Zen and the Art of Lawn Maintenance.

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Keeping the Stable Clean

An idea I keep coming back to in my thought process (and something I’m pretty sure I’ve discussed here to some degree) is the fact that for many people in the “knowledge work” fields (a.k.a. cubicle cowboys and work-from-home warriors like me), we spend our days trying to empty an inbox or work queue that keeps being refilled constantly.

This means that we a) never really reach a finish line so much as we just run until time runs out at the end of the day (and often beyond); and b) unless we intentionally build a system to do so, we never really see a finished product or evidence of our efforts, the way someone with a physical/mechanical/creative vocation may get to do so.

Our work is more along the lines of Proverbs 14:4 – “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” In other words, if you want to bring in a harvest, you’re gonna have to shovel an endless supply of “ox-pies.”

That’s how it feels sometimes when I look at my work queues and inbox: an endless supply of ox-pies.

And this is a good thing: I am abundantly aware that I have a great job, I make a good living to take care of my family and other obligations, and I don’t begrudge any of that. I’m thankful for how God has given me the strength and the skill to be able to support my family with my mind instead of my muscles.

But the downside of this is that I spend what seem like endless hours–as much as half of my waking life–staring at a screen and typing on a keyboard, responding, editing, filing, uploading. And at the end of the day, the screen seems just as full, or if it’s not, it will be by the time I sit down the next day.

I suspect my wife feels the same way, because even in the physical work of managing our home and caring for our daughters, she faces the same prospect endless “ox-pies”–sometimes in the form of actual dirty diapers (or puddles on the floor), as well as dirty dishes, cast-about toys and books, piles of laundry, and any number of other messes that get cleaned up in order to get dirty again almost instantly.

But while the endless loop of clean-up and reset is the same, there’s a subtle difference: when I wash a sink of dishes and wipe down the counters at the end of the day, I actually see progress, even if the progress is short-lived. I enjoy seeing that difference.

That’s why I both hate and love mowing my yard.

Welcome to the Jungle

We’re renting our current house–the second house I’ve rented as an adult after a decade of apartments as a single. At our previous house, I was only responsible for maintaining the backyard, which had the square-footage of a back bedroom. I could cut the grass with a weed-eater.

Our current yard has a huge (or, normal-sized for a suburban home) front yard and a much bigger back yard. My kids love it–plenty of room to run around and play and set up all kinds of toys and climbing structures. But now, halfway through our first summer at this location, I’m exhausted by how quickly the grass grows.

I really have two choices: mow it every 4-5 days (which is a bit tricky because where we are, we have gotten summer showers almost daily for the last month), or let it grow until a day when it’s convenient to me to mow it, which means our house looks like *that* house on the block and I can only mow a few feet at a time before having to clear the blades of the mulched grass. Also, it’s nearly 100 degrees. It takes a lot.

Yet with all that–the mowing, the edging, the heatstroke–the adage that is so often applied to writing fits here: I hate mowing. I love having mown.

When you push a lawnmower, it feels tedious; around and around and around the perimeter of the grass you go (unless you’re insane and use some sort of back-and-forth approach…weirdo). But even as it seems tedious, you’re making progress that can be seen. The rectangle of uncut grass gets smaller. The ground you just crossed shows an instant change. Once you go over the edges of the sidewalks with the edger, the soft lines of green become crisp around the concrete paths. Clippings are swept (at least back onto the yard where they somewhat blend in; I’m not THAT committed to perfection). The home looks more cared for. It feels a bit like the mandate that God gave Adam in the Garden of Eden: to keep it and cultivate it. Make it fruitful. Bring order to chaos.

I’m not a “lawn” guy; I don’t obsess on such things. If I didn’t absolutely have to do it, I wouldn’t usually give my lawn a single thought. But after cutting the grass, cleaning up the edges of the sidewalks, and sweeping the clippings away, I pass by the front windows a little more often for the first few days, just to admire my handiwork. It never looks perfect; I’m not going to win any Yard of the Month awards from the HOA. But it’s satisfying to be able to look at it and think, “I did that. That’s the difference I made.” If my wife doesn’t comment on the lawn enough (and really, why should she?), I’ll fish for compliments by saying, unprompted, “Yep, the lawn looks a lot better.” She’ll usually humor me and agree.

Maybe it comes down to this: I like being able to see that my strain and sweat and toil has produced something and made a difference in the world around me. And I like it when those closest to me can see it and appreciate it too. In my current job, it feels like I just go into my office, tap on a computer for 9 or 10 hours, and walk out (sometimes later), and nothing much seems to change, and then I get money deposited into my bank account twice a month. I’m a cog in a very important machine that helps sick people get well, but this cog only gets to see the gears on either side of him turn; he doesn’t get to see what happens down the line.

I dunno. Maybe I just need to stop overthinking things.

But I also need to mow my yard today, so I guess it’s just on my mind.

(No, I’m not using this post to procrastinate until it rains, shut up.)

No matter how small.

My friend Michael Coughlin put out the call on Twitter this morning to folks in Texas that the Texas legislature will soon be considering bills that limit and/or outlaw abortion. He encouraged any friends who are against the scourge of abortion to submit comments that would be part of the public record and provided to the legislators.

As I’ve discussed in the past, I am thoroughly and unwaveringly convinced that abortion is evil, that it is the premeditated murder of a human being, and that it should not exist. So naturally, I was happy to lend my voice to the proceedings, as a citizen of the great state of Texas. I’ve included these comments below, so that I’m fully “on the record” on this subject.

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Good morning. I’m writing to encourage and exhort my representatives to take a stand and make Texas a state that affirms the value and dignity of human life from the moment of conception.

