All posts by Tim

Memoirs of a Tomato Stake

I had a couple of long talks Monday with my middle boy, to whom we are applying our “Tomato Staking” parenting technique. It has been nearly four weeks since we started, and his patience is starting to wear thin.

“How much longer will I be Tomato Staked,” he asked, plaintively.

“Does it bother you?” I temporized, trying to keep my tone level while smiling gently at him.

“Yes. I don’t like never being allowed to be alone, and I’m embarrassed not to be allowed to play with my friends unless you or Mom are with me,” Daniel replied.

daniel boy

It has been a long month. We’ve mostly stuck to our guns on Tomato Staking, and we require Daniel to be in the same room or in our direct eyesight, seven days a week (except for when he is asleep or sent on a specific errand). We’ve poured out hours of extra teaching into his ears, and we’ve been very encouraged that some of it seems to have lodged in his heart. By being present in his life nearly all the time, we’ve guarded his conduct from spiraling down out of control, and helped him to significantly improve his relationships with his siblings. We’ve worked to teach him some basic charm, so that he can avoid coming to our negative attention by thoughtless disrespect. I’d like also to think that we’ve shown him the depth of our commitment to him, and that our relentless love is fixed on him in an unwavering way.

One of the pervasive themes of our teaching has been in terms of teaching him to respect God, and (by extension) other people. We’ve invested in the filling of his ‘moral warehouse’ so that he can evaluate situations for their moral content and make choices that reflect a heart that is pleasing to God. We’ve taught him about respect for property, respect for authority, respect for nature, and a host of other values that stem from the value God places on people. Any moral code needs a meta-ethical basis, and we’ve chosen to identify with the moral pattern that God has laid out so clearly in His word, the Bible.

daniel waters the tomatoes

We quickly realized that the first thing we needed to teach Daniel was how to listen. Although I’ve had ample occasion to teach Daniel many times before, I’ve not done a very good job at holding him to a high standard in terms of listening attentively. In the past, his typical response to a ‘lecture’ or any form of verbal correction would include:

  • a slumped body posture
  • scowling face
  • overt yawning
  • gaze vacantly directed out the window
  • body fidgeting
  • hands playing with anything within reach
  • sullen, monosyllabic answers to questions (or no answer at all)
  • a remarkable ability to misunderstand
  • an apparent general unwillingness to think about what I’m saying

As I would correct my son, I often found that my initial mild displeasure with his infraction was soon replaced by a strong sense of resentment over his contempt toward me. My attitude toward him would darken, and my willingness to teach him would soon be exhausted in the face of what seemed to me a profound rejection of my efforts to share my wisdom with him.

driving the golf cart

One day I questioned him about it.

“Do you mean to communicate disrespect for what I’m telling you, by the way you look away and play with anything you can get your hands on?” I tried to keep my tone free of menace and incredulity.

“No.” He still didn’t look me in the eye.

“Do you understand how I might feel, trying to explain things to you, when you give every outward appearance of paying me no attention?”

“Not really.” A bored scowl was still plastered over his face.

“When your face is frowning, and you don’t look at me, and you play with your pencil, and you don’t answer my questions, all those things communicate disrespect to me. I feel as though I’m wasting my time telling you things, because you don’t seem to be listening.”

Eventually I took the time to carefully and individually spell out each component of his body language, and how I interpreted it. I enlisted Kathy’s help to support my assertion, so he could see that the response was general and not something he could easily dismiss, thinking, “Oh, that’s just Dad, picking on me.” As we looked at each of the behaviors in the list above, we realized how much Daniel had unwittingly sabotaged his interaction with us, through his body language, and through our response to the contempt he was broadcasting.

These days, when I correct my son, he works harder to present a respectful posture. He often sits up attentively, and looks me right in the eye. He maintains a neutral or smiling expression on his face, and he (mostly) keeps his arms and legs still. Sometimes he answers my questions with complete sentences, and he works hard to stay engaged in the conversation. If he has to yawn, he has learned (or is learning) to discreetly cover his mouth and to quietly apologize.

smiling away

These simple manners have worked a substantial change in my attitude toward my son. I find my tone is gentler, my face is kindlier, and I’m much more willing to explain abstract concepts, even when he doesn’t understand the first or second time. Daniel is making excellent progress in understanding and embracing the moral principles that I have been teaching him … I’d say he has made about a year’s progress in moral maturity over the past month.

