A Personal Evaluation of 2011

With 2011 officially gone today, I wanted to take one last look back on the year that was. This time I’m focusing more on a few of the experiences I’ve had in this past year and what God’s been teaching me through a number of these events. The short version is that 2011 was without a doubt one of the most peculiar years of my life so far. A lot of amazing events, more than a few frustrations but… as far as I can tell, it’s all been worth it.

Here are some of the highlights (and lowlights):

1. We found out we were expecting our third child. And this time, it’s a boy, which is very exciting. However, we’ve had an unusual amount of interest from family and friends in deciding upon his name. My friend Adam is holding out for “Hurricane” but I don’t think that’s going to happen (although that could make for a pretty awesome nickname if he’s as crazy as his big sister Hannah). We’re still praying about the final decision, but have something in mind.

What’s God teaching? In this case, to be very polite and patient with our family as they offer suggestions for this child’s name, even when we may or may not prefer some of said suggestions because they’re just excited.

2. Pitching a book—and seeing it released in the same year. More experienced folks have informed me that this is extremely unusual (from what I understand, the process is normally between 14-18 months). The pitch went out in mid-April (I was even able to pitch in person a couple times, which was a neat experience), the process of writing began in earnest in May (I’d been doing research for months prior), and… the book was released October 1.

What’s God teaching me? While writing, I was maintaining my full-time job, the blog, selling my home and trying to be a reasonably involved parent and husband. Even the fact that I was able to write it at all seems absurd, given the amount of work I tend to do. If I had to guess, I think God was showing me that when He wants something done, it’s going to get done, when He wants it done. He also reminded me that without a very patient and understanding wife, I’d be in a lot of trouble. This is especially important as I start work on sample chapters for a couple of new possible projects.

3. Burnout and the death of “performance-ism”. I came dangerously close to burning out toward the end of September/beginning of October. My job at times can be very stressful which generally I can handle. However, I also have an unfortunate problem with my personality type—I can easily begin to focus on issues over which I have no control and no ability to influence (the details aren’t important). My inability to deal with my stress was leading me to become increasingly irritable, have trouble sleeping and gain weight at a very fast rate, among other things.

What’s God teaching me? In late October, I travelled Phoenix to live blog the Together for Adoption Conference. The content was terrific, the time hanging out with Kaleb Sharmahorn and Steve & Molly McCoy was awesome… and somewhere between listening to Tullian preach and getting home, my stresses were gone.

*Poof*

I can’t really explain what happened there or what God was doing, but I think what God was teaching me through this was that I’d been holding onto a sense of “performance-ism”. I’m a pretty sharp guy and I’m capable of doing a lot of things (as evidenced by number 2). However, this can also be something of a curse as it’s easy to start putting my sense of worth in my own abilities, rather than the One who has given them to me. I must rely on my performance for my sense of value. Doing so only robs God of His glory and me of my joy.

That, in a nutshell, seems to be much of what God was teaching me through 2011. Hopefully I’ve been paying attention.

What’s one thing that God was teaching you throughout 2011? What are you going to do with it?

Clever Children and Their Drawings

My eldest daughter, Abigail, drew this the other day—anyone care to take a guess as to what it means?

Being a Comfort When You're Not Sure What to Say

Wednesday morning at six, my father-in-law is going to have heart surgery. Emily’s been surprisingly okay with everything (as she’s been fond of saying, she gets anxious about the little things, but the big ones don’t faze her too much), and her Dad is pretty confident that everything will be fine. But Emily’s mom… you can hear the stress in her voice whenever she calls.

It’s been a tough few weeks for her, and honestly we’ve not been sure how to be of comfort beyond telling her that we’re praying for her.

Being (as far as we know) the only Christians in our family, this has been a big struggle for us—the things we take comfort in, the only things that bring true comfort (Christ’s death, Christ’s resurrection and the hope of His final return and our future glorification with Him)—these things aren’t terribly comforting to people who don’t trust in Christ or believe that God is good. (And Emily’s shared this with her mom, which was one of the most loving acts I’ve ever seen her take.)

While I’m sure that the operation is going to be fine (sadly it’s become somewhat a standard procedure), I can’t help but wonder…

What if it doesn’t?

