Friday, November 21, 2014

The Week's Best

Here is the best stuff I've come across this week:

26 Pictures of the Universe that will give you pause.

Great post on preaching Christ through the Old Testament.  This is a good caution for all the gospel-centered-everything people.

Ever wonder how long Jesus was actually dead?  Was it 3 days?  How could he die on Friday and raise Sunday and it be 3 days?  This post'll help.

The NIV Application commentaries are still only 4.99.  Check these out.

Here is a good post on the way Matthew gives hints in his writing.  This is why we should always use cross references.

A good theology of Space is always a needed reminder.  By space I don't mean outer-space, but place.

And here is a good word on the reality that Every loves authenticity, until they're the ones that needs to be authentic.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The 3 main ways we communicate

Every Wednesday, as part of our Lake Hart Stint program, Melissa and I take part in what is called "Connection time."  This is essentially a time created for us to share our life stories, and then hear from some professor/staff/friend of the ministry on any number of topics.

This week one of the main things we talked about was healthy verbal communication.

"The ground floor understanding is that communication is done essentially three different ways…" Dr Coffield from Reformed Theological Seminary shared with us.  He went on to describe the three ways. -- competitive communication, informational communication, and cooperative communication.

All of these terms are rather self-explanatory, but allow me to flesh them out nonetheless:

1. Competitive communication

Imagine an argument you're trying to win.  Imagine a group of young people around chatting, all of them with the motive to prove who is cooler or wittier.  Imagine a person trying to prove that he is right.

Dr. Coffield said two things that I'll touch on more in a bit:

"Jesus rarely communicated competitively unless it was with the pharisees or religious elite."  And,

"God rarely uses this method of communication."



2. Informational communication

This is teaching or training or just catching up.  One person is sharing information with another -- not in a competitive I'm better than you sort've manner, but helpfully -- simply to inform.  Gossip probably fits into this category as well; one person is sharing with another some sort of information.  Think, "Tell me about your day…" or "Did you know that…" or "Let me show you how to use…" or similar communication styles.

3. Cooperative communication

Here, two or more people, as the name suggests, are working together for something.
Maybe they are communicating to strengthen a relationship -- think a genuine "How are you doing today?"
Maybe they are communicating to strengthening a cause they both share -- think Peyton Manning asking his linemen if they had any ideas for better pass protection.
This method of communication is really, if I understand correctly, the only method that allows a place for a healthy exchange of emotions -- "How did you feel about the theatre?"

Coffield argued that this was the method Jesus used most often.

If you've read this far, feel free to stop if you've gathered the information you're looking for.  Good stuff.

But I have a few comments.  Obviously, I'm just sharing here my understanding of what he shared.  That list isn't exhaustive, nor could it probably be applied to every aspect of verbal communication.  Please don't read this as me poo-pooing on Dr. Coffield.  He was great, and I'm sure he'd love just hours and hours and hours to flesh out further what he means by these distinctions.

That said, I have two problems with this paradigm.

First, it seems to me that most conversations fall into more than one of these styles at the same time.  Cooperation can and probably is often informational.
Competition can often be cooperative.
Informational communication can often be competitive or cooperative.

These three ways of looking at how we communicate fall a bit short, in my opinion, of addressing the nuance and varied change of so many different sorts of communication.

As an example, I'll share my second problem with the way this information was shared.

It was hinted at numerous times that Jesus mainly or mostly communicated cooperatively.  I disagree with this.

One of the coolest things about Jesus was that he communicated in a way that fit all three of these styles  of communication at the same time.

Consider the Sermon on the Mount.  Or virtually any parable.  But for our purposes let's use the parable of the Prodigal Son, which I will not paste here but hopefully is known enough to suffice.  Check Luke 15 if needed.

In that story, Jesus was indeed communicating competitively.  The story essentially says any life outside of relationship with the Father is dead.  If you reject the Father, you are dead, should you return, you are alive.  There is only one way to live life, in grateful embrace of the Father.

That is as competitive as anything I've ever said.

Yet the story is also informational.  Your Father, your God, is no curmudgeon.  He is no blow-hard demanding your obedience.  His love for you and his embrace of you, despite your rebellion, is ever present.  He delights in you!
And he is even merciful should you be the do-gooder older brother type as well.

