#FridayFive: 12/14/2018 — “Terrible to Bearable!” Christmas Music

Merry almost-Christmas, friends! It’s that time of year when more and more radio airplay is filled with the holiday classics we have come to know and love…or despise, in some cases. (Truth be told, “Christmas music season” started on November 1st, so we are more than halfway through it!)

While I’ve discussed in past blog posts the Christmas songs I love, hate, and maybe hate that I love, this year (to save me some tears) I thought I’d try something a little different.

So here’s my “Terrible-to-Bearable” List*–five songs that have been moved from the Naughty List to the Nice List (barely)**, thanks to a cover/remake that salvages them from the coal bin. They’re not necessarily my least favorite Christmas songs of all time, but they certainly could be considered “skip-worthy” when they come up on Pandora.

Hope you enjoy these recovered classics–or at least hate them a little bit less now!

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Honorable Mention: “Donde Esta Santa Claus?” by Guster

I’m not putting this on the list officially because I was first exposed to the song via this version, which I find oddly charming. The original was sung by 12-year-old Augie Rios back in 1958–and I’ve discovered that I usually don’t enjoy Christmas music sung by any child not named Macaulay Culkin. The other reason this one doesn’t make the cut is that the song is essentially unchanged–it’s just sung by adults.

Honorable Mention: “Wonderful Christmastime” by Jars of Clay

I almost didn’t include this track; it made my “eggnog” list from 2014 specifically because of this version. I’ll admit, I’m even coming around on Paul McCartney’s trippy original (have you seen the original music video? Yikes…), but for a while there, I hated it, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. So this Jars of Clay cover demonstrates that the bones of a really nice (non-partisan wintery) song are there, if you strip away the synthesizers.

#5: “I’m Getting Nuttin’ For Christmas” by Relient K

The best way to fix annoying jokey Christmas songs sung by children is apparently to speed them up to a pop-punk beat and shout them into the microphone. Because as grating as the original is, I can’t help but bop along to this one.

#4: “The Chipmunk Song” by Hawk Nelson

Again, speeding it up (and not being chipmunks) makes this a bit more enjoyable. This high-energy pop-rock cover removes the tedious waltz-rhythm of the original, so that the whole thing is done in 2 minutes without the “Aaaaaaaaaaalllllvvvvviiiiiiinnnnn!” discussion after each chorus. Definitely an improvement.

#3: “Little Drummer Boy / Peace on Earth” by Bing Crosby and David Bowie

Okay, folks, this is a safe place here, so let’s be honest: “Little Drummer Boy” is a song that gets tiresome REALLY quickly. (Pa-rum-pum-pum-pum) It doesn’t have a lot to say in terms of the story. (Pa-rum-pum-pum-pum) I mean, it’s nice that there’s a message of bringing your best to Jesus, whatever it is. (Pa-rum-pum-pum-pum) But I don’t know if it’s worth dragging each line out to get there. (Pa-rum-pum-pum-pum) (Rum-pum-pum-pum.) (Rum-pum-pum-pum.)  So how do you improve on a Christmas classic that isn’t going anywhere soon (or fast)? You have two amazing vocalists duet in counter-point to each other, in a one-of-a-kind performance that is gently arresting.

#2: “All I Want For Christmas Is You” by Jamie Cullum

A surprise entry to the list (it was just released today!). Yes, the original song also made my 2014 “Eggnog” list, due to sentimental reasons, but man oh man, it has become ubiquitous. Not even watching my 1-year-old dancing around to it a few weeks ago could redeem it in my mind. It’s over-played, and everyone thinks they can sing it well (though not one of us can). But then in walks Jamie Cullum and the magic returns. If you’re not familiar with Cullum, you should check him out. He’s like a better and less-well-known Buble, with a dash of Scott Bradlee and Billy Joel. And he brings a fresh energy to this track (which he learned and recorded in an hour?!?). Great cover.

Before we get to my Number One Terrible-to-Bearable pick, a few extra links and comments :

Okay, okay, let’s get to it. My Number One “Terrible-to-Bearable” Christmas cover is…

 

 

[drum-roll]

 

 

 

#1: “Christmas Shoes” by FM Static

I think I’ve gone on record enough with my intense dislike of “Christmas Shoes.” It’s shamelessly manipulative, cloying, and cliched. At times, it has made me viscerally angry. So, as I was researching this post, I thought, there’s no way that this, the most despicable of schlocky Christmas tunes, could be ameliorated by a cover version. That would be like finding a unicorn–discovering a mythical creature, imagined but never realized.

