50 Pounds Here and Gone

Near the beginning of October (around the 10th) I reached the goal of having lost 50 pounds! It has been a long journey. I began on April 9th and have remained true to the course ever since. A dear friend recommended two books to me by Kay Sheppard, From the First Bite and The Body Knows; both deal with the subject of food addictions. I found myself fitting many of the descriptions profiled in the book and was intrigued by the idea of really being free from the struggle of overwhelming food cravings. My friend encouraged me to try the food plan for thirty days and to begin immediately and seriously (meaning go “cold turkey” off some serious food and drink substances). I
decided to go for it and began the next day.

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December 2004–This is a terrible picture! It does serve a purpose, however, since it proves who has the Favored Green Christmas Stocking for Christmas ’04

The food plan is a very intense, weighed and measured diet. One of the basic concepts is that certain people are addicted or obsessed with food and that there is a physiological reaction that causes cravings for refined carbohydrates. You can read more about the food plan and the idea of food addictions at Kay’s website: http://www.kaysheppard.com

So on that fateful Saturday in April I went off all forms of sugar (natural or processed, including all sweeteners except for liquid Saccharine), flour, and wheat. I also stopped all caffeine consumption and any high fat foods (like nuts, fried foods, etc). I had a pretty miserable two days as I felt headachy and exhausted. I remember saying to a friend, “I have five children, I can not afford to be this tired! Tell me this won’t last!!” She assured me that I would survive. Ha!

The food plan is very specific in terms of what and when you eat (hence the weighed and measured definition) but it does provide fairly hearty amounts. I eat a good deal of food–it just happens to be extremely healthy and WAY more veggies than my family is interested in consuming.

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December 2004–Taking a lovely walk with Sarah and my mom.

Along the way I have dropped some serious pounds (something in the order of 13 in the first two and a half weeks), have found a real peace over food (most of the time) and developed a real awareness of any sugar that gets into my system (the cravings start almost immediately). I discovered it is possible to get off soda and sugar free gum (two BIG, long time habits in my life). I survived a summer of travel and family gatherings and eating out. All in all I haven’t had any chocolate or sugar or bread products for more than six months.

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March 2005–Soon this girl will discover the joys of millet and quinoa!

Interestingly enough I find I can handle the absence of sweets much more easily than the absence of starches. Last week I was particularly hungry, for some reason, and struggled in resisting the huge Costco muffins I had bought for the family. And yet, at other times, I don’t find resisting difficult at all (or there is no way I could continue this plan for such a long time–I just don’t have that much will power in and of myself).

I wonder if I will be able to enjoy Christmas baking this year without eating any of the treats. I made some cookies for a homeschooling co-op class, last week, and realized that I have always nibbled on the dough without even thinking. It was a bit torturous, as a creative cook, not to taste the new recipe. I have to be careful not to dwell too much on the idea of certain foods or try to smell and savor them–it causes me to be discontent and starts those hunger cravings.

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June 2004–Fixing some fruit and veggies. Down about 25 pounds!

My family and friends have been hugely supportive. Tim is amazed that I’ve continued on as long as I have. He and my friend, Julee, vie for position as my biggest cheerleader. Julee has supported me from the beginning, always believing that I could lose the weight and would succeed (even when I truly didn’t believe it myself). She went on the plan with me (until pregnancy morning sickness drove her to eat crackers) and even spent a day cooking “approved recipes” with me. Julee is always ready to talk about how I’m doing or feeling about it all … much longer than Tim can handle the discussion. She brought over a bag of gifts when I hit this grand goal and was the first to say we had to go out and celebrate my 50 pound loss. More than anyone, she has truly applauded and rejoiced with me over each step of my progress.

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October 2005–Heading out for our Girls’ Night Dinner and Movie to Celebrate 50 pounds gone!!

Tim, as always, is my rock! He somehow knows just the right thing to say to help me remain on track. He helps me see all I have gained (no pun intended) during my struggle to be consistent and points out the habits that I have changed. He supports me in finding new, attractive clothes and never speaks disparagingly about my sometimes odd food choices (does anyone else like millet and quinoa?).

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October 2005–trying on some cute, new clothes.

