What do you do when you feel beaten down by a game?

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I kept playing through the same sequence in Ori and the Blind Forest the other night. There were times where I would make significant progress; there were times were I would explode in a ball of light instantly. No matter what though, I couldn’t make it through this particular sequence.

So I did the thing that I had long fought against doing, I lowered the game’s difficulty from normal to easy. Filled with stupid shame, I battered my platforming skills against Mount Horu once more. But changing the difficulty only made the enemies easier! The platforming was still stinking hard! I felt mad. I felt angry. I felt ashamed for lowering the difficulty. Someone with my level of video game experience, at this stage in my life, shouldn’t have issues like this.

In my discouragement, I realized that I was super tired. I could feel the wave of emotions wash over me from the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. So much uncertainty… no one sure of what is going to happen next. I tweeted out asking:

What do you do when you feel beaten down by a game?

No answers. But I know the answer to this question: You Quit. You put the controller down. You try again another day.

I played Ori some more the next night. I breezed through the section that had been giving me trouble. My skills were intact! Weird to have a video game discourage me enough to confront my emotions. Thankful for the reminder that sometimes we need to quit, rest, and tackle things again another day. I will beat this game. We will get through this crazy virus situation, toilet paper shortages and all.

From Across the Net – “Three Cautions and Encouragements for Dads”

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Photo by Scott Goodwill on Unsplash

The “plan dragon” is one of those I’ve had to battle for years. Thankful for God’s grace and how we grow, as parents, as our children grow.

When I was setting up our new family tent, a big part of my frustration sparked because I had plans and my daughter interrupted them. Most of our anger and annoyance happens when our plan (or our kingdom) becomes threatened or disturbed.

The very people we’re trying to serve and love become the problem in our eyes. They ruin our plan—even if that plan is to make memories with them—so we get angry.

You can read more here

Fatherhood has taught me forgiveness

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The whole concept of a dad can be challenging for some men. Many have grown up without having a dad in their life. Some of us even had dads that had to work outside of the home, for days on end, to support the family. Anger, resentment, and even a quest to fill that dad-shaped hole can occur.

I am thankful for the men that God brought into my life, as my dad was out working to provide for our family.

I am thankful for my Grandpa Ayers. For him sharing his love for the outdoors, radio controlled everything, and tabletop games. For showing me and my brother that slingshots, knives, and guns are cool toys (when properly respected) to play with. I’ll never forget our late nights playing Chess OR my Grandpa letting my brother and I build our own fires (FIRE!). His unexpected death at 60 years of age still haunts me in some ways. I have found that grief is ever changing but forever there. I am thankful for the time he invested in my siblings and I; thankful for the time that I got to spend with him.

Photo by Jordan Sanchez on Unsplash

For the longest time, I retreated into negative emotions concerning my own dad. Unable to see the bigger picture of what it means to provide… unable (still unable) to see through the family fog-of-war of the example his dad left him with when it came to interacting with family. For years, even as an adult, I’ve wanted more from my dad… But I’ve learned that whatever it is I have wanted from him, I have built into my relationship with Wyatt. Letting the past go, letting anger go, has allowed me to see my dad for who he is instead of who I wanted him to be.

My dad, Steven, is an amazing guy. He is funny, insightful, and a hard worker. The older I get, the more I appreciate him AND realize how much I am like him. I wish I had been able to push past what is deemed, in Christian circles, as a “father wound” sooner. Arriving at a point where I can accept my dad for who he is is priceless. Being able to see the bigger picture, where other men were allowed to step in and teach me and my siblings, and not resent that, is liberating.

All of the above to say, Father’s Day is this weekend. Chuck Lawless reposted a piece this morning that resonated with me titled “8 Reflections on Being Childless and Celebrating Father’s Day“. I encourage you to check it out.

These greeting card holidays can stir the emotions!

Happy early Father’s Day.

