What's An Accidental Missionary? (Part 2)

If you missed Part 1 of this story, you’re going to want to check out last week’s post. Otherwise, you might feel a bit like the guy who shows up late to the picnic and samples the French Onion dip after it’s been sitting in the sun all day. Trust me. You don’t want to be that guy.

For those of you who have actually returned for Part 2, thanks in advance. I hope you don’t leave feeling like the French Onion dip guy. But I’m not going to make any promises.

Last week, I shared how my missionary hopes had been extinguished by unrealistic expectations, and then rekindled again when I met Josue, a blind eight-year-old boy from Canton Los Angeles, a tiny village tucked away in the seldom-seen landscape between the jungle and endless sugar cane fields.

When I left my first music class at Josue’s church, I had visions of teaching him how to play the piano. My mind was crazy with the possibilities. Maybe he could give a recital at the end of the year? Maybe even travel to other churches to perform to show what the disabled can do?

Though I was supposed to serve 25 different communities in the country, I had “accidentally” planned some extra sessions in Canton Los Angeles. This convenient scheduling snafu put me in Josue’s church once every three weeks or so, versus once every quarter in the other locations. Josue was front-and-center on my first trip back, and I was able to give him a little special attention. The pastor’s son even agreed to work with him when I wasn’t around.

A few weeks later, it was time to return to Canton Los Angeles. After a 90 minute ride in the back of a pickup, I arrived at the church to find Pastor Pedro unlocking the door.  Remarkably, I was on time, which made me twenty minutes early according to the Guatemala clock. I made small talk with Pedro, immediately asking how Josue was doing.


* Me and Pastor Pedro.  Such a wonderful dude.

He told me that Josue had recently traveled to Guatemala City to see a doctor. He had been having headaches, so they performed a procedure to relieve pressure. He was now at home recovering.

“But we can go see him after class,” he said.


So after class, I asked everyone if they would like to visit Josue.  It was unanimous.  They all wanted to go.  So we piled eleven people into someone’s '88 Toyota 4Runner and drove to the entrance of the jungle path that led to Josue’s house.  We parked and walked under cover of thick foliage and calling birds.  It was like being inserted into the pages of a National Geographic magazine, only this one was filled with scratch-and-sniff stickers.

After ten minutes meandering on the trail, we came upon a small square hut. A floral bed sheet hung in the entrance, serving as the door. I ducked my head to avoid tattooing my forehead on the crossbeam.

Inside the hut was dark, but my eyes soon adjusted. All eleven of us were standing in a 15' x 15' room, constructed of plywood nailed to four corner posts.  The roof was made of sheets of corrugated fiberglass.  The dirt floor was cool and smooth. The room was like a crowded elevator, with a cabinet against the wall, and a rough wooden table with four plastic lawn chairs.

Josue was the only one home. He was laying on one of three beds in the room. His head was wrapped in a dish towel that served as a bandage. Not knowing what else to do, I announced my entrance and took my guitar out of its case.  When I sat on the bed next to Josue, I noticed that the mattress was just wooden planks covered by thick blankets.  It must have been like sleeping on a picnic table.  Not exactly a "get well soon" kind of environment.  I felt a momentary rush of frustration.  Though I was now accustomed to the "decor" of poverty, it was still hard to imagine raising a child like Josue, or any child for that matter, without having access to health care, steady work, clean water, or even food.

I touched the boy’s arm. “We missed you in class today, Josue.”

He smiled in return.

Immediately, kids started requesting songs, like some sort of missionary “stump the band” competition. We sang four or five tunes when Pedro interrupted.

“Josue, would you like to say anything to the group?”

Josue labored to an upright position and recited a Bible verse. Half of the participants mumbled “Amen” when he was finished.

Pedro interjected again. “And anything you would like to say to brother Scott?”

He paused. Then turned in my direction,

“I just want to know when he’s coming back.”

Feeling like I had swallowed a golf ball, I managed to mutter that I would be back in a couple of weeks. At this, Josue smiled and lay back down. Pastor Pedro took this as our cue to leave.

“We’ll let you rest now.” He turned toward the door. “Come on everyone. Let’s go.”

It was a special visit. When I got back to our casita that evening, I highlighted a date on the calendar two weeks later, looking forward to my return.

Fast-forward fourteen days. I was back in Canton Los Angeles, hopping out of the back of a pickup truck in front of Pastor Pedro’s church. He was waiting for me inside, along with a dozen women and children.

I greeted everyone, enjoying the buzz in the room. People were excited to sing together again. I chatted with Pedro while unpacking my guitar.

“So, how is Josue?” I asked, grinning.

Pedro’s face bore a twinge of sadness.

“Brother Scott, Josue's condition has gotten worse - much worse.  He won't be coming to class this day.  His tumor has grown considerably,” He spoke the words without hesitation.

“…and his doctors say that he will be lucky to live through the week.”

I felt like I had just taken a bowling ball to the gut, yet Pedro shared the tragedy with the same tone of voice as a waiter informing me that the kitchen was fresh out of the blue plate special. I have since learned that this direct manner of communicating heartbreaking information is common among those who have endured great suffering. When you’ve witnessed genocide, volcanic eruptions and gang violence, death is just another topic of conversation.

I was numb. I had been filled with hope at the prospect of teaching this little boy. Now that hope was gone. He was my purpose for being here, right?! I silently cursed God with a mix of selfishness and righteous indignation.

But I still had a job to do.

So we held the music class as planned, learning new songs and enjoying the old ones. People sang loudly with hopeful voices. At the end of our session, I exhaled heavily and asked,

“Before I leave, who would like to go visit Josue?”

Every hand went up.

Mine did not.

I don’t do bad news.

And this was not part of the plan.

But my friends led me down that same well-worn path to the small wooden hut that held the promise of my mission year. We walked in silence, with the occasional humming of a hymn gracing the air, an echo from our class.

When we reached the house, I ducked through the doorway once again. This time, Josue’s mother, aunts, and siblings were there. We packed the room, yet Josue didn’t move an inch.  His eyes were closed.  He was breathing heavily through a small tube that a local village doctor had inserted into his throat.  The nearest big hospital was two hours away.  But it wouldn't make a difference now.  Perhaps four years ago when the tumor was first discovered, but not now.

Seated next to the boy, I placed my hand on his leg and just looked at him.  I had no idea what to say.  I was deeply moved yet immobilized. There was a good 20 seconds of silence in the space, as if people were waiting to see what the gringo would do. I wanted to sprinkle pixie dust and fix it all.

But I had no pixie dust.

And I had no medical training.

I’m just a guy with a guitar and good intentions.

I finally told him how much we missed him in class.  I think he sensed that we were all at his side, but Pedro told us the boy couldn't see, couldn't hear and couldn't speak.  I pulled out my guitar and asked the people in the room what song they would like to hear.

They said that it's my choice.

So, I started to sing every Spanish song I could remember.  Twice. Everyone sang along.  We sang about being lifted up on the wings of eagles.  We sang about being wrapped in the arms of angels.  We sang about love and Heaven and Hallelujah-filled-joy. I could hear about half of the room crying over my shoulder.  I held back tears and kept on singing with everyone else.

I would like to say that Josue joined in the singing, or that his foot started tapping, or even that when he heard our soothing voices his breathing became more relaxed. But, this isn't that kind of story.  No jokes or happy endings.  All I can say is that I sat in a room with 17 other people as we sang to a little boy who was fighting to stay in a world that gave him no reason to do so.

Soon after we started, the gringo with the guitar was out of songs. Nothing left.

Pastor Pedro, always one to challenge me, cut through the silence.

“Brother Scott, is there anything you would like to say to Josue’s mother?”

No pressure.

There is a lot I wanted to say. I wanted to scream to the Heavens that we need to find a way to make affordable health care available to everyone.  Decry the deplorable living conditions that plague villages like this one.  Shout in anger at the injustice of hunger. Beg God to bring an end suffering.

But I didn’t.

Because all that means nothing in moments like this where grand ideas for saving the world aren’t worth a hill of frijoles. No matter what we might do to “help” the situation in Guatemala and elsewhere, it wouldn’t change the fact that Josue wouldn’t be around to hug his mom by the end of the week.

So I looked her in the eye and said,

“God is here.”


“I’ll never forget your son.”

And Josue’s mother did something that no other Mayan woman has done for me before or since.

She approached me.

Looked in my eyes.

And embraced me.

Embraces me!?

The stranger.

And with her mouth by my ear, she whispered,

“Dios le bendiga.”

“God bless you.”

Josue died two days later. There was no Hollywood ending. No life-saving surprise. No superhero intervention.   But there was a miracle.

The miracle was not a flash of light that would make the boy whole again, or a shower of money to buy his family a suitable home.  It wasn’t even the promise of a better future.

No, the miracle was us.  All of us.

The truth is, we are all Accidental Missionaries. We stumble upon situations on a daily basis that bring us face-to-face with a lonely, broken, hurting, needy world, and we feel grossly unequipped.

Maybe it’s a family member.

A co-worker.

A neighbor.

A grieving mother.

Or a stranger.

Whatever the case, in those moments we are to be the hearts, hands and healing words of God.   Made in His image to do His work.  When things happen around us that we can never comprehend, God doesn't expect us to solve problems or find reasons.  He only needs us to be there for each other - sharing in the joy, the pain, and the everyday.  Stepping outside ourselves.


For His purpose.

Image *With my friends in Canton Los Angeles

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What's An Accidental Missionary? (Part 1)

I recently received an email from a reader. She had a question for me. “So what’s an Accidental Missionary?” she asked. “I want to follow your blog, but I’m a bit confused about what it’s all about.”

So here's the answer in two parts.  To understand the roots of this blog, we gotta' go back a few years.

(cue dream music and wavy screen distortion)

The Accidental Missionary: Part 1

As you have heard, Gabby and I went on a long term-hiatus from our corporate jobs roughly ten years ago to spend a year doing mission work in Guatemala through the Presbyterian Church USA's Young Adult Volunteer Program.

We were not qualified.

Sure, we had both gone to church all our lives, but never prepared for official spiritual service. To give you an idea of how green we were, one day we were scrolling through a devotional together and ran across a reading from the book of Amos.  We looked at each other and said,

“There’s a book of Amos in the Bible?”

You get the picture.

My job in Guatemala was supposed to be to teach leadership and project planning to a group of pastors in the Southwestern part of the country. This was totally in alignment with the work I was doing in the States. The idea was to encourage the pastors to transform their tiny churches into outlets for social service. Nutrition projects. After-school programs. Preventive health education.

The sponsoring organization through the Presbyterian Church told us ours was a “ministry of presence.”

“Just be there,” they said.

Who wants to “just be?” I thought.  Where's the glory in that?!

So I devised a plan to save the world. Upon arrival, I was dismayed to learn that the pastors simply didn’t have time for the training I could offer. Most of them worked 6 days a week in back-breaking labor on the coffee farms, earning just 2-3 dollars per day to feed their families. On Sundays, they spent time with family and worked at the church.

They were dismayed to learn that I had the Spanish skills of a cashier at a Taco Bell drive-thru.

Given these realities, my plans to save the world were quickly scrapped.  At the urging of my supervisor, we agreed that it was best if I just taught music instead. My Guatemalan supervisor thought there would be a lot of benefit in teaching songs about Jesus. Songs with a positive message. It will be “una bendicion”, he said.

A blessing.

So that’s what I did.

I made phone calls to the various villages and schedule classes. Sometimes when the phones wouldn’t work, I would have to send messages the old fashioned way by word-of-mouth. When the agreed-upon day arrived, I would hop a chicken bus crowded with my fellow Guatemalans and accompanying poultry or livestock and cross my fingers that I would arrive in one piece.

It was amazing.

No matter how delayed I was – sometimes one or two hours - I always found the tiny churches full of women and children ready to sing with me. Seeing a tall, gangly, red-headed guy was such a novelty that people would often gather at the open air windows of the wood or cinder block churches to catch a glimpse. I felt a bit like a gringo Garth Brooks. I was surprised at how overwhelmingly generous people were. One group even handed me a live chicken before I left as a thank you for my visit.   I nearly peed myself, both from excitement at the gift and terror at trying to corral the still-clucking bird.

But I still wondered what I would accomplish during my year as a missionary. What good is music?

One week in the month of November I traveled to the village of Canton Los Angeles, a tiny place tucked away in the trees just a dozen miles or so from the Santa Maria Volcano. I had been there before and noticed that the people loved music and responded to it with tremendous energy.  However, most of their songs reflected struggle, pain, and hardship.  It’s what they related to the most.

Preparing for my visit, I made sure to select some positive stuff, per my supervisor’s instructions. Songs of hope.  Songs of happiness.  Songs of joy.  With Christmas fast approaching, I yanked a bunch of tunes from Kasey Kasem’s Holiday Favorites list and rode 90 minutes by bus and pickup truck to the village.

When I arrived at the church, I greeted everyone face-to-face. Shouting “Hello Everybody!” to the room was viewed as cold, so I made sure to shake every hand and exchange pleasantries.

Image * The church

After meeting everyone, I looked around the room.  Roughly twenty people had arrived.  Some were there as participants.  Others were there as tag-alongs.  Everyone was eager and attentive.  However, I noticed one boy in particular sitting next to his mother, staring off into space.  He was probably eight years old, wearing a pair of brown, well-worn jeans and a hand-me-down plaid shirt that was misbuttoned.  His mother would lean over and say a few words to him every so often, but he was unresponsive.  He had a blank look on his face, and looked completely miserable.  I wrote him off as someone who simply didn’t want to be there and focused on the others who were engaged.

For the next two hours, we talked about joy, empowerment, fulfillment and relationships.  We used songs and spiritual passages to punctuate points.  There was a lot of activity.  Everyone tried their hand at playing a tiny electronic keyboard someone brought from home.   We belted out happy Christmas songs until we were hoarse.  Most sang loud enough to rattle the tin roof.  Though many couldn’t read (including the boy’s mother), they participated by quickly memorizing songs.  The energy in the room was contagious.

Still, the boy was a lump.  A complete void.  Never moved.

Once we had finished, I gave the floor to the pastor of the church.  He was incredibly gracious and thanked me for being there.  There was genuine appreciation in his voice.  What’s more, he wanted the group to pray for my health and safety for my remaining time in Guatemala.

“It can be dangerous here for tall gringos like Scott” he said.

Everyone laughed.  My face turned red.

Then, he motioned to the mother of the boy.  She took her son by the arm and led him to the front of the church to stand next to me.

I thought, what’s this all about?

The pastor then looked in my eyes and said,

"Scott, I'd like to introduce you to Josue. He fell down an incline four years ago and badly hurt himself.  Three months later, he lost his eyesight.”

He then pointed to a six inch scar on the boy's head, visible through his close-cropped hair.

He continued,

“The doctors in Guatemala City operated to remove a tumor that had formed, but that's about all they could do.  So... today, we would also like to pray for Josue.  If you would be so kind, we would like you to say a few words in your own language."

