Posts Tagged ‘family’

Tales of Equestria Starter BoxIf you come to a gaming, anime, or comic convention in or near Columbia, South Carolina, you’ll usually find me there running both Dungeons and Dragons Adventurers League and the Tails of Equestria RPG. Dungeons and Dragons is a traditional convention offering, but Tails of Equestria is not a normally offered game and some folks are intrigued as to why I choose to run the game.

There is a subculture of males who love just about everything there is to the My Little Pony cartoon franchise. There are even conventions and meet-ups dedicated to this subculture. These folks are often known as “Bro-nies” and so the first question is whether I’m one? I’m not. I love the message of the revamped My Little Pony series, especially as a father of young daughters, but I grew up on mecha anime, and that’s what I love. However, I do love the RPG.

The first reason is that the RPG teaches the fundamental message of the new series of shows and movies: the importance of friendship and building/maintaining healthy relationships. The game is built around that concept. The more your ponies (characters) live up to these ideals, the better you’ll do. Sometimes, the only way to get past something is because a friend helps you out. Just like in real life! When I say build around the concept, there are game mechanics, specifically the tokens of friendship, that emphasize being there for one another and for the non-player ponies and other characters you encounter.

Second, it’s a wide-open system. Imagination and role-playing take center stage. Games like Dungeons and Dragons and it’s related sibling, Pathfinder, can devolve more into roll-playing (rolling dice like a wargame) than role-playing. Dice are an important aspect of the Tails of Equestria RPG, like most RPGs, but they don’t ever rule the day.

Third, why role-playing is center stage, the system is detailed enough that hard-core tactical players have enough to take the edge off when it comes to combat and other challenges. I’ve had very tactical RPGers remark that they enjoy the options that the challenge system offers. Speaking of teamwork, when the player ponies gang up against an opposing foe, the “weight of dice” (rolling enough dice to get the result you want, even if the odds for any single roll isn’t very good) often carry the day. This is often the way it is in the real world and not only does it carry over in the game, but it emphasizes collaborating towards a common goal, even if it’s a short term one of taking out an opposing minion.

Finally, the rules are still light enough where it’s applicable to a broad range of ages. I’ve had games at conventions where adults are sitting down playing at a table with six and seven year-olds and they’re all understanding the rules, able to play, and having a great time. Tails of Equestria strikes the right balance where we have just enough rules.

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Because of the game time recommendation, we decided to do this session at the Columbia Riverfront Park in downtown Columbia.It’s a great place for a picnic, so that’s exactly what we did. We grabbed some fried chicken for dinner, enjoyed that as a family, then went and did game time at the park.

Game Time:

The suggested game time was to skip rocks along the water. The tie in to rocks is the episode during Bible Time is the first part of a two-part series on Saul of Tarsus. In this one we hear about the stoning of Stephen. We were up a little high to be able to skip rocks, so instead we changed it into a distance throwing contest. We used it as a time to reinforce the lessons one of my sons learned at STARBASE, a program put on by the Department of Defense to increase the knowledge and interest in science and engineering among youth. We applied Newton’s three laws of motions to describe why heavier rocks could go farther then the lighter rocks and talked about air resistance.

Bible Time:

For Bible time we got back into the minivan and headed home. It was getting dark, so it was time to leave the park and the time it would take to get home was perfect for listening to the episode of Adventures in Odyssey that went along with the lesson. This one was Saint Paul: The Man from Tarsus. In this episode we learn about the Saul we see in the opening of Acts, through Acts 9 where he is blinded on the road to Damascus and finally reaches his destination in the city, albeit still without his sight. Of course, this means that the stoning of Stephen is covered.

We talked about how Saul did some egregious things. He gave approval for the stoning of Stephen. He received papers and approval from the council in Jerusalem to go after other Christians in Damascus. The question of whether he is a good man or bad man is difficult to answer from one perspective, but no so difficult to answer from another. From the first perspective, yes, he did some horrible things. However, he was a very learned man, very advanced compared to his peers. He was driven to excel. Those are qualities we generally consider good. His pursuit to excel, especially when it came to matters of faith, however, led him to the crimes we remember him for, such as the stoning of Stephen. And that’s why in the first perspective you can see some good amidst the bad. But in the second perspective, the one from which God looks, we can find no good in him. We see this in the example of the rich, young ruler (Mark 10:17-29) who approaches Jesus and calls him “good teacher” to which Jesus responds that there is no one good except God alone.

