The Reading Challenge Begins … Again

In the weeks before David’s birthday, I began thinking of all the good books I read when I was a young teenager.

“Books are important,” I told Kathy. “They can cast a vision for what it means to be a man. I want David to read some of those good books.”

You know the kind of books I mean. The books that teach the important things — books about loyalty and honor and courage and self-sacrifice. Books with larger-than-life heroes who set the standard for manhood.

David is a big fan of the Artemis Fowl series.

David is a big fan of the Artemis Fowl series.

So I did a quick pass through my library and wrote to a few of my friends and family members, asking for lists of books that they would recommend. Soon, I had a whole shelf’s worth. Except I didn’t have a shelf.

“Hey, Kathy, I need a shelf. How ’bout this one?” I pointed to a promising shelf in our living room at eye level for David. Immediately, I knew something was wrong, by the look on Kathy’s face.

Homeschooling Moms get a little territorial about bookshelves. Whenever we need a blank wall for a photo, we have to go outside or to someone else’s house, because we have bookshelves in every place that could possibly fit one. A quick survey of the house tells me that we have thirty (30) bookshelf units in our home, most with at least 5 shelves. But do you think Kathy will relinquish one in a prime location? Not likely. Eventually, she grudgingly made the top shelf of one of the units available.

Our new shelf o' good, manly books.

Our new shelf o’ good, manly books.

I talked it over with David, and he and I agreed that we would start a Reading Challenge. We would both abstain from playing computer games for a certain period of time — maybe a few weeks, or a month, in which we would focus on reading some of the good books on that shelf.

My newly-teenaged son wanted to start the challenge when he got back from the Middle School retreat (and after he had a full week to enjoy his new Lego Marvel Heroes game). Of course, Sarah wanted to participate too, and is actually the only one who has already finished a book (and written the requisite book report). She is a bit of an over-achiever.

David spent today abstaining from computer games, and trying to finish a book that Joshua gave him for his birthday. I had a few meetings this evening, and (when I finally returned from working out at the gym) I settled into my computer chair. Out of habit, I toggled to one of my favorite computer games, and was playing it serenely when my youngest son walked up behind me.

Sins of a Solar Empire -- hardly an auspicious title for one of my favorite games.

Sins of a Solar Empire — hardly an auspicious title for one of my favorite games.

“You’re playing a computer game!” he accused, aghast. “What about our Reading Challenge?”

“Oooh, you forgot about the challenge,” Kathy and Sarah joined in, gleefully.

I'm hoping David remembers the 'love mercy' part on his shirt.

I’m hoping David remembers the ‘love mercy’ part on his shirt.

As a father, I usually try to set a good example to my children, by rigorously keeping my word and being as honest and faithful as I can. It is so easy to compromise one’s integrity in our culture, I feel that I need to hold the line as faithfully as I can, to show my children that it is still possible. I hope that I can one day say, like Paul did to the Corinthians, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

This was not one of those days.

“How ’bout we start the Reading Challenge tomorrow,” I suggested, rather timidly. “It was an honest mistake, I’m sure you understand. The game was already running on my computer, and I just forgot … ”

One thing about parenting, it keeps you humble. I guess tomorrow we’ll start the Reading Challenge … again.

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Best Valentine Ever

Strangely enough, this isn’t a post about my Sweetie, who often gives me funny (or sometimes sizzling hot) Valentines. This, in spite of the fact that Kathy celebrated V-Advent this year by hanging little bags of candy and Valentines for each of us in the week before Valentines’ Day.

Kathy left at least a half-dozen bags of nuts and candy for me, as Valentines' Day approached.

Kathy pinned-up at least a half-dozen bags of nuts and candy for me, as Valentines’ Day approached.

Hard as it is to compete with chocolate, I actually think that the best valentine I have received so far was from my youngest daughter, Sarah. I’ll post a picture of it so you can be the judge.

The hearts on the outside of the Valentine were a good sign, I thought.

The hearts on the outside of the Valentine were a good sign, I thought.

One of the problems with being a Dad, is that you often seem to be doomed to failure. You will inevitably make mistakes (some of us make them every day) and you will not always be loving, faithful or wise. Even when you do succeed by any objective standard, you will often be rejected by children who are blinded by their own sin, or misunderstood and resisted by the spouse that you thought was on your side. No, being a Dad is not for the faint of heart.

Sarah got a kick out of Kathy's silly V-Advent messages.

Sarah got a kick out of Kathy’s silly V-Advent messages.

One of my favorite illustrations of this is from the movie, While You Were Sleeping. In the course of the film, we discover that one of the main characters, Jack, does not want to continue in his family’s business, yet he feels trapped, wanting to please his father. Now that his brother has come out of a coma, Jack catches his Dad in a wistful, reflective frame of mind. He senses that it is time to get things out in the open. Sitting down one morning with his Dad, armed with a box of donuts, Jack seizes the moment:

Pop: “You work hard, try to provide for the family, and then for one minute everything’s good. Everyone’s well, everyone’s happy, and in that one minute, you have peace.”

Jack: “Pop … this isn’t that minute.”