I don’t know what I would do without my family and friends encouraging and supporting me. They’ve let me talk (endlessly at times) about the food plan and my baby steps toward healthy eating. They cheer and compliment me and tell me I am doing great. The children went through a mourning period as I gave up sugar (perhaps they saw that their own sugar consumption would also be decreasing) but unfailingly applaud my efforts. They are quick to ask me, “Are you allowed to have that?” if it looks like I am eating something unhealthy. Built in accountability!

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These children are definitely not eating on my food plan!

I was trying to find some pictures to post … perhaps a nice before and after shot. As I looked through the months of 2005, I began to see just how little I really let myself be photographed. I could hardly find any pictures of myself and certainly not any without several children posed artfully in front of me (one advantage of having five children). As I looked through the collection, catching glimpses of myself her and there, I began to really appreciate how much weight I have lost. It’s a bit of a shock to put the two images together in my head. I’m still me–thick or thin.

People often ask me what I will do (with my eating) once I reach my goal weight. It’s a difficult question. If you follow, truly, the mindset that goes along with the food addiction books, then, like an alcoholic, you are never “cured” of your addiction but must abstain from those substances forever. I find that idea a bit daunting–it’s difficult to wrap my brain around the idea of being off sugar, wheat and flour for the rest of my life. On the other hand, God brought to mind an interesting connection last week. In all things, discipline is required for true, long lasting growth.

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October 2005–Today!!

When someone begins an exercise routine they are not usually asked, “So, when you tone those arms and gain strength in your legs and some awesome muscles, are you going to return to your couch potato state and stop exercising?” No, physical fitness, if you want to retain the strength and endurance, must be continued.

If someone reads the Bible in a year, working day by day, to go through the entire Bible, would you say to them, “Boy, I bet you’re glad that’s over. Now that you’ve reached that goal, I guess you’re going to go back to trashy novels and smutty movies. You’ll probably want to cut back on all that Bible reading and be more moderate, maybe only a chapter or two on the weekends.”

How ridiculous that sounds! Thinking of discipline in the physical and spiritual realms and applying it to my eating has been eye-opening. Of course, I want to grow in my Christian walk. Obviously one has to keep on exercising or the muscles will turn to flab. I certainly know that keeping my marriage vibrant and loving takes energy and work. Being a good parent requires me to be consistent and attentive. I think staying on track with my eating, and maintaining a healthy weight is going to take constant work. Knowing this, however, doesn’t have to be discouraging, instead it can be another way that I am being refined and transformed “…into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18

Paul writes about discipline in Titus:

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” Titus 2:11-14

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My sassy new jeans and vest!

Until such time as Christ returns or takes me from this earthly home, I will try my best to honor Him with my disciplined eating. I trust He will give me the grace to run the race and the wisdom to discern the path He has for me. I am thankful that He promises to meet me if I seek Him. I do not want to be back in the place of obsessing over food, with its downward spiral into addictive behaviors.


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A New Job

It has been easily a month since I have written anything for this blog. A couple of weeks ago, I attended a men’s Bible study that was just starting up, and each of the men was saying something about their hobby. One man spoke up: “I write.” It piqued my interest … what kind of things does he write? And then I sadly remembered … I used to write!

One day about two months ago, Kathy called me at work. “You’ve gotten three calls from recruiters today,” she told me. What bad timing … I had just begun a programming class funded by my employer, and was scheduled to go on vacation in a couple of days. When I got home, I looked over the e-mails and messages … they were all for the same job requisition, which must have just been released into the wild of recruiting land. Looking them over, I noticed that one recruiter had actually read my resume and had picked up on what I consider to be the key statement:

I am a devoted follower of Jesus Christ.

Interestingly enough, this recruiter also seemed to be the most straightforward of the three, talking frankly about billing rates and the share I would receive. I agreed to have them submit my resume to the prospective employer, and found myself on a phone interview a few days later. They put me on speaker-phone and barraged me with questions, four of them to one of me … I hate those kind of interviews. It is very difficult to project a sense of who you are to more than one person over the phone, lacking visual cues. I guess the interview went well, though, because while I was on vacation in Texas, they offered me the job, sight unseen. I was to be an independent contractor for a six-month period, working for a major wireless company in the Seattle area. After praying and consulting with a number of folks, I decided to take the job. While it is scary to think of being in the market for another job in only six months, the hourly rate they were offering was very attractive, and the work they want me to do was much more in line with my preferences than at my former employer. So I took the job, and am now in the fifth week of employment as an independent contractor.

