Searching for Something We Never Lost

AM Never Lost

There’s something magical about this turning of the calendar page, when the warm golden glow of December’s nostalgia makes way for the fresh white canvas of January.  It’s a time to reflect on life and your place in it.  Often, we use the blank slate of a new year to make new promises to ourselves.  We vow to make our waistlines smaller and our generosity bigger.  Resurrect our virtues and cast away the vices.  The air is pregnant with promise.

That is, until most of us crumble into a heap of miserable failure a few weeks later.

I’m only half-kidding. Statistically speaking, there are actually 8% of us who keep our resolutions the full twelve months.  Still, when January 1st rolls around each year, we commit to changing something about ourselves.   It’s a curious quest.  Given the dismal numbers, you may be wondering why we do this year after year.  What do we gain from this cycle of committing to a goal and failing, and what is it that we’re truly seeking in the first place?

A couple of years ago, our church’s discussion group was studying a book called “The Power of Enough” by Lynn A. Miller.  As my wife and I lay in bed one Saturday night, cramming for the next day’s class, she turned her gaze toward me and simply asked,

“What if we didn’t by anything for a year?”

I pretended not to hear her, but she kept talking anyway.

“I think we need to do something drastic to get back in touch with that’s important.”

She reminisced about the year we spent serving as missionaries in Guatemala and the deep feeling of connection we felt.  Not only a connection with God’s calling, but a connection to our brothers and sisters in Christ.  We lived with a Mayan family in a tiny adobe house. We earned just $230 per month.  Yet we had more than we needed.  The experience was so meaningful for us, that it spawned a family mission statement:

To tirelessly seek God’s will by living lives of integrity, owning what we have, growing in faith together, and serving all God’s people to create a world without need.

And this mission statement, born of simplicity and service, was now emblazoned on a $500 custom-made piece of artwork in our home.

Therefore, that January 1st began what we now call our “Year without a Purchase.”

Our challenge was not about saving money.  Instead, it was a quest to live with intention and reconnect with the important things in life.  To place a greater focus on relationships, and decrease our emphasis on “stuff.”  The rules were simple.

  1. We could buy stuff that can be used up within a year (food and hygiene products were OK)
  2. We could fix stuff that breaks, unless a suitable replacement is available
  3. Gifts had to be in the form of charitable donations or “experiences”

We chose not to tell our kids about our little experiment.  They were five and seven at the time, and we thought they could be our litmus test to see if we could live up to Jesus’ prayer in John 17 to live “in” the world but not “of” the world.  If we could make it through the year without them noticing, we would consider it a success.

Our friends, on the other hand, thought we were nuts.

On the surface, we agreed that our challenge sounded absurd, but not for the same reasons they did.  The truth is, 80% of the world’s people live on less than $10 per day. Our New Year’s Resolution is a daily reality for the majority of the population.  It’s likely that any family struggling to make ends meet would find it laughable or even insulting that some suburban, middle class family was “experimenting” with their reality.

Even though we have never been shopaholics, we did occasionally pop into a store and buy a new pillow for our couch, a small gift for a friend, or a pair of shoes to update our wardrobe. So this new way of living would require a shift in mindset for us, and we hoped this shift would be a constant reminder of how others in God’s kingdom go about their everyday lives.  Heck, it might even lead to more compassionate hearts.

The challenge was hard at first.  Like a smoker quitting cigarettes.  In fact, during the second month, I happened to step on a scale and found that I had gained seven pounds.  Apparently, anytime I felt the urge to buy something, I ate something instead. I was taking the “food loophole” to new extremes.

But it wasn’t long before we began to develop new habits.  I started exercising. We unsubscribed to coupon lists.  We limited exposure to media.  We started to treat stores like ex girlfriends, only driving by to see if they were still there, but never making direct eye contact. For twelve months, we did these things.

And we were failures.

According to our rules, we purchased three non-approved items during the year.  We bought my son a new pair of shoes, even though he had another pair that would work.  We bought my daughter a pair of swim fins when she remembered how we had promised her she could have them the previous year.  And we bought a vacuum cleaner instead of borrowing one when ours was broken beyond repair.

So then, back to our original question.  What did we gain from this process of committing to a goal and failing, and what were we truly seeking?

Taking a break from shopping gave us the space to think about what and why we purchase.  Sadly, I determined that many of the things I desired, like new phones or new clothes, were not things that would make my life easier or more meaningful.  Instead, deep down, I believed they would make my life more enviable.  Effectively separating me from those I professed to love.

I also found myself wanting to purchase things for my children.  I would fearfully ask, “What might happen if they don’t have this thing?  Will other kids make fun of them?  Will they think I love them less?  Will they feel left out?”  For some reason, I thought that purchases could bring them joy.  I thought that purchases could give them a sense of belonging.  I thought that purchases could be God for them.

That’s way too much pressure to put on a purchase.

