I am indebted | Part Two


And so our phone rang. The couple from church test drove the Vue and liked it. We looked as though we might finally sell it a full year after buying its replacement.

But selling it to someone we knew? That can be dangerous.

Back in our freshman year of marriage, DeAnne and I were involved in a car accident that claimed the car we owned free and clear. And so we punched some numbers through our budget and came up with the amount that we could spend on a used car comparable to the one we crashed. We didn’t have much, only $1000, but we thought we could get something dependable but ugly.

cavWhat we found was a 2001 Chevy Cavalier that had been in a rollover accident. The roof was dented a bit, but that was the only noticeable problem. After a test drive and a bit of haggling, my wife and I had a new used car, one that even had a CD player (something the car we were replacing did not). It was great.

For three whole days, it was great.

And then the engine blew. Our $1000 went out the window. I contacted the seller and complained that he sold us a lemon without disclosing any of the vehicle’s problems.

“Whose car is it?” he asked me.

“I bought it from you,” I responded. “You sold me a lemon.”

“It isn’t my car anymore. It isn’t my problem,” he said.

Even writing about it now raises my hackles. In any case, it wasn’t a good experience. Buying used cars is a crap shoot.

And now my wife and I were on the verge of selling one to people we know, people from our church no less. The best we could do was disclose everything we knew about the Vue. Unlike the kid who sold us the lemon, we had documents to back up every trip that the Vue made to the mechanic, every glitch, and every problem yet to be fixed. We encouraged the couple from church to take it to a mechanic they trusted before making a decision and gave them two prices: one that replaced the Vue’s battery and addressed a brake hose issue that lingered and one that sold it “as-is”.

They decided to buy it “as-is”, and they got us a cashier’s check for the amount we requested. And that amount just happened to the same (give or take a couple hundred dollars) as the payoff amount for our current vehicle loan.

I mentioned yesterday that the timing was a little too perfect, but I blathered on today and never got around to sharing my suspicions on why the timing worked out so well. So I guess you’ll have to come back tomorrow for that.


I am indebted | Part One

My wife and I have just successfully paid off the second of two vehicle loans that we’ve incurred since getting married. Technically, the first vehicle loan started just prior to our marriage, after selling the two-seat, manual, lowered pickup truck of my bachelorhood and getting the automatic, miniature SUV of responsible marriage-hood. But since we paid for that loan during the first full year of our married life, I’m going to count it. Once that first loan was retired, we vowed we would never again take out a car loan.

But then we did anyway.

2002_saturn_vue_4dr-suv_base_fq_oem_1_500As the vehicle for which we took out that first loan got more miles under its belt, we knew we should start saving up for a new vehicle. In fact, a mechanic friend told us that most Saturn Vues that he had seen had their water pumps die as they got close to 150,000 miles. Ours we probably around 145,000 when he told us this. So he advised selling it before it got to that point and letting the next owner deal with that problem.

But since the Vue was the only vehicle we had that could accommodate two car seats, we kept driving it. And sure enough, the water pump died. We were faced with a decision. Do we pay the money to fix it and keep driving it until the next problem pops up? Or do we get something newer and maybe a bit more fuel-efficient and sell the Vue AS-IS to someone who can make the fixes themselves?

As you might have guessed, we opted for the latter and bought a used 2011 Mazda 3 hatchback. DeAnne was driving about 60 miles everyday and we knew that the fuel efficiency of something smaller would pay off in the long run. And so we did the thing that we vowed not to do. We took out a vehicle loan.

Fortunately, we have good credit and we were able to get a great loan from a local bank. It was the same bank, in fact, that had loaned us the money for the Vue just before we got married. And like we did for the Vue, we planned on paying off the 5-year loan within 1 year of buying the car. This surprised our loan officer when we bought the Mazda (or the Mouse, as we call it) when he asked what kind of monthly payments we were hoping to make.

Of course, part of our calculations were based on the premise that we would be able to sell our non-functioning Vue for a certain amount in order to cover a good chunk of the Mazda’s price tag. And that didn’t happen.

2002_saturn_vue_4dr-suv_base_s_oem_1_500And so we went in deeper. In spite of the fact that we had just bought a vehicle to replace the Vue so we wouldn’t have to worry about fixing it up, we fixed it up anyway. The water pump on a Saturn Vue is in the worst possible place beneath the hood, necessitating that the entire engine be removed in order to replace the pump. And since the engine was out anyway, we had the mechanic put in fresh gaskets and such which would have been the next thing to go after the pump.