I think I was wrong, folks.

Is the FM Static version of the song actually better? Lyrically, no. It’s still terrible. It’s still manipulative and corny and syrupy. But I realized as I have listened to this version that FM Static eliminates two of the main elements that make the Newsong version so awful in my opinion:

  1. Newsong. That sounds mean, doesn’t it? Too bad, because it’s true. The overwrought, growly vocals of the original artist are ridiculous. While FM Static’s knock-off-Rivers-Cuomo vocals in the verses aren’t the greatest, it’s still a VAST improvement over Russ Lee’s emoting.
  2. Children singing. This is definitely a thing for me; apparently, I can’t stand children singing in Christmas music. When the original song brings in the children’s choir to sing the reprised chorus and then the twee little urchin sings the last line about his dying mother, the producers are trying their best to wring out your tears. Well, Mr. Producer, you have failed. I will not give you a single tear. I refuse.

Instead of leaning on emotional manipulation, FM Static goes to the other extreme. There is no sentimentality in their cover. Not to say it isn’t sincere and played straight; there is not snark or cynicism in their approach. What’s fascinating is that the actual melodic line of the song becomes clearer and cleaner, and I’m able to appreciate that it’s not a bad song and it has a pretty good hook to the chorus. I even (and I hate to admit this) caught myself humming the chorus yesterday. No other proof is needed, I feel. Well done, FM Static. Well done.

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There you go, folks. Five (okay, seven) songs that are improved to one degree or another by a cover or remake. Did I miss any of your favorites? Want to argue my picks? You can comment below!

Thanks for reading! Be sure to “like” the post if you enjoyed it, share it on your favorite social platforms, and subscribe in the box on the right (or below) if you’re not following already. I’ll see you next week!

 

 

 

 

*I almost called this the “Toothless Bumble List” in honor of the Abominable Snow Monster in “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” that chills out after a round of non-consensual dentistry–but I figured the reference was a bit too esoteric. Nevertheless, I share it now with you, the loyal footnote-reader. Buon Natale and Meli Kalikimaka.

**My alternative title was “Terrible to Tolerable” but I decided to go with the rhyme instead of the alliteration. These are the pointless decisions I wrestle with, as I write this blog. *shrug*

The4thDave Reads: My Fall Book List!

It’s been a while since I’ve done capsule reviews of the books I’ve read in recent months, so here’s a recap of the other books I read this past fall! Hope you enjoy it!

Fantasy Life, by Matthew Berry:  As I wrote in my thank-you note, Matthew Berry is one of my favorite sports writers, particularly when it comes to fantasy sports. Fantasy Life is a collected and expanded compilation of his reflections on his life as a fantasy sports analyst, the twists and turns that his career and personal life have taken and what he’s learned from that, and a whole slew of stories from his readers about the crazy up’s and down’s of the #FantasyLife. I enjoyed the book, for the most part; no surprise, given how much I enjoy Berry’s style. However, I was a little frustrated by how often he decided to go a bit off-color with the stories he shared. It doesn’t surprise me that fantasy sports fans do really foolish and even crass things when friends, money, and booze is involved, but I really don’t need to hear about it–frequently. So, with that said, if you are interested in reading more about fantasy sports, I say stick to Berry’s columns at ESPN.com (where the company standards rein in some of the inappropriate humor).

Day of War, by Cliff Graham: I grew up reading a lot of historical fiction, and particularly historical Christian fiction, but I don’t think I ever read a book like this one. This is the first book in Graham’s Day of War series that follows the exploits of King David and his “Mighty Men.” In this novel, Graham focuses on the events recounted in the last few chapters of I Samuel. The author acknowledges in an introductory note in the volume that writing Biblical fiction is a challenge, because the author must “flesh out” sections of the stories, including conversations and events that aren’t explicitly described in the Scriptural text. However, Graham assures the reader that he sought to stay faithful to what had been revealed, and I thought he did a good job of that. The battle scenes are detailed and exciting, and Graham doesn’t shy away from describing combat graphically and effectively (meaning, if you’re squeamish, you may want to skip a few pages here or there). This was a gripping story that I had a hard time putting down, and I look forward to continuing the series in the future.