We also learned the value of community.  We put more of our time, money and energy toward shared experiences.   Conversations with friends got deeper.  Time with family became more meaningful.  When things were broken, like backpacks and toasters, our friends would find they had extra and would give to us from their abundance.  And even though it wasn’t a goal of ours, we did save money throughout the year.  Enough to add to our retirement nest egg, and donate twice as much to charity as we had in years past.

To this day, we are more apt to ask “What function will this thing bring to my life?”  We also continue to place a value on time together as a family and focus on gifts of experiences.

But our biggest learning was this:

Prior to our challenge, we believed purchases might somehow increase our happiness.  But they didn’t.  So we changed our behavior, thinking that avoiding purchases would somehow bring happiness.  And we were wrong on both counts.

As human beings, we are constantly setting expectations for ourselves to become better people.  And this goes far beyond New Years resolutions to exercise more or spend less time on the internet.  We dream of what we might be when we grow up. We focus on career goals and financial success.  We chase images of parental perfection and harmonious relationships.  We desire to build legacies that live long after we’re gone.

And inevitably, in the pursuit of all of these goals, we will experience setbacks. The lost job.  The irreparable relationship. The missed opportunity. The broken dream.   And in these times, it is easy to feel like we don’t measure up.  It’s easy to feel worthless.  But it’s in these times that we must realize that in our single-minded pursuit of our goal, we’ve all just been searching for something we never lost.

The love of God.

It is planted deep inside each one of us.  The seed of our soul, where true joy is found.  Always there.  Surrounding us in success and failure.  Wrapping us in acceptance.  Whispering that “better” is an illusion. It is a love that fills us with hope. And peace. And grace.  Something no accolade or achievement can provide.

So whatever challenges you pose for yourself in this new year, may you always feel this love of God as an ever-present reminder that you were created in His image.

Failing and flawed.

Wonderful and worthy.

* This article was first published in The Church Times in the UK.  If you enjoyed this post, subscribe by clicking on the link at the top of the page.  Or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.  And, if you’re still dying for more, pick up our book The Year Without A Purchase, (ironically) sold on AmazonBarnes & Noble, or WJK Press.

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Are You A Christmas Liar?

AM Christmas Liar BWNOTE TO PARENTS:  If your kids are nearby, STOP READING!

I remember it well.  The first time my kid called me a liar.

I was rushing around the house, trying to get a bunch of chores done before my wife arrived home from a trip and saw the chaos that reigns while she’s away.  You know what I mean.  Kids wearing underwear on their heads.  Soggy paper boats clogging the bathroom sink.

Anyhow, my three-year-old stopped me as I was half-way out the front door and asked, “Daddy, come look at this picture!”

I replied, “One second, Jake.  I just have to get something out of the car.”

I walked to the driveway, opened the door, reached into the console, and retrieved my wallet.  As I approached the house, my son stood in the doorway, boiling with a white-hot rage that had previously been reserved only for that little plastic bubble thingy that forcibly sucks snot out of a toddler’s nose.  As soon as I stepped over the threshold, his eyes pierced my soul as he shouted.

“Daddy!  You said it would only be one second! You left… and I counted to ONE… and YOU WEREN’T BACK!  You’re a LIAR!”

So, after calming him down with a well-timed cookie, I did my best to explain the concept of a “figure of speech” to his tiny mind.  This proved only slightly more difficult than explaining how “yesterday, today, and tomorrow” works.  I might as well have just read him a bedtime story from a textbook on quantum physics.  Let’s face it, some things are just too hard to explain to children.  Especially the intangible. So, I left the conversation vowing to stick with the truth.

Which makes me a HUGE liar.  Because I break this vow.  All.  The.  Time.  And, unless you are one of the rare breed who sucks all the fun out of childhood, you probably do, too.

Forget for a moment all of our poor relationship choices, or those college memories that remain hidden behind a haze of smoke and suds.  We all know to keep those stories a secret until the right emergency presents itself, like a proposed elopement at age seventeen, or being on the receiving end of their one phone call during an overnight stay in the pokey.

No, I’m talking about the lies we tell on a regular basis.  The tooth fairy.  The Easter Bunny. Most of us parents create these fibs as a way to maintain the magic in a childhood that is becoming shorter and shorter with every generation.  The same holds true for that damned Elf on a Shelf that doesn’t actually stay on a shelf but miraculously moves every 24 hours like an escaped convict.

We tend to keep these charades alive until the first genuine inquiry from our offspring, when we spill the beans and tell the truth.  Once they back us into a corner, we sheepishly tell them that these things aren’t real, but are traditions to add a bit of wonder and majesty to life (the fairy and the bunny) and encourage good behavior (the elf).

But what about Santa?

For some reason, I think of the Santa differently.  I shamelessly stuff the jolly fat man into a box wrapped in half-truths and lies. Over the years, my kids have let their subtle curiosities slip.  “Daddy? How does Santa go around the whole world in one night?” or “ Why does all Santa’s stuff come wrapped in the same boxes I see in the store?”  And the biggie, “Is Santa real?”  So far, my wife and I have gotten away with dodging the question by asking “What do you think?” or making up our own White Christmas lies to explain the magic and avoid further inquiry.