I know that, ultimately, if the surgery goes well, it’s by the will of God.

And I know that if it doesn’t, it’s also by His will.

God’s absolute sovereignty is one of the most comforting truths that He has revealed to us. The Psalmists revelled in it. Paul extolled it.

Jesus—well, Jesus is the Sovereign One, so, obviously…

But this doesn’t bring much comfort to those who are opposed to Him.

What I’ve been praying regularly is that God would use this situation to draw Emily’s family to Himself. That He would be revealed and they would respond in faith.

And maybe that’s enough.

Would you join us in praying for this to happen?


We received an update on my father-in-law’s surgery this afternoon. When the doctors began to operate they discovered they had to do a quintuple bypass, rather than the triple they originally thought.

After five hours of surgery, he has been moved to the recovery ward, but they’re waiting for his blood pressure to drop before they can wake him up. Apparently it’s a lot harder to get the blood pressure of “younger” men under control after a procedure like this which is why he is remaining out for the time being.

Thank you for your prayers today. They’ve meant a lot to us!

Four Years In: A Word About Marriage

An excellent wife who can find?

She is far more precious than jewels.

The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.

She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. . . .

Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:

“Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

Proverbs 31:10-12, 28-30

Four years ago today I married my lovely wife, Emily.

In four years, we’ve seen some amazing changes in our lives.

Four years ago, we both worked at a printing company as graphic designers/production artists and (obviously) had no children.

Today, I work as a professional writer and Emily works as a stay-at-home mom caring for our two lovely daughters and dabbles in freelance illustration.

We’ve gone through some really joyful times, like the birth of our children. We’ve gone through some difficult seasons, including a miscarriage and learning how to really live on one income. And there have been some exciting adventures and challenges, like my joining Compassion’s staff, our finding a new church in Harvest Bible Chapel and some things that we’re not ready to talk about yet.

But in the last four years, there’s never been a day where I’ve wanted to throw in the towel.

There’s never been a day when I’ve gone to bed thinking, “I don’t know if I can handle spending the rest of my life with this girl.”

Because even when we’ve faced challenges, when we’ve disagreed (sometimes sharply), we come out the other side loving each other more than we did going in.

God has been good. He’s growing us closer to Him and closer to each other.

The last four years have been great. I hope for at least sixty more.

You game, Emily?

His Name was Smeagol

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.
Colossians 3:5-6

Yesterday I started watching some of the videos Tony Kummer has kindly put online from this year’s Band of Bloggers. Trevin Wax’s address in particular hit me like a freight train. Give it a view:

Trevin spoke about covetousness and blogging and as he spoke, this point really jumped out to me:

The problem with covetousness in general is that it robs God of His glory because we’re seeking an identity apart from who we are in Christ. It also robs us of our joy in blogging. Instead of being this good gift that God has given us that we can use to serve others, it becomes a way for us to prop up ourselves.

He offered the following diagnostic questions that he uses to as a heart check for himself:

  1. Do my emotions ever fluctuate depending on how many hits my blog is receiving?
  2. Do I enjoy the attention I get, regardless of whether it’s praise or criticism?
  3. Do I get depressed if a post doesn’t get the attention I think it should?

Mulling over these questions, because I’ve noticed that on occassion my answers to these questions are “yes.” Not always, but sometimes.

And that’s a problem because, honestly, there are things that are more important. [Read more…]

Are You In The Business of Busyness

I’m in the middle of a season of extreme busyness at the moment.

I don’t know if you have this problem, but when I get busy—I mean, really busy—things start to slip.

Sleeping properly is usually the first to go. Then my eating goes wonky. Then my exercise patterns get erratic. 

Even prayer and Bible study start getting a bit fuzzy if I’m not careful and my reading will turn into a quick skim. Like wolfing down a McDonald’s cheeseburger in the car because you’re in a hurry, instead of savoring it like a really good steak from the Keg.

Because there’s a great demand on my time at work, I find myself having to sacrifice quality for efficiency. Choosing function over form just makes my skin crawl, to be honest.

Whatever I’m doing, I want it to be the best it can possibly be; and because my work is all about communicating ideas, choosing the right words and narrative structure is essential. Sometimes, though, I have to template things. Sometimes I just have to do a slight polish on something that’s really not very good and just let it go. To make do.