Having done all of this work, we added the cost of repairs to the original asking price, parked it by the side of the road, listed it on Craigslist and in the local paper, and waited. And waited. And nothing. The online listings lapsed and the Vue just sat there. Eventually, we parked it behind our house and forgot about selling it.

We were making our payments on the new car without the sale of the Vue and it wasn’t costing us anything, so we waited.

And then we got a call from my pastor.

“Hey,” said he. “Do you guys still have that Vue for sale? One of the families in the church just had a vehicle burn down on the roadside and they need a dependable family vehicle to replace it.”

The heavens opened and my wife and I rejoiced. Not because someone’s car burned up. That’s terrible. We rejoiced because the timing seemed to have little to do with us.


The Year Our Christmas Tree Rescued Bigfoot

Baker Book House has Christmas decorations up in the store. And while die-hard Thanksgiving fans will decry the early jump on Christmas as one thing less to be thankful for, retail stores like Baker like to get into the Christmas spirit a bit earlier than the average Joe.

And so I happened upon one of my co-workers methodically removing lights from a pre-lit Christmas tree.

“Never get a pre-lit tree,” said she. “If one bulb goes out, you lose a quarter of lights on your tree.”

“My wife and I have a pre-lit tree,” I responded. “In fact, we have a dead section of lights on our tree. It happened the first Christmas that we had our dog. The bad news is that he got a bit of a shock and we lost a string of lights. The good news is that he hasn’t messed with any Christmas tree since then.”

“Sounds like a mixed blessing,” said my co-worker.

Artist's MS-Paint Rendering

Artist’s MS-Paint Rendering

“It worked out even better for our hamster, Bigfoot. Shortly after my dog learned to respect Christmas, Bigfoot escaped his cage while my wife and I were at work. We found him that night in the only safe place in the house: directly beneath the Christmas tree.”

And so I think of Bigfoot whenever we put up our tree. We fill in the bit of dark space with a string of lights and we thank the Lord all over again for the time that our dog got shocked.

Now we just have to find something less potentially lethal to get our toddler daughters to leave the tree alone.

LOTR Audiobook Giveaway


Here’s the deal. The second installment of The Hobbit is due to hit theaters soon, so in honor of all things Tolkien, I’m giving away this audiobook CD box set of the dramatized Lord of the Rings trilogy. I’ll even throw in that Hobbit Lego Minifig.

How can you enter to win?

Simply leave a comment with the answer to this question: If you were a character from the Lord of the Rings, what race of character would you be and why?

And you need a refresher, click here for a past post on the different character races available. I didn’t include any of the evil races in that post, but feel free to identify with those as well.

The winner will be chosen at random and notified on Friday, November 22nd. Really good responses will be given two chances to win. Good luck!

Dream Big!

456px-Ferdinand_Bol_-_Jacob's_Dream_-_WGA02362A while back, I had this dream.

In the dream, I was contacted by a writer friend of mine that one of her books had been chosen for publication. I was quite excited for her, especially when she told me that the book was about how inspired she was by my life. My name was even going to be in the subtitle of the book.

Great exposure! I thought. This will definitely get me closer to a publishing deal of my own!

And then she told me more about her book. You see, her book was about how she was inspired by the fact that I could function normally in society in spite of how mediocre I was at just about everything.

I didn’t know whether to be honored that she would be inspired by me, or offended by what she found inspirational.

And then I woke up.

What’s going on in there, subconscious?

Life in Contradiction

This is the final post from my Breathe Conference 2013 experience, and covers the session that stood out most in my mind. Keynote speaker, Latayne C. Scott, spoke to us about the Rule of Three as it applies to writing, to faith, and to her personal experiences where the two have met.

Dr. Collins and Dr. Scott atop Tell el-Hammam, site of biblical Sodom

Dr. Collins and Dr. Scott atop Tell el-Hammam, site of biblical Sodom

Latayne is most famous for her book The Mormon Mirage which revolves around leaving the Mormon church, but she has written many more books than that one. One of her most recent books is Discovering the City of Sodom, which she cowrote with archeologist, Dr. Steven Collins. After mentioning her credentials as a writers, Latayne asked the question, “Is it possible for a writer to write under impossible circumstances?”