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Another big change this month — Mom and Dad sold their house in Lakewood. The ‘cousins’ gather here for a farewell to the ‘ole homestead.

The last week at my previous job was horrible in a self-inflicted sort of way. There were so many things that I had done in a slap-dash fashion or that needed just that little bit more of effort (or documentation) to make them workable for my successors … even on my last day I had a list of 24 things I needed to do. I finished most of them, but ultimately had to call it a day. It was very strange to hand in my laptop, give up my train pass, hand in my badge and pager and walk away. Even though I was voluntarily leaving for what I expected to be a much better position, I felt a poignant sense of loss. I guess I had really come to enjoy the people I worked with, if not the job that I was doing.

The commute to my new job is a little tricky. If I try to work ‘normal’ working hours, it takes me more than two full hours to get to work; driving, riding the train and riding the bus. Traffic on the highways to this particular location make it prohibitively difficult to commute for an 8-5 workday. Although my new boss seems a little more rigid about work schedules than I prefer, he agreed to allow me to work from 6-3, so that I can avoid the worst of the traffic. I’ve been leaving the house around 5 in the morning and getting home about 4:10 in the afternoon, which is not too bad. David and Sarah keep asking me, “Why are you here?” I presume theirs are not existential questions, but more along the lines of “Why are you home so EARLY?”

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Construction at The Refuge (http://www.olympicrefuge.org) continues apace.

I really like the work at my new job. I’m doing internal tools and intranet web development, which I very much enjoy. The contract agency who pays me made a special effort to get me my first check … it is always nice to be reminded of why I get up so early in the morning and trundle off to work. And it is strangely pleasant to be back in the telecommunications world … a lot of things have not really changed very much in the three years that have elapsed since I was working at AT&T Wireless.

While I was on vacation in Texas, I did not work on my programming class homework, and (as a consequence) I became rather far behind. With the flurry of leaving my former employment and starting a new job, I found that I had little time to catch up. Today [well, it was "today" when I wrote this] is the last day of the class, and tomorrow is the deadline for all homework to be submitted, or I’ll fail the class. I’ve spent nearly every waking free moment in the past three weeks working on the homework assignments … happily, I’ve finished them all and am waiting only to find out if the last half of a problem has been accepted. (If not, I’ll have one last chance tonight to resubmit it.) While it isn’t that big a deal to fail the class, it is the prerequisite to a certificate program I hope to begin in February … if I have to re-take it, that will cost me $600 and another ten weeks’ delay. I certainly have worked hard to complete these assignments … it reminds me of end-of-semester project deadlines back when I was an undergraduate student at the College of William and Mary.

[Editor's Note: I did manage to pass the class, mainly by wearing down my professor with repeated submissions of homework. "Enough!" he finally cried. "You passed the class, now leave me alone!"]

A couple of Mondays ago, with hardly any fanfare, I restarted the tradition of Special Days with my children. When we first moved to Washington, I began spending one hour a week with each of my kids individually … taking them on bike rides, going for walks, often just driving to the local McDonald’s Playland and watching them play. They really seemed to enjoy having some focused Daddy Time, and I’ve continued the tradition off and on over the last five years. While I was working at my former job, I had Mondays off, and so I grouped the five individual Special Days into a single weekly Special Event or Field Trip. While we were able to go on some cool day trips, I think that some of the kids (especially the older ones) really missed having one-on-one time with me (and I with them).

The trouble is, my schedule is still a little fluid, such that I don’t come home early every day. The kids have Awana on Wednesday nights, and so there are perhaps only three days a week where I am home early enough to easily do a Special Day with a child. Happily, I came up with the idea of not tying Special Days to a calendar week, but rather using a random-selection method on the days when I can spend an hour with just one child. In this way, each child will get a Special Day about three times a month, and I won’t be tempted to neglect my wife or other responsibilities.

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As the weather turns, everyone likes to hang out by our little gas fireplace, even the Muffin.