It’s funny how that happens, isn’t it?

Race through reading the Bible, a quick prayer and away we go.

Race through work (often with a quick prayer), taking as little time as possible to complete as many tasks as I’m able.

It’s a bit of an assembly line approach to life.

It gets the job done, but it doesn’t bring joy.

Where can we, even in our seasons of busyness, find opportunities to savor life? To enjoy God, the Bible, friends, family… and even work?

In my case, sometimes it means just saying no. Turning down a meeting request, turning off my email, ignoring my cell phone and disconnecting from the internet for a while. Sometimes it means having to blow a deadline because the work is too important to not do with excellence.

Sometimes it means putting aside whatever else I’m reading in favor of spending some extra time in the Bible and hearing what God has to say.

Occasionally, it means a meandering post like this one. :)

But what about you?

Do you feel like you’re settling for the cheeseburger instead of the steak? Are you looking opportunities to savor?

 Life is too valuable to be wasted with the business of busyness.

I hope you’ll find an opportunity to enjoy it this week.

Receiving Grace upon Grace – Introducing our New Daughter

On Friday March 12 at 5:14 am, Emily and I welcomed our second daughter, Hannah Grace, into the world.

Probably the hardest part (for me) this time around was choosing a name. Names are really important. Biblically, they define people to some degree. The names of Naomi’s sons, Mahlon & Chilion, for example, meant “sickness” and “wasting away.” They died in Moab, leaving their mother without grandchildren. Naomi herself, after the death of her sons renamed herself “Mara” because the “Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me” (Ruth 1:20).

So, what you name your children is kind of a big deal. And for Emily and I, agreeing on a name was extremely difficult at first.

We initially wanted this baby’s name to convey an idea of strength combined with femininity. (Tall order? Maybe.) After batting around ideas for several weeks, we managed to agree on a middle name: Grace, meaning “favor” or “blessing.”

More time went by and we were short-listing names, crossing off others… Eventually we came to Hannah. I liked it, but didn’t recall the meaning of the name.

I asked Emily, “How about we call her Hannah Grace?”

Her response, “But ‘Hannah’ means ‘grace;’ wouldn’t that be weird?”

Then I remembered:

And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace
John 1:16

The last year has been an incredibly challenging one for us; ultimately all of our difficulties have worked out for our good though it’s not always been comfortable. But through them all, God has been with us and He’s been incredibly gracious to us, so much so that I think I take it for granted.

He’s poured out grace upon grace in our lives, blessing after blessing. And the chief blessing is that He has not only shown us how to live in the Law but that He came to live that life for us in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. That His perfect life was given to me in exchange for my sinful one by faith in the crucified and resurrected Jesus.

Naming my daughter Hannah Grace is a tangible reminder of this for me.

God willing, the next several years are going to be exciting. Seeing my girls grow up, teaching them about Jesus and someday walking them down the aisle… To see this family grow into all that God has planned for us is going to be a wonderful gift.

Christmas Daddies: Building a Memory

Yesterday, was the big day: My Christmas Daddy-Daughter date with my lovely daughter, Abigail.

This was a really important one for me; I really want to make sure she has some great memories (as much as I can help, anyway), so I did my best to pull out all the stops. First up, her favorite breakfast: French toast (it was delicious).

After a lovely breakfast, we were off to the main event: Sesame Street Live!

We took a few photos:

The Sesame Street players take the stage and all the kids go wild. Well... except for the ones who cried.

[Read more…]

A Faith Worth Imitating

faith-imitating

Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

 

Seven times—in 1 Cor. 4:16 & 11:1, Phil. 3:17, 2 Thess. 3:7, 1 Tim. 4:12, Titus 2:7 and 1 Pet. 5:3—we’re told to follow the example of others who are following Christ’s (imperfect as they may be).

It seems that the Holy Spirit was pretty emphatic on this point when inspiring the Scriptures.

The example of others is a critical part of our growth as Christians.

Of course, this also means that as we follow the example of others, we must be an example worth following.

I guess, then, the question for me becomes:

How am I doing with that?

