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Tim Challies

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Personal Reflections

October 10, 2009

It is Thanksgiving Weekend here in Canada—about as early a Thanksgiving as we ever have, I think. It comes a long time before the American equivalent, at any rate. The Canadian Thanksgiving is a fair bit like its American counterpart, though without the storied history. Where Americans have great stories about Pilgrims and the Indians who saved their lives, Canadians just know that we get the day off and that it’s a good day to spend with family. It is, I think, my favorite holiday of the year. The weather is usually beautiful, cool and crisp just like autumn should be. The leaves are changing color and beginning to fall.

For many Canadians the day includes parades and festive meals, often including turkey with all the “fixins.” We eat pumpkin and apple pies and squash and whatever other vegetables are available that go well with turkey. Many Canadians regard the American celebration of Thanksgiving to be almost vulgar for its excesses. We tend not to make it a day for huge quantities of food and loud football games. We certainly do not gear up for a “Black Friday” shopping experience the next day where financial excess follows closely behind caloric excess. Thanksgiving is usually a quiet day of hiking, enjoying nature, and enjoying fellowship with family and friends. It is not nearly as significant day as Thanksgiving is in America. Yet there is still something magical about it.

This year my parents are visiting, so my dad and I have been hard at work. My dad relaxes by working, so he and I have torn up and replaced our front walkway and I think this afternoon or Monday we’ll do a bit of plumbing work. And then we’ll sit back and relax and enjoy the time together as family. It sounds like the makings of a pretty good weekend. Speaking of which, I’m going to get back to it. Enjoy the rest of your Saturday!

September 24, 2009

A couple of days ago I sat down with Aileen and a blank piece of paper. On the top of the paper I wrote, “If we were better parents to our children we would…” and then, between the two of us, we began to jot down ideas. We thought of some of the things we would do if we were to be the kind of parents we really want to be—parents who love our children, who value genuine friendships with them and, primarily, who raise them in the fear and admonition of the Lord. And I think we came up with a few ideas that ought to make a real difference.

As we did so, I thought of something I wrote a couple of years ago. It somehow seemed relevant. Here it is…

My children have been behaving a little bit strangely at bedtime in recent days. My son tends to be melancholy in the evenings at the best of times but recently has been getting worried as soon as we tuck him into bed. Two nights ago he was concerned that the Sith were going to attack him (how he even knows who the Sith are is beyond me) and last night he was worried that the Japanese were going to invade Canada (I guess he has been reading about the Second World War). I assured him that the Japanese were not going to invade our country but he replied, “Well, they snuck up on Hawaii without the Americans noticing!” This much is true. His little sister feeds off his worries and almost inevitably ends up creating her own.

It generally happens that, by the time we tuck the children into bed, Aileen and I are ready to be done with them for the day. It may sound harsh, but by the end of a long day, we are more than eager to spend an hour or two by ourselves in the living room before also heading for bed. The last thing we want is a parade of children up and down the stairs and a chorus of cries asking us to come upstairs to mediate one problem or another.

Last night, a good hour after I put my daughter to bed, and as I settled into the couch to spend some time reading, I heard a cry of “Daddy!” I went to the bottom of the stairs and asked what she wanted. “Will you come and cuddle me?” she called out. I thought about it for a moment and eventually told her that she should already be asleep and that I was not going to come up and cuddle her. Thankfully she soon drifted off and slept well.

As I thought about it a little bit more I realized that I did not want to cuddle her, at least in part, because I had to. I was looking at it as a “got to” situation: “I’ve got to cuddle her.” And I rebelled. It didn’t take me long to regret my decision. She is going to be with us for so few years and for many of those she will no doubt have no desire to cuddle me. And is it so bad for a six-year old to want a cuddle (or another cuddle) before bed? The more I thought about it, the more this seemed like a “get to” situation: “I get to cuddle her.”

