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.

“I’d like to speak to your social media manager, please.”

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

A Tale of Two Tweeters

I noticed something this week on Twitter reflective of a social media trend that I wish would go away. (Note: I won’t screen-shot or name-drop, as that would undercut my point.)

Instance A: A well-regarded sports media personality (with well over a million Twitter followers) complained on his feed that the CBS network’s lack of a contract with his specific cable provider meant he was not able to watch the Super Bowl–specifically that the cable provider is shutting him out (a HOF member!) from watching the big game. Multiple tweets later (providing the play-by-play of the situation, as it were), he has let his followers know that an “engineer” has installed an antenna that can pick up his local CBS affiliate.

Instance B: An anchor/commentator for an “up-and-coming” “news” organization (with over 250,000 followers) tweets at NINE IN THE MORNING that he got upset there was no “McFish” on the menu of his local “MacDonalds” but when he asked to speak to the manager about it, he was reportedly told he was a “male Karen” and asked to leave. This person included a picture of the offending restaurant in his post. (In subsequent tweets, he proudly mentions that “McFish” was trending and that he thought “MacDonalds” now had a “big problem” on their hands. I have to confess, dear reader, I’m still not sure if this is just an elaborate joke or not. Considering the man’s other tweets, I’m leaning toward not.)

In both instances, a media professional who encountered some frustration with a retail business decided to air his grievances on social media, instead of (presumably) working directly with the companies to resolve the issue.

Why would two grown men take their grievances to hundreds of thousands or even over a million strangers? Because it works.

No Trends are Good Trends (Unless You’re Wendy’s)

It used to be a given that “any press is good press,” since news coverage increases your name recognition and the amount of space you take up in the marketplace. To be fair, we still see this play out in certain spheres (such as presidential politics).

But for corporations and retailers, social media is a fickle beast that must be treated with respect and fear. For every Wendy’s whose Twitter account gets positive buzz for its playful (and sometimes sassy) approach, you have dozens of horror stories of gaffes, goofs, and outright fails by corporate social media accounts. In the vast majority of cases, companies want to avoid the “trending topics” page, unless it’s regarding their latest ad campaign.

Customers know this. We’ve seen how a disgruntled passenger’s Instagram story or a frustrated customer’s Twitter thread has taken on a life of its own, resulting in viral trends, some unexpected media buzz, and eventually a corporate walk-back to try to save face.

As a result of the growing power of this “online review” economy, there is a heightened corporate sensitivity to “bad looks,” and customers have used that leverage to try to provoke a response. Maybe you’ve taken your gripes to social media in the past. I know I have.

Your deep-dish pizza arrives cold? Tell your thousands of Instagram followers and tag Pizza Hut in the story! You had to wait in a long line at the bank? Jump on their corporate Facebook page and talk about how it’s ridiculous that more lines aren’t open! Got bad service at Olive Garden? Don’t tell the manager–tell the Twitter mob! #OliveGardenIsTHEWORST

Point of fact, the social media companies revel in this sort of performative outrage. Viral angst generates a windfall of engagement and them sweet, sweet clicks. Plus, customers know that if they can kick up enough dust and get others to join in, they might get results faster.

I remember seeing a story last October in which a man sucker-punched another person in the parking lot of a Buc-ee’s gas station because that person supported a different political candidate, and within a few hours the phrase “Cancel Buc-ee’s” started trending on Twitter. I thought, Really? What does Buc-ee’s have to do with it?

That doesn’t matter to the mob. Retweets are easy, son; thinking is harder.

And that’s the poisonous logic of all this. I’m mad about something, so rather than addressing that particular person or place that caused my frustration, I’m going to summon the internet horde to flood the digital streets with torches and pitchforks.

Just Another Hashtag?

I think some of you may have your hackles up at this point, so I want to clarify: I’m not talking about serious or (dare I say) systemic social issues here. Some problems are much more widespread than a single person or place. Some issues deserve extended examination and discussion. We have seen in the last few years how social media is a powerful tool that can be used both constructively and destructively to bring people together behind a common cause. I’m not talking about that kind of “movement” dynamic right now.

