#ThirtyThankfuls Day 15: A smelly “barn.”

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Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean,
    but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” (Prov. 14:4 ESV)

It’s a busy day, a tiring day. There is much to do. I’m working late tonight, mainly because every night until Sunday is booked with something or other.

My office is dirty. My mind is cluttered. I want to get away and leave all of this behind, escaping with my books and my wife to a far-off place without dinging email alerts and ringing phone alarms.

On these days when the responsibilities are stacked and I need to stay on my grind, I remind myself of the verse above.

Because the easiest way to have a clean barn is to shoot your oxen–but that’s also the quickest path to an empty belly. A productive life is usually a messy life. That isn’t meant simply to glorify “hustle culture,” which can become quite unhealthy and unbalanced. Rather, it is to say that making things happen and taking care of my family means there will often be busy days and late nights.

So instead of being grumpy about my stacked to-do list, I’ll thank God for my fruitful (if cluttered) desk and keep at my task.

Goodnight, friends.

Pause.

Hey fam.

Today’s been a slog, and I don’t have a post ready. Ironically, today’s post was gonna be about work. However, I have more work to do today than time to do it.

I’ll be back tomorrow with two thankful posts.

Thankful for your understanding and your prayer support.

See you tomorrow.

—d.

#Septemblog Day 27: Cutting it close.

You didn’t think I’d make it today, did you? Yeah, me neither. I guess the pull of the unbroken streak is too strong.

Time for a #TIWIARN (“This is Where I’m At Right Now”) update!

I’m up working and will be for a few more hours. This used to be the norm, but since getting a helping hand on some things from my team, I’ve been able to take more evenings off (as it should be). You’d think that would make the occasional late-night editing session more tolerable, but it just makes it harder. I’ve gotten a taste of the fewer-than-60-hours work week, and I just like that too much.

BUT. I also am trying really hard to amend some old work habits regarding turnaround times, so when there’s a sudden flood of email responses and tasks in the late afternoon, one does what one must. Plus, if I can wrangle all these wayward ducks into something resembling a row, I may be able to take an honest-to-goodness mid-week day-off without having to make up the hours on the other side of it. (Yes, yes, I’m front-loading the hours right now, but you know what I mean.) So, the midnight oil is getting burned tonight.

I’m also not telling my wife I’m taking a day off so I can just surprise her with the ol’ “I don’t feel like working today” routine. It’s the little things, ya know?

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There’s other stuff going on, church stuff involving my pastoral responsibilities that I can’t get into here. It’s just sad and frustrating, and there are people I just want to shake really hard by the shoulders and yell, “Cut it out, you idiot! What are you thinking?!?” Which may sound harsh or unkind, but it isn’t. It’s about the kindest thing you can do to someone who seems full-bent on destroying themselves.

[I was going to continue but I’ll stop there. It doesn’t do you or me any good to grumble.]

I love my church family. I love being one of their shepherds. But sometimes the sheep you love and care for are the ones who kick and bite. When that happens, you push through and keep loving. That’s not easy. But that’s part of the job. You love your brothers and sisters with the same compassion and mercy that you yourself received from Jesus.

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My birthday’s in a few weeks. I’m…ambivalent about it this year. It just doesn’t seem to matter compared to whatever else is going on. Guess that means I’m well and truly middle-aged now.

[Ugh, what a bummer. Lighten up, Dave! Yikes.]

See? This is what happens when I stop mid-work to try to write a status update. I get all grumpy-bear and introspective.

Okay, gang, here’s where we try some audience participation to lighten the mood: What’s your favorite birthday cake/treat/dessert? Tell me in the comments. Go!

My wife is making me chocolate-peanut-butter whoopie pies, and I’m pretty hype about that, actually. See? I’m looking forward to my birthday after all! Everything is awesome!

See you, space cowboys.

#Septemblog Day 19: Trying not to break the chain.

Today was a weird day. I had to take off work and watch the kiddos so my wife could go train her replacement at her (now former) job. And later, I’ll log in and do all the work I missed today, so that I’m not extra backed up tomorrow. Which seems to defeat the purpose of taking a “day off” when really it’s just a “shifted schedule day.” But that’s life.

Daughter#3 has got molars coming in. My two older kiddos are just tempestuous. It’s been a fun day.

But I’m trying to post every day and not “break the chain.” So here’s a post.

I’ll try to be more clever tomorrow.

#Septemblog Day 13: Feels almost like a throwback to another blogging era.