And the story is cooperative as well.  Most all stories are, for that matter.  Stories invite the reader to cooperate with the author.  Where are you in the story?


After processing all this I'm having one searing thought: Jesus is the best.  This guy can blow your doors down like the Big Bad Wolf, correct you like Socrates, and simultaneously invite you into a deeper, fuller, and more blessed life.  What a king.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Grief Embraced

I am a bit of a romantic.  By that, I don't mean the sort of person that watches endless Sleepless in Seattle or The Notebook reruns, but I mean the type of person with big dreams and big desires.

I struggle to celebrate the little things, and I often fall short of encouraging and uplifting everyday service and sacrifice.  This is to my shame.  Yet, I struggle with these things not because I do not value them, but because in the depths of my being I yearn for more -- and bigger -- and greater.

I want to see God blow the doors off college campuses with His grace.  I want to watch as the love of Christ brings a city literally to its knees in prayer and appreciation for his goodness.

One of the difficult things we've had to sort through over the past twelve months is the reality of our broken dreams.

God, it seems, works at his own pace, and on his own timetable.  I know this is common head knowledge, but I'm not sure it was heart knowledge for me.  He is mysterious.  "He is not," as Lewis describes Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia "a tame lion."

This has brought us face to face with grief.  The reason I feel like our broken dreams are something to grieve is because I believe wholeheartedly that they are something that God himself grieves.  He does not grieve that we did not get or see what we wanted, but rather that His dreams have been thwarted as well.  He is heartbroken that college students worldwide have not come to know him personally.  He is sad at the state of brokenness and decay in large portions of South America.  His love brings about his grief.


video


"There will be a new morning… and we look forward to that."

"The cross and the kingdom go together."

"When bad and sad things happen, as they do… those awful things can be held lovingly and wisely within the embrace of the God of whom we speak when we tell that story."

Wright says those three things in the above video and they sum up my grieving as well as anything.

Kingdom and cross must absolutely and never be separated.  Kingdom without cross can tend to a happy-go-lucky, carefree spirituality that is drastically different than traditional christianity.  Cross without kingdom can tend to a horrible, masochistic, pride awakening burden.  But together they form a beautiful gospel.

First, Jesus has initiated the kingdom of God.  God reigns.  A new way of being human is presented -- a way of peace and love and mercy and humility.  God's reign means the hurting and broken will be brought into the loving embrace of the king.

And yet, the way of that king was a way of sacrifice.  The people of the initiated kingdom are people so awakened by the love and delight of king that they move sacrificially to alert others.

It's a beautiful thing that on the cross -- the place of devastation and despair, pain and misery -- we find a place for our grief as well.  There we find hope, and meaning, for our grief.  There we find counsel, and the tenderness of the king.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Growing in Intimacy

"I miss you."

Melissa said to me Friday night.  Yet it was a bit different than the traditional casual "I miss you."  There was a very real, intimate cry-of-her-soul sort've tinge to her voice.

I had been gone for the majority of the past two days on a men's retreat, so the words weren't exactly shocking, and, to be honest, neither was the sentiment behind the words.

My wife was brave and humble.  She was vulnerable and honest.  Her words carried not a hint of manipulation or frustration.  She was expressing her desires openly for the sake of our relationship.

I've been prone to not respond so well to things like this in the past.  "You miss me?  I'm right here!  How can this be?"  Or I'll think in my head, "Man, I can't do anything right!"  And then proceed to beat myself up.  Or worse, in an effort to take the target off my back, I'll place it back on hers: "Well I miss you too ya know!"

Yet her gentleness opened my heart immediately.

"I'm so sorry.  I'm just really sorry."

I've been around a lot, but I haven't exactly been engaged.  I've been doing things with the family, but emotionally I've been pretty distant.  This is actually pretty easy for me to do -- actively do things while not inwardly engaging with their hearts.

They deserve better, and I'm glad to have a bride committed to me, and committed to me being better relationally.  I'm glad of her love and pursuit of me, even when I may run away or disengage.

Her courage and vulnerability makes me want to do the same in all my other relationships as well.

For the sake of relationships, my desire to is present myself vulnerably and honestly -- to express my desires and deep longings without manipulation or frustration or in order to control, but only to foster healthy relationship.

Often I can get caught up in doing the right things, while neglecting the inner and deeper things.

Can you relate?

She even looks great in short hair!

