Top Posts of 2012: Serving (#3) & Spanking (#2)

It has been another great year of blogging. I don't know how much you've gotten out of it, but I've learned a lot. As I've explained, writing helps me process and analyze my own thoughts, besides what I can help others with as well.

In case you have missed some of the top posts from 2012, I've going to give a couple of them here, and the very top one next week, besides the top posts on my Mission: Allendale blog. (I determined the top posts using a complicated formula involving number of page views, number of comments, phase of the moon when the post was published, and vowel-to-consonant ratio.)

The 3rd top post of 2012 was not even written be me. It was a story from a friend of mine who served in our church's preschool ministry. I just re-read the post, and it still gives me goosebumps. You'll want to read (or re-read) Called to Serve in Children's Ministry.

If you are a parent, you'll want to check out the 2nd top post of 2012. More on the controversial side, it was part of a handful of posts I wrote on disciplining children. Check out The Dangers of Spanking, and of Not Spanking.

Come back next week, to find out what was the top post of 2012.

**image courtesy of Ambroz via

Merry Christmas!

Gerard van Honthorst, 1622

I wish you and all yours a very Merry Christmas.

John 1:1-5 
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

My Favorite Entertainer

The person that makes me giggle more than anyone else in the world will be turning 6 years old on Sunday. Sender was born on "Christmas Adam" in 2006, although he was due on the 28th. Ever since, he has been full-speed and the life of the party.

Here he is trying to say sing the word "specific."

And for another of my favorite entertainers, here is the actual song that he's trying to sing, "Jeffery's Christmas Medley" by Julian Smith.

It's been a great year: you learned to tie your shoes and read. You've been to Florida (twice), Savannah (a handful of times), and Greenville lots of times, but you love being home in Allendale most of all.

Happy (early) birthday, Sender!

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Secret Vacation

Without a doubt, coaching football this past year was a great opportunity. But for at least three months, it was time-consuming. Practices, meetings, games, etc, took up a significant part of my week, meaning that I had dinner with my family maybe once or twice per week.

But at the end of the season, I knew that our family needed time together, to re-connect. And I also knew that I would be getting my coaching stipend as a lump sum at the end of the year. I decided that we would use part of the stipend for a family vacation, because sometimes you just need to Make the Vacation Happen.

And the trip was very affordable due to some deals and discounts we had:
  • The hotel was a 50% off bargain found on Groupon (and a $50 credit that we had)
  • For LEGOLAND, we had BOGO coupons from our free Lego magazine subscription
  • And from a credit card that I signed up for last year, we had $235 to go towards our Disney World tickets
Even more, this trip would be the vast bulk of their Christmas presents. Creating memorable experiences lasts longer than than any toys we could get them. 

The Big Secret

While Joanna and I planned the end-of-year vacation, we wanted to make it a surprise for the kids. We told each of our kids a part of this trip, and made them think that was the entire surprise, and that they had to keep the secret from their siblings. Honestly, I think this was completely for my enjoyment.

In late November, we had them reveal their secret:

The Arrival

On Sunday, December 9, we left home towards Orlando (making a stop to worship with friends at Community Bible Church - Savannah). As is customary for our family, our trip down I-95 includes a stop at the Florida Welcome Center for fresh juice and tourist brochures (everybody gets a map!).

To our kids' pleasure, we were given a room on the 7th floor, and to their double-pleasure we had a kids' suite room that included a bunk bed. They took turns sleeping on the top bunk, bottom bunk, and roll-away. And the Holiday Inn was the fanciest hotel they've ever stayed in. Nothing but the best,Clark.


We timed the vacation so that we would be in LEGOLAND on Elijah's 9th birthday (Monday). We were there from park opening (10 AM) to closing (5 PM), and had a great time. Elijah named it the best birthday he's ever had.

We loved the rides, the shows, and the incredible MiniLand creations. Here's Elijah and I on the Project X roller coaster:

Here's Sender (and Elijah) on the Driving School course:

And here are some other pictures of the fun:

In front of a GIANT Lego dinosaur

Star Wars in Mini Land

Mini Land was incredible!