I was floored.  What an ass I had been! I finally realized why Josue was so miserable.  Poverty is hard, but it is especially hard on the handicapped.   The expectation is that a disabled person is a drain on society as there just aren’t enough resources to provide adequate care and development.  Josue had been tossed aside.   He had spent the past four years sitting around the village or being led around by his mother on her errands.

Humbled, I prayed for the boy. I prayed for a miracle. I prayed for healing. And I silently prayed for God to open my eyes to the world around me.

When I had finished, many people came up and touched Josue and said "God bless you".  There was a lot of pity and compassion for the boy, but it was obvious that they didn't see much hope for him, save for some miracle from above that would give him new eyes.

The people continued to mill about.  In the crowd, a man invited me to join him for lunch at a his family's house.  Another asked for music.  Another woman asked when I would be coming back.  Through it all, I noticed Josue sitting in the corner by his mother.

That’s when I heard the voice inside. A powerful voice. Like James Earl Jones mixed with Charleton Heston. It was prodding me to action.

So I walked over to Josue and said,

"Josue, would you like to play the keyboard?"

He didn't respond.  He wouldn't talk to me.  Then, his mother turned to me and said

"El no puede."

He can't. 

I stared.

Normally, I wouldn’t challenge a mother.  However, this was different.  By pure luck, I was born in a country where Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles do American Bandstand and sing Pepsi jingles.

I grabbed the boy by the arms.

"Tu Puedes!  Ven Acá!" 

You can!  Come here!

I basically kidnapped the kid and carted him up to the front of the room.  There, the keyboard sat on a table.  Josue was still expressionless.  I took his hand and ran it around the perimeter of the keyboard.  Finally, placing his fingers on the keys.  I said,


Play it. 

He was incredibly shy. Understandably so.  After an uncomfortable moment passed, he pressed down on one of the keys and it made the sound of a pipe organ from a tiny speaker.  He giggled as the corners of his mouth turned upward.

We spent the next fifteen minutes running his hands across the keys to learn the difference between the black ones and the white ones.  We learned where middle C was.   I asked,

"¿Puede sentirlo?" 

Can you feel it? 

He answered me,


As the minutes wore on, he responded more and more. Then, he started pressing the keys without prompting.  He was smiling and giggling the whole time.  I stood behind him with my arms around him, holding his hands in different positions so he could play actual chords.

Finally, I asked Josue if he wanted to play and sing "Silent Night."

He agreed with a big nod.  So, with my hand over his, we played and sang the song.

Noche de paz Noche de amor Todo duerme en derredor…

When I looked up, I noticed the whole room was watching us. Silent.   How long had they been standing there?

Someone motioned to me that we needed to leave. It was getting late, and darkness was not a friend to guys like me, so I walked Josue toward his chair.  I asked him if he had a good time.

“Sí”, he said.

As he sat down, Josue’s mom was smiling. A tear hung on her cheek.  She put her hand on his head and mussed his hair.

Like moms do.

It was then that I realized my calling for the year. It was not to create huge training programs. Or teach leadership.

It was to give Josue the gift of music.

Click here to read Part 2

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The Hidden Dangers of Defending Beliefs

Going viral. It’s what every writer dreams about, right? Creating something out of nothing, and then having that “something” work its way around the globe and touch lives. That’s what I used to think until I had something go viral. That’s when you learn the term “virus” is very appropriate.

Virus /ˈvī-rəs/ noun

Something that spreads fast and makes you feel like crap (Definition courtesy of Scott New Revised Standard Dictionary)

I wrote what I thought was a fairly harmless piece about how Christians misuse the term “blessed” when referring to material windfalls. It was a self-deprecating, reflective rant.   I posted it to my blog without half a thought then wandered to the kitchen table to enjoy a chili diner with my family. My indigestion was still in its infancy when I wandered back to my computer, but my email box was already filled with comments from complete strangers.

Some positive.

Some not.

You know that feeling you get when someone at work lovingly points out your mistakes? Or when your spouse tells you your favorite shirt is an embarrassment to clothing?   Multiply that times one hundred.

It’s a hopeless feeling.

There were dozens of people praying for my soul. Others called me a heretic. Still more were concerned about my relationships. Whatever the case, every time I opened my inbox, I was greeted by a barrage of Christian brothers and sisters who had devoted paragraphs to explaining how misguided I was.

Here’s a sampling:

     “Sounds like a load of crap to me.”

     “(Your post) shows what an empty “religious” spirit you have regarding your understanding of this area of God’s awesomeness.”

And my personal favorite, which showed up numerous times in reference to my alluding that my friend and I engaged in some back-and-forth “Yo Mama” jokes:

          “So Mr. Dannemiller, you haven’t yet addressed my question: why is it okay to minimize the sin of disparaging your mother by treating it with a casual offhand remark that makes it seem okay?”

There were still more people who were “concerned for my heart” and worried that “the Enemy had won the battle for my soul.” I felt like I was floundering under an avalanche of negativity. So I did what any good husband would do.

I forwarded all of the incoming mail to my wife’s inbox.

Gabby happily served as a sponge for the comments. I’m not sure if this was because she was able to disassociate from the barbs, or because she saw it as some sort of karma payback for my refusal to lower the toilet seat these past twelve years. Whatever the case, she graciously held on to the comments until I was ready to absorb them, and then shared them with me.

I wasn’t surprised that people had alternate points of view. That was to be expected. And I guess it serves me right, given that my article took such a strong stance, pointing out how even the most well-intentioned words can actually push people away from faith.

However, two things did surprise me.

First, I noticed that some of the most encouraging notes came from atheists. They were defending my honor like a big brother. Sending private messages and sharing public comments validating what they saw as an open, self-examined faith. One posted on a public site for non-believers:

“If more Christians believed like this, maybe there wouldn’t even be a need for this forum? We could all just have honest conversations and get along without judgment.”

And another private message:

“Sleep well tonight knowing that you have witnessed well for your Lord.”

None of them converted to the faith, mind you. But I did enter into a number of intriguing conversations, sharing perspectives and learning. It seems there was something about this distinctly spiritual post that spoke to something universally human. A source of hope and promise that resides in all of us, no matter what name you give it.

Second, I was surprised by the comments from the most devout believers. I certainly expected different points of view. Any article that ask people to examine their beliefs should prompt discussion, right? What I didn’t expect was that the nuggets of condemnation, guilt and shame would come wrapped in scripture. Like receiving a steaming pile of poo in a Jesus-themed gift bag.


* Warning:  Open at your own risk.

I reflected on these messages and saw hypocrisy in my own words. I’m as guilty as anyone else when it comes to cherry-picking a red-lettered quote to prove my point. But this was more than just a mirror reflecting my pride. This was a magnifying glass exposing a larger problem.

We spend far too much time defending our beliefs at God’s expense.

And it needs to stop.

We think faith is certain. Well-defined. Concrete.  So we spout black and white answers in a gray-green world. We use The Word as a hammer to encourage a new way of thinking. And in doing so, we become ever more certain of our beliefs, basking in self-righteousness and judgment, all the while forgetting that God dwells in the uncertain, ambiguous places filled with question and doubt. Still we swing that same hammer at nails that are already driven flush into the wood.

And we’re missing the point.

Every day we come face-to-face with people who are searching for hope. They are facing trials and disappointments we cannot fathom. And in these trials they need more than words. As Christians, as much as we would like to bring an end to their suffering or right past wrongs, we can’t guarantee the rosy outcome through platitudes and pithy quotes. It’s in these moments we should be reminded of these words.

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. 1 Peter 3:15

When I search for the seed of hope, I never find it in words alone. Nor is it found by recalling times in my life when good fortune has miraculously come my way. No, the tangible seed that sustains – true hope – is found when logic fails and all seems lost. And here, the hope arrives as flesh and bone. A real human being, who listens first. Someone who dares to sit with me in that uncertain place. Not trying to drag me out, but instead, willing to stay there for as long as it takes. To truly understand where I am. Motivated by a Spirit that defies explanation.

So today my prayer is this:

Let us not be so certain of our beliefs.

Instead, let us be certain of the God who sees the beauty in our mess. Let us be certain of the God who comforts us in our brokenness. Let us be certain of the God who gives voice to the voiceless.

And with this certainty, may we become more than words.

May we be human.

May we be hope.

The hands and heart of God.

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The Power of Weakness

“You need glasses.”

Gabby commented as she watched me poring over the Sunday paper last month. I went on the defensive.

“No I don’t.”

“Yes you do!” she replied.

“Glasses are for old people,” I said.

“Have you seen the color of your hair at your temples?”

I stayed on message. “I don’t need glasses.”

“Then how come every time you start to read something, you make a face like you are about to sneeze?”   She demonstrated for effect. Exaggerating the move.


“High pollen count,” I answered. Then I faked a poop attack to get out of further discussion.

Later that day, my six-year-old daughter tried to punch me in the face. At least that’s how it felt when she held a bottle of Gatorade fifteen inches from my nose to show me something printed on the label. Apparently I reacted as if she had fired a canister of mace into my eyeballs.

“What’s wrong daddy?”

“People don’t like it when you shove things in their face, honey.”

She just stared at me for a minute like I was a crazy person, and then went on asking her question.

I don’t need glasses.

I have repeated this mantra to myself for the better part of six months. Sure, I can only read a few pages of a book before I fall asleep, but who doesn’t get tired after working all day and corralling kids into bed? And halos around street lights when driving at night?

It’s angels. My guardian angels.

A few weeks ago, I took Jake to the drug store. He wanted to use some of the money he got for his birthday to buy some sunglasses. He’s been talking about them for weeks. As he stood in the aisle contemplating the cool factor of $6 mirrored lenses, I noticed the display of reading glasses. While he deliberated over his purchase, I reached down and grabbed a pair of 1.25’s, selecting a minimalist style made by Jonathan Something-or-Other.

This should prove it once and for all, I thought. Glasses will only make it worse.

For grins, I put them on my face.

What happened next can only be described as witchcraft. Words on the display shelf began to dance and sing. The edges of shapes were so sharp, they looked as if they had been carved by a diamond-tipped blade. I glanced down at Jake’s eight-year-old head and watched it double in size. He was growing! When he looked up at me, I could see every pore on his face. I was certain they would soon be sprouting beard hairs.

What the hell is going on!?

Jake laughed. “You look funny, Dad.”

That’s what happens when you’re possessed by a demon, son.

I took off the glasses, and things returned to normal. A slightly fuzzy normal in my close-up vision.

Do I need glasses? I wondered.

I put them on again. The clarity and sharpness returned. It was like a new world had opened up to me. And I kind of liked it.

“Do they really look funny?” I asked Jake, who was grinning at me through tinted shades.

“Yeah. You look weird.”

“Maybe you’re just not used to seeing me in glasses?”

I grabbed an identical pair from the shelf and noticed that the Jonathan Something-Or-Other label actually read Jacqueline Smith.   She makes a fine pair of glasses.

For women.

Jake got a real kick out of this. Nearly wet his pants laughing. He also got his glasses. But I didn’t get mine. It got me to thinking.

I couldn’t come to grips with the fact that I need help. It happens all the time. And even though I know the improved vision would make things easier, the thought of it leaves me feeling vulnerable somehow. Like admitting a weakness.  And I pride myself on being able to handle anything.

Muddle through.

Get by.

And we’re not just talking about the glasses. That’s what being a strong person is all about. Pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. Manning up. Going it alone. It’s the mark of a courageous person to suffer thorns and arrows and emerge out the other side a better person. Right?

Dead wrong.

This is the place where our American ideals butt up against our Christian principles. We firmly believe our worth is wrapped up in what we can produce and what we can endure as individuals. It can be as simple as glasses, or as complex as cancer. There is something scary about admitting that we need help. So we refuse.

And it has to stop. I’ll give you three reasons why.

First of all, refusing help denies the opportunity for someone to be Christ for another person. Deep within each one of us, God has planted a desire to make a difference. You have felt it, haven’t you? We try to scratch that itch by building careers, making our mark, or making a name for ourselves. But nothing satisfies so much as the feeling you get when you truly help another person. It’s not a fleeting pleasure like a lick from and ice cream cone. It’s lasting fulfillment brought about by knowing you are temporarily inhabiting that glorious place where the barrier between you and God is as thin as Saran Wrap.

Second, saying “no” to a helping hand denies us the opportunity to experience God’s grace. Some folks think Heaven is a place you go to when you die. I prefer to think that it’s a place that exists when a person truly experiences unconditional love. Selfless service with no strings attached.

Finally, hanging on to our burdens is like letting go of God. Trying to control everything in our lives is a recipe for failure. No matter how hard we try, we can never maintain a perfect home, a perfect marriage, or perfect health. Sure, we can put up a façade, but it’s impossible. We can point ourselves in the right direction, but the wind will blow us wherever it pleases. Faith is not being certain we can handle whatever storms come our way. Faith is trusting that the family of God is there to save us from drowning in our own selfish pride.

The hands and heart of God are all around us. Tucked away in the body of our neighbors. Ready to wash over us like a cleansing rain. All you have to do is ask.

I can see that clearly now.



* The first of many reading glasses on my night stand.

The Secret To A Happy Marriage: (What I Learned From Busting My A55)

I love my desk chair. It’s like an old friend.

We met fifteen years ago in an office supply store. There were many choices that day, but something about the chair spoke to me. Maybe it was because it was covered in puffy “Dude Black” leather that reminded me of every piece of furniture from my first bachelor pad, and had countless levers and knobs to adjust to varying degrees of comfort.

Not surprisingly, Gabby is not a huge fan of the chair. She never said anything to me for fear of hurting my feelings, but I noticed the subtle way she would close my office door anytime house guests came calling. Or solicitors. Or the UPS delivery guy.

Still, my chair and I have bonded. I have fallen into the seat each day and it has hugged me like an overzealous grandmother. It has adapted to my propensity to recline while on phone calls, giving way with ease.

But over the past few months I noticed a change. The hugs were still there, but my old friend seemed to wither under my weight, reclining past a level that felt comfortable. I adjusted the levers and knobs to try and relieve my muscle fatigue, but nothing seemed to help. I chalked it up to my own weak abs and vowed to “blast my core” on my next visit to the gym.

Then it happened.

I sat down hard today and received my customary hug, forgetting that aging, overzealous grandmothers sometimes develop hip problems. A millisecond after settling in, I heard a snap and felt myself accelerating backward. I called upon ab muscles that haven’t seen action since the Reagan administration, but they were away on vacation, so I just flailed my arms, plastered a terrified look on my face, and yelled,

“Oh no, here I go!”

Gabby heard my screams and turned to see me crash to the floor and come to rest in a position with my back to the ground like an astronaut awaiting liftoff. She immediately ran away. I called out to her and said, “I’m OK! Nothing’s broken!” hoping to catch her before she had amassed an armload of first aid gear. My assumptions were nullified when I heard her yell back between fits of laughter,

“Shut up! I’m going to pee my pants!”


* Reenactment:  Do not try this at home

Luckily, neither of us soiled ourselves or incurred an injury. But I learned a valuable lesson.

