State of the Blog 2019

A photo of the blog from the SWS Guest House in Seoul, Korea, Feb. 2008.

Writing has long been part of my life. I’ve kept a journal for 30 years (see 5 Benefits of Journaling). And, now I’ve written on the blog half that time, compiling more than 1,200 posts (including some by Joleen).

I’ve blogged long enough to know that we go through seasons. I’ve written similar posts in 2008 and 2010 (Why We Blog and Where Do We Go From Here?). But the blog has always been a good way to communicate, as well as process learnings we might not otherwise think about or remember.

The blog began as a way to post notes from sermons (2004) for both Joleen and me, then we added events such as seminars and D.Min. classes shortly afterward. When we began our journey toward adoption in 2007, the blog became a space to share updates and details.

We were late to the Facebook party, partly because of the blog. I joined in 2015; Joleen joined after my stroke in order to update friends and family members.

Since then, we’ve tended to post on Facebook rather than write blog posts. So, we haven’t been as active on the blog in the last two to three years. Of course, the stroke a year and a half ago certainly didn’t help.

But I’m looking forward to doing a bit more writing on the blog in the next season for things like books, leadership, and spiritual reflection, and perhaps more on my stroke recovery and what I’m learning in the process.

I hope it will be helpful for others. But I know it will be helpful for me. As always, thanks for reading!

Top Posts in 2013

I love the beginning of a new year. While there’s nothing magical about it, there’s just something about getting a fresh start, and entering a year for the first time in history!

But I also love the opportunity to look back and reflect on the year that was. On the blog, we wrote (only) 79 posts (bringing the current total to 1,207 including this one). In 2013, visitors came from 126 countries, mostly from the United States, then Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

Here is a list of the seven most-viewed posts written in 2013

  1. Blogging on the iPad With Byword and Daedalus

  2. Thank You, Adam Hamilton!

  3. The Holy Club’s Accountability Questions

  4. 5 Challenges From Preach Better Sermons

  5. Processing the 2013 Global Leadership Summit

  6. Prayers for the Church: Vision

  7. Preaching Requires Investment

Next, to start the year, I hope to reflect on my one word and my one verse for 2014.

Thanks for reading. I look forward to 2014!

Blogging on the iPad With Byword and Daedalus

Recently, I started blogging on my iPad.

I quickly determined I needed a good writing app. I don’t care for the WordPress app. Writing in the WordPress editor in a mobile web browser is better, but still isn’t ideal.

On the iPad, I use Pages to sync docs with Pages on my laptop. It’s what I use for my journal. But Pages is a word processor. I wanted more of a minimalist, plain text editor. In the process, I discovered Markdown and thought it would be great for blogging.

I researched text editors that utilize Markdown (a great resource is maintained by Brett Terpstra). I was looking for a clean writing interface with Markdown support (and preferably Markdown preview). It had to have an extra keyboard row to make writing in Markdown on the iPad easier (preferably a customizable keyboard row).

After extensive research, I settled on Byword.

Here’s what I like about Byword …

Byword provides a minimalist, distraction-free interface. It incorporates a low-profile extra keyboard row with some helpful buttons (especially for Markdown). There are actually three different extra rows you can swipe between: one simply includes a word count; a second, the one I use most, includes some of the characters used in Markdown, which are buried on the iPad’s keyboard; the third extra row option includes other shortcuts for things like lists and links, but I prefer to use standard Markdown characters instead. Byword supports Markdown, and includes the ability to preview Markdown. It also allows exporting to HTML (to paste into the WordPress editor, for example).

Here’s what I don’t like about Byword …

Byword doesn’t offer much customization. I understand it’s a scaled-down, minimalist app (which I like), but a couple more font and color choices would be nice. It would also be nice to access Markdown preview in one or two clicks, instead of three. But what I’d really love is the ability to customize the extra keyboard row by adding or changing characters on the row.

This last item, a customizable keyboard row, is why I gave Daedalus a shot.