A few years ago Kathy bought me two little books: How to be your Daughter’s Daddy and How to be a Father to your Little Man, both containing 365 activity suggestions. Some of them are not particularly applicable, and some of them are things I already do often, but they both contain some clever and workable ideas. I decided to buy one for each of my children and to write the date beside each thing that we do. I hope that they will keep these books and leaf through them from time to time, remembering how much their Daddy loves them.

I’ve really missed riding on the train, but Kathy says she really likes having me home early. If I take the train, I can sleep in an hour longer, but I get home three hours later in the evening, with a total loss in family time of two hours. This is somewhat balanced by the fact that I can use those two hours on the train, and that I hate driving in any kind of heavy traffic. Thanks to the high cost of gas, the train is just as economical as driving alone, so there is no heavy penalty there. Maybe I should take the train once a week or so, just to make time to write? I was hoping to join a vanpool, and enjoy the best of both worlds, but I’m having trouble finding one that follows my rather eccentric commuting route. Most people live a lot closer to their jobs than I do, I wonder why?

[Another Editor's Note: My apologies to the die-hard fans (both of you) who have come to expect a blog entry more often than once a month. You can see I had a few excuses, leaving a job, starting another job, finishing a class, starting a Bible Study, etc. In all the excitement, I found that I didn't really have much to say.]

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Blend Ministry

Recently I was asked to come in to work to help with a project that hoped to launch on the following day. Ordinarily, I am off on Mondays, working longer days the remainder of the week to compensate. But on this particular occasion the need is great, and so I rode the train with an unusually tired and grumpy crowd, no doubt exhausted from the festivities.

I must admit, the weekend seemed awfully short to me, accustomed as I am to luxurious three-day weekends. I squandered much of Saturday playing a new computer game that Kathy bought me for Father’s Day, and then the Burts came to stay with us for games and pizza (which was a lot of fun, even if I didn’t win Settlers of Catan. I did manage to sneak in an hour or two of building shelves in the garage, which pleases Kathy.

Several Sundays ago was our church picnic, at which I had planned to provide smoothies; it was a busy day. Our church rented a nearby elementary school field and had the entire service (and subsequent picnic) outside. It was a fun event … the skies were cloudy and temperatures cool until almost the exact best moment … once the service was over and lunch began, the clouds burned off like magic. I was reminded of the famous hymn It Is Well With My Soul, which refers to the return of our Lord, in which the line “… the clouds are rolled back like a scroll.” All my worries that my blends would not be wanted evaporated like the morning mist; by the time we had our tables and blenders set up, a crowd had already formed, and we were off. I estimate we served between 350 and 400 blends to our church family (some were repeat customers) over the course of the following three hours … Greg and Tina joined in like old professionals and Kathy (who usually eschews mass-production) even got in on the fun, running one of the Mocha Granita production lines in her own cheerful style.

I had to nip out twice (once for more ice and the second time for more milk) as the demand outpaced my supplies. I have never before provided smoothies for more than 120 people … this event really stretched my capacity to the limit. The next day my legs were aching from standing behind that table and from walking (and sometimes running) back and forth to the car with supplies … but I must say that it was all very much worth it. For one reason or another God has wired me so that I enjoy making blends for other people, even strangers; it turns out that I really enjoy making blends for large numbers of other people.

For those who could not attend this gala celebration, or who somehow missed the smoothie table, I offer this consolation: it isn’t too late to go buy a smoothie machine and carry on this important blend ministry your home town. Here’s what you’ll need:

  1. A smoothie machine. I recommend the Smoothie Elite manufactured by Back to Basics … on sale for about $37 at your local Wal-Mart, Target or Costco. The key thing is for your blender to have a spigot so that you don’t have to pour out the smoothie … for mass-production, the spigot is critical. These machines also have a stir stick that is carefully designed to reach nearly to the bottom without actually hitting the blades. It is very helpful in producing a smooth, even consistency across the entire blend, so you don’t get customers comparing their blends unfavorably.
  2. Choose one (or at most two) recipes. I generally do a Mocha Granita and a Strawberry-Lemonade Blend, recipes below. It can be nice to have a separate blender for each recipe, unless you want to do a lot of washing when you could be blending.
  3. Purchase an ample amount of the proper supplies. You’ll need:
    • Ice (and probably a cooler, unless you plan to use it all quickly)
    • Power (these babies don’t run on batteries)
    • Water or milk, depending on your recipe
    • Dry (and frozen) ingredients
    • Cups
    • Lids (or you can always hire a carpet cleaner)
    • Straws
    • Flavorings
    • Optional: cardboard drink carriers for ease in delivery
  4. Find some customers … you’ll want to set up in a well-trafficked place but where the noise of your blender(s) won’t annoy. The Smoothie Elite machines are surprisingly loud when initially crushing the ice.
  5. A marketing strategy. I have rigidly adhered to the “Smoothies Should Be Free” slogan (and philosophy) for my blend ministry, but you may wish to place a “Donations” cup at your Blend Booth if you want to defray the cost of ingredients or raise support for some other worthy cause. As soon as you charge money, I suspect you cross the line into requiring a business license and certification by your local food safety health inspector types. Don’t look here for actual legal advice, though.

