#300aDay: The waiting is the hardest part.

That’s another thing about taking on a 30-day writing challenge: usually, there’s not room built in for grace, if you miss a day here or there. The most important thing is that you don’t break the all-important “chain,” and if you do, you’re a failure. But you know what? If while seeking to engage in a new habit or challenge you are successful 25 out of 30 times, that’s not a failure. What a crazy thought. It’s 25 more days of writing or practicing music or exercise or whatever else than you would have done otherwise. Madness.

So yeah, the idea of taking on a 30-day writing challenge is fraught with perils. I’m still unsure if doing so would be wise at the moment. More consideration is needed.

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My wife is more than 41 weeks pregnant. For you kids keeping score at home, that’s over a week “past due.” What that means practically is that we are in a kind of holding pattern. In the last 2 weeks of work, I’ve been trying to clear my inbox and close most of the “open loops” on my projects and responsibilities. At home, my wife has done the usual nesting-type preparations, and the nursery is ready to go. Super cute–white, grey, and pale-yellow with little baby stuffed animals.

We thought our little girl would come a bit early, so we were getting ready around the beginning of last week. Then the due date approached and we thought, okay, she’s “due” around Thursday. Then the due date passed and we thought, okay, fine, it must be during the weekend. Now at “Due Date Plus Eight” (the worst reality show ever), we’re tapping fingers and watching the clock. Neither the kiddo nor my wife’s body are giving indications that this party’s ready to start. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking, and we’re creeping toward the point when intervention is required.

This past week (really, the past month, but especially the past week), we have been struggling with anxiety about the birth process, the health of mother and baby, and what comes next. And as the days drag on, that anxiety threatens to grow. I have taken to repeating the following phrase, as a comfort to my wife and reminder to myself: “God’s will, God’s way, God’s time. Because He is good.”

When the waiting is the hardest part, the best thing we can do is trust the One who sees the end from the beginning, and hang on for the ride.

#300aDay: The most important part of comedy.

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Timing.

That’s another reason why 300 words a day is a crazy task to undertake: who knows what may come up that needs attending to? Lots of things happen unexpectedly that can throw off your mojo. Readers expect consistency, and if you post at all times of the day or night, you start to alienate your audience. That’s what I’ve been told, anyway.

Subject change: Today, we had a minor vehicle issue come up–well, it turned out to be minor, anyway. Our 12-year-old minivan was having trouble shifting gears, and if you’ve ever had to deal with the cost of transmission repair, you can imagine how nerve-racking this was at first. Thankfully, the issue seems to have been resolved with some basic maintenance that I had been putting off. I find that to be a tendency of mine: putting off the daily maintenance of things until they become a crisis. I wonder if there’s a lesson in there somewhere.

When the van began falling out of gear repeatedly, I was on my way to work, with my wife in the passenger seat. (#SharedVehicleLife) After I took her back home and got ready to go to the auto repair shop, my wife grabbed my hands and said, “Let’s pray about this.” This is one of the things I am so grateful for, regarding my wife: she’s a woman of faith and a woman of prayer. I confess that, in times of crisis, my attitude is more pragmatic, more focused on what’s right in front of me. It occurs to me later to pray about things. My wife, on the other hand, is faithful to stop me and remind me that, oh yeah, God is sovereign over all things. Maybe we should pray for wisdom and provision.

My hope is that, as I grow in spiritual maturity, I’ll be quicker to say “Let’s pray” than to say, “I’ll figure something out.” Thankfully, God has given me a wise and faithful wife to help me in that process.

300 Words a Day: Too crazy to attempt?

An idea I’ve heard about over and over in the realm of writing/productivity/creativity is having a daily writing goal: a benchmark that you commit to, no matter what, in order to build a habit, get the creative juices flowing, get the Muse to start showing up–whatever metaphor you prefer.

Of course, that idea has always intrigued me. I struggle with consistency in several areas of life. If I could pick a superpower (and flight wasn’t an option), I would pick the power of consistently doing all the things I commit to doing. That’s right, folks; here comes Self-Control Man, to save the day!

Seriously, though. The BIG THING I would like to change about myself is that I want to commit to a course of action and stick to it–whether that’s eating better, exercising regularly, spending consistent time reading the Bible and praying, or, yes, writing a minimum amount of words every single day.