It’s funny the difference made by that one little letter. Throughout my life I’ve struggled with the got to’s and the get to’s. Church can seem like a “got to” obligation, but it is so much sweeter when I face it as if it is a “get to” privilege. My morning devotions can often feel like a “got to” but I enjoy them so much more when I treat them like a “get to.” Rather than having to face the Bible and prayer in the morning, I see them as an enjoyable privilege. It often makes all the difference in a mind as feeble and sinful as mine.

When Abby stumbled down the stairs this morning, squinting through barely-awake eyes, her hair all askew, I grabbed her up in a big hug and settled onto the couch with her for a few minutes of cuddling. It is something I get to do, at least for a few more years. It was my privilege and my pleasure.

September 09, 2009

When I need to travel by plane, I often catch a shuttle to the airport. This is one of those little buses that will pick me up at my door and drop me at the terminal. The service is a little bit expensive (and getting more so), at least compared to having Aileen drive me, but the cost is well worth it when compared to waking the family at 5 AM and bundling them into the car. That just does not work out well.

A couple of months ago, when heading from the airport to home, I noticed a little magazine in the seat pocket ahead of me and, with nothing else to do, dug it out and gave it a read. It was a tourist guide to Southern Ontario, focusing on Toronto and the cities and towns surrounding it. Naturally, I flipped about halfway through to the “O” section to see what the editors would say about my home town of Oakville. They had a lot to say, as it happens. They mentioned the beauty of the old neighborhoods along the shores of Lake Ontario where many of the homes have stood for 100 years or more and where you need not even apply unless you’ve got at least seven digits to put toward your home. They mentioned the main street with all its quaint shops, boutiques and cafes and suggested that a person could easily spend a day there browsing, shopping, eating, snapping photographs. They wrote of the beautiful harbor, of some of the provincial parks and of the little museum dedicating to preserving the history of the area. They declared Oakville an exceptionally beautiful town and a must-visit for anyone who happens to be in the area.

As I finished up the Oakville section, I couldn’t help but think, “Wow. Oakville sounds like a really great place!” The editors’ description of my town opened my eyes, or re-opened my eyes, to some of the beauty I have lost in its familiarity. I see so many of these things so often that they have lost their interest, lost what sets them apart. It brought to mind the old cliche, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” When I see those grand old homes, I see inflated real estate prices and snobby kids who attend tens-of-thousands-of-dollars-a-year private schools that pretty much set them up for life in the local old boy network (and where their high schools are called “colleges” just to set them apart). When I see Lakeshore Road, the main street, I think of overpaid merchandise and far too little parking. I have rarely ventured into the local parks and have never set foot inside the museum. I suppose I’ve pretty much taken my town for granted. In all its familiarity it has eventually generated contempt. It’s just Oakville, right?

I would like to say that since that day I’ve taken a renewed interest in my town and have begun to see it for what it is. Maybe in some ways I have. The last time I went down to the old part of town I did pause to take in some of those grand old homes and to appreciate their beauty. And there is beauty in those homes—more so, I think, than the new builds that fill so much of the rest of the town. We recently went down to the edge of Lake Ontario, right near the museum, to shoot some family photographs and couldn’t help but note the beauty of the parks and the unique character of the old part of the town. It is picturesque, without a doubt.

But even more than helping me appreciate the town I live in, simply reading this simple little magazine began to open my eyes to some of the other things in life I take for granted, some of the other things I’ve allowed to become too familiar. Some of God’s greatest gifts to me are the ones that are closest to me and it is discouraging that these are the very ones with which I am most likely to grow too familiar—so familiar that they begin to seem so drab, so…normal. The remarkable can so soon become unremarkable just by its closeness. The greatest gift can fade just because it is so accessible. Discontentment seems native to the human heart, at least in this sinful world. And I think we all are prone to allow the greatest, closest gifts to fade simply by virtue of their familiarity.

September 05, 2009

You’ll have to bear with me today as I ramble a little bit on the subject of book reviews. Because reviews are such an important part of what I do here, I thought it would be worth covering just a little bit of how and why I do reviews.

