What a Year!

New Year’s happens to be one of my favorite times of the year. I think it has something to do with new beginnings and fresh starts. It’s an opportunity to look back and reflect on where I’ve been, and then move on to new adventures!

I’ll admit, though, that I’m a little sad to say goodbye to 2008 because it has been such an amazing year. As 2008 goes into the history books tonight, we pause to give thanks to God for an incredible year!

We entered 2008 living in Mooresville, furiously finishing up dissertations, and *waiting* for a call that the boy we were adopting was approved for travel. Near the end of January, we completed our first full drafts of our dissertations. And a day after emailing them to our mentor, we got the call that Ethan was approved for travel.

We traveled to Korea on February 5, 2008 (read about the 30-hour trip here). While in Korea, we wrote 20 posts, which included 30 photos, and even though we were approximately 7,000 miles from home, we were able to communicate with family and friends through the blog. More than 70 comments were posted during our time in Korea.

Our time in Korea was an amazing experience all around! To this day, most nights during our family devotional time at Ethan’s bedtime, we pray for our friends in Korea, especially the (then) 5-year-old daughter of one of the members of the small group; she had been battling cancer (we wrote a post about the small group).

One of the easiest ways to read the posts from February 2008 is to go to the archives page, and click on February 2008 to see all the posts from that month. Posts from 2/6 to 2/15 cover the entire trip. And there’s always the Ethan’s Adoption link at the top of the page for a more in-depth summary of the experience (with links).

But in February the year was just getting started, and a couple months after returning home, we were asked to consider moving to new appointments. In late June, we moved to Clearfield, where we have enjoyed spending the last half of the year getting acclimated in new ministries.

What an amazing year, indeed!

So at the end of 2008, we are grateful for all of God’s gifts, and we look forward to new adventures in 2009!

The Nativity Story

I used the title of the 2006 movie, The Nativity Story, as the title of my Advent/Christmas sermon series (it’s a good movie, by the way).

This series focused on the responses of some of the major characters in the biblical story of Jesus’ birth, namely, Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and Simeon and Anna.

Zechariah’s reponse — “No way!”
Even though he had spent years praying for a child, it was just too much when the angel told Zechariah that he and his wife, Elizabeth, would have a son. Zechariah asked how it could possibly happen and even offered an excuse as to why it couldn’t happen, which seemed to anger the angel, Gabriel, a bit, who said Zechariah wouldn’t be able to speak (or hear, apparently) until God’s promise was fulfilled.

I talked about the danger of (spiritual) heart disease and suggested …

To prevent heart disease, change your lifestyle!

Mary’s response — “No problem!”
Mary’s response is simply incredible. When offered the opportunity and extreme challenge of giving birth to and raising the Son of God, she said (after asking a question and offering an excuse, much like Zechariah, for that matter), “I am the Lord’s servant; let it happen just as you have said.” The lesson from Mary’s response is …

When God calls, just say yes!

Joseph’s response — “Whoa!”
I don’t know how Joseph discovered that the young woman who was to be his wife was pregnant, but it certainly must have come as quite a shock and a disappointment! While Joseph could have had her executed for unfaithfulness, he chose rather to divorce her quietly. But after an angel encountered him in a dream, he obeyed God took Mary as his wife. It was no small task. From Joseph we learn …

God-followers value obedience over comfort!

The shepherds’ response — “Let’s go!
The shepherds heard about the birth of the Messiah from angels while watching their sheep one night. Immediately following the angels announcement, the shepherds said, “Let’s go to Bethlehem!” The shepherds exhibited passion to see and experience what God is doing. Just as it is impossible to please God without faith, I also believe …

It is impossible to please God without passion!

Simeon and Anna’s response — “Let me tell you about it!”
Both Simeon and Anna, who both met Jesus and his parents, Joseph and Mary, when they brought Jesus to the temple, spoke of the Messiah. They had experienced God’s work firsthand, and now they wanted to tell everybody!

God’s witnesses must be storytellers!

Those of us who have heard and experienced what God has done in sending his Son into the world have a responsibility to tell the story to others!

“It’s a Wonderful Life!”

On the day after Christmas, Joleen and I watched the 1946 movie, It’s a Wonderful Life!, starring James Stewart and Donna Reed. (Who hasn’t seen it?)

