Favorite Tweets for December

So long, 2011! Glad I could remember you in 140 character tidbits. You can too, if you follow me @EspinosaJoey.
  1. (In a friend's truck) My son: "What's this thing?" Me: "You turn it to open the window." Son (trying it out): "Awesome!"
  2. Read about hope & , art & the .
  3. I smile every time I'm in a local restaurant & I see the Thank You notes (posted on the wall) from students.
  4. Parents, Teachers, and the Community need to work together to improve the schools.
  5. Jesus the unbound Being was compressed into finite flesh (John 1:1, 14). Bill White
  6. I just bought some beer, and I'm about to study chemistry. These 2 things are not related. I promise.
  7. ": My professor rounded my grade up to an A, even though I missed it by 1.5 points." / Not happening at .
  8. Best kept secret in Greenville for dinner: Yia Yia's at Night. For real. (And get a coupon from
  9. Me: "Hannah, you'd like college. You can eat ice cream 3 times a day." Hannah: "ONLY 3?"
  10. I made the mistake of wearing khaki pants and a red collared shirt to Target. "No, I do NOT work here."
  11. = Disney World for women
  12. Best part of going to zoo? Seeing animals poop and pee.

Top Posts of 2011: How Do We Know That God Is Real? (#2)

This was the post that started a small ruckus -- 67 comments that I kept (a handful of crude ones that I deleted), and a series of follow-up posts. It was a simple question that my older son asked a few years back, and I gave a simple answer.

Be sure to read How Do We Know That God Is Real?  

And be sure to read some of the other related links, including my Response to the Comments.

Top Posts of 2011: Basic Problems in Allendale (#3)

Continuing with the series on my Top 5 Posts in 2011, today is actually a post about Allendale. It was originally written on this blog, but I moved it over after I created the Mission: Allendale blog.

This post, #3 in my list, is about the 3 Basic Problems in Allendale: Poor Education, Teenage Pregnancy, and Disconnected Dads. I still see these as three common issues, but I need to write more about the key problem that I see (look for it in 2012).

Happy reading!

Top Posts of 2011: Children and Church (#5)

As much as I'd think that the first thing you'll do the day after Christmas is run to your computer and read the latest post I've written. But I know better. First you'll get coffee, and then you'll check out the blog.

Or maybe I'm further down your priority list.

So, instead of posting new content, I'll use this week to list my Top 5 posts from 2011. These will be split between this blog and Mission: Allendale. Not only will it give me a break from writing, but will also give you a chance to catch up on any of these that you missed.

Today, we'll start with common issue with church-attending families: What If My Child Doesn't Want to Go to Church?

Happy reading, and happy Boxing Day to all my Canadian readers.

"How Old Are You?"

I love asking little kids how old they are and they respond with holding up the correct number of fingers. But did you ever notice how hard this is for a 3-year-old? What a cruel twist of fate, to have a combination of limited dexterity, but needing to hold up a tricky amount of fingers!

But not when the child is 5. That's perfect number, and simple. "How old are you, little boy?" A whole hand!

Tomorrow, Sender -- our youngest -- will be this perfect age. He was born just before I left Michelin to come on staff at Grace Church, and just before we bought a new house and moved.

And now he's spent most of this past year in Allendale, SC. He has enjoyed everything about this adventure, especially all the new friends. He considers his best friends to be some of the 9 - 13 year old boys at the Club, including his Zoo Buddy.

He brings so much energy and joy to people around him. Even when he's stuck in a tree, he still manages to smile for the camera (see the picture above). He sings, imitates, and dances, and he's been a key part of our weekly Talent Shows.

And I love how he praises and thanks God. So sincere and sweet! His latest consistent prayer goes something like this:
"Dear God. Thank You that I have a Mommy and a Daddy and a brother and a sister."
Sender, we're thankful for you, too.

Related Links:

They Like Me!

My Love Language is "words of affirmation." One of my strengths (according to Marcus Buckingham) is "significance." I dutifully track the number of comments, shares, and likes I get on this blog and on Mission: Allendale.

In other words, I feel fulfilled by doing great things and being told how great I am.

In other words, I have a serious issue with pride.