I estimate that it costs between $0.25 and $0.35 (not counting labor) to make a 12-ounce blend or smoothie, when you factor in the cost of the cups, lids, straws and ingredients (not to mention the occasional blender that dies). Considering that most people would pay at least a dollar for one of these blends, this means that for every blend you create you are tripling or quadrupling the utility of your money (in Micro-Economics terms). On a hot day you may see this factor double or even triple … I have been told by many that my Mocha Granitas are comparable to Espresso-booth products purchased for $2 and $3. For some reason, even though I never charge money, I get a lot of vicarious enjoyment out of all those people who drink my blends.

Smoothie Recipes:

Mocha Granita

Fill the blender up about half way (between 24 and 32 oz, depending on your blender model) with milk. I use skim milk when I make these for myself, and 1% or 2% when I am making them for other people. I’ve never had anyone complain about this.

Add three scoops of Nestle Quik mixture using the large scoop provided in the Costco-sized Quik container.

Add three large scoops of Frappe Freeze Mocha mix (available at Costco, usually near the coffee) using the same scoop you used for the Quik.

Add ice until the blender is full (but not overflowing).

Add coffee syrups (I personally prefer Hazelnut) or a healthy squirt of some Java chocolate syrup (in case it isn’t already strong or sweet enough).

Put the top back on the blender, and ensure the stir-stick is firmly centered in the hole in the top of the blender. This is a critical step unless you want to repaint your ceiling (or so I’ve heard).

Blend and stir until nearly smooth (noise of ice chopping sound should level off).

Serves 4 twelve-ounce blends with a little left over for the chef.

Strawberry Mandarin Lemonade Delight

Fill the blender about half way with water.
Add in six to eight (depending on how sweet you like it) small scoops of Smuckers Strawberry Lemonade mix, using the scoop provided in the Costco-sized container.

Add in six to eight large frozen strawberries.

Add in a half-can of Mandarin oranges (or the whole can, if you prefer).

Fill the blender with ice (but not overflowing).

Put the top back on the blender, and ensure the stir-stick is firmly centered in the hole in the top of the blender. This is a critical step unless you want to repaint your ceiling (you’d think this would be self-evident, but even master blenders make mistakes, or so I’ve heard).

Blend and stir until nearly smooth (noise of ice chopping sound should level off).

Serves 4 twelve-ounce blends with a little left over for the chef.

Tricks and Tips

Sometimes you will get a little carried away with your liquid and dry ingredients, leaving insufficient room at the top of the blender for ice. In such cases, simply bleed off a cup of the liquid from the bottom, making more room for ice at the top. Then pour the liquid in at the top once you’ve dispensed enough blend to make room for it.

Sometimes you get a little carried away with the ice, and your blend will barely ooze out of the spigot while your customers tap their feet impatiently. Simply pour an extra cup of water or milk (whichever was the base of your original blend recipe) and your smoothie will loosen up nicely.

Never try to get the last drop out of your blender until it really is your last blend. Let the last half-cup of the blender roll over into the next batch … this will save wear and tear on your blender.

If you have a large crowd, consider using eight- or nine-ounce cups instead of twelve- or sixteen-ounce cups. I haven’t found the smaller cups with lids, though, so only do this when you are outside. I use plastic cups, but you could probably go with paper without any trouble. Blends don’t store very well at room temperature, anyway.

