On the Origin of Dwindle


Dwindle is a great word and appropriate for the final post of the year, but it isn’t a word you would hear everyday. So for those of you who may not know it already, it means to become less, to decrease, to diminish. It speaks to a supply of something that is coming to its end.

See why it’s a good word for the end of the year? But where does it come from?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, dwindle is a “diminutive form of Middle English dwinen “waste away, fade, vanish,” from Old English dwinan, derived from dheu, which means “to die”. A bit morbid, eh?

But I like the fact that it is a diminutive form for death, because death in its full power is a frightening thing. Words like dwindle help us deal with death in bite-sized pieces. It is the dimming of the lights rather than being cast into sudden darkness.

Let’s use today to put this past year to bed. Share with someone the best and worst parts of the past year and then put those things away. After all, a new year is coming.


The Newest Ghost in our House

It’s always a bit freaky when kids tell you that they are afraid of ghosts. I mean, did they just see one? Is my house haunted? Why haven’t I noticed anything before?

When our two-year-old told us the other night that she was afraid of the ghost in her room, she was pretty inconsolable. It took a while to figure out that she was remembering part of “The Lego Movie” and she was identifying her nightlight as a ghost now. The part in “The Lego Movie” wasn’t even that spooky. Certainly, it wasn’t enough to truly terrify a child, right?

Judge for yourself.

See? Not all that scary.

But try telling that to a screaming two-year-old. Reasoning with a frightened toddler just wasn’t working. No matter how many times we insisted that ghosts aren’t real and that she had never been frightened of her nightlight before, she just wasn’t having it.

So I tried a different approach. I went along with her. I told her that we should pretend that the nightlight is a ghost, but we were probably frightening it with all of our screaming. We should really just say goodnight to the ghost.

And that’s what we did. She laid down, let me cover her with blankets, and together we said “Goodnight ghost!”

No more screaming. Just sweet dreams.

I am a bigger fan of a book with a witch protagonist than a lot of Christian books.

I realize that’s a long title. It also may be a bit shocking to my Christian readers, especially considering the fact that I am a Christian.

9780061340802The book series that I’m referencing in the title is the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett. The first of which is Wee Free Men.

So what do I like about Tiffany Aching that I don’t like about most Christian books? Personal responsibility.

In Pratchett’s Discworld books, witches are the nurses/midwives/judges/wise-women of the community. They are the ones that will do what needs to be done, regardless of whether it is popular or not. They visit the sick, feed the poor, and help the helpless. Let’s be honest, if Jesus Christ was born on the Discword, there’s a good chance that he would have been a witch.

But the thing about Tiffany Aching, even among the other witches in her world, is that she will never pass the buck when something is her fault. She accepts the responsibility for her actions, for her mistakes, and for her ignorance.

I think one of the most dangerous aspects of Christianity is in the ability to pass off responsibility to other people or to God himself. It is too simple to say that some horrible thing is acceptable because it is God’s will that it should be that way. We avoid helping people because God is probably punishing them for some sin in their life. And the thing is this: I can’t say that God’s will isn’t for bad things to happen or for people to be punished for their sins.

But using God’s will as a cover for avoiding personal responsibility only reinforces the belief among atheists and agnostics that Christians are more concerned with their comfort and their appearances than they are with the people we were called to reach.

So if you want a good book series for your kids to read that will encourage them to love other people as God loves the church, find a Tiffany Aching book and embrace your inner Discworld witch.

Being Thankful at Christmas

My wife’s family has a tradition before opening gifts. After the nativity story is read from Luke 2, we go around the circle and say something for which we are thankful.

Though the practice may be more traditional at Thanksgiving time, I like that we do it at Christmas. It is a nice balance to the fact that Christmas is not about the presents that we’re about to open, but a celebration of thankfulness for the best gift that was already given.

As we went around the room this year, my 4-year-old eldest daughter chimed in that she was thankful for Mommy and Daddy. It made me feel pretty great even if she did say it quietly and when someone else was already talking. But when it got to her actual turn, she changed her tune.

The_three_Magi_(Balthasar,_Caspar,_Melchior)“I’m thankful that everyone got me a present!” she shouted with glee.

Though she may have said that simply to be funny, I think it was a real thing for which she was thankful. I just hope she’s also still thankful for her mom and me.

By contrast, our 2-year-old daughter gave this answer to the question of what she is thankful for:


Maybe she was echoing other people who had said something similar. Maybe she was giving the stock “Sunday School” answer. Maybe it was a genuine answer and she’s just more spiritual than me. In any case, it was a good thing for which to be thankful.

I’m not trying to say that one of my kids gave the right answer and one of them didn’t. After all, I think it is great to be thankful for all things, including when we get presents. And I think there’s a real danger in echoing spiritual answers without fully understanding or believing them. It was just funny that the answers given by my kids spanned the spectrum of what we are told is the point of Christmas.