So, you can imagine how excited I was when I left a comment on Jon Acuff's blog post about Wishing your contemporary church would go old school during Christmas. Why? Because I got 9 like's on my original comment, and at least 8 more like's on follow up comments.

Granted, I'm not the author of the blog that gets 1000's of visitors. But I was liked by about 10 people that read his blog. That makes me kinda' special, right?

These are the things that get my juices flowing.

I'm so glad that I'm loved and redeemed by the One who liked me enough to die for me, even when I was His enemy (Romans 5:8).

image courtesy of Stuart Miles via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

An American Girl Hanukkah

 Our daughter, Hannah, has two American Girl dolls. Her first, Kirsten, was a generous hand-me-down from my cousin. Last year, my Jewish grandmother fittingly bought her Rebecca, the Russian-Jewish girl.

A few weeks ago, as our creative little girl arranging her room for the Christmas season, she told Joanna that she needed to do some different decorations for Rebecca, since (as she explained) "Rebecca is Jewish, and many Jewish families don't celebrate Christmas."

I'm not sure what my wife was more concerned about -- Hannah's fatalistic theology, or that Hannah would double the number of decorations in her room.

Either way, I loved Joanna's answer: "Well, I like to think that Rebecca believes in Jesus, so she's a Messianic Jew."

Hannah was quite content with that solution. Crisis averted -- the doll's soul is saved, and Hannah's room only vaguely looks like a scene from Hoarders.

This week, we are excited to be celebrating both Hanukkah (starting at sundown on December 20) and Christmas. Be sure to read the post from last year on Why I Celebrate Hanukkah, to learn why a Messianic Jew like me finds this season especially worshipful.

Happy Hanukkah, everyone!

Christmas: Head to Heart to Action

via Amazon
I had been working through a theology book (Basic Theology) for the past year or so, reading a couple of chapters per week. Much of it was deep and over my head, but I knew it was worthwhile for my own spiritual growth. When it was done, I posted this status on Facebook:
"Just finished reading a theology book. My brain is full."
A friend, a long-time pastor whom I've known for over 9 years, replied, "The purpose of theology is to move from a full head to a full heart."

I pondered his words for days afterwards. He was right. The goal isn't to just know more about God. It's so that my heart might be more intimate with the joy of Him and of His salvation.

This past weekend I heard another pastor teach, from Matthew 2. He preached on how different people in the Christmas story responded to Jesus' birth:
  • King Herod was selfish, though he looked spiritual.
  • The chief priests and scribes were complacent.
  • The Magi were full of joy and worship.
In comparing King Herod (who lived in Jerusalem) and the Jewish leaders (who should have been the first to know about the Messiah) with the Magi (pagans from hundreds and hundreds of miles away), the pastor added this:
"Proximity to truth is meaningless if that truth doesn't move us to action."
image courtesy of abcdz2000 via sxc.hu
Of all the characters in this event, the Magi could not have been further from the source of the truth. But they followed a star, a small sign in the sky, with eager anticipation.

Theological truth is important, but it must move from my head to my heart. And a full heart will be manifested in my actions.

Yes, the Magi endured, and they were faithful, and they worshiped. But the reason they did these things were because they had joy. They found what they were looking for, and "they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy" (verse 10).

Here's a clip from a pastor from Grace Church, reminding us that Christmas is about acknowledging and humbling ourselves before the true King.

As you continue in this Christmas season, remember to move past your head knowledge of the story of Christmas. Let your heart be filled with joy, and let this joy move you to action.

Related Links:

Sarcastic Parenting

I love good sarcasm as much as anyone, or more. Probably too much. Unless you get sarcastic with me. Then it's not so funny. (And I wonder why I don't have many friends.)

But something is effective about sarcasm. It catches you off-guard and wakes you up in a way that a flat out lecture doesn't.

I've heard and read plenty of parenting advice, and I try to pay attention. But these links caught my attention because of how they present themselves, right from the titles. I think you'll enjoy them, too:

Birthday, Anniversary, and Mentor Weekend

We had a great weekend. Let's re-cap:

Birthday.  Elijah turned 8 on Saturday. I love this boy so much! I love watching him learn, build, and create. I love that he has a best friend at the Boys & Girls Club in Allendale. I love that for all that he knows and is serious about, that he's also still a kid who loves to play and laugh. I'm So Blessed to Be His Dad!