On really hot days I tend to make my blends with more ice and water and less sweet ingredients. In cooler weather I will sometimes add a flavored yogurt, tending more toward the creamy, frothy consistency. Blends don’t move well on cold days, although I can usually find customers for the milk-based Mocha Granitas year-round.

I have never yet failed to find lots of eager hands to distribute smoothies when my customers are dispersed … kids of all ages seem to love to be the bearer of blends. It is helpful to have those cardboard drink carriers (like you get at a fast-food drive-in) … they can be had in bulk for about five cents apiece, and are reusable for several iterations, depending on the person carrying them. As far as I know, they do actually deliver the blends, although a couple of times I have wondered about this.

Ingredients are always a problem … it is very hard to estimate the amount of each that you will require, especially when making blends for large numbers of people. I try to err on the side of having too much, but sometimes I still don’t have enough. One way to insure against disaster in blend-making is to have a bunch of frozen concentrates around. Then if you run out of one ingredient or another, you can always throw in a concentrate. I really like the Raspberry Lemonade concentrates … they have saved my bacon (so to speak) more than once.

Some blend purveyors prefer to sport some form of recognizable headgear … I traditionally sport an attractive beaver cap and operate under the pseudonym “Boris Brainfreeze”. This should not be attempted, however, by those lacking my (admittedly intimidating) combination of panache, majesty, dignity, distinction, and savoir faire. It isn’t such a good idea on a really hot day, either.

Sometimes people tease me about taking blending so seriously, especially when they see me packing in all my supplies, ice, ingredients and blenders (it is not unusual for me to fill the back of my little station wagon). “It’s just a blend, dude!” they will say (as if a smoothie were not an end in itself). There are those smug seminarians who will try to tell you that smoothie-making is not really a spiritual gift. Some will decry the cost of the ingredients and will even mock the sacred “Smoothies Should Be Free” philosophy, as if blends and vulgar cash could mix. And of course, in every large crowd there will be Philistines who do not appreciate the subtle flavor of your best blend offering, who will callously leave full blends to melt forlornly on a picnic table. Do not go gently into that smoothie-less dark night. Resist such nay-sayers and keep cranking out the blends. For every jealous sidewalk detractor there will spring up ten young disciples. Admittedly, some will probably fall by the wayside, and a few may settle for being pastors, evangelists and missionaries. But in the end a few hardy souls will persevere to the lofty height of Master Blender.

It is said that when the new city of Jerusalem is established, that a river will flow out from under the throne of God, along which will grow the tree of life. This tree will bear twelve distinct fruits according to the season. It all seems tailor-made to me … you have high-quality water and heavenly fruit; all that is lacking is ice. I’m thinking that the position of God’s personal blend-maker is still open and I can set up shop along the side of the river. It reminds me of James and John, and how they asked to sit at the right and left of Jesus, when he comes into His glory. I hope the other blenders of the world don’t get mad at me.

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A Form of Godliness

Once again, a blog entry has languished on my laptop without being posted. This one refers to events that happened a few weeks ago.

Summer has arrived with a vengeance here in Western Washington. As usual, the weather during camp week was spectacular, with only one brief rainshower on Friday morning. We tore ourselves away from the Duckabush late Saturday and arrived home after midnight. I had consumed a liter of Diet Coke late in the evening and so had no trouble, but Kathy was really struggling to stay awake as she followed me in the van.

On Sunday we skipped Sunday School (except Joshua, who wheedled his Mom into dropping him off for his class) and enjoyed a leisurely morning before attending the second service. Our pastor preached on 2 Timothy chapter 3, verses 1-9, which is a bit of a discouraging passage:

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God … having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.” II Timothy 3:1-5

I was reminded (again) of the movie Groundhog Day in which the arrogant protagonist asks his female colleague for her definition of the perfect man. As she lists a number of glowing virtues, he keeps a running commentary: “Me … me again … me also … I am REALLY close on this one … “, pretending that he fulfills each of the characteristics she enumerates. As I look at the list of sins in the first verses of II Timothy 3, I think about how many of them apply to me. If I were to prosecute myself according to these ‘crimes’ I think I could probably secure a conviction on every one except ‘treacherous’ and (perhaps) ‘not lovers of the good’.