And each time I do this, I wonder if it’s a Christmas cop-out.  I mean, if this Holiday is supposed to be about Jesus, then why do I as a Christian need Santa Claus?  Isn’t the Savior of the World enough?

Apparently, I’m not the only one asking the question.  If you search the web about the belief in Santa, you will find that some parents choose not to “do Santa” at all, for very spiritual reasons. For some, it’s about not wanting to lie to their kids (Don’t bear false witness).  For others, it’s about placing the focus on Christ during this church season.  Still more see that the Holiday actually has pagan roots, and is a sin, even going as far to note the common anagram for Santa is SATAN.

All of these people have solid (if not Grinchy) reasoning for dumping Kris Kringle.  Some argue that it’s best not to even start the tradition, believing that if they lift the veil on the Santa secret, their kids start to question everything else?

Are we really safe in our house?  

Will mommy and daddy always be here for me?  

Is there really a God?

So what do we do?  Especially those of us who are already a hundred miles down the Santa interstate?  My kids are now eight and nine, so they probably know more than they are letting on.  And I expect they will ask me again soon enough.  So, what will I say when they ask me if Santa is just a made up thing?

I’ll tell them the God’s honest truth.

Santa is a real guy.  Just like Jesus.

And that’s no lie.

According to those who spend their days researching this sort of thing, he was actually a man named Nicolas, born sometime in the late third century in the region now known and Greece and Turkey.  His family was very wealthy.  Unfortunately, his parents died when he was young, leaving his their inheritance.  Rather than hoard it all for himself, he followed Jesus’ words to the letter to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor.”

Throughout his life, Nicolas used his entire fortune to help the needy, sick and suffering, eventually becoming Bishop of Myra.  He was no rock star in a traditional sense, but Bishop Nicolas became known throughout the land for his uncommon generosity, his undying love for children, and his concern for the safety of sailors and ships.

But, not everyone thought he was such a great guy.  He also suffered greatly for his faith.  He was persecuted and exiled by Roman Emperor Diocletian for his deep, unwavering faith.

Sounds a lot like Jesus, doesn’t it?

While St. Nicolas was not the Son of God.  He was a child of God in the truest sense.  A man who walked this earth, yet seemed to be of another world.  A man who dedicated his life to serving others.  A man who kept nothing of his power and stature for himself, yet poured it out on others, washing us in kindness and compassion.  Filled with joy.  Doing good “for goodness’ sake.”

And nothing more.

Yes, some things are just too hard to explain. Especially the intangible.

This kind of selflessness is seldom seen.  But thanks to Nicolas, we now have a compass to guide us.  So every year, our Santa tradition shows us what being Jesus looks like.  Christ in our midst.  Tirelessly working for the benefit of others.  And for a brief moment each December, we pour ourselves out to friends and strangers through acts of service and generous gifts.  It’s a beautiful thing.  All fueled by an inner warmth of peace and joy, buried deep within for many months of the year, but now visible.

The light of Christ, finally tangible and accessible.

So when my kids ask if Santa is real, I will tell them this story without a hint of disappointment or remorse in my voice.  No, this will be a joyful revelation.   That they have experienced Christ’s love in the form of a beautiful tradition.  That it’s time we make them part of this not-so-secret club.  A hapless band of Christians that has finally experienced enough of this selfless giving that we can now be the magic makers for others.  Unseen.  Unheard.  Spreading Christ’s love in tangible, human form.  Face to face.  Flesh to flesh.  Human to human.

And then I will ask:

What is your gift?

Where is your chimney?

And who will receive this spirit you bring?

The choice is yours.

For Goodness’ sake.

* Enjoy this post?  Subscribe by clicking on the link at the top of the page.  Or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.  And, if you’re still dying for more, pick up our book The Year Without A Purchase, (ironically) sold on AmazonBarnes & Noble, or WJK Press.

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Dumping the Christmas Distractions

AM Dumping Christmas Distractions

If you’re anything like me, you’re hustling around like a crazy person this season, trying to get a million things done and make it to every event. For me, I curb my stress by eating everything in sight, which makes me so sluggish that I finally crumble into a sad ball of shame on December 24th when I give up on shopping and just buy a bunch of gift cards for all of my extended family. The latter causes my wife to lament that we’re only one step away from putting out no effort at all and simply creating a system where we negotiate a family dollar amount and just go buy stuff for ourselves in the name of our favorite relatives. I try and tell myself that it’s the thought that counts, but when I look at the Nativity on our mantle and see the little Baby Jesus in his uncomfortable, sneeze-inducing manger bed gazing back at me, his eyes seem to be saying, “You should have thought a little harder.”