For years, we watched the movie every year (during the Christmas season) but took a break from it for a couple years, until this year. It’s a great movie about legacy and influence.

The movie tells the story of George Bailey, a world explorer wannabe, who spends his life trying to escape the small, struggling town of Bedford Falls. But as various circumstances arise, he never gets the chance to leave.

His family’s business, a building and loan company, struggles to stay in business because of Harry Potter’s (Lionel Barrymore) near monopoly on the town. Toward the end of the movie, George’s uncle Billy loses $8,000 of the company’s money, putting them at risk of losing the business and going to prison.

At that point, George has had enough and decides that everyone, including his family, would be better off if he were dead. But as George is preparing to jump into an icy river, an angel named Clarence dives into the river first, knowing George jump in to save him.

During their conversation afterward, George says he wishes he’d never been born. Clarence gets the bright idea to show George what life would have looked like for others had he not been born. The whole experience eventually leads George to the realization that he did, in fact, have a wonderful life.

Most people want their lives to matter, to have influence. George Bailey thought success meant building cities, traveling the world, and making money. But, as he eventually discovered, success is not just about doing great big things. Success is about making a difference in the lives of the people around you.

Christmas is Fun!

After we got up this morning, we brought Ethan downstairs to the Christmas tree. It didn’t take him long to start checking things out. We read a Christmas devotional and prayer then Ethan began opening gifts.

Opening gifts was a very slow process — about all morning, including a break for breakfast, not because there were so many gifts as much as he took time to play with each gift before moving on to the next one — but it was fun!

After some time playing with his new toys, Ethan was ready for a nap. During Ethan’s nap, we connected our camera and computer to the TV and reviewed the photos and video we shot during the morning as well as some video clips of Ethan from the past 10 months of our life together.

It’s a good time to celebrate God’s blessings!

The Night Before Christmas

Even though we celebrated Christmas in February earlier this year (a week after bringing Ethan home from Korea), this will be our first Christmas (in December) with Ethan, so it’s a very exciting time for us!

It’s also a busy time. I had a Christmas Eve service at Centre Grove tonight at 7:00 pm and Joleen had services at 7:00 pm and 11:00 pm, which is probably finishing up as I write.

We put Ethan to bed between services (Grammy and Pappy are here too). As we dressed Ethan for bed and prepared for devotion, I kept telling Ethan, “Tomorrow is Christmas, tomorrow is Christmas …” He didn’t really seem to get it, though. 🙂

After EBT (“Ethan’s Bed Time”), we wrapped Ethan’s gifts and placed them under the tree. We are looking forward to our first Christmas morning with Ethan. He loves the tree, and likes to turn on the lights, and it will be interesting to see how he reacts to it in the morning.

One of the photos below is from the second round of professional photos we’ve had taken (see the first from March 2008 here). The others are of our Christmas tree.

It’s the night before Christmas. Tomorrow is Christmas!

More Family, Food and Gifts

Last month, we began our Christmas celebration while visiting family in Tennessee (at Thanksgiving). There, Ethan received Christmas gifts from grandparents. Today, we had our annual Christmas gathering with the Flaughs in Roaring Spring, PA.

Families exchange names of the children at the Thanksgiving gathering and buy Christmas gifts for them. As you’ll notice in the photos below, Ethan didn’t waste any time putting his gifts into action; he also really enjoyed the guitar Hannah got for Christmas!

Fantasy Football

I played my first season of Fantasy Football (FF) this year, and have enjoyed it.

Shortly after arriving at Centre Grove in July, I was asked if I wanted to be part of a new fantasy football league made up mostly of guys from the church. I like to watch football and thought it would be a good way to connect with others so I said yes.

Our 12-team league began the year with a live online draft (which happened to be on the first night of our vacation in NJ, so thanks to a wireless internet connection there I was able to participate in the draft!). We each drafted 15 NFL players. Each week we selected 9 players from our roster (1 quarterback, 3 wide receivers, 2 running backs, a tight end, a kicker, and a team defense) to be in our lineup based on who we thought would produce the most fantasy points for us that week (points are determined by their on-the-field performance).