Read for Driving School

Pirate Show in the bay

Ahoy, matey!

The White House (notice Santa and the Reindeer being arrested by Secret Service)

Magic Kingdom
Though not the main reason, one huge benefit of homeschooling is the flexibility we have with vacations. For example, the day we were at Disney World was projected to be one of the lowest crowd days of the year. Couple that with the threat of rain (though it rained only briefly late in the afternoon) meant that we had virtually no wait times on the rides.

I think our longest wait was about 8-10 minutes, and for most rides it was a matter of a couple of minutes. From 9 AM - 7 PM, we did 22 different attractions / rides, with most of them multiple times. Three rides on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, 2 times on Splash Mountain, twice on Space Mountain, etc.

Though it was our 13th anniversary, Joanna and I did not wear the anniversary buttons. However, we did let Sender get a birthday button. After all, both Hannah (5th at Magic Kingdom) and Elijah (9th at LEGOLAND) have had birthdays at parks, but we will never go to Disney on December 23.

Some photos of our fun:
Start to the day

First Ride = Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Before the big drop on Splash Mountain

No King Arthur in our family

Pool and Downtown Disney
After two full days at theme parks, we all slept past 8AM on Wednesday. After a good hotel brunch (kids eat free!), the three kids spent some time in the pool. What a nice December weekday morning!

Then, we headed to Downtown Disney. With tired legs, they were not too excited about walking around, especially without the anticipation of more rides. But they did enjoy the toy stores, especially when we told them that they could pick out a souvenir. They all got something from the Lego store.

So after all that, we came all this way for Lego? Well, at least their new toys kept them completely entertained on the trip home on Thursday.

We had such a great time together as a family.We ate, we rested, we smiled, we laughed. So thankful that we had this opportunity! And despite our great time, it is always nice to come back home.

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To Church or Not to Church: That's the Christmas Question

What will your church (and your family) do for worship services at Christmas? There are a variety of options:
  • When I was on our church's staff, we sometimes had zero services, especially if Christmas Day fell on the weekend (we may have had just Christmas Eve services). It was an opportunity for staff and volunteers to relax, visit family, and even visit other churches, without having to work.
  • Many abhor the idea of cancelling church on or near Christmas.
  • And many in contemporary churches wish their church would be more traditional on Christmas.
  • Some have Santa Claus visit Jesus in the manger scene. I'm kidding! (I hope.)

While one could make a valid theological case for either of these perspectives (expect, perhaps, Santa), it just strikes me how strongly Christians feel about their viewpoint. Most of us are far along one side of the spectrum of "Church or No-Church," or "Casual or Traditional."

What about you? What is your church doing this Christmas? Do you wish they'd do anything different?

**image courtesy of lioneltitu via

Our Anniversary

Thirteen years ago today, sporting a rented tuxedo, I stood in front of the sanctuary at Augusta Heights Baptist Church (Greenville, SC), and our pastor asked, "Who gives this woman to be this man's wife?"

Joanna's father answered, "I can no more give away my daughter than I can give away my own heart. . . ."

(I knew he was going to say this line, but forgot to tell the pastor. So, as you see later in the video, he understandably started to panic a little, thinking there was going to be a crisis at this wedding. Sorry, Matt!)

Her dad continued, "But I will do this, I will accept Joey in our family." (The pastor was now able to breathe again.)

You Already Know How Great My Wife Is

I could go on and on about how great the past 13 years have been. After all, I married my best friend.

But I've written about much of this already, such as in the past anniversary posts like in 2010 and 2011. And maybe you've read about 11 Reasons I Asked My Wife to Marry Me.

Or perhaps you read my Mission: Allendale blog, and have heard about My Excellent Wife and My (Much) Better Half.

There is no doubt that I am a better man, and our adventure is stronger, because of who my wife is at the core, and what she does. To paraphrase Deniece Williams (come on 80's kids!), Let's Hear It for the Girl.

Helpful Resources

Do you want some resources that will help you grown in your marriage? (Of course the answer is "Yes.") Here are some that I've found inspiring, challenging, and helpful:

Jesus Makes Men New (The Resurgence). "Men, you will not pursue your wife well until you know the God who pursues you."