Is my faith worth imitating? Am I an example that should be followed? [Read more…]

By Grace Alone: My Story

grace-alone

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I tend to shy away from talking about it too much because people might think I’m nuts. Then, I remembered that I worship Jesus and most people think I’m nuts anyway. So, for better or for worse, here’s my story:

A Bit of History

I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, or one that really practiced any sort of religious belief (unless watching Star Trek religiously counts). From what I recall, the only time someone said “God” or “Jesus” was when someone was exasperated. I learned a couple years ago that apparently I went to Sunday School a few times when I was about six, but the only thing I remember is making a guitar out of yarn and styrofoam plates.

I suppose that’s an indicator of what I learned there, isn’t it? [Read more…]

Who Would You Be?

who-would-you-be

A couple nights ago, Emily and I were watching the Vintage Jesus DVDs and we came to this question:

Who would you be if Jesus hadn’t saved you?

It was really interesting for us to sit back and consider this: Who would I be if Jesus hadn’t saved me?

What kind of husband would I be? What kind of father?

Would I be any of these things?

The truth is, I know exactly what kind of guy I’d be.

Jesus saved me from being a lying, adulterous little boy trying to fit into grown-up man pants that I could never wear. From being a sad, pathetic excuse for a man who could never live up to the responsibilities of being a husband and father.

Because, this is where I was heading until Jesus grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and said, “You’re mine! You belong to me.”

I don’t talk about how I became a Christian a lot, because… well, because I am sometimes afraid that people will think I’m nuts. But you know what?

That’s just stupid.

It’s putting people in the place of God, and fearing them instead of fearing Him.

So tomorrow, I’m going to start to tell the story, at least the parts you need to know.

God gives us a story for His glory.

Who would you be?

On Self-Publishing and Book Proposals

self-pub

For the last year I’ve been working on a short book based on a teaching series I did in my small group. My original plan had been to write a series of essays based on the study to provide to our group members. From there it grew into a full book.

The material itself is pretty solid, and I’m pretty excited to share it with people.

Some day.

Maybe.

I hope.

Truthfully, I do want to publish this work. I think it’s actually worthwhile and people who’ve been reading snippets here and there have found it enjoyable and helpful.

Where I’ve been stuck has been on the issue of publishing. [Read more…]

Saturday is for Sabbath (2)

Today is Saturday, and it’s been an incredibly stressful week.

A wise man, when talking about stress, service and responsibility, once said, “Know the size of your plate.” To continue with this analogy, if the amount of stuff I could comfortably handle could fit on a dinner plate, the amount I’ve got would fit on a buffet table.

But I continue to try to Sabbath and learn to deal with what I can as God enables me.

Today’s agenda is pretty simple:

Pray and read my Bible.

Read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

Go for a family walk and/or Daddy-Daughter date

Write a letter to one of my oldest friends, Scott, and his new bride, Brittany (they’re getting married today!).

And, maybe have a nap.

That should be a pretty full day.


How are you spending your Saturday?

A Marriage Worth Working On

marriage

Sunday has been a day all about marriage.

At Harvest, the sermon was on the first sin (from Genesis 3:7-13), and it’s destructive effect on relationships with each other (including marriage) and with God. It was a very challenging look at how we sinfully fight and try to control and manipulate each other, rather than submit to God and one another in humility and repentance.

Later, we, along with more than 50 others, spent the afternoon celebrating the 25th wedding anniversary of Chris & Kimberly, a wonderful couple who invest so much of themselves in other people. They have a passion for discipling others and seeing them grow in holiness.

I could go on about them ad nauseum, but I think the best thing I could say is that they’re awesome people and we want to be like them when we grow up.

When I wasn’t toddler-wrangling at the party, I found it really interesting listening to the way people spoke of them in little speeches and toasts, particularly what their children said. Listening to them share how much they love and respect their parents and how their faith has been affected by them is really encouraging. I see these things, and I hear these things, and I can’t help but think, “I really hope my kids will be able to say things like that when Emily and I are celebrating our 25th anniversary.” Not due to any sort of need to be lauded, but really, because I want my children to be positively impacted by my faith. That Emily and I both can say to Abigail and our future kids, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).

Emily and I love to read a book together. It’s part of how we encourage each other to grow, spiritually (aside from my regularly asking, “So what’d you read in your Bible today?”). [Read more…]