The number doesn’t have to be huge, either. I just read a Thomas Kidd newsletter (do you get Thomas Kidd’s email newsletters? They’re really good!) from last fall, in which he talks about having a thousand-word-a-day goal. That’s…really intimidating, to be honest. A thousand words a day?!? I don’t know if I could do half that. Or even a third of that.

But then, that got me thinking: could I do 300 words a day? That’s not very ambitious, right? Three hundred words. Typically, my blog posts are 500-800, so 300 words seems like it would be a breeze.

On the other hand, my wife is about to have a baby. My world is about to be turned sideways on its axis as we welcome a baby girl (who is already 5 days late–takes after her daddy, unfortunately). So committing to 300 words a day seems like I’m taking too much on at once–right?

We’ll see. Maybe I’ll consider it some more tomorrow.

Last 5 Books [7/17/17]

Hey friends! Lots going on lately, but I’ve been able to do a little reading over the last month or so.  Here are the last 5 books I’ve read and my brief thoughts on each!

Linchpin, by Seth Godin – This book by business and productivity “guru” Seth Godin touched on a lot of really interesting ideas that I’ll probably bring up in a later post. Here’s one that I found pretty compelling: the way to elevate your work from being another monkey pressing a button in a cubicle to creating “art” (even if you aren’t in an artistic field) is to bring your humanity to bear in your daily tasks. Don’t just be content with formality and the minimum necessary effort to interact with people. Remember that you’re emailing actual people with feelings and concerns. Treat them that way. It raises the game for all concerned.

The Wonder-Working God, by Jared Wilson – Wilson’s work is always excellent. (I’m an unabashed fan.) This book was helpful to me because it challenged me to look at the accounts of miracles in the Gospels with fresh eyes, and look at how these miracles were signposts pointing to who He is as God-in-flesh. Growing up in the faith, I’ve taken a lot of things in the Bible for granted. The truth is, the story of Jesus’ life and ministry is pretty fantastic and shocking, if you’re paying attention. I appreciated Wilson’s humor and eloquence in exploring these ideas.

Turning Pro, by Steven Pressfield – Pressfield has earned a reputation in the area of writing about writing and, in particular, about the war that writers wage against The Resistance, that internal force always threatening to stop us from producing art. In Turning Pro, Pressfield considers what it means to be an Amateur versus being a Professional, not just in terms of writing or creating art but in terms of life. His style is punchy and sometimes profound, but I felt like this volume wasn’t as strong as his other works, The War of Art or Do the Work, which I would recommend instead.

So Good They Can’t Ignore You, by Cal Newport – Newport challenges the oft-repeated advice to “follow your passion” by arguing that career satisfaction comes not through following your dreams but through working like a craftsman to become outstanding at whatever you’re currently doing. He argues that seeking to be exceptional and skillful in any field opens up opportunities (what he calls career capital) to increase your autonomy and direct your work toward a chosen mission. This book is chock-full of great ideas and interesting insights. I’ll have more to say on this later.

Husband-coached Childbirth, by Dr. Robert Bradley – My wife is having a baby pretty much any day now, and we have chosen to have the baby at a birth center with a midwife. Natural childbirth is a daunting task, and Dr. Bradley is one of the most trusted names in the field of natural childbirth in the United States. I really appreciate the high value that this approach places on the husband’s role in childbirth, and how Bradley coaches husbands to be actively involved throughout labor. While I have some qualms about some of his ideological assumptions, this book is very practical and would be a help to any prospective parents who are considering natural childbirth. It’s not the only resource out there, but certain a good one to check out.

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So what’s up next on the reading list?

  • I’m about a third of the way through the audio version of Tony Reinke’s Twelve Ways Your Phone is Changing You. This book is outstanding. Already going to call it a must-read.
  • I’m about to start The Cubs Way by Tom Verducci, a story of the management decisions that lead to last year’s magical World Series run.
  • I’m working my way through Jeff Goins’ latest book, Real Artists Don’t Starve. LOTS of good content there. Full review forthcoming.
  • Depending on when things come in from the library, this month I’ll also be starting The New Dads Playbook by Benjamin Watson, Teammate by former Cubs catcher (and DWTS runner-up!) David Ross, Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option, and a few others.

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Your Turn: Read anything interesting lately? About to start any new books? Let me know in the comments!

