In case you didn’t know…

…we’ve started a family blog that talks about life and our upcoming ministry. If you don’t know what it is, message me at bt @ this domain. I’m trying not to connect them online. I’ll use this blog personally to write some, but probably won’t put a lot of ministry updates from here on.

Lighting

312ASZ KITOne of my favorite lights is this LED panel. It’s small but bright, has complete color temperature adjustment from 3200k-5600k, is dim-able, is battery-powered (mobile), comes with everything you need, and is pretty cheap! One of my friends who teaches filmmaking recommended this to me and I’ve never regretted it. The only thing I did regret is purchasing the two Bescor panels that I did, instead of two more of these. The quality of these is much higher – the look and feel is solid.

You can mount this light on a hot-shoe mount for run-and-gun shooting, or on a tripod for static light. The diffuser is magnetic and snaps right into place when you need it. There is also a car charger included, so if you need to re-juice your batteries on the run, you can.

This won’t replace studio lighting, but these are great if you want to add lighting to your setup and/or you need something that is mobile.

The Best Point & Shoot Cameras

It seems like everyone is a photographer these days. I’m glad because I love pictures (still and motion). If you’ve ever looked into getting a more serious camera than what’s on your phone, you know it can be overwhelming. The market is really changing right now, and while I am no where near an expert on the subject, I do enjoy reading and keeping up with these things. So, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts. First up, point and shoot cameras…

There are three things that seem important with this line of camera: 1) size, 2) cost, and 3) performance. We want something that fits in our pocket, doesn’t break the bank, and takes great pictures (without us having to learn about shutter speed, aperture, a exposure compensation). You can go to Best Buy or WalMart and find plenty of choices in the sub-$200 market that accomplish the first two requirements.

But what many of these pocket-snappers fail to do is take good pictures. If you’re outdoors and the sun is out and there are no shadows around, they work well. But throw in a diversely lit scene or moving subjects (especially the fast ones…aka, children), and the camera is a total letdown.

So here are three cameras that are still not uber-expensive, but will actually perform in a way that will not only satisfy you, but actually make you giddy at times (at least that’s my experience when I see some of the sample pics). Technology is making it easier and easier to take great photos!

Fuji-Film-x10First up, the FujiFilm x10 will soon be replaced by the x20 (available the 28th of February). This means you can either wait and get the latest and greatest in the x20, or you can get some great deals on a 2-year old camera that is still better than most cameras in the point and shoot category coming off the shelves today. This review, by Ron Martinsen, is a good place to start (he named it Point and Shoot of the Year for his use). DP Review gives it their Silver Award (this is THE go-to site for camera reviews, IMHO). Ken Rockwell calls it “a superb point and shoot” in this review, saying it has a great zoom lens and works well in low ISOs (for a point and shoot). Of course, when you compare any point and shoot to the image quality and/or features of a larger compact (like the Fuji x100 or even the full frame Sony RX1) or DSLR cameras, you’re going to be wanting. But that’s the whole point – this camera will fit in your pocket!

Panasonic-DMC-LX7Second is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7. As a cameramaker, Panasonic has not been well known (except in the video realm, like the GH3, and higher end pro cameras). I’ve used two Panasonic cameras and was pleased with both. One was a predecessor of this camera, and at that time, it was one of the best point and shoots I had seen. Now, the LX7 is out and reviews like this one call it “as close to perfect” as they have seen for a compact. DP Review gives it a 75 (silver award). It’s less expensive than the other two cameras in this article.

Sony-RX100Third, the Sony RX100, was named in Time’s 25 best inventions of 2012. It was this review that really sold me on it. Ron Martinsen, a pro, gave this camera to his wife. Seeing a non-pro capture some amazing photos is the evidence that this is a camera that gives people what they want in a point and shoot – good pictures with little-to-no work. I realize that sounds lazy. I don’t think that is really what people want – to be lazy and get great pictures. But most of us are not professional photographers, and never will be. So cameras like these three help us out a lot. Steve Huff calls the Sony a “marvelous piece of equipment.”

All of these are pull-out-of-your-pocket-and-click cameras. All shoot full 1080p HD. All offer some creative control. All have great glass in their lenses. You’d be happy with any of them. Click the pictures or titles of each camera to shop.

Home For Christmas

We’ve been on the road nearly every weekend of November and into December. This past Sunday we were back at our home church and watched the girls participate in the children’s musical. And we’ll be home through the end of the year, which is nice. We look forward to time with family and time to just breathe a bit. We probably need to get the oil changed and tires rotated too.

One of the joys of visiting a different church each week is watching your kids learn and adjust to a new environment and group of peers every Sunday. It’s a joy, and it’s also a pain. Awkward pain. But to see them learn and grow from it is exciting because we know this will mark the future for them. This is how they will live – continually meeting new people and learning to develop friendships more quickly than most. It also involves learning how to trust.

You can pray for our kids. They’ve got quite a series of adjustments in the coming months and years. And pray for us too. We don’t talk about it as much with adults, but I don’t know that it’s a whole lot easier for us.