I used to blog as a way to vent my feelings in an overly dramatic and performative manner. My comments would drift into the overwrought and self-pitying. My perceptions of relationships and situations were hopelessly skewed.

What I’m saying is no one should document the inner life of their 20’s on the internet. It’s just a bad idea. (Are you paying attention, Gen Z? Listen to the old man’s advice.)

Yesterday was a long, tough day in the midst of a long, tough season. It definitely had its high points: aside from the daily blessing of working at home amongst my brood, we welcomed a dear couple over for dinner and were encouraged by their company and conversation.

But there were down notes and frustrations, hard conversations and bitter realities to confront. I sit here typing this past midnight, with a swarm of work assignments buzzing in my inbox like those murder hornets we were warned about a couple of years ago.

I’m tired, gang.

I’m also nervous. Tomorrow (that is, later this morning), I have an appointment with a dermatologist to get an initial exam and check-up. A necessary and prudent thing for an adult to do, but I’m nervous that something will go sideways as a result. I don’t have a lot of capacity for new challenges at the moment. Any unforeseen diagnoses will need to take a number and wait their turn on the Stressed Express.

Of course, it will probably all be totally fine and I’ll be good to go. It’s just as likely–much more likely. But fretters fret. It’s what we do. It’s a sin, and I need to repent of that, but that is my natural sinful tendency.

Okay, okay, I admit it. I have nothing really useful to say right now. I apologize, you sweet email subscribers (may your tribes increase!) for filling your inbox with hot air. Just file this one under “This is Where I Am Right Now.” I will try to keep these to a minimum.

I’ll have something positive, constructive, or entertaining tomorrow, I’m sure. Come back around and see me then.

Here. Here’s a song I’ve been singing with my girls lately. I need it as much as they do:

#Blogtober2021 Day Whatever: We’re fine, we’re all fine here, now, thanks… How are you?

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Just popping in here to say: I’m doing okay. Lots going on.

  • My grandfather died at the end of last week, bringing the (hopefully) final total to 3 extended family members who passed away this month. All three had serious medical conditions. It’s still sad.
  • Work life is busy, church life is busy; both are stressful, both are blessings.
  • My household’s doing okay. My kids have colds and aren’t sleeping that consistently this week. We’re all feeling a bit exhausted. But down here in the southland, we’re now enjoying a brief cool spell, so that means more time outside this week, which is good for everyone’s disposition.
  • My wife and I are trying to buy our first home and realizing we’re a bit out of our depth with this process. Thankful for a good realtor to hold our hands (and keep our heads above water).
  • Again, I may not post much more this week. But I’m doing okay. Still not getting my sleeping schedule and eating habits (or caffeine consumption) in proper balance. Hope to do that next week, as I take some time off work and spend time with my family. November reset, here we come.

That’s it, that’s what I got. Let me know how I can pray for you in the comments. Talk to you later.

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.)

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.

“Please think I’m cool.”

adorable blur breed close up
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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…

Five(ish)-minute Update (11/11/2019)

time motion round clock
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Setting the timer…ready…GO.

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So I wasn’t planning on November being a “No-Post November” but it’s sure starting out that way! So what’s the story, morning-glory?

Well, it comes down to this: margin.

I don’t have much margin in my life right now. Like so many of you, I have lots of demands, and to be honest, I’m struggling to meet all those demands. And no, I’m not going to cue up the sad violins and run through the litany of what’s on my plate, because that doesn’t help you, and it doesn’t help me.

So instead, I want to talk about stress.

This past weekend, a loved one was briefly hospitalized because he pushed himself so hard that his nervous system decided a hard reboot was in order. This person, in prime physical health in his middle age, gave himself a seizure, due in part to a combination of unaddressed stress, inconsistent diet, dehydration, and high levels of caffeine usage. No matter how otherwise healthy he was, he still hit his limit.

…And I just hit mine, so to speak–there goes my timer. So, I’ll summarize this way:

What this experience reminded me of is that I am not omnipotent. I can’t burn the candle at both ends for long, before I get scorched and the light goes out, as it were.

We human beings are designed to be limited, because this reminds us that we have a Creator God who is not.

So what does that mean for you, practically? It means get some sleep. Be smart about how you fuel yourself. Accept that you can’t carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. Maybe try decaf once in a while.

Come face to face with the fact that you can’t do it all, or run the risk of ending up face-down on your bedroom carpet.

A stark reminder, but a necessary one.

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More posts this week, if possible. Maybe sign up for notifications in the sidebar to the right (or below, if you’re reading on mobile)? Just in case I don’t get back here soon.

–d.