When A Family Goes Supernova

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As I announced last week (“Whichever Shoe Fits“), Tabitha and I are looking to adopt through the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. Adopting through the State means that we step in after parental rights have been terminated. Whatever family that existed before has been legally dissolved due to failure of court appointed plans being followed or individual situations calling for removal. The goal of Child Protective Services (CPS) is family reunification. This means that CPS and the State give parents every opportunity to be reunified with their children. Tabitha and I are stepping in because reunification has failed and these children now need a home.

Can you imagine the family you grew up in no longer existing? I can’t. Tabitha and I both come from stable homes. Homes where we were provided with food, clothing, and a loving environment to grow up in. The thought of being taken away from my parents, at any age, and put into foster care is the stuff of nightmares.

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

As adoptive parents, we are stepping into a world of:

  • Hurt
  • Loss
  • Anger
  • Instability

From the beginning, I have told Tabitha that if anything, we can provide stability. A stable home where we can work through the roots of a family dissolved and grow into something new.

I wonder why I have days where I question why I feel overwhelmed by the adoption path we are on. And then I write something like this and am reminded of the brokenness these children have experienced. If you were to ask me: Are you excited over adoption? I’d tell you yes. But I temper my excitement knowing that a family has to go supernova before they can be welcomed into mine.

Your Calling Doesn’t Equal Career

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Ivan Mesa, writing for The Gospel Coalition, wrote a fantastic article titled “3 Things Your Calling Is Not“.

This might sound like an obvious point, but part of my angst has been due to the assumption I had to grab hold of my calling or else it would slip away. I’d be lost, I feared, wasting my life because I hadn’t been decisive or clear-eyed enough to know what God had called me to.

For a long time, the Church preached to men that your calling equaled your career. I personally found this line of thought to be hurtful and confusing. The night before college graduation, I remember breaking down and crying. I had no clue where God was calling me, no clue what a career might look like. Tears running down my face, I prayed that He would make a career path clear to me. That He would provide for me a job/career so that I could make ALL the money and further His Kingdom.

Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

Looking back, I can see how I took the preaching I had heard for years to heart. How when God didn’t immediately answer my career/job prayer, I took His silence and withdrew into anger, resentment, and bitterness.

Through His grace, God has nudged me over the years–He is a slow and patient teacher to my stubbornness–. Teaching me that He calls me where I am. He calls me at:

  • Church
  • Home
  • And Work

He reminds me that I do not have to set out on a mystical spiritual quest to figure out His will. Thank God for that.

If there is one lesson God has taught me over the years, it is this:

When I focus too much on myself, life becomes depressing. When I step out of myself and focus on/serve others, I find life and joy.

Which stirs up and boils down to this:

Embrace where you are called.

Whichever Shoe Fits

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Back in February, Tabitha and I were sitting in the auditorium at church listening to a guest speaker. I was having trouble paying attention, my mind wandering, until the speaker started talking about the Stages of Hurt:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

God spoke to Tabitha and I in that moment. We both realized that we had been cycling through those stages for years. Years. Not always in that exact stage order but something quite like it. You see, we have been trying to have another child for about 9 years now. Seeing what ultimately are the Stages of Grief, written down on the conference handout we were attending, did something. I could finally see the bigger picture. I could see how a friend’s baby announcement would suddenly shoot me into anger or even bargaining over not being able to have more children; I could see why, at times, I’ve been depressed.

In that moment of epiphany, Tab and I both felt that God was calling us to step out of those stages. We felt Him calling us to more.

So we talked and met with wise counsel at church. My church’s youth pastor and his wife sat down with us over dinner. They listened to our story and shared their own (I can’t put into words how much this meant to us). We learned that we weren’t alone in our experience. After meeting with them, we decided to contact the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. We attended an informational meeting (which was awesome). Soon after, we signed up to take adoption certification classes (PRIDE) which lasted a few weeks. We have since finished up:

  • Turning in financial information
  • FBI Database fingerprinting
  • Having a fire inspection of our home

We have a:

  • Health Inspection for the house
  • And an Home Study/Interview left before we are certified to adopt. We are almost there!

If you think about my family, as we move forward in this process, we are asking for:

  • Prayer (if you are not the praying sort, positive thoughts then)
  • Discernment
  • Wisdom
  • That God would lead our adoption caseworker to the child He wants

Excited to finally share this news with ya’ll. More to come.