For months I had parked my keester in that chair, knowing deep down it was dying. I glanced underneath a few times looking for trouble spots with the same sense of urgency that one might look for a glass of chocolate milk at Mardi Gras. I hoped the remedy would be as simple as finding a giant toggle switch labeled, “Broken – Fixed,” tripped in the wrong direction, but I never found the problem. Soon, content to let life run its course, I got distracted by other more important things. Like work. Or watching funny cat videos. Or saying I was working when I was really watching funny cat videos.

And this is what led to my demise. Contentment that becomes complacent. And I’m not just talking about chairs here. I’m talking about everything.

Like houses.

Or cars .

Or marriages.


* Honest-to-goodness wedding cake topper from www.theweddingspecialists.net

It’s all too easy to coast through a relationship. In the early days, fueled by constant togetherness and that “new chair smell”, we are enamored with the things we love about our spouses. The way he laughs at all your jokes and hangs on every word of your stories. The way she pushes you to try new things and show you what it means to be truly selfless.

As time marches on, things change. You still love these wonderful things, but you simply don’t notice them as much. It’s not that you take them for granted. No. That would imply that you’ve forgotten their value. The little treasures have simply faded from your consciousness. Like the beautiful painting over your mantle, or the lovely view from your backyard deck. Your friends mention them and ask about them every time they come to visit.

And you reply,

“What? Oh... Yes… It is wonderful. Thanks for noticing.”

What we fail to realize is that this noticing is the first step in preventive maintenance for a relationship. Not just noticing that something has changed, like a faulty bolt on an office chair. These things obviously need attention so we can fix what’s broken. But there’s something even more important.

Noticing those things are exactly the same.

Because noticing breeds acknowledgement. Spoken words of support. And we underestimate the importance of verbalizing the good that you notice. It feels like overkill to mention yet again how much we love the little things. The way she tucks her hair behind her ear. Her ability to remember everyone’s birthday. Putting extra chocolate chips in your pancakes. The way she remembers to thank you for the little things.

It’s nothing new. So why bore her to death with the same old compliments?

Dr. John Gottman has been studying relationships since 1972. One of his most impressive skills is his ability to watch married couples fight and then predict with a 90% degree of accuracy whether or not they will stay married. While I don’t recommend inviting the guy to your next date night, you may want to check out what he has learned in studying relationships.

What Gottman discovered is that there is a magic “positivity ratio” in marriages that stay together. His research found that lasting relationships tend to have 5 positive interactions for every 1 negative one.

And marriages bound for the scrap heap? 0.8 to 1.

If you’re anything like me, you’re thinking:

Great! I am about 25 compliments in the hole, and it’s not even lunch time! Time to call the attorney!

But here’s the thing. We shouldn’t get hung up on the numbers. None of us can continue to reinvent ourselves every day and do dozens of new and surprising things to wow our wives. You would pull a groin if you tried. And we shouldn’t expect such variety from our spouses, either. It’s a recipe for disaster. You can’t keep an office chair from squeaking by oiling a different piece every day, and never returning to repeat the process.

Marital maintenance is about the tried and true. Not growing content with it, but noticing it. Putting on a fresh pair of eyes and seeing the things that have been there all along. A steady, day-to-day process of showing your appreciation through words and actions. And there can never be enough of this kind of love. A love that is patient and kind. Not envious, prideful, or boastful. A love not easily angered. One that keeps no record of wrongs.

So my prayer today is that I remember these words written nearly two-thousand years ago. The words spoken time and time again when people stand before God and unite themselves in marriage. It’s not flashy or fantastic. It’s a simple, selfless, plain-spoken love.

A love to bore you to tears.

Tears of gladness.

Tears of joy.

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Sordid Tales of a Selfish Christian Giver

Don’t you just love doing taxes? I sure do. There’s something very spiritual about it, what with the whole “rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s” business. If it’s good enough for Jesus, then it’s good enough for me. (Oops! My sarcasm font isn’t working.)

What I meant to say is that doing taxes is on par with sliding naked down a giant razor blade into a pool of rubbing alcohol.

I approach tax preparation in much the same way I approach exercise, as I see they bear an uncanny resemblance. For starters, I avoid eating egg salad sandwiches before doing either one, because I learned the hard way that both a treadmill run and itemizing deductions are likely to turn my stomach, and there is no need to give Ol’ Man Regurgitation a head start.

So much detail. So little patience.

On the plus side, there are brief flashes of bliss for both exercise and taxes, like that rare instance when I can execute a reverse lunge without pulling my groin, or when I get to figure my charitable contributions. There’s something magical about entering each monetary gift in a spreadsheet and watching our tax bill shrink while my balloon of self-righteousness inflates with every donation.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to experience this trivial joy again. And I must admit, by the time I finished itemizing, I felt pretty good about myself. Very good, in fact. Our tax forms showed that our family met its biblical giving commitment with room to spare, making me feel superior in a holy sort of way. But we’re not the only ones in the country who could pat themselves on the back.

Consider these helpful tidbits.

Americans gave away over $316 Billion dollars in 2012, making the United States the most generous nation on the planet. The vast majority of the giving (72%) came directly from individuals, with another 9% coming from bequests, according to Giving USA: The Annual Report on Philanthropy.

Skeptics may say we’re generous because we’re wealthy, but the data say otherwise. Only 5 of the wealthiest countries ranked in the top 20 of the world’s most charitable according to the Charities Aid Foundation report. This study includes three aspects of generosity - giving money, volunteering time, and helping strangers. Coincidentally, this report also lists the United States as #1, a source of pride for a nation where 80% of the population describes itself as Christian.

But something is amiss.

When researchers from Google and Indiana University’s Center for Philanthropy looked at the beneficiaries of all our giving a number of years ago, they estimated that only a third of our dollars were given to explicitly help the needy. A paltry 8% went to organizations that provide basic needs like food and shelter, while 23% went to programs to help the poor, such as literacy, job training, health care and scholarships.

So who did the other two-thirds help, you ask?

I can look back at my own tax forms for a clue. While our family gave to organizations that directly serve the poor, we also gave to other non-profits. Schools. Theaters. Churches. The IRS considers all of them charities, and all of them serve a purpose in our community.

But who has two thumbs and benefits from a donation to my child’s school? Or a silent auction gift basket chock full of movie tickets and restaurant gift cards? Or contributions to my church’s building fund?

This guy.


Don’t get me wrong, financial donations make a huge difference in our society. They help promote and improve higher education. They help find cures for devastating diseases. They fulfill a need. But what concerns me is that we may be redefining the word charity without even realizing it, unintentionally adding a degree of selfishness to our giving.

char·i·ty (‘cher-ə-tē, ˈcha-rə- tē) noun

1. the voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need. 2.  help or money given voluntarily to those in need.

3.  an organization set up to provide help and raise money for those in need.

Much like our society has continually blurred the line between want and necessity, adding things like TVs and washing machines to our list of basic human needs, we have also broadened the term “those in need” to include any cause we feel is important. Like donations to my child’s public school to purchase more computers. Or contributions to my son’s little league to buy lights for the ball fields.

Or tithes to my church.

(Oops! My invisible font isn’t working)

Please don’t misunderstand me. I believe churches are a critical part of the fabric of our society. They provide comfort for the brokenhearted. They provide community for those in need of support. They also provide a spiritual foundation for devoting our lives to the cause of Christ, and motivate us to great acts of service. There are churches doing beautiful things for God. I am reminded of a recent Monday night in our own church building where the homeless spent the night in our fellowship hall while a community group met in the sanctuary and Alcoholics Anonymous congregated in a preschool classroom.

At the same time, I cannot deny that the church can also be a social club where Christians connect with others who are a lot like themselves, and roughly 80% of donations (on average) benefit the members.

Guilty as charged.


Unfortunately, archaeologists have yet to unearth Jesus’ old tax returns, so we can’t be certain of what the Son of Man would think of the state of my Christian giving today. But, were he faced with the choice of donating a round of lunches for a homeless shelter or a thumping new sound system for the sanctuary, I’d put my money on the casseroles.

For Jesus, keeping the commandments was one thing. But as He told the rich young man,

21…”If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”   Matthew 19:21

I am not saying we Christians should stop giving to causes that benefit the whole of society. What I am advocating is that we be more mindful of our charity and make sure we are dedicating as much or more of our giving to the “least of these” rather than just the “rest of these.” And I am also asking all of us to keep our churches in check. Reminding ourselves that choosing to invest in our own buildings or our own programs could also mean saying “no” to the Christ we profess to follow.

The one sitting on the curb just outside the door.

For Jesus saw himself in the hungry, the thirsty, the naked and homeless. All of them Christ in our midst. The voiceless. Without possessions. So easy to ignore. Yet, Jesus implores us to see them. And to serve them. Expecting nothing in return so we can truly experience…

How it feels to be selfless.

How it feels to be Jesus.

Filled with the unbridled joy of a servant’s heart.

Writers note: I would love to hear what you and your church are doing to remain radically focused on the needy in your midst, like our friend Maggie with Mercy Community Church. You gotta’ check ‘em out.

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Confessions of an 80's Skating Rink DJ

Image * Some names have been changed to protect the embarrassed.

“Dude. You can’t play that song. You’ll get fired.”

I was nervous. A wet-your-pants kind of nervous. My best friend Brandon was holding a Def Leppard record in his hand. On one side was the song “Ring of Fire,” a throw-away hack job. But the flip side was brandished with “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” an 80’s hair band masterpiece. Like a Beethoven symphony drenched in Aqua Net and eye liner.

Brandon turned to me with his sly grin and addressed me with the universal greeting as meaningless as flossing yet as essential as oxygen.

“Dude. Let’s just do it.”

But this was a racy song, and our town’s skating rink was owned by a Christian couple who valued family-friendly, white bread entertainment. The most exotic food at the concession stand was a Spanish-inspired churro, but they called it a “groover” to make it seem less controversial.

You can bet there was a strict playlist.

Image * This place was, and is, full of awesome.

Like everyone before me, I had to work my way up to the DJ booth. I started out in skate rental surrounded by the stench of stale feet. The only redeeming part of the job was dispensing justice to unsuspecting bullies in what we called the “power outage.” Here's how it worked:

If Brandon noticed one of the ne’er-do-wells pumping coins into Frogger or Galaga, he would alert me from the DJ booth. On his signal, I would walk to the back room and trip the breaker. The poor kid would then rush the booth and demand his money back, and I would reply by silently pointing to the sign that read, “No Refunds.”

Playing God one quarter at a time.

Soon, I put on the neon orange vest and became a floor guard.   I quickly learned how to roll backwards and built up a powerful stride. I could skate faster than all but the creepy thirty-year-old guy who came every night by himself. I used the power of the whistle sparingly, preferring to earn respect on the floor through experience and influence, much like Michael Jordan did with the Bulls, only far dorkier.

After six months on the job, I finally reached the pinnacle.

CEO of rock.

Brandon and I traded shifts every Friday and Saturday night, alternating between the floor and the booth. When it was my turn, I would bathe myself in Drakkar Noir, spray a gallon of Binaca in my mouth, and ascend the seven steps to my lofty perch above the rink, spinning records and calling out to the assembled masses in my best radio voice,

“Alright! Let’s get ready for an All Skate. Please skate slowly and carefully in the normal direction.”

Image * Behold my canvas.

Though no female over the age of twelve wished to be the Whitney Houston to my Bobby Brown, I was definitely every fourth grader's dream.

A lot of the late 80’s classics were banned, so I had to orchestrate a party with limited resources. Journey and REO Speedwagon were in heavy rotation for the All Skate. But Motley Crue? They were off-limits given that drummer Tommy Lee regularly trashed hotel rooms.   And couple skates? Debbie Gibson and Tiffany were solid locks, since Madonna was solely responsible for the increase in the teen pregnancy rate at my high school.  At least that's what our parents told us.

I knew at the time that it was the best job I would ever have. (Incidentally, I was correct.) Now I found myself standing at a crossroads at the entrance to the DJ booth.  Brandon was hovering over the turn table with a gleam in his eye, ready to jeopardize my dream job.  He was my best friend.

And he was right.

We couldn’t let our elders dictate morality. This was our Woodstock. Youth demanded that we sacrifice ourselves for the good of hair bands everywhere. And for our music. This was art that needed to be heard. Starting with the snot-nosed grade schoolers and that one creepy adult circling the rink. The very survival of our generation depended on it.

“Do it, dude. I’ll play it during my shift, too.”

I skated away to police the floor, effortlessly weaving in and out of traffic. Asia’s “The Heat of The Moment” was fading away in the speakers. Then there was a brief moment of silence, that awkward pause between songs. Time enough to change my mind. I was about to turn back when I heard Joe Elliott’s signature voice echoed over the rink.

“Love is like a bomb buh bomb buh bomb bomb…”


That’s when all H-E-double-hockey-sticks broke loose.

The older kids knew instantly what was happening. The forbidden melody reverberated off the carpeted walls. Their eyes got big. They looked at me. Then at Brandon. The unthinkable had become reality.

They snapped.

I imagine it’s a bit like what happens at the start of the running of the bulls in Pamplona. Every pre-pubescent male in the place began skating at breakneck speeds. I blew my whistle, but no one paid attention. They were worked into a frenzy, and my “good cop” routine wasn’t doing the job. I tried yelling, but it was no use either. Kids were flying around the rink, pelvic thrusting, leaving only flapping leg bandanas in their wake.

It wasn’t long before the crashes started. Wobbly kids lost control and slammed into each other. It was like the mirror ball was a giant bug zapper, with bodies sprawled underneath trying to regain footing or simply flopping around on their backs. I cleared the carnage as fast as I could and suspended a couple of skaters from the rink for three songs, which was a pretty stout punishment.

When the song ended, I wheeled over to Brandon where he was waiting with a high five. We both glanced over to the rink office, and no one was coming out to chastise us.

My buddy looked at me and said,

“Dude. That was awesome.”

An hour later, I got the chance to hold up my end of the bargain. After a Reverse Skate, I played it again. This time, Brandon had to deal with the aftermath. I turned up the volume, feeling powerful watching the mayhem I had created.   As powerful as a guy can feel with an 11pm curfew, that is.

Because we kept playing the song.

Every weekend.

Never reprimanded.

And I never knew why.

Until now.

At the risk of losing all credibility, I confess that “Pour Some Sugar On Me” has been at the top of my iPod playlist since I bought the device. Recently, while “pouring some sugar” on the treadmill and trying not to make eye contact with the parade of yoga pants in front of me, I listened intently to the words.

And it was shocking.

Love is like a bomb, baby, c'mon get it on Livin' like a lover with a radar phone

What the heck is a radar phone? Is this something NASA is working on?

Mirror queen, mannequin, rhythm of love Sweet dream, saccharine, loosen up!”

Huh? What in God’s name are those guys singing about?

The worthless words hit my ears in a depressing avalanche. One after the other. And I felt betrayed. By Def Leppard. Then it occurred to me that owners of the skating rink probably knew the truth all along, and that’s why they allowed our little revolt. They knew the song probably wasn’t written by any of the Leppards, but instead was penned by a toddler who got his hands on some safety scissors, started randomly cutting words out of a dictionary, and pasted them onto a sheet of construction paper. Pure nonsense (see for yourself). The lyrics were only sexually suggestive to people who had absolutely no clue what sex entails.