Here’s what I like about Daedalus …

The customizable extra keyboard row in Daedalus is pretty awesome! You can also change the look by choosing from different colors and fonts. Another awesome feature is the ability to tap in the side margins to move the cursor (tapping in the right margin advances the cursor one character at a time while tapping in the left margin moves it backward; double-tapping moves the cursor one word at a time). Daedalus also supports Markdown.

Here’s what I don’t like about Daedalus …

The biggest feature missing is Markdown preview (it’s much easier to proofread in preview than in draft mode, plus I can correct any Markdown errors). Daedalus doesn’t offer export to HTML, although I haven’t used that feature in Byword, either (I use a WordPress plugin that allows me to paste Markdown directly into the WordPress editor). I’m not a big fan of Daedalus’ concept of stacks and sheets (which seems to be Daedalus’ primary selling point). And, the interface is a little cluttered (the extra keyboard row takes up more space than Byword’s and the bar at the top of the screen doesn’t disappear to give more space like the one in Byword).

Here’s my current workflow …

I write my blog post in Byword or Daedalus. Then I paste it into the WordPress editor in the web browser on my iPad. I preview it there, then when it’s ready, I publish or schedule it. But if I’m writing a more involved post, such as one with photos, I prefer to compose it on my laptop.

Going forward …

Byword would be almost perfect if the extra row was customizable. Daedalus would be much better with Markdown preview (a future possibility, I’m told).

I will continue to be on the lookout for other new or updated text editors. But for now, I’m fairly content using these apps for blogging, with a slight edge to Byword because of Markdown preview, though I miss Daedalus’ customizable extra keyboard row.

I may also experiment with TextExpander Touch, which a number of apps, including Byword and Daedalus, support. This might open the door for other Markdown editors with or without extra keyboard rows. Either way, the search for the ideal text editor continues!

Any questions or comments about Byword or Deadalus? Or, do you have a favorite text editor? Let me know in the comments.

Year in Review: Our Top 10 Posts

We published 112 posts in 2012 (including this one). According to blog statistics, the 10 posts listed below were the most viewed. The busiest day was May 10, the day we published 4 Strategies to Transform The United Methodist Church. That post, and three others below, were related to the 2012 General Conference of The United Methodist Church, which took place in May.

Visitors to the blog came from 110 countries, with most coming from the United States, followed behind the United Kingdom and the Philippines.

Here are the ten most-viewed posts written in 2012 …

  1. Task Management App: 2do

  2. General Conference and the Transformation of The United Methodist Church

  3. 5 Takeaways From Preach Better Sermons

  4. 4 Strategies to Transform The United Methodist Church

  5. United Methodists Prepare for General Conference

  6. Celebrating 3 Years With Sarah

  7. John Wesley’s Fear for the Future of Methodism

  8. The Circle Maker 1.0

  9. A Prayer for General Conference

  10. The Circle Maker 2.0 (see 5 Takeaways From “The Circle Maker” for full list of posts on The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson).

Thanks for reading along in 2012. I look forward to blogging in 2013!

This Site Is Getting a New Look With Headway 3

Last November, I wrote a post on Building a Church Website With WordPress. In that post, I discussed the basic steps for setting up a church website using WordPress.org’s software. I also talked about using Headway Themes, a theme framework that uses an innovative “visual editor” to build and design websites with WordPress.

As I mentioned then, just days after that post, Headway 3.0 was released. However, because 3.0 was completely rewritten, users of the previous theme version were not able to upgrade. While Headway Themes has been promising that there will eventually be an upgrade path, I decided to go ahead and rebuild this site in 3.0 (and partly because I’m not convinced they’ll release an upgrade path).

I mention this for a couple reasons: (1) You may notice some of the ongoing changes/tweaks to the site in the days ahead, and also, (2) to ask you to let me know if you find something on the site that isn’t working; I may have broken something in the process!

Last November, I said I was excited about the release of Headway 3.0. Now that I finally got to use it, it seems that the learning curve went up dramatically. Part of the learning curve is simply that the visual editor was completely redone. It’s a major upgrade from the previous version, but unless I’m missing something (I’m still learning, of course), some basic elements aren’t quite as easy to customize as before (I’ve had to use a lot of custom CSS, which because I’m not a real web designer, means lots of research and trial-and-error, and little sleep).

