“See you in the gloom.”

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I started working out again.

I wasn’t planning on writing about this so soon–perhaps I was afraid I’d jinx myself or something (not that I believe in such things). More likely, it’s that I don’t feel I deserve any kudos for doing this yet.

When I start to make some positive change in my life, my wife will sometimes tell me she’s proud of me. My knee-jerk response is, “Be proud of me later.” Maybe that’s the wrong response to give, but I know myself. I know how often I’ve begun new projects or habits or “life changes” and how quickly I’ve faded out, lost steam, and fallen away. I’d much rather that she’s proud of me for being faithful at something for a long time than for merely starting it.

Anyway.

I have some friends who are part of a fitness group called F3 (which stands for “Fitness, Fellowship, and Faith”). They have been encouraging me to take part in their early morning workouts for a year or two, but I’ve rebuffed their suggestions with various lame excuses about timing and schedule and energy levels.

The fact of the matter is I didn’t want to join for two very important reasons: 1) Most of the workouts are at 5:30 a.m. and I hate waking up early; and 2) I’m fat and lazy and don’t like to be uncomfortable.

I needed something to jolt me out of those excuses.

Embracing My Why

In conversations and coaching about lifestyle changes like weight loss and fitness, a common refrain is “find your why”–the bottom-line driving reason for you to make a change. The logic of this is that you have to want a certain outcome more than you want the bad-for-you momentary choices. If you can hold on to your “why,” you can say “no” to yourself enough to build a better habit.

Obviously, a big “why” for me is my family. I’m 40 years old, and I know (at least on some level) that I am shortening my lifespan by living at a very unhealthy weight. Nevertheless, I still struggle to break some of the habits that keep me at this weight. (We don’t need to get too deep into the psychology of why that is, at this point. But suffice it to say, unless something changes, I’m not doing myself or my family any favors.)

On top of that, at my current weight, I can only get a limited amount of life insurance, so if anything were to happen to me, my family would struggle financially for a while before they could get their feet under them. That’s not at all what I want for them.

In the past, thinking about my “why” has usually triggered at least some sort of short-term change that quickly burned out as I reverted to old patterns. Then something happened about 2 weeks ago that flipped the first switch.

One night at around 1:30 a.m., our newborn woke up crying–piercing screams rather than her usual slow build-up cries. She was totally fine–she had a gas bubble, which in her 6 weeks of life experience would fairly be called an emergency–but I realized that I was not fine. For some reason, her cries triggered a physiological panic reaction in me: heart racing, chest tightness, jaw tightness, arm/shoulder pain, difficulty breathing, headache. Even as my wife tended to our daughter and I laid myself back down to sleep, I still felt amped up. My mind buzzed.

What if this was it? What if this was actually the heart attack I’ve been warned of but pretended wouldn’t catch up to me? What would happen to my wife and daughters if I died right now?

I’ve had those types of thoughts before. And while I can always rest in the reality that ultimately God will watch over my family, it’s still my responsibility to provide for and protect them–which I can’t do if I’m not alive.

For some reason, this early-morning shock hit me differently, and it was enough to make me decide to take a leap I’d been putting off for months.

I was going to go work out with other people.

Friendly New Guy

There is a third reason I put off going to those early-morning workouts with my friends: I didn’t want to embarrass myself. I didn’t want to be the one really fat guy who couldn’t keep up and who spent the whole time sucking wind and sweating like a wounded buffalo, while all these other athletes were completing exercises I couldn’t get close to finishing. (Seriously, the “burpee” is a cruel, sadistic exercise that has no right having such a cutesy name.)

But I went anyway, willing to risk embarrassment to try it out. I didn’t think I’d like exercising with other people. I didn’t think I’d finish the workout. I didn’t know if I’d ever go back. But I wanted to give it a try. But here’s what I found.