The unborn child is a unique human being, with her own unique DNA, distinct from her parents’. She is not a blob of tissue or a mere collection of cells. From the moment of conception, the unborn child’s cells are totipotent, carrying within themselves the complete blueprints to develop into a fully-formed human being, if given the time, nutrition, and protection necessary. In time, the child will develop her own nervous system, internal organs, blood type, fingerprints. All of the hallmarks of a unique and precious individual are there in the womb within the space of mere weeks. If we claim to be a society that “believes in science” and affirms the inherent rights of human beings, then it is hypocritical to dismiss the scientific reality of an unborn child’s humanity at any stage of development or to allow the decisions of others to make the life of that unborn child discardable.

As a unique human being, each unborn child has been endowed by his or her Creator with inalienable rights recognized under the United States Constitution, including the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. To allow the mother or another individual to make the decision to end the life of that child denies those rights. Not only is such a premeditated act of violence tantamount to murder, ending the life of a distinct human being, but it is a clear instance of social injustice. If Texas is going to be a state that protects the rights of its citizens, it must begin doing so at the very earliest stage of existence.

Finally, I call on my state government to recognize that every unborn child, no matter the circumstances of their conception, is made in the image of Almighty God. From the moment of conception, they have been knit together in their mothers’ wombs, intricately woven in secret, as the Psalmist poetically described it. Every person is an image bearer of God, no matter their age, stage of development, level of ability or disability, ethnicity, economic circumstances, sex, or location. Every person deserves dignity and respect. Every person has the God-given right to be born.

It is the duty of this state and its leaders to protect and defend the rights of its citizens against injustice and premeditated violence. Friends, we have failed to do so when it comes to our youngest, most innocent, and most vulnerable citizens. I plead with you, in the name of Jesus Christ, to consider this, and to ask yourself if we really want to be a people that denies the basic humanity of others, and treats human beings like objects to be owned or discarded at the whim of another. May it not be so. May it never be so in the state of Texas.

Thank you for your time and attention. Know that I and my family will be praying for you.

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I know this is a challenging subject with a lot of strong feelings on both sides. You may disagree with me, and you may even be upset about this. If you’re willing and able to discuss the issue in the comments, I’m happy to engage in good faith. (As always, just don’t be a jerk.) So I’m leaving the com-box open for now. Thanks.

Playing Life-craft.

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I have to admit: I miss playing video games regularly.

I used to play video games for hours, back in my youth and even well into my 20’s. I had buddies who did the same; it’s just what lots of single guys do.

It’s not surprising: there is an allure to video games for young men. (Note, I’m not saying this is *exclusive* to young men; but I can only speak authoritatively on that particular demographic for obvious reasons.) Video games can provide clear quests to complete, goals to accomplish (often with a “roadmap” or skill-tree providing logical next-steps), and small-scale challenges to overcome that teach skills and techniques to completing larger or more complicated challenges. Video games, especially current generation games that play like interactive novels or feature films, wrap the player up in an involving drama or thrilling adventure. If your life feels a little on the dull side, or you feel like you’re in a rut and can’t get traction, video games provide escapism and the opportunity for excitement and even personal fulfillment. If you don’t have a lot of influence or accomplishment in your real day-to-day life, it can be tempting to lose yourself in another life with a different set of circumstances in which you feel more in control.

On top of that, successes or accomplishments are easy. Not to say that there isn’t skill in the pattern recognition, strategic approach, or quick-twitch hand-eye coordination involved in melee battles or speed run completions. But you’re typically not breaking a sweat, challenging your physical limits, or risking anything tangible. Your successes and dangers exist only within the plastic or metal box that contains the world of the game. It’s a taste of adventure within a controlled environment where nothing is truly lost.

(I’m half-tempted to compare the level of “accomplishment” achieved in video games to what I do every day in my knowledge-worker-based field, but the prospect is entirely too depressing.)

I’m dangerously close to slipping over into “old man yells at cloud” territory, so let me be clear: I’m not critiquing gamers or gaming. If I get a spare half-hour, I’ll pop on my SNES classic and play a few Mario levels until my kids get antsy that their cartoons aren’t on. I even enjoy watching certain Youtubers stream “let’s play” videos where they work through a video game campaign for hours and hours, chatting and joking the whole time. The experience reminds me of middle- and high-school sleepovers with buddies in which we played games until the wee hours, buzzed on soda and pizza rolls.

But the subconscious danger of video games may be that they can condition us to seek out low-effort wins that don’t cost us anything real.

Building vs. Button-mashing

I spent hours last year watching a gamer on Youtube play through Minecraft, an immensely popular “sandbox” game with no set level path that invites players to explore, build, create, and just have fun in the retro-looking, blocky digital environment. As I watched this guy explore, dig, and build, I thought, That looks like so much fun. I should get this game. But as I thought about playing that game, I realized that I could actually do some of the things I was seeing on screen already, no download required.

The player was crafting shelves, gathering resources, building a house, exploring the woods. I could learn to do all of those things in real space and time, if I really wanted to. But I don’t really want to do those things, because they’re hard. I like easy. But easy doesn’t create anything worth having.

I’m reminded of my old friend Trevor. He’s put together an adventurous and unique life for himself that seems perfectly suited to him: he plays bass guitar in a rock band, he works hard as a contractor/builder, he hikes mountains, he travels to other continents, and he has a great dog. He’s a bit of a nomad, but he’s worked hard to fashion a real life in the real world. (If you’re on Instagram, you should give him a look. Tell him Dave says hi!)

And point-of-fact, my own life is richly blessed. I have a beautiful family, a great church, a steady job that I’m actually pretty good at, and outlets like this one to write and interact with others.