Like sixteen-year-old skating rink DJ’s.

Now, the children of the 80’s are the parents of today. And our kids are growing up much faster than we ever did. They are surrounded by screens 24/7. The internet is feeding them mature content at an early age. They are virtually incapable of interacting face-to-face. Being a kid is somehow different now, and we lament the end of innocence.

But you wanna’ know a secret?

We’ve lost perspective. Our complaints sound identical to our own parents’ rants, only the names have changed. Madonna is now Miley. Arcades are now the internet. Cable TV is now You Tube. And the same can be said of the generations long gone. Ever since the first cave parent complained that portable fire on a stick would ruin us all.

And we all turned out OK.

The guy who sang along to “Shout At The Devil” became a school teacher.

The girl who donned a lace glove and danced in front of a mirror to “Like A Virgin” became an accountant.

And the kid who purposefully preyed on fifth grade bullies and rebelled against the oppressive regime at the skating rink?

He’s a harmless blogger.

So don’t believe the hysteria. Don’t buy in to the fear. The end of the world is just the beginning. Innocence never left. Relax and have faith that God is bigger than anything our culture can throw at our kids.  They are just as naïve as we were. Just as resilient. And twice as strong. They will fall and get back up. They will rebel and return. Cure diseases. Explore new worlds. And teach us about things we never knew existed.

And if we’re lucky.

Very lucky.

They’ll finally invent that radar phone.

* Postscript:  In researching this post, I found an awesome video on You Tube with lyrics to prove I wasn't the only one who was duped.  The guy actually printed "Living like a lover with a red hot thong" on screen instead of "radar phone."  And a woman commented, "I always thought it was 'Lucifer', not 'Loosen Up."  Sad face. 

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Love, Fear, and Toenails In Your Hair

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. John 13: 12-17

 “You ready to go to lunch?”  Gabby asked.

“Not yet.” I said.  “I just need to pick a homeless man’s toenails out of my hair.”

She nodded in agreement.  Like it was no big deal.

It was not a typical conversation.  But today was not a typical day. 


I beg forgiveness in advance for diving into a brief discussion of our year as missionaries in Guatemala. I know I’ve told the story a million times.  Like the million times your dad told you how he used to be so poor that his mom packed baked bean sandwiches in his school lunchbox.  OK.  So maybe that’s just my dad.  But the story bears repeating anyway. 

About ten years ago, after spending roughly a decade in the corporate world, Gabby and I went a little looney, sold the house, sold the cars, and spent year serving as missionaries in Guatemala. Unfortunately, we didn’t save million orphans or cure malaria, but we did live with an amazing indigenous family of Mayan descent and learned more about the world than we could have ever imagined.

Prior to quitting our mission year, Gabby and I hadn’t done a lot of service, so when you embark on such a life-altering adventure your first shot out of the gate, it can leave you feeling a bit like Norah Jones whose first album won eight Grammy awards. 

“That’s nice and all. But what have you done lately?”

The answer? Not much.

Instead of feeling content with what could arguably be called a selfish year of service (yes, you read that right), I am left wondering what else I could do.  How can I truly be selfless?  What opportunities exist that could be God-centered enough to help rekindle a deep spiritual connection, while at the same time be challenging enough to scare the Baby Ruth out of me like Guatemala did?

I got my answer a few weeks ago in an email from my friend Jeff.

“I have a great opportunity for you service-minded types.  Nashville’s third annual Project Homeless Connect is coming up. I am coordinating Room In The Inn’s foot clinic, and I need volunteers to help me.   Volunteering would entail offering basic foot care–washing feet, clipping nails, and giving a foot massage.  For anyone who is a little squeamish about feet, there are ways you can help as well.  It really is not as bad as you might think.”

I had to read the email twice.

Is this a God-centered opportunity?  Sure.  The Bible says that Jesus performed just such a spa treatment for his disciples, complete with exfoliating brush and tea-tree oil (Book of John, paraphrase).

Is this a challenging/scary opportunity?

It depends.

I’m not sure where you stand on feet (pun intended).  If you are a nurse, podiatrist, or hiding a foot fetish, this is right up your alley.  You probably wouldn’t think twice.  You could just go on auto-pilot for the day and handle hundreds of feet like a baker handles buns.

But me?

I have a long list of fears.  Ignoring my OCD compulsion with the number 7 and multiples thereof, allow me to showcase just a few of them here. They appear in descending order, from heart-stopper to rash-inducer.

1.       Eating food on or past the expiration date

2.       Not having lip balm

3.       Being trapped with a bad smell (except my own B.O., oddly enough)

4.       Going a full day without showering

5.       Hanging Christmas lights on the tallest gable of our house

6.       Clipping the kids’ toenails

7.       Forgetting to put on deodorant on a muggy day

7a.     Tapioca pudding

7b.     Being sweaty without a change of clothes nearby

7c.      Confronting my wife about something when she’s stressed

As you can see, five or six of these have to do with hygiene in some form.  And this service opportunity would have me facing several fears head-on.  Then I read something else Jeff sent us.

“Organizers are expecting between 1,500 and 2,000 people to receive important services that will help them on their journey toward obtaining housing.  The foot clinic can be an important part of this process.  Physical needs are met, but more importantly it is an experience of sanctuary for our guests, a place where they are cared for as individuals and experience a few moments of unconditional love and respect that can help sustain them in the difficult experience of homelessness”.

Here I am, worried about my crazy phobias while a human being. Flesh and blood. Has no home.  No roof.  No place to feel safe.

For me, it now becomes a simple question to be answered.   

Is love stronger than fear?

I sent Jeff an email to let him know that Gabby and I were in for the foot clinic.  Granted, I hadn’t confirmed this with my wife, but I figured it was only fair that I sign her up for the opportunity since she is the strong half of our marital union, and strangely attracted to physical abnormalities of all sorts.  A menagerie of corns and calluses could be right up her alley.

The day arrived, and Gabby held my hand as we walked into the building.

“Deep breaths,” she said.  “No big deal.”

As soon as we entered, I immediately excused myself to the bathroom. Gabby supported me by stifling a giggle.

The event center was a large exhibit hall.  It was an incredible sight.  Different services and ministries had their own designated area.  There was a place to get your hair cut.  Another area for medical questions.  A section for legal services.  A place to get new ID’s.  All things to help the homeless get back on their feet (pun intended).  As we looked around the hall, the most startling thing is how it would have been next to impossible to distinguish the homeless from the volunteers had it not been for our free, brightly-colored T-shirts.

Children of God.

Then we found Jeff.  He gave us a brief orientation.   I figured I would start small.  Maybe help people fill out the intake form then work my way up to washing the trimmers and pumice pads between sessions.  You know.  Ease my way into it.

Thirty seconds after removing my coat, Hillary, a volunteer coordinator, tapped me on the shoulder.

“We have a space open for foot care.  Can you help out?”

Ding Ding! Round One begins. And Fear just hit Love below the belt!

My heart began to race.  The next thing I knew, I was seated on a stool in front of a metal folding chair.  On the floor was a washtub filled with warm water.  Another volunteer came by and gave me three towels, rubber gloves, nail trimmers, a pumice stone, a nail file, soap and lotion.

“Do you need a cheat sheet?” he asked.

Speechless, I simply nodded.

He brought me the instructions.  I tried to commit them to memory. 

  1. Soak feet. 
  2. Wash feet with cleanser. 
  3. Clean out around and under toenails with cuticle stick.  Really?
  4. Clip nails.  Be especially careful with diabetics. 
  5. Apply callus remover and scrub with pumice stone to remove calluses.  Not sure about that.
  6. Massage feet with lotion. 
  7. Try not to look like you’re going to soil yourself.

OK.  So the last one was mine.

When I was finished reading, he asked,

“Are you ready?”

I nodded.

“Then I’ll go bring you a client.”

I said a prayer.  Not the prayer you might think.  I prayed for God to settle my nerves.  And perhaps, if it wasn’t too much trouble, he could do this by sending me a client with dainty, pretty feet.  Like Jennifer Aniston.  Or Halle Berry.  Or Ashley Judd. 

I’m not picky.

“Hi, this is Raymond.”

Raymond did not bear any resemblance to the aforementioned women, and had feet the size of canned hams.  I shook his hand and gestured toward the chair before me.

“Make yourself comfortable.”

As Raymond removed his shoes, I asked him if he had any special requests or spots on his feet that needed special attention.  Sore tendons?  Twisted ankle, maybe? 

As he removed his white athletic socks, he pointed to piggy #2 on his left foot.

“You see that one right there?”

“Yes,” I replied, gazing at a thick, discolored nail.

“That one has a fungus on it.  If you could smooth that one out a bit, I’d appreciate it.”

Fear staggers Love with a right cross to the jaw!

I got right to work.  Raymond and I chatted a bit.  He was in construction, but lost his job in the economic downturn.  Now he didn’t have a place to live.  As I scrubbed his size twelves with Cetaphil cleanser, I smiled at the sight of myself.  Here I was, a goofy, skinny, pale corporate consultant seated opposite a giant, homeless guy, caressing his sudsy feet.  Not an image I could have conjured up just a few days before.  But now, it had an air of normalcy to it.

Love stands up straight, ready to take on Fear once more!

Normal, until I started cleaning with the cuticle stick.  I know my own feet can harbor a veritable treasure trove of goodies beneath each nail.  But prospecting for gold underneath a stranger’s toenails is another adventure entirely.  The big toe was particularly awe-inspiring.

Love takes an uppercut to the ribs!

After the cleaning was the clipping.  This wasn’t a huge job, as Raymond took decent care of his feet.  I moved on to buff out some rough spots with the pumice stone, and smoothed out the offending fungal nail with a file.  Next up was the massage, and Raymond was very appreciative.

“Man, I spend a lot of time on my feet walking from place to place.  This is just what I needed.”

Twenty five minutes after we started, Raymond was breathing a sigh of relief, looking more relaxed than before.  He gathered his things and shook my hand.

He left with, “God bless you, sir,” and slowly walked away.

Ding Ding!  Round one is a draw.  The fighters move to neutral corners.

With one client under my belt, I was gaining confidence.  The churning in my belly was reduced to a gentle kneading.

My next client was Kathy.  She was a heavy-set woman from Florida with brown curly hair who walked with some effort.  She had only been in Nashville for the past two months, and was living at the women’s shelter.  She had come to town to look for work and escape unspoken troubles.  She was chatty at first, but as time went by, I caught her leaning back in the chair and closing her eyes.  A soft smile drew across her cheeks.

“I don’t know if I ever remember someone taking care of me like this,” she said. “This is fantastic.”

Love takes round two!

Thirty minutes later, I was tending to James, a wiry Tennessee native.  Compared to Kathy and Raymond, his feet felt like they were filled with helium.  James admitted he had never had anyone tend to his feet before.  A proud man, he mentioned several times how he took very good care of himself, and was only sitting here because a friend recommended it.  He talked about losing his factory job in the recession and living at the mission.

“I can’t go home and stay with my family.  I just get in trouble there.  If I can stay away from them, I’m much better off.”

In that moment I realized how tough this must be for the homeless.  During the good times, you have a steady job and the means to put a roof over your head.  Then something happens and the rug gets ripped out right beneath your tired feet.  Now, you must swallow your pride and admit you can’t do it alone.  I can only imagine how much I would resist that.  Heck, I have a hard time admitting when I’ve had a bad day, much less anything worse. But here was James, reluctantly accepting grace.  I easily saw myself in his chair.

Fear is knocked on its heels in round three!

It was nearing lunch time, so I mentioned to the coordinator that I would take one more person before a quick break to grab a bite.  James left with a handshake and I started to replenish my supplies.

“Hi.  I’m Charles.”

Charles was about 6’3” with plenty of gray hair on his temples.  I’m not sure of his age, but his skin showed that whatever years he had spent on the planet had been hard.  He spoke in a rapid-fire staccato.  He was missing several teeth, which gave him an interesting inflection that colored his speech with a mixture of lisp and drawl.

“Hey Charles.  Nice to meet you.  Take off your shoes and get comfortable.  I’ll be right with you.”

As I said this, Gabby came by and tapped me on the shoulder.  She had just finished with a client and heard that I was about to take a lunch.

“I’m just going to do one more and then I’m taking a break,” I said.  “Could you get me a couple of fresh towels?”

Gabby obliged.  I turned back toward Charles, who had removed his shoes.

“I want them two things gone!” He said with authority as he pointed to his left foot.  When I looked down I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Just when Fear looked like it was down for the count, it connects with a right hook to Love’s jaw. Down goes Love!  Down goes Love!

“It’s been years since I’ve done anything to that one there,” he said.


He wasn’t kidding.  He touched the nail on his big toe, which, like all the other nails, had outgrown the limits of his shoes and retreated downward, covering the front of every toe like giant thimbles as thick as wooden spoons.  The only thing that prevented them from growing even more was that the bottom of his foot had acted as a file of sorts.  Otherwise, the nails would have covered the soles of his feet.

On his second toe was a growth the size of a marble.  As he touched his big toenail and the growth, he repeated, “I want them two things gone.”

The expression on my face looked as if I had just seen a manatee riding a unicycle.  Completely dumbfounded.

And the referee is counting!  1, 2, 3, 4 ,5 ,6 ,7 ,8… Is this the end of Love?!

Gabby came back with the towels.  She saw Charles’ feet and said in a tone of great understatement,

“I’ll go help with intake.  Let me know when you’re done.”

I turned toward the woman seated on the stool at my right.  She was a registered nurse who had also been providing foot care throughout the morning.   She heard my conversation with Charles.

“Anything special I need to do here?” I begged, secretly hoping she would take my case as a research project.  She only giggled at my novice fear and said,

“Nothing special.  Just trim the nails as best you can, and get a few medicated corn pads to help with the bump there.”

And Love somehow staggers back to his feet!

Charles seemed pleased with the response and settled in, soaking his feet in the tub.  Meanwhile, I was petrified.  I scrubbed his feet with the special soap, hoping against hope that the concoction was something akin to Toenail Nair, which would just make them disappear in a flash of light.

No such luck.

After the soap, I was supposed to use the cuticle stick to get under the nails.  I looked down at the poor stick, and I heard it faintly whimper, so I opted instead to work off the calluses with the pumice stone to allow each foot a bit more soaking time.

The rough side of the stone was like 100 grit sandpaper.  Before I went to work, I asked Charles, “Let me know if this is too uncomfortable for you.”

He replied, “Ain’t nothin’ gonna’ hurt these big size thirteen canoes, boy.  You doin’ a fine job. ”

I worked his foot like an auto body mechanic sanding paint off a Buick.  The pumice wilted under the pressure.  I commented to Charles,

“I think I may rub off a size or two of foot here Charles.  When you walk out of here, you may be an eleven and a half.” 

He laughed at the comment, and added, “Sho ‘nuff.  It’s about time them feet had some work done on ‘em.  This feels real good.  I really appreciate you doing this.”