Friday Five! (06/30/17)

Hey friends–it’s been a while, eh?

Lots of life has been happening lately. Lots of great stuff to tell you about.

But in the meantime, here are five cool videos/links to enjoy–all related to video game music!

One: Super Mario Swedish Symphonic Sounds!

Two: Also from the Swedish Symphony, a sweet Legend of Zelda suite!

Three: Speaking of Zelda, here are TWO covers of the “Gerudo Valley” theme!

Four: Also from the Swedes, a magnificent Mega Man medley!

Five: If you prefer your Mega Man to sound a little more “Rock” (man), you really need to check out The Megas. And even if you know The Megas and it’s been a while, they’re worth a re-listen, because they’re still just stinkin’ good.

…And because it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, here’s a Friday Five BONUS LEVEL!!!!

Here’s a gorgeous guitar cover of “Aquatic Ambiance” from the SNES classic, Donkey Kong Country:

Overdue Book Reviews: “Unparalleled” by Jared C. Wilson

[A few years ago, I started doing book reviews for different publishers who would send me free copies of books to review. Well, my eyes got a little too big for my reading list, so to speak, and I ended up with more books than time. I kept getting distracted by shiny paper objects until I found myself well outside of the requested 1-2 month range for these reviews to be completed. Some of these reviews are *gulp* over a year past due. However, I want to rectify this, so here is the first of a series of past-due reviews. Hope you enjoy.]

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“Aren’t all religions basically the same?”

This statement is practically part of the secular catechism. It’s taken as a matter of fact when there are broad ecumenical discussions of faith in the public square. It’s assumed that the best of all the world’s religions agree on key tenets of kindness, peace, and human flourishing.

But is it really true? If you’re a Christian, the answer should be a gentle but firm “no.”

In Jared Wilson’s 2016 book, Unparalleled, he takes on the task of explaining clearly and simply why Christianity stands out from all other world religions in some very important and fundamental ways. He works his way through the basics of systematic theology, answering the big questions (such as the nature of God, the state of humanity, the person and work of Jesus, the doctrine of salvation, and the end of the world).

What Works
Wilson’s style is winsome, approachable, and clear. He generally stays away from theological jargon, although when it is necessary, he usually defines terms well. He compares the key points of Christian doctrine to other belief systems, but his goal is more to reveal how Christianity is distinct and true, rather than to poke holes in other faiths. This isn’t to say that Wilson soft-pedals other religions, but rather, his goal is clearly to focus on what is true rather than what is untrue. I really appreciate his ability in this book to lay out plainly what the Bible teaches about the Christian faith, in a way that both the unschooled and the highly-educated can grasp.

Minor Issues
I am an unapologetic fan of Jared Wilson’s writing, and this recent addition to his bibliography didn’t disappoint. I have only a few minor critiques. I can recall a few places where his explanations got a bit murky and potentially theologically confused. While in no way approaching heresy, it would have been good to clear up a few of these points. (It should say something that, at the moment, I’m failing to recall specifics.) None of these issues are cause for concern, in my mind. Wilson’s writings speak to his orthodoxy, so the most likely point of error may have been in the mind of a distracted reader.

The other critique I have is the bigger issue: the question of audience. Wilson seems to write this book both for non-believers who are interested in learning about Christianity, as well as for believers who want to learn how to explain Christianity. To that end, I think the book is valuable for both audiences; however, it causes the book to feel a bit inconsistent in voice. In some sections, Wilson is clearly addressing believers, while in others he is making an appeal to outsiders. Both aims are profitable and worthwhile; I’m just not sure it’s wise to do both at the same time.

(It’s funny: so often in my book reviews, I seem to spend the bulk of the post on what doesn’t quite work, even when reviewing books I greatly enjoy. It appears this holds true now. The reason for this, as best as I can tell, is that I don’t want to belabor praise, but I feel the need to justify critique.)

The Bottom Line:
Despite some minor editorial issues, Unparalleled is an approachable, clear, useful book that can be shared and discussed with people who are unfamiliar with Christianity, as well as used to train believers how to discuss the big ideas of the faith.

I gladly recommend this book, and I’m thankful for another great volume by Jared Wilson. His writing continues to be a blessing to the Church.

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Please note: I received a physical copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for a unbiased review. The views and opinions expressed above are my own.

Hey friend…ya got $2?