Rather, I’m talking about the type of situation that, in the era before hashtags, would have gotten (at most) a complaint to a manager and perhaps a funny or exasperated anecdote to the folks around the water cooler or in the carpool line. “Oh man, I had such bad service at Louie’s Pizzeria last week; I think I’m going to be taking my business elsewhere until they get that straightened out!”

Now, all of our petty outrages get elevated to such a height that we are convinced the ENTIRE WORLD should know about them–without stopping to ask if they’re *that* big of a deal in the grand scheme of things.

What makes matters worse is that this multiplies. More people see that viral outrage gets the corporate giants’ attention, and decide that’s how things get done now. Another story is shared and another hashtag is created. Each person’s individual outrages contribute more noise to the internet cacophany, even if they doesn’t actually accomplish much beyond adding just another hashtag to the mix like so much visual static. Boycott this. Cancel that. #TheWorst. Blah blah blah blah blah. Any important issues or causes fighting for oxygen in the public square get swept away by the latest outrage-du-jour.

I’d like to suggest a different approach.

An Alternative Option

My wife and I ordered take-out at a fantastic local spot that serves twice-fried Korean fried chicken. Outstanding, crispy, spicy chicken strips and drumsticks, along with fries covered in kimchi and bulgogi that are just bonkers-good. It’s not a cheap meal, but it’s a nice splurge once in a while.

I picked up the order and brought it home only to find it was room-temperature, soggy, and in some cases over-cooked. It wasn’t enjoyable at all. We ended up eating most of it because we were hungry, but it’s frustrating when your much-anticipated meal turns out to be a dud.

So I jumped on social media…and pulled up the direct message option for the restaurant. I sent them something like the following as a private message: “Hey guys, I just wanted to let you know that our meal today was pretty disappointing for the following reasons… Usually, you guys are on point, so I’m going to assume it’s just an off-night. If you think it’s appropriate, let the kitchen staff know this one was a miss, so they can address it if needed. Don’t worry, we’ll be back sometime. Thanks.”

About an hour later, I got a response from the restaurant, thanking me for my approach, asking for details so they could refund my meal, and asking for my address. A few weeks later, I receive a gift card in the mail to pay for another dinner.

I didn’t need to get angry or rally the troops. I just reached out directly, let them know my concerns, tried not to be a jerk, and encouraged them to try again. They responded with graciousness and attention. Why? Because they’re not trying to give customers lousy food and a bad experience.

That’s the thing: no business, restaurant, or retail store that wants to succeed is actively trying to disappoint their customers–really.

Disappointments do happen. Food gets cold, cashiers get tired and frustrated, people call in sick so that fewer lanes are open for your convenience. And that’s also not to say that if you respond well, you’ll always get a refund and a free meal. Sometimes, yes, you may encounter corporate indifference, for a variety of reasons. When that happens, you don’t make a scene, you don’t yell or scream, and you don’t record a video rant to share with the Internet. And why don’t you do that? Because you’re a doggone grown-up, that’s why.

On the flip side, I also try to go out of my way to tell restaurants, stores, and other folks in the “hourly-wage” fields when they do a really good job. I love asking servers if I can speak to a manager and immediately adding, “Don’t worry, it’s a good thing!” just to watch them visibly relax, smile, and go grab their supervisor. I enjoy bragging on good service and quality work.

One more story: years ago, I ate at a Subway restaurant with my folks, and they told me they liked coming to this one location because the manager really cared about what he was doing and that attitude trickled down to the whole crew. While in line, I watched an 18-year-old make my sandwich with skill, care, and speed, putting the ingredients together carefully and presenting me with an advertisement-perfect sub. For most Subway employees, the label “sandwich artist” is wild hyperbole. For this kid, it didn’t come close enough. And I let him know about it. And his manager. And now you.

Make Praise Go Viral

Here’s my bottom-line recommendation, dear reader: let me encourage you to make your praise go viral, and keep your complaints in your DMs.

When you have those bad interactions, those disappointing experiences, those let-down expectations in the marketplace, try to direct those frustrations toward finding out who is responsible and can actually make a difference in the situation. Seek restitution if needed, and seek improvement whenever possible, as that benefits not only you but your fellow customers.

