T.J.B.L, or How Hard Could It Be

If it takes a big man to admit he’s shouted belligerently at an instruction manual or a YouTube video for being a bag of filthy lies, then I’m that kind of big man. T.J.B.L- Those Jokers Be Lying.

How to Replace a Dishwasher, How to Lose Weight, How to Put Together Your Kid’s Toy, How to Build or Do This Thing in 10 Simple Steps- It all looks so easy when someone else is doing it.

Donnie’s Law of Calculating How Hard Something Will Be In Real Life: Estimate how hard you think it will be and then multiply by 5. A two minute instructional video equates to two hours actual work time. If the video is twenty minutes or longer, just cut to the chase and hire a professional. If supplies are needed, then plan on three to five trips to the store.

None of my home improvement projects go according to plan. Sometimes they end in sewage being sprayed across my home and my loved ones. None of my children’s toys are put together as easily as the instructions would lead you to believe. Those projects typically end in bloodshed. Either I have the worst luck in the history of mankind, which is possible, or there’s a fair bit of editing happening behind the scenes.

Everything looks easier than it really is when I try it. We live in an online world, and millions are uploading, and Tweeting, and FaceBooking, and it all looks so easy. Life looks easier when others are doing it. Those herpes medication commercial jokers are living it up and having the time of their lives at the beach, and here I am shouting at an instruction manual. Either I ride the shortest of all the buses, or T.J.B.L- Those Jokers Be Lying.

Matthew 7:14 (NLT) “But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.”

It’s easy for me to get discouraged. But then again, here I was spraying sewage all over myself and the house trying to unclog a toilet, and that jerk on the YouTube video was sprayed by not one feces. I mean, how fair is that? Here I am using super glue to stop a cut from bleeding, and not one mention of bloodshed was mentioned in the instruction manual. What gives? Why are there never any ‘Have a Bandaid handy’ warnings on any instruction manual?

Even Christianity looks easy when others are doing it. “Man, that guy just PRAYS…or that joker is always serving…or wow, they are really talented…or man, it seems like they never sin.” It’s never that easy when I try it. It’s ugly, and bloody, and painful when I try it.

If you feel the same way, you’re not alone. G.K Chesterton once wrote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” I want to encourage you today that if life seems difficult, maybe you’re on the right track. If walking and living for Jesus seems difficult, maybe you’re on the right path. Jesus said it would be hard. Don’t give up. Don’t get tripped by how easy someone else makes it look. Don’t give up. Keep pushing. Keep bleeding. Keep praying. Keep struggling. There’s life. There’s the life that’s promised by the only One who can really give it.


Sunshine and The Hippie, or Throw It In the Wash- It’ll Be Grand

“What in the world am I even seeing?” I asked aloud, though no one but me was in the car. You never know what you’re going to get into with our family.

My daughter is sunshine. Everyone who meets her basks in her light. She loves. She hugs. She shines so bright. She gets it from her mom, an undercover hippie if ever there was one. You leave the two of them unattended, and all bets are off. It’ll be like the videos you’ve seen of hippies dancing at Woodstock. Smiles, dancing, and ‘peace, man,’ and flowers, and as in this case- mud.

It was a warm morning. We were in West Virginia visiting my parents. I left church a bit early to run a quick errand, and was heading back to pick up my girls.

“Oh…wow. Just wow,” I said as I pulled into the parking lot. Our daughter was just a toddler at the time.

When our daughter was little, we dressed her in little dresses and put bows in her hair. She was wearing these little white tights and this cute little baby girl dress with shiny black shoes that now seem impossibly small. How can feet start so small?

Last I saw her, she was pristine. And now, there was so much mud. Splattered, caked, frothed. Mud was everywhere. Her dress. Her hair. Her little baby white tights. Are her shoes…yep, shoes are on in the mud. Imagine if you will, a Sammy Davis Jr style tap dance extravaganza put on by my baby girl while standing in a mud puddle. My wife was standing off to the side, smiling, beaming. Imagine that. Little hippie sunshine baby is dancing in the mud and hippie momma is standing in the sunshine, happy as a clam.