I’m very proud of my middle boy. He is kind, gentle, generous and thoughtful, and can be very selfless when he wants to be. He has a keen sense of justice and an evangelist’s heart toward people who don’t know Jesus. He is funny and loves to laugh – his witty cleverness is a delight to our family. He is talented in math, and has a knack for figuring out how mechanical things work. His sunny disposition helps to endear him to many of the people he knows.

We still have some considerable work ahead of us. Over the years, Kathy and I have explained many moral principles to Joshua and Rachel, but Daniel was (at first) too little to understand. As time passed by, I think that Daniel got into the habit of ‘tuning out’ to our teaching, and we were not alert enough to correct that deficiency. Now we’re making up for lost time, and pouring into him very explicitly the moral values that he needs to identify morally-charged situations and respond in a way that will please God.

grab your ice cream bags

“I figure you’ve got another 4-6 weeks of being Tomato Staked,” I told him, “if you work really hard to listen to what Mom and I are teaching you. Early on in this process, it seemed to me that you were fighting against me, deliberately refusing to accept the principles I was teaching you. But lately, I’ve seen a change in you, and I’ve heard you repeating the things I taught you to your brothers and sisters. That kind of thing convinces me that you are ready to build up your moral muscles by making good moral choices without Mom and me hovering over you.”

Some time in the next week we’ll probably give him a day off from tomato staking, and see how he does. He is a quick learner, and if I can convince him of its importance, I think he can get up to an age-appropriate moral maturity level in a matter of a few weeks. Kathy and I would greatly appreciate your prayers in this matter.


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New Mercies Every Morning

One of my favorite hymns of all time is Great is Thy Faithfulness. When I was ten or eleven, we lived in Germany, and I used to attend the Sunday evening service at Patrick Henry Village Chapel (between Heidelberg and Schwetzingen). We had a Baptist chaplain and a skilled and cooperative pianist; they used to let the congregation choose hymns and sing for a half-hour or so. Sitting in the front pew (the only place I was allowed to sit, unless sitting with my parents) I would choose either Great is Thy Faithfulness or When the Roll is Called Up, Yonder. If I was particularly bold, I’d choose O Come, All Ye Faithful, which is always fun to sing in summertime.

Shovel Boy #2
In Joshua’s absence, I had to hire a few replacement shovelers.

I’ve always admired God’s faithfulness, and been very appreciative of His merciful and forgiving nature. As we are taught in Lamentations 3:22-23:

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Dust Storm Sarah
Who wants to wash the car after we’re done with the dirt?

Today I was thinking about parenting (sometimes it seems as though that is all I think about), and I was reminded of God’s kindness and His mercy toward me. Whenever I turn from my sin, I find Him ready and willing to receive me back again and to press onward in our relationship. However many times I fail Him, He doesn’t seem to become exasperated with me. In fact, He offers me (and anyone else who puts their trust in Him) this guarantee:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
— I John 1:9

Sometimes I get exasperated with my children. It seems to happen when I am trying to teach something, and out of a rebellious spirit or a hard heart, they reject my correction. I get angry, in turn, at their rejection, and find myself less willing to work with the offending child, or able to offer them any grace. This sometimes creates a stumbling block in the life of my son or daughter, and my anger can become an excuse for them to further harden their heart against my teaching. And so the crazy cycle begins … I become harsher in my correction, and they reject my correction more stubbornly, and it escalates until the child is punished and I find myself fuming at their hard-heartedness.

David Gets Tough
Sometimes you have to show the dirt pile who’s boss …

I was challenged today to try to be more like God in the way I parent, by offering fresh chances and restraining my anger when my children are not as quick to repent as I would wish them to be. After all, if God parented the way I do sometimes, I would be much less likely to repent.

Back in the 80′s, there was a Christian pop singer who went by the name of Leslie Phillips. (She later changed her stage name to Sam Phillips, crossed over to record secular music, and had a brief part as an ‘evil slasher slutty girlfriend’ in one of the Die Hard movies, but I’m not going to let that take away from the beauty of this song that she wrote and sang):

Waiting for angry words to sear my soul
Knowing I don’t deserve another chance
Suddenly the kindest words I’ve ever heard
Come flooding through my heart

It’s your kindness that leads us
To repentance Oh Lord
Knowing that You love us
No matter what we do
Makes us want to love You too

No excuse no one to blame
No where to hide
The eyes of God have found my failures
Found my pain
He understands my weaknesses
And knows my shame
But His heart never leaves me

It’s your kindness that leads us
To repentance Oh Lord
Knowing that You love us
No matter what we do
Makes us want to love You too

If You are for us
Who can be against us
You gave us everything
Even Your only Son

Daniel the Barefoot Shoveler
If you can’t use kindness, you can always fall back on hard labor.