The guys were really welcoming. I was greeted warmly and welcomed by several of the group that morning. Between very challenging sets of exercises, some of them took turns hanging back in the back of the pack with me to talk. I was a little surprised by how cool everyone was. I was obviously in the worst shape of anyone there (by orders of magnitude) but they were all working hard and encouraging each other and me. That was refereshing.

I did better than I thought. I had to modify most exercises (and was encouraged to do so), and I’m most definitely the last man to finish every set. But I didn’t quit and I didn’t puke. That’s a small victory. The group’s repeated encouragement was that I wasn’t competing against anyone out there except myself, and my goal should just be to get better. And that is definitely my goal. I want to get better each time.

I became part of the group, not just a tag-along. One of the cool things about F3 and the culture they build is that they give each person a nickname or call-sign. You show up as a “Friendly New Guy,” but by the end, the group gives you a nickname and you are invited back. This sounds corny, but I think this may be part of the secret sauce of the whole thing. The feeling I was dreading most of all, going into this, was of being seen as a poser, as not really belonging there. The way these F3 groups welcome new guys and build rapport is something special.

I felt way better than I expected. I was totally gassed, and my muscles were unbelievably sore the next day. But I came home after that first workout with a smile on my face, and even told my wife it was “fun.” I committed to myself to show up for 3 workouts a week (at least at first) and have only missed one in the last 2 weeks. Obviously, it’s still really early in the process, but no matter how hard the workout is each time, I’m always glad after I finish and looking forward to going back.

SYITG

This really wasn’t supposed to be an infomercial post for the F3 program (#NotSpon), but this is just a cool development in my life and I wanted to share a little bit about it.

If you’re a man in the US and you need some motivation to get healthier or get stronger or just get moving, check out their site and look for a group near you. It’s all free to participate and volunteer-led. If you think you’re too old/fat/slow/shy to join any kind of workout group, I’d say just give it a try. Do your best. Swallow your pride. Get after it.

And depending on the day, if you’re in a certain part of the Houston area, I’ll see you out there in the early-morning gloom. Because I’m not planning on stopping anytime soon.

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!

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

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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.

=====

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.

Be Back Soon.

Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

After 31 days in a row, one post in 12 days feels absolutely negligent. But that said, I may need to take a bit more time before I bounce back with more content.

Look for new posts starting Monday, November 23rd! Twilight Zone! Book reviews! Sermon manuscripts! And (hopefully) a new series of essays about one of my all-time favorite films.

That’s it. See you soon.

There was going to be something thoughtful here.

But the way my day has turned out, that just isn’t going to happen.

Tomorrow is the U.S. Presidential election. Blah, blah, etc. etc.

Here’s the bottom line of it: God has already ordained who will come out on top, and when we’ll all get to find that out. But ultimately, it’s God who raises and lowers princes. So whatever good or ill the victorious candidate can accomplish in the next 4 years is fully and completely hemmed in by the hand of Almighty God.

So rest easy, you anxious hearts.

If you are a U.S. citizen and eligible to vote but have not done so, consider doing so tomorrow. If you have already voted, or can’t do so this time, then just join me in praying that God will be merciful to this nation, no matter who is elected. Pray that the results may be determined quickly, and that there will be a peaceful response. Pray that this nation will recover from a really challenging year. Pray for hope restored and strength refreshed.

Pray. And then trust that the Lord is good.

Goodnight.

Personal Updates, Coming Attractions, and Remembrance (9/11/2020)

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Good morning, friends and readers! It’s been a month since I’ve posted last, but rest assured that, as the song says, you were always on my mind. I wanted to jump in here to give you some updates on what’s going on with me, drop a few recommended links for your weekend, and tell you a little bit about what I’m working on.

Personal Updates!

Things have been busy here at Chez 4thDave. Working from home is still a joy in a lot of ways, but lately it’s been a little more challenging with a very mischevious toddler and a baby who’s now able to crawl with sneaky quickness. As such, the interruption frequency has been pretty high, making workdays more frustrating.