While there are genuine moments of peace and beauty this time of year, we inevitably end up feeling harried and stressed, vowing that we’re going to do it differently next year. Two years ago, our family realized that we were on the great American Hamster Wheel to Nowhere, piling up stuff in the name of progress. So, we challenged ourselves to a Year Without A Purchase beginning on January 1st. It was a radical attempt to disconnect from our consumer side and try to reconnect with what’s important.

We learned a lot about ourselves during the year, and Christmas in particular gave us ample opportunity to try some new things to see if we could put more meaning back into the season. Below is a list of some of the traditions we started that year that help us keep the focus on Christ during the Christmas season.

By the way, it’s not our desire to add a pant-load of new tasks to your Holiday to-do list to add more stress. Instead, we hope this will be a conversation starter where others can share their own meaningful traditions, so we can all find something that fits perfectly for our own families.

Five Ways to Dump the Christmas Distractions

  1. Give Experience Gifts: All the happiness research shows that experiences bring more joy than things, as thy create memories that will last forever. These gifts can be as simple as baking cookies together or attending a sporting event, to bigger experiences like going on a family ropes course or taking a road trip together.
  2. Wise Men Gifts: We wondered, “If three gifts were good enough for the Savior of the World, it should be sufficient for our little snot factories, right?” My wife’s sister Amy turned us on to this tradition of limiting the number of gifts for the kids. It delivers a double-whammy of benefit in that it cuts down on Santa’s greenhouse gas emissions (lighter loads means less fuel) and allows us to tie in the story of the Wise Men to Santa’s gift giving (Note: necessities like toothbrushes and underwear in the stocking did not count toward the three gift limit in our house)
  3. Wrap a “Jesus Gift”: We make a list of charitable donations, service projects, and things we did to help others throughout the year. Then, we type them all up on slips of paper and place them in a gift box under the tree. On Christmas morning, we unwrap the “Jesus Gift” and the kids each read the items aloud. It provides a flood of good cheer for everyone and reminds us of why we do all of those things. Pro Tip: Keep the box in a visible spot all year t remind yourself to do stuff for others, and when you do, create the slip of paper right then and there.
  4. Give Charitable Gifts: Let’s be honest, most of us can hardly remember the gifts we’ve received from Christmases past. So, rather than shopping around and trying to find that perfect thing, use that time to go online and make a donation in someone else’s name to a charity you think they would support. Then, print the receipt and write a nice note telling the person what positive qualities they possess that led you to choose that specific cause for them.
  5. Serve Others On Christmas Day: Once the presents are unwrapped, it’s time to get out of the house. Advance planning helps if you want to serve with an organization (singing carols at a long term care facility or VA hospital, or serving meals for the homeless, for example), but some things can be more spontaneous, like randomly handing our cookies or snacks for people in hospital waiting rooms, or saving some of your charitable giving for random acts of kindness, like distributing secret envelopes of cash to those who have to work on Christmas day (airport cleaning crew, gas station attendants, Waffle House servers, etc.)

This is certainly not an exhaustive list, so please let us know what your family does to bring meaning and focus to the Christmas season. And, the simpler, the better! Because, during this time of year or any other, I believe best gift we can give ourselves is to let go of perfection. Deep down, no one truly cares if the dinner plates all match, or if the bow stays on the gift, or if a strand of lights is burned out. Life happens. And it’s what we do with life’s happenings that make them extraordinary. The spirit we bring to our everyday breath.

And this time of year, more than any other, we should take comfort in the fact that the Bethlehem innkeeper’s stable was not decorated by Restoration Hardware. Nope. It was an imperfect, chaotic, smelly mess. But here we are. Still telling the story 2,000 years later.

Joy-filled and grateful.

* Enjoy this post?  Subscribe by clicking on the link at the top of the page.  Or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.  And, if you’re still dying for more, pick up our book The Year Without A Purchase, (ironically) sold on AmazonBarnes & Noble, or WJK Press.

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To Fear

AM Fear Edited

It’s not you. It’s me.

I know how shocking this must be. We’ve been together such a long time. In fact, it’s been so long that I can’t even remember what life was like without you. Ever since the day we met, when I felt so abandoned and alone after coming out from under the long draping dresses of the clearance rack at TJ Maxx to find my mom had moved on, I knew something wasn’t right about you. But still, you somehow drew me in, wrapping me up like a warm blanket bound up with a thousand impossible buttons.

Secure and suffocating.

But don’t get me wrong. I’m not blaming you, Fear. You’re only being who you are. You are a magnet for emotion and I am addicted. Whenever I’m feeling complacent, you are the one who comes in and fills each crevice with fire. So raw and uncensored. Every moment with you is spent perched on the edge of the cliff with my toes hanging over a cavernous abyss. It’s frightening. And invigorating. And enticing.

And maybe that’s why it has taken me so long to see.

My toes aren’t really hanging.

The abyss isn’t real.