But even more so, when you have those great interactions, those over-the-top positive experiences, and your expectations are exceeded by everyday rockstars who are doing their very best in an often thankless position, highlight that. Give big, generous tips to restaurant staff. Grab managers and tell them which of their employees is hustling. Jump on your social media feeds and promote local businesses (especially small, independent shops!) who are doing things the right way.

It seems like such a small thing. It costs you practically nothing. But it makes a difference.

My January 2021 Reading List!

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Hey y’all! Just a quick post to fill you in on the books that have been on my nightstand (and in my Kindle app) this past month!

I was able to finish 3 books during the month of January (though I actually started one of them several months ago):

  • The Words Between Us, by Erin Bartels – This is a novel about a woman who is fighting to keep her small bookstore afloat when her hidden and troubling past starts to catch up to her. I really enjoyed both the way Bartels weaves in an intriguing light mystery sub-plot along with her main story about the secrets we keep and the lies we tell to keep them, as well as how shared stories and poems can bind us together in unexpected ways. This is a fun, quick read that you should check out.
  • The Practice, by Seth Godin – It’s probably clear from my past posts that I dig Seth Godin’s work, even if he’s become the cliched “business/marketing guru.” I’ll admit, his writing can be a bit formulaic (each book chapter is like a series of his blog posts–a series of productivity or marketing koans about Doing The Work or Shipping The Work or something else with Important Capitalization), but it’s a formula that works. Godin has a way of provoking that creative itch that I tend to suppress with busyness and grown-up responsibilities, so that I start to wonder if maybe I could get back to that novel I half-started writing. If you’re interested in some light reading about the mindset of people who create and produce meaningful work, this may be right up your alley.
  • Conscience, by Andy Naselli and J.D. Crowley – Our elder team has been reading through this one slowly this year (ironically enough, chosen before C19 and the endless mask debate), but it has been helpful in informing some of our thinking about how to navigate divergences in conviction and conscience within our church body. While I would disagree with the authors’ approach in some places, on the whole, I found it to be a helpful supplement to thinking throuh how to navigate church member disagreements, lead with wisdom, and rightly assess some of the debatable issues that have come up this year.

In addition to these, there were a few more books that I started reading but didn’t finish, due to time restraints and/or loss of interest:

  • The Birds, by Daphne Du Maurier – I started reading a collection of short pieces by Du Maurier but only got through the titular piece. I really enjoyed her writing style and want to get back to the collection sometime this year. And if you haven’t read her story “The Birds,” you should. It’s creepy and somehow even more bleak than Hitchcock’s film adaptation.
  • The Burning: The Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, by Tim Madigan – I’m definitely coming back to this one before the centennial anniversary on June 1st. This terrible event in 20th-century American history deserves to be more well-known and studied, because the details are just awful. If you aren’t familiar with the Tulsa Race “Riot” (Madigan’s word “massacre” is a better descriptor) and the burning of “Black Wall Street,” you should do some research on it. Just horrific.
  • Ready Player Two, by Ernest Cline – I enjoyed Cline’s earlier novel Ready Player One (80’s/90’s nostalgia, plus video games? C’mon!) as well as his other book Armada, but as I started reading this one, I just lost interest immediately. I don’t know if I just didn’t give it enough time or wasn’t in the right headspace, but I found the lead character to be much more unlikeable this go-round. Ultimately, I just didn’t care enough to keep going, and I don’t want to read a novel if it feels like work, so I dropped this one after a few chapters. I don’t expect I’ll come back to it. (If you think I should, make your case in the comments!)

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There’s my January reading list–what’s yours? Comment below with what you’ve been reading lately!

And here’s a video by some friends of mine. Check it out, and if you like it, make sure to like, subscribe, comment, and tell ’em The4thDave sent ya by. Thanks!

Friday Feed (1/29/2021)

Photo by Ir Solyanaya on Pexels.com — It’s not this cold where I am, but it feels this cold in my office at the moment.