I also have been given more opportunities to serve in my church and to serve other churches in the area. I’ve had 2 opportunities so far to preach at another church as part of a team providing “pulpit supply” until they can find a new lead pastor, so that has meant more time in study and sermon prep. This looks like it will continue through the fall, so I’m looking forward to getting more opportunities to preach the Gospel, something I really love doing!

My Monk Manual reviews continue to be my highest-traffic posts ever. It’s cool that a blog post just talking about something I really like and use personally is connecting with so many readers. And thanks to an affiliate-link agreement with the company, I’ve been able to make some unexpected but much-appreciated extra income that is helping my family out as we pay off debt and look to the future! What a blessing that is. (By the way, if you are in the market for a new journal/planner, check out those links–my code gets you 10% off your purchase! …Okay, shameless plug over.)

There are a few other big things on the horizon for my family, but I’ll save that discussion for later. All that to say, lots of important things happening to me personally, so the “fun” things (like blogging) have slid to the back burner for a bit.

Blog Updates!

I have a few posts I need to polish up and publish, including some sermon-text / Bible-study posts, some #FridayFeed content, and maybe a few other opinion pieces, depending on how salty I feel like getting. (Considering how tired I am all the time, you can probably count on my blogging for the next few weeks to be pretty low-sodium.)

Something else I’m thinking about doing is trying to post daily micro-blogs in October, featuring 31 books that I enjoy or that have made an impact on my life. And of course, there will be a corny hashtag: #Booktober. What do you think: should I go for it? Let me know in the comments.

I’m also planning on continuing my Twilight Zone (2019) commentary (I’m a few episodes into Season 2 so far!), so you should see a couple posts on that in the next few weeks.

Finally, I’ve been thinking about going back and finishing my #52Stories project from 2019, so I can close the loop on that challenge. Better late than never, right? Let me know in the comments if you think that would be worth doing. If so, maybe I can round out November with some of those posts.

That should set me up for the next 2 months of blogging. My problem is always making big plans and then not following through. But you know what? If y’all are willing to come along for the ride, I’ll figure out a way to make it work. In the words of DJ Khaled:

Friday Links

Finally, we should acknowledge the somber remembrance of the day.

  • Right now as I’m getting ready to post this, the reading of the names of the 9/11 has been going on for over an hour. I would encourage you to watch at least some of the video of this year’s remembrance and take some time to think about and pray for the victim’s families.
  • If you haven’t read it yet, my “where were you when” story is posted here.
  • If you’ve never read through Ari Fleischer’s Twitter recap, every year he provides a minute-by-minute account of the events of that day from his perspective inside the inner circle of the White House. A fascinating insider look at how the United States responded to that terrible attack.
  • The ESPN 30 for 30 film “First Pitch” is an outstanding look at the place of sports in the aftermath of 9/11. I don’t know where you can find the whole thing online for free (legally anyway), but here’s a great clip that sums it up.

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That’s all I have for today. Go hug your kids, tell your parents you appreciate them, call your grandma (because it’s been too long!), and do the kind of things that you’ll look back on and wish you had “gotten around to” more often.

Have a good weekend, friends.

“I don’t need your civil war…”

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How do you think about the people around you? How do you see them? How do you speak about them?

There’s been so much that’s gone on in the last month that has burdened and overwhelmed me. So much that I wanted to say but didn’t know how to–or whether or not my words would contribute anything useful or new. I’ve tried to stay out of the online hot-take business (with mixed success), but I think a lot of my thoughts lately are boiled down to this key issue:

When you stop seeing your ideological opponents as human beings worthy of dignity, it makes it a lot easier to justify treating them as sub-human in your speech and actions, both directly and indirectly.

People from my ideological/theological camp talk about the dignity of human life a lot, specifically when it comes to the life of the unborn. But I worry that much of that language is shown to be mere rhetoric when the way we speak to and about our enemies (either political or theological) is degrading, demeaning, and dismissive. (Depending on whom you ask, that makes me a squishy, raised-pinky, “nuance”-obsessed liberal, which is HILARIOUS.)