The Exemplary Husband, by Dr. Stuart Scott: I’ve read a lot of marriage books and a good number of books regarding Biblical manhood. What struck me about Dr. Scott’s book is how deeply and unashamedly Scriptural it was. It seemed like almost every paragraph was followed up by a Bible text to support it. In this volume, Dr. Scott begins by focusing on the husband’s relationship with God, rightly arguing that a man who does not have a healthy relationship with God will have trouble loving and serving his wife as Christ loves the Church, giving Himself up for her. After spending a good deal of time focusing on the husband’s relationship with God, Dr. Scott turns his attention to the qualities of an exemplary husband, and builds this vision of a godly husband on the qualities of Jesus Himself. Finally, Dr. Scott examines the duties and responsibilities that a husband has to his wife and children. This book is probably the best book on marriage and “husbanding” that I’ve read in years, if not ever, and it’s definitely one I plan on revisiting. I read it very slowly the first time and still think I need to spend more time digesting the rich truths that were presented.

Elevation, by Stephen King: Confession time–Stephen King is one of my guilty-pleasure authors. For some reason, his style and rhythms just work for me, and I enjoy his bizarre storytelling, even if he consistently caricatures Christians as hucksters and hypocrites. It has been a few years since I’ve read any of his new stuff, so I grabbed this slim volume (practically a novella) based on the cover copy. Elevation is the story of a man who discovers that he’s becoming lighter–not that he’s losing weight, but that gravity is slowly losing its grip on him, along with anything he happens to be holding. While it’s a fun, light premise (no pun intended), what I didn’t realize until I started reading the book was that this lightness is quickly ruined by a heavy-handed message of tolerance and acceptance. Once again, those benighted Christians (and Republicans! gasp!) are at fault and have to be taught a lesson. And as much as I have enjoyed King’s books in the past, this one just became deadly dull. It’s like the last 15 years of American politics have sucked all the creativity out of him. I stuck it out to the end of the book because it was short and the plot featured a Thanksgiving Turkey Trot (I was reading it the day after I finished my own race). But if it had been 400 pages instead of 150, there’s no way I would have kept going. Life’s too short for preachy, holier-than-thou fiction, gang–no matter who’s writing it.

ESV Reader’s Bible: Gospels and Acts / Epistles and Revelation: I’m happy to announce that, for the first time in my life, I have read the entire Bible within a calendar year. I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to do this! What a blessing it is! As I’ve said before, I loved the format of the ESV Reader’s Bible, as well as the tactile pleasure of using it–the volumes felt wonderful to handle and read. The hardest part of reading the New Testament in a “reader’s Bible” format, sans chapter-and-verse designations, was that my mind kept trying to find its place and recognize where I was in each book. (“Okay, that’s the beginning of Chapter 5… There’s Chapter 6…”) I don’t think you can be too familiar with the New Testament, but that familiarity became a bit of a distraction from the reading itself. I’ll also admit that my excitement to finish sometimes caused me to read too quickly; more than once, I had to go back and pick up the thread because I realized I was just running my eyes over the lines and not really taking it in. Now that I have finished the Reader’s Bible read-through, I’ve started back at Genesis, using a Spurgeon Study Bible with the CSB translation. Suffice it to say, the experience is still great but VERY different, and I’m trying to go much more slowly and soak up all I can!

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That should get us caught up to speed. Hope you found one or two books above that you want to check out yourself! I’ll keep you posted on any books I finish by the end of the year, as well as my complete 2018 reading list, in a future post!

Your Turn: Have you read any good books this fall? Share your recommendations/reviews in the comments!

I’m already starting to build my reading list for 2019, and would love to hear your suggestions!

#FridayFive: 5 Favorite Tabletop Games Currently on Our Shelf

We’re gonna mix it up for this month’s #FridayFive’s, so instead of links to Medium posts, I wanted to share some of my favorite “Fives.” Enjoy!

Until around 6 years ago, my table-top game experience was mostly limited to the usual suspects: Monopoly, Risk, chess, maybe a few others. Some friends tried to teach me Settlers of Catan once, but I became overwhelmed by the rules and, to no one’s surprise, got destroyed by the other players. However, the discovery of a board-game cafe during a weekend trip to the coast opened up a new world to me, and I discovered a love for table-top games: board games, card games, dice games (sometimes…), strategy and deception games, even party games. I was hooked.

