A completely true tale:

…so we made it off of I-40 and pulled over at a gas station in Rose Hill, NC, home of the world’s largest frying pan and a town where the motto is apparently, “Look! We have a gas station!” As I was using all of my mechanical skills to stare at the tire in the gas station parking lot, an older man around 65 or 70 pulled up and offered to help. So, my boys and I searched the van for the spare tire, and after pulling out one suitcase one computer bag one makeup bag one beach floaty thing five ocean smelling swimsuits ten gross beach shoe flip flop things and 289 shovels full of sand, we proudly produced the tire for our good samaritan.

He eyed it for a moment, and said, “That there’s a donut.” (WHAT? WE HAD DONUTS?!?) “You can’t ride on no donut. I think I gots a tire your size at th’ house…follow me back there and I’ll change it fer ya.”

At that moment, I was touched at the generosity of the human spirit. The kindness of a stranger. The…wait a moment…I’m receiving a text from my 15 year old who has relocated to the far end of the van…”MAMA DOESN’T LIKE THIS.”

After reloading the donut, the suitcases, the flip flops, and the sand (I think we grabbed some extra from the gas station parking lot), we followed Mr. Good Samaritan Serial Killer down the back roads of Rose Hill. My bride – always the trusting one – began replaying every movie we’ve ever seen where someone relies a stranger for a tire change and then suddenly the stranger is wearing their small intestine as a necklace.

Read the entire original post here.

Advent

I’ll start this post with a couple of confessions:

Confession #1: I stink at family devotions. Like, stink at ’em. Not “we could get better. Last year we only memorized Leviticus, this year we’re going for the whole Pentateuch.” Not, “man, I only read the Bible to my family 363 out of 365 days in 2012. I am a miserable human specimen.”

Nope, I really stink at ’em. And while we’ve tried family devotions plenty of times in the past, and while I occasionally pray with my family for specific needs, and while I will sometimes point them to specific scriptures in specific situations, it’s one of the many things that’s not a part of the warp and woof of my spiritual disciplines (although saying things like “warp and woof”? I got that one nailed.).

Confession #2: I don’t really know what Advent is. There. I said it. I grew up in church, would consider myself a conservative evangelical, and yet I am totally in the dark on Advent. Is it a calendar? Is there a secret handshake? I can remember ONE Christmas in our church, we lit an Advent candle each Sunday leading up to Christmas. So maybe Advent is an invention of the candle industry? But were they special candles? Scented? Did we get ’em on a 2 for $22 Black Friday special at Bath & Body Works?

These are the things that keep me up at night.

 

So you’ll understand my apprehension when I decided to go for broke this year and download an Advent guide from Verge Network. I looked at several, but none seemed to have the magical ingredients that would appeal to four kids from 17 years old down to three. Verge, however, had Advent ornaments to cut and color, so I figured if nothing else, giving the three year old some scissors would be somewhat entertaining.

Last night was Night #1, and perhaps Night #Last, for reasons you’ll see in a moment. Verge had us focusing first on the fall of mankind (nothing says “Merry Christmas!” like the doctrine of original sin), so the plan was to read a portion from Genesis 3, then a reading from The Jesus Storybook Bible. You need to understand that Haven and I read the JSB together frequently. She loves it. It holds her attention, and mine for that matter. The pictures are colorful enough and the stories are short enough that she can maintain focus in almost any circumstance.

Unless that circumstance is Night #1 of Advent, and we have the audacity to involve the rest of the family.

To say that Haven was “unengaged” is the understatement of the century. She twirled. She danced. She moved from chair to chair and person to person. When one of us would try the “grab and hold” technique, she’d immediately launch countermeasures and initiate the “oily octopus” technique, slide onto the floor, and slink across the room. She made unhelpful comments, manufactured unhelpful noises, threw unhelpful jabs at her 11 year old brother…

…in other words, she illustrated the fall of mankind perfectly.

She paid attention to nothing and no one, until the moment that I read Genesis 3:10: “And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.'”

That, she heard.

And then the giggles started. And the eyes got wide as saucers. And the comment came: “DADDY WAS NAKED AND HID HIMSELF!”