1 John 1:0 (NLT) “But if we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”

No biggie. We cleaned her up, put her dress and tights in the washer, washed out her shoes, and that was that. No muss, no fuss. Too easy. Every time I pass by that church parking lot, I think of my baby girl dancing in the mud.

I’ve been muddy. Man, have I been muddy before. But, it was no big deal for God to clean me up. Man, He’s still cleaning me up. I don’t mean to minimize the seriousness of sin, but only to highlight the ease at which it can be wiped clean by the blood of Jesus. Oxyclean doesn’t have anything on the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus. It didn’t overwhelm God. It didn’t surprise Him, really. We washed Kaili, and she was good as new; God washed me up just as simple, and just as easy.

You may mess up this week. You may be super muddy already. Let me assure you that washing your sins away isn’t too hard for God. He hasn’t given up on you because you got some more mud on your clothes. He’s invested in you. He’s in for the long haul. You just have to confess and let Him do what He does. He’s responsible for the cleansing; you’re responsible for surrendering to him, and getting back up and trying again. You can do it.

Jet Pack, or I Was Vaporized By a Five Year Old

“What do you want for Christmas, baby girl?” we asked.
“A jet pack and a real Jeep,” she replied. True story.

“Well, baby, I don’t think jet packs really exist, and you’re too young to drive a real Jeep. Don’t you want something else? And even then, Santa can’t afford all that,” I replied.
Logic, suckers. This is what I’m good at. This was my out. You can’t drive. Santa can’t afford a real Jeep. The dream and magic of Santa lives on for another day. Jet packs aren’t even real. This parenting thing? I’ve got this.

It was a trap. It was a Star Wars level ‘that’s no moon, it’s a space station’ trap, and I walked right into it. Vaporized.

I’ll never forget the look on her face- a mixture of victory, pity, and of being disappointed in my level of Santa Clause understanding.
“Santa has elves. So, he doesn’t need money. That’s what the elves are for. And they can make anything,” she replied. In true ‘drop the mic’ fashion, she finished me off with, “And Mommy can drive the Jeep until I’m old enough.”

Just like that, I was sunk.
‘Uh oh,’ I thought. ‘She’s smarter than me. Oh, man. We’re in trouble.’ Red lights and warning sirens were firing off in my brain. ‘Danger! Oh, man. Danger!’ I was yet again in a bad spot.

She was maybe five years old at the time. Only five. I mean, at that age, we’ve got a long way to go. If she’s smarter than me when she’s five, I’m sunk. Hang it up and just hand her the check book. You’re done here.

‘Ok, quick. Think of something.’
“Uhhhhh,” was the best response I could muster.
‘Stupid brain. Why aren’t you working?’ I looked at my wife. She looked back at me. A twinkle in her eye. Was it fear? Or was it joy at the prospect of driving Kaili’s new Jeep for the next ten years? Panic. Sheer panic. She’s only five. Can’t kill Santa. Must have answer. Must save Christmas.

Matthew 7:8,11 (NLT) “For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened…11 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.”

We changed the subject. She may have outwitted me with her mastery of Santa logic, but five year old children have the attention span of a Chihuahua in a park full of squirrels. What else could we do but change the subject? I was outwitted by a five year old, and Jamie was already picking out what interior options they would get on the Jeep. I dodged the bullet.

Don’t get me wrong. I want to give my kids amazing presents. I want to give them good things. I’m not a great present picker outer, but I’m a fantastic online present buyer. I like buying presents online. The world is at my fingertips and can be delivered to my door in two days.

But not all gifts are good, and not all good gifts are good at the time. A real life jet pack would be an amazing present for a professional stuntman or pilot, but not for a five year old. A Jeep is an amazing present, but not if the cost involves having to get a second job to pay for that joker and missing out on being with your family.

