No-Shave November

By Peter DeHaan

Author Peter DeHaan

Author Peter DeHaan

As a college freshman, my son’s dorm celebrated November by setting aside their shaving gear for the entire month. They called it “No-Shave November”; though the purpose was to raise cancer awareness, I suspect they just did it for fun.

He embraced the challenge, relishing the comradery with his dorm mates as they tried to grow beards; his newfound girlfriend accepted his decision. Three and a half weeks later, he met her family for the first time, a scruffy-faced college student with an unruly mop on top, his appearance must have been questionable. But he won them over and shortly after graduation, became part of their family.

Most every year since, he has observed No-Shave November.

This year he asked me to join him. I surprised him by saying, “Yes!”

“Really, Dad?”

“Sure. Why not?”

This won’t be my first time with a beard. I had one before he was born. I started it in the fall, where it became a warming comfort to the assault of winter’s cold. I persisted through the summer, when it became a hot, scratchy irritant. But I kept it, looking forward to its warmth the following winter. The next spring, eighteen months after I started, I shaved it off, incrementally over the course of a week.

Today, I didn’t shave, and I plan not to for the rest of the month. As I recall, the first couple of days are itchy, but once I get past those, the rest will be easy. I don’t yet know what I’ll do on December first. I may shave, or I may wait until spring.

The more important thing is enjoying a shared experience with my son. Family is important and anything we do to bond with each other is a good thing.

Regardless of your shaving plans for November, may it be a good month, with great family moments.

Fear

By Sally Stap

Sally Stap, author of Smiling Again

Sally Stap

Some people like the charge they get from a “good” horror movie or scary Halloween costume. I am not one of them. Others love the thrill of a roller coaster. No, not that either. After going on numerous rides with my daughters years ago, one day I decided that it wasn’t a good thrill that I got when my stomach flipped while rapidly dropping dramatic distances. That was my last roller coaster ride. Whether you are a thrill seeker or a find life itself enough of a thrill, it’s okay.

Fear can be lighthearted fear at Halloween but also heart wrenching from life events. Fear fills our minds instantly and churns our insides when we get a hint that something is wrong. Fear triggers our autonomic nervous system – what controls our bodies below the level of consciousness. This effects our heart rate, breathing, digestion and even perspiration. Autonomic functions are involuntary but work with voluntary control in the somatic nervous system.

That was technical and I don’t fully understand what I just said. However, it means is that we are frustratingly not totally in control when facing fear. We each experience fear in our individual way, even when faced with the same situation. For some that means dry humor. For others it means prayer and meditation. For some it means curling up in a ball and for others it’s angry screaming.

Fear can take over our bodies such that we spend energy trying to control our physical reactions. We try to not shake, or cry, or stammer, but it happens. We may want to speak but words do not come. Everyone is different, but we all fight a balance of voluntary and involuntary when facing fear. Ranging from controlled worry to the desire to escape our bodies, fear is jarring.

I’ve faced fear in my life. As a kid I was cautiously fearful at Halloween. As an adult, I’ve experienced fear that was physically debilitating. What I learned is that when all is taken away, it is myself and God. I had to choose between the option of trusting my faith in God or giving in to theories of randomness.

I chose faith. Prayer calms me. Asking for guidance from God lightens the weight of my burden. I stepped out in faith believing verses like “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” (Isaiah 41:13 NIV) and “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6 NIV)

Only when I learned to accept that I’m truly not alone was I able to gain the gift of living and not fearing. Only with the gift of hindsight have I been able to see that I’ve never been alone.

Ghosts and goblins are not for me, but I’ll help with the Halloween candy. . .

Rotten

By Jennifer Allen

Jennifer Allen: writer, blogger, wife, and mom

Jennifer Allen

A few weekends ago, on a beautiful fall afternoon, my husband and I set to work at canning pears. The pears were picked about a month ago from a large pear tree that spans its branches over my in-laws front yard. With the help of our daughter Aletheia, Chris managed to fill a Rubbermaid trash can with hundreds of pears, free for the taking.