Anniversary.  Yesterday, Joanna and I celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary. Besides going to Savannah (see more below), we didn't do anything really special. But I am reminded how grateful I am for My Excellent Wife.

The past couple of weeks, one of the staff at the Club has been out a good bit, due to a family situation. With 45-50 kids each day, and only 2 remaining staff, I've needed her there. So, for most of the past 2 weeks, she has been educating our kids all morning, and serving at the after school program (until at least 6pm) every afternoon. Joanna is my partner, and I could not do this without her. (For a great article on marriage, read The Truth About Marital Compatibility from The Resurgence.)

Mentoring.  We took a quick trip to Savannah to see a family that has been mentors for us for a number of years. The husband was my boss for 4 years, and personally mentored me for at least 2 years before that. The wife has poured into Joanna since before Hannah was born (10 years ago). And, to make the circle complete, Joanna and Hannah were at their house 8 years ago, the day that Elijah was born. (Joanna left her place just after lunch, and Elijah was born at 3:25 PM.)

Since we're in the midst of a job change in Allendale, this trip to see these mentors was timely. We enjoyed "downloading" all that has been going on with us, and getting feedback. We appreciated how they loved on Elijah with brownies, ice cream, and a gift. We were thrilled to serve and worship alongside them on Sunday morning.

One of the biggest encouragements we received from them was something they said that was not in a structured teaching moment. We were sitting around the table eating lunch, and our children were chattering away about all the "important" stuff on their minds. Joanna and I tire pretty easily of their constant talking, and maybe you parents understand this, or maybe you are a lot more patient than we are.

But, in the midst of all this, these mentors (who, in less than a year will have only one of their three children still at home) said, "We miss this." What?! "We miss our kids being around the table talking, with everyone enjoying each other." 

We saw and felt what they had enjoyed, and now were now missing. And we were encouraged and challenged all at the same time. Though we are often tired and frustrated and impatient with our children, we need to cherish what we have for now. It won't be long before it's gone.

If you are an uptight worrier and planner like Joanna and I are, be sure to slow down, and to step back. Enjoy the moment with your children and of your children. Unlike with Christmas shopping, there are no returns in parenting.

Related Links:

"You Smell Like Beef and Cheese! You Don't Smell Like Santa."

I figured there is no better way to start off a post about Santa Claus then a quote from Buddy, everyone's favorite elf.

One of the most popular series of posts on this blog was not even written by me. It was an interview I did of some friends about their views of Santa Claus. You'll want to read (or re-read) "Questions for a Santa Family" -- Part 1 and Part 2. Also, be sure to read Don't Kill Santa Claus.

For a more humorous take, watch the video below (from the makers of Why First Time Moms Lose Their Minds).

What do you do with Santa? Has that changed over the years? Let us know in the comments.

Related Link:

The Social Media Habit

I've written before about the lure and danger of virtual friends. Here are some more links that go along with this topic:

And for the grand finale, here's a video from three years ago, which means (in tech years) it's waaaayyy out of date. But still dang funny.

After watching the video, let us know in the comments. What do you hate about Facebook?

I'll go first in the comments.

    Is My Slow-to-Respond Child Being Disobedient?

    I recently received a question from a friend of mine, a mom of two boys -- one is 2-and-a-half years old, and the other an infant. She and her husband have been diligently training their older child to obey, but had a practical question about this. With her permission, I am sharing the situation (paraphrased for brevity), and my response.
    “Our biggest issue with disobedience now is [our son] taking his time to obey when we ask him to do something. Would you consider this defiance? And if so, what practical methods should we use to discipline him – spanking, time-out, warning, etc?”
    So, if a child is doing what we ask of him, but on his timing, is that obeying or disobeying? Great question, and is an issue that we've had to deal with many times over.

    Don’t Ask, DO Tell
    Be careful about how much you “ask” your child. I distinctly remember being taught this principle, before I was even married, by a man who was discipling me. Our heavenly Father doesn’t ask His Son (or any of us, His children) or His servants to do things. He gives commands.

    Of course, we must be careful to not continually bark commands with gruffness, but we must not fool our young children into thinking that they are part of a democracy. A young child (especially through age 5 or 6) must be taught to submit to authority, as discussed in my previous post The Phases of Raising Boys.