Now, board games are part of our holidays, vacations, and family gatherings. We are always trying to introduce our friends and family to more of our favorite games, hoping to inspire the same level of enjoyment.

Like any hobby, board games can be addictive and expensive when you’re trying to build your collection. There are lots of games we don’t own or haven’t played yet, and I feel a small twinge of jealousy when I see other players’ “shelfies.” Nevertheless, we are slowly growing our collection, while at the same time trying to play regularly the games we currently own (using the “10×10 Board Game Challenge,” a strategy I first heard about here).

So here are 5 games from our collection that I love playing as often as I can:

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Star Realms

Star Realms is a 2-player “deck builder” game with a space-battle theme. Each player has his or her own player deck, and you can “purchase” new cards and use the combination of the cards in each hand you draw to attack your opponent and/or complete objectives. Because a lot of our game playing is on “date night,” my wife and I love games that are either designed for 2 players or can be played easily with just 2 players. This is one that I had to convince my wife to try (she wasn’t jazzed about the theme), but she enjoys the competitive nature of the one-on-one format. The only downside is that the length of each game varies widely, so it could be 10 minutes or an hour to finish, depending on which cards you draw. I would also recommend investing in some of the expansion packs, like the mission objective cards, so that that you can achieve victory without always needing to grind down your opponent’s defenses. That said, Star Realms is a pretty light deck-builder and easy to learn, even if you’re not familiar with that style of game.

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Lost Cities

If you weren’t convinced that I’m a nerd already, this will do it. Lost Cities is another 2-player game with a thin veneer of “adventurer/explorer” theming plastered over what is essentially a math and probability game. The strategy of this game is to gauge the risk of “embarking on a new expedition” versus your ability to collect and play enough cards (in ascending order from 2 to 10) to offset the “cost.” So there’s a lot of “Should I discard this one now, or wait to see if a lower card in that suit comes up soon?” This game, like most of the ones on this list, can be played either diplomatically or in a cut-throat-style. You have the option, if you are so inclined, of discarding cards that your opponent needs to help them avoid disaster, or hoarding them like a dragon until the end of the round and laughing maniacally about keeping the other player from breaking even. (If you don’t want to sleep on the couch, you know which path to choose.)

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Splendor

Splendor is a set-collection, point-scoring game in which each player is a jewel merchant acquiring and trading sets of jewels for even greater treasures, with the goal of reaching 15 victory points first. The trick to this game is you really have to plan several moves in advance, without giving away to the other players which gems you are saving up to acquire, so they don’t swipe them first. My wife is VERY good at this, while I tend toward tunnel vision and quickly find myself way behind. Nevertheless, I like the strategy of this game. No two plays are the same, since the jewels in the “market” are randomly-drawn cards. If you like strategy games like chess, Splendor is worth a try.

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Tikal

Tikal is a territory-control game for up to 4 players. Each player controls an expedition of explorers traveling through a Central American jungle, discovering ancient tombs and collecting artifacts. (And if it’s okay with you, let’s just acknowledge and table the unavoidable discussion about the game’s colonialist theme.) The game has a built-in timing element, so that points are calculated only at certain intervals. This requires the players to be mindful of what sections of the map they control, so that they can maximize their point totals when these scoring rounds come up. Tikal is considered a classic (it was released almost 20 years ago!), and my wife found an open but unused copy at a thrift store for $2–still her best thrifting find to date. It plays just fine with 2 players (if I use the same “play nice” overlay I mentioned with Lost Cities!), but having more players totally changes the dynamic, as each player is elbowing for more territory.

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Pandemic

I love this game, y’all. I love it. But I think it’s a little broken for me now. Let me explain.

Pandemic is a cooperative game for up to 4 players, as you work together to find the cures to 4 viruses spreading around the globe before the “timer” (one of the game’s 2 card decks) runs out and it’s too late. Everyone wins and loses together, so it’s in the best interest of the players to cooperate, each using their character’s unique skill to collect sets of cards to discover each virus’s “cure.” While the cooperative gameplay can be mucked up by one player trying to quarterback everyone’s turn, if your group can find the right balance of making suggestions and shutting your yap, it works just fine.