At first the pears were hard as rocks, and for several weeks they sat in our garage. Slowly they softened, with the last warm days of fall, and when the smell of ripened pear started to fill up the garage, we knew it was time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

My mom joined in the process, and for several hours we washed, peeled and canned the delicious fruit for use this fall and winter.

I wanted to peel, but my mom and husband ganged up on me. Apparently, they informed me, I “lack skill with the blade,” and was therefore banished to the sink to rinse, wash and dry.

One by one I washed the pears and set them on a large wooden tray. At first it was easy work, but as I got deeper and deeper into the pail more and more pears turned up spotted, molding, or altogether rotten.

I was able to salvage most of the pears by cutting away the spotted or moldy parts, but there were two or three, way down deep that were too far gone to save. I remember one in particular. Black with rot, it was soft, covered in mold and oozed with sticky juice. I didn’t want to touch it, let alone pick it up and throw it away. I avoided that one rotten pear for as long as I could.

That’s when I realized, with a flash of truth, that this rotten pear was a picture of grace. Here, in rotten, sticky, fruit: grace.

Scripture tells us that in comparison to God and His righteousness we are but filthy rags because of our sin. I looked at the pear and wondered, is this what my sin looks like to God? Rotten? Decrepit? Grotesque?

I mustered my courage and reached down deep for the pear. I grasped the rottenness and thankfulness poured from my heart.

I am thankful that, unlike me, God is never afraid to touch or deal with the rotten places in me. I am thankful that He is skilled with the blade. That He willingly stands over the sink, washing, cleansing, and cutting away, the bruised and deeply rotten places of my heart. I am thankful that He sees in me something worth keeping and therefore works in me to remove the rot and uncover the good.

I took one last look at the rotten pear before I tossed it away. And I saw that this too is grace, that no matter how rotten or deep the sin, God never declares us too far gone.

Living with Family: An Awesome Opportunity

By Peter DeHaan

Author Peter DeHaan

Author Peter DeHaan

For the past two months, my wife and I have been living with our son and daughter-in-law. It’s been a great experience for us and a wonderful time of connecting with our kids in a deeper, more meaningful way. After only eight weeks, we’ve gone through three phases:

1) The Honeymoon Phase: For the first few weeks, everything went smooth, dare I say perfect. Our sharing of one house, of melding two couples used to living by themselves into one family unit, flowed forth as a dream. We shared household duties and melded our schedules with ease. Eating together, going for walks, and having deep discussions all unfolded naturally. It was bliss.

2) The Adjustment Phase: Eventually a few cracks appeared. We began to expose our quirks and saw each other’s foibles. Whereas we once only saw one another’s strengths, now weaknesses poked through. We began adjusting what we did, how we did it, and when we did it for the sake of unity. Though we all made small sacrifices for one another since the first day, now we began to realize it. Just as living as a couple requires flexibility, even more so does living as an extended family.

3) The Settling Down Phase: While we will continue to make adjustments, we are settling into a comfortable, peaceful co-existence. It’s not perfect, as in the honeymoon phase, but it is really great. A stable arrangement has emerged; this is sustainable; and it is good.

An Awesome Opportunity: My wife and I view this as a great adventure, a time to connect more deeply with our kids and learn from each other. Though we expect this to be a five month living arrangement, a friend of mine did the same thing for five years. For her, when the parents moved on, there was a great sense of loss. I expect the same emotion. Though it will be good when my wife and I move on and resume living as one couple, I wonder if what we give up will be more profound.

In today’s modern society we celebrate individualism; we value our freedom. What we lose in the process is the opportunity to truly live as an extended family, to influence each other and learn from one another, to fully connect.

Our affluence actually serves to isolate us. Living as an extended family, whether by choice or circumstance, offers the opportunity to live more fully in community. If we can embrace this opportunity, we will emerge better and stronger as a result.

Life’s Balance: Actually Is A Balance

By Sally Stap

Sally Stap, author of Smiling Again

Sally Stap

Think of the many interviews of someone who lost a dream of being an athlete, actor, entrepreneur, or whatever? Disappointed, some struggle but find new passion. Disappointment still remains in hindsight, but a new perspective is gained over time for the importance of one lost dream. Countless other stories tell of people who lose their dream and become entangled in pain and fail to move forward, sometimes for years.