    Be Clear
    When you do give a command to our child (or, even when you do ask them to do something), you must be sure that you are clear in what you expect. For a young child, “Clean up your toys” can have many interpretations. Better is, “Put your blocks in the bucket, and put your books on the shelf.”

    Here are some tips to giving clear commands to a young child:
    • Be simple. Don’t overload his brain with a string of commands. At a young age, one or two steps at a time is age-appropriate.
    • Make eye contact. Lazy as I am, I'd rather call out a command from 15 feet away, even as I am walking out of the room. But I need to make sure to speak directly to him, including making eye contact. Train your child to look at you when you are speaking to him. It’s a life skill that will pay off his entire life.
    • Have your child repeat your command. If she can recite back what you told her, you know that you have been clear. You can have her repeat the command verbatim, or even better is to ask, “What are you going to do?” and let her verbalize it in her own words.
    • Manage your expectations. Simply enough, know what your child is capable of, mentally and physically. 
    If you are not clear in you directions, it is harder to make a case that your child is being disobedient.

    First-Time Obedience
    I’ve learned from authors and speakers such as Tedd Tripp (Shepherding a Child’s Heart), James Dobson (The New Strong-Willed Child), and Ginger Plowman (Don’t Make Me Count to Three) that we need to say what we mean and mean what we say. But we often can confuse our children by training them to ignore our directions. How?

    When the norm for your parenting is having to repeat directions 2 or 3 or more times, the child is learning to ignore your first command. He knows, “Mom doesn’t mean it this time. She always says it a few times before getting really mad.”

    Ironic, isn’t it? We parents give mixed signals to our children about what we expect of them, and then we they don’t meet our expectations, we get frustrated. We cause our own angst!

    Obedience is more than doing what one is told. A better principle that we need to train our children in is submitting to authority. Obedience is a physical and mental issue – hear what is said and do it. Submitting is a heart-issue. You can make your child obey, without reaching his heart. But God is concerned about the heart.

    A Language for Heart-Level Obedience
    Here is some language that I’ve (ahem) “borrowed” from other books and resources, that have helped us remember how to train our children in what true submission looks like. To obey at the heart-level, a child must obey . . .
    1. Quickly, Immediately, and Happily
    2. All the Way, Right Away, and With a Happy Heart
    Pick which language you want (or any variation that works for you), and go with it. If your child violates any of these three principles (like by taking his time, or by stomping away grumpily), there must be consequences, for the purpose of training him in righteousness.

    So, in the case of our toddler in question, if he has received a clear command that he is capable of obeying, and since he did not obey immediately, then he is acting in defiance against you. According to biblical wisdom (such as found in the book of Proverbs), he is not being childish, but foolish. This foolishness and rebellion of the heart must be addressed.

    What do you think? What advice would you give this mom?

    Related Link:

    image courtesy of hoyasmeg via flickr

    6 Posts (and 1 Song) to Help You Get Ready for Christmas

    When does the Christmas season begin? Some people love Christmas music at the beginning of November. Others only want to here it after Thanksgiving.

    Me? I just like to watch both sides argue.

    But regardless of which of these camps you fall into, we are definitely in the Christmas season now. So, here are some thoughts from last year to get you ready for Christmas:
    1. Twelve Christmas Traditions.  Hmmm . . . A few of these may not make the list this year (like waking up in our own house on Christmas morning).
    2. Angels Are NOT Wimpy.  One of my biggest Christmas pet peeves.
    3. What Christmas Means to Me.  A revelation I had 13 years ago.
    4. Life of Jesus.  A video from a couple of years ago.
    5. Merry Christmas.  Links to a few articles about the phrase "Merry Christmas."
    6. Jesus Is Still Immanuel.  What does it look like for us to be "incarnational" like Jesus?

    One song in particular that was meaningful for me last year was The First Noel. I picture myself as one of the people in the Christmas story -- the shepherds, the wise men, or whoever. What would it have been like to have seen a sign, and then meet the Savior as a baby (or for the shepherds to meet the angels)? Here's a great rendition of this song:

    Be worshipful as you prepare for this season.

    Related Link:

    image courtesy of Schlottie via sxc.hu