Getting There

First, let me apologize for being horrible at blogging. There are simply too many things competing for my time so that this always get pushed to the back burner, or my brain is shot.

I received a phone call today from one of the leaders of the partnership for where we are going. It was deeply encouraging for at least two reasons: 1) he’s just a very encouraging pastor, and, 2) he kept saying, “we really need you there.”

We have been tearing up the road and continue to do so. Lots of visits is a good thing, although very tiring. It can be a bit emotionally draining as well because decisions aren’t immediate. There’s lots of waiting.

We still have a long way to go and we need help in connecting with others. If you have ideas or you’d like to host us in your home, a small group, or work with leaders in your church to have us come and speak – please, please do so! Let us know. We’ll come!

The Next Level

It’s time for us to move to the next level. I don’t know what that looks like exactly. I’m not even sure I know the level is or if we’re not already halfway to it. But our lives are certainly morphing into what I guess is more of the life of our future. Okay, if those few sentences didn’t weird you out and/or cause you to tune out, thanks for hanging with me.

I remember when I got out of the military. It took some time to adjust not having the restrictions, as well as not having the perks, that come with military life.You had to remind yourself, “That doesn’t apply any more.” That’s the only thing I can think of relating this time. We’re not in between anything. We’re kind of in both our current life (job, church, school, etc…) as well as in our future life. It makes me think of the Kingdom language, “now and not yet.”

We’re quite anxious to get to what God has called us to. We think and talk about it daily. We get asked about it by others. And our answer seems to be the same. As do our newsletters. Maybe even blog posts. Groundhog Day!

And yet, when I feel the weight that comes with this “now and not yet” time – the yearning to be there both physically and experientially - I must remind myself that this, this moment right now, is part of the journey. This is what God has called us to. Being part of the way. Still having our normal life, being at 28% of our support, doing daily stuff here – this is part of the journey.

We are very encouraged by the overwhelming support we have received. So many people have encouraged us, are praying for us, and even supporting us. Thank you!

Our next step is to get to 70% support so we can attend our final training. This is a big next step and will involve more transition. We can’t get there without going through the hear and now. So pray for perseverance, for grace, and for focus.

Upcoming Travel

Leslie and I both have some upcoming travel that we’d love for you to pray with us about. I’m avoiding providing specific dates since this is public, but please pray in the coming weeks as we each head across the oceans, in different directions.

Leslie will be attending a gathering of women colleagues who are working in our part of the world. They are meeting in England as most are on that side of the pond. This will be a critical time for Leslie to get to know others, be encouraged, and learn a lot. Two ladies on our immediate team will also be there, so this will be a key time for them as well.

A day before she returns, I head out over the Pacific with my job to lead a vision trip to southeast Asia. I’ll be in several countries with lots of regional travel over the course of 10 days. We will also be conducting a retreat during which I will speak. Please pray for our time while we serve. I would selfishly ask for prayer for the travel part. It is going to be exhausting and my bloodsugar likes to play tricks when I travel in this fashion. Please pray for stamina.

And while you’re praying, please remember our support team. We have a goal to reach 30% by September 30th. Please pray for God’s provision.

Things Break

Things break. It’s almost inevitable. I guess that is why we admire the few things in life that do last. I seem to see this most clearly in mechanical matters. I’ve often joked that I don’t have a mechanical gene in my body – that when I, the youngest of four, came along, the gene pool was empty.

So in the past few weeks, in my vain attempt to save a few dollars on auto repairs, I have attempted a few very minor repairs myself. Very minor. And of course, each ended up with me breaking something. The first was the rear window wiper on the van. It was dry-rotted and no longer working. I bought new wipers for the front and rear and successfully changed the two on the front. However, as I was attempting to change the rear, I snapped the whole arm in half. That cost me $60 to repair. It should have been under $10 for just the wiper blade.

I’ll spare you the details of trying to change the air filter this evening. My point isn’t to bore a reader who might stumble across this. What this all reminds me of is my own inadequacy. I’m not mechanical. Every time I try, something ends up broken. Every time I attempt to save us money, I cost us more.

This inadequacy is minor when compared to the many inadequacies I so easily dwell on as I think about our future. I only seldom question God about the where and the when. What I am usually questioning Him about is the “why me?” And it’s not the pitiful, “Oh, why me?” It’s more the, “What in the world are you going to use me for? How can you use me?” I do really wonder about this, especially when I think of so many people better-suited, or so many lacking skills that would certainly make me more effective.

And I know the verses. God uses the meek, the humble, to shame the wise. He uses the shepherd boy who certainly can’t beat the giant professional solider. And yet, he does. This is not to make much of the shepherd boy, but to make much of his God. And that is where I have to end up on this whole “I can’t fix things” conundrum. I really can’t fix things. And I don’t have to.

Today we had a yard sale. Les really worked hard for several weeks to make it a success, and it was! We liquidated quite a bit of stuff, made more than I imagined we would, and the kids were helpful and seemed to enjoy the process. We’re also moving along, now at 17%. But we only have a month to make it 30% (our goal is 30% by September 30th). So pray that others would come alongside and thank God for those who have.