Your Feelings Lie

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My pastor said something that has stuck with me:

“Your feelings lie.”

Photo by Ryan Pernofski on Unsplash

Work has been a swirling vortex of condescension, anger, and stress. A tidal wave of not accepting where we are on a project. We’ve been behind for months. Months. And yet at no point has acceptance of this fact been had. No moment of admitting:

  • Hey, we messed up.
  • Yeah, we are behind… BUT let’s move forward, as a team, and do our best.

My feelings have been lying to me; my body absorbing the workplace maelstrom of emotions.

I’m done with feeling stressed towards this project.

I’m done being lied to by my feelings.

If anything, I’m beginning to find the current situation at work humorous.

People have got to chill.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

– Jeremiah 17:9 (ESV)

When Security Masks a Spirit of Fear

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in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.

What can man do to me? – Psalm 56:11 (ESV)

Another week goes by, we hear another story of a gunman invading a space and taking innocent lives. Calls for gun control quickly ring out in the media. Feelings of justice, fueled by anger and pain, trigger that deep down knowing that the world should not be this way. That we were not meant to deal with nor experience death, separation, brought on by a single choice made back in the beginning.

The Psalmist tells us in Psalm 56:11 that we should put our trust in God. There is no reason to fear when we put our trust in the Creator. Right? And yet fear percolates and permeates the atmosphere we breathe. Even in our churches, where Safety Teams equal Security Squads, fear rages. Played out with armed church members, unofficially, watching over the flock while services take place. A new defensive cultural norm.

NOTE: Please, do not misconstrue my words here, I’m all for keeping the Church safe. But I’m not okay when the spirit of fear drives a weekly version of security theater.

Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

Keeping silent. Toeing the party line. Those seem like the obvious responses. But I believe God calls us, as Christians, to more: Power, love, and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7).

What do you do when a spirit of fear infects a church?

Revisited – The Onion Layers of Time

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I wrote this back in March of 2012. I can tell you that I’ve chilled out a bit since then. No longer do I feel angry or frustrated when I don’t get to play a game in the evening. I’ve gotten to where I might game once a week (IF). I more so now enjoy the time I’m spending with my family. Just needed to grow up and discover a few more layers. Always thankful to Shrek for that analogy. – Bryan

As we advance in years, I believe that we all wish that we would personally be able to grow and mature with time as well. For some, growth and maturity are unattainable due to personal life choices; for others, growing in maturity and stature are a knowingly made decision.

Before I was married, I had all the time in the world to pursue what I wanted to pursue. If I wanted to go out with friends for coffee at 2AM, I could. If I wanted to sit down and play a video game every evening, for hours on end, I could do so as well. I was a free man and time was all mine.

Photo by Thomas Martinsen on Unsplash

As I dated and was soon married, my time quickly became our time. No longer did I have the freedom to do what I wanted to do. I had to now take my wife into consideration. What did she want to do? What could we do together? There was nothing wrong or bad about this change in the way I spent my time. Like an onion, I had simply discovered a new layer of personal depth; like an onion, my time had also grown thinner in peeling away that new layer.

The birth of our son set into motion the equation of: my time + our time = his time.

Age, growth and maturity force us to constantly evaluate the things that matter to us. Are we spending our free time pursuing the things that we love or the things that we simply like? This got me thinking about video games and my constant struggle to figure out where they place in my life. Do I love them or just like them? Are they keeping me from pursuing the things that I love?

What about you?

Video Games and Attitude

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We have a rule in Hall household that goes something like this:

When you start to get angry or frustrated at a video game, you need to turn it off and take a break.

This rule applies to myself and to my son. Years of playing video games has taught me that taking a break, when angry or frustrated, is beneficial. Even when you are so frustrated that all you want to do is keep pushing through, I’ve found that it is best to stop. There is something taking a break does to the brain. As a kid, I remember pausing a game overnight and then being able to destroy a boss, that was previously impossible, the next day.

