By Norris Burkes Dec 27 2019

It’s the time of year when those holiday newsletters overflow from the mailbox. They’re sent by family and friends who believe you want to know that Suzie made the honor roll or how Aunt Mary had her cataracts removed. 

If you read each letter in its entirety, you’re a better person than I, and you may be rewarded with a surprise or two.

Like the writers of those Christmas newsletters, I’m never sure who is reading my column during the busy holidays – even my editors. With that in mind, I’ll use this year-end space to update four columns from 2019. And who knows, if you’ll read carefully there might be a surprise at the end.

First, since I write a lot about my wife Becky, you should know that we celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary next week. 

We were married at 22 years old and had four children by the age of 35. Since 1980, we’ve occupied 15 homes from California and Texas to Florida and Turkey. I’ve been a parish pastor as well as a chaplain in hospitals, the Air Force and for hospice. 

Becky stayed steady, teaching 30 years in every elementary-school grade. Mostly, I’m glad that she’s remained steady with me for four decades.

Next, you’ll likely remember the column I wrote last month about “Brotherman.”  He’s my sibling whose psychosis makes him noncompliant with his blood pressure and diabetic meds. 

Last week, he was admitted to the Las Vegas VA Medical Center with life threatening lab numbers. I spent the entire week watching him grow physically and mentally healthier. By week’s end, we secured a bed for him in the skilled-nursing unit at Southern Nevada State Veterans Home. With any luck, he’ll live his remaining life under much better care than he was receiving from his independent-living facility.

If you’re still following along in this recap, you’ll remember that a few weeks ago, I made brief mention that I’ve gone back to school.

Yes, I know I’m 62. But that only means it’s time to spend my remaining GI Bill benefits. Because of my deployments, these benefits include books, tuition and a monthly housing stipend. 

I’ve just finished my first semester in the Master of Journalism program at University of Nevada, Reno (a two-hour drive from my home). I took courses in writing and podcasting and received an A in both classes. Ha! Me and “Suzie” made the honor roll. (Listen to recorded columns at 

Finally, I’ve received a lot of email asking me how to help the Chispa Project. This is the nonprofit charity my daughter, Sara, started in 2015 to establish libraries in Honduran elementary schools.

I am taking 20 of my readers to help establish a library in Honduras, March 8-15, 2020. Half of our crew is returning from last year, but if you act NOW, there may still be room for two more volunteers. 

If you can’t go on the trip with us, please consider helping us buy more books. You can donate online at or write a check to “Chispa Project” and send it to the address below.

And now, I congratulate you for reading this entire Christmas” newsletter” column. Here is my surprise: Log on to Amazon this weekend and download a free Kindle version of my books, “Thriving Beyond Surviving” and “Heroes Highway.” 

If you need a hardbound book, send me your own Christmas newsletter along with a $20 check. Or just send me the newsletter. I promise I’ll read most of it. 



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