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Week's Best

Here is a collection of the best things I've come across this week:

Every single one of the NIV Application Commentaries are on sale for kindle.  These are superb commentaries, and I would urge you to consider buying a few.  These are great deals on great resources.  This series' strength, as it's properly named, is in making the bible applicable to the reader.  This is a great series for teaching, preaching, or even just personal devotion.

Ever feel like you heard a decent sermon, but it just seemed to be lacking a little something?  The Mission Ingredient in Many sermons talks about what that little something may be.  I think he is right.

3 Ways Evangelism can be more believable is a great little blogpost much needed for many who actively share their faith.  Really good insight here.

Skip across those cross references?  Think again!  Too scandalous for direct speech talks about how you're probably missing crucial information.

12 Ways to make and keep friends.  Title speaks for itself.

And finally, no post has gotten me thinking more this week than The Idolatry of Missions.  It's allowed the Holy Spirit to stir up many things in my heart, pride and prejudice (not the movie, but the actual presence) chief among them.  Really good read.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Things I needed to read today


I have an excel file that is precious to me.

I input quotes from books I read in order that I may revisit them.  This has been as beneficial as any discipline I think I've done.  Revisiting these books (or as I like to put it, spending time again with these good friends -- the authors, not the books, that would be creepy) has ministered to my ailing heart, has strengthened and emboldened me, has stirred my creative juices, has set aflame my heart for our great king, and has generally been just a great helping of God's grace in my life.  He has used these people and their words to great avail in my life.

I needed to visit this document today.  Here is what I read:

Anthony DeMello says: "Look at your life and see how you have filled its emptiness with people.  As a result they have a stranglehold on you.  See how they control your behavior by their approval and disapproval.  They hold the power to ease your loneliness with their company, to send your spirits soaring with their praise, to bring you down to the depths with their criticism and rejection.  Take a look at yourself spending almost every waking moment of your day placating and pleasing people, whether they are living or dead.  You live by their norms, conform to their standards, seek their company, desire their love, dread their ridicule, long for their applause, meekly submit to the guilt they lay upon you; you are terrified to go against the fashion in the way you dress or speak or act or even think.  And observe how even when you control them you depend on them and are enslaved by them.  People have become so much a part of your being that you cannot even imagine living a life that is unaffected or uncontrolled by them." – 133, in Brennan Manning’s Abba’s Child

This was oddly comforting.  I often tend to shame myself and my codependence on others.  "Why are you being so sensitive?  Who cares what others think?  Why let this stuff bother you?"  Yet DeMello's word here offered a reassuring alternative.

A rarely discussed reality is that everyone is codependent.  It is hard-wired into our very core.  We are controlled by other people, to some level.  This reality gives me freedom from shame.  I can't be shameful for something that is true of everybody, can I?  This allows me to embrace my brokenness and hurt.

I am dependent on other people.  I am weak and needy.

And at the same time, his word stirred in me a desire for my dependence to be upon something, or someone, trustworthy -- I want to be free of my codependency.  I want to have my weakness and neediness filled.  I have unmet desires.

Here Nouwen's words melted my heart:

“For most of my life I have struggled to find God, to know God, to love God.  I have tried hard to follow the guidelines of the spiritual life--pray always, work for others, read the Scriptures--and to avoid the many temptations to dissipate myself.  I have failed many times but always tried again, even when I was close to despair.

Now I wonder whether I have sufficiently realized that during all this time God has been trying to find me, to know me, to love me.  The question is not ‘How am I to find God?’ but ‘How am I to let myself be found by him?’  The question is not ‘How am I to know God?’ but ‘How am I to let myself by known by God.’  And finally the question is not ‘How am I to love God?’ but ‘How am I to let myself be loved by God?’” - 106, Return of the Prodigal Son

And, as his words are prone to do, Nouwen has stilled my heart, and brought me before the God that pursues.

I need do nothing to find God, only stop hiding.

I am loved and known by God.  His delight is upon me.  This is such great news!

He loves my quirkiness and my humor.  He delights in my feeble attempts to prove myself worthy, or intelligent, or (gulp) an adequate writer.  He finds immense pleasure in my laugh, and in my struggle.

My Abba is very fond of me indeed.

And He is fond of you as well.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Cru's most fruitful year of evangelism

A woman came up to D.L. Moody to air a grievance.  "Mr Moody, I don't like the way you do evangelism!"

