not for the comfort to know that I could keep in touch with them through Facetime, phone calls, texts, social media, and monthly visits to PA.  As I had done in the fall of 2016, I continued to visit with them each month through the first half of 2017.  Chad came up for a visit in July, spending time with Karen and I and his step-sister Kirsten.  The visits to PA have decreased in the latter half of this year.  However, I look forward to resuming regular visits in the coming year.  I am grateful for the relationship I have with both of my children and I am proud of the choices they have made in life.

Stephanie’s Getting Married in 2018

On one of my visits to Pennsylvania this year, Matt approached me and asked for my daughter’s hand in marriage.  He had been dating Stephanie for several years and I had become very fond of him.  He already felt like one of them family.  He respectfully listened to me spout advice after I had enthusiastically said “yes”.  He proposed to her a week or two later on the beach in South Carolina. The family is looking forward to their June 2018 wedding in Lancaster, PA, in the heart of Amish country.

Karen

God has showered blessings upon me through my marriage with Karen.  Both of us experienced divorce in our first marriages and neither of us wanted to experience that heartache again.  We have put Jesus Christ at the center of our relationship.  Few days go by without both of us taking some time to read from the Bible and to come together in prayer.  This reading is often done with our cell phones during our daily walk together around our sleepy village. Karen has transformed me into a get-up-early-in-the-morning person.  We often talk on our walks or at the dinner table about faith and life in Christ.  Karen is in full support of Gramazin and in my involvement with local ministry.  I could not have published Take Every Thought to Prayer without her encouragement.  I often thank her for who she is, what she does, and what she has meant to me over our first year of marriage.  We have settled into a routine of spending our evenings together – I on my computer and she producing amazing things with her knitting needles.  We enjoyed a visit in July to the White Mountains of New Hampshire and a trip to the summit of Mount Washington.  It was, sort of, the honeymoon we didn’t feel was necessary the year before.

My Extended Family

I continued to visit my now 92-year-old mother each time I traveled down to PA.  However, maintaining a phone connection is more difficult as her hearing is not what it used to be.  She is doing well and I am thankful for how God has used her over the years to inspire me to a closer walk with Him.  Take Every Thought to Prayer was dedicated, in part, to her.  It is a huge blessing to have your mother speak so favorably and admirably of your first published book.  I am probably accurate in saying, after Karen and I, she is the book’s most avid and devoted reader.

It is with a heavy heart that I report of the declining health of my oldest sister, Lynn.  She has been diagnosed with a rare disease and her body is deteriorating.  It is difficult living about a 10 hour drive from their home in Virginia.  I wish I could led a hand.  However, I am thankful for the frequent phone calls I have had this year with her and my brother-in-law.  I hope the Lord will enable me to visit with them, in their new home, soon.

I was thrilled to have my sister Joan and her husband Jay visit us in Gloucester in October.  The Eastern Shore of Maryland residents suffered through a horrendous traffic nightmare drive on the way up.  However, they enjoyed their visit with Karen and I as we jam-packed a scenic tour of our area into a day and a half.  I hope to visit their home again sometime next year.

My New Family

There are many men who have re-married and become step-fathers.  However, I’m not sure there are many step-fathers who have been as blessed by their step-daughters as I have been.  It has been a delight getting to know both Meredith and Kirsten this year.  Meredith lives nearby and often drops in to say hello, spending a few minutes with Suzie, our beloved Shih-Tzu.  Kirsten has stayed at our house each time she has been on break from school.  She, like her older sister, has an endearing personality.

Speaking of Suzie, I am so blessed that my precious little girl is still my close companion and buddy. We’ve been together now since 2008.  I’ll never forget how she cuddled so close to me that day in 2015 when I hurt my back and lay on the floor in agonizing pain as I waited for the ambulance to come.  Life is better for her in Massachusetts than it was in Pennsylvania.  She gets walked more faithfully than she was in Pennsylvania because, quite frankly, it’s more scenic walking a dog in this coastal community.  She has her own yard to play in and she continues to be spoiled by her daddy. I know she has captured the hearts of her new family in New England.