Perhaps what I need from time to time is an “analog project” (as Cal Newport might describes it) to challenge me to create or accomplish something in actual space and time, away from the digital world.

So I raked leaves.

So. Many. Leaves.

There are these big live-oak trees in our neighborhood that have been here for decades. After the recent freeze, the one that shades over most of my yard finally dropped a massive number of leaves. There were drifts of leaves in my yard and driveway, the way some northern cities would accumulate snow.

The grass in my front yard was also becoming overgrown. I don’t own a lawnmower yet (never needed one before moving into this house), and with the baby coming about a month after move-in, buying a lawnmower just wasn’t a priority. But last Friday, I looked at the sad state of my yard and said, “Enough is enough.”

I spent hours raking leaves and cutting my grass with a battery-powered trimmer/weed-eater, sweeping my arms back and forth, stopping to change battery packs and then charge the spent ones. I filled 9 contractor-sized bags with leaves. Every time the wind gusted, a cascade of several dozen leaves would fall from the branches above onto the places I had just raked. I had to keep telling myself it wouldn’t be perfect, but it would be better. I was making more order where there used to be chaos.

Finally, the task was “done.” There are still leaves in the yard and the driveway, but the front of my house looks cared-for again. I was wiped out and sore, with scratched and blistered hands, but I actually accomplished something tangible. I can look out the window and see my work and say, “good.”

I may not have a list of amazing accomplishments or an instagram-worthy life. But I have sore muscles and a clean yard, with a house full of babies and a wife that I adore. I don’t need a video game to tell me that I just tallied a personal-best high score.

If you’re in a bit of a rut, and you need to score a “win,” let me challenge you: don’t pick up the video game controller or computer headset just yet. Go outside and rake some leaves. Shovel some snow. Clean up that room or closet that you’ve been shoving random stuff in for months.

Step into “chaos” and create a little bit of order. Make a small difference somewhere. It’ll do you good.

(And then game on, if that’s your thing.)

“BABY #3 has entered the chat.”

Hobbit ears! As often as she eats, I shouldn’t be surprised.

Sorry for the radio silence, gang. We’ve had some stuff going on.

The big good news was that Daughter #3 has joined the party! She was born on March 1st and is much adored by everyone in the house, including her 2 sisters. Going from 2 children to 3 has been a bit of a bump in level difficulty (as one dad joked, it’s like switching from man-to-man to zone coverage), but we’re getting the hang of it. The biggest challenge is just fatigue, because it seems like everyone is on different schedules and all need increased attention. Plus, my two older girls have decided to start getting up earlier in the morning, which means I’m on AM duty. All the more reason to get consistent sleep and choose a better diet, because we need all the energy we can to keep up with these three.

It smelled bad outside…

The other big event of the last month was an ongoing plumbing issue at our house finally got resolved. Our rental (built in the 1950’s) had an old concrete sewer line connected to the city water. The passage of time, the strain of the recent freezes, and just the strain of a bigger family living here caused the line finally to give out, meaning our outgoing water (and whatever was in it) ended up seeping into our backyard. Fun. Because of the heavy workload for plumbers in my metro area (with so many folks still needing repair from freeze damage), it took a while to get the crew here to fix the issue. Let’s just say we had to pick our spots for bathroom breaks during the day, just to make sure everything kept moving.

Thankfully, the home owner and property manager were on top of things and ready to get the issue addressed. The crew dug up our backyard and replaced the line, and we stayed in a hotel for a couple days while the work was being done. I’m happy to report that we’re back in our house and everything seems to be good to go (so to speak).

Side note: Let me make a quick plug here for the Drury Inn and Suites (#NotSponsored). The beds were really comfortable, and even the sleeper-sofa bed wasn't half-bad. But the thing that stuck with me was that the stay felt almost "normal." Our local Drury Inn not only was the only hotel I found in the area that still served hot breakfast (in a very Covid-safe way, with a server in a plexiglass cage), but also a hot dinner buffet! Plus, the pool was open at limited capacity. I don't know about y'all, but staying in a hotel with functional amenities felt a little bit like pre-Covid normal life. Don't get me wrong; all the Covid-era accoutrements were there (mask requirements in public spaces, distanced tables, little dots on the floor to stand on). But this is the first time I've stayed in a hotel in the past year in which it actually felt closer to life before we even knew the word "coronavirus." And that's a HUGE thing. So suffice it to say, Drury is going to be my first choice for all hotel stays in the near future. If you're looking for a hotel or planning a getaway, I think you need to give them a good look.

All in all, it’s been a busy month, but I’m excited to get back to posting more consistently. Thanks for sticking around, and I’ll look forward to sharing more with you soon. Later!

My valentine.

This weekend, I was reminded of several reasons why I adore my wife.