And this led back to a discussion of grace and how none of us are deserving of it. Just as John Newton did not deserve it, neither did Saul. Nor do we. Yet God, in His mercy, offers grace through His Son Jesus Christ. While we may not understand why He offers it to each of us, Scripture reveals that He does. Men like John Newton and Saul also remind us that none of us are so bad that we cannot be saved, for in God’s eyes, none of us were any good to begin with. And that is the reason we need His Son.

Handbook Time:

The suggestion used was to gather smooth rocks and put words from the memory verses on those rocks. We chose not to do this. Rather, we all simply took the time to study our respective sections as one big family. For my wife, she used the book corresponding with the first year of Sparks. Awana has taken the time to put together Bible studies corresponding with Sparks (K-2nd grade) all the way through Senior High. My oldest is in Trek and we’re using the Roadsign series this year, and there are Bible studies you can download and use. The Trek series corresponds well, giving the parents suggestions on how to encourage and help their Trek clubber with their books in addition to allowing the parents to study right along side of them. So that’s what I worked on during Handbook Time.

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This Awana at Home lesson focused on the life of John Newton, the writer of the classic hymn, Amazing Grace (link goes to a performance by Haley Westenra). Many have sang that hymn and new nothing of its writer. In accordance with that focus, everything centered around the grace we receive from Christ Jesus as believers and followers of Him.

Game Time:

Game time this time was kickball, but with an interesting twist. Normally when the ball is kicked, if it is caught in the air before touching the ground, that’s an out, just like in baseball. This is often the great equalizer, especially with bigger kids, because they have a tendency to put the ball in the air. However, the twist was that for this version of kickball, if a child kicked the ball in the air, it would not be an out. Rather, it would be a do-over, and the child would get to go back and have another turn at the plate. Now my family isn’t big enough to play kickball on our own, so we invited over children from another family for this Awana at Home lesson time. It was a great game, lasting a few innings, complete with a walk-off double by one of the teams to win the game in the bottom of the inning.

Bible Time:

The Adventures in Odyssey episode was the one covering John Newton, which is told by Mr. Whitaker to one of the youth. It’s a powerful story. My children didn’t know about the method of impressment, by which the Royal Navy forcibly made men become sailors. If you tried to run away, you were caught and punished, which is what happened to John Newton. After the lesson, we also used this as an opportunity to talk about how the use of impressment by the English on American sailors was one of the reasons which led to the War of 1812.

After we were done listening to the episode, we talked about how God had changed John Newton and how it took some time. Though he became a Christian, he didn’t immediately give up being a slaver. The Holy Spirit worked on his life until he understood the evil of what he was doing. We discussed how even though we are saved by grace, there is still sin in our lives that we need to deal with. Some of it is long standing stuff like with Newton and his profession. But the Holy Spirit works on us as we can bear, bringing us to the realization of what is unholy in our lives. And that, of course, led into a discussion of grace.

We first talked about the rule in kickball and how that was an example of grace. By the normal rules, a catch should mean an out. It did for the adults, but not for the children. And that had a direct impact on the game. This is the way God acts towards us. Our sins deserve punishment. But His grace offers salvation instead. And we talked about how, just like John Newton, we weren’t worthy of that salvation. Even after becoming Christians, we would always have sin in our lives to be worked on. Therefore, we can never and could never say we deserve God’s forgiveness and reward. But yet He presents it to us. Again, grace in action.

Handbook Time:

The recommendation for handbook time was to work with each child to make sure they understood what the verses they were memorizing really meant. The study asked that parents spend time going over the difficult words and putting the whole meaning together before starting on memorization. I can’t recommend this enough and its something we often talk about during opening and closing ceremonies in our Awana program. We’re glad the clubbers are memorizing verses. But we want to make sure they understand those verses, too. So we ask them to take the time to ask their parents and their leaders to ensure they know what those verses mean.

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I first heard about this book at SQL Saturday #51 when I was talking with Joe Webb and Thomas LaRock. Joe was describing the basic premise of the book, which is that everyone has more to do than can possibly be done. As a result, someone is going to get less of us than they want. Unfortunately, too many folks choose to let the family take that hit, which is completely illogical (I’ll explain in a bit). Then Joe Webb posted a quick blog post about the book, so I went ahead and grabbed it and read it.

If you’re looking to get more efficient with what you do by looking at a program like Getting Things Done, you want to read Choosing to Cheat first. Part of the Getting Things Done system is understanding your priorities and goals. GTD has the same premise as Choosing to Cheat: you can’t do everything you want to do or that people expect you to do. So you’re going to have to make choices. Either you can consciously make choices which support your priorities, or you can be driven by whoever is screaming loudest right now.