The basis for this song (at least part of it) can be found in Romans, 2, in which Paul encourages believers not to pass judgment on others, and to respond favorably to God’s rich kindness and patience:

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.

It is interesting to note that although God is kind, tolerant and patient, that the threat of His stored-up wrath remains for those who remain obstinate and unrepentant. But the lesson I take away from this song and those verses is that if I want to be more like God, I need to use kindness a lot more to encourage repentance in my children.

Or maybe they would respond to Nutella?

Project 366, Day 174

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A Break from Parenting

Before the older kids went to Norway, my parents were already talking about having all five of the kids come to their house for a weekend visit.

“Won’t you be tired of being around kids, after two weeks of traveling with Joshua and Rachel?” I cautioned.

“It’ll be fun,” they assured me. “We like to have time with all our grandchildren.”

So the night they flew back in from Norway, I had the other three kids packed. “You can take ‘em all straight home with you,” I chortled.

naughty girl

Who wouldn’t want this little princess in their home?

Okay, we did decide to let Grandma and Grandpa have a couple of weeks to recuperate. Last night we bundled the children all into my parents’ van and sent them off, dire warnings about obeying their grandparents ringing in their ears.

Kathy came home from a meeting at church before I went to bed, and we sat in the family room, savoring the silence. “Shhhhh!” I snapped, when she accidentally dropped her computer mouse, ruining a perfectly good five-second span of silence.

somebody help this girl

Sarah knows what to do with a free moment of silence.

I am a connoisseur of silences. I remember the deep black, textured silence of ’04, during the power outage, and the bright, blue-green silence of ’01, when everyone went to Fort Clark without me. Then there was the grey, melancholy silence of ’88, before I met Kathy, before my family was even a gleam in the eye, as they say. Silences are pretty rare, when there are five kids around the house, and you learn to attend to them when you get the chance.

This has not been a week with many silences, as my children would attest. “For crying out loud,” they’re probably thinking, “don’t get Dad started on another lecture!” I’m not sure if it is due to our tomato-staking project with Daniel, or because of the grey and rainy weather, but we’ve had many opportunities for parental intervention, correction and rebuke over the past week. I’ve been home for most of the week (I was sick on Monday, and decided to telecommute a few extra days) and so I’ve been present for much more of the bickering and general discontent than I usually witness.

“Kathy, will you just cool it, with all the bickering and discontentment,” I found myself snarling several times.

how she does carry on

And some people say Sarah is the spittin’ image of Kathy. Hmmm.

No, actually, the problem doesn’t seem to be Kathy. It turns out that my children are sinful. Who knew? After all Kathy’s careful reading of pregnancy books, healthy eating and excellent prenatal care, our children were still born with a sin nature! How exasperating! I’m guessing Kathy and I must’ve inherited it from somewhere or other … and passed it on to our dear little kids.

For now, though, the kids are away, and we can relax a little. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for giving us a needed break!
innocent as a dove

All she wanted was some Grandma and Grandpa time.

Hope everyone survives the weekend.

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Daylight Savings Time

Pig O Savings

I know Backwards Day was last week but my wonderful dh wrote this post yesterday and I just know there are some other Works for Me Wednesday bloggers who have words of wisdom for us regarding finances. Leave a comment, we need all the help we can get!


This blog doesn’t really have anything to do with daylight savings time, although the recently-lost hour of sleep looms large in my consciousness. This afternoon Kathy and I were talking about a novel concept: saving money.

It isn’t an idea that comes very naturally to either of us, I’m sorry to say. We tend to live ‘in the moment’ much of the time, and (thanks to an excessive number of credit cards) we usually just buy something if it is not very expensive and we want it. We don’t go in for big ticket items, but the steady flow of self indulgent and other-indulgent spending is definitely not under strict regulation.

I looked it up on the internet, ’cause if it is on the internet, you know it must be true. It is sort of funny to see that there is a whole Wikipedia page on the subject of savings — I guess I’m not the only one that needed to research this strange concept.