  • We’re about to have our 3rd daughter in a few weeks. You hear stories about crazed, hormonal pregnant women–not my wife. Not that she doesn’t get frustrated–she does, certainly–but other than a few times when the kiddos have driven her to her very last nerve, she has been incredibly easy-going and even-keeled. She’s flexible when things get frustrating, she’s gentle with irrational toddler behavior, and she’ll even remind me (in an undeservedly kind way) when I need to take a few minutes alone to pray and get my head right.
  • We moved into a new rental within the last month (the pic above was our first family meal in the new place–a Chick-fil-A “picnic” in the living room). The house is 70 years old, and we didn’t realize before we moved in that it had quite a few “kirks” (an accident portmanteau she coined–character + quirks). The doors and windows hang slightly crooked, the floors are uneven, the house has clearly been “repaired” often by folks who aren’t exactly professional-grade, the cold gets in, the water pressure’s weak, etc. etc. etc. But my beloved wife doesn’t complain or moan; she makes the best of it. She calls it an adventure. She comes up with reasons why she really likes the house every time I do my “Mr. Stormcloud” routine about something going wrong. Her optimism buoys my spirits.
  • On Saturday night, I was sharing with her some doubts I had about my ministry and concerns about my spiritual walk, and she had the wisdom to ask good, probing questions and make some direct but gracious observations. Rather than hammering me for my weaknesses or blindspots, she held up the mirror of Scripture to me. Then she took the extra step later that night of encouraging me to address those issues, but did so in a manner that was supportive and gentle. We ended the evening watching a sermon together and she looked over and said, “I’m really thankful you’re my husband.” She sees me in a way no one else does, and rather than attack or nitpick, she nutures and binds up.
  • Today, as our coastal southern city faces a wildly bitter and cold arctic blast, and some of our pipes (specifically the two bath/shower pipes) have frozen, my sweetheart doesn’t complain or pitch a fit. She takes some pitchers and carries hot water from the kitchen to the bathtub, like we’re in one of her British period-piece TV shows. When I mumble apologies for the weather (and my foolish mistake of not checking for a hidden third exterior water pipe!), she just laughed. “It’s fine, babe! I’ve dealt with worse. Besides, this is so much easier in this one-story house than it would have been in our last one! We’re good.” Seriously, who responds like that? My wife. That’s who.

I don’t deserve this woman, y’all. I don’t deserve the wisdom, the encouragement, or the joy that she brings. I’m profoundly thankful that she is my wife, that she’s the mother of and model for my girls, and that she’s the one I get to spend my years with. I didn’t get married until my 30’s (which doesn’t sound old to most people but for me was an eternity), but I’m so, so thankful that God protected me from many other relationship mistakes before I met my wife. She was worth the wait, a thousand times over, and the last almost-7-years of marriage have been a delight. May God grant us 50 more.

I praise my God for you, my darling, my bride; you are worth more than rubies, exquisite and beyond compare. You hold my heart in your hands; you steal my breath with your eyes. You bring honor and joy to me, instead of bitterness and shame. Your name is prized and honorable, and all who know you are blessed. For your good and your joy, I pledge all my strength and meager fortune and remaining days, if only for the privilege of holding your clever hands and being your companion until the day you enter the Great City of our King.

Happy Valentine’s Day, beloved.

Watching the Super Bowl with Toddlers.

Photo by Fabricio Trujillo on Pexels.com

Sunday evening felt like a bit of a fiasco in my house.

Super Bowl Sunday is one of those cultural events I look forward to, less for the teams playing in it (neither of whom are the one I cheered for all year) as much as for the pageantry, the commercials, and the joy of friends and feasting. I have been to several parties over the years, large and small, in which I enjoyed lots of food (all bad for me but so tasty), talked to lots of friends, and generally had a great time.

When we got married and began having kids, the experience shifted. When our firstborn was an infant, we stayed home and watched the game, which was great. I was comfortable–my house, my couch, my remote, no problem. We had chicken strips and nachos, and it was low-key and cool. When we had a young toddler and an infant, it was still pretty good. We hung out at the house of another family with small kids, made our exit during halftime, and were able to enjoy some of the game. No big deal.

This year was a different story.

Like many folks this year, we decided to pass on a big crowd, so our “party” consisted of my wife and I and two rambunctious toddlers who reminded me of certain college buddies on a beer binge: spilling their food everywhere, knocking each other over (and into me), jumping onto the couch (and onto me), yelling, crying, spitting (?!?), and generally doing their darnedest to make sure I saw as little of the game as possible.

The living room was a wasteland of food fragments and crumbs, in a stunningly small amount of time. The food was delicious as always (my wife is a great cook)–but I had to watch out for little grabby hands snatching at my plate. CBS played their creepy “Clarice” promo ad about 47 times, so I kept having to jump at the remote to switch channels before my children were emotionally scarred. By halftime, I was working up a full-on pout. This was not the Super Bowl experience I had hoped for.

Near the end of the first half, I chose not to get up right away to help my wife with the bedtime routine. Instead, I sulked in the living room for a little while, watching the halftime show, sipping on a soft drink, before finally succumbing to the guilty feelings that had been nagging me. I headed back to help put the girls to bed, heroically deciding to forego a bit of the second half. (I know–so brave, so strong.)

Later, I remembered the truth I’d been missing all evening: It’s not about the game, or the food, or the commercials. It’s about who else is in the house.

I had the blessing of relaxing in a nice, safe, comfortable rental home that we’d just moved into, enjoying food and football and the presence of my very-pregnant-but-surprisingly-easygoing wife and my beautiful, brilliant, affectionate, and playfully silly daughters. Years from now, I won’t remember what the score was at halftime, how badly the Chiefs O-line played (so badly), or how unique The Weeknd’s halftime performance was (or even that he was the performer this year).

It was worth being absent from the big cultural moment for a little while in order to spend a few moments being present with my family. I sat down on our bed next to my wife as she read books to my girls, and our 1-year-old stood up, toddled across the bedspread, and plopped herself right down next to me to snuggle up. My strong-willed and sensitive 3-year-old leaned over against me and put her head on my shoulder, giving me the chance to kiss the crown of her head, covered in its regal curls. I got to sing goodnight songs, give hugs and kisses, and tousle the hair of sleepy little heads.

I’m a little ashamed to admit that even in the face of such beauty and grace, it still took me a little while into the second half to get over myself and just enjoy the game. I struggled to accept the reality that being a husband and the father of small kids means that my years of a selfishly-comfortable Super Bowl are at an end. But that’s a really good thing, too, because it’s another reminder that the world is ultimately not about me and my comforts. I need those reminders on a daily basis.

Besides, I wouldn’t trade my dirty-faced, snuggly chip-swipers for any other Super Bowl party crowd on earth.