Why should you read Choosing to Cheat first? Quite simply because it lays out things in a logical manner as to where our priorities are and where they should be. Right up front I’ll point out this is a Christian book written by Andy Stanley, son of Dr. Charles Stanley. And Andy does use Scripture to back up his points. However, he doesn’t just use Scripture. He uses great illustrations that get his message across, he argues logically why some of the choices we make are illogical, and why when we often choose to do nothing because we think that dealing with an issue will cause severe problems, what we’re forgetting is that by not doing anything, those problems come about anyway. Here’s an example:

Work and family compete it today’s world. We can’t give enough time to either one to fully satisfy one or the other. There will always be more work and there is always something else we can do to build our family, to grow our relationships with our spouse and children. So we’re forced to make a choice of how to allocate our time. We’re going to have to cheat someone, but who? For most folks, it’s easy to give work more of our time. However, this is an illogical choice. In today’s work environment, we may have a great boss and work for a great organization, but one change in managers or in the economy or whatever else you can think of can change everything. I’ve seen it in every civilian job where I’ve worked and so likely have you. So we can pour time above and beyond into our jobs where we could find ourselves out the door tomorrow. And that’s what a lot of folks do. Or we could pour our time above and beyond into our families, who generally accept us unconditionally, who aren’t going to put us out the door tomorrow on a whim (even when we think it’s a small issue that’s caused a schism, it’s usually a build up over time of a lot of little things… death by a thousand cuts, basically). And that’s where the logic hits home: why do pour extra effort into a relationship where we could be dropped tomorrow over a relationship that is unconditional and sustaining?

Now based on the title you might think that Andy Stanley is recommending you shirk work for family. That’s not the case. You still do your best. You still look to be as productive as possible. However, you make clear determination of what is acceptable and what is not. For Andy, even as a pastor of a church plant, that meant coming home at 4 PM every day because his wife, with two young children, needed him badly at that time. She had a full time job with the children and by the time 3:30 PM rolled around, she was about spent. She needed someone to spell her. So Andy made the hard choice, after talking and discussing with his wife, to be home at 4 PM every day. He wasn’t going to cheat his family any longer. But that didn’t mean he could leave off his responsibilities, either. It meant working better with others. For instance, he delegated some of his counseling to other members of the church staff. He made sure meetings didn’t him past the 4 PM time frame. That meant coordination and negotiation. You get the idea. He still had work that needed to be done, and he still had to figure out how to get it done without the “luxury” of throwing a bunch of extra hours at it.

Even if you’re not a Christian, this is a good “work-life” or “life-work” balance book to read. It helps one put things in proper perspective. And it gives real, practical advice on how to approach making the appropriate changes to reallocate your time accordingly. Most folks can’t go in and blindly tell their bosses, “These are my hours and you’re going to like it!” After all, we have a relationship with our bosses, too. There’s a way to approach our work superiors. Andy’s example is out of the book of Daniel from the Bible, but it is logical, it shows proper commitment, and it is respectful to all involved. Anyone can apply these principles to see if work is amenable to allowing a change to occur. And there’s also practical advice if the answer is, “No.” That’s reality. Not everyone is going to say, “Yes,” or even, “Let’s give it a try.”

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If you’re not familiar with Awana at Home, you can read my previous post introducing it as well as what was covered in week 1.

Bible Time:

Weeks 1 and 2 concentrated on the fact that Jesus is the only way to heaven. Week 3 focuses on sin. We mixed things up a bit and did the Bible time first. The Awana at Home program is flexible like this. In fact, you don’t even have to do all three activities on the same day. We have decided to keep them together and do them all on Friday, because it is time set apart for us to seek God together as a family.

This episode of Adventures in Odyssey was the Fairy Tal-e-vision, where several familiar fairy tales are given twists. In each one, the sin of the main character(s) become prominent, and of course, lead to their downfall. Most prominent was Shepherd Boy, known for crying wolf too often. If you’ve not listened to this one, it’s a fast-paced take on some old favorites (including Jack and Jill, Little Boy Blue, and Hansel and Gretel). After listening to the program, we talked about sin, about what sin’s punishment is, and about the fact that because of the grace of God, we don’t have to face that punishment. My younger son brought up Romans 6:23 as a reminder of what exactly God’s gift of grace is:

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NIV)

One of the points made in the episode is that in each case the sin of each fairy tale character affected more than themselves. This is often true of sin. The study leads into a discussion of sins that each child may have committed relatively recently (we told our children to come up with an example from the past year) and discuss who it hurt. Each one was able to do this except the five year-old, because, of course, most five year-olds don’t believe they’ve done anything wrong! We were able to give her an example of a recurring problem we’ve had with her about her not getting her way and how that sometimes costs her brothers an opportunity to do something fun, because we’re not going to reward her for her bad behavior. She had a hard time looking at her brothers, realizing the truth of the words.  Finally, we concluded on an example given in the study of a boy who covets a soccer ball, goes to steal it, and the consequences which result.