A Quarter Saved is Twenty-Five Cents

Don’t get me wrong — we do actually do some saving. My employer matches a part of my 401(k) savings so that I’d be a fool not to put aside 5%, so I do. But apart from that, we don’t really save. We use credit to buy things we need but can’t afford, and (like many Americans) we have some considerable month-over-month credit card debt.

One of the significant problems we face is that saving doesn’t seem real, when you have any kind of debt. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to put money aside in a bank account that doesn’t generate interest, when you could pay off debt that probably costs you at least some kind of interest or fees. But once you pay off some debt, when do you decide that you can buy that item for which you are saving?

watch out!

I'm gonna get you!

Thankfully this stuff only cost a dollar.

Let’s start with a hypothetical example: suppose you owe $5000 on credit cards, and you’re paying 6% interest on that debt. Suppose (hypothetically, remember) that you really want to save up for a new computer that costs $700. What do you do?

One school of thought is that you pay off the entire $5000, before you even think of buying anything you don’t absolutely need. “Attack debt like the cancer it is!” they cry, frothing at the mouth at the idea of debt unvanquished. While such ideas are very inspiring, they don’t really take into account the self-indulgence that probably caused the situation in the first place. When I contemplate this scorched-earth attitude toward debt, and the barren wasteland of consumerism it requires (even for a season), my spirit quails. I’m just not willing to wait that long to gratify my desire, unless I have to.

Another school of thought gives a nod to motivating the saver, and suggests that payments against debt must be made, but (once those payments are satisfied each month) allows saving toward a goal. Supposing that monthly income minus expenses netted $400, they would say, “Spend half on retiring debt and half for future savings.” All other things remaining equal, this would mean that in three and a half months you’d have paid down your debt by $700, and saved enough for the new computer as well.

sarah gives it a try

Maybe Sarah should save up some money for a new hairdresser.

One problem with this is it is sometimes hard to see where the money goes, and hard to avoid dipping back into the debt that you pay off. Suppose I’m two months into my savings plan, and I’ve paid off $400 in debt and saved $400. Suddenly, you realize that you have to fix the brakes and tires on your car, which (hypothetically) costs $700. Do you:

  • (a) wait to fix the brakes until you’ve saved the $700, even if waiting may be unsafe or cause further costly damage to the car?
  • (b) spend the $400 that you’ve saved toward the computer, pay the rest on a credit card, and start over on your savings?
  • (c) pay the whole $700 for the brakes on a credit card and leave the $400 in savings alone, since it is allocated toward a particular item?
  • (d) pay the $400 from savings to the brake shop and negotiate for monthly payments (to avoid increasing credit debt)?

If only I had saved this ...
Not my actual cash …

Also, how do you actually handle the money? Do you put the $400 in a separate savings account, or do you go ahead and use it (until it is needed) to pay off the credit card?

Perhaps the most widely-accepted school of thought reasons like this: “Once you have a debt that is more than you can easily pay off, you might as well just buy whatever you want (within reason) and try not to let your debt get any bigger. Why get all upset about it, or deny yourself? Sooner or later, you’ll get a bonus, or you’ll sell your house for a profit, or you’ll earn more money … or something will bail you out.”

Of course, this last school of thought may be partly responsible for the massive 2.545 trillion dollar consumer credit debt currently plaguing our citizenry.

Several Bible passages come to mind:

The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender. — Proverbs 22:7

The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously; — Psalm 37:21

Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Love, for the Day is Near. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. — Romans 13:7-8

I know there must be at least one or two savers out there. What do you do? What practical steps do you use to help you get control of your money? Please be gentle — remember, you’re dealing with typical American consumers, thoroughly indoctrinated in the ways of easy credit.


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A Haven of Order

wfmwThis may not look like your typical Works for Me Wednesday tip, but the nuggets of truth and wisdom are there. Buried deep. Beneath our stuff.

Let’s just call it:

How to Motivate Your Wife to Clean the Garage
by Tim

One of the things I often notice as I stroll up and down our street, is that garages are almost exclusively a male domain. Women may rule the kitchen, the living room and (in some cases) the laundry room, but in most cases men decide how garages are organized. In a day of rampant post-feminism, the garage stands proudly as one of the last bastions of masculinity. Men who walk timidly in their homes, carefully put the seat down on the toilet, and who meekly accept all manner of flowery decor in the bedroom, can still puff out their chest in pride of a well-maintained garage. Testosterone-promoting automotive supplies, tools, heavy shop-vacs, and lawn care equipment reign supreme in the inner sanctum of the garage.