This game can be extremely hard, depending on whether you get a tough deal of the cards. There are “epidemic” events scattered throughout the player deck that ratchet up the game’s difficulty level as you progress. It’s incredibly intense and stressful and a whole lot of fun.

In the last few years, Z-Man Games has released 2 “seasons” of Pandemic: Legacy. “Legacy” games are a relatively new animal in table-top gaming. In “Legacy” games, every play-through fundamentally changes the components and play of the game itself, so that you can’t play it the same way again. In Pandemic: Legacy, you play through a set “storyline” over the course of 12-24 plays, and new challenges and twists are revealed all along the way. It’s incredibly fun and makes the game that much more challenging. I’ve played through Season 1 of Pandemic: Legacy with friends, and I have to admit, going back to “vanilla” Pandemic is a bit of a let-down now. That said, whenever I have the chance to introduce someone new to the game, I always do it, because it will definitely make a lasting impression.

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I suspect that these games will be in heavy rotation at our house over the holidays. If you’ve never played them before, I recommend checking them out!

You can find lots of great board game resources online, including reviews, videos, and information about game cafes in your local area. (One of my favorite board game sites is Art of Boardgaming–if you stop by, tell them The4thDave sent ya!)

Your TurnWhat are YOUR favorite table-top games? Are there any you haven’t played yet but are dying to try? Do you have any questions about the games I’ve mentioned above?

Let me know in the comments!

The4thDave Reads: The Wingfeather Saga, by Andrew Peterson

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, by Andrew Peterson
North! Or Be Eaten, by Andrew Peterson
The Monster in the Hollows, by Andrew Peterson
The Warden and the Wolf King, by Andrew Peterson
Wingfeather Tales, by various authors (edited by Andrew Peterson)

(You can find all these books here! And that’s not an affiliate link, either; I get nothing from it. I would just love for you to support these writers!)

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Friends, I’ve been waiting for months to tell you about this series of stories!

Here’s the Backstory: It’s become a family roadtrip tradition for my wife and I to check out a few audiobooks from the library before we travel. So, back in March, as we prepared to head east to visit my in-laws, I happened to see that the first book in the Wingfeather series (On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness) was available on audio. I had heard that Peterson was a good writer, so I decided to take a chance on it.

Y’all, I was not disappointed. 

We finished the first book just before we arrived at our destination, and were eager to keep going, but the audio of North! Or Be Eaten wasn’t available for download. Thank the providence and generosity of God, we stumbled upon a used (and signed!) copy of Book 2 at a second-hand book shop there in town, for less than $2! By the time we had arrived home, we had begun asking friends from church if we could borrow the others, and eventually were each able to finish reading the series proper. A few months after that, I read Wingfeather Tales, a collection of short stories and novellas by multiple authors that take place “in-universe,” and was again surprised by how vivid and powerful these stories are. What a delight it is to visit the world of these books!

Enough Build-up! What’s The Series About, Dave?

I’ll try to give you just enough, because I’d hate to spoil any of it. So, here’s a bare-bones description:

The Land of Aerwear (sounds like “There we are!”) lies under the scourge of invasion and occupation, as the vile forces of Gnag the Nameless have crossed the Dark Sea of Darkness and now hold the people of Skree and surrounding lands under their scaly thumbs. It’s said that Gnag won’t rest until he finds the legendary Jewels of Anniera. Bands of sinister Fangs holds sway in the villages and lanes as an occupying force, and only the grown folks can remember a time before, when the true kings and queens reigned from the Shining Isle of Anniera. Meanwhile, a trio of siblings (Janner, Tink, and Leeli Igiby) are doing their best to stay out of trouble and avoid any tussles with the Fangs, so as not to worry their dear mama or Grandpa Podo.

But this is a fantasy-adventure story, so you can expect that trouble is about to find them, and turn their world upside down. Though they don’t realize it, theirs is a story of monsters and dragons, battles and intrigue, magic and mystery, prophecies and bloodlines, heartache and courage.

And that’s about all I can tell you safely.

So, You Liked It, Then?

I’ve said this a few times, and I think I still stand by it: in terms of world-building, storytelling, plot, and heart, I think The Wingfeather Saga surpasses even the sainted Narnia books. 

That’s right, I said it. Yell at me in the comments, if you want.