When the scrubbing was done, it was nail time.  I steadied myself to tackle my fear head-on.  When I grabbed the toenail trimmers, I saw the nurse glance my way.  I believe she was watching to see if I would fold under the pressure.

I wasn’t sure exactly how to handle it.  Because of the unique growth of the nails, there was no way to just take the nail off in one clip.  I would have to whittle away at them, taking off a tiny chip at a time.  The trimmers were the kind that look like a pair of pliers.  I grabbed them firmly in my right hand and settled in on the first chunk of the first nail.

I may not be the strongest man in the world, but I’ve done my fair share of working out.  Still, when I pressed down, the trimmers merely made an impression.  Like I was notarizing his big toe.  It didn’t budge.

Refusing to give in, I grabbed on with both hands and clamped down.  There was a sound like someone snapping a pencil and the first chunk of nail flew off and hit the nurse in the cheek.

“Hold on there now!” Charles joked.  “I don’t wanna’ be responsible for hurtin’ nobody.”

What’s this?!  Love lands a right cross to Fear!

I had to laugh, and so did the nurse.  I continued chopping away at the nail.  As Gabby can attest, the big toe alone took four minutes.  Stuff was flying everywhere.  The area around my seat looked as if someone had been carving one of those bear statues out of an old stump.  Toenail chips hit me in the eye, the cheek, and the lower lip.  My waxy hair care product, an unfortunate choice for the day, was trapping slivers in my coif. My hands got tired.

And Fear takes one on the chin!  Up against the ropes!  Will this be the end?!?!

As I worked, Charles continued to voice his appreciation, and an occasional hint that my grip might be a bit rough.

And God was blessing it all.  Beauty for ashes, as they say.

Because as tough as this was for me, I can only imagine that it was ten times as difficult for him.   If you have no money and no place to live, the last thing you’re concerned about is buying a pair of nail clippers.  And when you look like Charles and live on the street, it’s likely that you could go weeks, if not months, without feeling the physical touch of another human, save for an occasional police officer lifting you off a bench and pointing you elsewhere for the night.

Can you imagine?

I can.

And it must be very lonely.  Enough to make you feel less than human. Like I had treated Charles.  As a pair of feet instead of a man with a soul.

When Charles’s feet were back to normal, I felt beads of sweat on my forehead.  He looked at my handiwork and said,

“Those babies haven’t looked that good in years!  Thank you!”

“We’re not done yet, Charles,” I reminded him.  “We save the best for last.”

I poured peppermint-scented lotion into my hands, and got to work on the feet.  For ten minutes they soaked up a quarter-bottle of the stuff.  He leaned back in the chair, closed his eyes, and sighed.  It was the sound of pure peace.  Breathing in a pleasant scent.  Both of us drenched in human kindness.  Bringing a subtle smile to my face as fear melted into the floor.  Proving once and for all, that when you push yourself to the edge of your faith.

No matter the odds.

Love wins.  Every time.

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3 Things I Learned From The Pains Of Childbirth: A Husband's Story

“Is this really what it feels like?” I asked. I was seated next to my wife on the floor during our childbirth class. A clothespin was clamped tightly to my earlobe. We were three minutes into a five-minute exercise designed to teach all the husbands what it feels like to experience labor pains. A red-hot piercing sensation was shooting up my ear, into my brain, and out my left nostril.

The nurse answered me.

“Not quite. To accurately simulate the pain, you would need about a thousand more clothespins. And they would be attached to a different part of your anatomy.”

Image * I'll allow you to use your imagination.

I heard one guy whimper. Meanwhile, I was breathing like a trucker with thirty miles to the next rest stop after some bad sushi.

Hoo hoo. Hee hee.

It wasn’t helping.

I glanced at my wife and instantly took pity on her. In a few months she would be delivering our first child. A boy. A direct descendant of yours truly, the guy with the giant melon. If a rubber mallet and a Tootsie roll pop had a baby, it would look like me.

I vowed to be there for my wife when the time came. Supportive and unflappabale.

Fast-forward to the delivery room.

My wife was writhing on the bed. She was going for a “natural” delivery, but nothing seemed natural about it. There were lots of wires and needles and smells and sounds. Doctors and nurses were coming and going. The entire room was a buzz of activity. And me?

I was…

How do you say…


Just. There.

Guys are problem solvers. We fix things. It’s what we do. But in that moment my wife was in excruciating pain and I was completely powerless. I wanted to help, but my idea of bringing a pickup truck into the delivery room, attaching a come-along to the front bumper, then tying the other end to the baby’s shoulders was quickly shot down. Something about HIPPA laws, I guess.

“Come here.”

Gabby motioned me to come to the side of the bed.

“Give me your hand,” she said.

My wife needed me, and this is how I could help. I held out my hand, ready to share a tender moment. To soothe and comfort her during a difficult experience. To whisper in her ear and stroke her hair and tell her it would be all right.

To be there for her.

So Gabby took my hand.

Let go of my pinkie.

And with my remaining fingers nestled in her palm, she squeezed my knuckles like she was cracking three walnuts. If my fingers had been made of charcoal briquettes, every contraction would have produced a pile of diamonds.


My body tensed. My eyes rolled into my head. I nearly lost control of my bowels. I retracted my ring finger from the bunch to try and save the others, but she just said, “No!” through gritted teeth and brought it back in again, the wedding ring digging into the other knuckles and grinding the joints.

I pulled the finger loose once again, and she angrily said,

“What are you doing!?”

I looked her in the eye and said,

“Honey. It really hurts my knuckles when you squeeze them together like that.”

The entire room fell silent. Machines stopped. Like in the movies when you hear the sound of a record scratching. I looked up and saw all of the nurses staring at me. They were all wearing surgical masks, but their eyes bore an expression of surprise mixed with outrage.

Then I looked toward Gabby. She said nothing. She didn’t have to. Every muscle of her face was contorted into a look which said, “I’ll let go of your fingers just as soon as I see you pass a fully-formed watermelon out your butthole.”

So I gave her the finger.

The ring finger.

Looking back, I can see that I learned many life lessons in that one simple moment, and not just the fact that I am an idiot with the pain threshold of a six-year-old. While I cannot claim to follow these truisms on a daily basis, I share them here as a refresher course for all of us, husbands and wives, who strive for a better marriage.

  1. Never underestimate the power of empathy: Sometimes life throws you problems you can’t solve and pain that won’t go away. Unless your spouse asks for your advice, don’t give it. Instead, just hold her hand and ask her to tell you more about what she’s feeling. You would be surprised the miracles that can emerge from simply saying “that sucks” and offering a hug.
  2. Compromise is not a dirty word: I once believed that a perfect marriage was one filled with win-win outcomes where no one had to sacrifice anything. I now realize that was a complete myth, like gluten-free pastries that actually taste good. But that doesn’t mean that marriage is a contest of wins and losses where husbands and wives count victories in hopes that it all balances out in the end. Quite the contrary. Marriage is husband and wife fighting tooth-and-nail against human nature, battling selfishness, pettiness and complacency. Sacrificing self to discover the joy born of a generous spirit.
  3. Embrace the pain: Since the day our first child was born, we have endured many trials in our marriage. Inconsolable babies. Sleepless nights. Solo parenting. Business travel. Lost income. Loss of loved ones. Dreams on hold. Dwindling quality time. The invisibility of motherhood. The anxiety of fatherhood. Miscommunication and misunderstanding. For all of this, our bond is stronger than before.

How do I know?

That day in the delivery room, my wife squeezed my hand as if life depended on it. Because life did depend on it. A child was born from her pain.

But something else happened, too.

My knuckle swelled up to the size of a pomegranate. Hurt like the devil. To this day, eight years later, I still can’t get that ring off my finger, no matter how hard I try. It’s stuck.   Always there for me.  A constant reminder that sacrificial love changes us all for the better.

If we let it.

A Handy Guide To Christian Outrage

By the looks of the articles running across social media, there are lots of reasons to be outraged today. Allow me to list a few:

  • Common core standards
  • Corporate greed
  • Taxes
  • Obama
  • Bush
  • Fat-free Oreos

But that’s just the mainstream stuff. If you’re a Christian, the list gets longer. Muslims are trying to build mosques in your neighborhood and take over America. Christians are being persecuted as prayer is removed from schools. The Ten Commandments aren’t allowed at the courthouse.

Feeling outraged yet?

In the past few days, two topics have been particularly outrageous to Christians on the web. One has been the “Non-Biblical” Bible movie, Noah. The second is the decision by the children’s charity World Vision to permit the hiring of employees who are engaged in same-sex marriages, and their reversal of the decision 48-hours later.

The virtual ink devoted to these two stories could fill a hundred virtual swimming pools.

Outward. Rage.


* Here's your handy guide to Christian outrage!

As I read all of the stories, I can’t help but think that Christians (myself included) have monumentally misplaced our anger. Like misplacing your car keys. In your dress pants. In the suitcase. That the airline mistakenly sent to Mongolia.

I’m not saying people aren’t allowed to be angry. It’s a perfectly normal human emotion. I’m not even saying anyone has to change their beliefs. Though, for the record, I doubt a single person will renounce Christianity because of a movie. And if any charity has to fire every employee who has “sinned” based on a literal interpretation of the Bible, they’ll probably be down to a single staff member.

His name is Jesus. He works in building maintenance.

What I am saying is this:

I fear we are so focused on defending the Bible that we have lost sight of Christ.

Don’t get me wrong, I am deeply convicted by my faith. It grounds me. It comforts me. It defines me. But that becomes a problem when I forget that I am but one man. In one religion. That has over 41,000 different Christian denominations. Expecting the world to conform to my interpretation of ancient writings is a recipe for failure. No matter how loudly I thump on The Book.

If our goal is to demonstrate God’s love and help others find that same love and comfort in the faith, outrage just doesn’t work. It’s like choosing a guy with a really loud, whiney, high-pitched voice as your corporate spokesperson.

But the problem is bigger than bad marketing.

When this…


Generates more outrage than this…


And this…


Generates more outrage than this…


We ignore the Christ we profess to follow.

I’m certain that many of you will say it is our duty to defend the Bible. It is the Word of God. And any attack on the Word is an attack on God, right?

I don’t think you’re giving an all-powerful God enough credit. He’s not your kid brother.

But there are times when outrage is appropriate. Even Jesus showed outward rage.

A “hangry” Jesus got mad at a fig tree when he walked by and noticed it bore no fruit. He overturned tables like Patrick Swayze in Roadhouse, outraged with the money lenders turning a temple into a strip mall. He expressed outrage toward anyone who would harm a child, sounding a bit Tony Soprano-like when he said they would be better off sleeping with the fishes.

But it is safe to say Jesus saved his most outward displays of anger for the self-righteous. The Pharisees and Sadducees knew the law and boasted of sinless perfection. They dubbed themselves the celestial scorekeepers here on earth.

Jesus called them blind guides.



A brood of vipers.

Whitewashed graves. Clean on the outside but dead within.

Don’t sugar-coat it Jesus, tell us how you really feel.

When we show self-righteous outrage toward those that don’t subscribe to our way of thinking, we run the risk of earning these names for ourselves. All of us noticing the speck in anothers eye yet ignoring the log in our own. Recall what Jesus told his closest buddies the first time he sent them out. He told them to heal, cure, and comfort, proclaiming God’s name along the way. And he added,

“If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.” (Matt 10: 14)

Sounds harsh, right? But he doesn’t add, “And leavest thou a flaming bag of poo on their doorstep, and drape their olive trees in Charmin.”

Jesus is telling us to let it go. Self-righteous outrage is not worth the trouble. If judgment is to come, let Him be the sword. Meanwhile, save your words. They hold little value anyway.

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,you did it to me.’ (Matt 25: 31-40)

God doesn’t want your words. He wants your life. And he sent us his Son to show us how to live it.

So my prayer today is that we transform our outer rage into inward action. To feed the hungry. Heal the sick. Aid the defenseless. Advocate for those on the margins.

And trust that God will take care of the rest.

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Special Report: Christians Concerned About Noah Movie

After seeing multiple news reports over the controversy caused by the upcoming film depiction of the story of Noah, I took it upon myself to do some investigative journalism.  Note:  Some facts may lack "truthiness", and all of this may be completely made up to reflect public absurdity. (Though one quote has been validated.) NASHVILLE, TN   Darren Aronofsky’s Noah opens in theaters tomorrow, and churchgoing Christians are all abuzz. They have been eagerly anticipating the release of the $130M blockbuster for the past several months, and their reasons for excitement are as varied as the early reviews of the film. Some are curious to see how the movie might affirm their faith, while others are anxious to see what liberties the producers have taken with the ancient text from Genesis.


Stan Marchand, director of the Institute for Biblical Belief says that the film’s interpretation of the great flood is encouraging to many Christians.

“Sure, the film has a wacky six-armed angel. But if you look past that, we believe the film provides Biblical basis for our firm stance on the environment. It proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God wants us to rely more on wind power and vehicles constructed from natural products, rather than fossil fuels and made-made materials. That’s what the story of Noah is all about.”

When confronted with other potential meanings such as God’s sovereign nature or the strength of a tested faith, Marchand replied, “I guess you could see it that way. But I think it’s more about God’s love of windmills and organic glue.”

Still, protests abound throughout the United States. Some churches have boycotted the film due to what they feel is a gross misinterpretation of one of the foundational stories of the Bible.

Johnathan Fillmore, a devout Christian who attended an early premiere, notes, “I thought it was pretty good up until Russell Crowe opened his pie hole. When I heard him start talking with that Australian accent, I threw up in my mouth a little bit.”

He added, “Anybody who reads the Bible knows Noah speaks American.”

Others were even more critical of the historical inaccuracies of the picture. Dr. Ian Gunderson, professor of Biblical Statistics at the University of Warrington says of the film’s producers, “They don’t know a cubit from a Q-Bert.” (referring to the popular 80’s arcade game). “That ark was way too big. Evan Almighty’s ark was much more realistic. Except for the part where Steve Carrell had trained monkeys help him build it.”

Though Gunderson conceded, “I was happy they didn’t have Noah sing like he did in Les Miserables. We dodged a bullet on that one.”

Evidence aside, some influential Christians see the overall message of the picture as troubling. They believe the crux of the story has been lost in translation from text to screen, which could be a major threat to the faith itself.

Popular talk show host Glenn Beck took to the airwaves earlier in the week, saying, “It was awful,” and denounced the film as “pro animal” and “strongly anti-human.” Elizabeth Holcomb, president of the Organization for Christian Intolerance (OCI), echoed Beck’s comments.

“Noah’s a vegetarian?! Puh-lease! All this heavy-handed emphasis on saving the animals from destruction turns the movie into a two-hour political commercial from PETA. I’m concerned that tens of millions of Christians who see the film will start spending more time enjoying and protecting God’s creation than they do in church. This kind of thing can do a lot of damage. Remember how Madonna single-handedly ruined Christianity with her ‘Like A Prayer’ stunt back in 1989? And that was a five-minute music video.”

The Lord God Almighty, citing previous commitments of far greater importance, was unavailable for comment.