But what about when a game causes attitude? Anger that one can’t play longer or even has to quit? I remember a period when I was playing Mass Effect 2 a few years ago. I’d play the game late into the night, ignoring my bride, who would end up giving up and going to bed. I felt a pull while playing that game, a drive to see where the story went. Mass Effect 2 had it’s hooks in me just as World of Warcraft did years before.

I know that I can have issues with some games. Even though I haven’t been hooked on a game in awhile, I know that the right combination of design elements can take me down.

The same is true with my son. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild pushed all the right buttons for him. It was all that he and the kids at church were talking about. I’d constantly hear about the Divine Powers:

  • Revali’s Gale
  • Daruk’s Protection
  • Mipha’s Grace
  • Urbosa’s Fury

I’d hear so much about Breath of the Wild that I thought I was going to go nuts. And the attitude that came with the game, whenever he had to quit, was frustrating.

Tabitha and I find ourselves at the same attitude point again with Fortnite. But this time it’s a little different due to gaming elements Fortnite embraces (your child is being manipulated):

  1. The Store with Artificial Demand – When you log into the game, you can easily tab over to the Fortnite store. Here you can look/obsess/covet the latest in Fortnite cosmetics. Some of these cosmetics are available for a limited time, playing into an artificial demand where kids think they have to purchase something before it is gone.
  2. The Subscription with a Shady Pay-to-Win-with-Time Formula – Once you buy the $10 Battle Pass, Fortnite is all about unlocking tiers, which then unlock different cosmetics/skins/cool looking things. Fortnite developers Epic Games boasts on their website that the Battle Pass equals: 100 tiers, 100 rewards. One marketing bullet point states that it takes 75-150 hours worth of gameplay to unlock everything in the Battle Pass. Fortnite encourages players to dump as much time as they can into the game through their shady tier/unlock scheme. A pay-to-win-with-time formula, aimed at children.
  3. The Feedback Loop – A typical match takes 20 minutes to play. Unless you are knocked out of the match, in which case you can just jump into another match… and another match… and another match. This creates a feel good feedback loop for your brain. Just one more match, mom.

What is a parent to do? Here are a few things I’ve learned:

  • On the Nintendo Switch, you can set a screen time timer to help manage your child’s play. There are several options to choose from when the timer runs out, including shutting down the console (if you are feeling evil; Do not provoke your children… – Ephesians 6:4). Each console has different parental settings, read up on them, empower yourself.
  • Parent. Talk to your child about their attitude. Be ready to follow through with consequences (don’t offer empty threats). Also don’t be afraid to have your child take a day off a game.

Gaming attitude is something our parents did not have to deal with as much as we have to–although I say that while clearly remembering my Mom taking away the NES controllers–. So set some boundaries/consequences and read up/educate yourself on the tools you have at your disposal. Learn about the game your child is playing, the one you are growing to hate because of their attitude. You never know, you might learn something about your child and be able to help them set healthy boundaries to use later on in their adult lives.

You are the parent. You do not deal nor negotiate with emotional terrorism.

Gaming is a privilege, not a right. (I can’t believe I just wrote that as a dad who games.)

How are you working through your child’s attitude when it comes to games?

Don’t Be A Looky-Loo

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I do not drive much anymore. Living in a small town, my workplace is about 10-15 minutes from the house; church is about the same distance on a good day. Compare that to the time I spent in the car when I lived in California and its nothing. I remember, especially in junior college, hitting the weekend and being happy to be nowhere near the inside of a car.

Southern California and freeway traffic go hand-in-hand. Carpool lanes, express lanes, all have done little to alleviate the problem of too many cars in a small space. Driving the 91 Freeway, I have vivid memories of cruising along at 70mph only to crest a hill and have traffic come to a dead stop. Often these traffic jam would be caused by serious accidents. Other times traffic would come to a dead stop because everyone was slowing down to look at a car that had broken down on the side of the road. Drove me nuts! We even had a term for such people, looky-loos.