Bye-bye, meaningful Advent moment. So long, sober reflection on the introduction of sin to the world. Adios, family devotions. The rest of the crew fell apart. Peals of laughter erupted. And the three year old princess couldn’t be any prouder of herself.

Me? I pouted. Fumed. Did everything I could just to get through it and get it over with and get her to bed.

So much for being spiritual. The man who was reading about sin became, once again, the sinner. Instead of reflecting the second Adam, I looked shockingly like the first one. The dad who was supposed to lead with grace wanted to respond by tossing the [insert Yosemite Sam style cuss words here] Advent guide right into the Christmas tree. One night in, and I was out. Advent – for me – was a bust.

 

Who needs Advent, anyway? Why do we carve out so much time focusing on the coming of Jesus?

Actually, let me try that again:

Who needs Advent, anyway? (I do.)

Why do we carve out so much time focusing on the coming of Jesus? (Because we so desperately need it.)

Nights like last night pull back the curtain on my need to slow down and focus. To hear Jesus. To see Jesus. To make much of Jesus. My attempts at family devotions or being a good husband or being a gracious dad can only go so far without the grace of Jesus. And that’s exactly the point of Advent: to pull away from decorations and wrapping paper and holiday gatherings and early-morning sales and just see Jesus. To recalibrate our hearts to him. To point our families to him. To renew our focus on him.

So tonight, though maybe a bit reluctantly, I’ll give it another whirl. Tonight, I’ll pull the Bible back out and gather the family back around and try to maintain my composure long enough to point them past their grouchy earthly father and towards their gracious heavenly one.

Tonight, I’ll try once again to see Jesus.

After my little tirade at the beginning of Wednesday’s post, I was reminded anew how much I dislike the word “Autumn.” (I think it was invented by Hallmark to sell more cards, or something.)

But it also reminded me of this little post from the early years of this blog’s existence. And even though it’s colder than a lizard’s spleen out there, Happy FALL Friday.

So anyway, “my son,” – in this case, my first grader – had something to say.  So I asked him to follow me to his room.  We sat on his bed, and I said, “Jase, do you have something you need to tell me?”

Suddenly a 92 inch grin covered his skinny little eight inch face.  He doubled over giggling, face down on the bed, and mumbled, “I have a girlfriend.”

Now let’s stop and think about this for just a minute.  This kid can’t consistently put his underwear on the right way.  But he’s started a relationship.  With a woman.

Read the entire post hereAnd (SPOILER ALERT!) for the record, Autumn is long gone. But Emma? Emma carpooled with us to school this morning. Hope lives.

Three things that I’ve been reading this week. Enjoy, campers. (Remember, click the bold print to see the original article!)

 

Measuring church health: How many people will serve? (Tony Morgan) I found this pretty interesting. And it raises the question: what does this stat look like in your church? What does it look like in our church?

The biggest surprise related to volunteers, though, has to do with its relationship to staffing. We’ve found there’s a correlation between the money that a church invests in paid staff and the number of people serving.

As the percentage of the church’s staffing budget increases, the percentage of people volunteering decreases.

In other words, if you want more people to serve, you may need to spend less on staffing.

 

Words are hooks, words are levers. (Seth Godin) This is the reason we don’t use the ‘V-Word’.

The only reason words have meaning is because we agree on what they mean. And that meaning comes from associating those words with other words, words that often have emotional anchors for us.

 

Control Toys: a line of educative toys for badly-behaved children. (Laughing Squid) As the daddy of a very active two year old, I can’t say that I think this is a bad idea (read the entire article before you judge me).

funnycage

My little girl will turn three in August. She is the source of way too much laughter in our family. Her adorability seems to know no bounds, and she has her three big brothers, her mommy, and especially her daddy wrapped around her fingers.

Exhibit A: yesterday she and I were sitting in the van as the rest of the family had run into a store (Haven doesn’t “run into” a store. She will “run around” a store, “run amok” in a store, or “run a store owner’s nerves into the ground” in a store, but she never just “runs into” a store). So as she was sitting in the back seat, I hear

“I sorry, Daddy.”

“Um. Okay. What are you sorry for, baby?”

“I sorry I ate my cwayons.”

And sure enough, I look in the rearview mirror, and there she is, going to town on a Brick Red Crayola like it’s a piece of buttered corn on the cob. (At least she had the decency to peel it first.)