I look back at all the things I’ve asked God for over the years, and I’m thankful that many times He said no. Sometimes he said, “Not now.” Sometimes He said, “Oh, yeah big boy. Here you go.” And it was amazing. As we close out this week, I wanted to remind you that your heavenly Father digs giving you good gifts.

I want to encourage you to go big. Go jet pack and a Jeep level big. Ask, seek, knock. Ask- Is this good? Seek- Is this His will? Knock- Lord, can I have this? Trust- He loves you, and He’s given His word to give good unto you. I hope He gives you something good this weekend. And if you get a jet pack, hook a brother up!

The Worst Gift Ever, or I’m a Caveman

I gave her a bag of rocks as a Christmas gift. True story. I have to shake my head just typing it.
‘A bag of rocks, Don? Were you ran over by the short bus? Were you often dropped on your head as a child?’

I’m not entirely clear on what I was thinking. In my defense, they were uncut emeralds, but yeah…it’s…no…it’s just awful. I am not a great gift giver. A bag of rocks is a gift a cartoon caveman would give.
‘Me give pretty rock. You girl. Me like girl. Girl take rocks.’ It was an honest to goodness bag of dirty rocks.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. In my mind it made sense. It was romantic. But if you’ve read more than one of my blogs, you can probably see where the foundation of ‘making sense in my mind’ is a strange foundation to build upon. One minute you’re building on top of a concrete slab, and the next minute that slab turns into chocolate chip cookies and the theme song to The Dukes of Hazzard starts playing.

My wife and I were newly married. And I have to stress that in my head it was super romantic. I imagined it as one of those stories she would tell our grandchildren about: Grandpa was one romantic stone cold fox. That was the dream. The reality was a hairy little caveman presenting a bag of rocks for a Christmas gift. A bag of rocks that I spent way too much money on, nonetheless.

She was kind, gracious even. And, let’s get real for a second. I mean, she chose to marry me, so somewhere in the back of her mind she knew that a tame and normal man I am not. She knew what she was getting into. Left to my own devices, I am a mongoose. I am a monkey with a hammer. A feral cat. Me caveman.

Cavemen bring rocks and sticks and dead animals as gifts. I mean well, but this is what I do. I bring rocks. I bring dead animals. And when I do these things, I think that I’m doing something awesome. While she would argue that cavemen never existed, I look back on all the gifts I’ve given her, and I’m convinced that we still exist. I love her.

1 Corinthians 16:14 “Do everything in love.”

She loves me. She loves me anyway, or maybe even because of my feral catlike qualities. At some point you quit trying to analyze why something is and you just enjoy that it is. It’s amazing what you’ll do, and what you’ll accept when you love someone.

On this holiday commemorating love, I’m again dumbfounded that not only would my God create an amazing woman who digs my mongoose-monkey-caveman-cat-man strangeness, but also that this God of all creation would love me even more than she does.

Let’s get real, again: God is so powerful that his act of speaking words caused planets and galaxies to form out of nothing. It caused nuclear fusion to explode forth into stars when there was nothing. That’s freaky, man. I mean that respectfully, but still. That’s freaky. God is so big that time itself isn’t big enough to encompass Him. That’s weird and terrifying. This wonderful, amazing, beautiful, holy, good, and terrifyingly powerful God loves us. He loves us. Everything He did, everything he does, is because He loves us. And we are most like Him when everything we do is done in love. Even if it’s giving someone a bag of rocks.

The Wrong Tool for the Job, or Slingin’ Poo

“The toilet is stopped up. I can’t get it,” she said.
That, my friends, is how it started. It was more of an SOS than an email. A cry for help. No, it was a cry for deliverance against the tyranny of only one working toilet. I can abide many things, but this thing I can not abide. I will not abide this. I am a fixer; I fix things; it’s literally what I get paid to do. My wife will have two functioning toilets by nightfall.