Because now I’m learning that’s what you do, Fear. You carve canyons where none exist. You dig holes to bury hope. I have tried and tried to recall a time when you built something of substance. Something that sustains and uplifts and inspires. But I can’t name a single one. I’ve even asked my wisest friends. The ones who know both of us well. And they all say the same thing.

“Fear never built anything.”

As I look around me, I see so much need.

Sinking ships.

Burning buildings.

Broken souls.

And I want to help. I want to dive in to the frigid waters. I want to rush in to the flames. I want to hold tight to my brothers and sisters and say with certainty, “It’s going to be OK.”

But I can’t. Something is holding me back. But let us make no mistake.

It’s not you. It’s me.

I can no longer cling to you. I can no longer choose you. It’s time to let go. Because I look around and see that the darkness that surrounds me is entirely of your making. It’s a void. Empty and lifeless. Paralyzing.

Until now.

Right now.

In this very moment.

I see it clearly.

Fear is just a character in a story written by Love.

When all seems lost, it’s Love who rushes into the fire. It’s Love who binds up wounds. And it’s Love who sings the songs of hope and peace that drift heavenward from the rubble of buildings destroyed by hatred.

So today, I choose Love.

I know it will be hard to say goodbye. But not to worry. I’m sure we’ll see each other from time to time, anytime crisis comes screaming across my calendar or my television. But let’s not linger long, shall we?

I have a lot of work to do.

* Enjoy this post?  For more, check out Scott’s book about the family’s Year Without A Purchase on Barnes & Noble or Amazon  (We know… dripping with irony…but there’s always the library!). And, to see more posts like this, submit your email at the upper right of this page to receive new blogs hot n fresh to your inbox.  Or, Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @sdannemiller.  Cheers!

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Of God, and Books, and Supermodels

When a supermodel calls you and asks you to talk to her about your book, it’s kinda’ hard to say no.  Even if you’re married.

Needless to say, my 90’s self was very excited when our family got invited for an interview on Tyra Banks’ new talk show, FABLife.  I think she was just trying to make up for the fact that she turned down every single one of my invitations to come with me to my senior prom.  Tyra’s got a heart o’ gold like that, ya’ know.

Anyhow, since our Good Morning America interview had all the God chopped right out of it (our entire reason for doing this crazy thing), we decided we’d mention the Big Guy on the Catwalk in the Sky as much as possible.  We weren’t sure if they would keep any of it, since the day our segment was taping, the show topics included “how nipples are now ‘in'”, “naked grilling,” and “foods to get you laid.”

In case you missed it, check it out here.  And feel free to contrast it with the edited piece on Good Morning America, and the live interview on MSNBC.

In the end, I think they kept the heart of the experiment, and we are grateful to the show for the opportunity.  And no, I haven’t washed my shirt since the taping of this show. (see below)  A special thanks to all of you regular readers for you shares and support.  The message (and the book about not buying stuff) wouldn’t be reaching a broader audience if it weren’t for you.  Peace to you and yours!

FABLife

* Enjoy this post?  For more, check out Scott’s book about the family’s Year Without A Purchase on Barnes & Noble or Amazon  (We know… dripping with irony…but there’s always the library!). And, to see more posts like this, submit your email at the upper right of this page to receive new blogs hot n fresh to your inbox.  Or, Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @sdannemiller.  Cheers!

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What Really Happened That One Time We Were On Good Morning America

AM GMA Thumbnail

I got an interesting call last Friday morning.

“Scott. It’s Stacie.”

Stacie is the marketing guru at WJK Press, the company that published our book. And she sounded very serious. Like, “Your-Mom_Is-Not-Really-Your-Mom-But-Is-Instead-Is-A-Poorly-Trained-Russian-Spy” kind of serious.

“Hi Stacie! What’s up?”

Then there was this awkward silence.

“I’m trying not to flip out… but we just got a call that Good Morning America wants to do an interview about the book.”

I laughed out loud. In a high-pitched squeal. Like I do.

“You have GOT to be kidding!” I was at once thrilled and skeptical, wondering if she was actually talking about some cable access knock-off of the original, only with a different spelling. Perhaps Good Mornin’ Uh-Merika with Harold, Joanne and some guy they call “The Cap’n”

“No, I’m not.” She answered. “Please tell me you aren’t out of town this weekend. They want an exclusive. With the whole family.”

As she was asking that question, I was busily packing a bag for our weekend church retreat. The one the kids talk about all year long. Our family camp. With bunk beds. And bugs. In the middle of nowhere.

Sadly, my first thought was, OMG, this is huge! We have to ditch family camp!” But then, my conscience spoke to me, (in my wife’s voice) and said, What would that say about you if you write a book about growing in faith as a family, and then crush your children’s family camp dreams by cancelling so you can go on national TV and sell a book about not buying stuff?!

I addressed Stacie’s request.

“Well, actually, we leave for family camp this afternoon and it runs all weekend. I can’t cancel. We might be able to do Sunday afternoon.”

Stacie started problem solving. “I’ll contact them and see if they can push it, but they really wanted to run the piece Monday morning. I hope it won’t be a problem.”