For the last six months or so, I’ve been working with a great team of creative folks to put together a new web series called “Presto Fairy Tales: The Web Series! (The Musical!)”

Think Shelley Duvall’s Fairy Tale Theater…but weirder, and a little more punk rock, and a little more DIY. The writing is hilarious, the actors are great, and the show has so much heart.  The first season of the series will include 5 great stories that you probably have never heard before!

PLUS! There will be original music, including several songs with lyrics written by yours truly.

ALSO! I’m the villain on one of the stories! So you get to see me playing a BAD GUY. Cool, yes?

Here’s the deal, gang: We need funding. We have a shoestring budget, but shooting locations, props, sets, costumes, music recording, and all that costs more than a shoestring.

We need your help. Even if it’s just a few bucks, we can definitely use it.

Here’s the link to our GoFundMe page. Check it out, get the details, watch the video, and then go…fund us… Please? Pretty please?

Thanks!

 

 

Like. Follow. Subscribe. …Or create.

It’s a curious thing how I self-sabotage my attempts to detach from media (social or otherwise).

I started using Medium and Feedly as news aggregators with the intention of divesting my energies from Facebook and reducing the temptation to scroll or blog-hop for hours. In the end, I find myself now hoarding (ahem, collecting) bookmarked articles on both platforms, which I am hopelessly behind on reading, and I’m still using Facebook (though decidedly less-so).

I’ve culled my FB friend list to people I have had meaningful (or at least intentional, word-based) interactions with in the last 2 years. I have “unfollowed” and “unliked” a host of websites and entertainment pages on FB, though Zuckerberg still thinks I’m not getting enough advertising in my diet. (“Your friend Joe likes the ‘Peruvian Llama Juggling’ page!” Well… good for Joe?)

I infrequently trim down my Twitter follow list, but then I’ll take on new Twitter activities like anonymous accounts (let’s call that “fun-work”). I’ll turn off Twitter notifications on my phone, but keep the app and check it frequently.

I’ll delete podcasts from my devices, and then subscribe to new ones. Same with my streaming movie service. I have several authors to whom I owe book reviews, and yet I’m still adding books to my hold-list at the library. Why? Because I’m a jerk blogger/reviewer. (I owe apologies along with those reviews.)

[I pause to add the following clarifying statement: I’m not complaining. I’m not asking for assistance. I’m just talkin’ here, folks.]

The truth is, I still like using social media. I know the dangers. I’ve read the news articles about its negative effects. I’ve seen scores of blog posts about how people quit FB and Twitter, and their lives are JUST. SO. AMAZING. NOW. (See: previously-mentioned bookmarked Medium articles.) And I know that’s all true.

But I also know that I enjoy interacting with my “Twitter friends.” I still use FB groups and messaging to stay in touch with people, groups, and projects.  I’m aware of the sneaky dangers of FOMO and my tendency toward oversharing, and I’m working on both. I think I can stop worrying and learn to love the blog.

However, there is one side effect of continued social media interaction that I need to start taking more seriously: Social media engagement proves that “I don’t have time to write” is a lie.

I’ve got the basic outline, a few solid chapters, and a handful of scattered scenes written for the first book in a trilogy of crime stories that I’d really like to finish. I care about the main character, I’m intrigued by the themes that these books involve, and the questions that the overarching story raises set it apart from other books in the genre. I think it would be a really cool thing to bring these stories into the world and share them with you.

For the years–YEARS–that I have weakly gestured at writing, I have convinced myself that I don’t have the time to commit to it. My time spent on social media proves otherwise.

I want to write more. I have the ability and time to write more. And I don’t have any good excuses for not pursuing it.

So, well, uh, there it is.

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What, you were expecting more of a rousing call to action?

Do we really need one?

Would it really work?

“Some hoard to remember, some hoard to forget…”

We’re in “de-cluttering” mode in the 4thDaveHousehold. The upcoming new addition, plus an impending move, is motivating us to reduce our Stuff footprint. This usually happens right before a big move. Staying in one place creates a strange magnetism that draws Stuff from the surrounding environment and sticks it to us, in attics and closets and garages.

I struggle with clutter. That doesn’t mean I’m a hoarder–I know how to throw away garbage (or recycle plastics and paper–something new I’ve learned in almost 3 years of marriage). I’m not saving old paper cups or coffee filters. But I do collect mementos and I struggle to let them go.