Karen and I have gone to dinner with her parents on quite a few occasions.  They are members of the local yacht club where it is enjoyable watching the boats sail back and forth as we eat on the deck.  I’ve often stopped over at my in-laws home, especially to help her father answer a computer question.

I’ve enjoyed getting to know Karen’s brother Eric and his wife Kelly and their family.  They live in Ipswich, about a half hour away.

My New Home in Gloucester and Boston

I spent 23 years in West Chester PA.  I loved it, especially the proximity to the rolling hills and rich farmland of Lancaster County.  In a wild coincidence, a few guys in the men’s ministry at my church in Massachusetts come from the West Chester area.  The area will always have a place in my heart because it used to be my home and it remains the home of my children and close friends I remain in touch with.

However, my new home on Cape Ann easily wins the competition between the two regions.  I see the ocean every day but it has yet to become a bore to me.  I love living near the picturesque communities of Essex, Ipswich, Rockport, Magnolia, and Manchester-by-the-Sea.  Like Cape Cod south of Boston, Cape Ann juts out into the ocean from the northern coast of Massachusetts.  It can get windy here with sea breezes a part of life in our neighborhood.  I’ve learned to figure out when it is low tide by the sound of the waves where the Annisquam River and Ipswich Bay collide about a mile away from the house. I love being so close to Maine and New Hampshire, both of which can be seen across the water from our island. I’m eager to spend more time in those states, and Vermont, in the coming year.  I also find living near the city of Boston more appealing to me than living near Philadelphia.

I enjoyed my first winter back in Massachusetts in 2016-2017.  It wasn’t as bad as two winters before, the year the area had over 100″ of snow.  We had about 30-40″ last year, most of which occurred over two back-to-back blizzards that struck.  I love shoveling snow, much to Karen’s relief, and walking alone to the ocean during a snowstorm (Karen stays home where it’s warm).

(Updated February 10, 2018) A barometer I’ve established of my loyalties – Philadelphia or Boston – is how I feel about the sports teams.  I remain an avid fan of the Philadelphia Eagles even though I live in New England Patriots nation. My son Chad made sure I had Internet links to the Eagles game whenever the Birds weren’t on television up here. I jumped and screamed, with Karen and Suzie both wondering if I’d lost my mind, as the Eagles beat the Vikings in the 2018 NFC Championship game. I fulfilled my pledge to watch the SuperBowl with my kids in West Chester, PA and enjoyed dancing and hugging as the game ended and fireworks exploded in the neighborhood. I watched the victory parade via the Internet after my return to MA. I have no hesitation to say I’m an out-of-state Eagles fan when so many players and coaches on the team give glory to God and profess Christ as their Savior. Their underdog accomplishment speaks to me about my mission in life.

I’m not as enthusiastic about the other Philadelphia teams.  I’ve been a Phillies fan since 1972, a 76ers fan since 1975, and a Flyers fan since 1973.  That’s hard to walk away from.  Talking Philly sports is a strong connection I have with my children and friends in PA.  However, I am weary of only one championship by these three teams combined since 1984. I sometimes look at all the Boston Bruins and Boston Red Sox hats  around with an open mind. To be honest, though, the Eagles excellence this season has refueled my Philly pride. 

New Church

The leader of the men’s ministry at my church has said what is probably true – it’s a rare man who starts coming to a church and within the first month is on the men’s ministry leadership team.  However, that is my story.  I don’t know – I just wanted to be involved and connected.  I wanted to contribute.  In my first month attending the church I got involved in a monthly men’s luncheon.  Now, I’m involved in a Wednesday night men’s Bible study as well.  As a result, I’m thankful I have been able to build new friendships with quite a few guys at the church in 2017.  I’ve been having discussions with my pastor about Gramazin and I’m looking forward to what might come of that in 2018.