Full Disclosure: I do get paid to fix things. That’s a true story. However I should mention that those things are Information Technology things- web servers, PC and Server Operating Systems, coding issues tackled, coding solutions provided, technical questions answered, and technical problems solved. It’s not bragging if it’s true, and it’s true that me and God can fix some IT stuff. That fact has bred overconfidence in my abilities beyond IT and has gotten me into more than a couple sticky situations. Because when it comes to home repairs, I’m a monkey hitting things with a hammer and screaming into the night. I’m a mongoose with a reciprocating saw trying to screw in a nail.

“I’ll get it when I get home. No biggie,” I said. I mean, you take the plunger, you do your thing, boom. You’re a hero. Easy win. I’ve done it before. I’ve got this. I am the right tool for this job. I will not be defeated by a stew of toilet sadness.

“Your brother tried it, but he couldn’t get it either,” she replied warningly. ‘Woman, I’ve got this,’ I thought. I’m going to show that toilet what’s what. Get it. You’re about to see how a toilet gets plunged, suckers.

Staring into the murky abyss, I marveled, “Wow, that joker is really full.” And really full it was. Undeterred and accompanied by my brother, I grabbed the plunger and went to work. No dice. I was plunging slowly and gently so as not to breach the rim of the bowl with the sorrowful salmagundi it contained, and nothing good was happening.

“Maybe I need the other plunger,” I said. That was my rationale. It has to be that I have the wrong tool for the job. It’s not me. I need a different plunger, and then I’ll get this thing done. Moments later, instead of two working toilets, I had two disgusting plungers and a filled to the brim toilet of disappointment. Time to go nuclear.

“What are we going to do now, Don?” my brother David asked.
“We’re going to take it to the limit, little brother. Let’s get the toilet snake,” I replied. Side note: when you start quoting song lyrics from The Eagles in response to a question concerning fecal matter, you’re only setting yourself up for disaster. There was a drain snake in the laundry room. Never mind that I’d never used one. Never mind that I had to search YouTube on how to use one. This was the obvious solution.

I put the end of the snake into the goulash of suffering that was the toilet, applied some downward pressure, and started twisting the end of the snake just like I saw on the YouTube video. It went in a good bit, then stopped.

‘Ha! Victory!’ I thought. The guy on the video said that’s what would happen. Now, you twist this bit and you slowly pull back on the end of the snake to release the obstruction.

You remember those scenes in movies where something awful is happening and it goes slow motion for a bit so you see every horrible detail? That’s not just a cool movie technique. That really happens. Because the toilet was obscured with a melange of previous activities, I couldn’t see the fate that awaited me and the fate that I was about to inflict on others.

Instead of going down into the toilet drain, the toilet snake was a tangled cobra of potential energy sitting under the surface of the melancholy brew, ready to strike at an opportune time. And now was that time. I saw the end of the snake peer above the filth before me, and before I could react to the confounding information my eyes gave me, it started to unravel itself with much gusto.

The Hissing Cobra of Shame. That’s what we call it. It was flailing uncontrollably, dancing and spewing the worst things you can imagine. I closed my eyes and my mouth just in time before I was face slapped with sadness and filth. My brother, though a couple feet away, was not safe. The walls were not safe. Nothing was safe. No one escaped.

“MMMMMMMMM!!,” was all I could vocalize, as I dared not open my mouth or my eyes. It was a closed mouth scream of defeat. I’d been hit. I’d taken a direct shot. I’d been in a bad spot before, but this was a new low.
“UGHH, oh, God! It got on me!” my brother screamed.
“MMMMMMMMM!!,” I replied.
“Ahhhghck, is it on your face?” he screamed.
Indeed it was.

1 Corinthians 1:27 (NIV) “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”

Caked in overwhelming defeat, we did what any reasonable men would do: we slung the toilet snake out the window (left it there in the rain for a while so we could pretend nothing ever happened), cleaned up, and called a plumber. I was defeated. I was not the right tool for the job. I wasn’t the fixer.