Jack goes on to tell his Dad that he wants to quit working for him, but rather seeks to go into business for himself, making rocking chairs.

Rachel seems to become more beautiful, every year!

Rachel seems to become more beautiful, every year!

I often feel like the Dad in the film — this isn’t that minute. It seems like we constantly move from crisis to crisis, battling 18×7 for the hearts of our children against a hostile, worldly culture and other evil forces that want to devour them. But there is a part of me that is desperately weary of the struggle, and really yearns for that minute.

A few days before Valentine’s Day, Sarah came up to see me in my office upstairs, where I work from home several days a week.

“Hey, Dad, I made you a Valentine.” She handed it to me, smiled, and left. Opening it, I got the chance to cherish one of those moments that a Dad lives for.

It seems that Sarah likes me.

It seems that Sarah likes me.

One of the things that Kathy and I have been talking about recently is the hunger that we all seem to have, to be truly known. As the scripture says:

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. — 1 Corinthians 13:12

Sarah hit the nail on the head when she appreciated me for my love of teaching, my generosity and my whimsical silliness, three traits at the very core of who I am. It is delightful to be known and valued and loved as a Dad. Thanks, Sarah, for a great Valentine!

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Terrific Thirteen

I must admit, our family really likes to celebrate. I knew when I married Kathy that it was part of the deal — she absolutely loves to start traditions that build our joy as a family. And of course, if you do something twice, it becomes a tradition …

This weekend was no exception. With Valentines’ Day on Friday and David’s 13th birthday on Sunday, it seemed a good time to have a party. Kathy reserved a room at our church and invited a bunch of David’s friends (and their families, who happen to also be our friends), and started making pizzas.

There is nothing quite as tasty as Kathy's homemade pizza ... except maybe another piece of her pizza ...

There is nothing quite as tasty as Kathy’s homemade pizza … except maybe another piece of her pizza …

Kathy’s pizzas are awesome. She called me on the way home from homeschool co-op, to ask my advice.

“Shall we just buy five-dollar pizzas from Little Caesar’s?” she asked.

“Um, your pizza is way better,” I suggested. “Maybe I could help you, and we could make a bunch?” My renown as a sous chef in the kitchen is legendary.

Round up the usual suspects ... and have a Birthday Party!

Round up the usual suspects … and have a Birthday Party!

Kathy’s Nana has a great all-purpose bread recipe called Mesa Manna, which Kathy uses for the pizza crust. Her Mom built on that by adding a mix of italian sausage to her hamburger pizzas, which is a real crowd-pleaser. Adding to that pizza-making heritage, we use barbecue sauce and make Hawaiian pizzas (ham and pineapple) which are usually the first to be eaten.

For the party itself, we came up with the idea of Olympic games, since the Winter Olympics are going on in Sochi now. Three of the games made the cut: Speed skating, curling, and bobsledding.

Sarah, the bobsledding champion from Great Britain's Winter Olympic team.

Sarah, the bobsledding champion from Great Britain’s Winter Olympic team.

It was a little tricky to simulate these events in our church fellowship hall, but we managed. We awarded gold, silver and bronze medals for the winners of each event, with prizes for everyone who participated.

Personally, I prefer Oreos, Reeses' cups, and M&M's, but there are some who enjoy the gummi bears.

Personally, I prefer Oreos, Reeses’ cups, and M&M’s, but there are some who enjoy the gummi bears.

Ice cream sundaes rounded out any calories that were lacking from the pizza lunch, with toppings galore for every possible appetite. David opened his presents and was generally celebrated in high style by our many gracious friends.

David and his birthday posse.

David and his birthday posse.

When Daniel turned thirteen, Rachel and Joshua told him that thirteen was actually just a practice year before becoming an actual teenager. He is a trusting soul, and spent the year correcting friends who thought otherwise. Lately, I’ve been hearing them tell David the same thing. With the word ‘teenager’ having such a negative connotation in our society, I’m hesitant to call him by that label, lest I ruin all their earnest effort.

Teenager or not, I’m so very thankful for David William, born just after midnight, in the middle of a snowstorm, thirteen years ago. Thank you, Lord, for adding him to our family!

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Exasperating Snow Day

Here in Washington, we mostly keep snow on the mountains (where it belongs). But since we don’t actually live on a mountain, this is a very unpopular policy with the younger set.

This message brought to you by Hallmark, er, Sarah.

This message brought to you by Hallmark, er, Sarah.

Some years, a whole winter can go by without any decent snow accumulation. I’m sure this winter, there are many from the East and Midwest who would gladly trade places with us. Snow seems to be one of those things that fall in to the ‘feast or famine’ category — you either don’t get enough, or you receive a surfeit. Also, when we do finally get some snow, it often falls on a Sunday morning, when we are in church. It is not unusual for it all to melt away by the time we get home.

David and Sarah are huge fans of the snow. Whenever we get a few flakes, they run outside and try to catch them on their tongues, giddy with the excitement. This morning, they were outside at 8 am, making a snowman.

We're not as cool as Zach and Angie, who built one last night at 10 pm.