What (not) To Say When Your Second Grader Drops The F-Bomb

Do you have kids? If so, you know that bedtime can be both magical and maddening. Some nights, the kids are sloshing water all over the bathroom floor, spraying toothpaste all over the vanity mirror, and yelling so loud that the neighbors come outside to scan the clouds for tornadoes.

And other nights, it’s really bad.

Last night was one of those rare evenings where the stars align and the kids are listening to your every word. On these occasions, I gladly park my keester on the toilet and converse with them while they wash up.

As Jake exited the tub, he said, “Daddy?”


He looked me right in the eye and paused. The air was pregnant with childhood curiosity. I prepared my explanation for why the sky is blue. Or what makes a true friend. Sharing my wisdom, father to son. Then he blurted out,

“What does ‘F—k’ mean?”

This was no politically correct “f-word” or “fudge”. He came out with the queen mother. Straight outta’ his seven-year-old mouth. Enunciating.  Like he was auditioning for a role in Wolf of Wall Street.

wolf of wall street * Fun Fact!  Wolf of Wall Street contains 506 F-bombs.  That's 2.81 per minute!

I panicked. My mind raced.

Holy S#^!! Where did he hear that? Who did he hear it from? He definitely will not get to hang out with that kid again. What should I say? Should I punish him? Or give him a definition? If so, do I give him the verb or the adjective?

Instead, I said,

“I need to ask your mother.”

His eyes widened.

“What? You don’t know what it means?”

I saw this as an immediate shot at my credibility.

“No son, I know what it means. I just need to ask your mother how best to explain it.”

I’m not helping myself here.

“Just tell me!”

I thought about explaining the verb. Using this as an opportunity to have our first true discussion of where babies come from. Then the hand of God reached into my mouth, took out the words, “when a man and a woman love each other…” and replaced them with.

“Do you want an ice cream sandwich?”

Crisis averted.

Apparently, my wife heard the whole conversation. Rather than rescue me, she suggested I have a little sit down talk with my son about words that Dannemillers use, and words that we don’t use.

The whole debacle reminded me of an incident that happened over ten years ago. Gabby and I were doing a year of mission service in Guatemala. My home base was a school that helped kids, adults, and some volunteer pastors finish their grade school education. Though the school taught classes in both Spanish and Quiché, I never learned to speak more than seven words of the complex Mayan language, so I didn’t have much conversation with the wonderful women who kept the school and the kitchen humming.

During my last week there, I gathered all of them together to thank them and ask if I could take their photo. As is typical of the Quiché women, they obliged, but stood stoic. No smiles. Very serious.


I wanted to say, “cheese” to get them to grin, but queso doesn’t produce the desired result. Then I remembered someone telling me that the word güisquil (pronounced wis-KEEL) is an acceptable option, since it’s a common vegetable in the region.

So I steadied my camera and shouted, “güisquil!” The women fidgeted nervously, but didn’t say the word. And didn’t smile. I upped my energy and shouted,

“Say güisquil!”

Again, no one said the word. Some started looking at each other quizzically. One woman started to smile.  Another giggled.


I’m breaking down their walls, I thought.

So I shouted “güisquil” about a dozen times more, really loud. And by the end, all of the women were laughing like I had never seen Mayan women laugh before.


Great photo!

Later that day, my Guatemalan supervisor pulled me aside.

“Hermano Scott, that was interesting. What happened with the picture today.”

“Yes. I was happy they all smiled,” I said.

“No, hermano. I was talking about what you were shouting during the photo.”

“Yes. Güisquil. That’s what you say for a photo, right? Güisquil. The vegetable.”

Image *  A photo of the veggie.  Trust me, you'll wanna come back to this in a second.

“Yes. In Spanish it’s a vegetable. But in Quiché, it means… um… how do you say…”

He was a bit flustered. His voice became a whisper.

“It’s a bad word.”

I whispered back. “Bad word? Like how bad?”

“The worst.” He leaned in closer. “It’s the really bad word for a woman’s…”

Then he looked me in the eye and pointed toward his zipper.

OK people. Think of the worst word you can think of to describe the female anatomy. No. Not that one. The absolute worst word.

Now imagine shouting that word over a dozen times. At the top of your lungs. Outside. In the middle of the day. At a school for children and pastors. In front of your spiritual advisor. With nine pure-as-the-driven snow women trying not to faint in front of you. While serving as a missionary.  For Jesus.

I think I need an ice cream sandwich.

I was mortified. The good news is, they didn’t revoke my laminated missionary wallet card. And they didn’t kick me out of the school. Because they know that words aren’t inherently bad.

They’re just words.

Even so, I’m not going to suggest Jake re-enact a scene from Goodfellas for the elementary school talent show. When we discussed it later, he asked,

“Well Dad, why are some words bad, and others are fine? Even if they mean the same thing? That’s dumb.”

I had to agree with the kid. It’s all very arbitrary. Makes no sense at all. Words are just words.

We’re the ones that make them bad.

Whether we are speaking the words, or simply hearing them. We load them with judgment. We stuff them full of meaning. We turn them into something they’re not. And when they are hurled at us like weapons, we soak them up like the parched earth absorbs the rain. Only the words don’t nourish. They tear us down because we believe them to be true. They turn into a story we tell ourselves.

But they’re just words. And it’s our choice.

It’s like I told Jake (after consulting with my wife). Any word can be bad if it’s said with disrespect. So we must say things that reflect who we are, and who we aspire to be. Using our words to build people up. To uplift and restore.

And, if words come your way that intend to tear you down, know in your heart of hearts that you were made for more. Strong enough to say in your inside voice,

Fuuuuuuuuuu gedaboudit!

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An Open Letter To My Daughter On Her First Date

Dear daughter of mine.  You reached a milestone tonight.

Your first date.

Every dad dreads this day.  And, I must admit, I am very much like every dad.  So, to ease the sting of the first date and assure you were treated like a queen, I took matters into my own hands.

I asked you out.

The good news is you enthusiastically accepted.  No doubt my probability of success was buoyed by the fact that you believe I am a superhero, capable of throwing your giggling, 36-pound body into the air to unspeakable heights, and catching you again before you konk your head on our food-splattered wood floors.

And who wouldn’t want to date a superhero?

Don’t get me wrong.  I am certainly not naïve enough to think that my doorstep will never feel the heavy boots of a poorly dressed, angst-ridden, mouth-breather intent on breaking curfew with my little girl.  No.  I know that day is coming.  And, sadly, I also know that you’ll look into that bumbling dolt’s eyes with the same sense of wonder that currently meets my gaze every time I miraculously untangle My Little Pony’s long-flowing, strawberry-scented hair from the whirring wheels of your Zuzu Pet.

But this first date was about planting a seed.  And I hope that our first night on the town burns into your memory with the intensity of the sun’s rays condensed by a magnifying glass.  Because tonight, at four years old, you were everything your future self aspires to be.  And since your little fingers and limited knowledge of spelling are only capable of cranking out .014 words per minute, allow me to capture your current life philosophy for your future self to ponder.

So here goes.


Someday, Audrey, you’ll hear a voice.  It might be the voice of your friends.  Maybe a shout from a picture in a magazine.  Or, Heaven forbid, a comment from your boyfriend.  And that voice is going to tell you that you don’t have the right clothes, the right makeup, or the right face.

And when you hear that voice, I want you to put on your green Christmas dress in the middle of spring, don a bright red hair bow, and clip a frilly pink flower to your collar.  And with a love-stained, faded Toasty blanket draped over your shoulder, and a sparkling pink and white unicorn tucked under your arm, I want you to tell those voices that, in your world, beauty cannot be seen.  It must be felt.  A confidence that springs forth from deep within heart and soul and bone.    Both breath-taking and life-giving.


And no doubt there will be even more voices.  Maybe your friends.  Maybe a talking head on TV.  Or, Heaven forbid, a comment from your own father.  And that voice is going to tell you that material things matter.  It will tell you to make practical life decisions based on bank accounts and buying power, because money gives you the ability to acquire not only the good things in life, but the good life as well.

And once you’ve listened to their advice, just like today, I want you to pick a dandelion out of the grass and give it to them.  With a sincerity and smile born of your generous heart.  Ask them to turn down the radio and tell them a story about a stuffed elephant named Geraldine who flies through the air on the back of a magical horse.  Then make silly faces in the mirror at a fancy restaurant, and fill up on two loaves of free bread.  Show us how delightful it is to dip your spoon into the perfect bowl of macaroni and cheese.  Because there’s a reason it’s called comfort food.  We distracted people tend to forget. It’s the simplicity that makes you feel that way.


Finally, one day you will hear a voice coming from inside your head.  A voice with the same tone and inflection of yours.  Using words you recognize.  A shout that only you can hear.  Confusing.  Because that voice will be saying mean and hurtful things like cannot, will not and should not.  Telling you not to dream.  Not to try.  For fear of standing out and looking foolish.

And like your first date, I want you to silence that voice and listen to the music of your soul instead.  The music that tells you to dance and twirl in the middle of a crowded restaurant.   To spin.  All eyes on you.  Not once.  Not twice.  But seven times.

Until you fall down dizzy.

Because you will fall.  Onto the cold, hard floor strewn with dirt and crumbs of cheesecake crust.  And when you fall, I want you to do just as you did tonight.  I want you to stand right back up.  And against all better judgment, I want you to pick those crumbs off your dress.  Look at them.

And eat them.

Then keep right on spinning.  Because it’s not about the messes you make.  It’s about enjoying the sweetness of the journey.  My daughter, always know that who you are is who you were made to be.

Truly.  Deeply.  Loved.

- Dad

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Confessions Of A Hoarder


My wife and I are always looking for ways to simplify our lives.  Recently, she heard about a project called “40 Bags in 40 Days.”  In this challenge, you commit to de-cluttering a single area of your house every day for six weeks.  All excess items are placed in bags for donation or dumping.  It’s like a Lenten purge.

“Doesn’t it sounds like fun?!” she exclaimed.

“You and I have very different definitions of the word ‘fun,’” I answered.

The first few days, she attacked trouble spots like a human sieve, sifting through years of family knick-knacks.  I helped by sitting on the couch and watching reruns of Deadliest Catch.

Gabby unearthed a treasure trove of random items.  A VCR recording of an episode of Seinfeld.  A twelve- year-old package of funnel cake mix, stashed in a box with a funnel cake maker we have never used.  Over thirty different keys for unknown locks.

Several days into the challenge, the obvious items had already been packed away for donation.  Now it was time for the really difficult work.  She enlisted my help and pulled me into the kitchen, where she stood silently staring at the stacks of dishes in our cabinets. 

“What about our china.  Should we donate that?” she asked.

I gasped.  Like a woman scorned.

“You mean our wedding china?”

I was momentarily horrified.  As if giving away our prized wedding gift somehow indicated she had given up on our marriage.

A long debate ensued.  And not because I have a china fetish.  There were a lot of happy memories tied to our fancy dinnerware.  But we soon realized that none of those memories actually involved eating off of those plates.  We had been waiting for a special occasion.  Unfortunately, the Queen of England still hasn’t RSVP’d.  So the china goes unused.  Just like fancy napkin rings.  And the “good towels” hanging in the bathroom.  

Waiting for a guest who will never come.

And for this reason, I think I am a hoarder.  Not the kind you see on reality TV shows, living on piles of clothing and old pizza boxes.  I mean the kind of hoarder who takes more than he needs.  And it all stems from the fact that I’m asking all the wrong questions.


When sifting through the clothes in my closet, I ask,

“When might I wear this again?”

No matter the item, I can always think of a situation. 

   Maybe save it for a Halloween party! 

   Or painting a room. 

   Or a visit to the White house.

When looking at dishes in our cabinet, or knick-knacks on a shelf, I ask,

“Should I keep this?”

No matter the item, I can always think of a reason. 

   It was very expensive.  

   It was a gift.

   It might come in handy someday.

And most of the items stay in my house.  Tucked away in a junk drawer.  Until the next time I stumble across them and try and remember why I still have them.  Worried that giving them away somehow leaves me vulnerable.

I’m not alone in this.

I recently watched a clip from the movie the Son of God.  If you haven’t heard of the picture, it’s the one in theaters now with the GQ Jesus whose teeth were straightened and bleached by the angels before the Almighty sent him down to live with us poor slobs.


* Side note:  Some moviegoers thought they had accidentally stepped into a screening for "The Bachelor."

Anyhow, the clip I saw was where Jesus sets out across the Sea of Galilee with the disciples.  When he gets to shore, he is shocked to see that five thousand people have come to see him.  It’s like a Christ-a-Palooza:  Healfest ‘32.  The problem is, no one called the caterer.  So the disciples are little worried about crowd control.  They have five thousand soon-to-be-“hangry” folks who know how to use a rod and a staff. 

They told Jesus,

36 Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”


37 But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”


They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”


38 “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”


When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”


39 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied,

In the movie version of this clip, when GQ Jesus looks up to heaven to give thanks, he holds the basket above his perfectly-coiffed, highlighted head.  When he brings it back down, it is miraculously filled to the brim with food.  And this is image I’ve had in my head for decades.  Jesus multiplying what he was given.

But I think our math is wrong.

It’s not a multiplication problem.

In every account of the story,

Jesus broke. 



And there was more than enough.

I tend to think that miracles are like magic.  Like Sigfried and Roy making a tiger appear where there was none before.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t at the seashore that day, so I can’t be certain.  But when I think of this story in the context of my reluctance to give, I wonder if the miracle may have been less an act of Jesus himself, and more an act of God moving within those present.  Finding satisfaction in the simple.  Finally learning the definition of enough.  Realizing that the “least of these” are often made whole through the generosity of those who have the “most of that.” 

Miraculous, I know.

My prayer today is that I change my questions.   The old method of asking “How might I use this?” and “Should I keep this?” encouraged my creative mind to think of reasons to hang on. 

But hanging on is not the goal. It’s all about giving in.  Trusting.   Sharing.  Distributing.  Dividing.  It’s about asking, “What harm will come if I give this away?”  And “Who needs this more?”

The answer?

Not much. 

Not me.

And in parting with those things I once held so tightly, may I finally find myself.


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The Facebook Lie We All Believe

What is your favorite parental duty? 

Maybe it’s teaching your child something important, like riding a bike.  Or fishing.  Or perhaps you relish the chance to impart wisdom about the world?  Serving others side-by-side with selfless abandon.


I like eating my kids’ leftovers at a restaurant. 

It’s a dad’s job.  Sheer bliss for a guy who loves kid food.  I once had corn dogs for every meal of the day.  At age 37.  My personal theology states that each time Audrey fails to finish her chicken finger basket, an angel gets its wings.  All in the spirit of teaching the kids that food is not to be wasted.

Unfortunately, there is an unwelcome corollary to this fatherly task.  And I’m not talking about the shameful feeling you get after eating your own Dairy Queen Blizzard and then downing the two Peanut Buster Parfaits that you forced your kids to order. 

It’s eating leftovers at home.

I have a slightly irrational fear of food gone bad, so anything sealed in Tupperware can be intimidating.  Even if it’s only been in there for a day or two.  On top of that, as a dad, I am often required to build a meal from random items to help make room for the next batch of food.