I am also thankful that I remain in touch with several of the guys from my church back in Pennsylvania.  Thanks especially for Bob and Nyla DiGiorgio opening their home to me as a place to stay in my most recent visit to Pennsylvania. As of today, I continue to volunteer my services to the church, maintaining their family website.  It is my honor and pleasure to keep connections with an awesome community of faith.

My New Neighborhood

Karen and I live in a small modest home as year-round residents in a summer resort.  The amount of traffic in the community jumps significantly as the weather warms, the docks open for business, and wealthy New Englanders move into their summer homes.  The village has a New England feel to it, not just because of the architecture but also because of the culture.  Karen and I have attended community meetings in the village that reminded me of the TV show Newhart.  I expected Larry, Darryl, and “my other brother Darryl” to walk in and join the meeting. We enjoyed the local community theater’s presentation of Singing in the Rain a few months ago.  Very impressive.  With enough arm twisting, I could consider joining the cast some day – as long as I don’t have to sing.  Eric, my brother-in-law, was a lead in Oklahoma a few years back.  I had the opportunity to build the new village library website, affording me the chance to make new connections in the community.  Other than that, Karen and I are often seen by the villagers when we are out on our walks together.  Suzie has made a friend or two along the way as we pass friendly dog lovers on the quiet residential streets.

My New Ministry

I volunteered with Straight Ahead Ministry before I moved to New England.  It was the summer of 2016 and Karen and I were making final wedding plans.  I was still living in Pennsylvania. Having been involved in a prison ministry, I wanted to connect with a similar ministry in the Boston area.  I wanted to build relationships quickly.  Beginning in January of 2017, I have spent one evening each week at the Middleton juvenile detention center.  Our team, including Hector, Jason, Andrew, James, and Maureen, have become more than co-workers in ministry.  We’ve become a family of friends.  I’ve interacted with over 50 young men this year, building closer connections with maybe 5-10 of them.  These are guys who have been accused of serious crime (murder, attempted murder, assault, robbery, home invasions, evading arrest, selling drugs, etc.,.) but who still are kids at heart.  Once you build their trust, they become personable and approachable.  It’s easy to see the potential in them and to empathize with their situation.  It is a joy to have witnessed a few of the guys show their desire to discover who God is and what faith is all about. I look forward to continuing to serve this ministry in 2018.  I am also interested to find other ministries to volunteer my time with.  It was through my connection with Straight Ahead that I ended up being interviewed on Cape Ann television in April.

My New Language

I met Bill Spencer sometime in my first few months at my new churches.  He is a retired college German professor.  I most likely said something in conversation like “I always wanted to learn German”.  Before I knew it, I was meeting each week with Bill, in the first half of 2017, as he tutored me in elementary German.  Ich habe viel zu lernen.  We plan on resuming the tutoring in January 2018.  Bill is a valued mentor, a seasoned and godly gentleman who quickly caught on to areas where God is challenging me to grow.

My New Book

I had no idea I was going to publish a book in 2017 when I moved up to Cape Ann in August 2016.  However, I found myself inspired, living in the kind of village where you would think an author would live.  I finished the first draft of Take Every Thought to Prayer in December 2016.  A publishing company in Pennsylvania passed on the book without looking at it.  I had experienced my first and, so far, only book rejection.  I didn’t quit.  I received a favorable review from the Writer’s Digest sometime around March 2017.  Their recommendation led to an opportunity with a Christian publishing company.  They expressed an interest in the book but they were in no hurry.  A woman involved in publishing at my church recommended Xulon Press in Florida.  I contacted them and we quickly had an agreement.  They recommended that the book be split into two volumes.  I spent several months splitting the book into two volumes and then editing, re-editing, re-re-editing, and re-re-re-editing both volumes of the book.  I was obsessed with having the perfect copy.  After the books were printed and released on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Xulon, I discovered punctuation and capitalization mistakes in both books.  Ugh!  I’m learning that, unless you are a celebrity, you are a well-known public figure, or you have money to buy thousands of copies of your own book, a book takes time and a lot of sweat to sell.  Though I was disappointed with the sales numbers of my first few months, the publisher assured me that I have reason for optimism.  The book is off to a good start compared to other books they have published.  I am encouraged by the comments I have heard from various people who have let me know personally what they, or someone they knew, thought of the book after reading it.  It has touched lives.  I move into 2018 with a marketing strategy, confident that book sales will grow throughout the year.