Peterson masterfully combines the rich world-building of Tolkien with the child-like accessibility of Lewis. While he may not have gone as far as to create entire languages for his story, he does develop a bizarre and playful assortment of flora and fauna to inhabit this world he has created. In some ways, it’s a bit similar to J.K. Rowling’s use of details and description to flesh out the world that her characters inhabit. The result is an immersive reading experience.

These are perfect books for families to read together. They are written in short, punchy chapters (perfect for bedtime stories, I would think). The dialogue is crisp, the characters are well-developed, and while there are some plot elements that can be predicted, others will absolutely surprise you. It may be a touch too scary for small kids, but perfect for grade school and up.

Another excellent quality of these books are the Christian allusions and subtext that is present but not preachy, artful rather than artificial. These are unquestionably Christian stories, but they are not evangelistic in nature–and that is in no way a back-handed compliment. The Wingfeather books aren’t allegories with 1:1 theological correlations; they’re fantasy books that are grounded on Deep Truths, which shine brightly if you have the eyes to see them.

My Recommendation

If you’ve never read these books, here’s my recommendation: Take the leap and buy the full set. Just trust me on this. Make it a Christmas present to yourself or someone you love.

If you have fond memories of Middle-Earth, Narnia, or Hogwarts, I think you will love sailing the Dark Sea of Darkness (watch out for dragons!), skulking around Digtown, or tromping through the Green Hollows. In fact, I suspect you’ll want to revisit this world again and again. (And once you have enjoyed the series, go back and read Wingfeather Tales, which acts as a sort of Silmarillion to the main story.)

I can’t say enough good things about these books. Go check ’em out.

 

 

One More “Thank You”: To the Kindness Ninja, Donna G.

Social media is weird, y’all. It’s tribal and loud and angry and strange, and it’s easy for peaceful, fun interactions to turn suddenly hurtful and frustrating. You have to develop a bit of thick skin and expect to be misunderstood and misrepresented from time to time. It’s easy to become jaded and cynical in your social media interactions.

I don’t remember how I “met” Donna G. No doubt, she found me or I found her through a mutual Twitter follow, but somehow, we were connected. I don’t know much about her. She loves her kids (grandkids?). She loves her Florida Gators. And she was a genuinely kind person.

She constantly tagged people in #FollowFriday posts, and would pull you into group-tweets with 15 or so people to wish you a “Happy Wednesday!” (Have you ever been part of a neverending “Stop-replying-all!” email thread? It’s a little like that.) I have to admit, there were times that I would get a little annoyed when my Twitter mentions would blow up because Donna tagged me on one of those threads, but I never once asked her to stop. I always appreciated it. And I would always try to respond to her (and to her only!) to say thanks.

Donna often asked about my daughter and even asked for pictures. That would be weird, normally, coming from someone I’ve never met. But it made sense coming from Donna. She was like a sweet aunt you don’t ever get to visit, but who tries to stay in touch. So I would DM her a pic now and then of me and my toddler, and she would ooh and aah over how cute she is or how big she’s getting.

Donna’s whole persona, her whole thing on Twitter, was “The Kindness Ninja.” No matter what was going on, you could always count on Donna to share a word of Scripture, an encouragement, a funny GIF, or just a “Have a great day!” She was a singular figure, a bright light in a very hazy medium.

I found out tonight that Donna passed away. I don’t know the circumstances (not sure if she had some sort of lingering illness or if it was sudden). But I have to admit, it’s really hitting me for some reason.

Tomorrow has been declared a Day of Mourning in Texas for the passing of the late President George H.W. Bush. Well, meaning no disrespect to the president, I’ll be mourning the loss of Donna.

I never had the privilege of meeting her in this life. I honestly don’t think I could pick her photo out of a line-up. But her sweet heart, her shining kindness, was and is unmistakable.

Enjoy your reward, Donna. Drink deep of the joy of your Master, and rejoice before Him. One bright day, beyond the River, I look forward to hugging your neck and introducing you to my family.

Thank you, dear Donna, for your kindness. In your daily graces, you have blessed and changed so many of us. We thank God for you.

–Dave

What’s Next? (My 3-Step Plan)

black vintage typewriter
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Happy December, friends!

After finishing #30ThankYous in November, I have to admit, I’m feeling a bit of pressure to top that with something even bigger. But that’s totally bonkers and just not feasible at this point in my life.