Case in point: Today’s lunch was a virtual tour of the world, consisting of two tablespoons of taco meat, some BBQ pork, Cajun potato salad, and a fortune cookie. 

You want fries with that?

I took my meal into my office.  There, I browsed Facebook while I stuffed my Facehole, praying for a peaceful resolution to the United Nations conflict erupting in my lower intestine.  As I scrolled through my newsfeed, I saw a beautiful photo of a recipe my friend was making for dinner.  Fresh salad, broiled chicken, baked apples, and a broccoli rice casserole that would make any church potluck jealous. 

The picture was perfect.  The chicken glistened like Fabio’s chest at a romance novel photo shoot.  Steamy and golden brown.  The salad looked like it had just been plucked from an exotic rainforest garden.  The casserole was cheesy and bubbling. And I’m convinced the apples had been photoshopped to resemble Beyonce’s backside.

I knew that no chef in the world could make food that looked so wonderful.  It was pure fantasy.  But that didn’t change this simple fact:

I now hated my lunch.

My potato salad was a bit bland.  The taco meat wasn’t “taco-ey” enough.  And my fortune cookie didn’t even contain a real fortune to guide my future.  It just said “you have a deep interest in all that is artistic.”

You don’t know me, Confucius!

But it didn’t stop there.  I scrolled through more posts.  People on vacations to exotic destinations.  Families dressed to the nines for a photo shoot.  A beautiful couple standing outside their new home.  Remodeled bathrooms and kitchens.

I looked at myself.  I was sitting in my messy office eating leftovers from a plastic plate.  My jeans were ripped. By accident.  I was sporting paint-splattered Crocs and dress socks.  I had a runny nose and a used Kleenex in my left shirt pocket. 

Then, I started to reflect on my relationships.  Gabby and I have hardly spoken in a week due to sheer busy-ness. I still haven’t read Audrey the horse book like I’ve promised for the last two days.   Jake was hungry last night, but I put him to bed without a snack because I was too lazy to unwrap a cheese stick. 

A cheese stick?!  Really?!  Who am I?

It’s in these moments where we move past hating our lunch straight into hating our lives.  We feel inadequate.  Staring at sanitized lives on our computer screens where no one is clicking my “like” button. 

And we’re not alone.

A number of recent studies have found that passive viewing of Facebook content can decrease life satisfaction and increase feelings of depression. Research suggests that the more time you spend browsing social media content, the more likely you are to fall victim to a phenomenon known as “social comparision.”  By itself, this wouldn’t be bad.  But the phenomenon is compounded by the fact that people tend to share information that shows them in the most positive light.


I checked my own timeline for a glimpse of my real life.  Sitting like a slug on the couch.  Feeling insecure about an upcoming business meeting.  Saying something stupid and hurtful to my wife.

Funny.  Didn’t post any of that.  Must have forgotten.


We share the joys of life.  I’m not saying that’s a bad thing.  Good news brings smiles to faces.  The problem comes when we start comparing everyone else’s highlight reel to the cutting room floor of our own lives. It doesn’t help that we tend to “friend” people who are very much like us, so we mistakenly believe that our comparison as a valid one.   

Newsflash: it’s not.    

Unfortunately, that highlight reel we see becomes the benchmark for our own expectations.  And these unrealistic expectations pervade every waking moment of our lives.  And when my life doesn’t look like the pictures, I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut.

But it’s not Mark Zuckerberg’s fault. 

It’s mine.

My overblown expectations create a voice in my head, and it screams at me.  Day in.  Day out.  And I judge my worth by whether or not my life measures up.

And it can’t.

Because dinners burn in the oven.  Kids get sick on vacation.  Stuff breaks.  Husbands and wives argue.  Junior loses the big game.  Mom loses the big job.  Dad loses his keys.  And his cool.    

It’s called life. And it happens to all of us.

But that voice in our head still screams.

       You’re flawed.

       You’re broken.

       You’re not enough.

Wanna’ know a secret?   

We’re all just fighting for something we already have.  Like looking for the pen that’s tucked behind my own ear.  I scan my page for “likes” in hopes of finding a sense of peace.  To drown out the voice in my head.  My voice. 

But I’m looking in the wrong place. 

The approval I seek already exists deep inside me.  It was put there by the one who made me from the dust of earth.  Created in His image.  Perfectly flawed.  Wonderfully wounded.  And, as inferior as I may feel on the outside, the Almighty loves me to the core.  The corn-dog-eating, cheese-stick-hoarding, Croc-wearing, snot-nosed, narcissistic child of God.

And there is nothing I can do to change that.  

But I can change something.

I can choose to be the voice that uplifts.  The God-voice for others, to help them see their own beauty within.  To drown out the voice of expectation and inferiority. 

And I can choose to listen.  To hear that voice.  His voice.  A faint whisper.  Ever-present.  Saying,

You are worthy.

       You are enough.

             You are loved. 

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The Care and Feeding of Lent

*Writer's note:  Today marks the beginning of Lent.  Forgive me for posting this story again (for those who have read it), but it just fits. "I love you."

My wife's words pierced through the silence.  I looked over at Gabby in the passenger seat.  She was smiling and looking me in the eye.

“I love you, too!”

My mind had been racing.  Jumping from “What should we eat for dinner?” to “How should I redesign my company website?” to “Who wrote the 80’s classic ‘Safety Dance?’”  Gabby’s unsolicited, unexpected words of affection brought me back to reality. I smiled at her.

A few miles down the road, she said it again.

“I love you.”

I stared at her, keeping both hands on the wheel.

“I love you, too!”  I glanced up and corrected my steering, coming back into the passing lane.

“No.  I really love you,” she said.  With feeling.

I reached across the console and grabbed her hand.  We continued our drive to church, connected in silence.  I felt a deep sense of joy for our relationship.

And so it went for several weeks.  Three simple words, “I love you.” Spoken as frequently as one might say “put on your shoes” to a four-year-old prior to leaving the house.  It's not that we don't regularly communicate our appreciation for one another, but Gabby showered me with an avalanche of affectionate words, and I was happily buried.

Then came Easter.

On our way home from church, Gabby turned to me and asked,

“So, do you want to know what I gave up for Lent?”


“I never told you what I gave up for Lent.  The past forty days.  Do you want to know what it was?”


“Well,” she hesitated.

“You know how I always criticize your driving?”

“Yes.”  I muttered.

“Well.  For Lent, every time I wanted to comment about your speeding, or not signaling, or whatever else, I decided to say ‘I love you’ instead.”

I nearly rear-ended the Toyota immediately in front of us.

To this day, anytime Gabby says “I love you,” my first response is to scream,

“Driving on the shoulder is perfectly acceptable in 43 of the 50 states!”

And we don’t even have to be in the car.

Only kidding, of course.  It really has changed our relationship in the car.

YWAP distracted-driving

As we enter another Lenten season, we church-goers are looking for something significant to give up for Lent. It’s our Christian ritual. Like marking our forehead with ashes to publicly signify our commitment to follow the path that Christ set before us.  Repentance and sacrifice.

So, what will you give up?  Sweets?  Reality TV shows?  Facebook?

Last year, I got a vasectomy.

Too drastic, you say?

Gabby had it right.  Lent is less about “what” you choose to sacrifice, and more about “why” you choose to sacrifice.  For my wife, she realized a simple behavior was getting in the way of genuinely connecting with someone important to her.  And in forty days, she built a lasting habit that is paying dividends to this day.

Too often, Lent becomes an exercise in delayed gratification.  We choose to deny ourselves of something we love so that we can truly appreciate it when we have it once again at Easter.  And, there is a certain spiritual truth in that.  On the Earth, we can get disconnected from all things God.  And one day, God willing, we’ll get to ride that grand escalator to the sky where we finally meet our Creator and feel the amazing embrace.

I’m sure it’ll feel just like having your first Pop Tart after going carb-free for six weeks.

But it’s so much more than delayed gratification.  Lent is a time of pruning.  Cutting away the shoots that have grown over time.  The ones that clutter, and choke, and prevent healthy growth here on Earth.

So we can feed and care for the branches that really matter.

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Man Up: A Brief Instruction Manual

Not long ago, my wife escaped the confines of our house to enjoy what is known as a “girl’s weekend.”  If you have not heard of such a thing, I am not surprised.  Finding a “girl’s weekend” in its natural habitat is as rare as bumping into a cucumber sandwich at a monster truck rally. While Gabby enjoyed what I imagined to be endless Sex and the City reruns interrupted by the occasional pillow fight, I was left at home to care for the kids.  The prospect was both exciting and scary.  I love having one-on-one time to shape their character in ways only a dad can, but knowing I would have to keep track of homework and execute a legitimate pony tail gave me indigestion.


As soon as we woke up the next morning, Jake and Audrey excitedly asked,

“What are we doing today, Daddy?”

“Well, I need to run some errands.  Maybe start at Home Depot…”

The whining and screaming erupted before the words left my mouth.   You would think I had just told them I was kidnapping them, throwing them into the trunk, and driving them to the park where they would be forced to kick baby seals.

I offered an olive branch.

“How about this.  If you behave while were inside the store, we can go sit on the lawn tractors and pretend to race.”

This seemed to satisfy them.

Later that morning, as we wandered the aisles, the kids were needling each other.   No violent assault was imminent, but it was irritating nonetheless.   A middle-aged woman spotted us and commented,

“Out with daddy, huh?”

Audrey stomped on Jake’s foot.  He returned the favor.

The lady just laughed and said,

“So fun at this age.  And good for you for bringing them along.”


We continued through the store, collecting the remaining items.  A box of small screws and a drill bit.

“Can we go to the tractors now?” Audrey asked.

“Sure thing, honey.”

We found the Lawn and Garden section and each climbed aboard our chosen racer.  Everyone made rumbling motor noises and screeching brake sounds with their mouths.  Audrey changed tractors in hopes that she would get a faster one that might eke out a victory.  But I knew she never stood a chance.  In imaginary tractor races, Jake declares himself the winner.  Every.  Time.

Our fun lasted all of 90 seconds when another woman approached.  I thought she was going to usher us out of the store.  Instead, she looked our direction and a grin crept across her face.  I heard her comment under her breath,

“Such a good dad.”

At first, I soaked up the compliment.

I am a good dad!  The best dad ever!  I should get a medal for this.  A gold one, even.

But then it hit me.

I am a man.  Men have done some pretty amazing things throughout history.  We’ve harnessed the power of lightning and put it in an incandescent bulb.  We’ve captured sound itself and transmitted it over a wire.   We’ve poured fire into a rocket, strapped human beings aboard, sent them to the moon, and returned them safely home again.

So why are people so amazed when I successfully navigate the plumbing aisle with my son and daughter?

I’ll tell you why.  Most people think men are complete morons when it comes to taking care of kids.  The bar for being a “good dad” has been set so low, that anything short of selling my children to a drug cartel is seen as success.  It’s an odd double-standard.  I earn a wink and a smile for misbehaving kids, while Gabby gets the “stink eye.”

Does this bother anyone else?

Let me start by saying this:  There are awesome dads out there.  The neighbor down the street who is outside playing with his kids no matter the weather.  My brother-in-law who finds every opportunity to teach his children about the fascinating stuff in the world.  A friend of mine working two jobs to feed his kids while his wife goes to grad school.  And let’s not forget about the single dads out there.  I believe there is a special place in Heaven reserved for any single parent.

It has sound-proof walls and a La-Z-Boy with a wine dispenser hidden in the ottoman.

These folks are my heroes.  They’re the ones I thought of the day my firstborn came into the world.  I turned to Gabby and said,

“I want to be an equal partner with you as a parent.  Sharing everything 50/50.”

To which Gabby replied,

“OK.  I’m on input.  You’re on output.”

I hastily agreed, forgetting I am somewhat OCD when it comes to bodily fluids.  But believe me, it all came rushing back when the first “output” was a diaper filled with meconium, which is Latin for “Poo sauce of the Devil.”

I was terrified.

But here’s the thing with being a dad.  Fear is healthy.

Failure to try is not.

It's time to Man Up.

I know far too many guys who simply will not allow themselves to be left alone with their kids.  I’m not sure why, but I suspect it could be any one of a host of reasons. Maybe they’ve been bludgeoned to death by a mom who takes over the instant they see dad “doing it wrong.”  (Aside:  Ladies, you know who you are, and you’re teaching “learned helplessness.”)  Maybe their own dad wasn’t the best role model.   Or maybe it’s simply these low expectations I’ve experienced.

We see countless bumbling dads on TV.  They are usually funny, chubby guys married to very thin, much-too-attractive wives.  They shouldn’t be allowed to carry a sharp pencil, much less pack a sack lunch.  And so this carries over into our social conversations, where we see moms posting on Facebook, gushing gratitude for a “hottie” (HOTY Husband Of The Year) who bathes a child once every Leap Year. The positive reinforcement is helpful, to be sure.  Even if we dads don’t do it right, it’s still nice to be recognized.

But come on, fellas?

If you’re a dad who is fed up with the fact that every kid in little league gets a trophy, logic holds that you should also be embarrassed by such hollow praise.  The only way to reverse this trend is to dive into the deep end.  Spend some time with your kids.



Because dads matter.

And it’s not just because we teach them how to change a tire or pick a buffalo wing clean to the bone.  Back in the 90’s, researchers in the U.S. and Europe studied kids and their relationship with their parents to see who has a bigger influence on their faith.  What they found was shocking.

In families where the mom regularly took kids to church, but the dad was only an occasional participant, only 3.4% followed a regular spiritual practice when they grew to adulthood.

However, in families where dad was the regular attendee and mom never went to church, nearly 45% of those kids were regular churchgoers in adulthood.  An even greater percentage than those whose parents were both spiritually involved.

That’s right.  Go back and re-read that last sentence.

I’m not saying that your job as a dad is to get kids to go to church.  What I am saying is there is something about alone time with dad that can hook a child’s soul.  It makes them want to latch on to something greater than themselves.  You’re the key to making that happen.

So, fellas, the time is now.  I implore you.  Start somewhere.  Go to the zoo.  Camp in the back yard.  Make a list and take ‘em grocery shopping.  Heck, grab a free cookie for yourself at the bakery if you must.

But please.


For the love of God.

Man Up.

  • For those interested, the statistical mash-up can be found on Wikipedia.  I know… not a place to cite statistics, but all of the studies are linked found at the bottom of this page.

The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying

Slide1 I was on the phone with a good friend the other day.  After covering important topics, like disparaging each other’s mothers and retelling semi-factual tales from our college days, our conversation turned to the mundane.

“So, how’s work going?” he asked.

For those of you who don’t know, I make money by teaching leadership skills and helping people learn to get along in corporate America.  My wife says it’s all a clever disguise so I can get up in front of large groups and tell stories.

I plead the fifth.

I answered my buddy’s question with,

“Definitely feeling blessed.  Last year was the best year yet for my business.  And it looks like this year will be just as busy.”

The words rolled off my tongue without a second thought.  Like reciting the Pledge of Allegiance or placing my usual lunch order at McDonald’s.

But it was a lie.

