Gift 47 – Welcome home!

“Look at the flowers of the field. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you?”

Getting ready to leave the hospital.

Getting ready to leave the hospital.


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Meeting Piper for the first time…

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I’m pretty sure he likes you.

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Daddy and the nap time guard dogs.

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Hey Reagan, what’s the meaning of life?

Hmm…let me think about it.

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You: Daddy, how did the dinosaurs go extinct?

Me: I don’t know, Reagan, how?


You: Tar pits.

Trying to figure out this whole dad thing.

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Time for a music break…

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First bath at home!



The value of our home has gone through the roof since becoming a family of three (five if you count the pups).  It’s so so good to be together.  As funny as it sounds, I keep thinking about God and his love of home.  God’s first action in the Scriptures is to make a home where he can his children can live together.  When that home is lost, the rest of Scripture is full of God’s desire to bring his family back.  “I will be their God and I will be their people.”  Home.  Together.

Home is what God loves.  Recovering home is what he died for.  This is that longing in our hearts, too–to be home in the company of the Trinity.  Invited up and in, into the great Family Room of God’s hospitality.  These few days with you has given me a clearer picture and fuller taste of just what it is God loves so dearly, and why he loves it so much.

Gift 45 – Your Mommy

So let’s talk for just a minute.

Your mom, there’s no one like her.

By the time you’re reading this I’m sure you’ve already realized that she’s the prettiest woman in the world (but for real), that she’s an extremely hard worker, that she loves gardening, loves watching thunderstorms, and loves animals as much as St. Francis of Assisi (before we were married she once abandoned me on a date to rescue a lost kitten). You already know that she is a thoughtful gift giver (you have an Ewok costume waiting for you for your first Halloween), an amazing muffin-maker, and that she thinks the people on the Today Show are her friends. And of course, you know by now that she loves you more than anyone in the entire world.

But I want to tell you a few things about your mommy that you might not know. I want to tell you why I love her so much and why she will always be my best friend…

  • I used to have a lot of really bad dreams. Before we got married, I knew I could call her even in the middle of the night and she would pray for me. She did regularly. After we got married she would often read to me from the Bible or from books she knows I love. Here’s a journal entry from Nov. 2012: “I woke up in the middle of the night after having a bad dream. My sweet wife got up and read The Lord of the Rings to me until I could fall back asleep. How blessed am I? Thank you, Lord.”
  • She’s always game for an adventure. We’ve already had several wonderful camping trips in the three years we’ve been married. Your mom is always ready for a road trip (though be warned, she’s a terrible D.J.). There are few things I love more than exploring Michigan with her. Even more importantly, she’s always willing to step out in trust when we believe God is calling us on an adventure. I remember sitting next to her in church the morning we heard about a foster care opportunity through Bethany Christian Services and her eagerness to find out more about the program. Though we felt like kids ourselves, and were by far the youngest foster care parents at any of the meetings, the seven weeks spent with our first foster daughter were unforgettable. I remember thanking God countless times during the process for such an organized (there’s lots of paperwork involved), compassionate, and patient wife.
  • Your mom does way more than you know. I’m sure of this because she does way more than I know. She is always giving of herself to ensure things are just right for you and me. Even though she has about 20 more jobs than I do, she also sacrifices at home by making us wonderful food, cleaning our clothes and the house, and by picking up after the dogs (and let me tell you!). The reason you might not realize all that your mom does is because she doesn’t talk about it. She doesn’t even complain or draw attention to all her hard work!
  • One time when we were dating her little brother got sick and started puking. While I was gagging in the background, I remember her getting down on her hands and knees in the bathroom to rub his back.  Wow, I thought, she’s the kind of person you want to marry. 
  • Your mom goes out of her way to make me feel special. Our love languages are different, and yet when she found out I value words of encouragement she started putting notes in my lunch. She often writes me little messages or emails during the day to let me know she’s thinking of me. Speaking of going out of her way to show love, did I mention that she came with me for the midnight showing of Harry Potter and all three Hobbit movies?!