I generally try to review at least one book per week and, in general, I try to choose a book that you, the readers, are likely to enjoy. Now obviously there are times that I think a book will be good but it turns out to be less than stellar. It happens. But most of the time, when I choose a book based on its subject, author, endorsements or description, it turns out to be a book I can recommend for one reason or another. Most weeks I post these reviews on Tuesday. My purpose with these reviews is to make you aware of some of the books that are coming available and to give you a sense of what you stand to gain by reading them. Since I enjoy reading so much, since I can do it quickly and since I have access to the books, I see this as a way of helping others find books that will appeal to them. If the guy who loves reading a hundred books per year can help the guy who reads ten choose the best ten, then I figure we’ve got a proverbial win-win.

Of course, and as you know, I read more books than these. In recent months I’ve begun writing the occasional “Books I Didn’t Review” article to make you aware of some of the other reading I’ve been doing. These are books I tend not to review either because they do not merit a full review or because I determine that the readers of this site are not likely to be interested in them. In such cases I tend to post just a short overview of the book with a sentence or two of my own take on it.

I also read the occasional book that I am quite sure I will dislike or that I will be ambivalent toward. I often do this when the book is a megaseller or when it seems primed to become a megaseller. So, for example, I have suffered through both of Joel Osteen’s books. I’ve done this primarily so there is at least one (hopefully) discerning review of the book somewhere on the Internet. I always post these reviews at Amazon, trusting that the reviews will at least help a person or two find a better alternative to Osteen’s mindless puffery. I have done the same with books like The Secret, The Shack and so on. Osteen’s third book is set to release next month; I am undecided about whether or not I can bear to read yet another one. And I mean that—just because of their sheer stupidity I find them grueling to get through.

Now, let me share a couple of things by way of disclosure. I’ve mentioned this in the past, but wanted to do so again just to be sure that everything is above-board. When you read one of my reviews and see a link to buy it at Amazon or Monergism Books, those are affiliate links which means that there is typically some financial compensation that goes to me should you choose to purchase something after clicking the link. I think most people assume this, but I do reiterate it from time-to-time. These funds go to the purchase of books (the ones that are not provided gratis by publishers), to the support of the web site and, in a good month, to the support of the Challies family!

Also, you have probably (hopefully!) noticed the ads on my site. There occasionally seems to be a bit of a conflict of interest in that I will review a book while also running an ad for it (which most often happens when I review a book the same week it releases which is also, of course, when the publisher is most likely to advertise it). You may wonder how I could fairly criticize a book deserving of critique when I am being paid to run an ad for that very book. Well, thankfully that has not happened, at least to this point. But do know that advertisers have no expectation that the mere fact that they place an ad on my site will in any way impact my reviews. They expect fair reviews. Plus, I would consider it an assault on my conscience to review a bad book positively in order not to risk advertising compensation. So do know that I consider fair reviews a high calling and I will not deviate from that. I am committed to fair and objective reviews.

I will have more to say about this in the future, but do know that next year I intend to continue my once-weekly reviews of the latest Christian books. But I also hope to devote a bit more attention to the latest and greatest mainstream books. Stay tuned for details on that.

If you have further suggestions about book reviews, about the types of book I review, and so on, I would be glad to hear them!

August 17, 2009

Just about a week ago Aileen and I celebrated our eleventh wedding anniversary. The Lord has been kind to us and, though in many ways we feel like we’re just getting started, at the same time we can look back on an ever-lengthening legacy of God’s faithfulness to us. Last week I paused a few times to think about the last eleven years and began to wonder what I would say if I could go back and talk to that young twenty-one year-old man guy as he stood at the front of the church, awaiting the arrival of his bride. I thought about some of the lessons I’ve learned in eleven years of marriage—some of the things I wish I could have known earlier. And then I jotted them down. Here they are, the things I would offer as counsel to myself, eleven years ago:

Be a Leader!. Leadership is not an easy task and, while God calls a husband to lead his family, at the same time the man has to learn how to lead and to prove himself worthy of the position. While it is a position he is given by God, it is a position he also has to earn. When I married I was young and totally unsuited for any kind of leadership. It took me years to come to terms with the fact that God wanted me to lead my family as the husband and father and a few years more to realize that Aileen really wanted me to lead as well. I was greatly encouraged when, just a few weeks ago, she shared with me how she has seen me grow as a leader, and especially as a spiritual leader. Anything I’ve learned in this area has come with difficulty and has come by God’s grace.