Instead, I’d like to use some of that energy and momentum to make this site better than ever, heading into the new year. So, how can we do that?

Step #1 is Consistency. This was the beauty of the #30ThankYous project in November–it forced me to publish on a daily basis (albeit imperfectly so!). And while it wasn’t the home run I was hoping, you know what? I posted 22 out of the the 30 days. I’m proud of that, folks. Because in recent years, it would have taken me months to post that many times. And while I’m not going to keep up this blistering, Challies-like pace, I can see now how a 3-posts-a-week process is a very realistic goal. So that’s what I will be shooting for, starting this week.

Step #2 is Content. According to my internal metrics, you folks really enjoy book reviews and Bible discussion, so I’m going to make those weekly features for the next several months. Along with that, I’ll keep posting the #FridayFive, but starting this week, I’m going to mix in some themed “top-five” style lists to mix it up a bit.  I may even post some fiction or poetry here or there throughout the year. No matter what, my goal is to produce content worth reading, posts that matter to you and bless you for having read them. The best way that you can help me be successful in that is by telling me which posts are actually helpful to you, so that I know I’m on the right track. Which brings me to Step #3.

Step #3 is Conversation. Here’s where I make my big ask: I want to interact with you more. Along with producing interesting and helpful content in the coming years, my plan is to be more intentional about posting questions for discussion and responding to your comments. These days, I think most of us are really uncomfortable and anxious about interacting with ANYONE online, and hey, I completely understand that. But I would love to create a forum on this site to talk through ideas and provide suggestions and feedback. So I’m inviting you to engage with posts, interact with me and each other, and join the conversation. I welcome your comments–even your critical ones. (My only request is that you keep things respectful and watch your language.) More conversation may make this a richer experience for all of us.

I look forward to hearing from you!

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Your Turn: Three posts a week means I need some great ideas STAT. So what would you like to talk about? Is there any topic you’d like me to address? Let me know in the comments!

#30ThankYous: Day 30

To the Giver of all good gifts, the immortal, invisible, only-wise God,

To the Creator of all that is, sustainer of all that exists, designer of atoms and architect of galaxies,

To the thrice-Holy Lord of Hosts, robed in majesty, shrouded in transcendence, thundering in might,

To God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit, three-in-one, fully and indivisibly God,

To the Father who created me and chose me before the foundation of the world, numbering my days in His book before one even began,

To the Shepherd who called me, the Savior who redeemed me, the King who rules me, and the Brother who sympathizes with my weakness, yet is without sin,

To the Spirit who speaks through His flawless and perfect Word, convicting me of sin, indwelling and sanctifying me, bearing the guarantee of my inheritance in Christ Jesus,

To my Lord and God, the author of my salvation, gracious giver of gifts, and loving Father of a grateful people,

Be endless and heartfelt thanksgiving for all His mighty works, all His tender mercies, all His generous and bountiful blessings, and most of all, His all-satisfying Self, the source of joy and contentment.

Of all the many gifts you have given, the things I take for granted, the trinkets and trifles I over-prize, the graces I fail to recognize, You oh Lord are the One Gift I should cherish first, most, and only. For it is only in you that I can appreciate rightly all these many blessings You have provided. Give me eyes to see Your hand in all these joys, and let me not rest until I look beyond them to worship You.

Amen, amen, amen.

#30ThankYous “Day 29”: H.

Beloved,

I don’t know how to begin, really. You are my heart, my delight, my help, and my crown. You are beautiful, wise, compassionate, gentle, and strong. You pour yourself out for your family, your friends, your church, and even for strangers. No matter how tired you feel, how busy you are, how stressed you can become, you still stop and patiently care for those who need you. Every day, I’m reminded how blessed I am to be yours.

You are my favorite companion, my best friend, my muse, and my lady. I can’t remember how my daily life even functioned before you entered into it. I’ve come to rely on you for so much, and you have graciously worked alongside me and supported me.

You are creative and clever, resourceful and hard-working, wise and winsome. Your warm heart and welcoming demeanor have won the friendship and respect of so many. Though you may not believe it, you are highly-regarded among all who know you. Any one of them can attest that you, dear heart, are noble and praiseworthy.

My life has been transformed over the last 6 years of pursuing you and building a life together. I am a better man because of your influence, and I’m so deeply grateful for that.