Look! It’s Quick

We’ve created a page called “Quick Connect” to give people a short-and-sweet way to get to the 5 most common things we think you might want to do. Click here to see it.

Part of that new page is a way to pledge to us online. Nothing to mail in now. Just a quick and easy form. Click here to see it.

We have set a goal to be to at least 30% of our monthly needs by September 30th. Of course, we’d love to be to 50%! Consider pledging today!

What It Means to be Debt Free

Tonight we had Leslie’s folks over, along with her grandfather, to eat a home-cooked meal comprised of mostly food from the family garden. It was delicious. But the big highlight of the evening was our family announcing to them that we are finally out of debt. We all yelled, “We’re debt free!” (Dave Ramsey style).

It has been a long journey. Ten years ago, when it was just three of us, we became free of debt for the first time. We thought it was hard then. I guess it wasn’t easy, but it surely wasn’t as difficult as the second time. Oh, and we swore then that we would never go back into debt. Never.

But life happened. A lot happened. Some of it might make for a good novel. Okay, probably not. But there was a plenty of sin, including our own sins as well as the sins of those against us. There was deep hurt, the feeling of betrayal, eventually hopelessness and despair. In three years’ time, we were not only back in debt, we were buried. It was three and a half times our annual income. And it was all bad, bad debt (no school loans or mortgages).

One of the ironies was that this all occurred during our time in seminary. I remember swiping the credit card to pay for groceries, diapers and more than a few rounds of antibiotics for kids’ chronic ear infections. And while swiping that card I actually prayed, “Lord, you’re going to have to make this up later.” Yes, I really did that. It didn’t sound foolish at the time. It seems so now, though. At a time when I was so steeped in God’s Word my first reaction should have been to pray. I should have prayed more. Oh, how I wish I had prayed and watched God provide. Instead, I took things into my own hands.

When we left Birmingham we were desperate and in despair. We stopped going into debt at that point, and we did start to pay off our debts but we were in no way “gazelle intense.” Leslie wanted to be and in some ways, she was. But without me being on board it was nearly impossible. Then came her cancer diagnosis. Our crazy life went to a new level of crazy. Everything was flipped upside down. And for a year we focused on getting Leslie well. It was after that year that I finally agreed to attend Financial Peace University, a course taught by Dave Ramsey, the first part of which deals with eliminating debt. That was when things really “clicked” for me.

We began pouring everything against this incredibly large sum. It never seemed to move. Life happened. Doctor bills. Car repairs. Clothes and shoes wore out. Life. We’d backslide some, get distracted or discouraged, but then (by God’s grace) we’d regroup and get refocused. For me, a big part was listening to the Dave Ramsey radio show (via podcast). That was what re-focused me. I’d come home from a trip after ODing on Dave Ramsey and I think it must have sent Leslie into shock at times. She must have wondered, “who is this guy?” Of course, it came out more like, “This is what I’ve been saying!”

As we kept working at it we did start to see movement. Not too long after we saw the total amount begin to move we got momentum. Now if I could think of another “M” word I’d have a nice alliteration, but I can’t. We kept at it and kept at it. I worked as much as I could through the web business and doing my old job for the seminary (developing distance education learning materials, i.e. editing video). Every night that I could I would go downstairs and work. Leslie did amazing things managing the household, all while working. She remained thrifty, even when I wanted to splurge. The kids became more aware of the burden and more aware of our effort to get out from under the debt. It was a full-on family affair.

So tonight, when we told the kids, they were ecstatic. I’m not kidding (no pun intended). They were jumping and laughing and hugging. We then explained that we weren’t rolling in the money now because we just lost more than half of our income (Leslie ended her teaching career), BUT we were ABLE to give that income up because we are now debt free. The kids won’t understand the value of their mom being home with them now, but one day they will. The weight that has been lifted off of the entire family is truly incredible.

So what does this mean for us? It means Leslie can now be home. It means I can work my extra jobs less and eventually eliminate them. It means we can do things like a family in the evening and on the weekends (like normal families!). It means I can focus on ordination and I might be able to find some time to exercise now. It means we’re one step closer to getting to the field. It means no more chains!

What it doesn’t mean is that is frugality ends for us. More than ever we have come to understand the importance of stewardship. It doesn’t mean we’ll be buying things (we’re actually eliminating as much of our stuff as possible as we prepare for our future). It doesn’t mean we can quit working hard. But it is a different kind of life that is before us now.

One thing we’ve shared with a few people was that we did struggle with tithing. We never stopped but we did wonder if we should. If we had we certainly could have gotten out of debt more quickly, or so it seemed. But we didn’t quit and I would encourage anyone in debt not to give into this temptation. Trust God by tithing.

There’s so much more to this story, but this post is longer than a book now. So I’ll stop writing with this: we thank God for His incomprehensible grace to us in the past several years. He never left us. He lavished upon us so many good things we didn’t deserve. He used family and friends to graciously help and encourage us. He provided. He is Jehovah Jireh!