Bikes galore
Run for it, David, before the garage subsumes you!

Some men have each item carefully labeled and kept in its proper place, carving out a quiet pool of order in an ever-changing, chaotic world. Men who can’t parent their children, whose marriages are in shambles, whose finances and careers are spinning wildly out of control, can still have their tools lovingly racked and stacked in the garage.

Not too long ago I had occasion to visit one of my neighbors, and while I was there, he showed me his electrical circuit box. As the garage doors rolled silently up on well-oiled tracks, the gleam from the sealed and painted floor nearly blinded my eyes. Apart from a few tools and supplies, each carefully placed on individual shelves the garage was entirely empty. Even the shelves were discreetly small, and occupied only one of the walls. Waving dismissively at what might have been a fleck of dust on the floor, he gruffly apologized: “Sorry about the mess.” I marveled at the mindset of a man who could so effortlessly maintain a two-car garage as a monument to order and serenity. My eye was caught by the words on the spine of a single tome, on one of the shelves: The Feng Shui of Garages.

An ordered mind?
Not my actual neighbor’s garage, but it might as well have been.

I am not that sort of man.

Our house has, in defiance of all reason, a three-car garage. This is odd, because we have only two cars. It is also curious, because there is really no need at all for a garage in Western Washington, unless you own a car with a water-soluble paint job. If you are afraid to have rain on your car, or dislike running your windshield wipers, you’ve probably already moved to Phoenix.

Feng Shui ... not!
I feel more serene already, don’t you?

When we first moved in to this house, Kathy’s eye gleamed at the sight of this 600 square foot garage. “Look at all the space for bookshelves,” she chortled. (My wife is a bookshelfopath, stemming from a tragic and un-treatable genetic disorder. Her father suffers from the same dreadful malady, and is even now building bookshelves in Texas. He lives in Michigan, but there is no reasoning with those afflicted with this condition.)

“Hey,” I objected, eloquently. “Garages are supposed to be space for men!”

“Oh, how you do babble on,” Kathy replied absently, directing the final resting positions of the couch, game organizer, extra refrigerator and not less than five bookshelves.

Almost enough bookshelves
Wait! There’s room on the wall for another small bookshelf! Don’t tell Kathy!

Over time, we’ve used the garage to store all our Christmas decorations, dozens of bins of clothing, at least five bicycles, lawn toys, two guinea pigs, a fussball table, a treadmill and an elliptical machine. The circuit box is technically accessible, as long as you don’t mind standing on one leg, extending your left arm to the full limit of its reach, and blindly flipping random circuit breakers through an opening slightly wider than your hand.

My secret stash
OK, I admit, a lot of the mess is generated by me, especially the part involving cases and cases of Diet Coke.

I’m also allowed to keep a few tools and hardware supplies there, sprinkled randomly throughout the garage. When my father-in-law visits, we love to play a little game I call Tool Treasure Hunt, while he tries to serve his daughter as general handyman. “You should pay Joshua $100 to organize this garage,” he quipped, toward the end of a hard day of Tool Hide ‘n Seek. “Har, har, har,” I guffawed, in wry appreciation of his wit. One year, I actually found many of my tools before Kathy’s Dad came, but it seemed to take a lot of the fun out of the whole operation. “This is great!” he raved, crossing maintenance items off Kathy’s list with wild abandon. He seemed entirely insensitive to my efforts to lower the bar of male competence in home repairs. Some in-laws are just rude like that, I suppose. :)

Harsh light of day shines on our garage
I was wondering where that card table was hiding.

Truth be told, this garage is frequently cleaned up. Whenever our Small Group Bible study meets at our home (we alternate months with another couple), Joshua is pressed into service. In exchange for being allowed a free pass to watch the Lord of the Rings movies (all three of them, of course) he tidies everything up so that the hordes (sometimes as many as 20) of children have somewhere to go. As you can see, it has been a few weeks since we hosted Small Group.

When I heard that Scott was featuring a Tour of Scary Garages on his blog, I knew that the time had come for me to take my place near the top of that list. Let this be an encouragement, in contrast, to all the well-organized men out there in bloggy-land.

Stop by Rocks In My Dryer for other helpful ideas. Let me know if you find anything that tops this one.

Project 366 – Day 57

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