Acceptance of unwanted change is sticky and gooey. Anyone who has found success at something then lost it, churns for period of time. Risking full disclosure, I’ve found felt quite sorry for myself at times. I wake in the morning and find myself laying still, making an analysis of my options. Will I wallow over where I am, or move forward to seek an achievable goal for that specific day? Breaking down obstacles allows me to find joy in each step toward a new dream.

When making the decision to spiral down or up:

On my down pajama days, laying horizontal, staring out the window:

  • I allow the loss of a dream to loom over all other dreams and accomplishments.
  • I exaggerate to myself how lost and alone I am in the big, bad world.
  • I chaff at not being able to control everything in my life.
  • I compare myself/my life/my circumstance to others and minimize my own accomplishments.
  • I dislike being on a need to know basis with God.

On other, better days, I’m more balanced (admittedly maybe still a pajama day):

  • I allow myself time to regenerate if needed. I sleep a little more, read a book, or spend time in thought without allowing thought of misusing time.
  • I let my disappointment go, even if for a moment. Life is a series of days we must live.
  • Some will, frankly, be better than others. Each day takes us somewhere. No day takes us nowhere, even if we are still.
  • I think about God. Not how short I find myself in actions, but, quite simply, how big He is even while guiding my little life in the huge scheme of things.
  • I focus on others. How can I reach out to someone? What can I write to brighten someone else’s day?
  • I recognize the value in nature of a safe cocoon. How it provides protection to delicacy. I recognize how God puts us in a cocoon, kept from knowledge at times. A hedge of protection until we are stronger than we thought possible.

I’ve found it to be an interesting journey to transition from the corporate world with strategic plans, performance evaluations, and service level agreements to embracing the world of art. Touching someone’s day by writing a paragraph is as rewarding as achieving a corporate objective used to be. If I hadn’t had downward spirals mixed with some incredible upward ones, throughout my entire life, I wouldn’t be who I am. I wouldn’t appreciate what I dream today. I wonder who I’m yet to be.

What You Need to Know when Life Gets Messy

By Jennifer Allen

Jennifer Allen: writer, blogger, wife, and mom

Jennifer Allen

Where is Mary Poppins when you need her? It had only been a few minutes but a few minutes is all it takes for a little girl to turn a room upside down.

Weary and worn from dealing with my daughter’s messes, mistakes, and disobedience, I recently found myself in a rut of bi-polar parenting. A cycle of extremes where I’m loving and kind one minute, then railing and angry the next.

This was more than a bad day. This was a habit; a pattern of behavior I was falling into and my daughter was paying the price. This realization, sent by God, came to me as I stood with hands on my hips, yelling at my daughter over the state of her room.

“Why can’t you ever do what I ask you to do?”

“What’s wrong with you? Why would you do this?”

“What is it going to take for you to listen and obey?”

In a sort of out-of-body experience I was able to detach myself from my anger and see what I was doing to my daughter. There I was, loading her with blame, with shame, with guilt. There I was, killing childhood, killing joy.

If this is what I’m saddling her with now, the blame, the shame, the guilt, what’s going to happen when she grows and makes real messes, real mistakes? What happens when she gets in over her head, and finds herself drowning in disobedience, in sin?

Because we all get in over our heads. We all make messes. We all make mistakes. It happens at four. It happens at 34. It happens at 104.

I want her to be sure of my love, of God’s love. I want to love her as He loves me.

So I whisper it soft in her little girl ear,

“It’s okay. It’s just a mess and there is no mess too big for my love.”

“It’s okay. It was just a mistake and there is no mistake too big for my love.”

“It’s okay. You disobeyed, but there is nothing you could ever do that would make me stop loving you.”

If a thousand times is what it takes for her to see and know that this is the truth and depth of my love, of his love; then I will say it ten thousand times.

Our messes, mistakes, and sins are never too big for His love. No matter the mess, no matter the mistake, no matter the sin His love is bigger.