I’ve grown stronger in resisting Stuff over time–I threw out a LOT of Stuff when I got married, boxes and boxes of hand-me-downs and souvenirs, all at once (the Band-aid Rip Method).  But it’s still challenging.

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Last month, I read a book by Eve Schaub called “Year of No Clutter.” It’s not a guide for how to de-clutter as much as it is a memoir and confessional of a Stuff-addict. In one chapter, she confesses that the motivation for much of her keeping falls into two categories: nostalgia and potential.

She talks about how objects connect to memories for her, and because she finds herself forgetting stories from the past, she tends to hang on to random items that mean something to her. That’s the nostalgia piece. Even if it is just a scrap of paper with writing on it, she keeps it, because it reminds her of an event or place or person.

She also talked about how potential usefulness kept her from throwing away items, “just in case…” Even items that she could easily re-acquire would be kept for possible future use.

I relate so much to these two ideas.

Like Schaub, my memory is awful, and for years, I saved the fragments of experiences in physical form so I could go back to them later. That’s not true: it was more that I was afraid that the memories of those events or people or places would be lost forever. Losing memories felt like losing pieces of myself.

And like Schaub, I sometimes have a hard time letting go of things that might be useful to me later: for example, I held on to the tape-adapter I used to connect my iPod to my old truck, even when I got a newer truck and didn’t need it anymore. Later, when that truck was replaced by an old van and I actually “needed” the tape adapter again, I realized it was tossed during the great pre-wedding purge. What a terrible loss! (Turns out, I just asked around, and someone had another that they gave me. Crazy, huh?)

What motivates this?

Part of my tendency to hang on to Stuff may simply be habit. During the decade-plus between college and marriage, I have to admit that I spent a LOT of time looking backward, thinking how much better the old days were. In the first decade post-college, the memory of my college experience was utterly drenched in nostalgia. And all those single years, when I battled feeling frustrated and lonely, I looked backward at a time of my life that I really began to miss.

These days, I realize that I’m looking forward a lot more. My life right now is exciting and challenging and full of love. There’s more anticipation. More potential. I really have no idea what life will look like in 5 years, and that’s exciting (and really scary, but still exciting!).

What about the “potential usefulness” question? Schaub fights against this fear of losing something useful by trying to have more confidence in herself. As a Christian, I can do something better than that: I can have confidence that God is sovereign, that God is good, that God will provide everything I need, that He is trustworthy, that He declares the end from the beginning. Rather than try to hold on to Stuff as a hedge against the future, I can learn to let go of some things and trust that I have what I need, because my Father is good to me.

And to be clear, I’m not saying I don’t plan or save for the future; on the contrary, I am trying to be wise and prepared for whatever comes. But those of us who follow Jesus are warned not to put our faith in the “uncertainty of riches,” because even our best savings plan is not enough to protect us from every calamity.

I’ve still got room to grow, when it comes to my relationship with Stuff. Lately, God has been working on me through I Timothy 6–“Godliness with contentment is great gain… If we have food and clothing, we will be content.” Honestly, I couldn’t say that was the case, even now. My prayer is that this will grow truer and truer in my life.

If nothing else, that would make moving a lot simpler.

*Pops head back in the door*

“Anybody here?”

Just wanted to pop back in and say:

  • I’m still alive.
  • Life is good, but it feels very hectic and heavy at the moment. Lots of good things going on, but also lots of busyness, and that is crowding out good-but-not-vital things like blogging.
  • That said, I miss writing to y’all. My hope is to find a few moments to jot some thoughts down about what’s been going on, in the near future. No promises, though. You know how it is. But someday in the coming few weeks, I’ll try to give ya an honest-to-goodness TIWIARN post.
  • In the meantime, some things you can pray for me:
    • Strength to make good choices for my health and not give into bad habits and old patterns.
    • Protection and blessing for my wife and unborn baby.
    • Spiritual growth, particularly in the area of joy, patience, and a controlled temper.
    • That I would keep my priorities straight, so that I can focus on what’s important and not be tossed about by every wind of “URGENT” item that enters my field of vision.

I think that’s about it.

In advance of the weekend, here’s a link to an old post about Good Friday.  Hope it blesses you.

He is risen, gang. He is risen indeed. Hallelujah!