If I could go back, I would counsel myself to be a better and more confident head of the household and to take this position earlier in our marriage. For too many years I led too little.


Invest Early, Invest Often!. This may apply to finances, but I am thinking of it here in terms of spiritual matters. As a poor leader, I invested far too little time, early in our marriage, to building a spiritual foundation. It has taken us years to feel truly comfortable with one another in sharing spiritual struggles and even in spending time reading the Bible and praying together (as just a couple—family devotions have come much more naturally). Like many men I’ve spoken to, it often seems that it’s easier to pray with a complete stranger than with my wife. If I look back in another eleven years, I wouldn’t be surprised if we are still learning here,

If I could do it all again, I would ensure that we learned very early on to spend time together before the Lord. I would be a better leader in investing early and investing often.


Prepare to Hurt and Be Hurt!. One of the greatest ironies and the greatest tragedies of marriage is that a husband and wife have more opportunities to sin against one another than against anyone else in all the world. Over the course of eleven years of marriage, I have hurt Aileen more than anyone else and have sinned against her more than I’ve sinned again anyone else. I suppose this means that marriage also offers unparalleled opportunities to extend forgiveness and to choose to overlook sin. While Aileen and I have had our share of struggles over the years, I truly believe that we carry no bitterness toward one another. Through God’s grace we have offered and received forgiveness time and time again. And through his grace we have overlooked many an offense. Yet there have been many occasions when we have hurt one another and when we have let this wounds fester for just a little too long.

If I could go back, I would prepare myself to be hurt and, even more, would seek to emphasize kindness and forbearance and grace so that I could hurt my wife far less often.


Be an Encourager! I can be such a jerk. As Dave Harvey said so well in When Sinners Say ‘I Do’, “the more you get to know me, the more you’ll admire my wife.” I find it so much easier to criticize than to encourage, to tear down rather than build up. For so many years of my marriage I spent far more time telling Aileen what she hadn’t done or who she hadn’t become instead of encouraging her for all the evidences of God’s grace I saw in her. Even today it remains a struggle as my mind always tends toward the negative (and because, somehow, all my nagging to this point has not produced the perfection I seem to expect). It has taken me a long time to become an encourager and even now I am prone to see evil sooner than I see good.

If I were to go back, I would counsel myself to seek to build encouragement as more of a foundation in our marriage. I would seek to learn more about encouragement and would seek to learn it much sooner.


Be Realistic! You knew that sex had to come into the discussion sooner or later. There is no doubt that sex is one of God’s greatest gifts within marriage and, probably for that very reason, it is also one of the greatest struggles. Having spoken to many others about this, I think it is safe to say that for a lot of couples, and perhaps even most couples, the majority of their fights or arguments or disagreements, especially during certain stages of life, will revolve around sex. The vulnerability of sex, the joy of sex, the uniqueness of sex, give endless opportunities for both joy and hurt. Anyone who approaches marriage thinking that sex will be all joy will be sorely disappointed.

If I could go back, I would counsel myself to be realistic and to learn this lesson sooner. And I would counsel myself to learn patience and kindness in this area.


Learn Her Language!. I’ve never read that book about “love languages,” but I do like the phrase it revolves around. Each of us have certain ways we tend to express love and certain ways we like to have love expressed to us. It took me far too long to learn that many of the ways I expressed love for Aileen were ways that she did not understand; often she did not even understand them to be expressions of my love. I loved her in ways I wanted to be loved rather than in ways she needed to be loved. In one sense this was my own naivete, but in another sense it was a kind of deliberate ignorance. I simply refused to find out how she needed me to express love to her.