This magic, this spoonful-of-grace, it may not clean a room but it can make the medicine of a broken and messy life go down…in the most delightful way.

Three Kinds of Capitalism

By Peter DeHaan

Author Peter DeHaan

Author Peter DeHaan

Capitalism is under fire. Pundits regularly take potshots at capitalism, decrying its evil nature and harmful outcomes. Indeed much of this criticism is warranted, as evidenced by many of the people who practice it wrongly. I call this, greedy capitalism.

Greedy capitalism is the insatiable lust for more. Profits, not for any real purpose other than to increment their money scorecard by another dollar. Monetary gains sought with no ethical compass to guide it: exploiting workers, defrauding investors, cheating on taxes, stealing from the innocent, backstabbing stakeholders, insider trading, and the list goes on. It’s no wonder practitioners of greedy capitalism receive the sneers of those who witness it.

Yet not all capitalism is greedy. There are two other kinds we don’t often hear about.

Entrepreneurial capitalism is the backbone of prosperity. It’s the driver of small business, those men and women with a vision to produce a product or provide a service. For their efforts, they dream of earning a profit to care for themselves and provide for their families. Entrepreneurial capitalism is the backbone of what made the United States great: pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, pursuing industry, raising their standard of living, and being self-sufficient.

Yet there is a risk when entrepreneurial capitalists become too successful, when profits far exceed needs. Then they place themselves at risk of becoming a greedy capitalist, but there is a third option, a higher calling.

Philanthropic capitalism is enterprise for the benefit of society. Its vision is to first provide for oneself and then to care for others: donating money to worthy causes, financially supporting others so they can help those in need, using business as a means to benefit humanity.

Capitalism is good; greed is bad. Join me in decrying greedy capitalism, while upholding the virtue of entrepreneurial capitalism and philanthropic capitalism. May we use money wisely to care for ourselves and benefit others.

Lighting Our Path

By Sally Stap

Sally Stap, author of Smiling Again

Sally Stap

Summertime is full of outdoor activities. I recall camping as a little girl, and the most dreaded part was having to go to the bathroom in the dark. I would plead with my family members to accompany me, and off we would go. I remember screaming and jumping on the toilet if a mouse happened by. But the flashlight? I never let go. As an adult, when I took my kids camping, I was on my own if they were sleeping. While I was braver, admittedly, as an adult, I still had the heebie-jeebies. I would hang on to the flashlight tightly, using it as a guide that I would not let go of. Darkness hung around the light that helped me navigate branches or puddles along the path and brought me back to the tent safely. I only went where the light led.

In Psalm 119:105 (KJV), we are told that “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Have you noticed that, just like a flashlight in the night, we are most concerned about where our feet are currently, and where we’re going? Why are feet and path both mentioned? Simply put, our feet are where we are in life and our path is where we’re going with time, efforts, and sometimes uninvited events. God shines a light on our lives through His Word to highlight what is pleasing and what needs attention. Reading the Bible provides us with a light that helps us see ourselves as we are – right where we stand. He meets us where we are, in the midst of events spiraling out of control or stuck between unmoving issues in life. We may be deep in debt, bound to bad habits or, conversely, feeling pretty good about ourselves. It’s important to look at where we are in order to chart a path forward.

Then, He shines a light onto our path, leading us along a path that is illuminated by His guidance. There will be rocks and detours, but He’ll shine His Light through His Word. Just as a lamp’s light diffuses as it moves into darkness, our knowledge of the future will show our next steps brightly with a still unseen future. God has put us on a need to know basis.

Interestingly enough, there is no mention of the path behind us. Even though we are living with fond memories, regrets, or even consequences, the past is behind us. It is over, as He forgives us as we confess the bad and acknowledge the good in our lives. He lights both where we are and where we need to be.

Camping is fun, and I have great memories of it. I now camp at the Marriott without need of that indispensable flashlight. However, I still have God’s Word reminding me of an indispensable lamp that leads my life. I try to not look back but focus on today, tomorrow, and avoiding puddles.

Sally Stap is a writer living in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Learn more about Sally at smilingagainbook.com or www.facebook.com/Sallystapauthor.