We’re not as cool as Angie and Zach, who built one last night at 10 pm.

Last night the snow started around 6 pm, and by 11 we had about 2 inches. About 10 pm, Daniel called his buddy, Jake, and soon they had a plan.

“May I go over to Jake’s house to play in the snow?” he asked me. Jake has a big hill on his street.

“Sure,” I told him. “But I’m not driving you. It is pretty late … ”

Stubbornness runs deep in our blood, from both sides of the family. Failing to persuade Rachel to drive him (her car was slipping all over the road) Daniel walked almost 2 miles to his friend’s house.

“Be home before midnight,” I told him, knowing he’d barely have time to get there and back.

At 11:45, he called me. “Um, it took me longer to get here than I thought … can I spend the night here?”

This is our actual Daniel.

This is our actual Daniel.

Daniel is a very honest boy. We don’t always get along perfectly, but it is a delight to me that he will rarely lie when asked a direct question. “This is all part of your scam, to spend the night at Jake’s,” I accused. He had been wanting to spend the night at his friend’s house for several days, but I had refused permission, because Daniel is still sick.

“No, but it is pretty cold, and I’m pretty tired … ”

I tried to believe him. “Come on home, stop arguing with me.” I reiterated. Relenting a millimeter, I continued. “If you take too long, I’ll come out and look for you.”

Did I mention that stubbornness is part of our family’s genetic makeup? I decided that if he wanted to make the decision to walk 2 miles in the snow at 10:30 pm to spend 15 minutes sledding with a friend, he might as well pay the full price of that decision. We try not to always rescue our children from the consequences of their choices.

At 12:30 am, he still wasn’t home. I got in my little Honda, and slithered my way over to his friend’s neighborhood (but not down their steep hill). No Daniel. Coming home, I found him on an alternate street, less than halfway home.

“You didn’t get very far,” I remarked as he tossed his sled into the back seat.

One of these is not like the others ...

One of these is not like the others …

I found out later he would rather have walked all the way home — the snow was very peaceful. Parenting a sixteen-year-old is tricky, and being parented by a 48-year-old is even trickier. I always find it challenging, to avoid exasperating my children.

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. — Ephesians 6:4

I am thankful for a son who continues to submit himself to my authority, even though he is sixteen, and six foot three. I often make him angry, yet he does not defy my authority.

When I was sixteen, I was a much more rebellious and difficult boy. I routinely disobeyed my parents and spoke very disrespectfully to them. I used to joke that my parents were praying for justice, all those years, and that I was finally getting my fair due — but Daniel is actually a much better son to me than I was to my parents. Daniel and I are working out our relationship as father and son, both of us making it up as we go along. I am so thankful for him.


Several of these pictures were brought to you by David, with his swanky new camera.

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Does Normal = Taking For Granted

Where has the week gone? Tim has been fighting a cough since last Saturday, so he’s definitely not feeling well. He pretty much put all his energy into his job and then AWANA on Wednesday night. The rest of the time he slept or relaxed (movies and computer games feature prominently during these times – neither require conversation. Ha).

I managed to pass the time this week with the usual demands of life – homeschooling, housework, prayer and coffee with some special friends, errands, Bible study, homeschool co-op. Nothing terribly unusual or noteworthy.

Kathi and Becca never fail to encourage and bless me!

Kathi and Becca never fail to encourage and bless me!

The children also enjoyed a fairly normal week – work at Black Bear for Rachel, lots of school for everyone, various homework assignments, papers and tests, AWANA, co-op, workouts at the fitness center, the occasional Ultimate Frisbee game, sleepovers. Again, nothing unusual.

David knows how to make life fun.

David knows how to make life fun.

In the midst of it all, I began to wonder if we realize what a blessing it is that this is our normal. That we live in a FREE country. That we can get together with friends and pray in the middle of Starbucks. That we are able to school at home. That Tim telecommutes several days a week and is home with us the rest of the time. That we can Skype friends and family 1000′s of miles away. That we go to a church that preaches from the Bible. That we have every store/market we could want within 25 minutes of our house. That our pantry, cupboards, closets and dresser drawers are full, and we want for so little.

Friends since they were preschoolers - Daniel is saving for a trip to visit Zach in Thailand this summer.

Friends since they were preschoolers – Daniel is saving for a trip to visit Zach in Thailand this summer.

And so much more.

I am humbled.
I am embarrassed at my petty grumblings.
I am ashamed at how I take the extravagant riches of my “normal life” for granted.

This beautiful girl is one of my greatest treasures.

This beautiful girl is one of my greatest treasures.

And once I again I am reminded that everything I have is from the Lord – my gifts, talents, possessions, my children, my husband, my very life and breath.

And I open my hands before Him. Hands that hold tightly to “things” and are quick to make idols of them.

And I breathe out a sacred prayer and pledge to be a good and faithful steward of all of these treasures and talents. I surrender (once again) my life and all that it entails to the One from whom every good and perfect gift comes.

God's Word is like a sword - it pierces me with its truth and conviction.

God’s Word is like a sword – it pierces me with its truth and conviction.


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