Happy Friday, fam! Here are some interesting things I’ve found on the internet in recent weeks, for your weekend enjoyment.

That’s it for this week. See you next week! (How is it already almost February?!?)

“Quite An Unusual Couple”: Early Thoughts on “WandaVision” (Episodes 1-3)

Photo by Rene Asmussen on Pexels.com

I love comic-book movies and have been a pretty big fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) thusfar, so I was cautiously intrigued when Disney first announced their upcoming Marvel streaming series’ that would premiere on Disney+. Of the shows that were announced, I figured The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Hawkeye would be my favorites, but the one that didn’t make sense at all to me was WandaVision.

Early descriptions of the premise sounded pretty terrible, to be honest. “Wanda and Vision as a couple in a sitcom”? What a letdown from the heights of Infinity War and Endgame–and wait, isn’t Vision still dead? What’s going on here?

A few months back, when the first teasers and trailers for the show were released, my mind changed completely. From the visuals and editing to the music cues and special effects, it was clear that WandaVision was going to get weird–and that got my attention. Okay, MCU, let’s get weird.

Well, we’re now 3 episodes in, and I’m 100% on-board. Here are my early thoughts on the show so far (and yes, there will be spoilers, so if you are waiting to watch the show, click away now):

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Initial Disclaimer #1: I’ve only watched these episodes once so far (I may give them another go soon), so this is based on initial impressions and the things I’ve gleaned from the internet after each viewing.

Initial Disclaimer #2: I’m not as versed with the comics versions of these characters, so other than some broad-stroke information (e.g. The Scarlet Witch is the daughter of Magneto), my knowledge base is primarily the MCU version of the characters.

Nick (Fury) at Nite

What struck me from the outset was the outstanding visual direction, set and costume design, and use of sound cues. The production team has recreated the vibe of a classic TV sitcom with each episode, and the care and intentionality of the direction and design is apparent. The first episode all but perfectly recreates the living room from The Dick Van Dyke Show (including a cheeky “ottoman side-step” reference!), while the next 2 episodes change the house to reflect the design sensibility of Bewitched and The Brady Bunch. The use of the canned laugh-track, the writing, and the storylines seem to be ripped directly out of Sheldon Leonard’s old notebooks, and the show looks like it was shot on the DesiLu back-lot. Even the opening credits are created to evoke those era-specific TV shows, often directly referencing the animation or font design of the titles.

What’s more: the “classic” comedy plots and writing work for me. I’ve read critiques calling the storylines hokey or corny, but as someone who grew up on countless hours of sitcom reruns from that era, it hits the spot for me and makes me genuinely laugh throughout–to the point that I become a little self-conscious about it, while watching the show with my wife. The fact is, I absolutely love that era of television. It’s visual comfort food. And the showrunners get it.

Rather than try to mock or parody the genre, the WandaVision team has created a kind of love-letter to that time period in TV history, and the show feels like it would fit right in with the classic Nick-At-Nite lineup of my youth… at least until someone starts choking or cuts their hand, at which point the illusion begins to shatter.

It’s Creepy and It’s Kooky

What makes the show work as part of the MCU is what has (up to this point) been lingering at the edges: certain moments when the audience can see (and the characters themselves begin to acknowledge) that none of this is real. This creates a palpable dread that hovers just off-screen for most of each episode.

The ways this is done are varied and creative: Wanda’s ability to rewind or edit conversations; errant radio broadcasts that break through the musical background; splashes of color during the first 2 “black-and-white” episodes, a la Pleasantville. Even the commercials in the middle of each episode are full of Easter eggs and clues about this ongoing mystery. Then, in Episode 3, the facade falls away, as Vision’s neighbors seem to allude to their being held prisoner in this idyllic town, and Wanda’s friend Geraldine outright mentions Ultron when Wanda begins talking about the death of her brother.