Were I to go back, I would counsel myself to spend more time seeking to understand how I could express to her my love and affection; I would learn to speak her language sooner and I would learn to speak it better.

I guess there is a lot more I would say than all of this. I would reassure myself that in standing there, waiting to receive my bride, I was doing the right thing (not that I ever had any doubt) and that God truly was going to bless this union. Maybe I would whisper that all those things we had heard from the elderly couples in our church were actually true: that after a decade of marriage we would love one another more than even on our wedding day and that marriage truly is a great gift of God and that we truly would find great joy in it and that God would use this marriage to mold and shape us into his image.

And yet I know that even if I told myself all of these things, there would still be lessons I would have to learn a decade later. I suppose this is how God helps us grow; he teaches us a little bit at a time as we are prepared to receive and apply the lessons. And some lessons can only be learned by first-hand experience.

I’d love to know, what are some of the lessons you’d try to get through to yourself if you could go back and counsel yourself on the day of your wedding?

May 10, 2009

It is amazing to me, but it was almost eighteen months ago that Crossway published my book The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment. I finished writing the book nearly a year before that. It all seems so much more recent. The reality is, though, that it has been a long, long time since I’ve actually been involved in writing a book. I did not intend to wait so long between books but, to be honest, I just did not have a topic that I thought was worth a year of my life. I read a lot, considered a lot, but honestly, I could not find just the right topic.

Well, over the past couple of months I think that problem as resolved itself and I am currently in the midst of crafting a proposal for a new book. I have a soft deadline of the end of May to finish up this proposal and get it submitted. One difference between this project and the last one is that I now have an agent working for/with me. So I will hand the proposal to him, he will work his magic by making it look all pretty and professional, and will then share it with a few different publishers. If all goes well, one or more of those publishers will be interested in it, leading to a contract. At that point I will get writing in earnest. I’ll tell you a bit further into the process why I decided to pursue representation by an agent.

Why am I telling you all of this? I am hoping you will be willing to pray for me as I begin creating this proposal and as I begin turning my attention to a new book. This new topic, which I hope to tell you about soon, is one that is important to all of us, but one to which I think Christians have not given enough time and attention. I expect my research to first help me think rightly about the topic so I can then help others think rightly about it. It is a huge topic—my initial reading left me with forty or fifty books in a big stack beside my desk. And it is a critical one.

And so I am asking if you’d consider praying for me over the next few weeks. Though I am excited about the topic and though I’m convinced that it is a topic I can (and should) write about, I have had a good bit of trouble formulating my thoughts on it and actually getting them committed to paper (or pixels, as the case may be). In particular, I need the Lord’s help in finding my “angle” into the topic, in coming up with an outline that can best lead readers into the subject, and with wisdom to know whether this really is the subject I can best write about right now.

I really felt that prayer was the lifeblood of my last book. Many readers of this blog prayed for the book and I still remember the most encouraging comment I’ve received at a conference: a woman introduced herself to me and said, “I pray for you and your book every week.” It was such an encouragement to me, I hardly knew what to say. As the book progresses, I will be sure to give updates to let you know what it is about and how it is coming together. But for the time being I am asking if you could just spare the time to pray for it as it comes to mind. Please accept my thanks in advance.

April 22, 2009

A long time ago I added to this web site a little counter. It is way down at the bottom right of each page and it increments by one number each day. It simply tracks the number of days since I made a commitment to blog every day. That was back on October 1, 2003. I first put it there as a challenge and as a reminder to write something every day. I had found writing an important part of my walk with the Lord and wanted to be sure that I kept it up. And so that number reminded me to keep going. Through all of the years and all of the site changes, it has just kept faithfully incrementing, one number every 24 hours. After a while blogging each day became habitual but, for sake of tradition, I left the counter in place. Of course I don’t notice it often—it is just there as it has been since 2003.

Today that silly little counter ticked over to 2000.