But I digress.

There are other times when her adorability doesn’t shine. There are times when the angelic halo gets a little tarnished and the horns start to come out. Take bath time, for example. Bath time is a delicate process around our house, because it involves a complex formula that includes 47 Bath Toys x 1 head of extremely curly hair + multiple girly hair products that I’m still not educated on ÷ dozens of primal screams when I try to comb the tangles out of aforementioned hair. By the time that process is over, she’s a wreck, I’m a wreck, the bathroom is a wreck, everything is a wreck.

And add to that that she employs a trick known as “slo-mo inchworm” as we’re going back to her room (think two-year old walking as slow as she can. Okay, slower. Even slower. You’ve got it.), and I’m usually pretty frazzled by that point.

I digress again.

It’s in those moments where Haven is a pro at spotting my frustration (perhaps the clenched teeth and bulging forehead veins have something to do with tipping her off). And in those moments, she almost always says three words:

“You happy, Daddy?”

When she first started saying that phrase, I used it as an opportunity for a pious teachable moment. “No baby, Daddy is not happy because you are being disobedient. You splashed water out of the tub onto the floor. You wouldn’t get out of the bathtub when I told you to, and I know you can walk faster than what you just did. So no, Daddy isn’t happy at all. You need to be obedient.”

But at some point over the last couple of months, my own Father convicted me with my words. He reminded me that my own obedience isn’t a prerequisite for his joy over me. My ability to walk the line doesn’t mandate his kindness towards me.

Before I knew him, he knew me.

Before I looked for him, he pursued me.

And even now when I’m willfully disobedient to him, he loves me.

He’s happy with me.

And so I’m training myself with my daughter. Do I want her to be obedient? Yes. But for her joy more than my own. My role is not to shame her into obedience by dangling my love in front of her like a carrot on a stick. My role is to love her on her good days and her bad days and her slo-mo inchworm days.

My goal is to listen for my daughter to say, “You happy, Daddy?” and be able to respond truthfully, joyfully, authentically:

“Yes baby. Daddy is happy, because your Daddy is glad you’re his little girl.”

 

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:17, ESV)

You say, “This is a lazy man’s way of writing a blog post.” I say, “This is the way of a flippin’ GENIUS.”

How to set yourself up for a productive day(via @MichaelHyatt) Ah, if only I could get into this routine. Except for that “exercise clothes” thing. Let’s not get crazy.

In my experience, the best way to ensure a productive day is to set myself up for one the night before. This gives me a chance to make sure I do the most important things first.

Even if my day gets hijacked—and sometimes it does—I’ve achieved my most important tasks. I structure everything around this.

Here are five strategies I use to set myself up for the most productive day possible:

Summer lovin’(via @DurhamMag) I’m gonna do a few of these this summer. I love me some Dirty D.

There are plenty of free movie and concert series to keep the little ones entertained:Brightleaf Square concerts; Duke Performances’ Music in the Gardens at Duke Gardens; Third Friday concerts; Center Stage at American Tobacco CampusRock the Park movie and concert series at various Durham parks; and the new Downtown Durham Inc.Find Your Cool concert series at CCB Plaza.

A young student describes what it takes to be a good teacher(via TwentyTwoWords) I’ll hand it to the kid: he’s got relational smarts.

Low-Standard-for-Teacher-634x475

When you have four kids, people wrongly assume that you’re a parenting expert. They come by the droves asking advice, lining up at the front door like pilgrims in search of a guru on a misty mountain. Or at least they used to. That was before people started actually hearing my advice, which basically boils down to:

  1. Never lose your kids.
  2. If you do lose your kids, find another kid that looks like the one you lost, so you don’t get in trouble with your wife.

But my wife? Now there’s your parenting expert. This latest gem comes from her very creative / somewhat devious mind.

You see, our two year old is what you would call…active. Perhaps insane. I’m not sure. We affectionately refer to her as Hurricane Haven, because if her eyes are open, she’s on the move.

So last week, Merriem was painting her fingernails, and the Category 5 of Cuteness strolled by. Cat 5 wanted her nails painted, too. So Merriem painted her toenails.

And then proceeded to tell Haven that she had to sit very, very still while her nails dried.