A very, very, very fine house.

Our former home base.

We moved into a new house last week.

It’s always a bit challenging and emotional to pull up stakes and move to a new place, even within the same city. There are so many lists: things to remember to pack, things to remember to clean, addresses to change, contracts to sign, utilities to transfer. We did our best to prepare our oldest child for the move, like talking about how exciting the new place will be and how we much she’ll like our new neighborhood. We made the extremely wise decision to hire movers to do most of the hauling and unloading (worth every penny!). But in all that flurry of lists and boxes and late nights and phone calls, there was little time to reflect.

Memories Made

We were in this house for over 5 years, and a lot of life has happened within its walls.

  • We brought 2 daughters home from the hospital to this house, and found out that we were expecting a third.
  • We lost a baby by miscarriage in this house.
  • We had to have our beloved dog put to sleep after many good years.
  • My wife finished her Master’s degree and started an online business.
  • We joined a new church (my first “new church” in 25 years!), and I later became one of the elders/pastors at that church.
  • I began earning a little bit of side-hustle income from writing/editing for the first time.
  • Last March, I made the transition to full-time remote work, and have reaped the many benefits of working from home (not least of which, having a commute of about 5 seconds).
  • We made countless little memories and habits that formed within the walls of that house.

Yet, even though you think of it as your “home,” in some ways, a rental house is just a stop-over. It’s not meant to be permanent, so you make do with its imperfections. This house was pretty rough around the edges in places, and it wasn’t well-constructed. It had cracks and scratches, places where more care should have been taken. (But so do we, I suppose.)

All in all, despite the problems with the house–the loud neighbors, the scratched up doors and walls, the creaky floor and leaky tub–I can look back with thankfulness on being in this place, at this time in my life and marriage. We had good years there. It was a very fine house.

Closing the Chapter

Here’s why I bring this up today, aside from my own selfish desire to reflect:

It’s now 4 weeks into the new year, but you may still be standing in the shadow of the last one. Perhaps you still blame “2020” (as if it were a sentient being) for things going wrong right now or lingering worries you still can’t shake.

Let me encourage you again today to take a few moments and rejoice in the year God made. Reflect on the good memories. Say goodbye to that year and end the chapter well. Then get ready for what’s next.

My family and I are fully moved in at the new (to us) house now (“fully moved in,” meaning not everything is unpacked, but it’s all under one roof!). It’s another rental, so we won’t be here long-term either. And this house has plenty of…quirks that we’ll need to get used to or overlook. But we’re looking forward to welcoming Daughter #3 into it and creating a whole new collection of memories here. We’re hopeful for the future, because we know that God is good and faithful and kind, so we can rest in His promises and enjoy His goodness.

And that’s a great place to live.

‘Rona Recovery Update

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Since some of you were curious, I wanted to provide a quick update on how we’re doing.

We Joined the ‘Rona Club.

By way of background: In the days leading up to Christmas, I was infected with C-19 and, in the spirit of holiday generosity, shared it with my household. At first, I thought I was dealing with the onset of sinus or respiratory infection (something I’m typically prone to in winter). Then I started hearing about friends from church who were testing positive for the ‘Rona.

I went ahead and got tested a few days later (delayed due to the holiday weekend). It was unpleasant but of course bearable. In the converted trailer that was used as the testing site, they took my vitals before the test, and the nurse said, “Your blood pressure’s up a bit–are you okay?” I thought, Ma’am, I’ve been sick for 4 days, I’m about to have a swab shoved a few inches up my nose, and you’re dressed like an extra from the movie Outbreak. So I may be a little tense, yes.

After the first day of feeling mildly crummy, the symptoms hit hard and heavy on Day 2. Chest tightness and discomfort, sinus congestion, cough, sneezing, and body-crushing fatigue (the kind where you feel like every inch of your body is encased in lead, and just standing up and taking a step feels like a fall risk). A few days later, my senses of taste and smell became significantly muted, though I didn’t realize it at first. I picked up some basic flavors (sweet, spicy, salty), but anything subtle was lost on me (mint chocolate was not minty, pecan- or caramel-flavored coffee tasted like…coffee). Symptoms went up and down a bit early on–better one day, worse the next.

Funny side-note: My family took a quick roadtrip down to one of the small coastal towns nearby where we could enjoy the surf without interacting with people. On our way out, we grabbed some seafood (nothing like fried shrimp and catfish after a day at the beach), but I noticed that it was perhaps the blandest meal I’d ever had. This restaurant received rave reviews online and a rating of 4-point-something out of five! What a bummer! Almost sixty bucks for the family to eat disappointing food! Welp, while we were waiting for the food to be brought out, I got the call that my C-19 test was positive. In retrospect, we may have been too harsh on the restaurant. I didn’t realize until later that it was around that day that my tastebuds took a vacation!

My poor, pregnant wife started showing symptoms a few days after I did, and we were thankfully out-of-sync symptomatically, so I started feeling better as she was getting worse (providentially allowing us to take care of each other!). I think she had a worse time overall, as her divinely-designed body was working primarily to protect the baby, so she didn’t kick the virus as quickly as I did.

Now, a few weeks out, I’m only dealing with some lingering chest tightness related to Covid (along with the typical winter-allergy blaaaahhhs). My household has fully recovered. We are supremely thankful to God for what turned out to be a relatively minor bout–no ER trips, no hospital stays, no major complications. For us (and I emphasize *for us*), it was about equivalent with our round of influenza last February, at least in terms of short-term effects. I suspect this shortness of breath and chest pressure may stick around for a while, if the reports I’m hearing are indicative of the normal long-term effects of the virus.

But at least I can smell my coffee now. And it smells goooood.