Throughout the season, team owners are able to drop players (who are injured or underperforming) and add other players (from the list of available players in our league). Interestingly, only 6 of my current players were on my original roster (and two of those I had dropped and added again somewhere along the way).

I made the most moves (drops and adds) in our league. Looking back, I think I was always looking for the player who wasn’t on anyone’s radar but surprised everyone. One of my best pickups this year was Steve Slaton, a rookie running back who has played extremely well for the Texans.

It’s been an interesting process and has definitely changed the way I watch football. Rather than simply rooting for one team, I also follow the players on my fantasy team. And you really have to pay attention to injuries (and suspensions) so that you can fill the roster spot if your player isn’t playing!

Our season is coming to an end. In our league, the regular season lasted 13 weeks. Eight teams advanced to the playoffs, a 3-week process that culminates in the championship game. In the championship game this week, I will be going up against the one youth player in our league.

It looks to be a good match-up but it’ll be a long weekend. I have 1 player playing Thursday night (my opponent has 4 — he’s a Colt’s fan!). I have 1 player going on Saturday night and the rest on Sunday. But the week’s not over till my opponent’s last player plays on Monday night.

I’ve enjoyed the friendly competition and the online interaction with guys from church (some of the guys in our league are really good at “smack talk”! 🙂 ).

I’ve also enjoyed researching player stats and reading various fantasy experts for their opinions on each week’s upcoming games. There are tons of fantasy football sites, but these sites tend to be the ones I like the most …

My favorite Fantasy Football resource and the one I follow most closely is ESPN. They do a daily 8(ish)-minute video called Fantasy Focus Football that I really like. A few fantasy experts write weekly columns — my favorite is Eric Karabell’s “Instant Replay” on Mondays which reviews Sunday’s games from a fantasy perspective. They rank players at each position and I find their composite rankings (rankings of 4 experts) helpful. Stephania Bell’s injury reports are helpful, too.

ESPN has a nice fantasy stats section, Points Against, that I like for basic stats. When I want more detail I like FFToday.com.

I like Yahoo! (the host of our FF league), but they’re advice is not quite as extensive as ESPN’s.

Beyond those sites, I will occasionally check other sites if I have time or need a little extra guidance/info, especially advice for player news, player rankings, and sit/start lists, including …

CBS Sportline

Rotoworld.com

NFL.com especially the blog during the Sunday games.

KFFL

Fantasy Football Nerd (for composite rankings from around the internet)

Sports Illustrated

Fantasy Football Librarian (for links to helpful resources around the web)

One thing I learned about Fantasy Football is that even after you do all the research and make an informed decision and have a good sense of who is going to play well and produce the most fantasy points, there are no guarantees those players will actually live up to expectations, no matter how good the match-up! Some weeks it seemed that my team was doomed to under-performance.

And having a good team is no guarantee that you’ll win. Most weeks my team was projected at or near the top in projected points, but I don’t believe there was ever a week that my team scored the most points in our league. I take that to mean that I have a team with more talent than consistency. We’ll see how they do this Sunday in the championship game, which gets underway tonight!

So, if you play fantasy football, what have you learned? What sites have you found helpful?

God is Crazy About You!

On Sunday, during the closing song and just before time to offer the benediction, I remembered a quote by Max Lucado. I incorporated what I remembered (the first two lines and the last two lines, as it turns out) into my benediction.

Here’s the full quote …

If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If He had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning. Whenever you want to talk, He’ll listen. He can live anywhere in the universe, and He chose your heart. What about the Christmas gift He sent you in Bethlehem; not to mention that Friday at Calvary. Face it, friend. He’s crazy about you.

I’ve always loved this statement.

God sent his son, Jesus, into the world to show us how much he loves us. What a priceless gift — to know how much God loves us, to know that God longs for us to be part of his eternal family.

During this Christmas season, there are a couple of powerful truths that I want to carry into the new year …

“Nothing is impossible for God.”

That’s what Gabriel (an angel) said to Mary in reference to Zechariah and Elizabeth’s surprising pregnancy. It was true then. It is still true now. Nothing is impossible for God!

“God is with us.”

Few truths are more important than this, that God is with us. We are never alone, left to do life on our own. God wants to do life with us, and he’s made a way for that to happen — by sending his son to be our Savior and constant companion.