My New Health Care

As of the morning of December 28, 2017, I have had 3.72 million steps this year.  I have walked over 1,600 miles, comparable to a walk from Gloucester to Grand Island, Nebraska.  I know this thanks to the Fitbit I received from my kids last Christmas.  A little like the TV character Monk, I tend to get obsessed with statistics.  While 3.7 million steps is minuscule compared to the number of annual steps of a 20 year-old construction worker, it is remarkable that I know the ballpark number.  Not many do.  I’ve worn my Fitbit every day and I’ve tracked each day’s steps on a spreadsheet. Well, I’m accurate to within ten thousand steps.  There was a long walk one day when I had unintentionally left my Fitbit home.  I’ve also occasionally walked around the house without the Fitbit on.  However, I’m confident that the lost steps do not exceed 20,000.  I’m pleased that an otherwise sedentary mid-50s web guy, who is always on the computer, has averaged over 10,000 steps a day all year.  My goal is to hit 4 million steps next year.

What’s the point?  These steps have allowed me to enjoy good cooking without gaining too much weight.  A single bachelor for a very long time, I had mastered the fine art of selecting TV dinners from the frozen foods section.  I could boil a hotdog like the best in the business.  Now, I’m married to a cook who likes to try different recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

However, this same cook has encouraged me to seek medical treatment for some of the ailments that have plagued me for years.  Once I got over the shock of having a full examination by a very competent and knowledgeable young female doctor, I’ve been blessed with arguably the best year of quality medical care I’ve had in a long time.  Suzie thanks Karen every night that I no longer snore.

Gramazin in 2018

The genesis of Gramazin goes back to 2011.  I believe this was the year I walked door to door in the shops of Lititz, PA, attempting to sell the stores on a sincere but not well thought out idea about inspirational posters.  The following year, Gramazin was an effort by my son and I to volunteer in charities around the country and promote inspirational story sharing.  Something wasn’t right.  God had something else in mind.  Inspiring stories should come from believers in Jesus Christ, not from secular charities.  I studied over 2,000 church websites.  Less than 3% of churches shared testimonies on their websites and none shared any testimonies on their home page.  I had my new mission – to encourage believers to share their testimonies on church websites – which I worked on part-time in 2014-2015.

The focus of 2016 was on my personal life – my marriage to Karen and my relocation to Massachusetts.  I did have an idea last year that the churches need a testimony-sharing event to generate a movement in testimony sharing.  The Gramazin emphasis in 2017 was on the publishing of the book. It could open doors for a larger discussion about testimony-sharing.  The book became a priority.

As I close the year, I am finishing the development of 72stories.com.  It is a mobile-friendly web application that enables members of church congregations to help each other prepare their faith stories over the course of three days.  I am modifying the code I developed earlier in the year, currently called Gramazin.NET, after receiving feedback from others and continuing to listen to God’s leading.

The emphasis in 2018 will be to demonstrate to churches around the country how 72stories.com will be a blessing to their ministry.  I will be active in publishing, including a third book and a variety of blogs on Gramazin. I have been publishing Prayers for the World since October 14.  That blog may become prominent on the home page of Gramazin shortly.  I will continue to promote Take Every Thought to Prayer, especially by giving online access to it away to faith-based ministries and counselors around the country. The publisher and I agree that a percentage of those who have access to it will purchase books.  Finally, I will be working to build a team of believers throughout the country who are enthusiastic about testimony-sharing.  Our goal will be to plan a nationwide celebration of testimonies in 2020.

God bless you in 2018!

Charles