Handbook Time:

We deviated from the normal handbook time suggestion which was to write each word for a verse the child had to learn and to slowly mix it up more and more. If we were already in the handbooks, we’d have used the suggestion from the guide, but with us working through TruthScripts until the Awana year starts, we chose a different path.

We quickly went through the first four verses of Psalm 1 with each of the children and my wife saying a verse. This included the five year-old, who not only said verse 2 completely (and correctly), but helped on verses 3 and 4 as well. Five year-olds can memorize Scripture, you just have to challenge them. I then covered verses 5 and 6, every repeated them, and then when we went through and made sure everyone could say it without looking. Next week comes the test, when everyone will have to say all of Psalm 1 and we’ll begin on Psalm 23!

Game Time:

The recommended game was for one of the adults to write a phrase where a child commits a sin. For instance, “Mary told a lie.” And then everyone was supposed to turn that into a poem (a limerick was suggested) or something of that sort. Given that we have a younger one where that wasn’t possible for her to do, we instead chose to use the time to play a card game, one which my five year-old is surprisingly good at, though you have to read the cards. The came is called Zombie Fluxx, and like the other Fluxx games, the rules are constantly changing. The game went a lot longer than most plays, was entertaining, and was a good way to close out the night with the kids. My oldest won, but not before a lot of almost there opportunities by each player.

If you haven’t seen it, Zombie Fluxx is a spoof on the shambling zombie movies of old. The Fluxx series of games changes the rules constantly (how many cards you draw; how many you play; what you have to do, like groaning whenever a zombie shows up, etc.) and players can play cards which change the goal (how you win) constantly. There’s even a “nuclear” option called an ungoal, which, if accomplished, means nobody wins. That ungoal is where the zombies win. Overall, we’ve played Zombie Fluxx and Martian Fluxx and Zombie Fluxx is by far our favorite.

And with the end of the game, the kids got ready for bed, we prayed together as a family, and off to bed they went!

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Imagine if you were suffering from a fatal disease and you didn’t know how much time you had left. You had small children, one a baby less than a month old. That was the situation in an article about Leah Siegel succumbing to cancer. She fought the incurable disease for two years, trying to ensure her children would have memories of her, that she would have enough time with them.

My oldest is months away from turning 13. My youngest is 5 but we also have one more on the way. With respect to my oldest, I have about 5 more years to be a strong influence on his life before he goes it on his own. His brother is only 16 months behind him. Still, this story is a reminder that I’m not guaranteed these 5 or 6 years. I am not guaranteed tomorrow.

I am thankful that the boys have made spiritual decisions to follow Christ. I hope that their mother and I have served God well in teaching the boys that it is about more than ritual and Sunday mornings. Faith is required. Obedience to a standard that is different than the world’s is expected. But even saying all of this, salvation is an unmerited gift from a loving God, not something they can ever earn and certainly not something they ever deserve (none of us do).

But that further reminds me that every day is important. I am expected to lead my family. I am expected to be the example. I am expected to have the mind and heart and love of Christ for my wife and children. For my boys, I model the type of father they should be when they are adults as well as the type of husband they should be for their wives. For my little girl, I model the type of man she should look to marry. If I botch the model, I could lead my children astray. That weighs heavy on my heart.

My wife is the one I promised to my Lord and Master that I’d love and cherish until death do us part. He has commanded me to love her as He loves us. He went to the Cross for us to pay a debt we couldn’t cover. Talk about an impossible example! Yet that is my standard. That is what I must reach for. Christ didn’t take a day off. I can’t, either.

All of this and I don’t know how much time I have left. It could be up in an instant or I could live to a ripe old age and welcome my great, great grandchildren. I can’t worry about that. I have to face the fact that I can’t expect that I will have tomorrow to make up for a misunderstanding or a hurt I inflict today. I don’t have tomorrow to correct a mistake I’ve made. I only know that I have right now. And I must make the most of it.

But I know that I have fallen far short of this standard. It is so easy to lapse into the thinking that tomorrow will be there. It is just a small step to put off confronting my shortcomings and avoiding apologizing to my charges and correcting my wrongs. This story about Mrs. Siegel reminds me I have no such luxury. Then there is this devotional I wrote a few days ago. In everything I do, I must do in the name of Jesus Christ, giving thanks to the Father through Him.