Now, before you start taking up a collection for the “Feed the Dannemillers” fund, allow me to explain.  Based on last year’s quest to go twelve months without buying anything, you may have the impression that our family is subsisting on Ramen noodles and free chips and salsa at the local Mexican restaurant.  Not to worry, we are not in dire straits.

Last year was the best year yet for my business.

Things are looking busy in 2014.

But that is not a blessing.

I’ve noticed a trend among Christians, myself included, and it troubles me. Our rote response to material windfalls is to call ourselves blessed.  Like the “amen” at the end of a prayer.

     “This new car is such a blessing.”

     “Finally closed on the house.  Feeling blessed.”

     “Just got back from a mission trip.  Realizing how blessed we are here in this country.”

On the surface, the phrase seems harmless.  Faithful even.  Why wouldn’t I want to give God the glory for everything I have?  Isn’t that the right thing to do?


As I reflected on my “feeling blessed” comment, two thoughts came to mind.  I realize I’m splitting hairs here, creating an argument over semantics.  But bear with me, because I believe it is critically important.  It’s one of those things we can’t see because it’s so culturally engrained that it has become normal.

But it has to stop.  And here’s why.

First, when I say that my material fortune is the result of God’s blessing, it reduces The Almighty to some sort of sky-bound, wish-granting fairy who spends his days randomly bestowing cars and cash upon his followers.  I can’t help but draw parallels to how I handed out M&M’s to my own kids when they followed my directions and chose to poop in the toilet rather than in their pants.  Sure, God wants us to continually seek His will, and it’s for our own good.  But positive reinforcement?

God is not a behavioral psychologist.

Second, and more importantly, calling myself blessed because of material good fortune is just plain wrong.  For starters, it can be offensive to the hundreds of millions of Christians in the world who live on less than $10 per day.  You read that right.  Hundreds of millions who receive a single-digit dollar “blessing” per day.

During our year in Guatemala, Gabby and I witnessed first-hand the damage done by the theology of prosperity, where faithful people scraping by to feed their families were simply told they must not be faithful enough.  If they were, God would pull them out of their nightmare.  Just try harder, and God will show favor.

The problem?  Nowhere in scripture are we promised worldly ease in return for our pledge of faith.  In fact, the most devout saints from the Bible usually died penniless, receiving a one-way ticket to prison or death by torture.

I’ll take door number three, please.

If we’re looking for the definition of blessing, Jesus spells it out clearly.

     Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him, 2and He began to teach them, saying:

     3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

     4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

     5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

     6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.

     7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.

     8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

     9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.

    10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

     11 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt 5: 1-12)

I have a sneaking suspicion verses 12a 12b and 12c were omitted from the text.  That’s where the disciples responded by saying,

     12a Waitest thou for one second , Lord.  What about “blessed art thou comfortable”, or  12b “blessed art thou which havest good jobs, a modest house in the suburbs, and a yearly vacation to the Florida Gulf Coast?”

     12c And Jesus said unto them, “Apologies, my brothers, but those did not maketh the cut.”

So there it is.  Written in red.  Plain as day.  Even still, we ignore it all when we hijack the word “blessed” to make it fit neatly into our modern American ideals, creating a cosmic lottery where every sincere prayer buys us another scratch-off ticket.   In the process, we stand the risk of alienating those we are hoping to bring to the faith.

And we have to stop playing that game.

The truth is, I have no idea why I was born where I was or why I have the opportunity I have.  It's beyond comprehension.  But I certainly don't believe God has chosen me above others because of the veracity of my prayers or the depth of my faith. Still, if I take advantage of the opportunities set before me, a comfortable life may come my way.  It’s not guaranteed.  But if it does happen, I don't believe Jesus will call me blessed.

He will call me “burdened.”

He will ask,

“What will you do with it?”

“Will you use it for yourself?”

“Will you use it to help?”

“Will you hold it close for comfort?”

“Will you share it?”

So many hard choices.  So few easy answers.

So my prayer today is that I understand my true blessing.  It’s not my house. Or my job.  Or my standard of living.


My blessing is this.  I know a God who gives hope to the hopeless.  I know a God who loves the unlovable.  I know a God who comforts the sorrowful.  And I know a God who has planted this same power within me.  Within all of us.

And for this blessing, may our response always be,

“Use me.”

* Writers note:  Since I had this conversation, my new response is simply, "I'm grateful."  Would love to hear your thoughts.

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The Year of No Yelling - "Side Effects"

Warning:  The Year of No Yelling has some pretty strong side effects.  Take Day One, for example.

Your read that right.  Day. One.

On January 1st, we woke early to cash in our Christmas gift to the kids – a two day trip to see the sights of Gatlinburg,Tennessee in the Great Smokey Mountains.  It took us over two hours to pack our bags and snacks into the car. 

You read that right.  Two.  Hours. 

This is normal.  What is also normal is that such a long goodbye from our house would be met with constant, impatient yelling at the kids.  It might sound something like this:

“Get your coats!  No.  Not a jacket.  A COAT!... Why?! Oh, I don’t know… maybe because It’s JANUARY AND THE MOUNTAINS GET COLD!...  And for the fifth time, PLEASE put your shoes on!...  Now grab your pillow to take in the car!...  No.  I can’t dress your doll right now… can’t you see I have 135 pounds of luggage in my arms?!...  Wait.  WHY ARE YOUR SHOES OFF AGAIN!?...  What?!...  Your socks feel funny! … THEY ARE THE SAME (muffled expletive) SOCKS YOU HAVE WORK 100 TIMES BEFORE?!...  What?!  Well of course there is a bumpy at the end of your sock!  They have to sew it closed!  If they didn’t sew it, you would be wearing leg warmers like Irene Cara from Flashdance!... Huh?  What’s Flashdance?  It’s a movie.  No, you can’t watch it!  Just get in the car!... Why!?  Because it’s an adult film.  Because only mommy and daddy watch adult films!  Wait… Don’t tell anybody that mommy and daddy watch adult films!..  Audrey, stop repeating me!  STOP REPEATING ME!  I SAID… STOP REPEATING ME OR YOU WILL NEVER WATCH A MOVIE EVER AGAIN!”

For the past five years, we noticed that this yelling serves three main purposes.  One, it makes our kids talk louder.  Two, it makes our kids more defiant.  And three, it makes us all want to ride in separate cars.  

And we don’t have four cars.

So, for this departure, Gabby and I spoke to the kids like a nurse about to give them a shot.  Complete with soft tones.

“Now kids.  We’re going to be leaving soon.  You don’t want to miss out on any fun, so the faster we do this, the better …”

The kids were just as loopy as ever.  The doll.  The coat.  The shoes. 

Always the shoes. 

But something amazing happened.  It took the same amount of time as normal.  Maybe even less.  But by the time we all got into the car, we didn’t hate each other. 

Score one for no yelling.

Things were going well.  The kids happily watched a movie in the back seat as we cruised along I-40.  Gabby and I had a real-life conversation.  Listened to music.  Soon, it was time to stop for gas.

Gabby ran inside to grab some lunch for us, while I started the pump.  By the time I got back into the car, Jake and Audrey were fighting.  Jake had accidentally covered up Audrey’s doll with his coat.  In retaliation, Audrey smacked him with the business end of Toasty, her treasured blanket.  It caught him in the eye.  He yelled and threw a mock punch with venom.  He didn’t hit her, but he wanted to.  And now she was about to return the favor.

This kind of thing drives me nuts.  I wanted to yank them both out of their seats, and yell at the top of my lungs like an Army drill sergeant that that they were brother and sister and should treat each other with respect.


Instead, with a calm exterior, I asked them to explain what was happening.  They continued arguing, each critiquing the “truthiness” of the other’s story.  Yelling at each other. It escalated quickly.   There was a molten rage bubbling just beneath my skin.  I wanted to scream louder than them to get their attention. 

But I bit my tongue.  I just said their names until I finally got their attention, and simply said, “If you both don’t get along, we will have to turn off the movie for the rest of the trip. So figure it out.”

They slowly calmed down.  Somehow, it worked.  It took as long (OK.  Maybe longer) than normal for them to finally get quiet, but there was no ugly aftermath.

With my frustration slowing to a simmer, I started the car and drove toward the convenience store to wait for Gabby to come out with the lunch.  

As I pulled away from the pump, I heard a thud.  Like I had clipped a concrete barrier or something. I opened the door to check the status of the vehicle, and noticed our car had grown a tail.  A tail that started at our fuel tank and ran off ten feet toward the rear. 

I had driven off with the gas pump still stuck in the tank.

I looked around to see if anyone noticed my idiot blunder.  Luckily, there were only about a thousand cars in the truck stop parking lot.  Each gaze drawn my direction by the bump and the clanking.  The guy at the pump right next to me just stood there staring with his mouth hanging open.  Though I suspect this may be his normal, everyday face.

I said something to him like,


He was further rendered speechless by my clever oratory skills.

I wasn’t sure of the protocol in this situation.  The pump had an automatic shut-off valve, so there was no immediate danger.  Logic would insist that I place the torn-off pump back into the handle, but, for some reason, that seemed silly to me.  Instead, I gently draped it over the concrete barrier like I was tucking it in for bed, hoping it would somehow look less conspicuous.

I’m not good in a crisis.

* I was too embarrassed to get a photo at the time, but this little gem foreshadows what's to come.

We parked beside the building and entered the truck stop.  Not realizing we had crossed the threshold into “inside voice” territory, Audrey loudly asked, “Did my doll get hurt when you broke the gas pump?” 

“Not unless she was rotating my back tires at the time of the accident.”

I saw Gabby who was standing at the Subway sandwich counter on the other side of the building.  She missed Audrey’s announcement.  I walked toward her.  She spotted me and asked,

“What are you doing in here?  I thought you were going to stay in the car?”

“I broke the gas pump?”


“I drove off while it was still attached to the car.”

“Are you kidding me?” 

I’m sure she wanted to yell something at me, but offered her Look of Mild Disapproval TM instead.  Message received.

Even though the clerks at the register must have seen or heard what had happened, when I approached the counter, the woman asked,

“How can I help you?”

In that moment, I would have preferred to be asking for a price check on adult diapers, but this woman was not going to let me off the hook.  I think it’s a requirement that they make idiots like me admit their mistakes.  Believe me, it leaves a lasting impression when you realize you are the absolute most boneheaded person in a place that regularly sells out of gallon-sized bags of fried pork rinds and T-shirts emblazoned with the words, “This Ain’t A Beer Belly.  It’s A Fuel Tank for A Sex Machine.”

For the record, I think it’s a Gandhi quote.

I confessed my sins to the cashier.  This sort of thing must happen all the time, because she reacted like I just told her the bathroom toilet was backed up.

We left as quickly as possible before she could snap a Polaroid of my face and plaster it on some Wall of Shame in the employee break room.  Once we were back in the car, Gabby refused to find the humor in the situation.  Had we been living in the 70’s, such a blunder might have killed us all.  Technological advancements of the past 30 years didn’t keep her from adding a periodic Head Shake of FrustrationTM to the Look of Mild DisapprovalTM  to accentuate her point.

But she didn’t yell.

Luckily, fifteen miles down the road a Tennessee state trooper was happy to help us change the subject.  Apparently, all of my Holiday weight gain had settled into my right foot, causing the car to travel 25 miles per hour faster than allowed by law.  I considered telling the officer we would be unable to pay the fine due to our Year Without A Purchase, but it was now January 1st, and Trooper Tennessee McTrafficstop didn’t look like he was in the mood for a funny anecdote.  Taking a page from the cashier at the truck stop, he asked me a question which forced me to admit my mistake.

“Do you know why I stopped you sir?”

I confessed again, just like I did at the truck stop.  I was peeved by this, but didn’t yell.  And the officer rewarded me by reducing the recorded speed on my ticket to five miles over the limit, allowing me to salvage some dignity.  Gabby’s mood improved, too.  Not because the fine was reduced, but rather, because I am the worst driver of the two of us, yet, unlike her, have somehow managed to avoid a ticket for the past five years.

Thanks Officer!

We drove to our destination without further incident.  The evening was a blast.  We listened to live music, and watched a live rodeo dinner show at the Dixie Stampede while tearing into four whole roasted chickens and a pile of tater skins with our bare hands. 

Yes, it’s a vegan dream here in the south.

Back at the hotel, I realized blunder number three of the day.  In my haste to get packed to leave the house (and not yell), I had forgotten my prescription medication.  Something I take every day.  Something I take with me on EVERY business trip during the year.

And I forgot it.

And that’s when it hit me.  It had taken an incredible amount of energy to not lose my cool all day.  It distracted me beyond belief.  And I broke a gas pump, got a ticket, and forgotten something important. 

I am slowly realizing that this challenge is going to be tougher than the Year Without A Purchase.  By far.  It will require changing my attitude.  Changing the story in my head.  And changing my behavior.  But in the end, I know it will be worth it.  Because if my yelling distraction wreaks so much havoc when it’s bottled up inside me…

just imagine the damage it can do in the open air.

The Year of No Yelling - "Week 1: It Begins"

I’ve never been a yeller.  Sure, I talk loud.  And laugh loud.  In a high-pitched, feminine tone.  But, I’ve never been aggressive.   I‘ve always been known as the mild-mannered guy with the over-sized head who walks around with a perpetual smile on his face. 

Until I had kids.

And then those kids grew up to have opinions and agendas of their own.  This was not part of the original Dannemiller plan.  So, to right this unspeakable wrong, my subconscious decided to yell the aforementioned opinions and agendas right out of my kids’ bodies. 

Five years into this experiment, my conscious brain is starting to wonder if this plan isn’t working as well as I might have hoped. 

Remember, I never said I was a quick learner.  Just smiley.

In sharp contrast to yours truly, my wife Gabby comes from strong yelling stock.  If we trace back her lineage, we believe her great-great-great-great grandfather was the guy who made loud exploding noises before weapons actually made noises.  His son went on to fame as the first ever barker for Freak Show Carnivals.  And the barker’s son?  The world’s first megaphone was patterned after the unique conical shape of his mouth. 

It’s an impressive family tree. 

My wife’s natural yelling skills were honed growing up in a small house with four other women.  Think Real Housewives of New Jersey, only substitute big 80’s hair for plastic surgery.  But I don’t blame Gabby.   That much Aqua Net would make anybody cranky.

Today, both of us are fed up with the amount of yelling in our house.  If part of our family mission statement is to live lives of integrity and serve others, then yelling should not be on the menu.  If we say we are all about respecting others, then we should be modeling the behavior. 

And we’re not.

Thus begins our Year of No Yelling.  It promises to be much more difficult than 2013’s Year Without A Purchase. 

Here is our list of rules.  Subject to revision.  Even by my wife, who has not completely authorized these. We would love your feedback!

  1. You can yell if your child’s safety is in immediate danger. 
    (Note:  Pain directly inflicted by the yeller or his/her accomplices does not constitute immediate danger.)
  2. You cannot replace yelling with any form of speech that would scare a full-grown man.
    (i.e. creepy, menacing, evil whispers of pending torture)

Good luck, folks!  And stay tuned for our next post describing Day One.  It’s a doozy!