Which took quite a bit longer than the average nail drying time of – 0h, say thirty minutes.

If you’re catching my false imprisonment drift.

But the amazing thing is – it worked. Haven believed her mommy. She sat stock still on the couch for an inordinately long time. And Merriem actually was able to get a few things done around the house without wondering what piece of furniture the Hurricane was currently dismantling.

My wife: she’s a genius.

Oh – and here’s the finished project. Pink paint on brown toes? That’ll melt a daddy’s heart.

photo

On Sunday my firstborn will turn 17. Dang. That makes his mama old. Here’s a chunk of a post I wrote four years ago when he hit his teenage years. Hey Jacob…thanks for not making these last four too dramatic.

Happy birthday.

It was thirteen years ago that I held that little chunk of screaming baby in my arms.  Thirteen years ago that I cried because of God’s mercy to us.  Thirteen years ago that I changed my firstborn’s very first diaper and then ducked as he peed all over me.

I find myself revisiting all the things I ever said to parents of the teenagers in my group.  Was I off base?  Did I have a clue what I was talking about?  Was I relying on biblical principles or my own pseudo-knowledge?  Will the things I taught be the things that I turn to now that I’m in those very same trenches?

I find myself looking backwards to the first thirteen years and forwards to the next thirteen. Will he become the man I want him to be?  Will he be a better man than I want him to be? What parts of his character still need to develop?

Read the entire post.

Since it’s a bright sunny day outside, I figured it made sense to take us back to a rainy-day post. Because I’m all depressing like that.

There are moments when you know that the pain and heartache of parenting is all worth it: watching your child take his first steps.  Helping them learn to ride a bike without training wheels.  Discovering that they’ve put underwear on the dog.  And snapping a picture of them wearing Target sacks over their shoes so you can later post it on your blog.

Read the entire post here.

Yesterday I was rolling down the road and listening to NPR, because apparently I’m 62 and have an affection for endangered spotted owls. They were doing a feature story on the infamous “Marshmallow Test” conducted by Stanford researcher Walter Mischel in the late 1960s.

You may not be familiar with the Marshmallow Test if you’ve never heard J.D. Greear preach. That’s his third favorite illustration to use in a sermon (just behind Dee the Waffle House waitress and anything having to do with Narnia, and just ahead of David the psychotic but obedient 12 year old soccer player). Basically, the Marshmallow test took a bunch of preschoolers, put them in a room one at a time, and plunked a single marshmallow on the table in front of them. Those who were patient (“The Marshmallow Waiters”) were able to eat two marshmallows. But those who were impatient (“The Marshmallow Grabbers”) got just a single marshmallow, plus a lifetime of being labeled as a negative example in an illustration.

But here’s the kicker: the study ended up expanding over the next 40 years, tracking these subjects through high school, college, and adulthood. The Marshmallow Waiters typically had higher grades, better SAT scores, and lasting relationships. The Marshmallow Grabbers were typically more dysfunctional, had higher behavioral problems, and followed Kim Kardashian on Twitter.

The NPR commentator then made this statement: “It would appear that self-control is hardwired, and that even by the age of four in a test as simple and insignificant as marshmallows, we can already tell the lifestyle that child will lead.”

So it seems. Or does it? Yes, I believe that there are behavior patterns in childhood that can serve as a predictor for later life. I believe that there are lots of times I see four-year-old-Danny resurfacing in 39-year-old-Danny. But Galatians 5:22-23 tells us that self-control is a fruit that grows. It’s not a fruit that we plant, cultivate or grow, but it’s a fruit that’s borne by the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer.

I don’t have innate self-control. But the Spirit within me makes it available.

I’m not a naturally patient person. But yielding to the Spirit can produce that patience.

There are days when I’m just not joyful. But there is a Helper that brings joy from a deeper source.

My name is Danny, and I’m a Marshmallow Grabber. You probably are, too. But that’s our old nature. That’s who we were. For the Christ follower, we’ve been given the gift of the Spirit, and the Spirit gives us the gift of self-control.

And love.

And joy.

And peace.

And kindness, and goodness, and faithfulness.

It’s not up to us.

It’s already been accomplished by Him.

You are not who you were.

[Bonus video: check out the updated version of the Marshmallow Test.]