I’ll tell you what I’m thankful for. I’m thankful for my wife and for the opportunity to raise our kids together. I’m thankful for the insight into my own thoughts and motivations as reflected by the words and actions of my kids.

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas, and I hope that you are thankful too, whatever you got or didn’t get.

7 Ways to Make It Feel Like Christmas (Whether It Looks Like It or Not)

I’m not dreaming of a white Christmas. I really hate shoveling snow. So I’m not all that bothered with the unseasonably warm temperatures we’re experiencing in Michigan now. But it is a bit hard to feel like Christmas without snow.

Fear not. Here are 7 things that we can try together in order to recaptures some of that holiday spirit:

  1. Close the curtains (we don’t need the reminder that it isn’t white out there) and put on some Christmas music.
  2. DSC01436Adjust your thermostat and wear a warm sweater. The uglier and more Christmas-y, the better.
  3. Drink something festive: hot cocoa with a candy cane stir stick, mulled wine, or (if you must) eggnog (which is gross, not that I’m judging you).
  4. Watch a Christmas movie: White Christmas, A Christmas Story, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Home Alone (the original only, no sequels), and Elf are all acceptable choices.
  5. Make a miniature snowman out of marshmallows, pretzel sticks, and M&Ms. I’ve never done this, but it sounds like a lot of fun.
  6. Grab your nearest Holy Bible and read Luke 2 over and over until you can recite it by memory.
  7. Call a friend or family member if you aren’t capable of being with them in person.

Hope this helps. If you have other ideas to get into the Christmas spirit, leave them in the comments!

Merry Christmas Eve!

Finding & Filling a Need with Your Writing

Elliot_LOL_150SoldREV0512.inddI remember sitting in the sales meeting where Baker Publishing first mentioned the Laugh Out Loud joke books by Rob Elliot. Sandwiched between presentations of Amish romance novels and deep theological text books, was this joke book. It was unlike anything else in the catalog.

There were confused looks around the room.

And then the company president stood up.

“You may be asking yourself why we are publishing a joke book for children,” he said. “Well, not too long ago, one of our sales people approached me and told me that if we published a clean joke book for kids, we’d make money on it. So, we’re going to give it a try.”

The sales person in question was Rob Teigen, and it was him who collected the jokes, pitched the idea and got it published under a pen name. Why? Because he saw a need in the marketplace. Sure, there have been other joke books published. But what Rob noticed was that joke books sell and there was room for another one.

And guess what. It paid off. A lot.

Here’s an excerpt from an article published in the New York Post:

It sounds like the usual setup for a knock-knock joke: Who is the best-selling author on all of Amazon.com this holiday season?

Rob Elliott. Rob Elliott who?

Yet it’s no laughing matter for Rob Teigen, a father of five in Grand Rapids, Mich., who, under the pen name Rob Elliott, currently owns the No. 1 and No. 2 spots on Amazon.com’s best-selling book list, outpacing such hits as “Unbroken” and the latest from Bill O’Reilly.

Did you pick up on that? He currently owns the No. 1 and No. 2 spots and Amazon’s best-selling books, ahead of Unbroken and national celebrities.

How did a salesman become the author of the top two books on Amazon? He saw a need and he filled it admirably.

Whether you consider yourself an author or not, maybe you know of a need to fill. What are you doing to fill that need? Do it well and you might just wind up on a bestseller list too.

I am (possibly) raising a sociopath.


The other night, my family decided to snuggle to a movie and the girls picked out Finding Nemo. We’ve seen the movie as a family before, but it’s a good film.

I think the fine people at Pixar used the opening of Finding Nemo to test a theory that they later went to perfect with the opening of their movie, Up. Make the beginning of the film sad.

If you’ve seen Finding Nemo, you know the scene that I’m talking about. Marlin the clownfish is bragging to his wife, Coral, about the ideal location of their new home on the edge of an ocean drop-off. They show the hundreds of fish eggs that will soon hatch, half of which will be named Marlin Junior, the other half Coral Junior, and one named Nemo.

Everything is fun and games and glorious rapture until disaster strikes. A toothy, evil fish knocks Marlin out cold and feasts upon Coral and clownfish caviar, leaving only one damaged egg. Nemo.

Here’s the scene if you have a couple of minutes to watch it:

We gain insight into the family dynamics that govern Marlin’s over-protective nature and fear of losing another loved one. We understand Nemo’s defiance and desire to prove himself capable in spite of his “lucky” fin. It’s beautiful story-telling, if somewhat heartbreaking to open the movie on such a blue note.

But as we’re watching this scene as a family, snuggled onto the loveseat in front of our computer, my wife and I silently contemplating the loss of each other and our children with tears poised behind our eyes, our 2-year-old daughter begins to laugh.

Full belly aching laughs.

“He eats the fishies!” she shouts cheerfully.

I’m hoping that she just didn’t understand the scene. I hoping that she doesn’t think that it is funny when family members are eaten or killed.

Anyway, if I all the sudden stop blogging, you may want to ask my 2-year-old where to find my body.