I’m not quite sure what to do with this data. I’m pretty sure that such a thing (could it even be termed an accomplishment) is not commendable. I kind of think of Ashton Kutcher who recently became the first person with one million Twitter followers. Like, who cares, really, that a million people get to “hear” him tweet “I love that ppl feel obligated 2 let thier community know they R unfollowing me lol”? Or like those people who scarf down 98 hot dogs in five minutes. Are we impressed at their freakish capacities to do stupid things?

I don’t think blogging for 2000 consecutive days is something that anyone in the world would deem cool (and I say that on a day that I’m going to speak in front of over 100 fellow bloggers). It should probably be met with counseling or with medication more than it should be met with applause. But since so many of you have been along through at least a part of that journey (and just a few have been along throughout the entire journey) I thought it might be worth mentioning. I lay in bed this morning (I’m in Central Standard Time but my brain is still firmly fixed at home in Eastern Standard Time) thinking about all I’ve learned over the years and thinking of how the blogosphere has changed. And I tell you, it has been a long and interesting journey (and perhaps I should try to write down a few of those thoughts over the coming days). And I guess it’s one that is going to continue tomorrow when that little counter increments to 2001.

*****

People often ask me if I actually blog each day or if I write a week’s worth of posts on Monday and just queue them up. To be honest, I do at least some writing on 99% of the days. There are occasional times (vacations and such) when I do write in advance and then schedule the articles to post a day or two later. But mostly I wake up in the morning with a thought or a sentence or a topic in my head, I sit at my keyboard, and I just see what happens. It has been a very important discipline for me as a Christian and as a writer. I recently read Jerry Seinfeld’s response to how he got to be such a good comedian. He basically said that he has a calendar and he commits to writing every day, crossing off that day once he has written at least something. He’s found that brute force and commitment go a long way. And I guess I’ve found the same. I think I’ve become a better writer simply by writing so much and I think I’ve learned a lot about faith simply by spending so much time thinking and then writing about it.

Sometimes people also wonder if I am obsessed or if I could just walk away for a day or for a week. And yes, I’m convinced that I could—I just don’t see any reason to try it just to make a point. I would guess that the day will come sooner rather than later. I would also guess I won’t much care (though friends and family will since they assume that if there is nothing on my blog by mid-afternoon that I have died and they start calling to make sure everything is okay). It has been a fun challenge to try to say something at least halfway valuable every day, but I am not married to it.

And there are people who wonder if I have some brilliant long-term strategy for this blog. The answer, not surprisingly, is no. That’s just not the way my brain works. I rarely think more than a day or two in advance and have really never done so. I try to keep the content here reasonably new, reasonably fresh and a reasonable reflection of what’s going on in my life as I try to live for Christ. There are times when I am tempted to think of strategy and the “could-be’s.” I know that I break the majority of the rules for good blogging—write short posts, use lots of subheadings, add some graphics, make your posts skimmable, be controversial, etc, etc. In fact, probably only 20% of the people who started reading this post have gotten this far simply because, once again, I’ve broken all the rules. But in the end I just can’t get away from the thought that I’ve been enjoying the site pretty much as it is and that I don’t fancy making any great changes. Que sera.

March 23, 2009

Last weekend I enjoyed participating in the Ligonier Ministries National Conference, both as a blogger and an observer. It was a joy to gather with almost 5,000 other Christians so we could spend three days focusing on the holiness of God. This marked my third time going to this conference and each one has proven valuable to my knowledge of God and my love for him. This one may well have been my favorite, at least when I think back to the speakers and their messages. I would encourage you to find and purchase the conference audio as I know you will be blessed.

There is one feature of this conference that always jumps out at me—interpretation services for the deaf. Of course this is not the only conference that offers this service and if you have been to a major conference you may well have seen Chuck and Nancy Snyder or another set of interpreters doing their work at the front of the auditorium. It is one of my pleasures, a guilty pleasure perhaps, to occasionally pause during singing to watch the deaf believers sing (sign) their praises to God. For some reason I always find it tremendously moving.