The truth is, while I am so so excited to be your dad, I’m also a little bit afraid. Having your mom by my side gives me so much confidence and joy for all that lies ahead for us as a family. We make a good team, and we can’t wait for you to join us.

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Gift 30 – Picture Perfect

A few days ago Amanda and I decided to take our Christmas card picture at the park (actually, Amanda decided and I went along with it, but never mind).

That meant a ten-minute drive with not one but two psychopathic canines crammed into the back of our Chevy equinox. They yelped, they romped, they stormed the front seat nearly nocking the shift stick and bringing us to an untimely doom—you know, the usual. We arrived at the park scratched, slobbered upon, and overall a little flustered, but the fun didn’t end there. The leashed doggies hadn’t yet been for a walk that day and so tried desperately to break free of their bonds with the ferocity of two salivating criminals resisting arrest. Eventually Amanda and I had to practically tackle our little friends and hold them in headlocks while trying to persuade in a singsong voice, “Look at the camera! Come on, boy, look at the camera! Be a good dog and look at the camera! JUST LOOK AT THE DANG CAMERA BEFORE I LOSE IT!” Or something like that.

At this point I was getting a little annoyed at pretty much everything in creation and said something snarky like, “Why are we even taking a stupid Christmas card?” To my wife’s credit she held back a retort, but I could tell she was getting frustrated, too.

Fast forward to a few minutes ago. I received an email notification, Amanda Russ has tagged you in a photo on Facebook, and so opened a new tab to see. This is what I saw…


My first thought was, Who is this family, and why was I tagged in their picture?   This lucky clan had two perfectly trained dogs and had probably just finished a pleasant picnic in the park when the photo was taken. Then a looked a little closer. Wait a minute…is that us?!

 My point is this, while I have been so very blessed with a wonderful wife and two playful pups, our real lives and the picture don’t exactly match up. Real life is way messier and more complicated. This got me thinking about all the times I have become subtly jealous of what someone else has, or does, or is while scanning social media. It’s so easy to compare oneself with others while scrolling through photos—Look how perfect their lives are. They never argue. They have the perfect family. It must be nice being them. These thoughts are always accompanied by contrasting self-assessment. I wish I had __________. Why can’t my family be more _________? My life is nowhere near as good as   ___________’s.

This is called comparison, and it’s a killer.

While I’ve always known comparison is harmful, I’m beginning to see that our comparative thoughts aren’t even true. Just like the picture above isn’t even close to being an accurate representation of our day at the park, other people’s photos don’t really capture their lives either. The truth is, everyone struggles, everyone fails, and no one is as perfect as their pictures (after all, who posts pictures of arguing, paying bills, etc.?). Comparing oneself with social media pictures is as misleading and as damaging as a young girl comparing her body with photoshopped women in magazines.  The images aren’t real.

Teddy Roosevelt said it best, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” One of the great secrets of life is in contentment, in silencing comparative lies and looking instead to all you have to be grateful for. And next time you’re skimming social media and begin feeling like you would rather be someone else, just remember that the lives you’re seeing probably don’t exist.

My Favorite Place: The Great Outdoors (by Andrew Russ)

My big brother Andrew is a mix between Tom Bombadil and Aragorn. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m trying to say two things. First, Andrew is more in-tune with creation than anyone I know. His ears are open to the words God wants to tell us about Himself through his world. Second, Andrew is an expert guide. Though he is ahead, he is always looking back to make sure I’m making it okay. Whether I have a gardening question, or am wondering how to find cheap airplane tickets, Andrew always has an answer and is willing to help. I’m grateful to him for writing this wonderful letter.

Little Drew on a 4-wheeler.

Little Drew on a 4-wheeler.