The rest of the morning was a back-n-forth blur, with schedules and questions and locations. Finally, we settled on a 3:00 interview Sunday, at our house. The “fixer upper.” The one that is completely torn up, save for the 800 square foot basement where we now reside. All four of us. With the kid’s mattresses on the floor. And bare wall outlets with no covers. It’s a lot like a movie set. If your movie is about the Apocalypse.

So we swept the floors in hopes that the gleaming tile might somehow distract from the live electrical wires protruding from the holes in the sheetrock.

We went to our kids’ school that afternoon, intent on leaving for church camp right after Jake’s “Punt, Pass and Kick” competition on the playground. As we waited, Audrey played on the monkey bars with the other children who were watching for their siblings compete. No sooner had I struck up a conversation with another parent when she comes running up to me, slightly whimpering.

“What’s wrong, honey?”

“I hit my face on the steps of the playscape.”

She was tired from a long day, and the tears came easily. I glanced down and didn’t see anything major, so I said, “You’ll be OK” and rubbed her head.

Two minutes later, Gabby walks up and asks,

“My goodness, Audrey! What happened to you?!”

Gabby turned my daughter’s face toward me to show me the red gash on her right cheek, surrounded by an ever-growing field of purple.

“Wow! It didn’t look like that a minute ago.” I said, guiltily.

We improvised, with Gabby shoving some ice cubes into an empty snack size bag of Cheetos to create a cold pack. Audrey held it to her face while the freezing orange-ish liquid mixed with powdered cheese dribbled all over her shorts. This only added some healthy anger to her already painful face wound. Poor kid. We prayed that the black eye would fade by the time the cameras and/or child protective services arrived on Sunday.

When we got to camp, we agreed not to tell anyone about the interview. For starters, the weekend was about community and togetherness, and we didn’t need to distract people from that. And secondly, the news cycle is very fickle, and we knew we could easily be bumped to the cutting room floor should Kanye West decide to enter the 2016 presidential race.

The weekend’s activities proved to be a welcome distraction, helping us focus on what was important. The workshop went well. Audrey played in the creek. Jake got to go fishing. We had a sing along on the porch. But the highlight was the big “Tailgate Party” celebration on Saturday night.

Dance music played while people chatted. The planners of the event even created a makeshift room out of tarps and bought in a bunch of black lights to create a “Glow Zone” for the kids. I dove right in, inviting a little girl named Maddie to paint me up with neon so I could enjoy it, too.

The adorable ten-year-old made designs on my arms. She decorated my forehead. She painted on hot pink lipstick.   I looked so good that I invited Gabby to participate.

“You need to go get your face painted so we can go in the “Glow Zone” together!” I prodded.

Gabby came up to me ten minutes later to show me her decorated face, adorned with polka dots, hearts and zig-zags.

She winced. “Mine burns a little,” she said.

“Really?” I countered. “Mine just feels kinda’ itchy.”

We both shrugged and went into the black lights so we could snap a picture.

As the night drew to a close, I went outside to the campfire to enjoy some quiet solitude and chat with friends and family. It was a beautiful, peaceful night. Then Gabby gingerly walked up and leaned in close.

“Ummm, Scott?”

“What’s up, babe?”

“This…” she said, looking very serious as she pointed to her arms and circled her face, “It doesn’t come off.”

“Huh?”

She was matter of fact.

“The paint. I washed. And scrubbed. With soap. And it DOESN’T.   COME.   OFF.”

My jaw dropped. I stared at her. Mystified. Like some mouth breather at a monster truck rally who has just seen his beloved Big Foot toppled by Truckzilla. Because there in the glow of the firelight, just a few short hours before we were supposed to be on camera in front of over 5 million viewers, my wife and I looked like this:

AM Glow Paint Before

Perhaps the burning and itching should have been our first clue that it was a bad idea to let a grade-schooler decorate our faces with unknown glowing chemicals the night before we were to appear on national television. There are reasons why they don’t usually put people like us on camera.

We both burst out laughing. I could hardly breathe. Snorting. Wheezing. Tears and snot were streaming down my face, yet failing to smudge the paint. Our daughter was covered in the same decor, too. Yet hardly drawing the eye away from that purple-pink gash on the side of her face.

I immediately went to the bathroom and did my best to clean up. Apparently, the itchy paint was more washable than the burn-ey kind, so my skin was relatively clean. Gabby? Not so much. This is her face after giving herself a Silkwood shower and sandpapering her cheeks with a makeup remover cloth. We’re not sure of the red spots are paint residue or simply raw flesh.

AM Glow Paint Gabby

The next day, we drove home to meet the camera crew. They arrived in a van that resembled an FBI stakeout team. The neighbors were probably suspicious, but we took comfort in the fact that they were probably happy that the law enforcement surveillance was distracting people’s attention away from the giant construction dumpster in our driveway.