20 Things to Do Before the End of Summer

By Jennifer Allen

Jennifer Allen: writer, blogger, wife, and mom

Jennifer Allen

Today I took my girls swimming for the first time this summer. Here it is, August, and I’m just now getting my girls, and their super-cute swimsuits, into a pool.

Believe me; I am experiencing serious mom-guilt over this. At the beginning of June I promised to give my girls plenty of opportunities to swim this summer, but somehow we made it to August without the wrinkly toes and tan lines that serve as a badge of honor on hot summer days.

Inspired by today’s visit to the pool I’ve been making a list in my mind. It’s a list of all the things I’d like to do before summer days are gone.

It is my hope that this list of ideas will inspire you to hunt for beauty, seize, not just the day, but the moments that make the days worthwhile, and open your eyes to the fleeting glory of summer.

No matter what, take it from me, avoid the guilt and Get. In. The. Pool.

20 Things to Do Before the End of Summer

  1. Catch fireflies and put them in a jar.
  2. Bite into a wedge of juicy watermelon, let it trickle down your chin and see how far you can spit the seeds.
  3. Take a child to a playground and take a turn on the swings.
  4. Run through a sprinkler. (Who cares what your neighbors think?)
  5. Treat yourself to an ice cream cone and savor each lick, right to the last, sweet drop.
  6. Let your toes get wrinkled in a lake or a pool.
  7. Take a walk in the morning and linger in the cool of the day.
  8. Take a walk in the evening and linger in the glow of twilight.
  9. Roast hot dogs and s’mores over a campfire.
  10. Read a book in a hammock or porch swing.
  11. Invite a friend (or ten) over for a cookout, use paper plates and revel in the joy of food and friendship.
  12. Read or re-read a book or magazine for pure delight.
  13. Make a list of all the things you wanted to do this summer. Pick one or two things and do them; release yourself from the rest. (Remember, next summer will come with fresh grace.)
  14. Pack a blanket and snacks and enjoy a picnic with your kiddos, your family, or friends.
  15. Savor the taste of corn-on-the-cob, vine ripened tomatoes, and fresh blueberries.
  16. Visit at least one garage sale, buy one thing practical, one thing beautiful, one thing just for fun.
  17. Pick a bouquet of Queen Anne’s Lace (it’s everywhere right now) and place it in your sill.
  18. Bring the makings for root beer floats to your next play date or Bible study.
  19. Grab your camera and spend a day or an afternoon capturing God-glory.
  20. Spend time thanking God for all the gifts of summer.

Why not make your own list? I’d love to see your ideas for savoring the last days of summer. Share your thoughts below. Let’s keep the list going.

Is It Time For a Vacation?

By Peter DeHaan

Author Peter DeHaan

Author Peter DeHaan

I’ve been thinking a lot about vacations lately. It’s been years since I’ve taken an annual two-week break from work. This year is no exception. I wonder if this is wise.

I suspect employers began offering vacations to long-term employees as a reward for their service, expecting workers to return from their two-week sojourn rested and ready to work with greater effectiveness. Just as the weekend provides a short break from the workweek, a vacation provides a longer break from the work year. And we do need breaks.

Yet too many employees cram as much activity into their vacation time as possible. They come back exhausted instead of refreshed. They need to return to work to rest from their vacation. This is not as it should be. For these folks, their work prior to their vacation is wasted in anticipation, and their work after vacation is equally unproductive because they’re too tired to do much.

Then there are people like me. At most of my jobs, no one did my work while I was gone. I’d spend the week before vacation, trying hard to work ahead. Then, afterwards, it would take a couple weeks to catch up. For all the good my vacation did – and I actually rested on my vacations – the backlog of work when I returned quickly negated its benefits.

For the past fifteen years, a two-week vacation has been out of the question: the overlapping production schedules of multiple publications leaves me no time to take a long break. Instead, I’ve opted for shorter respites, an occasional long weekend, a day trip here and there, even time off during the day for a quick outing.

It’s a rhythm that works for me, but all the while I wonder what I might be missing by not taking a two-week vacation.

When was your last vacation? What did you do?