Kathy and I talked about this at some length, because I was a little disturbed by it. The pastor was careful to point out that the passage seems to be referring to people inside the church and that Christians are not to associate with other so-called believers who meet these criteria. But as I thought about it, it seems there is something missing. Let’s face it: if I followed nearly any Christian around with a video camera and did a careful audit of their life, I would find significant evidence of many of these sins in remarkably short order. From a literal perspective, if I was to ‘have nothing to do with’ Christians who match the description given, I would not be able to fellowship with anyone (or they with me).

In the Growing Kids God’s Way parenting curriculum which has largely influenced our parenting philosophy, a distinction is made between a child’s occasional sin and a child who is ‘characterized’ by a pattern of behavior. A parent may extend grace to one child and crack down on another depending on previous offenses of the same nature, much in the same way that a judge may properly consider past offenses when sentencing, if not when determining guilt. One of my children may be characterized by an argumentative, wise-in-his-own-eyes attitude, while another might be characterized by cheerful obedience … in such a case, I’ll tolerate an appeal from the obedient child while I will reject the same appeal from the child who is characterized by disobedience.

Perhaps the same kind of interpretation can be placed on these verses. Clearly any Christian will, from time to time, be guilty of one or more of these offenses, yet they may be characterized by a love for God and a desire to please Him more than by these sins.

Alternatively, we can look at the following verses in the same passage:
” … always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth.” (vs. 7)

“Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these men oppose the truth … men of depraved minds who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected.”

These verses seem to indicate a deeply-rooted deception and active opposition to the Gospel and to the Church … people who pretend to be pursuing godliness but are actually witting or unwitting double agents within the Body of Christ.

Introducing this passage, the pastor said, “And some of these people are here today.” I fought down a strong temptation to crane my neck around suspiciously in a theatrical manner, not wanting to make light of his observation that, indeed, the people described in this passage would likely be faithful churchgoers and not outwardly distinguishable from those who were seeking God with a pure and contrite heart.

I guess the phrase that really leaped out at me from this whole passage was in verse 5: “… having a form of godliness but denying its power.” This seems to sum up many Christians today; we partition our lives so carefully that we neutralize the power of God from having any real impact in our lives or in the lives of those around us.

And when you think about it, it is really very sad. How pathetic it is to have access to something really wonderful yet never take advantage of it, out of fear or laziness or ignorance. Many pastors have repeatedly chided their flock for the spiritual equivalent of having a Ferrari in the driveway but never driving it, only washing, waxing and polishing it on Sundays, maybe backing it up and down the driveway on special occasions.

As Paul writes in I Timothy 4:8:

“For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”

Historically I’ve taken that verse out of context to explain why I don’t do pushups and situps. In all seriousness, though, it makes me wonder what promise I am giving up when I deny the power of godliness in my life? What is, after all, the power of godliness?

Jesus was very hard on the Pharisees throughout His ministry, frequently criticizing them for outward ‘righteousness’ which did not translate to a right heart before God. It seems that, in order to really enjoy the power of godliness, I must be conducting myself in a godly manner out of a pure and contrite heart, rather than out of any other motives. It seems to tie in rather nicely with what the Lord has been teaching me about humility and forgiveness and contentment and all the other lessons that I am learning, whether I like it or not.

These past two years have been difficult for me, as I have been gently (and in some cases, not so gently) taught the difference between faith and counterfeit faith, humility and false humility, forgiveness on my terms and forgiveness on God’s terms. I was talking with Kathy the other night, marveling at all the changes that God has brought about in my life, and how He has upended and stirred-up the patterns of ‘righteousness’ I have cherished over the years. She asked me, “If you had the choice, would you voluntarily sign up for all the lessons you’ve learned in the past two years, knowing the trouble that would come with those lessons?”

Truthfully, no. I am lazy enough and self-righteous enough that, even in hindsight, I would probably not value the pursuit of godliness enough to experience the hardship; and I am optimistic enough to think that somehow I could learn the needed lessons without having to experience the trouble.

How great is our God, that He doesn’t ask or require us to make that choice, but rather disciplines us as sons, teaching us the lessons He wills for us without needing to consult us. I think I’d rather leave those kind of things in His capable hands, and just take each day with its renewed mercies, as it comes.