Nine Ways the Gospel Transforms Marriage (Desiring God). I know I can never be good enough. I need God to change me from the inside out.

How Should the Great Commission Affect Marriage? (Verge Network). You won't regret watching this 3-minute video by Paul Tripp. Note: This video is part of the same series that I referenced in Missional Kids.

20 Easy Romantic Ideas (All Pro Dad). Disclaimer: I've done no more than a handful of these. But maybe you will.

30 Ways to Bless Your Marriage (Family Matters). Fifteen for husbands, fifteen for wives.

The Problem with Commitment (Desiring God). A video from the same person as Jesus Makes Men New. A longer-video, so I saved it for last. A key idea for me is that a wedding doesn't mean "Mission Accomplished," but it means "The Mission Begins." Just as Jesus doesn't leave His relationship with the church in maintenance mode, and neither should I. But also, Justin Buzzard reminds us that the worst thing a husband (or wife) can do is say, "I'm going to try harder as a spouse." It's not about my  performance, but that I need to allow Jesus to enter in my lives and continually make me new.

Note: We spend our 13th anniversary on a Secret Vacation

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Middle Child at the Front

Flipping out for his birthday

My son Elijah turns 9 on Monday.

He's our middle child. Before I had kids, I didn't give much credence to birth order (much less birth due date) theory. But we see how true it is.

Elijah tends to get squeezed out, or at least he often feels that way. He is talented, but often feels a need to boast about it, maybe as a way to make himself noticed. In other words, he is a lot like his father.

He often uses words carelessly. Since he was born, I've prayed for him through his name ("My God is YHWH), that he will proclaim the truth that God is the LORD.

But, as I've told my son, when careless words are mixed with important truths, people will learn to ignore his important words. I know God wants to use him. I don't want him to diminish his credibility and weaken his platform for Christ.

In summer, we saw him grow in a great opportunity. For almost an entire week, he stayed with grandparents, and got to be the oldest Espinosa kid (out of 5 boys). It was good for him to be in position of leadership, out front. And he thrived.

That week, he was a leader for his younger cousins, and he used that time to serve others. For example, in the sleepovers they had, he let others choose where to sleep, instead of being "the boss." He took care of his cousins, and played what they wanted.

As we've prayed for him to proclaim the truth about God, perhaps only part of that is about what Elijah will tell others. Maybe a big part of that will also be what kind of life he lives leading and serving others.

And while he is in the middle chronologically, he's just as loved and special as our other kids, and at least for one day, he gets to be the center of attention.

I love you, son. Happy (early) birthday!

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Favorite Tweets from November

 Our football season came to an abrupt halt in early November. But the month got better with much-needed time with family and friends.

You can stay posted on all my great updates (and re-Tweets), by following me on Twitter (@espinosajoey).

Great Thoughts From Others

@tmproject"Single moms and fatherless youth are all around us. They are America's most reachable unreached people group." -

@FoundationMin"Jesus didn't come just to save us from problems we have, but from the problem we are". ~ Myron Augsberger  

@Mario_A_RussoBlack Friday: The day where people trample others to buy stuff on sale exactly one day after being thankful for what they already have.

@ChrchCurmudgeonQ - Know why God doesn't want Baptists to dance? A - Ever watched a Baptist dance?

@AHud806Let my life be the proof of Your love.

@LeeBozette"There are many of us that are willing to do great things for the Lord, but few of us are willing to do little things." ~DL Moody 

@DANweidenbenner:  "What we give the poor, we lend to the Lord" -Sojourner Truth

From Me

Where God says to go, I must go. (see Jonah 1:1-3)

Like my new hoodie? Go Tigers! @ Allendale, SC

"A lot of Christians are in a different political party than you & are excited about the election." / by

"The world needs Christians who don't tolerate the complacency of their own lives." Francis Chan (Crazy Love) 

Doctor to Sender: "Let's see what's up your nose." Sender: "A booger." Doctor: "Yep. You're right." 

A house divided. Which is your favorite?
Three missionary families that you could support with a donation: us, ,