I’m going to share with you my favorite place in the whole wide world, my escape, the place where I go to recharge my battery… it’s the outdoors. I’m telling this to you because you’re DSC_0013probably going to need to escape a lot; as I write this story your sister Grace is 20 months old and your sister Autumn isn’t yet born but should be here in a couple of months. Which means at the very least you’re going to have 2 older sisters, if not more, and my boy you aren’t going to stand a chance! They’re probably going to want to dress you up and make you have tea parties with them, and play house with them and all sorts of other girly stuff and you’re going to need a place to escape to from time to time. So I want to share with you the place I go to escape: the great outdoors.

I’ve always said I think God gave me allergies because if I wasn’t allergic to things outdoors I’d never come inside. There’s just something about being outdoors in nature that I can never get enough of. Whether I’m following a deer trail seeing where it leads, or planting fruit trees in one of my orchards, or hanging a deer stand in anticipation of shooting a big buck that coming fall; as long as I’m outdoors in God’s creation I am happy and at peace.

Before I met your mother I used to live on my own in a house 294837_233409563375252_1969226363_nsurrounded by over 200 acres of fields, woods and even swamps that our family owned. I had free range to manage it as I saw fit and every chance I got I spent working on any project I could think of to make the habitat better for wildlife. I hung tree stands, made trails through the woods with a bulldozer for better access to some of the more remote areas, made bedding areas for the deer and other wildlife, the list goes on and on. Your uncles would call me on a Saturday night to see what I was up to and 9 times out of 10 I’d be outdoors. They’d ask if I’d had dinner yet and I’d say, “Dinner!? What time is it? I had a granola bar for breakfast but I haven’t thought about going in for lunch yet.” To which they’d reply, “Drew it’s 8 o’clock at night! Aren’t you starving?” I’d be having so much fun outdoors I’d lose track of time and forget to eat!

My favorite time of day is in the late afternoon, as the sun’s setting and the cool evening air is starting to descend upon the land. The animals start coming out to feed as the daylight fades; it’s such an exciting time to watch the day end and the night arrive. Every night is slightly different from the last and you never know what you might see. The world just seems so much simpler when it’s just you alone in nature. It doesn’t matter what happened earlier in the day, when I’m alone outdoors all of my worries seem to disappear and I get lost in thought, wondering about things like “I wonder what kind of tree that is?” or “I wonder where this deer trail leads to?” or “I wonder if this will be the year when this tree I planted from a tiny seedling will produce its first crop of fruit?”

I want you to have a place like this where you can just get away from all the busyness of the world and be at peace in God’s creation. Genesis 2:15 says, “The LORD God took the manDSCN2635 and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” In the beginning, when the world was still perfect and evil had not yet entered the world God gave man one task, “to work it (the land) and take care of it.” I would have loved to be Adam! Placed in this beautiful, unadulterated and pure garden with one simple task to take care of it—talk about perfect! It gets even better, God would come down to be with man at my favorite time of day, and go for a walk with him in the garden. How cool would that be to get to walk and talk with God in his beautiful perfect creation! Genesis 3:8 says “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day”.

This is why I want to share my favorite place with you and hope that you will enjoy it one day as much as I do. I pray that you may grow closer to God by seeing, smelling, hearing, touching, and even tasting God’s perfectness in his great outdoors. It is when I am outdoors in nature, when I don’t hear any cars or see any buildings, when I’m surrounded by nothing but God’s perfect creation that I feel closest to God. The busyness of life seems to stop when you’re in nature just witnessing the plants and animals doing what God created them to do, and by their doing what they were created to do bringing glory to God. So the next time your sisters are trying to get you to put a boa around your neck and have a tea party with them, politely decline their invitation and go outdoors instead and see what God’s trying to tell you through his creation.


Gift 17 – Hibernal Man Fires and the Like

A “Hibernal Man Fire”—That’s what we called it.

Ingredients are as follows:

– 1 large circler pit dug out of the 3 feet of snow in our backyard.

– 1 bonfire in the middle of the clearing.

– 5 guys bundled in hats and coats gathered around the fire to read classic short stories.

– 1 full moon.