And then, blessing upon blessing! Our daughter came along, and in her eyes, I see yours. There is so much of her personality and sweetness that I must attribute to you, beauty. She is an incredible little girl because–specifically because–you are her mother.

My prayer is that God will continue to give us many decades together. No matter where we are, no matter what our circumstances, I want to face it all with you. I wouldn’t trade you for anyone, ever.

All my heart and all my love, for the rest of my life,

Dave

US(It’s an older pic of us, but still one of my favorites!)

#30ThankYous “Day 28”: E.

My sweet baby girl,

Right now, you are in the other room with Mama, and it sounds like she’s pretending to eat you up, making loud gulping noises as she tickles you. Then, a few moments of silence, broken by your sweet voice. “Ayyooo!” It sounds like “Hiya!” and your mama responds.

There’s no way I can tell you how much joy you bring to your mother and I, every single day of your life. Even on the days when your incoming teeth are hurting and everything feels irreparably tragic, days when you shriek in anger because the cabinet door won’t open or you throw your book down because you can’t quite turn the pages, you are still a joy to my heart and bring a smile to my face.

You have transformed us, little girl. You have given us a newer, deeper understanding of God’s deep affection for His children, and you help us appreciate His mercy all the more. And as I clean up the living room after you have distributed every single toy and book you own across every square foot of it–because for goodness sake, you’re just one toddler but you make messes like an army!–I dare not complain, because it is a privilege to be your dada, no matter the messes you make. I am happy to take care of you, sweet girl.

(Now, your mama is making monster noises, and you’re giggling. Your laughter is my absolute favorite sound. There’s no music, no poem, no sound made by man that hits me quite the way your giggle does. I treasure it.)

Baby girl, I want you to know that I will do my best, with all my heart, to reflect the love of the Father to you, and in the times I fail, I pray you will show me grace. My greatest goal for your life is not riches or success or family or fame, but that you would know and love Jesus. This is my prayer for you, now and always.

You may never read this letter, but my hope is that you will feel every word of it, as I live this out before you every day.

(You’re about to head up with Mama to bed. It’s time for me to give you kisses and say goodnight. This is also an honor, and a blessing, and a joy.)

Thank you for coming into our lives, my dear. We are so thankful to be your parents.

–Dada (signing also on behalf of Mama)

DadaAndEllie

 

#30ThankYous “Day 27”: You.

Dear reader,

I have been blogging on and off since 2002. When I first started blogging, I was on the cusp of a job-and-relationship-collapse, and unfortunately the internet bore the brunt of my overblown emotions. After a while, I found my groove, I think. I talked about pop culture, church life, my feeeeeeeeelings, and other trifles. For some reason, people kept reading. (What shocks me beyond words is that some of you are still reading, after all these years!)

My online writing has evolved, as I have grown and (hopefully) matured. I’m learning how to write things that actually benefit others, rather than treating my online presence like a public diary with which to vent my spleen. Over the last few years, I’ve had more and more people follow my progress and subscribe to my site–as of yesterday, The4thDave.com is almost up to 100 followers!

Those kind of numbers don’t really move the needle for the “platform-building” gurus and social media experts. But you know what? They really matter to me.

You really matter to me, dear reader.

I want you to know that I don’t take for granted the time and attention you generously give me. I want to make sure that what I write is encouraging, inspiring, provocative, and entertaining. I want to keep growing as a writer, so that I can be a blessing to you and others through my work.

Years ago on another blog (don’t dive into the archives, it was really terrible), at one of my really low points, I wrote that the reason I blogged was to pretend that I wasn’t alone. While a good deal of that was just the self-pity and lingering break-up hangover talking, there was a glimmer of truth there. That old blog became the one “friend” who always had time for me. Praise God, life kept moving, things changed, I grew up quite a bit, and my heart has healed. Now, my life is full of people I love who love me. Blogging isn’t a lifeline or a drug; it’s a joy and a responsibility. It’s a gift that I can give to others, and a gift that they–you–give to me.

So thank you, dear reader. Thanks for giving me and this blog a chance. Thanks for being patient when my posting schedule has been erratic at best (or, more often, non-existent). Thanks for supporting my work here. Thanks for sharing my posts, and interacting in the comments. Thanks for just being there.

I plan on doing this for a long while, Lord-willing. I’m looking forward to sharing the adventure with you.

Your friend,

Dave