So that’s the personal update, for all of you who may have been concerned.

Extrapolating My Experience to Make Public Health Policy Recommendations.

Just kidding. I’m not going to do that. That’d be idiotic.

Having been tangentially-connected to the medical industry for as long as I have, I know enough to know that while you can make some very broad generalizations with enough experience/data, any single person’s experience is still a unique combination of personal history and contributing or confounding factors. It’s unwise to try to make broad applications from a single data point.

In other words, if you and anyone in your immediate circle have gotten the ‘Rona, you’re (at best) an expert on that particular medical experience, but not much beyond it. It would be an overreach to say, “It was no big deal for me, so it’s no big deal for anyone.” It’s also an overreach to say, “It was a really big deal for me, so it’s gonna be a really big deal for everyone.”

With those caveats in place: the big difference in my experience between the flu and C-19 is that ‘Rona is slower to reveal itself and has longer-lasting effects. I’m sure there will be longitudinal studies published years from now looking at the long-term impacts of this disease. But describing it as “basically the flu,” as far as I can tell, is reductive and unwise.

That’s not to say that the total shutdowns of whole segments of society were warranted, much less effective. But just like a person’s individual C-19 experience, the confounding factors are myriad when it comes to the effectiveness of the social lockdown efforts.

Truth be told, I suspect the lockdowns may have done more long-term harm than good, but I also recognize that Covid-19 is just a different disease that influenza, and the slow emergence of symptoms makes it harder to rely on the “just self-quarantine if you feel sick” approach. (I know there are recent “studies” about whether or not asymptomatic transmission is a thing, but the research is REALLY early, so maybe don’t jump right on that yet.)

(And I’m not going to get into the quagmire of dissecting the political and sociological complexities of lockdowns, the outright hypocrisy of political leaders who violate their own mandates, or the decisions made after months of anecdotal data that still seem to be fear-based or power-based instead of evidence-based. That’s a whole ‘nother headache for another day.)

In other words, I don’t know what the answer is for how best to prevent Covid-19. Odds are, unless you’re an epidemiologist or virologist, you probably don’t either. (Frankly, I’m not sure any one member of those lauded professions knows “the answer.”) We’re all trying to figure out the best way to approach how to stay healthy, how to keep our loved ones healthy, and how to keep our communities healthy (medically, financially, and sociologically).

My Actual Recommendation.

What I can recommend, as a bit of generally-applied common sense: Be kind. And I don’t say that in the blithe, kumbayah way that corporate social media brand managers and Insta-influencers do.

When I say, “Be kind,” what I really mean is, “Don’t be a jerk.”

Don’t be a jerk to people who disagree with you. Don’t be dismissive and sarcastic to people who may not have done as much research as you have. Don’t be aggressive and caustic toward people who *have* thought through these issues and have come to a different conclusion than you did. And when you encounter people who have decided to be a jerk about any of the issues surrounding Covid-19, make the decision not to be a jerk back.

If you’re a disciple of Jesus, there’s no wiggle-room on this issue. From our brother Paul:

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Ephesians 4:25-32 (ESV)

Each of us should examine the facts (as best as we can ascertain them) about the disease and treatments, make decisions for ourselves and our families based on those facts, and then hold those positions with peaceable and gentle confidence until and unless we find compelling evidence and true arguments to change them. But in all of that calculus, it doesn’t benefit any of us to act like an obnoxious jerk to the people around us.

Because jerkiness is even more virulent and contagious than the ‘Rona. And it can hang around a LOT longer than a few weeks.

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Feel free to discuss and react, but know that my “don’t be a jerk” policy extends to the comment box. For real. I’m not in the mood to countenance foolishness today. Thanks.

2020: The Year the Lord Has Made.

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The end of December is usually a time of reflection on the past year—and after this year, many of us are perhaps a little skittish at the prospect. I have to admit, I have enjoyed and shared several “2020 is terrible” jokes and memes over the last several months. But a few weeks back, I was reminded of a verse I had memorized as a child:

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Psalm 118:24

As I meditated on this verse, I was reminded that not only did the Lord make “this day,” but He indeed made this week, and month, and even this year. The Bible teaches that the Lord is sovereign over all of human history, seeing the end from the beginning, and nothing takes place outside of His will and divine plan. What’s more, for those of us who are in Christ, all things—ALL things—work together for our good, to shape us into the image of our Savior (Rom. 8:28-30). If all of this is true, then even a year like 2020, checkered as it seems with challenges and even disappointments, has played out as our Lord ordained it to.

This certainly does not mean that it was an easy year. In no way am I minimizing the hardship that 2020 has brought with it. In the last 12 months, most of us have known loss of one sort or another. Many of us have lost family members in death, faced difficult medical diagnoses, struggled with job loss or financial hardship, and wrestled with family conflict.

However, dear friends, the fact remains: this is the year that the Lord has made. And while this year has brought its particular challenges, it has also contained particular blessings.

Thankful

If you don’t mind, I’d like to share a few things I’m thankful for that happened during 2020.

  • My wife and I found out we are expecting our third little girl in early 2021, and couldn’t be happier.
  • I began working from home back in March and have been able to enjoy being with my family every day in a way I didn’t get to in previous years. As a result, my bond with my wife and daughters seems stronger than ever.
  • The number of readers on this little blog of mine have exploded this year, and as a result, I started my first “affiliate link” partnership with the kind folks over at Monk Manual, which has provided some extra income for our household.
  • God has opened other areas of provision that have come at just the right time to take care of unexpected bills.
  • Our church merged with a sister church a few weeks before the initial “shutdown” happened, and somehow we’ve emerged from this difficult season as a stronger body.
  • In addition to serving as an elder in my home church, I’ve had several opportunities to preach at other area churches while their pastors were away or had retired/relocated.