"Well, ma'am, let me ask you, how do you do it?"  Moody asked.

"I don't," she replied.

"Well, I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it," Moody responded.

I think it is good and right and proper to question the way we do evangelism.  I believe that faithfully loving those that do not yet know Jesus means perpetually thinking and dreaming of different methods and manners in which to introduce them to the Lord.  How can we be more loving?  How can we be more accurate?  How can we allow the light of the gospel to shine into their particular cultural realities?

Yet for all that we plan, Moody is still right.  We must get up off the couch (or out of our office chairs or behind our desks or away from our cell phones) and actually engage people in real conversations about Jesus.  We must actually do evangelism, and not just talk about it.

That is why I'm so grateful to be a part of the organization that we are.  Cru has always been about evangelism.  Cru has not only always asked questions about how we can further reach people for the gospel, but we have actually gone out and done it.




These are exciting times, both to be a part of the body of Christ, and to be alive.  Would you thank God with me for this past year in ministry in Cru, and pray for further fruitfulness and courage to continue proclaiming the gospel.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A glimpse into our family -- and our motivation

Often our eldest child can be an absolute delight.  He is sensitive, caring and deep, and the kid just loves God.

Every so often at our house, both Noah and Leah go off and just play together quietly.  It's awesome, and always a welcome reprieve from the rowdiness that is common.  They will just go upstairs, get out their toys, and commence their game of "monster" or race cars or get out their trains or even just wrestle.  It's heart-warming and endearing to sneak upstairs and spy on them wrestling.  Such cute little people.  I often tell Melissa that "I just want to eat them!"  In the good way, of course.



Well, this particular day, Noah decided he wanted to do something especially nice for his mama during their upstairs play time.  She'll really appreciate a personal drawing, he thinks, that will communicate to her how much I love her.  Leah, uninterested in doing any such thing, just grabbed her dolls and entered into her own little world.

Noah finished his masterpiece, and brought it down to Melissa.

"Buddy, what is this?"

"I made it for you, mama.  I thought you would really like it."

"Oh, thank you!  That was so nice of you," Melissa said as she pulled him close for hugs and kisses.

"I have an idea," she continued, "let's dig into your halloween candy.  Awesome actions like that deserve some reward."  The smile that crossed Noah's face came immediately.

Well, Leah eventually finds out what has happened.  I don't remember but this probably happened by Noah saying something like, "Leah, I got 3 pieces of candy!"

So Leah began to plan.  Hmm, if he got 3 pieces of candy just for drawing a picture….

She went to work, and put together the nicest picture she could.  She sprinted downstairs, eager to show mama her masterpiece.

"Mama, look what I drew!"

"That's great honey.  Good job!"

"Where's my candy?"

Melissa tells me she paused.  I imagine she smiled knowingly.  And then she said something just inundated in wisdom.

"Well, Leah, I'm sorry babe, but we're not gonna get any candy."

"Why not?!  Noah got candy for giving you a picture!!"

"Yep, you're right, but listen to me.  You both made such beautiful pictures.  But Noah made a picture thinking of me.  You made a picture thinking of yourself."





When we do things for the simple sake of gaining reward, who are we truly serving?  When we serve God in order to avoid damnation, or gain heaven, or gain purpose, or whatever, is it truly about Him?

A gospel-centered life is a life that is moved to love God freely because of what he has done and who he is, as opposed to a life moved to action for reward.


PS - That story is absolutely untrue.  Though it does describe our family fairly accurately.


Friday, November 07, 2014

The Week's Best

Having been sick, it's shorter than normal.  Yet, here is the best stuff I've come across this week:

Ministry isn't fair ministered to me this morning.  I need to hear this often.

Here is a great word on authenticity in prayer.  Why not just let it all out there?

This video shows that, yes, a bowling ball and a feather do indeed fall at the same rate in a vacuum.  Watch it.  And praise the creator of gravity.

This article on what it means to be a "real" Christian is very good.  "There is a visible difference between real and not-real Christians.  It's not enough to say you're real; you should be able to see you're real."

Exercise makes you good at life.  "You're brain is a lazy piece of meat, but take a brisk walk and it lights up like a lite-brite."