What would it look like in our lives if we lived knowing that God is with us? What would it look like if we truly believed that nothing is impossible for God? I can only imagine!

And it’s all because God is crazy about us!

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

What an amazing Christmas this is already! It’s wonderful to experience things through the eyes of Ethan. Everything is new and larger than life!

Here’s a little of what we’ve been up to.

Weekend before last was the Christmas Parade in Clearfield. Tradition has Santa arriving by train. It was so cold, we looked for another option. We enjoyed “Breakfast with Santa” at the Agricultural Building at the Fairgrounds sponsored by the Fire Co. It was a scrumptious breakfast and it was Ethan’s first encounter with Santa and Mrs. Claus. He wasn’t so sure of the strange-looking couple, but the relaxed atmosphere allowed Mom to sit with Ethan in her lap beside Santa.

This weekend, we went shopping in Altoona. The Logan Valley Mall has a train for children to ride. Ethan saw the train and he literally ran back and forth, running beside, chasing after the train. I took that as a cue that he just might be ready to ride and he did.

Ethan walked through the gate, taking the hand of a stranger, letting her buckle him in the seat, and he never looked back at Mommy and Daddy. It was amazing. He is growing up so quickly! He hardly looked at us when he would ride by in the train. He was so enamored with all the other sights and sounds.

We also visited the “Holiday Lights on the Lake” at Lakemont Park. I brought Ethan up to the front seat of the car to sit on my lap so he could see better. At first, he was so taken with all the lights and buttons on the dashboard that he didn’t care anything about the lights. Daddy dimmed the dashboard and soon his attention went to the light displays. His favorite was riding through the tunnel of lights — it is a neat effect!

Following the ride through the park, there is a shop with Santa and a model train display. Ethan again ran to the model train display when he saw it. It is a grand display with several trains running here and there and the middle is filled with amusement park rides turning this way and that.

On Saturday, Grammy and Pappy came for a visit. The first thing Ethan did was take them in to see the Christmas tree. He even turned the lights on all by himself!

Sunday morning was the children’s program at West Side UMC. Ethan was a cow in the manger scene. He went right up and sat down, but only for a few seconds before beginning to wander around and visit and wave at people. It was a lovely program and it was wonderfully exciting to see Ethan in his first play!

Thank you, God, for the gift of celebrating the birth of your Son with our son!

“Summoned to Lead”

One of the books on leadership I read during my D.Min. program was Summoned to Lead by Leonard Sweet, whom I’ve gotten to hear at a couple of conferences in the past. I enjoy everything Sweet writes, and I especially enjoyed this book which drew leadership lessons from the life and expedition of Sir Ernest Shackleton.

Edited to add: To learn more about Shackleton, visit Shackleton 100, a website marking the 100th anniversary of the expedition.

From the cover of the book …

Leaders are neither born nor made. Leaders are summoned. They are called into existence by circumstances, and those who rise to the occasion are LEADERS.

Sweet deals with sound and hearing as ways to understand leadership as opposed to sight and seeing. Interestingly, an early working title for the book was “Forget the Vision Thing.” Sweet writes, “Not accidentally, the primary language of many is ‘hearing the call’” (13).

In one sense, the last thing the church needs is ‘more vision.’ When Christians sing ‘Be Thou My Vision’ we are testifying to the fact that we have all the vision we need in Jesus. Where we need help is in developing a musical ear: ears to recognize the vision that is already at work in our world, ears to hear the false notes, and ears to tune ourselves to God’s Perfect Pitch, Jesus the Christ (15).

A leader’s job is to rise to the occasion, to imagine the best possible future, and to tell the truth about how to get there. A leader’s voice rings the bell of the future (35).

To have a vision to communicate, we must first hear the vision. Sweet says leaders must first be listeners. He also writes about the importance of intuition.

If you try to lead by everything you’ve been taught about leadership, you will likely fail. At all times we must be open to the possibility that what we thought we knew is wrong. Instead, trust your gut.

Since it starts with listening, Sweet asks an important question for us to consider …

How much time do you spend listening? (60).

For more on this aspect of hearing/listening, see my post on the movie, “Copying Beethoven.”