I still recommend Headway Themes, but only if you’re willing to tackle the learning curve!

Site Hacked for the Third Time

Last Thursday evening, I discovered that our blog had been hacked earlier in the day. But this wasn’t the first time it’s been hacked. A few months ago, the site went several weeks with files infected by malware before I learned about it. And our first encounter with malware occurred last May, when our webhost informed us that some sites might have been infected.

After the second incident, I did some research and took several measures to improve the security of this site. However, we were still infected again last week. Apparently, there’s no guarantee that your site won’t be infected again!

If you run a site built on WordPress, it’s worth reading Hardening WordPress. It’s also a good idea to search for articles on improving security. After a lot of research in the wake of getting hacked, I did a number of things to improve security. I haven’t kept a list of everything I’ve done, but here are a few things that I hope will help in the future …

Backup the site, regularly. I chose to use Repono (there’s also a WordPress plugin), which is very inexpensive. After a few months of usage, I’m still using the free $5 credit that I started with (although it may go a little faster now because I’ve increased the frequency of backups from monthly to weekly). There are some other backup options, but this is the one I’ve settled on. Obviously, having a backup would be huge if we were to lose our content!

Install plugins to help with security. There are many WordPress security plugins, and I’ve tried a number of them. There may be better ones, but at the moment, I’m using these six plugins …

Limit Login Attempts (Since installing this plugin, we’ve received a number of emails informing us that attempted hackers have been locked out for too many attempts to login to the site). By the way, make sure you delete WordPress’s default “admin” username to reduce the likelihood of successful brute force attempts (if I remember correctly, I added a new user, transferred my posts to the new user, then deleted the “admin” user.)

Bad Behavior

AntiVirus

Better WP Security

Sucuri Sitecheck Malware Scanner (Sucuri also offers a plan to monitor and cleanup sites infected by malware; if there’s a next time, I may consider it!)

Ultimate Security Checker

So far, we’ve been happy with our webhost, DreamHost, which is the only webhost we’ve ever used. Dreamhost has been very helpful in getting our site cleaned up each time.

Well, I’ve learned the hard way that guarding your site requires vigilance. Fortunately, though, it’s been more of a nuisance than a total disaster (i.e., we haven’t lost any content; we just had to clean up files, infected all three times by the eval base64_decode code.

If you’ve had experience with a hacked site, please leave a comment reporting what you’ve done to improve your security. If your site hasn’t been hacked, take measures now!

Where Do We Go From Here?

Our blog has morphed over the years. It started out as a place to post notes/summaries of our weekly sermons. Later, we reflected on classroom experiences at Asbury while working on D.Min. degrees.

In those days, we didn’t do much personal/family blogging. That changed after we started pursuing our first adoption from Korea. Looking at our blog today, you might be surprised to learn how much of a struggle it was for us to decide whether or not to post the first photo of Ethan that we received from Korea (we received six photos but only posted one).

Since then, our blog has been a place to reflect on life and leadership.

In recent weeks, our blogging activity level has diminished. Maybe it’s because Ethan and Sarah’s adoption processes are complete and transitions are well under way. No doubt the extra time and energy that our final year of the ordination process is a (major) factor. Or maybe it’s because we’re not sure where the blog needs to morph next.

So, where do we go from here? Well, I think we’ll still focus on life and leadership. The site is long overdo for a redesign. I’d like to find a better way to organize the 850+ photos on the blog, most of which are buried in old posts. I’d like to reflect more on what we’re reading/learning, especially in the areas of leadership and preaching. So, we’ll see.

Stay tuned.

Why We Blog

During this transitional time in our lives, it might be a good time to recast the vision for this blog. This blog started out as a place for us to post summaries of our sermons (in late 2004) and it has broadened over the years.

The current tagline of our blog is: Life. Leadership. God’s Mission. The purpose of this blog is to provide a resource in these areas — for the people we serve and lead and for anyone around the world who may happen to land on our site by way of a search engine.