Shortly after agreeing to write the Sodom book with Dr. Collins, Latayne’s husband had some medical difficulties and fell into a coma. Doctors explained that the coma was of the type where her husband was aware of his surroundings but was trapped inside of his body with no way of reaching out. And so Latayne stayed with him in the hospital, even as she worked and wrote to fulfill her obligations to her publisher and her co-writer. She slept on a cramped sofa-bed and typed away at her laptop surrounded by notes, just waiting for her husband to come out of his coma.

Months passed.

The Rule of Three suggests that there is something inherently more satisfying about the number three than any other number. Many jokes have three parts (two parts to establish a pattern, the third to disrupt it). Fairy tales often feature three brothers, or three billy goats, or three of something. Experience itself is triadic, made up of the seen, the unseen, and the link between the two. And faith too follows this pattern as time and again God gives a call/promise, there is a contradiction to that call/promise, and there is a divine resolution.

In the Bible, Abraham is given a promise that his offspring will be more numerous than the stars in the sky (the call/promise), but he and his wife are so old that this seems impossible (the contradiction). But then, along comes Isaac (the resolution). Joseph dreams that his brothers will bow down to him (the call/promise), but his brothers sell him into slavery (the contradiction). But then, Pharoah needs a dream interpreter and Joseph gets a promotion (the resolution). It is a repeating pattern in faith and scripture.

It was as Latayne was sitting with him the hospital room, furiously working on the book that she felt she needed to write, that she had a realization. She was living in the contradiction phase of faith. Everything seemed against the possibility that the Sodom book was going to be completed. By naming the phase for what it was, it helped in being mindful of allowing God to provide a satisfactory resolution. And after months of writing and waiting, her book was finished and her husband started to show signs of recovery.

Is it possible to write under impossible circumstances? Yes, but only if God provides the resolution.

I am a socialite.


My dance card has been full as of late. With time being a precious commodity around my household, this has been a strange phenomena.

Last weekend, we finally caught dinner with some friends from my work with whom we had been trying to see for a while. This past weekend, we had over a couple from our church. And we have plans to go see a movie (in the theater!) with another couple from our church. When did we get so popular?

It seems like just yesterday that our girls were screaming throughout the night, preventing sleep, and making anything outside of even the basic hygienic needs of life impossible. But now our kids are older and less demanding of our time. Diapers aren’t constantly needing to be changed. For the most part, we all eat the same thing at mealtime. In general, we have reached the stage of parenthood where we can breathe a little easier.

My wife and I have been here once before. At the time, our daughter was one-year-old. She was sleeping through the night consistently, learning words, and mastering the art of upward mobility. Things were great. It was about that time that we decided we missed the sleepless nights and social deprivation that once were so prevalent in our lives and we started trying to have another baby.

This time around, we are choosing differently. We are going to embrace the social life that has presented itself on our doorstep and treat it like a real member of our family. We are going to appreciate the people who seek out our time and attention and try to see past the all-consuming vortex that is toddlerhood. We are going to breathe.

Just breathe.

The Value of Writing in Groups

I am a Weakling.

For those of you who don’t know, I belong to a writers group called the Weaklings. This group was created by a shared interest, then bound in the flames of the 3-Day Novel Contest. We began that first 3-Day Novel experience as friends and emerged as brethren. And we’ve been writing together ever since.

I know that some of my friends and readers are participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). For those of you who have thrown down the writing gauntlet this month, I have two pieces of advice.

  1. Write with other writers.
  2. Stop reading blogs and get back to writing your novel.

And since you are ignoring the second piece of advice, let’s expound upon the first.

Here are some of the advantages of writing in groups:

  • Writing can be a lonely time. It’s good to have humans around to remind you to be human.
  • It takes a lot less time to bounce a plot idea off someone in the same room. If you venture online to get your interaction, you are likely to get sucked into a social media vortex and lose hours on your novel project.
  • It is fun to shout out word counts and random times with other writers to spur each other on.
  • You are more likely to sit and write when you are surrounded by people who are sitting and writing. No one wants to feel like the outsider.
  • Other writers won’t judge you for asking advice on how to murder one of your characters. Other writers understand.

So for any local friends who are participating in NaNoWriMo, here’s a link to some gatherings in the Grand Rapids area. Don’t hesitate to go just because you don’t know anyone there. You’ll have at least one thing in common with even the strangest of them, and you’ll be ignoring their presence for most of the time anyway.

And if you aren’t doing NaNoWriMo this year, the rules still hold true for writers who want to get some writing done. I know how thankful I am for my fellow Weaklings. I hope all of you can find a group of writers like mine.