I don’t know exactly why it is that I am so moved and sometimes even brought to tears by watching these believers praise God in their own way. I want to be careful not to romanticize deafness, realizing, of course, that deafness, as with any physical condition or affliction, is a result of man’s Fall into sin and the kind of condition that Jesus healed while he was on this earth. It is a condition that will be fully and finally cured when we go to be in his presence.

The chapter 35 of Isaiah, the prophet writes of just such a day:

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.

What a day that will be.

I wonder, though, if their praise so moves me because I see them using their whole bodies to offer praise to God. And in so doing they seem to have found a kind of freedom that few of us feel. We are all accustomed to singing praises to God with our lips but as I looked around during one of the occasions that we worshiped God with music, I saw a lot of people singing joyfully, but doing so while standing stock still. But up at the front were two rows of Christians singing for joy with their hands, their lips, their whole bodies. Perhaps no sound came from their lips, but praise came from their hearts and expressed itself through their bodies. Time after time, when I’ve gone to conferences and paused to watch these brothers and sisters worshiping, I’ve seen this unique expression of praise. Every time it has been a tremendous encouragement to me.

While I was watching them praise God I began to think how much they must anticipate that great day where their ears will be unstopped and they will at last be able to enjoy the music they have been worshiping to, when they will be able to hear the voices of the ones they love, and when they will be able to hear the words of their Savior as he says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” But then I realized that I was standing still as I brought my gift of praise to God, worshiping with my mouth but giving little other outward evidence of my joy for all that God has done and for all that God is. And I wondered, in heaven, will they be more like us or will we be more like them? My guess is that we will probably meet somewhere in the middle.

Nancy Snyder
Nancy Snyder Interpreting for the Deaf

March 11, 2009

Every now and again I give myself a writing assignment. Typically I write about whatever is on my mind, but occasionally, as a way of attempting to not always take the easy way out, I give myself an assignment. Yesterday I took my car to the mechanic and knew I had a couple of hours to kill while sitting in the waiting room. So I decided I’d just start writing and see what happened. A rather silly assignment, I’m sure, but one I enjoyed. Here are the less-than-stellar results.

*****

I took my van to the mechanic today. He’s a long-time member of my church and a guy I actually trust (rather a rarity with mechanics). With a couple thousand miles of driving facing me in the coming weeks, with the van needing an oil change and with an engine light that has been lit up for several months now, I thought it would be a good idea. The plan was to get the oil changed and to replace the EGR valve. I don’t know what an EGR is or does, but the mechanic assured me that replacing it would make the engine light go away. Seems fair to me. I do know that a faulty EGR valve (and the associated engine light) won’t make the van explode or burst into flame or otherwise self-destruct, but it does mean that if something else goes wrong, I may not know since the engine light is already booked solid. So it was time to get that valve fixed. Simple, right? An oil change and a valve swap and I’m out of here!

But you know the way these things go. My mechanic, like most, is not content to let me go until he has pocketed all of my money. After a few minutes he popped his head into the waiting room and told me that my (new!) tires (that I bought elsewhere) are showing uneven wear. I don’t need to do anything right away, but I’ll need to deal with it soon. “Dunslop” tires he called them, to go along with my “Scaryvan.” A couple of minutes later he called me into the bay and showed where my power steering fluid is leaking which, I suppose, will explain the whirring or whining sound I often hear at low speeds. I don’t know much about cars, but I was able to verify that it was, indeed, leaking. The suggested fix is around $700 (and involves replacing a rack or something; the luggage rack maybe?) but he’s going to try a cheaper alternative for me that involves some kind of additive and regular monitoring of the reservoir. Then I found out that replacing the EGR valve requires removing the alternator; though the alternator is fine (I know you were concerned), removing it would take a few extra minutes. And, as you know, time is money when the van is up on the hoist. Oh, and the brakes are down to about 30% with the rotors showing some pretty bad wear. Have I been feeling any pulling as I’ve used the brakes? They don’t need to be replaced immediately, but another few months and they’ll be done; don’t be surprised if you start to feeling the pulling soon. It will be around $300 to get those done. I am still waiting for him to walk in here and say, “I’ve got some great news! We were going to charge you $300 for a new EGR valve but it turns out we found a spare one in your glove compartment. How about that!” But I’m not holding my breath.