Labels and categories can sometimes provide a helpful shorthand in conversation, but I wonder if we lean so heavily on those that they start to become personas or avatars to absorb our attacks. It’s easy to make fun of “leftists” or “Trumpists” when you’re thinking about a generic stereotype instead of your parents or siblings. You can take shots, make jokes, dismiss their concerns. But when you start putting names and faces to the labels, it should become a bit harder to be so calloused and contemptuous.

“Should.” But we both know that with practice, we can become very comfortable labelling and smearing even the ones we purport to love with such invective.

“You’re just a…”

“Well of course you disagree, you….”

“Well, if you’d quit listen to all those…”

When Jesus said that in the end times, a person’s enemies would be the members of his or her own household, I don’t think the reason for this was supposed to be who’s on the national ballot or where we stand on cultural hot-button issues.

…I don’t have some great epiphany coming here. I hope you’re not expecting one.

Instead, can I just encourage you to take a few moments and run a mental audit of how you have spoken about people lately, including/especially those you disagree with? Ask yourself, “Am I able to disagree with this person/group while still treating them with dignity, as image-bearers?”

And don’t answer too quickly in the affirmative. I know that my knee-jerk reaction to this is, “Of course I do!” If it’s the same for you, maybe take a second and think carefully about it. If you’re feeling especially bold, ask someone close to you if you tend to speak of those you disagree with in minimizing or dismissive terms.

Perhaps one good step toward addressing some of the bitter divisiveness and tension in our homes and communities is by recognizing that we’re more than our political team-jersey–and the same is true of those on “the other side.”

Look, I’m not calling for some kind of kumbayah, let’s-all-hold-hands-and-sing-Imagine sort of utopian dream, because that won’t ever happen, nor should it. There are serious issues than need to be discussed. There are divides and differences of belief that can’t be ignored or patched over. It’s right and good to disagree, even disagree strongly, about issues of first importance. But if we can’t at least look each other in the eye and say, “you matter,” I think it says a lot about our own hearts. And for those of us who seek to follow Jesus, it may say something mortally serious that we just can’t ignore.

“Please think I’m cool.”

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Confession: That was the thought running like a background track in my head yesterday, as I took part in a group Zoom call with two authors/podcasters whose work I admire.

I’ve tried in various ways to get into their “club” in some way over the years (with some minor level of success), but this was the first time I’ve actually interacted with them face to (screen-mediated) face. I was able to get a few words in, but otherwise, I found myself just grinning foolishly and trying unsuccessfully not to embarrass myself.

I’m a grown man with a wife and kids. I’ve got my own stuff going on, such as it is. I should be fully out of middle-school-mode. But there are still people who I can’t help but see on another plane of coolness. And despite my very best efforts, I slip right into notice me, senpai mode. I hate it.

The call went fine. When put on the spot to perform a bit of dramatic reading (don’t ask, it’s a long story), I bungled some of my dialogue and felt like a goober. Then I tried too hard to be funny at the very end of the call, so that when it finally ended, I spent the next hour-plus kicking myself for being such an irredeemable dork.

This isn’t the first time I’ve done this. There’s another podcaster whose work I enjoyed for years, and when I was finally able to talk to him during a live call-in show, I got tongue-tied and said something stupid. For the months/years that followed, while I was active in the live chats during various broadcasts, I was never really recognized as a “regular” by the host or the chat group. Eventually, I dipped out and stopped listening/engaging with that show at all, not out of malice but really just disappointment that I couldn’t break into the circle.

What’s the point of all this? Shoot, I don’t know. I’m just talking here, gang.

Maybe what I’m getting at is this: it’s really easy to chase attention, recognition, and a sense of belonging among those we think are cool, talented, and more “together.” But maybe the thing we should be focusing on most is just doing our own thing and being content with that.

But, then again, you know how it is: about to hit 40, looking at the successes and accomplishments of your peers, comparing yourself to the people around you, second-guessing your life choices. Typical Wednesday.

That’s all I got. See ya later, space cowboy…