Jordan and Steve introduced themselves. The sound guy and the camera man. They set up lights and microphones and who-knows-what in our basement while we did our best to distract the kids.

“Today’s interview will be by speakerphone,” Steve said. “Have you ever done a speakerphone interview before?”

“Ummmm. No. We’re kinda’ new at this.”

Jordan showed Gabby how to run a microphone cable up her shirt while Steve continued.

“Matt, our producer, will be doing the interview in New York. We’ll call him on my cell phone and put it on speaker. Then we’ll just set it on the couch between the two of you.”

Jordan chimed in.

“I’ll be sitting here,” he said, settling into a chair just a few inches from the camera lens. “You guys can look at me as if I’m interviewing you, but listen to the speakerphone. You’re going to want to look at the phone, but don’t do it. Just look at me and I’ll try and do some facial expressions and gestures to make it seem more natural.”

“Oh,” Gabby responded, with a laugh. “That won’t be awkward at all.”

“And make sure to wait two seconds after the question is asked before you answer.” He added.

“OK.”

“And don’t just give a one word answer. Speak in complete sentences.”

Just nodding now.

He went on, “And try to rephrase the question. But don’t just repeat the words verbatim. Mix it up a little.“

Sure. Both of us just looked at each other, awaiting the inevitable suckitude to come. Excited and mortified.

“You ready?” Steve asked.

He dialed the phone, set it down between us on the couch, and the interview began. Matt’s tinny voice burst firth from our laps. Asking us a full thirty minutes worth of questions. We did our best to answer as naturally as possible. Meanwhile, Jordan’s wacky facial expressions and gestures were strangely reassuring. Anytime I would see Gabby doing her “crazy eyes” (her term, not mine) I would signal her by squeezing her shoulder, which was our previously agreed upon secret code. And if I started hogging the questions (her term, entirely accurate) she would signal me by punching me in the solar plexus while the cameras rolled.

Luckily, only one of these things happened.

After the interview, we were instructed to “just do some regular family things” so the cameras could get some additional footage.

“What sort of things?” I asked.

Steve consulted his list, which included items like playing board games, baking together, and standing together on the porch and waving to the camera.

You know. Like we do naturally. All the time.

Out of desperation, I pulled the Spirograph out the closet, which we have played exacty zero times in the past six months. We also made a snack, forbidding the kids to eat anything unhealthy on camera lest we feel the wrath of America and Michelle Obama for years to come. And we played in the cul-du-sac, finishing off with our usual “hudlled-standing-group-goodbye-wave” which we have done at our house exactly zero times in the history of porches. The entire thing was captured on camera.

In the end, they chopped out all of the beautiful stuff Gabby said about faith and God and Jesus, and left in the stuff about shopping and saving. Still, they did a really nice job on the story and we are grateful for the experience. The best part was being able to share it all with family and friends. The one who have supported us through thick and thin. Our year in Guatemala. Getting back on our feet. Moving to Nashville. Not buying stuff. And now a book.

As our fifteen minutes of fame comes to a close (which was actually only two minutes and twelve seconds), we simply want to express our gratitude for you. And we hope we did you proud.

Peace to you and yours,

Scott & Gabby

* Enjoy this post?  For more, check out Scott’s book about the family’s Year Without A Purchase on Barnes & Noble or Amazon  (We know… dripping with irony…but there’s always the library!). And, to see more posts like this, submit your email at the upper right to receive new blogs hot n fresh to your inbox.  Or, Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @sdannemiller.  Cheers!

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The One Thing Every Mom Needs

AM One Thing Mom Needs

I got my first official email from a literary agent a few weeks back, which shocked the eyebrow hair right offa’ my face. I mean, the idea that my writing could be called “literary” is as absurd as saying Velveeta is made of “cheese.”

I just had to schedule a phone call.

On the day of our meeting, our two loud kids were at home, so I went to my remote office (A.K.A. the senior citizens lounge at my local YMCA) and found a quiet place away from all distractions. Filled with anxiety and doubt, I took a deep breath, dialed the number, and prepared to sell myself as a writer.

Only I didn’t sell myself at all.

Instead, the agent spent a thirty solid minutes saying things like:

“Your writing is so… accessible!”

“You voice is one-of-a-kind, it just has to reach a broader audience.”

“You have an unmatched quality of blending humor and spirituality. So talented.”

By the time I got off the phone, I felt like my ego had been kneaded by angel wings and polished with the tears of Rainbow Brite. As I sauntered through the YMCA, I gazed at the faces of the senior citizens gathered for coffee and saw awe and wonder in their eyes.

It was a really good phone call

When I arrived home, my wife was on the couch. There was no awe or wonder in her eyes. There was, however, a pile of unfolded laundry in her lap.

She asked, “How was your meeting?”

I burst forth like a raging river, sharing every last word with her.

Accessible.

One-of-a-kind.

Talented.