So what’s going on? Here are my current theories, based partly on some things I’ve read about the visual references in the first 3 episodes (and I’m posting this today because I have a feeling the plot’s going to get blown wide open with Episode 4):

  • I’m fairly sure Wanda’s in control. The times that Wanda uses her powers to “clip” conversations or rewind time tell me that she’s the one in charge (at least, in charge of what’s happening inside Westview–though someone or something else might be controlling her?). The town of Westview is a simulation, a pocket universe, or some sort of reality-stone-style construct. She’s incorporated the classic TV she may have seen as a child in Eastern Europe and used it to create an idyllic “happy ending” for herself and Vision that she feels they deserve and were denied.
  • I’m not sure Vision is *really* there. At least, not the Vision that Wanda knew and loved in Infinity War. The Vision we see here is either a construct of Wanda’s fantasy, or perhaps an earlier “save file” of him that she was able to get hold of. Either way, he’s as much a prisoner as anyone else in this town.
  • Wanda’s friends are trying to break in. Geraldine is clearly an agent of SHIELD or is working on their behalf, but when she oversteps and pushes on Wanda too hard, she’s expelled from the fantasy world. It’s clear at the end of Episode 3 that SHIELD (or at least SWORD, which I learned is an office within SHIELD) is trying to protect (Contain? Control?) Wanda, perhaps because she’s more powerful than they can handle at this point.
  • There isn’t a “bad guy”–or at least, if there is, it’s Wanda. My guess is that once she realizes the illusion will not hold, she may become angry and/or vengeful and may lash out at those trying to bring her back to the real world, unless or until “Vision” talks her down and convinces her that it’s time to let go and move on. This ending will be heartbreaking, but ultimately satisfying.
  • This opens the door to “mutant” involvement in Phase IV. The background question in all this is how these Disney+ series’ interact with MCU Phase IV. I’m wondering if this show will be used as a way to lay the groundwork for introducing the X-Men into the MCU, since the character of Wanda now firmly has a foot planted in both “worlds.” (Note: I didn’t come up with this idea; one of the “easter egg” posts I read online connected the Episode 3 commercial language about the “goddess within” to the possibility of retconning Wanda’s powers so that they were innate to her as a mutant, rather than created by Strucker and Hydra.)

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So there you go: early reaction and theories about WandaVision, in advance of Episode 4’s release. I’m absolutely digging this show, and I can’t wait to see how it ends. If you want me to follow-up with some final thoughts once the series concludes, let me know in the comments and I’ll be happy to oblige you. (I may do it anyway.)

Your Turn: What do you think of WandaVision so far? Is it funny and intriguing? Hokey and slow? Mysterious and spooky and altogether ooky? Let me know in the comments below!

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.

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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.

“Is He good?”

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I was struck by a thought during a night of fitful, fretful worrying.

It wasn’t a new insight, or a brilliant observation–just an old truth that sometimes needs to be reapplied to my anxious mind.

As I lay in bed, tossing, turning, fretting over the tightness of my chest, the shallow breathing of my wife, the shadows obscuring my daughters across the hall through our two open doors, the creaks and groans of the house, and all the other things outside of my finite control, the question flashed like lightning in my head:

Is He good?

Of course, He is, I thought. God is good. I’d never say otherwise.

Is He kind?

Yes, He’s kind. He is the very definition of kind.

Do you trust Him to keep His promise to do good to you and your family?

I paused. He promised that He would work all things to bring about my good. He has never broken His promises, because God does not lie.

Can He keep His promises?

There’s nothing He can’t do. He does all He pleases.

Then why do you worry?

That’s the rub, isn’t it. I worry and fret over things I can’t control, because (at least momentarily) I am tempted to doubt that God is good, that God is kind, that God is omnipotent. I’m tempted to disbelieve that He will keep His promise to work all things together for the good of those who love him and are called according to His purpose.

My sinful fretting is a feeble attempt to control the uncontrollable because (at least in that moment) I don’t really trust the One who is all-powerful.

The force of my will cannot heal illness or control the actions of any who would wish us harm. The strength of my worry cannot extend my life by even one hour.

But I serve a God who heals the sick, who turns the heart of man this way or that, who has the number of my days written in His book.

What’s more, this God that I serve? He loves me. He knows me. He cares for me. Because He is kind. He is good. And he is trustworthy.

Sometimes, I just need to remind myself what is true, and ask my soul why it’s so downcast.

“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

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!