While it’s easy to be dour along with the rest of our culture at this “horrible year,” I would challenge you (and myself) to change how we think about and speak about the past year. Though the world would say there is little to consider good about 2020, that’s just not true. Despite it all, God has indeed been good to us—we just need to take the time to see it.

The Choice to Rejoice

Psalm 118:24 affirms that the Lord has made this day, and then follows with the exhortation, “Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” This is one of those reminders in Scripture that joy is not only a gift of God and a fruit of the Spirit, but it is also a choice. The psalmist calls to the faithful and encourages them to make the choice to rejoice and be glad in this day of the Lord’s making.

While this verse is written within a specific context (which we will examine shortly), it’s worthwhile to pause and consider: Are there times when I can make the decision to rejoice, in spite of my circumstances? Again, this does not imply a “Pollyanna” sort of naïve blindness to the difficulties of life. Scripture reminds us that Jesus Himself was a “man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). He is sympathetic with our weakness and our suffering.

Yet Paul also reminds us (from a Roman prison cell) in Philippians 4:4 to “rejoice in the Lord always—again, I will say, rejoice”! There don’t seem to be any exceptions in that word “always.” Rather, Paul gives—and repeats—this command. If these are commands from the Lord (and they are), then we will be enabled to obey them by the strength the Lord provides. Indeed, “the joy of the Lord is your strength!” (Neh. 8:10). We can call on the Holy Spirit to help us obey this command and rejoice in what the Lord has done, no matter what circumstances we face.

Thus, when we consider this year that the Lord has made, friends, we can and should choose joy. By the grace of God, we should fight to rejoice and be glad in it. Why? Because the Lord made it, and He has used it and is using it for our good and His glory (Rom. 8:28-29).

“His Steadfast Love Endures Forever”

One of the ways we can move toward joy is by recounting how the Lord has been faithful (as we just did earlier). This is clear in the first 18 verses of Psalm 118. The psalmist calls on God’s people to confess together the steadfast love of the Lord, and then recounts specific incidents in which God has shown Himself gracious.

The Lord is a rescuer (v. 5-6), a helper (v. 7), a refuge (v. 8-9), and our victory (v. 10-12). He will keep us from stumbling (v. 13), be our salvation (v. 14), and do valiantly for us (v. 15-16). Even in His discipline of us, He does not give us over to death (v. 18).

In verse 19, the psalmist asks the Lord to “open the gates of righteousness,” and this begins not only the section in which our key verse is found, but it points us to the greatest good that the Lord bestows on His people—a good that we have been celebrating in this Christmas season.

The fact is, there is nothing coming from us that is innately righteous. “There is none righteous; no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). On our own merits, even at our best, the “gates of righteousness” should be slammed shut in our faces. And yet, God has made a way for us to enter these righteous gates, through the work of His son Jesus, our Redeemer.

Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus

Do you recognize the language of verses 22-23?

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the Cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” (Ps. 118:22-23)

This passage would later be quoted by Jesus in Matthew 21 and Peter in I Peter 2—both describing the ministry of Jesus the Messiah! He was the “stone of stumbling and rock of offense” for those who would not believe, but the rock of salvation for all who would call on His name!

If you keep reading in Psalm 118, you’ll also find these words in verse 26: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” These were the very words spoken by the people during Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem at the end of His ministry.

Then, verse 27: “The Lord is God, and He made His light to shine upon us.” Or perhaps, as John would put it in his gospel: “In [Jesus] was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Psalm 118 ultimately points forward to the coming of God’s Messiah, the Deliverer who would bless His people and bring them joy and success, a living demonstration of the steadfast love of God. And the coming of that Messiah would be “the day that the Lord has made,” a day worthy of rejoicing!

And what happened when that day arrived? John again tells us: “…light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil…” (John 3:19). Jesus the Messiah stepped into human history, a miracle baby in a manger in a small village. He lived the perfect life of righteousness that God’s Law demands of mankind. He taught the true words of God, did miracles, healed disease, cast out demons, and brought light into our darkness. And the response of the people was to slander Him falsely and deliver Him up for torture and execution.

But even that day was the day that the Lord had made, for it was only through that dark day that our redemption would be accomplished! Because Jesus our Savior was crucified in the place of ruined sinners, He became our vicarious substitute, bearing the full weight of God’s wrath and justice against sin, so that we who believe in Him might be declared righteous before God, one day entering the righteous gates of the New Jerusalem, “dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne” (as the hymn goes).

The deliverance of God was made manifest on the darkest of days, a day we call “Good” Friday, because that unfathomable suffering brought us cleansing. It brought us hope. It brought us joy.

The suffering of our Savior was the day of our deliverance. Let us also rejoice and be glad in that day!

Look Back in Gratitude, Look Forward In Hope

The year 2020 is coming to a close, friends. Admittedly, it did not follow any of our plans or hopes for what would transpire. But nevertheless, this was the year that the Lord has made. Let us choose to rejoice and be glad in it—glad in what the Lord has done among us, glad in what the Lord has taught us, glad in how the Lord has shown Himself always faithful, and glad in the knowledge that we have hope because the Lord ordained the darkest of days 2000 years ago as the day of our salvation, for all who repent and believe on Jesus Christ.

Happy New Year! Be blessed this day, and rejoice, my friends! Rejoice!

Planning Like a Monk: Monk Manual Planner Full Review!

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“IT’S ABOUT TIME, DAVE!” (I know, right?)

About 8 months ago, I wrote a review of my experience using the Monk Manual journal pages that were available for free from MonkManual.com, and promised at that time that if you readers would help me earn a free full journal, I’d come back with a full review. Well, your patience has paid off because here we are!