In order to live out this purpose, we’ll sometimes write about what’s going in our lives — as long as our experience can be a helpful resource and influence others for God.

We also want to be a resource for leaders. So, we’ll sometimes write about movies as long as that movie has a particularly strong life and/or leadership lesson (see Randy’s post, Movies for Leaders; there’s also a Movies category, where you can view all the movies we’ve written about). We’ll also occasionally write about leadership books that we’ve read (see the Books category).

Since the beginning of 2007, we’ve sought to be a resource for people considering adoption, particularly international adoption (see the Adoption category). That’s one of the main reasons we continue to share details about Ethan’s transition (of course, we also know that our friends/readers like to see how Ethan is doing).

It still amazes us that the biggest day in the history of this blog (in terms of visits) was “gotcha day,” the day Ethan joined our family, February 12, 2008, when this blog had 531 visits! (FWIW, some of our biggest days since our time in Korea have been in the days since the announcement of our relocation last Sunday, hitting/surpassing 200 a couple times.)

While our blog will continue to change and evolve in the future, we expect the basic purpose to remain the same: to be a resource for others!

Our First WordPress Upgrade

Back in mid-January, we moved our blog from Typepad to a WordPress-powered site (hosted at Dreamhost), which we wrote about here.

WordPress updated their software earlier this week, so in the near future, we will be upgrading to the new version (2.5). Actually, if it wasn’t for dissertation work this week, it would’ve already been done!

Normally, we wouldn’t even mention the upgrade (you won’t notice the difference), but we are for a couple reasons …

  1. This will be our first upgrade, so we’re not exactly sure how it will go. 🙂
  2. Also, we may be changing the way we post photos/images on the blog, which may take us some time to get that part of the process working properly.

We don’t expect any real downtime for the blog; the actual upgrade should be fairly easy (Dreamhost has a one-click installer, so the actual upgrade shouldn’t take very long).

But changing the way our blog handles photos will be a chore.

Bottom-line: The blog should be available (barring complications), but the photos may not appear until we get the new process sorted out.

When will the upgrade take place? It depends on dissertation work, Ethan’s sleep schedule, and my energy level. I should be able to do it sometime after we mail our defense drafts on Monday (with God’s help!), if not before. Unless I decide to wait for the release of 2.5.1 to fix the bugs found in 2.5. 🙂

Well, for what it’s worth, we’re very pleased with WordPress and we’re looking forward to checking out version 2.5, which looks to be a pretty significant upgrade.

Comments and Stuff

Here are a few things that may help you make the most of this blog …

Comments
You can read and/or write comments on any post we write on this blog. Simply click on the comments link at the bottom of each individual post. If there are no comments, it’ll say “0 Comments.” If there is 1 comment, it’ll say “1 Comment,” and so forth.

At the moment, there is also a listing in the sidebar of the most recent comments that have been posted anywhere on the blog. You can click on post titles (after the commenter’s name) to go directly to a particular comment. There were about 70 comments on the posts we wrote while we were in Korea. If you haven’t read the comments yet, we encourage you to go back and read through them.

If you would like to write a comment on any post, simply click on the comments link at the bottom of the post you want to comment on, fill out the form at the end of the post (your name, email address which won’t be shown publicly, and write your comment in the text box provided; if you have your own website, you can type it in the URL box, which will turn your name into a link to your site).

ShareThis
Also, you may have noticed the ShareThis link at the bottom of each post. After clicking on the link, readers can share the post with others by way one or more of the social bookmarking sites listed. Or, you can click on the “Send” tab to email the link (of the post) to someone. It’s an easy way to share any of the content on this blog.

Recent Visitors
Finally, there’s a map in the sidebar that posts a dot of the general location of the 100 most recent visitors to the blog. It’s interesting to see in what parts of the world people find this blog!

Search
To search this blog, type in the search box in the sidebar. This is especially helpful if you remember reading something but can’t remember exactly where it is. Just type in a key word or phrase.

If you have questions about these features, or anything else about this blog, this would be a good place to ask. Just write a comment on this post!