I have a long way to go to be the father and husband God wants me to be. But rather than lament that I’m not good enough, I must seek to be better every moment. I must seek to seize each opportunity and make the most of it. This will be my earnest prayer for a long time to come.

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If you’re not familiar with the Awana at Home program, I gave an introduction and a recap of week 1 in an earlier blog post.


Week 2 has game time scheduled for the outdoors. As a matter of fact, handbook time is as well. Because there are three separate components, we can schedule them as needed:

  • Game Time
  • Handbook Time
  • Bible Time

Because it’s still hot here in South Carolina, we decided to move Game Time/Handbook Time to the end. That meant we started off with the next Adventures in Odyssey episode, which was part 2 of The Great Wishy Woz.

Bible Time

Of course, given that it’s a spoof on the Wizard of Oz, the gang heads off to complete a mission for the wizard. They accomplish it, in humorous fashion, and come back with the goods. That would be:

  • 52 books on philosophy
  • An ACME 5000 flamethrower (since the candles were needed)
  • A 6′ tall Valentine’s Day card
  • A compass that pointed in all directions

Yup, totally useless stuff. And of course, the wizard tells them to come back the next day when he might grant them what they want. The dog then sniffs out the imposter and you’ve got Dotty face-to-face that the whole thing was a farce. She finally decides to trust and listen to the Fisherman and she gets back home in true Wizard of Oz fashion (tornado). And that led into a discussion of John 14:6.

Basically the first two weeks introduces or reminds everyone that Jesus clearly teaches He’s the only way to God. There are a lot of others out there who will tell us something different, but there’s no mincing a proper translation of John 14:6:

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. – John 14:6, NIV

We discussed what he meant by being the way, by being the truth, and by being the life. Some things to think about:

  • Jesus led by example. He showed us how God expects us to live and treat others. Unfortunately, it’s a far cry from our actual practice most of the time. So the way isn’t just about the Cross. It’s about Christ’s whole example. Philippians 2 gives a good mindset.
  • Jesus is called the Word. He is Scripture made flesh. And if we hold the Bible to be anything other than truth, than that raises severe difficulties when it comes to agreeing on what we believe or even justifying what we believe. Think about the mess there would be if everyone picked and chose what they wanted to believe out of the Bible. Okay, so in practice that’s basically where we are.
  • We can try and grasp everything that we hear is great. For instance, we can try and chase all those crazy commercials that tell us we’re not good enough or that we don’t have enough unless we buy the product being advertised. But at the end of the day that won’t satisfy us. We’ll find we’ve been ripped off. Christ said He came to give life and give it abundantly. A life lived in Christ is supposed to be fulfilling and satisfying. But often we deviate from His path and direction.

We talked a bit more about this wonderful thing called grace. After all, Scripture makes it clear (Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, for instance) that we don’t deserve a thing good from God. Our sin condemns us to eternal punishment. Yet God sent His own Son to take the punishment for us and granted us mercy and forgiveness. He did it because He loves us. That’s grace. There’s nothing we can do to cause God to love us less. And there’s nothing we can do to cause God to love us more. He loves us perfectly.

Handbook Time / Game Time

With the day waning, the temperature had dropped to a tolerable level and it was time to move on. For week 2, these two periods are combined. Since we’re not in the workbooks yet, we plowed on to verses 3 and 4 of Psalm 1, as part of TruthScripts. We also reviewed verses 1 and 2. Now here’s what was suggested: everybody go outside and throw around a Frisbee. No biggie, right? Well, if you made an errant throw or you missed the catch, you have to say a verse. We basically went around verses 1 through 4 and started back on verse 1 again. By the time it got dark, we all had the verses down pretty well. This included our daughter, Kunoichi Princess, who is only 5. I had to say a couple, the boys more so. The girls were having their own little game, not sure what was going on there because there was an awful lot of laughing… not like us boys who were working on perfect throws and good catches. I guess that’s the difference between males and females.

Ending The Week

We had a good time listening to another adventure and delving into the meaning of John 14:6. We got a bit of exercise and some with the Frisbee and committed to memory Psalm 1:1-4. Next week we’ll add the last two verses and all of us will able to recite Psalm 1 from memory. We’ll make sure to follow up from time to time to ensure it stays there. But we’ve got a few more weeks before Awana starts back, so we’ll probably move on to Psalm 23 (which the oldest will have to say in two years when we get back around to the right book in Trek).

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