I want to remind you that you very likely aren’t the right tool for the job, this week. Good for you. Seriously. God doesn’t call the wise to lead the way; God doesn’t call the strong to win the victory. God calls the foolish. God calls the weak. And He does it to prove a universal truth: The Victory is His Alone.

If you’re in over your head, you’re probably right where He wants you to be. That’s a tough spot to be in, and it may even look like a toilet stew of disappointment. But, He uses us to shame our enemy, much in the same way the Hissing Cobra inflicted shame and disappointment upon us. And the wall. And the shower curtain. And the floor. God proves over and over that He is more than capable, and He does it by winning victories, ministering, loving, and providing hope and the gospel through inadequate vessels like you and me.

Don’t get caught up on ‘am I good enough, or smart enough or capable enough.’ God is enough, and He wants to use you. Let Him use you to sling some poo on the enemy this week. Put yourself out there. Believe not in your ability, but believe in His ability to get the job done.

The Cloak of Invisibility, or Braveheart Level Warpaint

Honest sharing time: I’m a Potterite. I’ll save you the time and danger of looking that up on your own. The internet is a dangerous place, kids. Just say no. Kidding. Eh, only kind of. Anyway. I dig Harry Potter. Yes, I’ve read the books. Yes, I’m a grown man; I read books. I’ve watched the movies. Yes, I’ll probably watch them again, and watch them sometime soon. I’ve even been to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando FL with my wife and kids, and I had a blast. And yes, I understand that I have no more street cred. At all. I’m ok with it.

One of the coolest things in Harry Potter is The Cloak of Invisibility. I won’t go too far down the rabbit hole with you on it, so for those of you who are unfamiliar, it’s basically this garment that renders the wearer invisible. With the Cloak of Invisibility, Harry Potter and his friends get into, and get out of, all kinds of hijinks and adventures. Can you imagine how awesome that would be?

“Hey, where’s Donnie?” they’d ask. “We want him to come to this completely pointless meeting that will make him want to rip out his own eyes and throw them at us.”- Boom. I throw on the Cloak and I’m out, suckers. Catch me if you can.
“We need some volunteers to carry some awkwardly heavy stuff.”- Get wrecked, jokers. I’m invisible.
“Sir, do you know why I pulled you over today?”- Do you know why you can’t see me anymore? Get some, that’s why. I’m invisible.

Matthew 6:6 (NASB) “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

Given the chance at invisibility, I’d cause mayhem. I wouldn’t do it on purpose. It would just happen. Mayhem would be the byproduct of giving me the power to be invisible or to act in complete secrecy. But does that have to be bad? What if we cause some good kind of mayhem?

What if instead of trying to handle a situation at work my way, I went into secret and invisible battle through prayer? What if instead of giving someone a piece of my mind, I went invisible and went to my Father in secret and prayed for His will to be done? What if instead of trying to fix that other person, I caused some godly-spiritual mayhem by going invisible to the enemy and praying for them and for myself? What if I trusted God enough to go to Him quietly instead of going on social media, and talk to Him about any number of topics?

I think that would cause some mayhem. I think my workplace, my commute, my town, my church, my family- everything would get wrecked, and it would be a beautiful and holy thing. The mayhem it would cause- it might even be enough to break down prison walls and set someone free. Can you imagine putting on the Cloak of Invisibility and busting someone out of prison?

Before the hate mail comes rolling in, don’t be silly. I’m not saying ‘capitulate.’ I’m saying, ‘Go to war. Braveheart that thing. But you have to go the right way or you’re just going to get cut.’

I’ve never won a fight by shouting louder or even by being right. To the contrary, I’ve been right, and lost the battle because ‘I got loud’ instead of ‘I got holy.’ Instead of trying to show them (whoever ‘them’ may be at the moment) who I really am and what I stand for…maybe I just need to trust God enough to keep His word and see if He won’t reward me. Go to war and wreck some stuff. Get all Braveheart on it and put on that blue facepaint. Cause some mayhem. Put on that cloak of invisibility. Go into the secret place where God is and pray.