4 Ways to Speak the Gospel to each other is a good, needed word.

And, did you think Superheroes were only imaginary?  Think again.  They exist in San Diego.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

How Miroslav Volf beat me up

I've just been punched in the stomach.  Seriously my insides ache.  Miroslav Volf is the culprit.  He has beaten me to a pulp.



In A Public Faith, Volf says this:

"Jews, Christians, and Muslims (as well as adherents of other world religions) have a common mission in the world.  It is not just to roll up their sleeves and collaborate in stemming the relentless and rising tide of human misery, whether that comes in the form of disease, hunger, violated rights, or a polluted environment.  The common mission is also to make plausible in contemporary culture that human beings will flourish only when the love of pleasure, a dominant driving force in our culture, gives way to the pleasure of love.  Different religions will disagree on how the transition from the love of pleasure to the pleasure of love can be achieved, and they will not see eye to eye about what a truly pleasurable love concretely means.  Yet together they can create a climate in which love of pleasure has been exposed as empty and in which a robust debate is carried on about the most important question of all: ‘What makes for a life worthy of being called good?’” - 145    

Why is this so hard for me to read?

Well, let's work through it.  First, Volf asserts that the world's major religions have a common mission.  First, let's help the hurting world.  But let's not stop there.
What we need to do is figure out how to stop and begin to change the rampant "love of pleasure" that is so dominant in our culture.  We need to cultivate a pleasure of love.

The distinction of loving pleasure versus pleasuring in love is a profound one.  And upon personal reflection, it's a distinction that has my insides wanting to be on the outsides.

Do I love pleasure or do I pleasure in love?  Well, one quick look inward at my heart reveals the truth.  I love Cavs basketball.  I love entertainment.  I love candy and cookies and ice cream.  I love games and tv shows.  In short, heck yes, I love pleasure.  I seek these things out and find ways to solidify them in my life.  I cringe at giving them up.

And I seldom take pleasure in loving actions.  I do them, occasionally, but it's rarely because of a delight in the act of loving someone.  I will give my wife a neck massage, but it's a service--not a pleasure.

Volf says that the world's religions "together can create a climate in which love of pleasure has been exposed as empty…."  And here again, when I reflect on the culture I'm creating even in my own home I pause and squirm.

Am I creating a climate in which my kids begin to believe that I delight more in loving them than I do watching a sporting event?  Do they see me gaze upon them with eyes of love and delight, with a look of joy simply in the act of loving them, or do they see me gaze vacantly at my iPad, immersed in some article or some game?
How can I expect them to grow up pleasuring in loving others more than they love pleasure if they have never seen it modeled?

I model a love of pleasure far more than I model a pleasuring and a delighting in love.

So, "what makes for a life worthy of being called good?"  Well, a cursory glance tells me that if I'm to have such a life I need to make some changes.

I want to begin to cultivate a delight in love, far more and greater than my love of pleasure.  What this means practically I'll probably need to dwell on further, but this desire is a start.

And I want to help create, not only at home but in every sphere of life in which I'm active, a culture in which loving actions and thoughts and words bring me far more delight than the simple and ultimately empty delight in pleasure.

What does this quote make you feel?  Can you relate with my guilt?

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Walking with God during a Cold

I am sick.

And I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired.



Seriously it's like my immune system has decided to forget how to function properly.  I bet I've had about 9 or 10 different sicknesses in the last 5 months.

When I get sick, I get whiny, as I'm led to believe most men do.  I also want nothing to do with human contact.  I prefer to sit in my bed, or the couch, and have literally no contact with homo sapiens.  Don't touch me, don't tend to me, don't ask me how I feel, just leave me be.  Well, on second thought, maybe bring me some soup or something?

This has me thinking about my relationship with God when I'm sick.  What does craving intimacy with God look like amidst sickness?  What does "walking in the Spirit" look like while ill?  How can I make my life count for something, all while running a fever?

I'm not sure I have a great answer for this, but I can share where I think I've landed in the process.

I really believe that a huge part of our intimacy with God, and thus ultimately our impact on the world, has to do with us just showing up.  Talking about our deep need to meet with God every single day is somehow both overly emphasized and neglected at the same time.

We hear often of the need to daily connect with God, or have our quiet-times, or our devotionals, or our date night with Jesus or whatever you'd like to call it.  But we also seem to brush that suggestion aside as a simple life-principle that will help us.  Have quiet-times with the Lord regularly, the thought goes, and you'll be a good christian.