 

As the story came out of my mouth, I realized something. Agents are paid to say stuff like that. Their whole job is to make me think I’m awesome so they can negotiate for me and make me sound even more awesome to other people who don’t even know me. But somehow – miraculously – that fact didn’t make me feel any less awesome about myself. I know this because I still had a giant grin plastered on my face.

Meanwhile, Gabby just stared at me.

Without a grin.

“That’s nice. While you were getting showered with compliments, your son told me I was the worst mom ever. And your daughter didn’t eat the breakfast she specifically requested. Because I didn’t prepare her waffle the right way. A $#%#& waffle! Apparently, I am too incompetent to toast an Eggo and pour syrup on it.”

I was rendered mute. But she continued.

“Agent.” She scoffed. “You know what I need? I need a MOM AGENT.”

And then it hit me. My wife is a genius. Her off-handed comment could likely be the genesis of most amazing job idea in the history of the Universe. The one thing every mom needs when she’s trapped in the whirlwind of chaos, stress and doubt.

A MOM AGENT.

Just imagine…

Mealtime/Bedtime/Pottytime Negotiations

Those without children may be asking themselves, “Who the heck needs to be coaxed into doing something that comes naturally to every living soul on the planet?!”

Tiny people, that’s who.

Never again will you pull your hair out trying to cajole your children to eat, sleep, or poop. Now, the MOM AGENT will handle all proceedings, using whatever tactics are currently admissible by common parenting literature. Including, but not limited to: corporal punishment, bribing with tiny pieces of candy, guilt, locking doors from the outside, or outright manipulation.

Daily Affirmations

Motherhood is known as the most thankless job on the planet. For that reason, our MOM AGENT will be present during the routine parts of your day, uttering those words of appreciation that kids rarely share until you are on your death bed. Things like, “I love how you are always there for me. So accessible.” Or “Boy Mom, your ass-wiping is one-of-a-kind!” And “This frozen waffle has an unmatched quality of both toastiness and sweetness.” And let’s not forget, “How in the world did you catch my puke in your bare hands without puking yourself! So talented!”

Mom-to-Mom Public Relations

All moms know that worst part about being the maternal unit is standing up to the barrage of silent judgment from other moms. The good news is, the MOM AGENT comes with a built-in “Side-Eye Alarm” that activates anytime someone looks at you in a scrutinizing fashion. For example, when your kid has a complete meltdown in the housewares section at Target, the MOM AGENT will be dispensed to the troubled area to distract the other moms by placing a “Clearance” sign atop a rack filled with new arrivals so you can discipline your child without being watched like an episode of SuperNanny.

Damage Control/ A.K.A. “Fetal Position Rescue”

All moms have been there. That moment when all hell is breaking loose at home and you have three choices: 1) line up every small person in your house and “slap ‘em into next week”, 2) pack a bag and buy a one-way ticket to Who-The-#%$^-Cares, USA, or 3) lock yourself in the bathroom, curl up in a ball on the floor, and scream and cry like you’ve just had your entire body scrubbed with a cheese grater.

Lucky for us, you crazy moms choose #3. Every. Time.

When this happens, the MOM AGENT will be on hand to usher your children into a room on the other side of the house, give them a pre-approved snack, and put on a wholesome TV show. Once the kids are extracted, the MOM AGENT will hug you, tell you how awesome you are, feed you unlimited pints of ice cream, and babysit that night so you can go to book club where you can drink wine, laugh ‘til you snort, and tell your stories to a bunch of girlfriends who really get you.

Moms, as you’ve been reading this, you may have heard yourself saying, “Yes!” Or maybe even an “Amen!” Out loud. In front of a computer. Which makes me feel both satisfied and sad.

My satisfaction stems from the fact that these words might give some of you some comfort. Some realization that you are noticed. And even, perhaps, understood.

But sadness comes from the fact that lots of moms struggle. And dad’s, too. (I’ll lump myself into this category. ) Constantly wondering if you’re doing a good job. Or simply an adequate job. And the inner doubt is so strong that it sometimes takes external validation for us to realize that we really are serving our families in a meaningful way.

But the doubt is real.

So today, my prayer is that we might be MOM AGENTS for each other. By ditching the Facebook stories of perfection and sharing our struggles and “fetal position moments.” Loud and proud. And offering a listening ear. Or words of encouragement.

Because there is a God voice inside each one of us saying “You are enough”. But sadly, that voice often speaks in tones that are far too quiet for our bustling households. Drowned out by the crying and the whining and the worry.

It’s in these moments that we must be His hands and heart. His AGENTS. Encouraging, supporting, and speaking this truth.

That there is honor in the struggle.

Excellence in the effort.

And forgiveness for mistakes made along the way.

* Enjoy this post?  For more, just preorder Scott’s book about his family’s Year Without A Purchase on Barnes & Noble or Amazon launching August 4th from WJK Press (We know… dripping with irony…but there’s always the library!). And, to see more posts like this, submit your email at the upper right to receive new blogs hot n fresh to your inbox.  Or, Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @sdannemiller.  Cheers!

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