The Oreo Incident, or Forgiveness

‘I have a whole pack of Oreos at home, I have a whole pack of Oreos at home.’ It was the only thing getting me through the day. I kept repeating it to myself: a sugary cream filled mantra of defeat, just over and over and over. ‘Oreos. At five o’clock, I’ll go home and I’m going to eat that whole pack of Oreos.’

It was a pretty crummy day among many crummy days in a crummy week. I can’t remember any one particular thing about that work day that was so awful; it was more a culmination of things breaking and ‘Donnie can you look at this.’ To steal from Tolkien, I was feeling like butter scraped over too much bread.

I was overwhelmed. ‘Oreos. I have a whole pack of Oreos at home.’ If we can pause here and let that sink in for a second. If the hope of Oreos is what is getting you through your day, you’re in a bad spot. There are many forms of ‘in a bad spot’ that we’ll face in life. Health issues, financial issues, etc. ‘Oreos are the only thing getting me through my day’ is a particularly bad spot.

‘These jokers can’t eat me; they can’t kill me. And at five o’clock I’m going home and I’m eating that whole pack of Oreos.’ As bad as my day was going, it was nothing compared to the heart ripping anguish that would befall me later.

Five o’clock rolls around. Where’s Donnie? Get some, jokers. I left at 4:55. Donnie Lopez, Victorious Human Being. I roll into my parking spot at our home. What a day. I walk in, give everybody hug, and head straight into the kitchen. I know exactly where the Oreos are. I’ve waited for this moment all day. This is my moment. This is my sad little victory over a crummy week.

I rip open the top flap. This is what winning looks like. Oreos, baby. Oreos.
‘Wait, no, no no, this is wrong,’ I thought. My head was spinning. It didn’t make sense. ‘No, no no, what’s ..whaaa…no. Mice? But..how?’ Mice were the only thing I could think of. What other vile verminous creature would do such a thing. They were desecrated. They were profaned. Where’s the cream centers? How is every cookie missing the cream center!! If this were a movie, this is where the camera would spin around in circles. How could this happen?

“Ah, man!” I said, right as my wife walks into the kitchen. “BLAGHHH! I think we have mice or something.” People, we didn’t have mice. The cookie outsides of the Oreos were lined up perfectly in their slots in the package. Every cookie had been stripped of its cream center, reassembled, and then put back into its individual slot in the package.

Let’s pause again for a second and let this fully sink in. I like to think of myself as a reasonably intelligent man. The hellscape of my Oreos laid out before me scrambled my brain enough that I thought mice used their little freaky vermin hands to open the package of cookies, eat only the centers, and then reassemble the cookies and close the package. Ratatouille was real and conspiring against me. I was in a bad spot. My wife giggled. She giggled in my face, people. This is not winning. This is nowhere near what winning looks like.

Matthew 6:14-15 (NLT) “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

“I don’t think it was mice, baby,” she said and looked towards the living room where our kids were playing. My own family. My own flesh and blood! Betrayed. Horribly, hilariously betrayed. I took the package in the dining room area.
“Hey, guys. What happened to the Oreos?” Even I had to admit by this point that that junk was funny. Those jokers.
“Oh,” my sweet little baby angel daughter said. ‘Oh’. That joker.
“It’s ok, baby,” I said. No one else could have done such a thing and survived. That girl.

I hope you have more to keep you going than just Oreos this week. I hope nobody eats your Oreos, but that kind of thing happens all the time, doesn’t it? Small little injuries and injustices can build up and if we’re not careful they can imprison us. What are you going to do when that happens? What are you going to do about those times it’s happened in the past?

There’s more at stake than just Oreos. You’ll soul is at stake. Your heart is at stake. Forgive. Forgive yourself. Forgive the other person, your family, your friend. Forgive so that you can be forgiven. Then go out to the store and buy another pack of Oreos and eat them like an animal in your car on the way home. Win. Happy Monday, folks. Hope you have a great week.