The guys and I had the idea for this “Hibernal Man Fire” while sitting in the library at school. We had all been feeling a little stir-crazy as the bitter winter months drudged slowly on, so we decided to do something about it. Yes, some good stories told around a fire in defiance of February’s crappiness was exactly what was needed (Plus, who doesn’t love fire any time of the year?).

It is random outbursts of craziness and life such as our “Hibernal Man Fire” that turn into wonderful traditions. In fact, we’re hoping to have another short story/bonfire combo soon (stories on deck: “The Machine that Won the War”; “The Most Dangerous Game”; “By the Waters of Babylon”; “Leiningen vs. The Ants”; “Lamb to the Slaughter”; “The Man by the Window.”)

Traditions are so important because they are always relational—they are things we do together, usually to celebrate, or to remember, or to simply to keep life from becoming mundane. And frankly, our culture stinks at them. What do we do to celebrate important milestones?… hmm…get wasted on our 21st birthday?

Oh. Great.

Son, it’s up to us to create traditions that nurture good things, admirable things, life-giving things, Dangeruss things. Here are a few ideas…

1. A 15-year-old Adventure. This means that when you or any of your siblings turn 15, we’ll plan a weeklong trip in the wild. Maybe we’ll canoe down Michigan’s Jordan River, or hike the Porcupine jordanMountains in the Upper Peninsula, or explore South Manitou Island, but wherever we end up going you can count on being challenged—and you might just learn a thing or two about the outdoors (and maybe about yourself, too). We’ll bring a book (preferably one of the Chronicles of Narnia ☺) to read around the fire at night before crawling into our really cool Cabelas Alaskan Guide tent (which I’ve already purchased in anticipation of our camping adventures).

2. Birthday gifts. This may sound fairly typical, but let me explain. I learned a few years ago that expecting great gifts is a surefire way to have a disappointing and/or insignificant birthday. It is way more fun to give awesome gifts to the people you care about (or to complete strangers…either way). So, while your mom and I will still probably give you a present or two, your main gift will be $100 to spend any way you choose, as long as it’s for other people. Be creative. Be generous. Have fun. (But be careful, this is how our family ended up with our crazy dog, Piper).

3. It’s-Not-About-You Trip. I heard about my principal’s family doing this and definitely want to copy their idea. When you turn a certain age, your mom and I want to take you on a mission trip to spend a week serving others. It’s easy for young teens to think that the world revolves around them…but it doesn’t. In fact, your life isn’t even about you. Seeing the conditions in which so many live around the world will challenge you to examine our culture’s concepts of entitlement, materialism, and self-centeredness.

4. Cousin Olympics. Ever since we had our first Cousin Olympics almost ten years ago I’ve been excited to plan this annual extravaganza for the next generation. We’ll spend three days at grandpa and grandma’s competing in all kinds of team activities such as archery, board games, relay races, swimming, dodgeball, kayak races, and many more. Traditions like this contribute to strong and healthy friendships between family members—friendships that last a lifetime.

5. Rite of Passage. Your uncles and I have been talking about having some kind of ceremony when you reach a certain age. Here’s the general plan: you’ll have about three hours to round up as many downed limbs from the woods as possible to collect in a giant pile. When time’s up, we’ll light the mound on fire (safely, of course ☺) and spend the evening gathered around sharing stories and advice. Each adult will tell one “success” story and one “failure” story as a way of offering guidance and advice to the younger one(s). At the end of the night we’ll give a blessing and welcome the new adult into the tribe.

There are so many other great traditions I want to start with our family and friends that I don’t have space to write them all down here (Note: Please feel free to comment below with traditions you currently have or hope to start in the future).

Our culture has lost its sense of ritual; we no longer think of identity in terms of community, but only as individuals. Creating traditions is a way of bringing us back together, of shaping a culture that values people more than things, and of making memories with the people we love. A good tradition can be a mini-revolution of life and friendship, and all the other good things in life worth coming together to celebrate.