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The Kingdom of Light

I wrote this a few weeks ago … for some reason, I’m just not willing to go back and remove all the time-sensitive wording. I guess I’ll just publish it with a postscript at the end.

Yesterday was the first day of camp at Wilderness Northwest. We drove out to the Olympic Peninsula on Sunday afternoon and settled into our faithful “Duckabush House” with two carloads of stuff. Sometimes I think that we take more luggage on a one-week vacation than many families have in their permanent dwellings. Of course it didn’t help that we stopped off at Costco and WalMart in preparation for the week of camp lunches and evening meals for the hordesfolk.

We celebrated Kathy’s and Sarah’s birthdays on Saturday, and again on Monday, since several gifts from various family members had not yet been opened. It is always fun to buy things for those two girls … they are so very appreciative.


I really love that house in the Duckabush … it is a shame that we don’t go out there very often. It brought back some lovely memories to see the house filled again with friends and family … I think we had twenty-seven people in the house on Monday night, either for a lasagna meal or for the ensuing game night, at one point or another.


I wish I could have stayed for all the fun … having to work in Seattle today, I left the valley a little after 8 pm last night and headed back to Lakewood. As I turned south onto Route 101, the sun was still pouring itself over Mount Jupiter’s shoulder, filling the space between the ridges with a shimmering golden light that was almost liquid, and blazing in reflected glory on the river. It made me think of the words referring to the “kingdom of light” in Colossians:

“And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Colossians 1:10-14

I think we are very quick to treat darkness and light as metaphors for good and evil, yet we forget sometimes that God’s kingdom is very literally a kingdom of light, wherein He Himself will provide the illumination throughout the kingdom. Toward the end of a recent vacation in Michigan, in which we spent many long, sunny days on the beach, my mother-in-law quipped, “I can see why people in ancient times worshipped the sun.” If our sun is merely a shadow of the glory of God, I think we’ll spend a lot of time in heaven just sitting around in breathless wonder.

It has truly been a golden summer so far. Coming on the heels of a glorious Fathers’ Day, we spent almost two weeks vacationing in Michigan with Kathy’s parents, returning home barely in time to rush off to Day Camp at Wilderness Northwest with game nights and cousins galore. In early August the older three kids will go to camp at Miracle Lake Ranch and later in the summer we’ll travel to Fort Clark, in Texas, for yet another week of vacation. Not wanting to leave any time idle, Kathy has scheduled several of the kids for various YMCA sports camps (baseball, soccer, gymnastics) throughout the Summer as well. And then there is the trip to Texas with Kathy’s folks that we have planned at the end of August. I expect we’ll be anxious to see the Fall arrive if only out of exhaustion from all this fun.


When I think about my childhood and the many happy memories I have of summertime, it warms my heart to think that my children will also have the opportunity to remember many joyful summer days. Although we continue to homeschool through the summer, we take frequent breaks for vacation, and so I think that the kids can enjoy some significant freedom, without boredom setting in. They seem to enjoy the Homeschool Co-op and the Homeschool PE program at the local Y so much that my children actually look forward to the school year beginning again in earnest (both of those programs take a recess in the Summer).

Now my train is rolling in to the station in Seattle, and I must work for the next several days before I can slip back out to the Olympic Peninsula for the last day of camp. I guess it isn’t too unreasonable that someone should work, for at least part of the summer.

Postscript: It is now a month since Wilderness Northwest Day Camp, and the Summer continues to fly past. Now that we have closed on our house, we have crossed over from renting to owning* our current abode. Kathy has acquired some ‘Ooops’ paint from Home Depot and Lowe’s, and has big plans for painting some of the out-of-the-way areas (like the pantry and the mud room) as we embark on a ‘journey of discovery’ in decorating this house. I’m on the hook to build some much-needed utility shelves in the garage, and we have quite a bit of work to do around the outside of the house (landscaping, etc.). There are numerous small repairs that need to be made as well as several intimidating projects (like re-tiling the master bathroom). I keep telling myself, “Just one thing at a time.” This is, of course, good advice for life as well as home repair … as Jesus said in Matthew 6:34:

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Each day seems to require just one thing from me: that I step out in faith to love and serve God. Well, that and getting out of bed when that cursed alarm clock goes off at 5:48 am.

*For some very small values of ‘owning’.

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