This review is long overdue, but I hope it will be helpful to you if you’re considering purchasing the Monk Manual journal (plus, I have a small discount code available, if that helps you decide!). So let’s get into it!

The Initial Experience

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First things first: the journal itself. The packaging is pristine, and just the experience of unboxing the journal is a delight. You can always tell when a company loves what they do, when they take care to make all the little details special. The MM folks have done that for sure.

The journal is well-constructed with a leather-like feel to the hardbound cover–smooth and cool to the touch with a green elastic band to hold it closed, similar to a Moleskine journal. The paper is a thick, acid-free stock, and the printing is clear, clean, and light but fully legible. (“Light” may not seem like a good thing, but the aesthetic of the journal lends itself toward subtlety, so from a design standpoint, it makes total sense.)

From a purely tactile standpoint, this journal is delightful to use. The Monk Manual crew have taken the time to make sure they are shipping a quality product. But as with many things, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

A Counter-Intuitive Solution to a Common Problem

The Monk Manual journal includes some introductory material explaining how you can use the different sections of the pages, and provides some prompts for how to make the journal work for you. But one of the things that sets the Monk Manual apart from other journals/planners is how the pages are arranged.

Typical planners are organized like a calendar: a monthly 1-2 page calender view, then the Week 1 view, followed by Days 1-7, with the pages laid out chronologically. At the end of the first 7 daily pages, you might have another weekly page, followed by the next set of days, and so on. But if you’re like me, this type of journal may only get half-filled, if you miss days, forget to fill things in, or get off track and come back later. The Monk Manual recognizes this problem and provides a unique solution.

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As you can see, the journal has 3 ribbon bookmarks attached to the binding. That’s because the pages are arranged into 3 sections: a section of Monthly Pages, a section of Weekly Pages, and a section of Daily Pages. At first, I was a little annoyed that I’d have to check 3 different sections from time to time, rather than just flip a few pages. However, time would provide the answer for why this type of design is brilliant.

The Monk Manual is advertised as a 3-month journal, but I’ve had mine for about 6 months and I still have lots of pages left to use. Rather than leaving dozens of blank pages for missed days, as I would in a typical journal, I was able to just pick up and start using the daily pages right where I left off. Plus, since the Monthly pages have about 6 weeks of “blanks,” I turned the last empty monthly page I had into a “June/July” section, so I could wring out every bit of usefulness from this journal.

 

 

The bottom-line is, the makers of Monk Manual understand that sometimes you miss some days, maybe some weeks, and rather than “penalize” you by forcing you to skip empty pages, you can just pick up where you left off with minimal effort. While there are some unfinished days scattered throughout my journal, I’ve been able to get back on track with using it in a fairly painless manner.

In a sense, I think that’s part of the philosophy behind the Monk Manual system: you aren’t aiming for perfection, but progress. This journal is designed to allow for those rough patches but still give you the opportunity to pick it up again and keep going.

My One Unresolved “Complaint”

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That brings me to the one unresolved complaint I have–the Monk Manual, for all of its pleasing design and well-thought-out organization, still doesn’t seem capable of doing the work for me. Those folks over at MM refused to include the self-discipline I needed when they sent me the box with my journal. That’s so frustrating!

Okay, joking aside, that’s really the only downside I can think of with this journal–I still have to do the work myself. As I noted previously, you get out of it what you put into it, and when I’ve been able to devote a few minutes at the beginning and end of each day to plan and review my day, I’ve found it to be a helpful way to think through my schedule and priorities. And then, during those weeks and months when I didn’t make that time, the journal just sat there on the shelf, waiting for me to come back and pick up again.

When I was doing some cleaning in my home office last month, I found a box that contained at least 5 old journals/notebooks, each of which having no more than 20 pages of writing in them. The bulk of those journals were blank pages, because too often over the years, I’d start something, get distracted, and then never pick it up again.

I was worried that it would be the same with the Monk Manual–once it had been months since I filled out a page, I didn’t think I’d really be able to start again. But honestly, it was pretty simple to just turn the page and start fresh. And so I’ve been back to using it for about 2 weeks, and once I run through the last of my daily pages (because I have the highest percentage of those left), I’m going to pick up another Monk Manual and keep it going.

Is it Worth It? Can You Work It?

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Admittedly, the Monk Manual isn’t cheap. You could pick up a blank journal at the store or online for a fraction of the cost. Is it really worth more than $35 to get this particular journal?

In a word: yes. I think the Monk Manual is worth every penny.

The materials are quality, the book is well-constructed, and the finished product is pleasing to the touch. The organization of the pages and the question prompts that are provided are unlike anything I’ve seen in a typical dayplanner/organizer. I’ve benefitted from using this journal, and from being able to come back to it after a 4-month gap.

My only recommendation is that you try to break out of the “90-day planner” headspace when you use it. Yes, that’s how it’s marketed, but honestly, I think it may be helpful to fill out all 6-weeks of each monthly page, because if you’re anything like me, you’ll need a little bit of forgetfulness-margin so that you don’t run out of monthly pages with a ton of dailies left.

Interested in the Monk Manual? Here’s A Special Offer for my Readers…

The folks at Monk Manual have agreed to re-up my affiliate link for another month, so if you use the code DAVEM at checkout, you get 10% off your total purchase from Monk Manual, and I get a small percentage back to me.

If you’re on the fence about this, I would encourage you to give it a shot (and not just because I have the affiliate link there). It’s a really neat journal, and I’m enjoying using it myself.

Once more, if you’re ready to check it out, use this link to get your discount and to let the folks at MM know you heard it from me.

And if you DO order a journal, comment below and let me know what you think! Thanks!