I’m looking at the car sitting up on the hoist and kind of hoping it just falls off. Wouldn’t that be grand? Then insurance could deal with it and I wouldn’t have to get all this stuff fixed. Suddenly I find myself hoping for a fortuitous hydraulics malfunction. Come on, just tip to the right a little bit…

I think a car may be one of the great suburban evil necessities. When you’ve got three children, you have to upgrade that car to a minivan (or if you’ve got three children and little common sense, a giant SUV may serve as a replacement). I hate cars (and vans and SUVs). There is nothing else that costs so much and yet, every time you use it, it decreases in value (except your house, potentially, if you live in California or Arizona). Every time the sun sets, that car is worth less than it was when the sun rose. Every time you take it for a drive, you take a chunk out of its value. The payments stay the same month after month, the maintenance costs rise, the value falls. This is particularly true when you own a Chrysler Grand Caravan as I’m discovering just a little bit too late.

I just found out that the rear wiper is torn. At least that one is cheap and easy to replace. I’m no mechanic, but I do know how to do that, anyway. Then again, while they’ve got the car in the bay, I may as well just get them to do it.

March 02, 2009

Mom always shovels the driveway. It’s a phenomenon I’ve noticed time and again. We live in a neighborhood that has a lot of single moms. I suppose the statistics dictate that most neighborhoods have more than their fair share of single moms. But ours seems to have an unusual amount. I think it is related to the housing prices here. We live in (quite literally) the most affordable housing in town. It is one of the very few neighborhoods in the area where a single income can support a mortgage. It is one of the few neighborhoods that is nice, that is safe and where the homes are small enough to be affordable. And so we have many young couples, many elderly couples, and many single parents. The single moms may have one child, they may have two or three. In most cases the children are teenagers, in their twenties or even in their early thirties. In almost every case there is at least one boy thirteen or older who is able-bodied. Yet in almost every case, mom is the one who shovels the driveway.

I remember being a rebellious, listless teenager. I remember how little I wanted to do much of anything for anyone else. I remember our elderly next-door neighbor had a heart attack and was unable to do any strenuous labor. We had a good snowfall one day and I was enjoying the day from the refuge of my bedroom in the basement, lying across my bed reading a book and listening to some music. My father came down and told me in no uncertain terms that I was to go upstairs, get my winter gear on and get outside to shovel the neighbor’s driveway. He gave me a figurative (and perhaps literal—my memory is a little hazy) kick in the rear-end and sent me on my way. I went outside and there was my neighbor’s wife, shoveling the drive. I pitched in and soon had it cleared. The lesson has stuck.

Dad had high expectations of me, but reasonable, biblical ones. He wanted me to be proactive in service to others; he wanted me to be looking for opportunities to serve and for opportunities to serve as a man serves; he wanted me to use my (growing) strength to serve other people.

I have a boy of my own now and I can see that some of what was in me is in him. He is a good kid, a kind soul. Yet he is sometimes as reluctant to serve as I was when I was young. I am seeking to teach him that he is to use his strength, his ability to serve others and especially to serve those who are weaker or less able than he is. It will not be long before my son is stronger than my wife. Already when they goof around together I can see that she does not have a whole lot on him. What becomes of a mom when she has children who are bigger than she is, stronger than she is, and yet with so little maturity, so little restraint? What happens when there is no one to mentor the boy, to teach him that his strength must be used to serve others?

This is a lesson a father needs to pass to his son. It’s a lesson that no one has taught to so many of the boys who live around me. A few weeks ago I saw a mother struggling with a load of groceries while her boys pushed past one another and past her to get into the house. I stopped them and told them to get back to the car to help their mother. They looked at me blankly and walked into their house, mumbling an excuse. Mom struggled down the walkway she had shoveled with the groceries she was forced to carry. Dad is long gone. There is no one to give these boys the good, swift kick to the posterior that would get them acting like men.

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