Have you ever noticed that when we see or hear about a situation, say a ministry a falling apart, that we want to know more about it? Even if we have no connection to the community (Facebook group, website, podcast, etc.) we want to know the gory details. Curiosity, in this case, can quickly lead to gossip. Gossip that can then further fuel anger and hurt that is already present.

A rather large ministry, one that I’ve followed from the sidelines, has been hurt this past week. Accusations are flying, staff being let go, a complete restructuring of the ministry is taking place. While I am sad to hear of such things, as the ministry is closely patterned off of something I once wanted to do myself, I want to urge caution to my friends.

The words of a gossip are like choice morsels;
    they go down to the inmost parts. – Proverbs 18:8 (boldness added for emphasis)

You may want to know more about what has happened with this particular ministry; you may want to hear the “choice morsels”. A certain level of curiosity is understood. But at some point, the things you are looking at (tax/salary information, etc.) is not for you to look at. It is easy to judge from the sidelines. To say, “If I had been running that ministry, I would have structured it this way.” The thing is, you and I were not running that particular ministry. A group of people who felt they were doing the work of the Lord are.

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. – 1 Peter 5:8

My wife reminded me today that a ministry blowing up is the work of Satan getting in among Christians. Causing hurt and ultimately division for fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Such division is not meant to be.

I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. 18 For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. – Romans 16:17-18

It’s okay to pause and mourn a ministry that is going through upheaval. But don’t slam on your own personal brakes for too long or you’ll end up causing a pile-up. Keep your eyes open, take note, and drive the path the Lord has you on. I write this just as much for myself as I do for others.

Grace and peace to all my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Adventures in Odyssey will help me discuss puberty with my son

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Jimmy Barclay was going through changes. Or as Mr. Whittaker put it, he was going through “adolescence”. Jimmy was growing up. He noticed that:

  • His voice was changing
  • He was angry at people for no reason at all
  • He was in love, with Connie Kendall

So flat. So boring. Captive audience on an 8 hour drive.

So flat. So boring. Captive audience on an 8 hour drive.

As we listened to “Coming of Age”, an episode of Adventures in Odyssey, Tabitha and I laughed. There is something surreal about listening to an episode on puberty with your seven-year-old in the car. We were driving home from vacation. The boy was in the backseat, running a high fever, and had no clue about what was plaguing Jimmy.

I told Tabitha that when Wyatt starts to go through puberty, I am going to make him listen to this episode. Odyssey can explain everything. Poof! An awkward conversation bites the dust. Who wants to talk to their parents about changes anyways?

Let this be a lesson to all parents: Media is a fantastic substitute for all major life conversations.

This important lesson is provided to you by JohnnyBGamer, tongue-in-cheek.

Bad Parenting: How To Not Play Rocket League With Your 6-Year-Old

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Imagine radio controlled cars, with rockets, playing a game of soccer. Good ball control is key and takes much skill and time to develop.

Wyatt and I played a lot of Rocket League. Then I noticed how I started talking to him. We weren’t doing well in the match we were playing. I felt like I was playing alone versus actually playing with a teammate against two bots. Now this is not Wyatt’s fault, Rocket League is a fun/simple game with deep deep mechanics. But I found that the words coming out of my mouth were not uplifting, in fact, my words were angry and annoyed. Wyatt’s body language was defensive, I was about to lose him. So I had to mentally check myself:

– I am an adult.

– I am playing a game with my son. He is six years old.

– Why am I acting this way?

After a few talks with my wife, I decided that I would make more of an effort to use encouraging words. To try and let go of my competitive spirit and just have fun. And so we did.

Ever since then, I have tried to speak words of life, versus death. This is not easy. But parenting isn’t easy either.

Super Mario Bros. Wii is another game we play together. A game I have had serious issues with in the past, due to how anger-inducing the co-op experience can be. But you know what? We laughed. Wyatt giggled over causing me to die, many times. We had fun.

Win or lose, playing games with your children is awesome. As a dad, the key is realizing that playing a videogame is another teachable moment. Model the words you want to spoken during competitive play. Encourage teamwork. Embrace defeat. Together, we can do this.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” – James 1:19