But we run from that thinking because we don't ever want to be legalists.  Have you had a quiet-time today?  No?  Oh, it's ok, remember you're saved by grace -- freely! -- and so you don't need to worry about skipping some days.  We don't want our quiet-times to determine who are are now do we?

So when we're sick, we just excuse ourselves from any sort of discipline anymore.  Feeling bad?  Oh, don't worry, just lay around in bed and watch movies all day.  There is always tomorrow.

Yet I believe that it is in the midst of these moments when our true character is often formed.  To faithfully pursue God in his word, to attend to him in prayer, and to invite him into your present reality of vomit and chills is akin to training for a race.  The race is coming months from now, but it is those daily runs and those extra sessions in the weight room that will make the difference.

Life is not lived to the fullest amidst sickness.  But we can practice our discipline and habits despite it nonetheless.  I've had times when I was sick and could only just stare at my bible.  I remember once reading and re-reading and then re-reading one simple Psalm, and then literally not being sure what I even just read I was so drowsy.  But the practice is important regardless.

Clinging to God in the midst of sickness, or pain, or suffering is a habit that is true of God's people.  And it's a habit worth cultivating.

Join me in my wooziness in opening your bible and inviting the presence of the Lord.  It will pay off when ultimately far more than wooziness comes our way and we have trained ourselves to immediately and regularly call upon the Lord.


Monday, November 03, 2014

A family update




Bart has taken over the blog.  And I won't lie.  I kind of like it.  At least I know there's something useful on here.  Something thought provoking.  Profound.  Then there's my post.  Guess what I'm bringing to the table:
FINALLY.  This dude's tooth has been loose for like a month.  He didn't mess with it or wiggle it hardly at all.  He can't be my child.  But I'll still claim him.

Leah has been having a pretty rough patch.  I think it's some delayed stuff from leaving Venezuela and not having housing for those few months.  She doesn't want to stay in childcare.  Anywhere.  No matter how much she likes it or where it is or who is in it with her.  So we're trying to figure out how to help her.  I think it means giving her a lot of loving right now.  And helping her in whatever ways we can to assure her that she's safe.  We just have to be a little more creative right now.
Who says you need sand to bury children?

Overall, I think we're doing ok.  Not great.  Not terrible.  Still trying to find a groove.  School keeps us busy.  Our schedule keeps us busy.  Trying to figure out community and friends and play dates also keeps us busy.  Then there's Disney.  We can't pass up our year in Orlando and not visit Mickey as much as possible.
Bart & Noah enjoying dinner together at a birthday party

Leah & Heidi having cupcakes together

The weather has been cooler lately.  I'm talking about the weather.  Sad Melissa.  There has to be something more profound to talk about than the weather.  But really, it's kind of a game changer.  We needed pants and long sleeves the past 2 days.  Maybe even a jacket.  And for us Ohioans, it has brought all kinds of new life.  Bart and I were just saying how we feel excited and different and how it feels like fall.  Out of nowhere.  We're loving it.  Sleeping with the windows open (who cares if we let in those cockroaches?), busting out the long sleeves and listening to Christmas music (yes, it's time).  We haven't even carved our pumpkins yet.  Ah, minor details.
Toothless (from How to Train Your Dragon)

Aurora
And I can't forget my eldest...he always
wants to dress up for Halloween too
Bart had to be the life of the party for Halloween.  We went around our neighborhood and there weren't very many people home.  The kids were starting to get a little disappointed.  We were with 2 other families so there were 8 kids all together.  Well, Bart decided to really pull out the pirate act in his best pirate voice:
"Burn down the houses"
"Eat the children"
"Pirates aren't afraid of anything"
And so on and so forth.  This is all while knocking on doors.  This sent the kids in a wild frenzy of screaming and running.  They loved it and would wait for him to follow them and start talking like a pirate.  So even though it could've been bleak, the kids ended up having a lot of fun (and getting a decent amount of candy in the process somehow).

That's all for now.  That's all my brain can process at this point.  It's late and it's November.  How did this happen?!?!  In a few short weeks we'll be off to Ohio to enjoy some turkey and stuffing (and perhaps some people too).  And some legit cold weather.  Til then, we'll enjoy Florida.